Last Updated on November 20, 2016 by Michael Brockbank
Weight machines can do more than just help you add bulk to your muscle mass. If used right, you can also get one hell of a cardio workout in the process. It all boils down to your personal goals for getting into shape. Do you want bulk or lean muscle? Personally, I try to focus on losing the incredible amount of weight around my midsection. So, how do you go about using weight machines for cardio?
Getting Cardio with Weight Machines
One of my goals is to look like Captain America for the next Halloween. I have a ways to go, but it’s the amount of fat around my body that is keeping me from achieving this. Although having some kind of muscular framework is ideal, it doesn’t mean anything if it looks like I am wearing a comforter around them.
I’ve been putting more work into building strength while increasing the cardio. This helps me add the muscles I want for my goal while burning through the carbs and calories to lose fat. Does it actually work? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Not only have I been losing weight, but I’ve developed more upper body definition than I ever have…and here is how.
Keeping the Weights Low
Now, keeping weights low while doing high reps is a mantra for many. It’s this activity that helps you build lean muscle mass rather than bulk. But not everyone takes into consideration the other things that higher reps help you achieve.
For example, higher reps means that you are constantly working your body. It’s this constant movement that can classify as cardio exercise. In the grand scheme of things, you burn more fat and calories by sustaining an elevated heart rate for a longer duration. Hence the name, “cardio.”
Let’s break it down even further. You will burn more fat and calories by lifting 40 pounds while using a bicep curl machine 30 times than you would by lifting 100 pounds 12 times. Even though it’s the same amount of total weight, it’s the activity of movement and resistance than will elevate your heart.
Higher Number of Sets
Keeping the weights low and increasing the number of repetitions is only part of getting a good cardio workout with weight machines. I’ve also found that I can increase the number of sets I can do in one session. Why is this important? Because I can burn even more before getting too exhausted to move.
Since I don’t want to be too bulky, it’s better to do four or five sets at 30 reps each while lifting 40 pounds. Remember, it’s all about sustaining that elevated heart rate. The longer I can keep myself in the “fat burn” or “cardio” zones for my pulse rate, the more my body uses materials to keep the energy levels up. This is taken directly from my Fitbit Charge HR. A long and steady pace will burn far more fat that one short burst of lifting heavier weights.
Increasing the amount on weight machines can help you burn more calories faster as long as you can maintain the same number of repetitions. For instance: If you commit to 25 reps of the bicep curl, you’ll burn more calories lifting 60 pounds as opposed to 40. For the cardio workout, you need the same amount of movement while increasing the weight.
It Doesn’t Matter What Weight Machines You Use
When working on building muscle and losing fat, it really doesn’t matter what machines you use. Because I want to develop upper body strength, I tend to use most units that focus on those various muscle groups. Biceps, triceps, chest, shoulders and all areas of my back are worked on. I try to do the same number of reps to varying degrees because I am trying to also work up one hell of a sweat.
In my normal routine, I’ll also throw in seated leg presses just so I can define my legs a bit further. That, and it also racks up the points in Exercise.com. It’s easier to bust out 110 pounds with my legs for 80 reps than it would be to do it on the bicep curl machine. I know…it feels like I am cheating sometimes.
Adding More As You Go
Personally, I started off using weights that were somewhat easy to lift over a long period of time. As I discover my limitations, I start increasing the pounds on the weight machine five pounds at a time. Remember, I am going more for a cardio workout than building bulk.
As a result, I’m increasing the workout to my body to burn more calories and my arms and chest are far more dense than they used to be. I kind of geek out about it when I flex in from of the mirror. It’s easy to identify the shape in my biceps now…something I’ve never had before.
So, What Does My Workout Routine Look Like?
I was asked recently what kinds of things I do while at the gym. I’m not one of those people who work on one muscle group every other day. Personally, I enjoy trying to do a whole body workout every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
My average routine looks a little bit like this:
- Machine Chest Press: Four sets of 25 reps at 40 pounds. 4,000 pounds total.
- Machine Bicep Curl: Four sets of 22 reps at 40 pounds. 3,520 pounds total.
- Machine Fly: Four sets of 25 reps at 70 pounds. 7,000 pounds total.
- Tricep Pushdown: Four sets of 30 reps at 60 pounds. 7,200 pounds total.
- Seated Machine Row: Four sets of 18 reps at 65 pounds. 4,680 pounds total.
- Seated Leg Press: Four sets of 20 reps at 110 pounds. 8,800 pounds total.
- Treadmill Walking: Between 3.2 and 3.8 MPH pace for 12-13 minutes.
This usually takes me between 45 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on how many breaks I take between sets. Unfortunately, I also have to stop in the middle so I can have a snack. Since I have hypoglycemia, I burn myself out too fast if I don’t put some sugar in. Blueberry breakfast bars from Walmart are excellent to keep from going into shock. Since I’ve been eating these, I don’t shake by the end of the workout or feel like I am going to pass out.
I know some of the reps look a little off. For example, I only do 22 repetitions with bicep curls. I started these at 18 and added two reps periodically to increase the workout. That’s because I am building endurance in order to put more into the workout.
At the end of the routine, I throw in a bit of walking to keep the heart elevated. This is one of the things that gives this workout a lot of cardio value. By the time I am done, my pulse rate is pushing 155 to 160. And yes, I turn myself into a sweaty mess by the time I am done.
Personal Preference and Goals are Key
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy free weights. I simply like the physical activity that comes from weight machines while solidifying my muscle mass.
Everyone’s goals are different when it comes to exercise. For me, it’s all about keeping comfortable. The point is to add more to your exercise to keep yourself healthy whether it’s cardio, weight machines or dumbbells. Take a bit of time and set up your own goals. Find what drives you as it will be beneficial to keep yourself motivated to continue.