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5 Ways to improve your elliptical training sessions

You already know that your elliptical trainer strengthens your cardiovascular system without stressing your joints. What you may not know is that there are a lot of ways you can use your elliptical to strengthen your body and train for other activities. Here are 5 ways you can improve your elliptical training sessions:

1. Take your hands off the machine. Challenge your balance and strengthen your core by taking your hands off of the handles and using your arms to enhance your effort. Engage your core by drawing your belly in and keeping the top of your shoulders relaxed. This produces a functional movement that improves your balance and power in functional activities and athletic pursuits.

2. Strengthen your upper body. If your elliptical has arm handle to strengthen your upper body, regularly include these in your workouts. Drive with your arms during your recovery periods, while your legs are preparing for their next effort.

3. Add backwards movements. Elliptical trainers offer the unique option of backwards movement. This equalizes muscle imbalances that develop from emphasizing forward movements in other activities, while strengthening the hamstrings and glutes.

4. Strengthen your lower bodyIncrease your resistance and keep your weight in your heels to target your glutes and quadriceps in much the same way that squats target these areas during strength training. You can use this approach in both forward and backwards movements to hit these muscles differently and add a challenge for your hamstrings.

5. Add Sprints. Increase your speed during high effort intervals. This increases your cardiovascular challenge and provides a cross training activity that will improve your speed in other activities.

Just a few training variations will help you continue to see results and reach your personal goals.

Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.



Adding Strength Training Into Your Cardio Routine


Are tight schedules and a lack of equipment keeping you from getting the benefits of strength training? If you find yourself making excuses rather than making your workouts, it’s time to develop a program that works with you and your schedule. Low equipment and no equipment forms of strength training are excellent ways to build muscle and improve your functional movements. Plus, adding in circuit-style strength training to your cardio workouts at home can keep your heart rate up so you don’t have to choose between strength training and cardio when time is short.

From burpees to tuck jumps, there are plenty of equipment-free ways to keep your heart pumping while you build muscle. If adding impact to your workouts seems a bit extreme, you can choose no-impact options such as planks and squats. Bodyweight strength training will increase your functional capacity, making you stronger for the movements you do (or should be doing) every day.

A great program might start with a warm-up on your Vision treadmill, indoor bike or elliptical, followed by five stations of exercises targeting the chest and/or back, lower body, core, arms, or entire body at once. Spend one minute at each station and repeat the entire circuit 2-3 times depending on your schedule. During the second and third rounds, you can increase the intensity on your fitness equipment to be sure that you keep your heart rate within your cardiovascular training zone. If you’re already in good shape, try to aim for intense intervals during your time on your fitness equipment, as well as during your lower and full body exercises.

For options that will suit everyone from beginners to athletes, this list of 50 Bodyweight Exercises you can do anywhere will give you plenty of choices to design your first circuit and keep it fresh for months to come. If you need help designing your first workout, here’s an example of a beginner workout using bodyweight exercises.

Whether you’re just getting started or want to seriously power up your workouts, low equipment and no equipment forms of strength training are excellent ways to build muscle and improve your functional movements.

Check out part two of this article on how to add in more free weight and resistance band workouts to boost your home cardio routine.

Ask an expert: What is the best way to recover after a race?

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I recover after short and long races – 5K to marathon?  ~Jeff

A: Great question, Jeff! The short, sweet, tweet-sized answer is – invest one day for every mile in the race. Although this is very general, it can work in keeping things simple. So, the shorter the race, the shorter the recovery necessary and vice versa.  This is why you can race multiple 5Ks in a season with less risk than racing multiple half or full marathons in a season.

The longer answer is it truly depends on a host of variables including: your running experience, your training season, your health, stress, nutrition, race intensity, the elements, age and more! I know that’s a mouthful and quite a lot to think about, but ultimately it comes down to creating your personal recovery program and understanding that every post-race recovery is unique. That way, you tune into what works for you, learn to optimize your down time and ebb and flow with all types of recoveries.

Contrary to popular belief, post-race recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch watching your favorite reality TV show. It simply means getting off the structure of a training program for awhile to let things heal and rejuvenate – much like the winter season or a good night’s sleep. Our body functions in cycles and when you begin to train and race in cycles, you make the most of every season. The fun part is it allows time to explore activities you may have ignored due to training. There are a myriad of options for active recovery and here are just a few ways you could go for each race distance.

5K – 10K:  

In-Season, Post-Race Recovery:

Day 1 – Rest, massage or very light, low-impact activity for 20-30 minutes (cycling, elliptical)

Day 2 – Cross-training with lower-impact activities for 30-45 minutes at an easy effort level, plus flexibility exercises (foam rolling, stretching)

Day 3 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 4 – Cross-training for 30-45 minutes at an easy to moderate effort level

Day 5 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Continue on with your 5K training regimen, adding higher intensity and longer duration runs back into your regimen if all feels well. If you have any aches or pains, invest a few more days of easy effort runs and cross-training to assure recovery.

Post-Season Recovery:

Weeks 1-2:

Include easy to moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter and flexibility exercises, keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour. Reward yourself with a massage!

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus a strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Easy effort run – 60 minutes on a new trail, route or path

Sunday – Rest

Weeks 3-4:

Include moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter, a harder effort short run and flexibility exercises, still keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour.

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Alternate one week with a longer, slower run (45-60 minutes) with a shorter, harder effort run (30-40 minutes – Fartlek, which is a form of road running in which the runner varies the pace significantly during the run)

Sunday – Rest

Half Marathon Marathon:

Longer races require long training seasons and more effort and stress on race day. Therefore, at least 3-4 weeks of low-key, unstructured activity is a great way to fully recovery mentally, physically and emotionally. Here is an example of what that might look like for a runner that normally trains four times per week, plus cross-training.

Week 1 – Keep the effort easy and activity short:

Monday – Rest, massage and very light flexibility exercises

Tuesday – Cross-training for 20-30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Cross-training for 30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Friday – Rest day or light walk for 30 minutes

Saturday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest or light walk for 30-45 minutes

 Week 2 – Keep the effort easy, and build the activity time slightly:

Monday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Tuesday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Thursday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 3:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60-70 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 4:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Moderate effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Thursday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Friday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes or cross-training

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 70-80 minutes (or hold at 60 minutes if that’s more comfortable), plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

Ask an expert: Half marathon training questions answered

Ask Coach Jenny

Three Great Half Marathon Questions from Heidi: Cross-training, Long Runs and Nutrition

 Q: I am training for a half marathon and in my training there is one day of cross-training and one day of rest every week. Is it okay to run two days in a row or should I look at spacing out the day of rest and cross-training so I run in between?

A: Running back to back days is okay. However, if you are new to running or to the half marathon distance, running every other day will allow more time to recover and therefore allow you to run stronger in every running workout. It also depends on the age of the runner, as many 40+ year old runners perform their best on 3-4 runs per week and focus on quality over quantity. This is also the case for runners who struggle with recurring aches, pains and injuries. Cross-training, especially when it is low impact (elliptical, cycling) is a form of active rest for your running muscles and a fantastic tool for making it healthfully to the finish line.

Q: My training plan calls for three shorter runs, one speed or hill workout, one cross-training workout, one long run and a rest day per week. What is the best day to fit my long run in? After my day of rest? After a day of speed work? 

 A: Although the long run is run at an easy, conversational effort, due to the progressive distance, it is considered a hard run on the body. When you train at harder efforts during the speed/hill and long run workouts, it is optimal to follow up with rest or cross-training to allow the body to adapt and grow stronger.

Here is one example of how you could plan your training week:

Monday:  Short Run

Tuesday: Speed/Hill Workout

Wednesday:  Cross-Training

Thursday:  Short Run

Friday:  Short Run or Cross-Training

Saturday: Long Run

Sunday: Rest

A great time for the long run is on a day when you can invest the time to get it in and recover. For many runners, this is the weekend. It is also best to space the hard workouts a few days apart to assure recovery. The key truly is to develop a recipe that works for your body. If you find your energy levels fading, you’re developing aches and pains or just not feeling strong for more than a few days, you may need to tweak your program to match the flow of your life. For instance, if this is new for your body, you may recover faster by replacing one short run with a low-impact cross-training session. That can boost motivation, alleviate burnout and decrease the impact on your body – allowing it to adapt to the demands of the long and hard effort workouts.

 Q:  If I am training for a half marathon – what are the best supplements for me to take to get the most out of my runs and which ones are best for my body?

A: Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall life performance, not just on your runs. A good place to start is by taking a personal inventory of your fuel. That is, plug in what you eat on a daily basis for a week to evaluate the types of foods (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and the quality in terms of nutrients. Making sure to consume a balanced diet with clean foods is the first step in making sure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Clean food refers to foods with a short list of ingredients (5 or less) that are natural in their essence – fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (including legumes, turkey and lean beef) and whole grains (brown rice, qunoa).

From there, taking a gender-specific multivitamin can be used to complement that part of your diet. It is common for endurance runners to have low iron, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. It is best to talk this through with a doctor, as taking too much of one vitamin can upset the balance in your system and create other issues. If you want to take it to next level, get tested to identify exactly what you need. It may cost a little up front, but you’ll know where your weak spots are and can make changes in your diet and supplements to create balance.

Hopefully these tips can keep you heading in the right direction in this complex game of race training. It’s great that you’re focusing on optimizing your workouts and nutrition. It will make you a stronger runner, not only in this race, but for life. Good luck in your training, Heidi.

How to Return to Running after Illness

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I have been unable to run for several months due to illness and injury. What are your recommendations for getting back into running? ~Linda

A: Hi, Linda. I’m happy to hear you’re feeling better. Although it can be tempting to jump back in to your running program where you left off before the illness, doing so can be quite stressful to the body. It takes a little patience at first, but when you invest in a gradual start back, your body will reward you by adapting and improving along the way. Here are 7 tips to get you back on track.

  1. Ease back into the demands and impact of running by using a run-walk interval program. It reduces the impact on the body and allows you to get a higher quality workout in with less risk of injury or soreness.
  2. Everyone’s starting point varies based on the reasons for the time off and the injuries, but it is always wise to start conservatively to avoid doing too much too soon. The goal is to get back into running by doing just enough so you finish feeling strong and thinking, “That felt good and I could do that again.” When you ease back into it slowly, it builds fitness more readily because you can maintain consistency along the way.
  3. Stick with 30 minutes in total for the workouts including a 5-minute walking warm up and cool down, which leaves 20 minutes of run-walking. Continue on this 20-minute run-walk pattern until you’re running continuously. Then begin to progress the total time of the running workout by 5 minutes every two weeks (i.e., 25 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.).
  4. For the running part of the workout (20 minutes), repeat intervals of running until you hear your breath and walking until you catch it. This may be 30 seconds for the first running workout, but so be it. When you tune into your body, it will tell you exactly where it is effort-wise, which is the key to running wisely and returning to your routine more quickly. Repeat the intervals for 20 minutes and cool down by walking for 5 minutes.
  5. As you progress through the workouts, you may notice that some days are easier than others. This is the natural rhythm of getting stronger. Continue to run by your breath and body and practice patience.
  6. Again, stick with 30-minute workouts (20 minutes run-walking) until you’re running the entire time and progress the running time from there. This is the key to success as we tend to increase time too quickly, which leads to fatigue and aches and pains.
  7. Alternate your running workouts every other day to allow time to recover before the next run. This reduces the chance of fatigue and aches, and restores your energy for the next run. Fill in the gaps with an optional cross-training workout (yoga, strength, cycling, Zumba, etc.) to keep things fresh and the momentum flowing.

It may seem overwhelming to start back up with running. However, if you keep it real and patiently build by what your body tells you, you’ll be up and running in no time! Good luck, Linda. You can do it.

How to Train for Your First 5K

Ask Coach Jenny: Training For Your First 5K

Q: My friend started running last year and has really inspired me to start. I want to train for a 5K race but I have no idea where to get started. Running has always been such an impossible challenge that I typically throw in the towel after a few painful sessions. Do you have any tips for training for a 5K and actually sticking with it?  ~Julie

A: Hi Julie. There is no better way than to create a realistic carrot (goal 5K race) to keep you motivated, accountable and, most importantly, feeling rewarded. Here are a few tips for your journey to your first 5K finish line.

Start from where you are rather than where you want to be.

Step number one begins with getting real with yourself. In order to get where you want to go efficiently, you’ve got to start where you’re at now.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a runner. We all progress at different rates and the secret is being honest with yourself and taking that first step forward rather than fast-forwarding to step 10 or 20. When you do, you begin to build a foundation of fitness and running happiness that will last a lifetime.

Pick a plan and progress slowly.

Where you begin may not match where your buddy starts. For instance, if you’re overweight, coming off the couch and starting from scratch (good for you), then you could start with a walking plan. If you’re active and new to running, you could start with a run-walk program, which alternates running and walking intervals (Run 3 minutes, Walk 2 minutes) repeatedly throughout the program. This allows your body and mind time to adapt to the demands of the impact forces and the cardiovascular and respiratory challenges. If you’ve been running here and there, you might do best with a beginning running plan. You can find a variety of free 5K training plans here.


The two most vital pieces of gear needed for running are properly fitted shoes and a supportive sports bra. Buying shoes is almost as overwhelming as a visit to the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are a ton of options and it can be hard to choose the right pair for you.

A great way to make this easy on yourself is to find a specialty running store in your neighborhood and get professionally fitted for running shoes. Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen, bring your running socks and make sure the sales people watch you run and walk in a variety of shoes. A good fitting running shoe should feel comfortable on your feet and support your type of foot (high arch, low arch, neutral).

When shopping for sports bras, select your style – compression (geared for A/B cup sizes) or encapsulated styles (good for C+ cup sizes) – and stick with high impact-rated bras.


Mix it up.

All running and no play makes Jack a dull athlete. Run every other day to give your body time to recover and adapt to the demands of running. Mix in lower impact activities that move you in a variety of patterns. Cycling, skating, Zumba, yoga and Pilates are just a few complementary cross-training activities you can incorporate into your new running recipe. Doing so will keep the program fresh, keep you running injury-free and keep you moving forward.

Listen to your body along the way.

Our body has a quicker communication system than Twitter! It will tell you when you’ve pushed too much, need to take it easy or adjust with a few days of cross-training to recover. Listening to your body and making training adjustments along the way will fend off the fatigue, aches and pains that lead to injuries.

Pace Yourself.

Pacing yourself is perhaps the hardest part of running, but there is an easy way to find the right pace every time and it involves three little steps. Tune into your body, listen to your breath and adjust your pace based on how your body is responding on the day.

Not every run will be the same. Some are hot, some cold, others will be so windy you’ll feel like you’re not moving forward at all! The secret to completing your run is in following those three steps. Also, keep the effort level and breathing easy – ideally at a level where you can talk. If you can’t recite the words to your favorite poem or the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re running too hard. A runner is built from a continuous series of “easy effort” running workouts over time. Let your performance simmer and evolve from there.

Keep track.

Whether you do this online or in a pretty journal – keeping track of your running sessions is an effective way to track your progress and develop your personal running recipe. Useful bits of information to track include: running time, run-walk ratio, terrain/course/treadmill, shoe model, mood, energy level, effort level and calories consumed versus expended.

Make it fun.

The secret to learning to run is to create forward momentum. In order to do this, aim to finish the workout feeling strong and accomplished – even on the tough days – rather than exhausted, crabby and hating life. If you enjoyed yesterday’s workout, guess what?  You’re going to want to repeat it again right? The more you repeat in happiness, the sooner you’ll become that running rock star.




Rest Periods – A Vital Part of any Fitness Routine

When designing their fitness routine — or even just talking about it — most people will discuss their strength training, cardio training, flexibility and diet. Few, however, will even mention their rest periods.

Most exercisers figure that if some exercise is good for you, then more is even better, but this practice can be counterproductive and even cause injury. Understanding what rest does for you body will help you appreciate the importance of rest days in your schedule.

What Happens During Rest?

Put simply, your muscles grow during rest, not exercise. During exercise the muscle fibers break down and your stores of glycogen, your body’s main fuel source, are depleted. This is true for both cardiovascular exercise and strength training. When you allow yourself periods of rest, however, the muscles adapt to the challenge by rebuilding and increasing in strength. Without sufficient rest, your muscles will continue to break down, leading to overtraining injuries.

The psychological effects of taking time to recover shouldn’t be overlooked either. Rest will give you something to look forward to during particularly difficult workouts, and leave you feeling refreshed and ready.

Symptoms of Overtraining

Overtraining can manifest itself in a variety of ways. When a particular set of muscles are not given time to recover and refuel, pain and any number of injuries can result. On a broader scope, overtraining can adversely affect your entire body — both physically and psychologically — by upsetting the delicate balance of the hormones DHEA and cortisol.

These two hormones have contradicting effects: DHEA builds muscle while cortisol tears it down. In a healthy, well-rested body they are used to guide muscle growth in response to the stresses of the environment. However, in an overtrained body, DHEA production is reduced and cortisol greatly increases. This is probably because cortisol, which is sometimes called the “stress hormone,” is released in response to periods of perceived starvation or danger, causing the body to cut back on expensive metabolic actions and horde fuel in the form of fat. This hormone imbalance can lead to exhaustion, mental confusion, moodiness, nutrient deficiencies, and increased blood pressure and cholesterol.

How Much Rest Do You Need?

Exactly how much rest you need in between exercise sessions depends on many factors, including your genetics, fitness level and overall lifestyle. At the very least, one day a week should be scheduled as a rest day.

A good way to decide how much rest you need, and when to schedule in your rest days, is by keeping a training log and paying attention to how you feel. A detailed log will allow you to see how your body responds to certain stresses and redesign your program accordingly. If, for example, you notice that your time for a distance you routinely run has increased, it’s likely because you were not properly rested, and you can adjust for future runs accordingly.

Active Rest

Rest and recovery doesn’t have to mean complete inactivity. Depending on your fitness goals, you may benefit more from “active rest” than from simply taking a day off. Active rest can generally take two forms: cross-training or a light workout.

Cross-training allows you to work in an activity that isn’t usually your main focus. For example, if your main sport is running, you may chose to strength train as a form of active recovery. If you usually ride a bike, go swimming instead. If you do try cross-training, though, it’s important not to overwork any muscles that are already sore from your normal workout.

Light workouts keep you involved in your sport, but at a reduced intensity. Although your total distance may remain the same as during a more difficult day, your heart rate should only be at about 70 to 75 percent of your maximum. As a general rule, on these “easy” days you should exercise at a pace that allows you to comfortably carry on a conversation. Runners World Magazine suggests that these light workouts should account for 80 to 85 percent of your total weekly mileage.

Although it can be difficult to take a day off or even take it easy on yourself, proper rest and recovery is a vitally important step towards reaching your fitness goals.

Have any tips for incorporating rest into your schedule? Please share them in the comments!