Stationary Bicycles, Elliptical Trainers, and Other Cardio Training Machines

Stationary bicycles are one of a group of machines commonly used for the purpose of cardiovascular exercise and training. Elliptical trainers, rowing machines, and a multitude of equipment variations that incorporate features from each type are all classed as cardio training machines. While possessing a similar fitness purpose, these total-body cardio training machines differ from the treadmills and stair climbing machines that are designed for leg exercise only.

While the various cardio training machines each permit the user a distinct physical workout due to its unique construction, all possess similar features. The intensity of the workout is both variable as well as being entirely within the control of the athlete. Most advanced models of these machines have sophisticated computer programs that assist the user in the control and direction of workout intensity level. The machines all provide the athlete with an opportunity to closely monitor and regulate performance. The assessment of various biofeedback indicators, such as heart rate, can be connected directly to the machine's built-in workout indicators, such as time, intensity level, caloric output, and others. For persons with preexisting cardiovascular problems, the cardio training machine permits them to exercise safely within their known permitted limits of exertion.

Cardio training machines generally, and the stationary bicycle and the rowing machines in particular, offer the athlete an opportunity to simulate aspects of competition. Either alone, or with the aid of computer programs that regulate the intensity associated with a race course or practice, the athlete can practice stroke or cadence in a regulated fashion.

All cardio training machines represent an excellent cross training tool that can be utilized by an athlete regardless of weather conditions. These machines are widely used as an effective rehabilitation tool, especially for those persons recovering from leg injuries who wish to gradually rebuild both strength and range of motion. The motion associated with all variations of the cardio training machines is one of low impact on the musculoskeletal system; the lower extremities, and particularly the ankle and knee joints, are exposed to less stresses than those of conventional running-oriented sports activity.

Stationary bicycles are manufactured widely throughout the world, each with its own specific features. Some models are equipped with levers that permit the athlete to exercise the biceps, triceps, and shoulder structure in a manner that does not occur with a regular bicycle. The bicycles most suited to the simulation of a road bicycle are those with a variable resistance where the rider can keep track of the rate at which the bicycle is being pedaled. A variation of the stationary bicycle that achieves the same effect is the mounting of an actual bicycle on a trainer that provides resistance to the rear wheel, simulating the effects of a ride.

An elliptical trainer positions the athlete on two parallel foot pads, usually fixed or mounted on ramps, with the leg action mimicking either a running motion or a classic cross-country skiing action, depending on the angle to the floor at which the parallel foot ramps are set. Most elliptical machines permit the athlete to vary the inclination of the ramp, and thus control the intensity level of the exercise. Some elliptical machines, like the stationary cycles, have arm levers in place of a handle bar for an additional upper body workout, as the athlete is required to pull on each lever in concert with the leg motion. The elliptical machine is not capable of providing a precise replication of the physical motion associated with the mechanics of a particular sport. The elliptical's chief training benefit is the ability of the user to reverse the motion of the machine, creating a mechanized form of retro running. This feature permits the athlete to build greater strength and to develop optimal balance between the desired strengths of the hamstring and quadriceps muscles, an important factor in the limitation of upper leg and knee injuries. The generally accepted ratio of strength between these two muscle groups is a 3:2 proportion in favor of the quadriceps; when a specific weakness in either muscle is identified in an athlete, the reverse motion of the elliptical trainer will form a part of the training solution.

Rowing machines are used in two different formats. The first are simple rowers with a fixed seat,

Stationary bikes are used for cardiovascular exercise and can be adjusted to meet the training needs of the individual athlete.
usually built into a stationary weight training machine. The simple rowers are limited in their benefit as, absent the seat sliding action, they do not replicate a true rowing motion. The second and far more useful sport training device is the ergometric rower. This machine takes its name from the ergometer, a device that measures the amount of work done by a group of muscles. It is equipped with a sliding seat and a motion that is very similar to that experienced by a sculler (two-oar rower). These rowing machines are also designed with variable intensity, allowing a very accurate simulation of the rowing motion. Rowing machines are also an excellent cross trainer; over 50% of the power in a properly executed stroke will be derived from the rower's legs.

SEE ALSO Cross training; Jump rope training; Treadmills.