Tips for Making the Most of Your Cardio Routine at the Gym
You’ve had surgery to lose weight and settled into a gym routine that combines strength training or weightlifting for building muscle and some cardio for calorie burning. You probably feel great right now. You’ve likely lost a good amount of weight, and your body’s shape is starting to change for the better. You’ve also probably figured out your favorite cardio activities. But how do you make the most of building muscle and burning calories while avoiding injury? Let’s dive in.
For some, walking and running is a favorite. Of course, there are some considerations to this. First is the impact on your body. Walking and running on hard surfaces like paved sidewalks or hard pan dirt can put undue pressure on your joints, especially if you still carry excess weight. While you may be feeling better, and running or walking gives you a sense of well-being, you must be mindful of your long-term joint health. Consider walking on sand, for example, if you live near the beach. This minimizes the impact on your joints and gives you a great workout. Otherwise, find grassy areas, but be careful not to trip or twist an ankle. Ultimately, you’ll also want to get proper walking or running shoes with plenty of padding. Good soles and insoles offer protection and comfort.
You can also consider walking or running on the treadmill at the gym. Sure, you won’t have the view or smells to enjoy, but treadmills typically have some give and minimize pressure on your joints. Others may enjoy the elliptical, which can offer a similar movement to walking or running. Any of these options is easier on the joints because there’s a much lower impact, if any. Like most cardio equipment, resistance can be adjusted to suit your needs. Ultimately, it’s up to you how best to use it.
Some would say that the stair climber is pure masochism, but it’s also one of the best cardio machines you can use. The Stairmaster does wonders for the legs and glutes, both essential to stability as you lose weight and your muscles re-adjust to a new reality. While you could run stadium stairs, for example, you need to be mindful of your joints and tripping risk, so we recommend doing stairs at the gym instead.
Cycling is also an excellent option for exercise that minimizes the possibility of joint injury due to hard impacts. Whether you use a stationary or spin bike, class or no class, biking is an excellent option for a lower-body workout.
You may consider rowing as an excellent full-body workout option. By working both the legs and the upper body, primarily the back and biceps, rowing offers a fun way to challenge yourself while offering a significant workout. As a bonus, rowing also represents strength training, so you’ll increase your heart rate while building muscle.
Last, but certainly not least is swimming. Many gyms have an indoor or outdoor swimming pool and it’s a great option if you like being in the water. Swimming is a full body non-impact workout. It combines both cardio and strength training. When enjoyed regularly, it can take your exercise routine to a new level. Just be mindful that your core temperature does drop in the pool and your body may want to compensate with extra calories. Resist the urge by drinking plenty of water and waiting an hour or two after your swim before eating or take this time to consume your protein shake.
Of course, many other cardio options are available at the gym or outside; exploring them all is a great way to find out what you enjoy and can stick to longer-term. Most importantly, if you are plateauing or unable to make further gains, you must consider switching up your cardio and strength routine. Your muscles and body will eventually become accustomed to the same movements and your cardio regimen will no longer be as effective as it once was.
Finally, be mindful that cardio may work against you in some settings. If you’re losing weight too fast, cardio spends additional calories and may put you into a starvation state. If you’re losing hair or have a low energy level, you may already be in a starvation state…more cardio may worsen things. In this case, we recommend limiting cardio. As always, weight lifting and resistance training tend to be better for muscle toning and firming up.
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