Sunday, 22 April 2012

Part 2 - The Cross Trainer 'v' Stepper

In most gyms cardio sections amongst the bikes and treadmills you'll no doubt come across a line or two of  Cross Trainers.  If your lucky you may also find some steppers or stair masters to.  Now in our gym I see more people using the CrossTrainers than the steppers, and I ponder to myself why would this be, what's the fascination with the Cross Trainer?  So here we go with my comparison of them both and which I think is more beneficial.

The Cross Trainer

Cross Trainers also known as Elliptical Trainers are a weight bearing, low impact combination of exercise bike, stair climber, treadmill and ski machine in one as they simulate the movements and benefits of all four.  The name 'elliptical' comes from the elongated circular motion that your legs go through. It's movement is probably closest to skiing, except that your legs go up and down in an oval or elliptical motion.  Cross  Trainers also have handles, which just like holding and using ski poles whilst cross country skiing provides an upper body workout.  They also allow you to pedal backwards therefore avoiding boredom.  Some Cross Trainers also allow you to increase the incline so your able to add some intensity for a super hard legs day.

As Cross Trainers are very low impact, this makes it an advantage over say a treadmill if you've any joint or back problems, are overweight or coming back from rehab.

Now the minuses, personally the movement actually feels a little odd and unnatural and their is a tendency to over stride and if you already have back issues this may not help your situation.  Also because the Cross Trainer is easy to master and requires minimum effort to use you may be tempted to stay on it for a long time and as we know staying on something in your comfort zone for a long time is ineffective. 

In a nutshell the Cross Trainer can be an okay bit of kit, it will burn more calories than perhaps the bike for example, as you are using both upper and lower body.  But remember for an 'afterburn' effect you need to be doing some form of interval work with a decent amount of resistance, example 30 seconds of hard work where your SPM's (strides per minute) are above 130 (or whatever you an manage for 30 seconds, you are the best judge) alternated with 1 minute of recovery SPM's 90 - 100 repeat for 10 to 15 minutes.  So anyone working towards a weight loss goal ambling along for 30 minutes or more need to change up a gear!

The Stepper

There are a few variants of the Stepper, you can get the mini ones that you can easily use at home to ones that include the arms into the movement as well, such as the Versa Climber, Jacobs Ladder and even ones that look like a mini escalator which you have to keep up with.  We are lucky in our gym that we have four AMT's (Adaptive Motion Trainers) so you can step as well as stride.  I would say that the movement on these machines feel a lot more natural than the Cross Trainers.

Stepping is a natural functional movement,you've only got to walk up and down a few flights of stairs to get a little out of breath and feel the muscles of your legs and butt kick in!  The Stepper machine stimulates this movement, is low impact and weight bearing as your heel will naturally want to come off the plate on the downward stroke on the movement unlike the Cross Trainer where your feet are a little more fixed.  If you wanted to work on your balance a little more, step in 'prisoner' mode with your hands behind your head.  Concentrate on standing tall, chest slightly elevated, shoulders naturally back and down, abs engaged, weight in the back of your heels and really push down through each leg on the downward stroke.

The AMT's also stimulate jogging and sprinting depending on how much effort you put in with your shoulders and hips.  Again its all natural, a great conditioning and cardiovascular workout and puts your joints i.e. shoulders, hips and ankles through a good range of movement.  Plus how good would you feel replicating sprinting otherwise!  They give you a better calorie expenditure.  Even without much resistance you can burn upwards of 10 + calories in 1 minute.  I have experimented on both the
Cross Trainer and the AMT and the AMT can give me an extra 100 calories burnt in a similar time.

In a nutshell, my winner by far. 

Even though the Steppers and AMT's are very natural and functional machines, surprisingly many people struggle, feeling a burning sensation in their legs or they become out of breath very quickly.  This is not normally the response on the Cross Trainer hence more time spent on it.  If they have no willpower they will probably end up on the Cross Trainer.  But believe me if you stick with it, great things will happen and you will see some positive changes.  If your only able to stay on it for a couple of minutes, that's a great start, next time stay on for 3 minutes and so on and so forth.  Your strength and stamina will improve, then you will be able to add more resistance.  Intermediate and advanced users can use throw in some HIIT programmes!

I hope this helps and encourages you to come off the Cross Trainer.  Please leave me a comment.

Till next time.

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