Advice From Experts

  • We have several workout machines in our office and I want to use them, but I'm confused about the different heart rate zones. What zone should I be training in to lose weight?

    This is a great question that many people ask. It is important to realize that the body has two different fuels it converts to energy: carbohydrates and fats. The body burns these fuels in different proportions depending on your fitness and the intensity of your workout. Your body stores fewer carbohydrates than fat, yet it accesses the carbohydrates more easily. So the goal is to make your body more efficient at burning the stored fat while sparing the carbohydrates. Working out at higher heart rates will burn more carbohydrate calories in the short term, but it is working out in the lower zones that trains your body to become efficient at fat burning. In turn, this improves your endurance and aerobic fitness, eventually leading to a faster metabolic rate during exercise. This means that over time, you can burn as many calories at a low intensity as you were previously burning at a high intensity. With proper training this can happen in as little as three to six months.

    Therefore, the best intensity for weight loss is one that seems 'fairly light' to 'somewhat hard'. Often people who cannot lose weight, or who even gain weight despite high intensity exercise and restrictive dieting, find success through a combination of slowing down their exercise, and improving the quality of their diet. This approach is not only more effective, but it's more fun and easier to stick to long-term!

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • I am a big fan and user of the Precor ellipticals at the YMCA here in the Bay Area. I know why my hip flexors are stronger, but why are my lower abs getting a workout?

    The moving platform requires that the abdominals stabilize the torso. Some stability can also come from the hip flexors as they compensate for any remaining instability. Therefore, both muscle groups get worked. This is especially true at the lower ramp and resistance settings when you can really mimic a running motion.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • Do you have any information about which muscle groups benefit from the Elliptical?

    Higher CrossRamp®settings emphasize the gluteals and mimic no-impact hiking.The glutes are the primary mover at this angle, with the quads additionally doing a lot of work. However, this angle also puts you forward on your toes in a plantar-flexed position and works the calves, as does any setting if you focus on toe push-off. Use these settings to really train for hiking and mountain climbing, even adding a weighted pack. There is no option to stimulate downhill, so you should do some lower angle work to teach the muscles to relax and then work again on demand.

    Medium-high CrossRamp settings recruit hamstrings and mimic cycling.Lowering the ramp angle to medium moves the burden to the hamstrings, but your quads still get worked fairly hard.

    Medium-low CrossRamp settings emphasize quadriceps and simulate no-impact running.The low ramp setting is by far the closest to running as long as you keep the resistance low. If the resistance gets too high it takes too much power to keep the cyclical movement. To maximize the quads, concentrate on the push-off of the calf as well as the swing through. If you really visualize running on this lower setting and swing the upper body while keeping the core tight you can get a great ab workout too. You won't work the lower legs as much unless you actually try to move your foot in a heel-to-toe running motion.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • Is there data on whether or not more pressure is applied to the foot using the elliptical machine vs. running or walking on a treadmill?

    While the pressure is constant on the elliptical, it is much lower than that of running or walking on the treadmill due to the lack of impact forces. With running, the impact of landing applies much larger amounts of pressure due to the momentum and forces of the body weight traveling vertically and horizontally, distributed across the surface of the foot. This is why the elliptical can be safely used as a crosstraining tool for injured runners, including those suffering from stress fractures in the lower extremity.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • Will the elliptical help me train for cycling and running? I am competing in a triathlon.

    The elliptical is an excellent cross training tool for aerobic conditioning for all sports including running and cycling. It also helps to build leg strength for cycling. To build your aerobic base conditioning, use a lower ramp setting, a stride rate of 160-180, low resistance and a hands free technique and balance using core stability to simulate running. To build cycling specific leg strength, use varying ramp angles to target either the hamstrings, gluts or quads and practice intervals at higher resistance and lower stride rates. For leg speed drills, incorporate high ramp, low resistance and fast stride rates.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • How can I optimize my workouts for weight loss?

    An important factor in exercising for weight loss is to be at the proper exercise intensity. You'll want to be sure that when you are on the stepper, in your spin class or running at 6mph, you are still in an aerobic zone, meaning you can carry on a conversation without being breathless. If you are above this intensity, you're not in the fat burning zones and over time, won't train your system to burn more calories during exercise.

    Strength training can be very helpful for weight loss as it helps to build muscle which in turn helps you burn more calories throughout the day. Be sure to include a warm up and cool down consisting of very low intensity aerobic training, either on an elliptical, treadmill or bike before and after the weight training.

    Try to increase your frequency of aerobic exercise to four or five days per week which is recommended for weight loss and general health promotion. Proper nutrition also can aid in weight loss by providing key nutrients needed for metabolism. Active women who restrict their caloric intake too much can actually lose muscle mass which slows down metabolism and can lead to increased body fat percentages and even weight gain over time.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • Will strength training make my muscles large and bulky?

    The ability to increase the size of your muscles is highly dependent on hormone levels, namely testosterone. And since men have 20 to 30 times the testosterone levels of women, men will tend to build more muscle than women. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the type of strength training you engage in as well as genetics and individual differences will all play a role in the rate and degree to which you build muscle mass.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • Do I have to join a gym to perform strength training exercise?

    Although obtaining guidance from a knowledgeable professional is important, joining a gym is not a prerequisite for starting an effective weight training program. Resistance training can be performed almost anywhere ? it just requires some creativity. Using props such as stairs, stability balls, resistance bands and tubing can be extremely effective, and used right in your own home. If you’re really serious about resistance training though, investing in a versatile, high quality home gym is recommended.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • Are free weights or weight machines better?

    While neither free weights nor machines are better for every person and every exercise, they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Free weights, for instance, force you to engage your core and other muscles to maintain balance and postural control. They also more closely mimic real world activities and motions. Weight machines, on the other hand, force you to maintain a specific range of motion and are generally better at isolating specific muscles.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • Why does my foot go numb when I'm exercising on the elliptical or stair climber?

    This sounds like a neuroma on the bottom of the foot which is an inflammation surrounding a nerve bundle. This is not caused by a specific exercise but rather consistent and prolonged weight bearing while exercising. Fortunately, this neurological nuisance can be alleviated by doing the following:

    • Loosen shoelaces if numbness or tingling occur.
    • Be sure your shoes have a wide toe box and that the toes have plenty of room to wiggle.
    • Try a metatarsal pad insert in the shoe to take the pressure off the metatarsals. The metatarsals are the bones of the forefoot beginning at the base of the toes (but not the toe bones) and extending towards the heel.
    • ·Use toe spreaders (used in pedicures) daily for about 15 minutes to help stretch the ligaments between the toes.
    • Focus on technique, keep the heel down and in good contact with the foot pedals on the machine.
    • Keep calves stretched.

    - Scott Jurek, RPT

  • Do you get as good a workout on the elliptical as you do on the treadmill?

    Yes, on the elliptical, you have a lower rate of perceived exertion, so sometimes it doesn't seem that you're getting as intense of a workout on the elliptical as you are on the treadmill. Other benefits of the elliptical:

    • Precor EFX have an inclining CrossRamp®that simulates hill training. You alter the ramp on most models to target different muscle groups.
    • There is virtually no impact, so less potential for impact related injury.
    • Like the treadmill, you can vary courses and ramps to keep your exercises interesting.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • What and when should I eat before a workout?

    If you plan to do a workout longer than 1 hour, it's a good idea to consume a carbohydrate snack 1 hour before beginning to help stabilize your blood sugars and give you energy during your workout. Higher energy for your workout means that you'll obtain more benefit from it. Choose unrefined carbohydrates such as; oatmeal, whole grain cereal, yogurt, energy bars and fruit.

  • I am concerned about osteoporosis and understand that weight-bearing exercises can help guard against it. Is using the elliptical considered a weight-bearing exercise?

    Yes, the elliptical is a weight-bearing activity so, like standing and walking provides some benefit for osteoporosis while exercises such as swimming and cycling are non-weight-bearing and do not help with osteoporosis. However, because exercising on an elliptical is virtually no-impact, meaning that there are no repetitive compressive forces on the bones during exercise, it does not provide as much bone stimulation as running.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • Can I continue using the Precor elliptical during pregnancy? Why is this better than other forms of cardiovascular activity?

    Yes - it is safe to continue the exercise level that you were doing pre-pregnancy. The elliptical is low impact so may be more comfortable than running during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Be sure to check with your obstetrician before starting a new exercise program during pregnancy.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • The equipment at the gym displays the total number of calories burned per workout. Is there any way to know what percentage of these are fat calories?

    This can be precisely determined through gas exchange testing. However, as a rule of thumb, for lower to moderate intensity workouts, up to 50% of the calories may be fat calories depending on the individual's muscles ability to burn fat. Training in the lower intensity zones improves the muscle capacity to burn fat during exercise.

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • Are there any charts that give Watt output at level ramp and rpm settings for the treadmill?

    Treadmills do not provide Watt readings but do provide MET readings. There is a formula to convert METS to Watts however that depends on body weight. Or you can compare calories per minute and Watts with this formula: 1 cpm = 69.77 Watts

    RPM on a treadmill would equate to the number of strides per minute. You can measure the number of times that one foot plants per minute to determine stride rate.

    The elliptical trainer does provide a "Watt" reading and the number of strides per minute. Cyclists find this measurement of power output useful as "Watts" are a common measurement for cycling.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • What causes the discrepancies between the watches that count calories and the Precor machines that list calories burned during exercise? What is more accurate?

    This will depend on the person. Actual caloric expenditure rate depends on a person's aerobic fitness level. The higher the aerobic system function then the more calories are burning during exercise. Since calorie expenditure varies with fitness, it is very difficult for exercise machines or heart rate monitors to precisely predict an individual's caloric expenditure.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • I have been doing some form of cardiovascular workout daily (7 days a week) and recently have noticed that I am not progressing for the effort I am putting out and I am feeling exhausted. I also do weight training on the Precor S3.25 three times per week.

    I am in good shape and do not want to lose this but I would like to feel better and see improvement. Do you have any suggestions?

    You are working out too much and with too much monotony. I suggest adding two days off (totally) per week and varying your aerobic routine to include a mixture of easier, longer and harder days. Recovery is an important element of fitness that is often overlooked. The body makes fitness gains when it has the time to repair and heal from the various stressors - the body "supercompensates". As well, you should check with your physician for a sports physical to be sure you don't have a developing medical condition.

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • For a beginning exerciser who often gets bored on indoor equipment can you suggest a workout routine that will be interesting and gain me the largest benefit?

    I suggest low impact aerobic exercise using an elliptical trainer, stationary cycle or swimming. Begin with 10-15 minute sessions three days a week and work your way up to 30 minutes five days a week. By varying the incline and/or resistance you can add variety to the workout. Keep the effort/intensity in the low to moderate range to increase fat burning and improve the aerobic fitness. Once you are consistent with five days a week of aerobic exercise try adding in strength training two days a week. This can be done through a resistance training class, circuit training or lifting dumbbells/ weights at home or in a gym.

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • I am a former marathoner and ultra marathoner who trains diligently every day. I have started to use the elliptical machine to cut back on the road miles and protect my knees.

    Do you have any good advice for someone who is having mental challenges about giving up my outdoor workout each morning?

    Good job on adding the elliptical trainer into your workout routine. Although it is not the same as running outside, the elliptical does provide a low impact aerobic workout that can simulate running. By using a hands-free method that simulates running you can achieve benefits similar to your outdoor runs. Go to the Precor website and look at the EFX®mechanics handout as well as the research that has been done on an elite runner who used the elliptical trainer to train with great success: Aerobic Capacity and Power Responses to a Cross-Training Program Incorporating the Precor EFX Elliptical Crosstrainer™.
    Hopefully by seeing the proof that the elliptical can be beneficial to a runner it will be more motivating to use. As well, try using a higher stride rate and lower resistance while varying the incline in order to target specific muscle groups and provide more variety to the workout.

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • I thought that it was the heart rate that determined if you were in the fat burning zone and the target heart rate is some % of your maximum. Could you please provide some more details on how you know whether you are in the fat burning zone?

    Each individual needs to work out at an intensity that corresponds to his or her fitness level. Most methods to determine workout intensity for fat burning, cardio and interval workouts are based on a percentage of maximal predicted heart rate which is age dependent. This assumes that all individuals of a certain age would have the same "heart rate zones" In fact, individuals actually vary in their heart rate zones. The most precise method is to perform physiologic testing using a 'gas exchange' system. Another method to roughly determine the proper exercise intensity for fat burning, cardio or interval workouts is based on a perceived level of exertion.

    • Fat burning workouts should feel light to moderate
    • Cardiovascular workouts should feel moderate to somewhat hard
    • Interval workouts should feel hard in intensity

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • I am trying to prepare for firefighting agility. I need to prepare myself for a 6-minute stair climb with 50 extra pounds of weights. Is there anything I can do with my elliptical to prepare me for this?

    I am currently doing preprogrammed cross training courses on level10 resistance for an hour a day.

    To prepare for this exercise it is best to use the elliptical to train lower body and core strength as well as aerobic capacity.

    • For aerobic capacity - perform longer workouts at faster stride rates and moderate resistance levels that target "somewhat" hard intensity (just below feeling hard). You should not be out of breath.
    • For leg power perform intervals of 3-6 minutes at higher resistance and lower stride rates at a high ramp setting. This will target strengthening the stair climbing muscles.
    • For core strength perform the aerobic workouts with hands free, focusing on abdominal and torso muscle tone and stabilization for balance.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • What is more beneficial: 20 minutes of exercise a day or 30 minutes every other day?

    Good Question - The Surgeon general has determined that health benefits of exercise are achieved best by a program that incorporates 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least four days per week, 10 minutes of vigorous activity once weekly and 20 minutes of strength training twice weekly.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • Your machines provide preset programs for weight loss and for cardiovascular training (among others). The weight loss program is significantly less strenuous than the cardio programs.

    (It calls for a fixed resistance level at a relatively low heart rate.) ASSUMING A SET WORKOUT PERIOD (say: 35minutes), will the weight loss effect be greater if one does the cardio program rather than the weight loss program, or is there something about fixed, non-varying resistance and slower heart rate that is more conducive to weight loss than the variable resistance and faster heart rate cardio program?

    Weight loss can be achieved through fairly light to moderate intensity workouts which help train the muscles to burn fat. A lower resistance and faster leg turnover, whether utilizing a bike, an elliptical or a treadmill favors fat burning, while harder workouts at higher resistance with slower leg turnover favor carbohydrate burning. Exercise, particularly endurance exercise is the most effective way to improve fat burning, therefore while you may burn more calories per minute in the cardio zone, you will train your muscles to burn more fat in the weight loss zone. Over time, you will train your muscles to burn more calories per minute during exercise.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • I have plantar fasciitis mostly in my heel of my right foot. It has been improving through therapy. What is the best aerobic exercise I can do to stay in shape while it is healing? Does an elliptical put too much stress or weight on the feet?

    What would you recommend other than swimming?

    The elliptical or bike are good choices as they are low impact and should not aggravate the plantar fasciitis.

    - Scott Jurek, PT

  • Should I be concerned about exceeding the recommended heart rates? Is there some benefit to staying within the 65-75% range that's lost by working at a higher heart rate?

    Before deviating from the estimated heart rate (HR) percentages programmed into the equipment, you should have a stress test or "VO2max" test to determine your personal HRmax. The programmed estimates are averages based on the general population but they may differ for some individuals. In general, working within the 65-75% range will strengthen your aerobic system, which in turn will increase your ability to burn fat. Over time, it will also help you burn more calories per minute with your workouts as your aerobic fitness improves. Up to 80% of your predicted maximal HR should still produce aerobic benefits. This benefit is lost if you work out at too high of an intensity too frequently. Your predicted HRmax at 61 years of age would be 159. Your aerobic zone would be estimated to be 103-127 beats per minute. Your fitness history shouldn't affect your maximal HR. If you find that your maximal HR is much higher than the predicted you could alter your training zones accordingly with medical clearance. The higher intensity workouts may be beneficial when used as a small component of your overall exercise program.

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • Is the Hurdler's Stretch considered a safe stretch?

    (Note: The Hurdler's stretch is often done with one leg bent at the knee and bent back towards the Gluteal muscles while the other is stretched out in front.)
    The hurdler's stretch can put the knee in a vulnerable position for injury. If done with the foot pressing against the inner side of the opposite leg, then it's generally safe. Positioning the heel to the Gluteal muscles does put the knee in an unsafe position and at risk for injury.

    - Scott Jurek, PT

  • The Precor elliptical is my favorite, but I've noticed that my weight loss is slowing down. What can I do?

    Try altering the course by maintaining a stride rate between 80-100, and lower the resistance if needed. This will help burn more fat during the workout by keeping you in an aerobic zone. Your perceived exertion level should be "fairly easy" to "somewhat hard" rather than "hard" or "very hard". Alter the ramp to provide the most comfort and to target specific muscle groups, the higher ramp targets the Gluteal muscles while the lower ramp targets the hamstrings. Medium ramp settings target the quads. Pay attention to your nutrition. Weight loss programs based on exercise alone, have not been shown to be effective. Make sure you are "fueling" your workouts with carbohydrates and protein and that you eat balanced regular meals and snacks. The calorie monitors are based on estimates for the general population. They should be relatively accurate but may not be 100% accurate for each specific individual. Check with a dietician, physician or nutritionist for further nutrition recommendations.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • What benefits are there for using the recumbent cycle for hips and legs?

    The recumbent cycle works your Gluteal muscles, hamstrings and quadriceps while providing lumbar (low back) support, and more comfortable positioning for some individuals. It is a good choice for working your hip flexors and groin muscles. Your exercise heart rates will be lower because the heart pumps more blood per beat the more horizontal one becomes (due to effects of gravity).

    - Scott Jurek, PT

  • I am a very healthy 55 year-old woman. I work out 3-4 times a week in the gym and will usually hike or cycle on the weekends. I am 5'-8" tall and can't seem to get below 139lbs. What can I do?

    Your ideal weight for your height is 140 lbs, so it could be that your body is at its optimum weight. If you feel that you are not toned, then it could be that you may need to alter your diet to incorporate more carbohydrates and protein to facilitate muscle development. If you're not getting the proper nutrition, your strength workouts won't be able to help you build muscle. It requires a combination of good nutrition and strength exercises to build an optimal lean body mass. When working out on the elliptical we suggest keeping the higher stride rate and lowering the resistance to gain aerobic benefit. To gain more strength and muscle mass, you would use the high resistance and lower stride rate setting, such as 80-100 strides per minute and for shorter intervals, such as 5 minutes in duration. This should help you build more muscle and optimize your body composition.

    - Lesley Mettler, CT, AFAA, USATF

  • I do quite a bit of cardiovascular activity as well as weights and have lost 150 lbs reaching my goal weight. I've noticed that I still have a little fat on my hips that I would like to tone.

    Currently I am following a popular high-protein weight-loss program. Any suggestions?

    Congratulations on the weight loss. Unfortunately, women do hold weight in their hips, breasts, buttocks and thighs. There is no such thing as "spot reducing". In other words, no specific exercise will eliminate fat from a specific area. Nutrition plays a key role, so due to your high activity levels, we suggest a more well-rounded nutritional program which includes complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. Appropriate amounts and types of carbohydrates help to develop and maintain an optimal body composition as they prevent the body from turning to muscle mass as a fuel source. Carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel for workouts. If we lose muscle mass, then our body fat percentages will not continue to improve, even after significant weight reduction. At this point, by shifting your nutrition to include more complex carbohydrates, while maintaining optimal protein intake, you may achieve further improvement in your body composition.

    - Emily Cooper, M.D.

  • How much water should I drink when I am exercising?

    The amount of water you should consume during exercise varies depending on several factors including, but not limited to, the type and duration of exercise and the climate in which you are exercising. In general, hot and/or humid conditions require more water consumption compared to cold and/or drier climates. Nonetheless, even mild dehydration can reduce your level of performance and impair your ability to regulate body temperature. Therefore, it is important to consume enough water during exercise to at least replace the water lost due to sweating. While it is important to keep in mind that there is no strict rule about fluid consumption during exercise, a good rule of thumb is to drink 8 to 12 oz of water 15 minutes before exercise, 3 to 4 oz every 10 to 15 minutes during exercise, and after exercising, about 16 oz for every 1 lb of weight loss.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • How does caffeine affect my workout? Is it safe to ingest caffeine prior to working out?

    Caffeine is a stimulant and is found in a variety of common foods such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. Although there are studies that suggest that caffeine may improve your strength and power, these findings have not been thoroughly validated. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that caffeine can improve endurance. Specifically, ingesting caffeine prior to endurance exercise increases time to exhaustion, but the effects are most profound in individuals who do not normally ingest caffeine. Additionally, there are potential dangers to using caffeine to improve performance. For one, caffeine is a diuretic, which can result in excessive fluid loss. Caffeine is also a cardiac stimulant and when combined with its diuretic effects, it can increase the risk of arrhythmias, which can be especially dangerous for older, less-conditioned individuals.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • Whenever I run, I have a pain on the outside of my knee, and sometimes my hip, that can be quite debilitating.

    I was told that I have iliotibial band syndrome. Is there anything I can do to relieve the pain?

    The iliotibial band (ITB) is a thick band of tissue that extends from the thigh down over the knee and attaches to the tibia. Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) refers to a syndrome involving lateral knee pain related to irritation and inflammation of the ITB where it crosses the lateral femoral epicondyle on the outside of the knee. It is generally considered an condition and can be caused by several factors including, but not limited to, muscle imbalances, particularly between the quads and hamstrings; running on a sloped road; a tight ITB; excessively worn shoes; improper running mechanics; abnormal foot structure; or leg length differences. The degree of pain and extent of injury will determine how your injury should be rehabilitated. First, it is important to seek a thorough evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional. However, if you have an onset of pain, some suggestions for reducing the risk of further injury include reducing your mileage, running only on flat terrain, local ice massage, and implementing a stretching program specifically designed to increase flexibility of the ITB and gluteal muscles.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • I have arthritis in my knees and so it is very difficult for me to do any form of weight bearing exercise.

    Can you recommend some aerobic exercises that I can do without a significant amount of pain?

    There are several types of aerobic exercise that you can try that will not put excessive stress on the knee joints. Low impact exercises such as walking and elliptical trainers, as well as non weight-bearing exercise (i.e., exercise where your body is supported) such as swimming, cycling and recumbent cycling are all good options that are relatively forgiving on the knees. Aquatic exercise is a great place to start and as your strength and range of motion improves, you can increase the intensity and try other modes of exercise.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • My body tends to get "bulky" when I lift weights. Is there a way that I can lift weights and not become bulky?

    Everyone has a different propensity to build muscle based on their body type and genetic makeup. While women can greatly increase their body mass and size through weight training, they are limited in their ability to build large muscles naturally simply because they don't have enough testosterone. However, if you want to develop a leaner look, use lighter weights and perform more repetitions. If you belong to a health club, circuit training, body awareness, and toning/flexibility classes such as Body Pump, Pilates, and Yoga, are good choices. It is also important to include a regular aerobic exercise program to maintain a healthy body weight and level of lean body mass.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • I tend to do the same weight lifting routine day after day and I read that this can make you more prone to injury because of muscle imbalances.

    How should I change my weight lifting routine to avoid muscle imbalances?

    Resistance training is an important component of any exercise program. However, you should definitely alter your program to include days as well as exercises that work both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups. For example, if you work your quadriceps, you should also work your hamstring muscles; or if you work your biceps, you should work your triceps as well. You should also avoid working the same muscle groups two days in a row. Resting for at least a day between resistance training sessions will allow your muscles to recover and increase the efficiency of your workouts.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • I am a 41 year-old male. I used to be in okay shape, but now with a family, it's such an obligation to get to the gym.

    I find myself riddled with guilt, and when I do go, I feel totally unmotivated, out of place, and overwhelmed. I'm lost. What should I do?

    Remember, working out has to be an opportunity, never an obligation. Don't waste your energy on guilt.

    As for being overwhelmed, it sounds like you have the desire, so the only thing left is to show up. The gym should be happy to give you a tour. One of the easiest ways to get back into the groove is to find a Precor elliptical or treadmill and press "QuickStart." Simply begin to move and breathe, with no expectations. Put in no more than 30 minutes. Just look around and get comfortable.

    After a couple of visits, you'll be comfortable enough to ask some questions, perhaps even talk to a personal trainer. After that, it just gets easier!

    - Gregory Joujon-Roche, Fitness Consultant

  • I work out at my local gym I am wondering what really works. I do a lot of cardio but I'm not really sure what's the most effective machine because they are so different.

    Is there any one "best" machine?

    The "best" machine depends on your individual goals, fitness level, and personal preference. There is no single machine that is best for every person or situation; each has its own unique attributes that might make it better for your goals.

    If you are simply trying to warm up before you move on to some other form of exercise, any machine that engages large muscle groups (i.e. arms and legs) is appropriate. If you are training for a marathon, however, your best bet is to use a machine that will improve your running stamina and efficiency. In this case, a treadmill or the Precor EFX®elliptical trainer are both viable options. Because they are weight bearing, these machines, and stair climbers, are also appropriate for maintaining or improving bone density.

    Because it is low impact, the elliptical is probably also your best option if you have or are predisposed to repetitive motion injuries.

    For weight loss, you need equipment and settings that are comfortable, that you can sustain for 45 to 60 minutes, and are efficient. Research shows that elliptical trainers and treadmills require more energy than stepping, biking, and walking over a similar amount of time, so look at those machines.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • I am 33, moderately fit, and I had my first child three months ago. My doctor tells me everything is fine, and I started normal breast-feeding.

    Now it's my time to get my body back.

    First, it's great that you are making time for yourself, and not using the baby as an excuse for not doing this or that. Remember, taking care of yourself is taking care of your baby.

    Second, remember your metabolism is still in the process of shifting from baby-in-womb to breast-feeding. You will find yourself getting hot flashes and extreme energy highs and lows. Your job here is to listen and become aware of how you feel and honor that.

    Third, because your body is healing and constantly changing, your exercise program needs to complement that. This means moderately paced cardio sessions for 30 to 45 minutes maximum. Stick to a Precor elliptical or something smooth and stable and follow it up with a very easy stretch. Breathe through your belly and smile when you exhale. Bask in the knowledge and strength of being a mom.

    Finally, remember, plenty of liquids and no surprises. This is not a time to test your fitness threshold, but to establish a consistent program that you can commit to at least three times a week. Check with your doctor about post-natal supplements and ask how long you should wait after exercise to breast-feed.

    - Gregory Joujon-Roche, Fitness Consultant

  • A person at the fitness equipment store told me that elliptical trainers are bad for your knees. Is that true?

    First, you should consult your physician before beginning any exercise program, and immediately stop exercising if you experience any pain or discomfort.

    With that said, the answer is "No, Precor ellipticals are not bad for your knees" - the unique, smooth and rhythmic Precor elliptical motion is the result of a great design fine-tuned by a two full years of research by a team of university exercise physiologists and biomechanics experts. Since we introduced the elliptical in 1997, Precor elliptical motion has been further validated by literally millions of people who have logged countless hours on Precor ellipticals in homes and clubs. Since then, Precor ellipticals have been the subject of numerous independent studies, all of which demonstrated the benefits of Precor ellipticals.

    There is a possibility that for any variety of reasons, an individual can experience issues while exercising on any piece of fitness equipment. However, as evidenced by sign-up boards and waiting lines for Precor ellipticals in fitness facilities worldwide, such issues are the rare exception, not the rule, for Precor ellipticals.

  • Will I lose weight if I strength train?

    Although resistance training doesn’t necessarily burn a significant number of calories, it does increase lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. And as your lean body mass increases, the number of calories you burn while at rest - including sleeping! - also increases. With that said, if weight loss is your main goal, the best results will be achieved by combining a regular weight training program with cardiovascular exercise and a proper diet.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • Can I weight train if I'm pregnant?

    First and most importantly, it is critical to obtain clearance from your physician before starting any exercise program, especially when you are pregnant. But assuming your physician has approved your exercise program, resistance training during pregnancy can have numerous beneficial effects including, but not limited to: shorter active phase of labor and less pain, easier recovery from labor, enhanced maternal psychologic well-being, and more rapid return to pre-pregnancy weight.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • How much weight should I use?

    The amount of weight you lift will depend on the specific exercise and your overall goals. For a leaner, more toned physique, start with a weight that you can lift 15 to 20 times. If you want to increase muscle size, however, you’ll want to choose a heavier weight that you can lift only 6 to 8 times. Keep in mind though, that lifting lighter weight and doing more repetitions will tend to build muscular endurance, whereas lifting heavier weights and doing fewer reps will tend to build muscular strength. Therefore, you should keep this in mind when choosing the amount of weight and repetitions.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • What are the benefits of stretching?

    The emphasis on flexibility for overall fitness has increased to the point where it rivals the time and attention paid to cardiovascular and strength training. And this is no surprise. Stretching exercises are important for a number of reasons that are often overlooked or underestimated. Not only does improved flexibility help prevent injuries, it increases the efficiency of your movements (i.e., a flexible joint requires less energy to move through its range of motion). A flexible joint also promotes blood supply and nutrient transport to joint structures, thus helping to maintain the elasticity of the tissues, especially as we age. Further, flexibility helps improve coordination of muscles, muscular balance, and postural awareness, as well as reduce muscular soreness, low back pain, and stress.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • Why should I incorporate stretching into my strength and cardiovascular exercise program?

    The four major components to overall fitness include cardiovascular, strength, body composition, and flexibility. While each of these individual components is important by itself, attention to all is required to promote overall fitness. For instance, maintaining adequate flexibility is important to maximize the effectiveness of both cardiovascular and strength workouts. It improves muscle coordination and allows you to move through a full range of motion, thereby allowing you to get the most out of the workout. Research also suggests that stretching following a workout can improve gains in strength and reduce muscular soreness after a workout.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • What Makes the Precor Stretch Trainer So Effective?

    The Precor Stretch Trainer has a unique, ergonomic design that helps stabilize the back and ensure correct positioning during the stretching movements. The movements are also enhanced by gravity, resulting in deeper, more intense stretches than can be accomplished on the ground. The design is particularly effective for clients with low back pain, but is also extremely effective for improving overall flexibility. Additionally, the Stretch Trainer is user-friendly and accommodates users of all heights. There are eight recommended stretches that target the majority of the upper and lower body muscles, thus accommodating a comprehensive stretching program.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • How often should I stretch and how long should I hold my stretches?

    The American College of Sports Medicine recommends static stretching of the major muscle groups a minimum of 2 to 3 days a week, with each stretch being held for 10 to 30 seconds. While the recommendation for the frequency of stretching is the same for the Stretch Trainer, because stretches on the Stretch Trainer are more intense, each stretch on the Stretch Trainer should be performed five to eight times holding each stretch for three to five seconds.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • When is the best time to stretch?

    To improve flexibility, stretching exercise should be performed only when the muscles have been adequately warmed up. For cardiovascular exercise, it is best to begin your activity with stretching exercises that have a narrower range of motion, rather than focusing on increasing flexibility. Flexibility should be the focus at the end of the activity, when the muscles are thoroughly warm and maximum range of motion can be achieved. The same applies for strength training, where mild stretching should be performed prior to the workout and deeper stretches focused on improving flexibility should be saved for the end of the workout.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • How does flexibility affect back pain?

    Low back pain affects an estimated 80 percent of adults at some point in their life. There are several factors that contribute to low back pain such as age-related changes in the spine, obesity, poor physical fitness and health, poor posture, and inadequate flexibility, to name a few. In particular, poor flexibility of the hamstrings and low back area is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic low back pain. When these muscles are tight, a muscle imbalance can occur causing the pelvis to move out of alignment resulting in low back pain.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • What muscles should I stretch?

    The general rule of thumb is to stretch all the major muscle groups including the upper and lower extremities, shoulders, chest, back, and abdominals. With this in mind, flexibility is individual and each person has different needs. For instance, you may have especially tight hamstrings and buttocks muscles, necessitating that you spend extra time stretching these areas. Or, if you’ve participated in a spinning class or rode your bike, you should make a point to stretch the muscles of the lower body such as the hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, and quadriceps.

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant

  • What type of stretching is best?

    There are numerous different stretching techniques including static, passive, active, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), dynamic, and ballistic. While each has its individual advantages, the general recommendation is to stick with static stretching. Ballistic and dynamic stretching in particular, use momentum and are associated with a greater risk of injury. In contrast, static stretching has a relatively low risk of injury and requires minimal time and assistance. It involves slowly stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and then holding that position for an extended period of time (usually 10 to 30 seconds).

    - Jessica Smith, Fitness Consultant