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Mix and Maximize Your Cardio

Have you ever been in the middle of your cardio routine and thought: How many more minutes till I'm done?! If the treadmill, stair climber, bike, elliptical trainer -- or any other activity -- is getting stale, we've got a great new way to wake up your workout. The concept is simple: Instead of slogging through the same old routine, you'll surge through three or four 10-minute sessions, choosing from 11 different activity options. And instead of relying on your butt and legs to do all the work, you'll involve those oft-neglected muscle groups north of your waistline.

"When you do short bouts of exercise, you can ultimately work at greater intensities," says Tom Wells, P.E.D., the University of Puget Sound exercise scientist who designed this program. "And involving more muscles can help you achieve greater overall fitness." Plus: Research shows that you may even burn more calories without feeling like you've upped your level of exertion. That's the real fitness payoff, Wells says. Burning calories and getting results, all with less noticeable effort -- what could be better than that?

The program

What to do Follow the weekly calendar for 8 weeks. Complete 10 minutes on each machine at the suggested RPE levels (see the "RPE for Effort" for an explanation of intensity), selecting machines from the "A" or "B" categories listed in the "Machine Options" list below.

Beginner option Cut 10 minutes (i.e., 1 machine) from each workout. After a few weeks, gradually add the extra time/machine in until you can follow the complete schedule comfortably.

Advanced option Add an extra machine 3 days each week.

Warm-up Start with 5 minutes of easy walking on the treadmill, gradually adding upper-body movements such as arm reaches or gentle shoulder circles.

Cool-down Finish with a few minutes of easy walking, followed by slow, controlled stretches for all your major muscle groups. Hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds without bouncing.

Machine options Select your 10-minute cardio bouts from the following chart. In most cases, you can set the machine on manual and adjust the level(s) to achieve the recommended RPE. Try to use each machine only once a day.

A: Lower Body Options:

1. Elliptical trainer (without upper-body drive)

2. Treadmill

3. Stationary bike

4. Stair climber

Approximate calories burned/10 min. at RPE 7: 65*

B: Upper/lower-body options:

1. Rowing machine

2. Elliptical trainer with upper-body drive

3. Stair climber with upper-body drive (e.g., VersaClimber)

4. Cross-country ski machine (e.g., NordicTrack)

Approximate calories burned/10 min. at RPE 7: 90*

*Calorie estimates are based upon a 140-pound woman in good cardiovascular shape.

If you can't find the upper/lower-body equipment listed, try the following:

1. Wrap a light- to medium-resistance tube around your back, hold the handles and pump arms as you perform your 10-minute interval on a treadmill, elliptical trainer or stair climber. (We recommend using the Walk-N-Tone Fitness Belt, $25, from spriproducts.com.)

2. Sit at a low-cable pulley using an angled handle. Using minimal weight (or none at all), pull cable in a rowing motion for a 2-minute interval. Alternate this with 2 minutes of squats until you have completed 5 sets of each (for a total effort of 10 minutes).

3. Head outdoors with a pair of walking poles, focusing on working your arms.

Focus on form

Today's high-tech cardio equipment offers a great workout but doesn't guarantee good form. Here, exercise scientist Tom Wells offers advice to keep your injury risk low and your calorie burn high.

Elliptical trainer Imagine that you're running. Finish the motion with your heel up, and bend your knee as you start the next stroke.

Rowing machine Keep your back straight as you pull, and make sure to contract your abs. Initiate movement by pushing with hips and legs rather than pulling with arms and lower back.

Stair climber Touch side railings lightly for balance only. Don't increase the intensity unless you can step through the full range of motion; taking baby steps cheats your butt and your thighs out of a good workout.

Stationary bike Adjust the bike seat properly; it's too high if your hips rock as you pedal and too low if your knees hurt afterward. To protect your knees, spin at 90 rpm or higher. If you're struggling, lower resistance.

Treadmill Walk or run with a natural arm swing. If you're walking or jogging on an incline and find yourself clutching the front rail, reduce the grade.

Stair climber with upper-body drive (e.g., VersaClimber) Take full strokes with arms and legs, and keep pelvis in neutral position by contracting your abs.

Cross-country ski machine (e.g., NordicTrack) To protect your lower back, keep your abs tight. Don't hyperextend your knee on the push stroke.

Your weekly workout

MONDAY

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option B

RPE: 8-9 Time: 2 min.

RPE: 5 Time: 2 min.

RPE: 8-9 Time: 2 min.

RPE: 5 Time: 2 min.

RPE: 8-9 Time: 2 min.

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Total: 30 min. Calories: 219*

TUESDAY

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option B

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option B

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Total: 40 min. Calories: 312*

WEDNESDAY

Option B

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option A

RPE: 8 Time: 10 min.

Option B

RPE: 6-7 Time: 10 min.

Total: 30 min. Calories: 262*

THURSDAY: OFF

FRIDAY

Option B

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option B

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Total: 40 min. Calories: 312*

SATURDAY

Option A

RPE: 7 Time: 10 min.

Option B

RPE: 8-9 Time: 3 min.

RPE: 6 Time: 3 min.

RPE: 8-9 Time: 3 min.

RPE: 5 Time: 1 min.

Option A

RPE: 8-9 Time: 3 min.

RPE:6 Time: 3 min.

RPE: 8-9 Time: 3 min.

RPE: 5 Time: 1 min.

Total: 30 min. Calories: 250*

SUNDAY: OFF

RPE for Effort Here's what the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) numbers mean:

RPE: 3-4

Intensity level: Easy to moderate

In other words: Can carry on a conversation while working at this pace

RPE: 5-6

Intensity level: Moderate

In other words: Can have a conversation with some difficulty

RPE: 7-8

Intensity level: Difficult

In other words: Tougher to have a conversation at this pace

RPE: 8-9

Intensity level: Peak effort

In other words: Cannot work at this pace for more than a few minutes; no-talking zone

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