Iron Maidens: A Spring guide to cardio machines

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March is upon us, and the weather is getting slightly more pleasant. Soon, it will be so warm that it will be difficult to justify eating macaroni and cheese three meals a day (difficult, but not impossible). As you emerge from the dead of winter, idle thoughts of going to the gym may float across your mind. Supposing you decide to get the blood pumping in service of your vanity health, you will be faced with a wide variety of cardio machines in the campus gyms. If your diet is 120% protein and and you can discuss the finer points of squatting form, perhaps these machines are of little consequence to you, but for the rest of us who answer “Do you even lift?” with, “Well, no, now that you mention it,” cardio is our bread and butter. Or method of burning the bread and butter. Clichéd metaphors aside, there are a variety of options for your distance workouts. Like other areas of life, most of these choices are wrong.

Treadmill

Old reliable. The treadmill is the bane of excuses everywhere. “It’s rainy.” “It’s -2 degrees Fahrenheit out.” “I went to Kabob and Curry last night.” Whatever reason you can come up with to dodge running outside, the treadmill is always there to remind you that you’re a lazy bum. The only excuse left is that the weather is too poor to even get to the gym, which is unlikely in the event that the gym is actually open. The treadmill offers the wonderful experience of turning oneself into a hamster, running forever while gazing at the same stretch of wall (though many models come equipped with TV screens). On occasion, you meet the person, clearly the scourge of public restrooms everywhere, who elects to use the treadmill right next to yours, despite the fact that there are a dozen others available. Miscreant.

In spite of its monotony, the treadmill does have several key upsides. The first, which it shares with running in general, is that your treadmill music can never be too ridiculous. Running is a stressful enough activity that no one can ever give you shit for your tune choice. If “Call Me Maybe” dubstep remixes are all you want to listen to, the treadmill is your machine.

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Another advantage of the treadmill is that it puts less strain on your joints than running outdoors, which is great if you, like me, are secretly a geezer in a 22 year-old, hip injury prone body. Also, the machine takes care of your pacing for you, so you can run more or less without thinking.

Bear’s Lair Treadmill

These deserve their own section, nestled as they are in the carpeted-gym madness of the Graduate Center. Firstly, only 2 of the 4 will be functional on any given day, so either run in the wee hours of the morning or perfect your cage fighting skills to capture one by force. If you live near or in Grad Center, there’s probably  part of you urging you to put in some extra effort and go to Nelson Center for your workout. Pay heed to that voice; it is your friend.

Stationary Bike

For me, bicycling has always been about leisure and transportation. As such, I find rigorous stationary bike workouts disquieting at best and miserable at worst. Unlike the treadmill, your pace is entirely up to how fast you consciously decide to petal, and it can be maddening to find the motivation to do so when your reward is not “wind whipping through your hair on a summer night,” but “slightly faster mechanical whirring sound.”As such, the stationary bike is best, in my opinion, for a somewhat leisurely workout (I use it when I’m not running). Bring a book. If you don’t sweat like a dog, bring a tablet. Look across the gym at the parade of grimaces and have yourself a nice day.

Elliptical

I’m going to be honest and say that I have no idea what’s up with the elliptical. Do I use my legs? Do I use my arms? Both? Neither? It’s more a workout for my mind than body, to be honest. That said, I think I’m fortunate in this regard because the elliptical is ridiculously popular. You’d better be quick if you want to snag one. I suggest doing preliminary windsprint training, after which you will be able to get an elliptical, and can do elliptical workouts. Walk before you can run, run before you can do whatever it is you do on an elliptical.

Ergometer (Rowing machine)

The ergometer, known colloquially as the erg, is the odd-looking machine found at Nelson with a handle attached to a chain, a sliding seat, a fan, and a screen. It is used by rowers to train in addition to on the water training, or as a substitute for water training while the weather is not conducive to outdoor workouts (If you have a rower friend, ask them how much fun winter training is.). If you’re going to use the erg, you should focus on proper form, so as not to injure yourself (rowing is fairly low-impact on your body, so long as you do it right). Sit at the top of the slide, close to the screen, with your feet strapped in. Grab the handle. Now, press first with your legs; once they’re fully extended, lean back from your hips. Finally, pull the handle in with your arms to near the location of your sternum.

Most importantly, none of the above information should be of any use to you at any time, because you should never use the erg for any reason. It is a cruel and capricious god, its altar ever adorned with the blood from the newly opened blisters on your hands. If you are enjoying an erg workout, you are doing it wrong, and you need to be pulling harder. Erg sessions are the most masochistic thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I went to Catholic school for 14 goddamn years. The worst outcome for erging, though, is that you will grow to love it, and the blisters on your hands will harden into calluses, marking you as a veteran. At that point, it is too late for you; the rest of us in the sane world can only pray that you’ll emerge from your lunacy one day. Until then, pull that chain, if that’s what makes you happy.

That covers most of the cardio options, though I’ve left out some of the more exotic contraptions at Nelson, as I have no experience with them at all. Have fun chasing the elusive runner’s high, and remember not to join any cults. This meeting of the Church of Cardio is at its end. Go forth at a reasonable pace, for a minimum of 30 minutes.

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