And the winner is…the human body. Ok, so it’s a bit of a trick question. After all, you couldn’t perform any cardio without your body being involved. But the answer is worth pondering over for a minute for there seems to be a growing misconception that somehow cardio training necessitates having some kind of equipment, that the treadmill, or the cross-trainer are the kings of the cardio world. In reality, you’ve been carrying around the most effective piece of cardiovascular equipment ever created your entire life. And no modern invention will ever come close. Here’s why.
The first major problem with using any mechanical device for cardio is that it distorts our natural movement patterns. When running on a treadmill, your upper body does not move forwards, your feet are moved backwards by the treadmill belt. Runners will generally counteract this by leaning forwards at the waist in order to ‘keep up’ with the moving belt – but this places greater stress on the knees, hips, and back and, over time, can result in injury.
The second major problem is that we end up teaching our body to do things which have no practical application in real life situations. If you regularly use an elliptical machine – your body will end up being very good at pushing and pulling the plates of the device in exactly the way the machine is designed. But give yourself a real life challenge – running to jump on the subway before the doors close, carrying bags up a flight of stairs, and the body fares substantially less well.
There is no better way to maintain a healthy heart than by using your own body to perform natural movement patterns – running, jumping, climbing, etc. What type of cardio is best? There are a million and one ways you can train your heart; your body is designed to move freely without mechanical constraints, and –in line with the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand principle— it will also get better at performing whatever movement patterns we ask it to perform. As a species, we were in our best ever cardiovascular condition as cavemen, before any cardio equipment had been invented. If you still feel you need a ‘toy’ to play with – a skipping rope beats a treadmill any day of the week.