Although outdoor endurance exercise is more interesting, there are steps you can take to make indoor aerobic activity less boring and more beneficial.
In addition to watching television, listening to music or reading the paper while you ride the stationary cycle, there are many ways to make it more motivating.
These include cross-training, circuit training and interval training, all of which have significant advantages over steady state exercise.
Steady state exercise
Most exercisers follow a consistent pattern of training, known as standard, steady state exercise.
A typical training session begins with a few minutes of the aerobic activity (cycling, running, etc.) at an easy effort level.
The warm-up segment is followed by a 20- to 40-minute period of continuous, moderate-effort exercise that elevates heart rate to about 75 percent of maximum.
This is the steady state component of the exercise session that provides the cardiovascular conditioning.
The steady state period is followed by a reduced-effort cool-down segment lasting about 3 to 5 minutes or until heart rate is within 30 beats per minute of resting level.
Steady state endurance exercise is easy to implement and effective for increasing cardiovascular endurance.
However, other approaches offer a lower risk of overuse-imbalance injuries and provide greater cardiovascular training.
Just as important, they are more interesting to perform, which makes these exercise sessions more beneficial psychologically as well as physiologically.
Cross training is an easily implemented procedure at most fitness facilities, at least during non-peak periods.
Rather than spending 30 minutes on a single exercise (cycle, treadmill, elliptical, etc.), simply perform three successive aerobic activities for 10 minutes each.
For example, a cross-training session could consist of a few minutes of walking warm-up, 10 minutes of stationary cycling, 10 minutes of elliptical exercise and 10 minutes of stair stepping, followed by a few minutes of walking cool-down.
By changing the mode of exercise, you reduce the risk of muscle overuse and muscle imbalance injuries that often result from performing the same movement pattern every workout.
Also, by using different muscle groups for different exercises, cumulative fatigue is reduced and the performance level may be increased.
The following aerobic activities may be interchanged in a variety of ways in a cross-training program: recumbent cycling, upright cycling, treadmill walking, treadmill running, elliptical training, stair stepping, stair climbing, rowing and rope jumping.
Circuit aerobic training is similar to cross training, but it involves a more systematic exercise selection/sequence and much shorter segments.
Successive exercises emphasize different muscle groups so some muscles are resting while others are working, and vice-versa.
Because successful circuit training requires relatively high effort throughout the workout, each exercise is performed for just 3 to 5 minutes.
Consider this sample circuit aerobic training program for a comprehensive 32-minute endurance exercise session:
• Walking warm-up (4 minutes).
• Recumbent cycling (4 minutes).
• Treadmill jogging (4 minutes).
• Rowing (4 minutes).
• Elliptical training ( 4 minutes).
• Upright cycling (4 minutes).
• Stair climbing (4 minutes).
• Walking cool-down (4 minutes).
In addition to the physical benefits of performing seven different exercises, the brief training segments make circuit aerobic workouts more interesting from a mental perspective.
The most challenging and productive form of aerobic activity is called interval training. Whether you are a beginning exerciser or an advanced athlete, interval training is the most effective way to improve your level of cardiovascular fitness.
Although you can apply interval training techniques to cross-training, I will present a sample program for the exercise cycle.
The basic principle of interval training is alternating periods of higher-effort exercise and lower-effort exercise.
The higher-effort segments increase the training intensity and the lower-effort segments maintain the training duration for an enhanced cardiovascular conditioning session.
Interval training makes the workout more challenging physically and less monotonous mentally, as you look forward to performing the lower-effort intervals between the higher-effort exercise bouts.
Generally, the training intervals should be equal in length and not exceed 3 minutes.
Let’s say you normally ride the stationary cycle at 50 watts for your 3-minute warm-up and cool-down segments and at 100 watts for your 20-minute steady state period.
Do the same warm-up and cool-down protocol, but divide your steady state period into seven intervals of 3 minutes each.
Cycle your first, third, fifth and seventh 3-minute intervals at 125 watts (higher-effort training), and cycle your second, fourth and sixth 3-minute intervals at 75 watts (lower-effort training).
You should see results after as little as three weeks of interval training, especially if you perform at least two interval training sessions per week.
• Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College, Mass. and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has written 25 books on physical fitness.