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Tedious treadmill?

To liven up cardio workouts, trainers are adding lunges, squats, bends and bands. One even turns the motor off -- as in, you do the work.

September 18, 2006|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

THE workouts that cardio machines get are usually pretty monotonous. Treadmills are walked upon. Elliptical trainer foot beds move forward and back, forward and back. Stair climbers and stationary bikes are pedaled the same way, day after day.

Not a terribly exciting life, even for an appliance.

Now some trainers and group fitness instructors are pushing these popular cardio machines beyond the usual routines, including the ones already programmed into equipment. They've devised unconventional workouts and added apparatus to up exercisers' cardiovascular levels and train new muscle groups.

They're looking for new ways to get clients and students fitter faster -- all, of course, while keeping an eye on safety. Anyone who's seen somebody on a treadmill get so caught up watching "Access Hollywood" that they trip and get shot out the back can attest to the potential dangers of these machines when used incorrectly.

Often, the programs are born out of a trainer or instructor's own personal ennui:

* That's how it was for Los Angeles-based personal trainer Erik Flowers, co-owner of LA's Body Builders Gym and creator of a new interval workout on the current "it" machine, the elliptical trainer.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Shreadmill: A Sept. 18 Health section article on enlivening cardio workouts failed to make clear that a program called Shreadmill was started and trademarked by Equinox and Sports Club/LA instructor Felix Montano. Also, his name was misspelled as Montana in the article.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 02, 2006 Home Edition Health Part F Page 6 Features Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Shreadmill -- A Sept. 18 Health section article on enlivening cardio workouts failed to make clear that a program called Shreadmill was started and trademarked by Equinox and Sports Club/LA instructor Felix Montano. Also, his name was misspelled as Montana in the article.

"I was working out at home and I thought, 'I'm not even paying attention to what I'm doing, I'm not sweating anymore.... There's got to be more to this machine,' " Flowers recalls.

He began experimenting, eventually coming up with ElliptiSize, which uses a combination of speeds, resistance levels and positions, such as squatting and lifting up on the toes. Beginners can progress in stamina, strength and balance.

Sequences include pedaling the machine in a squat position at high resistance (taxing the glutes and quadriceps) and pedaling backward while up on the toes, training the core and working major muscle groups, including the calves.

A few things, he found, didn't work -- such as keeping one's eyes closed. Though this does help improve a person's balance, most people found it too difficult and awkward. Adding dumbbells -- even light ones -- threw off coordination and made the ride too unstable. He officially launched the trainer-led program last January.

* Amy Dixon, group fitness manager for Equinox in Santa Monica, is another who's retooled workouts for classic gym machines. She teaches Shreadmill, a treadmill-based group exercise class inspired by her high school track team days: walking lunges, walking with knees up, walking on toes, or backward or sideways, with various combinations of speed and incline -- and sometimes with eyes closed.

Dixon says that some students are skeptical about the class. "They think, 'What can this woman give me on a treadmill that I don't already know?' "

Other gyms have adopted such classes: Last spring, the Sports Club/LA launched a version of Shreadmill, taught by instructor Felix Montana.

* Brooke Siler, Pilates instructor and owner of re:AB fitness studios in Manhattan, has reformatted gym machine workouts using cardio machine moves she practiced on her own for years. When she did them, "my biceps were popping, my shoulders were more developed, and I realized I could use the equipment to sculpt my body."

Siler put her moves into a book, "Your Ultimate Pilates Body Challenge: At the Gym, on the Mat, and on the Move," released last December. Among her suggestions: leaning forward and doing push-ups on the fixed arms of the elliptical or the Cybex Arc Trainer while pedaling; or putting hands on shoulders and twisting while on the stair climber or elliptical, to better work core muscles and improve coordination. She tells clients to imagine, while on the treadmill, that they're pushing the belt themselves, because it makes the leg muscles work harder.

* Some go further than asking clients to "imagine." Trainer Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10, a personal training and workout facility in San Diego, shuts the treadmill motor off so that clients have to propel it themselves, sometimes with both legs and sometimes, per his instructions, with just one, to check for strength imbalances. He also has clients walk and run backward and sideways -- and skip, to improve coordination. Supervision and starting slowly keep the exercises safe, he says.

* At A Tighter U Fitness Studio in Culver City, trainer and gym owner Steve Zim teaches a workout combining treadmill for cardio and elastic bands, wrapped around the console of the machine, for toning the arms. He developed the idea on his own years ago, while traveling and working out in hotel gyms.

Compressing strength and cardio into one routine to save time is one appeal, Zim says; another is the boosted cardio benefits and calorie burn from walking while doing upper body work.

Such new twists on old equipment are gaining fans. On a recent day at Zim's gym, 21-year-old Hillary Reed walks on a treadmill at a breezy three miles per hour and 7% incline while alternating between bicep curls, tricep kick-backs and shoulder presses with armbands.

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