Conditioning combines many components of health and fitness, such as different forms of aerobic fitness, strength training, balance, speed, agility, quickness and sport-specific training. There is no best type of conditioning program for women using exercise machines, as the program you choose depends on your goals and current experience levels.
Steady-state cardio involves working at a low-to-moderate intensity over a sustained period of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous steady-state or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio each week. You can use any cardio machines, such as the bike, treadmill, rower, elliptical or stepper, for this; split your workouts into three to five sessions each week.
When you need to step your cardio up a gear, look no further than interval training. Interval training combines short periods of high-intensity training with slightly longer stints of moderate-intensity work. Intervals burn more fat and lead to greater fitness increases than steady-state training, says trainer Charlotte Andersen in "Shape Magazine." Using any cardio machine, warm up for five minutes, perform 30 seconds of maximum-effort exercises and follow this by 90 seconds at a moderate pace. Repeat the process eight to 12 times, finishing with a five-minute cooldown. Interval training counts as part of your vigorous weekly exercise.
Strength training is an important part of your workout. It builds lean muscle, increases strength, helps to prevent injuries and boosts your metabolism. Train your whole body twice a week. Perform five to six exercises in each session and aim for three sets of eight to 12 reps for each. An example could be doing leg presses, lowering the weight until your knees are bent at least 90 degrees, followed by hamstring curls for your lower body. Follow these with seated shoulder presses, while bringing the handles down to your ears, and chest presses, starting with your hands in line with your chest and finishing with your arms straight. Finish your session with seated rows and lat pull-downs. On both of these, keep your back straight and use a smooth, controlled tempo. Ask a qualified gym trainer if you need further help with any techniques.
While you can certainly get fitter, faster and stronger with a machine-based program, you'll struggle to improve balance and sport-specific aspects of your conditioning. Machines don't require you to use many stabilizing muscles or challenge your core as free weights do. You may find there's more carryover to sports performance by substituting your machine cardio for sprints, opting for free weights or body-weight moves over resistance machines and adding in core, balance and agility work. If machines are your only option, you can still make progress. Aim to do a little more each workout by increasing your speed, time or distance on cardio exercises or by adding weight and reps when you perform your full-body resistance sessions. For best results, combine your conditioning routine with a calorie-controlled diet based on lean proteins such as meat and fish, slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as whole-grains, low-sugar fruits, vegetables and beans, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.