Gym-based cardio can seem like a grid even for the most dedicated of gym-goers.
However, it is often a necessary evil, be it for improved health or enhanced conditioning. Thankfully there are a few tried and trusted ways to beat the boredom, even for those hour-long steady state cardio sessions on the treadmill or stationary bike. In fact, there are many things you can do to make your gym-based cardio more enjoyable, other than merely listening to your favourite songs playing on your iPod…
There’s an app for that…
The gamification of fitness trend means that the world of interactive training is never more than a click away. A whole host of apps cater to those who want to add an extra dimension to their training, be it an immersive gaming experience like the app Zombies, Run! (for iOS and Android devices). The app lets users take on various different missions controlled, in part, by their relative pace, interspersed with songs from their playlist as they walk, jog, or run away from zombies.
An app like Interval Run can also act as a companion and coach during your treadmill sessions as it delivers vocal queues and feedback to guide you through an interval exercise session, be it a Tabata session, a Couch to 5K programme, or an hour-long session.
The Ghost Run app is another option as it lets you race against yourself by beating previous bests or setting goals that you need to achieve. Similarly, features on popular GPS-enabled sports watches like the Garmin range offer features like Virtual Partner and Virtual Racer. Virtual Partner can be used as a pacer to achieve a desired time or goal with on-screen prompts, while the Virtual Racer takes that concept to another level as users have to beat the runner on the device’s screen by inputting a goal time for a specific distance.
There is also the rewards-based approach where achievements and the attainment of specific goals get recognition in the form of badges or credits, like on smart bands, smartwatches and fitness devices. There also various ‘motivational apps’ that offer this functionality such as AchieveMint, GymPact or FitCrown.
If you prefer to stick with old faithful – your iPod or smartphone and your trusty earbuds, then technology can help make that more effective too. The BeatBurn Treadmill/Outdoor Trainer app, for instance, uses beat-sync technology, changing the beat of your iPod music to perfectly match your pace and boost your motivation and enjoyment during cardio.
Become a virtual competitor
If racing yourself or some on-screen character isn’t that appealing then you can also take your competitive streak to the next level and race your friends, wherever they may be. Virtual competition apps like Cardio Smackdown (for iOS) lets you challenge others to a simultaneous, real-time workout via Game Center, be it on a treadmill or the elliptical. During this virtual workout, competitors can see their opponent’s progress alongside that of their own on their device’s screen.
In a similar vein, there are many ways in which you can compete against friends or family in the virtual world. One simply has to set a benchmark time, upload it to apps like Nike+ and invite your virtual rivals to try to beat it. Most apps are also enabled with virtual encouragement via social media so you can hear words of support or cheering while you pound it out on the treadmill.
Think outside the box
Don’t limit your options to the conventional cardio machines at your local gym. While the treadmill, stationary bike, rower, elliptical and stepper are all effective tools, there are numerous other ways to get the same effect without the monotony.
Skipping is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. It provides a similar workout to running and the intensity can be varied to suit your needs. It works both the upper and lower body and improves co-ordination and balance. There are also a variety of techniques to the standard skip – bell jumps, side jumps, runner steps, twist jumps, straddle jumps and crossovers, to name a few.
If that’s not your style then consider hitting the pool for a few laps or even some water aerobics. No, it’s not just for older women. Water aerobics is a great form of active recovery as it is low impact and you still work against some degree of resistance from the water. Swimming also helps to improve cardiorespiratory function as you hold your breath between strokes.
The world of high-intensity weight training (HIWT) is also a great option when you want to benefit from the cardiovascular and calorie-busting effects of traditional cardio training but without the monotony. Dumbbell and barbell complexes, bodyweight Tabatas, or metabolic conditioning circuits with a host of equipment options, from battling ropes and sled sprints to kettlebells are all great options that deliver an effective cardio and weight combo.
Add some variety
Steady state isn’t the only way to train in the gym. In fact, depending on your goals and how much time you have available it might be downright ineffective. Play around with the speed, resistance or incline of the bike or treadmill to make your workouts progressively more challenging.
If that is still too one dimensional for you then structure your own intervals – short bursts of higher intensity work interspersed with active recovery periods. Manipulate things like speed or cadence, resistance, or incline to boost the high intensity intervals.
Otherwise, explore the presets on the machine you plan to use before hitting start. Most of the modern pieces of equipment in gyms today are packed full of interesting workout protocols and options to suit every goal. The other option is to jump between machines every 10 minutes, rather than every other session.
Get into the group vibe
Despite the popular stereotypes, aerobics, spinning and group classes aren’t solely for specific population groups, like women or weekend warrior athletes. A spinning class, for instance, is a fun way to get in a high-intensity cycling session in an energetic and social environment. A 30-minute session in the spin studio will be just as effective as 30 minutes on the stationary bicycle, if not more so, and a lot more enjoyable. You may also meet a few like-minded people and make some new friends too.
Similarly, group aerobics classes are no longer a congregation of leotards, leg warmers, and head band-wearing women, and it’s certainly no longer just step classes on offer. All the major gym chains offer a variety of intense and effective classes like body conditioning, high impact boot camps, plyometrics, core strength classes and, for the more adventurous, dance-themed classes such as Zumba. On a basic physiological level, these classes will deliver the same effect in terms of heart rate elevation and cardiorespiratory improvements that a session on the bike or stepper would, just in a fun-filled and interactive environment.
You can also try any of the new branded cardio classes at the major gym chains such as The Grid at Virgin Active or any of the Les Mills offerings at Planet Fitness. You can also check out new, innovative options at the various boutique and exclusive clubs in your area.
Time for some ‘gymtainment’
A new trend emerging globally is that of ‘gymtainment’ – providing entertainment to gym-goers while they train. At the most basic level, this could include a TV screen in the console of your treadmill or stationary bicycle that offers a variety of channels or programmes, while some gyms take it a step further with live music, DJs and even dancers during peak times.
You can also take a DIY approach by taking your DSTV Drifta and your iPad along, or read your latest e-book or favourite magazine in digital format on your tablet while you peddle away. You can also use the time to learn a different language or stay in tune with current affairs with your favourite podcast. If your gym has free wi-fi there are also a growing number of streaming content options available to you.
There is absolutely no reason why you can’t tune out during lower intensity cardio as there is no evidence to suggest that this has less of an effect on your heart rate or other physiological responses while you train. It is better to concentrate on your activity during higher intensity work, though, particularly when running on the treadmill to reduce the likelihood of injury.