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Most exercisers want to lose weight. They want more energy and to feel less fatigued throughout the day. Recently, participation rates in endurance events like marathons and half-marathons have sky-rocketed. Therefore, it’s not surprising that cardio equipment at the local gym is in high demand today. Trainers and gym owners can enhance their client retention and satisfaction by assisting their members in getting more out of their cardiovascular exercise.
The best way to increase the effectiveness of cardio is to ensure that the exerciser is working at the right intensity. If the intensity is too low, little fitness adaptation occurs. If intensity is too high, risk of injury or overstress goes up. Most exercise equipment and trainers use age-predicted heart rate equations to determine heart rate zones for their users or clients. These equations were designed to make it easier to identify the appropriate work intensity. Unfortunately, they’re too inaccurate and inconsistent to be reliable. For some, these equations over-predict maximum heart rate, and training intensities are too high. For others, the equation under-predicts maximum heart rate. Workout intensities are so low that intermittent walking is too vigorous to keep one’s heart rate low enough to stay in the prescribed zone.
The challenge lies in knowing the correct exercise intensity level for each client or member. Metabolic testing equipment exists that enables a trainer to conduct a physiological test to identify the most effective exercise intensity for a client. While this equipment is fairly expensive and the test is somewhat uncomfortable — clients must wear a mask while performing a graded exercise test — the resulting information is highly valuable.
Another simple way to examine relative exercise intensity is to use a rating of perceived exertion. This is a simple rating on a scale of 1 to 10 that represents the level of work effort that a client is exerting. If 1 represents “little effort at all,” and 10 represents “maximum effort,” most cardiovascular exercise should be performed between 7 and 8 on the rating scale for the general population, and between 7 and 9 for athletes. With a short interaction between a trainer and client, workout intensity can be examined and adjusted if needed. This simple procedure can help ensure that exercisers are working at the right level of exertion if or when age-prediction equations are not accurate or available.
The next step to helping members get more out of their cardio is to ensure training variation. Overuse injuries are far too common. Shin splints, knee and back pain, fallen arches and tendinitis are showing up even in exercisers who aren’t running hundreds of miles per month on the road. The human body can withstand a significant amount of stress, but it needs a variety of stimuli to stay healthy. It’s helpful for runners to incorporate cycling in their training routine from time to time. Swimmers should run at least once a week and cyclists may want to mix up their training by swimming. Resistance training is also a great way to incorporate different stresses to the body, while still challenging the heart and muscles to improve their function. Even changing from a treadmill to an elliptical machine for certain workouts can change the stress enough to reduce the risk of injury.
To disseminate this type of valuable information, gyms and trainers should offer educational events for their members. Short seminars or presentations held consistently throughout the year can provide added motivation and support. When clients understand certain exercise concepts, their exercise effectiveness increases and they’re much more likely to stick to an exercise habit. As gym staff members or trainers continue to provide a higher level of consultation, their perceived value to the gym members increases. There is little more frustrating than investing a great deal of “sweat-equity” into our health and fitness, then failing to see a return that meets our expectations. With proper guidance and assistance from educated staff, members can get more out of their efforts and they’ll be more likely to re-enroll when their membership ends.
Dr. Matt Rhea is an adjunct faculty member in the Sports & Health Sciences program at American Public University. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit StudyAtAPU.com/fitness for more information.