The Workout: New Twists on Old Faves

Get strong, build power, and burn fat on your go-to cardio machine.


Cardio machines are perennial favorites among fitness-seeking crowds. And for good reason: Treadmills, rowers, and stationary bikes are relatively easy to use and mimic familiar body motions. As solitary endeavors, they also feel safe and accessible, especially for beginning exercisers.

But popular wisdom says you can’t get a complete workout on a machine, and that to build muscle, strengthen bones, burn fat, and boost power, you’ve gotta lift weights.

Does that mean you’re destined to a life of plateaus, boredom, and unmet goals if you don’t heft the heavy iron? Nope, says Alex Viada, CSCS, USA Triathlon coach and author of The Hybrid Athlete.

“I love machines,” he says. “You can get tremendous full-body workouts without stepping in the weight room.”

Viada — an ultramarathoner with a 700-pound squat who has trained Kona triathletes, nationally ranked powerlifters, and Boston Marathon qualifiers — says that conventional approaches to cardio and strength are defined by their respective implements: People believe that dumbbells create muscular strength while treadmills create cardiovascular conditioning.

“But your body doesn’t know what tool you’re using,” says Viada. “All it knows is that you’re putting a demand on it. You’re making it do work. The tool you use doesn’t matter as much as how you use it. There’s more than one way to achieve your fitness goals.”

When they’re used wisely, cardio machines can offer many physiological benefits commonly associated with lifting weights: strength, power, and conditioning.

Where people of all experience and skill levels go wrong when using cardio machines, says Viada, is sticking with the same routine, day after day. This habit isn’t just boring: “Eventually, it becomes ineffective.”

Viada, who designed the creative cardio-machine-based workouts that follow, recommends playing with different machines, different speeds, different inclines, and different intervals to reap the strength and power benefits.

“You may not win powerlifting competitions by training on a bike — but you can build strong legs, burn fat, and have fun.

“Movement is inherently good,” he emphasizes. “So whenever and however you choose to work out, listen to your body and follow your heart. Enjoy yourself and feel good — no matter what tool you choose.”

The Cardio-Plus Workout

Alex Viada created the following workouts to burn fat, build muscle, and boost power — using the cardio machines you have in your gym or home.  Perform one or more of these routines two or three times a week. Rotating between machines will allow you to hit a wide variety of muscles — but don’t feel limited to using the specified modality, Viada says.

“Apply these work-outs to any machine you want. Try the elliptical, the stepper, the Jacob’s ladder. The tool matters less than the intention.”

You will note that Viada doesn’t specify speed on the treadmill, resistance on the bike, or wattage on the rower. Rather, he advises letting your body guide your effort. For instance, a 6 mph pace may feel like an easy jog for one person and an all-out sprint for another. Adjust accordingly to achieve each workout’s highlighted objectives.


Full-Body Stationary-Bike Workout

The following stationary-bike circuit is a full-body strength-builder that can be scaled for nearly any individual, says workout designer Alex Viada. Adjusting the resistance and speed can make the workout easier or harder. If time is limited, cut one round from each set.

Warm-up: Pedal for four minutes at about 90 rpm with low resistance.

Set 1: The Power Set

Perform four rounds of:

  • 10 seconds: Easy spin.
  • 20 seconds, 70 rpm: Rise out of the saddle and pedal hard at a heavy resistance.
  • 1 minute: Easy spin.
  • At the bottom of each round, carefully step off the bike, and perform 10 jump squats.

Set 2: The Strength Set

Perform four rounds of:

  • 1 minute, 75 rpm: Stay in your seat and pedal hard at a heavy resistance.
  • Carefully step off the bike, and perform five burpees and 10 pushups. Return to the bike.
  • 1 minute: Easy spin.

Set 3: The Conditioning Set

  • 10 minutes, 85 rpm: Steady pedaling with low to moderate resistance.

is Experience Life’s senior fitness editor.

Illustrations by Kveta

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