The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2008 issue 10



Cardio Equipment:  What's Better?

Here's another common question that I'm asked, "what's better, a treadmill or an elliptical machine?"  Well, it would make for a very short article if there were a quick answer.  However, it's not quite that simple. 

Ok... I will offer a simple answer... "whatever you will actually use!"  Seriously though... motivation is a powerful thing and if a piece of equipment is not suited to you, and is not something that you can continue to use on a regular basis, then it really doesn't matter if it's an outstanding piece of equipment or not.  Many of these machines end up being used more as a clothes rack than a cardio machine!  Whether you use a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or use exercise DVDs... it all comes down to maintaining an elevated heart rate (in your target zone) for a desired period of time (at least 20-30 minutes per session).

So back to the initial comparison... there are definite reasons for selecting one of these cardio machines over the other.  Here's a quick summary for you:

Treadmill - used to allow for the motions of running or walking while staying in one place.  Decent, motorized, treadmills don't typically have resistance settings (aside from the potential to elevate the slope), but rely on the variable of speed to determine the intensity of the workout.  Unlike many of the other cardio machines, a treadmill moves at a predetermined speed (whether manually set, or based upon a program) and the person using the machine is forced to maintain a matched pace to keep up. 

The benefit in this type of operation is that the person training doesn't have the opportunity to take it easy at will.  On the down side, there is little need to propel yourself on a treadmill, making running easier and therefore not giving you an accurate representation of running on the ground.  A potential negative of the treadmill, whether you are walking, jogging, or running on it, is that your foot (or feet) leave the surface of it and therefore have to make contact with it again.  This impact can be jarring to the joints of the body, especially the knees.  If you are like me and have chronic knee problems, this is definitely a reason to consider your options.  Still, the better treadmills are typically less impact than performing the same exercise on the pavement and the ability to do so indoors provides a year round reason to keep up the good work! 

Elliptical Trainer - (also cross trainer or simply elliptical) is a stationary exercise machine used to simulate more of a cross-country skiing stride, without causing excessive pressure to the joints (hence decreasing the risk of impact injuries).

Elliptical trainers offer a non-impact cardiovascular workout that can vary from light to high intensity based on the resistance preference set by the user. Most elliptical trainers work the user's upper and lower body.

They can be self-powered by user generated motion or need to be plugged in for adjustment of motion and/or for supplying their electronic consoles and resistance systems. Current models incorporate adjustable resistance via magnetic or electromagnetic devices.

On some models, the incline of sloping roller ramps beneath the pedal-links can be adjusted to produce varying pedal motion paths. The result of such adjustment changes the burdens on various muscle groups in the legs.  Some trainers can be driven in a reverse as well as in a forward direction. Elliptical trainers are primarily driven via the legs, and most are combination designs having handle-levers attached to each pedal-link for the purpose of enabling a burden on the arms to provide a secondary source of driving power. The user grips the handles below shoulder height and pushes/pulls them while shuffling the feet back and forth within their elliptically shaped paths. Thus the oscillating handle motions are dependently coordinated with the constrained pedal motions. The better models offer a harmonious combination of arm and leg exercise in the correct ratios.

An elliptical cross trainer is comparable to a treadmill in its exertion of leg muscles and the heart. Ellipticals produce an intermediate range of leg motion between that of stationary bikes and treadmills.

There are claims that the dual action exercise of an elliptical trainers can actually be more efficient in burning calories. The logic is that by exercising more muscle groups simultaneously, a more intense workout can be achieved in less time. It is also suggested that the perceived rate of exertion is lower. However, other studies have shown that the rate in which calories are burned on an elliptical trainer is similar to that on a treadmill.  Regardless, elliptical trainers are growing in popularity. One reason may be that because the person who is exercising is not taking his or her feet off of the pedals, an exercise can be done at a gentler rate, still getting the same amount of results as a treadmill.

Stationary Bike - (also exercise bicycle or bike) is a device with saddle, pedals, and some form of handlebars arranged as on a bicycle, but used as exercise equipment rather than transportation.

An exercise bicycle is usually a special-purpose exercise machine resembling a bicycle without true wheels, but it is also possible to adapt an ordinary bicycle for stationary exercise by placing it on bicycle rollers or a trainer. Rollers and trainers are often used by racing cyclists to warm up before racing, or to train on their own machines indoors.

The exercise bike has long been used for physical therapy because of the low-impact, safe, and effective cardiovascular exercise it provides. The low-impact movement involved in operating an exercise bike does not put much stress on joints and does not involve sporadic motions that some other fitness equipment may require.

Recently there has been an increased interest in "Spinning" classes at health clubs and fitness centers.  Indoor cycling or spinning is a form of high-intensity exercise that involves using a stationary exercise bicycle in a classroom setting.  The exercise bicycles used for spinning are designed more like a typical road bike then the semi-recumbent, or recumbent exercise bikes on the typical equipment floor of a health club.  A well-trained instructor uses music, motivation and enthusiastic coaching to lead students through a ride that best suits their fitness level and goals. Most instructors will lead what is called an interval ride, this is where students will sprint, run, climb, and jump all in the same ride but there will not be definable pattern to the exercises.  Participants set goals based on their heart rate, which can be measured by hand or using a heart rate monitor and ride simulated variations in terrain by altering resistance and cadence. 

In Summary-  There are a variety of factors to consider when you are looking into purchasing a piece of cardio equipment.  Cost, space requirements, and motivation are important in addition to some of the points that I covered above.  Remember to assess yourself and understand what limitations you might have such as back or joint issues which would steer you to an elliptical or exercise bike, or whether a treadmill might be better if you enjoy walking or jogging, or need to have a set pace to keep up with.  Once you have an idea of the type of equipment you want, I'd recommend doing some homework to find out which ones are rated favorably in their class.  A few of my favorite sites for reviews are,,,,, and a variety of other useful resources that you can find by searching for "treadmill reviews", "elliptical reviews", or "stationary bike reviews".  One suggestion that I would make would be to check the reviews at several different sites to ensure that you are not getting biased information on a model and brand due to a manufacturer sponsorship of the site.  It's definitely better to get an overall consensus from a variety of resources before you spend your hard earned money!  

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Press and Fly

Now I'm not gonna lie, this is a tough one!  I can do maybe one or two of them in a standard pushup position, but that's about it.  It made more sense to show this exercise in the novice position starting from my knees.  This exercise combines the classic pushup exercise with a chest fly for that stretch and focus on your outer chest muscles.  Although I demonstrated this exercise using a standard pair of plate-loaded dumbbells, if you really like it, I would suggest putting together a pair of single-arm wheels like I have below.  A couple of lawn mower wheels, some 1" PVC pipe, and some long hex bolts will do the trick and offer much less friction.


Target:  chest, shoulders, arms (pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps brachii)

Count:  4 count

Description:  Assume the classic push-up position (novice position recommend to start) but place your hands on a pair of plate-loaded dumbells (since the plates have to spin) or single arm wheels.  Bend your elbows and lower your chest towards the floor for the push-up, return to the starting position, then roll the wheels out slowly while lowering your chest to the floor again for the fly.  Complete for maximum repetitions.

(lawn mower wheels, hex bolts, and PVC pipe)

Being Certifiable

I'll have to admit, some of the stereotypes of personal trainers are pretty funny.  You see these people with boat-loads of energy that scream and yell, while most of you are really wondering what the heck we do besides count to ten and "give me one more". 

Seems like something anybody can do, right?  Well, that very well may be... but I gotta tell you, unless you have some basic medical training behind you, you're going to want to crack the book open first. 

There are a multitude of certification companies out there and you'd definitely want to choose one that's got a good reputation.  My personal training certification is with the American Council on Exercise (ACE) which is probably one of the more popular ones.  I thought it would be at least interesting to give you a bit of an overview of what types of material that a certified trainer has to know in order to pass the exam.  So here goes...

The ACE personal trainer exam has 150 multiple-choice questions in the first part and an adaptive portion for the second part.  The 3 type of questions you have to answer are "knowledge" questions (for example, "which muscle extends the elbow joint?"), "application" questions (such as, "Sarah's measurements are X. What is her body fat percentage?"), and "analysis" questions (such as, "the per-serving nutritional data for a back of chips is X.  What is the total amount and percentage of calories that come from fat in the entire bag?").  The adaptive portion of the exam is a series of questions that ask about real life scenarios and ask what you would do in the situation.  The questions on the scenario continue based upon the choices that you make to ensure that you know the material.  It is generally recommended to allow yourself at least 6 months of study in order to grasp and master the material sufficiently to pass the exam.

The ACE personal trainer manual is your primary study guide, although supplements to the manual and practice tests are also very useful in preparing for the exam.  The manual is a large, hard-covered book, with roughly 550 pages and covers topics such as exercise physiology, human anatomy, biomechanics and applied kinesiology, nutrition, health screening and fitness testing, cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength and endurance, program design, injury prevention and first aid, coaching and communication, and legal guidelines and responsibilities.  There's a lot of information to master for the test, but if have a high level of enthusiasm for the field to start, it is very interesting stuff and the book is an excellent reference guide.

You can't even test for the ACE personal trainer certification unless you are CPR certified with an approved company (American Heart Association, Red Cross, etc..).  Once you pass your certification exam, your good to go... for about 2 years.  To maintain your certification, the different certifying organizations have requirements that you will need to fulfill to stay certified.  ACE requires that personal trainers maintain a current CPR certification and take 2.0 continuing education credits before the date of expired certification.  There are a variety of interesting and helpful courses to choose from that usually range anywhere from .2 to 2.0 credits depending on the difficulty of material (and cost).  This is also a great way to stay on top of industry research and keep your knowledge fresh. 

Once you are a certified personal trainer, you are recognized as having the skills to work with clients one on one to instruct and prescribe exercise programs that are customized to assist the clients in meeting their goals.  This does not certify the trainer to prescribe nutrition or diet programs nor work with some special needs populations that may require medical supervision.  It is important to understand the limitations of your certification for both your protection as well as your clients.

Personal training can be a very rewarding vocation and there are a wide variety of specialties and niches that you can focus on once you have decided to follow this path.  Once certified, you have the choices of hooking up with a gym or club, starting your own business, or a combination of options to keep you busy.  Either way, think things through and enjoy yourself.  It feels good to help people exceed their expectations and goals!   

It's Go Time!

What a way to end September... 75 miles with my butt on a little piece of leather and steel!  Special thanks to those of you that sponsored me for this Multiple Sclerosis ride.  The annual Bike to the Bay is something that I look forward to every year and the money that we raised will go a long way towards programs and support for those afflicted with this disease.

So I have to admit... I probably won't be getting on my bike again until April of next year.  What?  I didn't say that I was going to stop working out or anything.  I just don't enjoy the freezing cold wind in my face and choose not to deal with it if I don't have to ; )  Once the annual MS ride is over, I typically take it inside and still get my 35-45 minutes of cardio 3-4 times a week.  I like to mix it up to keep myself motivated and interested.  I'll do my elliptical machine one workout, throw in a P90X DVD for another workout, maybe dust off my old Tae Bo tapes... whatever works.  This, of course, is in addition to hitting the weights a few times a week too.  You gotta have a good balance of cardio, resistance training, flexibility training, and nutrition for the best overall benefits!

Just because we're getting into the season where you can "hide" those body parts that you want to improve upon with big bulky clothes, doesn't mean they go away!  THIS is the time where you can really make an impact before next summer and give everybody that "wow factor" when you put the swim suit back on!  Remember:  1-2 pounds per week is 4-8 pounds per month or 32-64 pounds before next summer... if you put your mind to it!  Set some SMART goals and prioritize a plan to attack those goals.  The ball's in your court!

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

"The difficult can be done immediately,
the impossible takes a little longer"

youtube video of the month --> Beyond Burpees
I always liked the creative yet effective exercises in this video. | Personal Training | News | Tips & Tools | Fitness Stuff




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