If you’re looking for a piece of exercise equipment that will give you a great cardio workout and improve your strength and muscle tone, the cross trainer is your go-to machine. Creating a motion best described as ‘like cross-country skiing’, the cross trainer targets almost every major muscle group in your body, including the arms, shoulders, back, thighs, calves, abdominals, and of course, the butt. Unlike running, it doesn’t place anywhere near the same amount of stress on your joints. And when used at a high level of intensity, it can burn up to 38 kilojoules (9 calories) per minute – need we say more?
But that doesn’t mean you can just jump on a cross trainer and reap the rewards; more than any other machine, you really need to focus on the exercise you’re doing to get the benefits. Unlike the treadmill, where you can set the speed and incline and allow your mind to wander while your legs keep pace, the cross trainer requires constant effort on your behalf to maintain your speed and keep the momentum going.
One of the ways you can keep your focus is by adding variety to your workout. By doing so, you’ll also boost the intensity, burn more kilojoules, and tone and sculpt different muscles in your body. Here’s how to do it:
1. Add some intervals to boost your fitness
Interval training is the quickest way to boost your cardiovascular fitness, and it’s so easy to do on a cross trainer. The principle of interval training is to repeat a cycle of short, high intensity bursts of speed, with slow, recovery phases. Because your fitness is based on the rate at which you recover, continuing to practice this rotation of exercise and recovery trains your body to recover more efficiently, boosting your fitness levels.
To add intervals to your cross trainer workout, simply add periods of faster pedalling. Try this: after a five-minute warm-up, pedal for one minute as fast as you can. Use the next two to three minutes to recover at a normal pace, then repeat. As you get fitter, you can increase the amount of time you spend pedalling at top speed and decrease your rest periods.
Interval training has also been proven to boost your metabolism during the time after your workout, helping you burn more kilojoules than exercise performed at a steady pace.
2. Drop your arms to work your core
By strengthening your core muscles – the abdominals, lower back, thoracic and cervical region of the spine – you can improve your stability and posture, create a leaner looking waistline, and dramatically decrease the symptoms of lower back pain.
Although we often think of ab crunches and planks when we think of core strength, a cross trainer can provide an effective core-strengthening workout as well. By letting go of the handles, you force yourself to engage your abdominal and core muscles to maintain your balance – a leaner, stronger, you, is closer than you think.
3. Pedal backwards to boost your thigh tone
If you want to challenge your balance, improve your agility, and give your quads a workout they won’t soon forget, give backwards pedalling a go. By pedalling backwards, you’ll immediately feel the difference as your body changes the way it uses its muscles to work the backwards motion.
Tip: For a real thigh burner, let go of the handles and squat down into your legs as you continue to pedal backwards. It will burn, so keep it short and aim for around 30 seconds, before your legs start to tire and you lose your form. Throw a few of these into your cross trainer workout every few minutes and you’ll quickly notice the difference to your upper legs and butt!
4. Push and pull on the handlebars for upper body toning
To tone your arms, chest, shoulders and back, simply grab onto the handlebars, stop using your legs to pedal, and begin pushing and pulling with your arms to power the machine. Ensure you keep a straight back to avoid injury; you may have to drop the resistance to do so. The push motion will work your chest and triceps more, while the pull motion will give your biceps, shoulders and back more of a workout. Intersperse two to three intervals of upper body training throughout your workout for the best results.
5. Increase the resistance to improve your strength and burn more kilojoules
It’s really quite simple, if you want to strengthen your upper and lower body and burn more kilojoules, turn the resistance up! The higher the resistance, the more effort your body needs to exert to continue pedalling, the more strength you build and the more kilojoules you burn. So up that dial and keep going!