Walking into a mega-gym strikes fear into the hearts of many fitness newbies: the monolithic machines, the shiny weights, the mirrors lining every inch of the walls. But all equipment is not created equal. Make the most of your precious gym time (and get out of there as quickly as possible) by choosing the right equipment, exercises, and post-workout routine.
Elliptical or Treadmill?
Trying to get the most bang for your cardio buck? Get off the elliptical and hop on to the treadmill. Optimal for a more inclusive full body workout, a treadmill offers more variety. Play with the incline and speed on a this machine and notice how quickly your workout can go from light-on-perspiration to full-on-sweat-monster. Heart rate variation is key for increasing cardiovascular endurance. Not only will you be working your heart, all the major muscle groups in your legs and hips will be challenged, too.
Want to take a workout from lower body to full body? Simply increase the incline on the treadmill to activate your posterior chain (the muscles in the back), which will help to define the back muscles and get the abdominals working, too. Swing your arms to help get up that hill, and you’ve suddenly turned a simple jog into a full-body toning session.
Winner: The treadmill. Even if you have to walk, you’ll get the most full body benefits.
Weight machines or free weights?
Sure, it’s easier to head to a machine and follow the instructions than it can be to walk into the weight room and grab a set of dumbbells, but put on a brave face and pick up those free weights. Weight machines are great for those trying to rehab an injury because they isolate a specific muscle, but to burn more calories and get stronger everywhere, choose free weights.
Free weight exercises like a bicep curl stimulate the stabilizing muscles in the arm and shoulder to keep your body upright and your arm in the right position. So even though you’re technically focusing on one muscle, many other micro movements activate the surrounding area. The result? More tone and definition overall. Plus, free weights offer a lot more freedom with the possible exercises, so changing things up from the same boring routine will be a breeze.
Winner: Free weights. They take a little more creativity, but challenge the entire body as opposed to just one muscle.
Playlist or watch TV?
Ever feel like listening to Beyoncé on your run makes you move a little faster? It’s not all in your head. Studies show that listening to your favorite music can actually inspire a more intense workout. Sure, a good TV show can distract and maybe convince you to sweat for a little longer, but your work probably won’t be as efficient, which means you won't see results as quickly. So if you’re cool working out for a longer period of time, hold on to the remote, but if you’d rather get out of the gym faster (and more efficiently), pump up the jams.
No time to make a playlist? Spotify has recently paired with Nike to release a new feature that pairs music with the tempo of your feet. No matter how fast (or slow) you go, you'll have your own soundtrack.
Winner: Your playlist. Pick music that inspires you to get moving and you’ll feel the burn in all the right ways.
Sports drink or just plain water?
The entries of most fitness palaces are lined with rows of cool, colorful sports drinks, but is that blue water really essential to fully recover from a workout? Chances are, probably not. After a solid 30-45 minute sweat session, stick to water to hydrate your body. You haven’t lost enough electrolytes, sodium, or potassium to constitute downing the amount of sugar and calories that are typically found in sports drinks, and water is just as hydrating. For a workout longer than an hour, or when training in extreme conditions, consider adding some electrolytes to your water for recovery purposes.
Winner: Good old H2O. Just as hydrating and without added calories and sugar, it’s easier on your body and your budget.
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