If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably exercising less now that the days have gotten shorter. A new Gallup poll released earlier this month found that the percentage of U.S. adults who exercise for at least 30 minutes a day three or more days a week reached its low in November, to just under 50 percent. But our recent survey of 42,918 Consumer Reports subscribers found that treadmills and ellipticals were the favorite home exercise machines, in part because they allowed users to keep exercising even when the weather was bad.
And our technical experts, including assistant project leader Alex Willen (pictured), point out that workouts on those machines can be quite vigorous, if you so choose. Here are some of their tips for getting the most out of your machine:
Try an interval program. Alternating between high and low intensities can burn more calories than a similar duration of exercise at a single intensity. Use the preset interval program or create your own. For example, spend part of your treadmill workout switching between 60 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking.
Don’t lean on the machine. You can gently hold the hand rails on the treadmill or elliptical machine (if you’re not using the moving arms), but don’t put your weight on them, because that reduces the workout you’re giving your muscles. If you’re having trouble balancing, lower the intensity.
Squat while you pedal. If you’re an advanced elliptical user and want an extra workout for your quadriceps and butt, try exercising in a squat position (shown). To prevent injury, keep your chest upright and your back flat, and don’t let your knees go past your toes.
Side step. Advanced treadmill users can work their inner and outer thighs with this move: With the machine off, stand sideways with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and torso tilted slightly forward. Start the machine and walk very slowly sideways without crossing legs. Increase the incline for more of a challenge. This technique is best done supervised.
Push and pull the handlebars. If you really move the arms of the elliptical rather than just letting them glide along, you’ll feel more of a workout in your upper body. Pushing works the triceps and chest; pulling pumps the biceps and back.
Don't get too into that magazine. Reading or watching TV while you work out is great if it helps keep you moving. But don’t get so absorbed that you let your posture go or sink out of your target heart-rate zone.
See more on home exercise machines, including Ratings of 34 treadmills and 18 elliptical trainers. And if you’ve resolved to go on a diet in 2012, find out what worked for our subscribers.