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All About Exercise Machines

How to find an exercise machine that suits you, and make the most out of any machine workout.

Working out Smart continued...

"It’s not so much about the machine as the relationship between the body and the machine," says Alexander. "If anything hurts and you can’t modify the equipment or yourself so that it doesn’t hurt, then, at least for that day, that’s not the right piece of equipment for you."

More muscle use equals more calorie burn. The basic rule of thumb is that the machine that exercises the greatest muscle mass burns the most calories. There's a flip side of that coin, too: If you're a beginner, using more muscles means getting fatigued sooner -- which will result in burning fewer calories.

"As someone who hasn’t been exercising, it’s better initially to work less muscle groups so you don’t get tired as quickly," says Alexander.

Vary the routine. You’ve discovered you like the elliptical machine and it keeps you coming back? Great. But don’t let yourself get bored.

Experiment, recommends Stamford: Try using a pre-programmed workout that includes variations in speed and intensity. Or vary those factors yourself during your workout.

"Why set it at 3.5 and a 1% incline for 40 minutes? That’s boring," he says. "Play with it, vary it, change it. There are so many things you can do to make it more interesting."

Work out for time. Instead of forcing yourself to stay on one piece of equipment when you're bored or uncomfortable, just give yourself a time goal at the gym, says Stamford.

For example, give yourself 30 minutes to get your workout in. Then break it up any way you want – say, 10 minutes each on the treadmill and bike, followed by 10 on the elliptical machines. If you're still feeling chipper, go for 5 or 10 more minutes on the machine of your chice.

"There’s no reason you have to follow the rules of fitness to get you to weight management," says Stamford. "The more agony you impose on yourself, the more likely you are to quit."

Mix it up. Even if you love one particular machine, you don't have to use it every time. "The key is changing to avoid boredom, and adapting," adds Vukovich. "Don’t do the same one every time; try them all. That way, you’re not bored, you have variety, and you’re always challenging the body in a different way."

Ignore the readouts. At the end of your workout, it’s nice to see that you’ve burned X number of calories or traversed X number of miles, but don’t put too much credence into these numbers, says Stamford.

Because these results are based on averages, he explains, they "are about as accurate as rolling the dice and multiplying eye color times shoe size."

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