With this winter being as harsh as it has been, I've been in the gym a lot more than last winter, when the kinder weather permitted a lot more outdoor running. I've been spending lots of time on various cardio machines so I thought I'd write a bit about my impressions of what they've done for me.
Stationary bikes: I started my fitness transformation with this machine. Stationary bikes are great, easy-to-use, and they allow you to work at your own level. I have one at home (affectionately named Hank, after "Hank Hill " from the animated sitcom "King of the Hill." I use them at the gym, sweat flying, tunes cranking. I've taken spin classes and enjoyed them, but do get a lot out of just picking a setlist for my mp3 player and riding for 30-45 mins. I think the recumbent ones work your legs slightly differently than the upright kind--my home bike is a hybrid between being an upright and a recumbent.
Ellipticals: I used to HATE the elliptical. I hated the sensation of hanging there, being suspended in mid-air, and I just couldn't relax at first. I'm glad I stuck with it and got over that feeling, because now ellipticals are my go-to machines when I see them in a gym or hotel fitness room. What changed? I learned better balance and to let go more, to move on the machine as if I were running. The best ellipticals for me are the ones that most closely mimic the act of running, like the Cybex ARC Trainer or the Life Fitness Fit Strider.
Stairclimbers: I draw a distinction between ellipticals, which tend to move the user's feet in a circular motion more similar to the pedaling on a bike, and stairclimbers, which intend to simulate climbing stairs or hiking a mountain. I have not found a way to enjoy stairclimbers--especially the kind where fake stairs move beneath your feet like a crazed escalator. It's weird to me that I can't abide stairclimbers, because I actually like climbing stairs in a building or walking up steps outside a building.
Rowing: Rowing on a rowing machine is awesome. Sometimes I crave doing it like craving a particular food! The best rowers are the Concept 2 Rowers. I initially thought that using the rowing machine was all upper body work, but it really works your legs most. The legs lead and the arms follow. It's a little difficult at first, since you might think it's a lot of pulling with the arms. But it's much more of a full-body exercise when done correctly.
Treadmills: I've talked about treadmills in an earlier post, so I won't say much here about them. They do work, but they take work. I've seen all sorts of ways that people cheat themselves out of that work or set themselves up for injury while on treadmills (hanging on the side rails, clinging with their arms on to the top of the machine, using weights while on the treadmill). There's a woman I see at the gym who does the "arms stuck on the side rails"thing while she uses the treadmill at a pace that looks way too fast for her. She looks so miserable! I want to tell her to slow the machine down and walk normally, and build up her pace gradually. But I don't dole out advice to other gym patrons, as tempted as I am.
Here are some links to my favorite cardio machines:
Stationary bikes: http://www.lifefitness.com/commercial/cardio/lifecycleexercisebikes.html
Elliptical (ARC Trainer): http://www.cybexintl.com/products/arc-trainers.aspx