By Jeff McCray (@bassoonmuscle)

I guess that there are probably people out there that must like doing cardio, but I’m not one of them.  However, I do it because I know it’s beneficial both for overall health and in the pursuit of my physique goals.  So please understand me that when I DO something I DON’T enjoy, I’m going to make sure that I’m not wasting any effort.  In essence, I want my cardio sessions to be as effective and as efficient as possible. 


That being said, I see a lot of people wasting their effort while doing cardio.  And frankly, I see the worst examples of wasted effort on the stepmill.  Here is one simple (and hopefully memorable) tip for increasing the effectiveness of your sessions on the stepmill.




The point of the stepmill is to simulate the repetitive action of climbing stairs.  Why then, would you hold on with your hands?  I see this mainly in two ways – hugging the display – like you’re practically lying down onto the machine -- or supporting the majority of your weight with the arms and sticking your ass out behind you -- like a cocker spaniel dropping a deuce in the front yard.  Both are less effective, cause massive repetitive strain on your hips and lower back, and make you look RIDICULOUS.


Try this instead.  Stand up straight, engage your core muscles to maintain an upright posture, and use the muscles in your legs and glutes to climb the stairs.  All you ladies (and gents) who are trying to get a firmer backside would do well to use these muscles on the stepper. 


Going completely hands free while using the stepmill might be uncomfortable at first, but if you slow things down (which you should probably be doing anyway…..) you may have an easier time maintaining your balance.  Now, if you’re really getting after it and going fast (especially with the changing speeds of HIIT cardio) by all means, use your hands to make sure you don’t lose your balance, but even then, you probably don’t need to hold on for dear life.


If you monitor your heart rate (which I strongly recommend) to gauge the intensity of your sessions (more on that another day….), you’ll find that NOT holding on actually elevates your heart rate in comparison to holding on – meaning that going hands free makes your body work harder.  I find that I can actually get my heart rate up in to my target range at slower speeds when I don’t use my hands on the stepper. 


IN CONCLUSION, rather than trying to kill yourself at high speeds while bending over on the stepmill and holding on for dear life (remember the image of the cocker spaniel taking a crap?)  try standing up straight and not using your hands.  Your lower back and hips will thank you, and you may just get better results in pursuit of your goals.