Well Being

You’re Doing It Wrong: Burn More Calories By Changing This Gym Behavior

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Friends, it's time to get a handle on what constitutes an effective, calorie-burning cardio workout, and what simply doesn't cut the mustard. And the first step for evaluating this is letting go of a few things.

Namely, the handles on your cardio machine of choice.

Regardless of how much time you spend plodding away on a treadmill or Stair Climber, if you're still clinging to the safety handles, you're dramatically reducing the effectiveness of your workout, by evenly distributing the workload to multiple muscle groups.

Consider this: if you were doing a biceps curl, and you were using your leg to move your arm up and down, you'd be putting other muscles to use, rather than isolating the biceps, which would render your workout pretty much null, right? That's what's happening when you can't let go on the cardio machine.

When you tightly hold the safety handles, particularly while walking, you take away much of the effort that the legs and core have to do to stabilize your body and keep you moving. You're essentially putting your back, shoulders, and biceps to work, while giving your thighs and calves a break. And by distributing the work in this way, you're not forcing any one muscle or group of muscles to work hard enough to actually build muscle or burn calories. Which is why you're at the gym, right?

This is especially true for those who, say, hike up the incline on the treadmill to its highest grade, then lean back and trudge up the “hill”. When you do this, while holding on to the handles, you arch your whole self backwards, which means that, even though technically you're walking up a hill, your legs aren't working nearly as hard or as much as they would be if you were out in the world, powering up a steep street, because they're not being forced to go against the incline.

Additionally, because of the increased incline, many women who do use the treadmill in this way aren't actually going quickly enough to increase their heart rate, which means they may not be burning many calories–regardless of what the machine, which assumes you're not holding on, tells you. Holding on also definitely skews the caloric reading, meaning you're cheating yourself an the machine.

The safety handles are there for one reason–safety. To make sure if you're running and you slip and fall, you have something to grab onto other than the guy next to you, or the expensive touch-screen television that's mounted to the machine. They are maybe also there to let you know how quickly your heart is beating, which is also sort of a safety measure, assuming that the heart rate reader actually works, which is rare. So mostly, it's the safety.

Clinging to the safety handles while exercising is a tempting way to give your body a break, but it's also a quick way to take the wind out of your workout and ensure that you never see the results you're hoping for. If you want to maximize the time spent in the gym,  it's time to learn to let go.

Image: Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock