You’re at the gym riding the stationary bike, running the treadmill or using the elliptical machine while reading the paper–and moving slower than molasses.  Or maybe you’re more motivated, using the stair climber, a more challenging machine, but holding on to the handles for dear life. Both of these mistakes decrease the intensity and effectiveness of your workout.  And any cardio that you do that isn’t rigorous for at least 30 minutes is a total waste of time.

But here are some tips to use these four popular cardio machines correctly to get a great calorie burn, develop muscle tone, and feel like you’re getting the most out of your workout. 

The treadmill is a great way to burn a ton of calories quickly, slimming the waistline and toning your legs. A 30 minute jog will burn about 250 calories and a 30 minute run about 315 calories, a brisk walk about 115 calories. Add an incline to your workout for more burn. Whichever you choose – run, walk or jog – all will tone your lower body and slim your waistline.  The faster you move, the better the burn.

The elliptical machine is great for any person with injuries that prevent you from jogging or running.  Keep in mind that you have to actively push yourself.  Pay attention to the speed and use the resistance levels so that you increase your calorie burn.  Your heart rate should be elevated and at times you should be breathless, otherwise the elliptical machine sort of just moves itself and you are going through the motions while the machine does most of the work.  If it feels too easy, then it probably is.  Elliptical users who are pushing themselves vigorously typically burn about 365 calories in 30 minutes whereas taking it easy on the elliptical will only earn you about 150 calories burned.

The stationary bike is a great choice for those who cannot run.  Easy to use, the bike is similar to the elliptical in that you have to add resistance.  Increase the level on the bike to push yourself.  This will increase the revolutions per minute (RPMs) up to the point to where you are out of breath.  You can do this in intervals – pushing hard for a minute and then cruising for a minute.  This will help you get the most out of the bike. Also consider an indoor cycling class.  The instructor can help ensure you ride correctly and work hard, and the music played in spin classes is a great motivator, making it fun! An intense 30 minute workout on the bike will burn about 350 calories and a light ride, about 90 calories.

Lastly, the stair climber. The stair climber is low impact and really gets your heart rate up as well as nicely tones your lower body. Thirty minutes on the stair climber doing a light workout will burn about 190 calories. A vigorous/intense workout will burn about 280 calories. Remember, don’t hold on while on the stair climber – it is more challenging when your hands are free and you’re forced to keep your balance.

Don’t waste your time and energy by just going through the motions.  You made an effort to get to the gym, so pick your machine or activity wisely, workout smart, and you’ll get the most burn for your buck.