Although outdoor endurance exercise is more interesting, there are several ways to make indoor aerobic activity less boring and more beneficial.

This is the time of year when many outdoor exercisers transition to indoor aerobic activities. Once the temperature falls below 50 degrees, bicycling becomes less pleasant; temperatures below 40 degrees convince many runners to seek indoor alternatives.


Although outdoor endurance exercise is more interesting, there are several ways to make indoor aerobic activity less boring and more beneficial. You can, of course, watch television, listen to music or read the paper while you ride the stationary cycle. But you might also consider cross-training, circuit training and interval training, all of which have significant advantages over standard, steady-state exercise.


Standard, steady-state exercise


Most aerobic exercisers follow a consistent pattern of training, known as standard, steady-state exercise. A typical training session begins with a few minutes of the aerobic activity (cycling, running, etc.) at an easy level. This provides a warm-up for both the cardiovascular system and the muscles involved in the endurance exercise. The warm-up segment is followed by a 20- to 30-minute period of continuous, moderate-effort exercise that elevates heart rate to approximately 75 percent of maximum. This is the steady-state component of the exercise session; it provides the cardiovascular conditioning effect. The steady-state period is followed by a reduced-effort cooldown segment, lasting about three to five minutes, or until heart rate is within 20 beats per minute of resting level.


Steady-state endurance exercise is effective for increasing cardiovascular endurance, but there are alternative aerobic activities that offer a lower risk of muscle overuse/imbalance injuries and provide a greater cardiovascular training effect. Just as important, they are more interesting to perform.


Cross-training


Rather than spending 30 minutes on a single exercise, try performing three successive aerobic activities for 10 minutes each. For example, a cross-training session could consist of a few minutes walking to warm up, then 10 minutes of stationary cycling, 10 minutes of elliptical exercise, and 10 minutes of stair stepping, followed by a few minutes of walking to cool down. By changing exercises, you reduce the risk of muscle overuse/imbalance injuries that often result from performing the same movement pattern every workout.


Also, by using different muscle groups for different exercises, cumulative fatigue is reduced and your performance level may increase. The following aerobic activities could be part of a cross-training program: recumbent cycling, upright cycling, treadmill walking, treadmill running, elliptical training, stair stepping, stair climbing, rowing and rope jumping.


Circuit training


Circuit aerobic training is similar to cross-training, but it involves a more systematic exercise selection/sequence and much shorter activity segments. Successive exercises emphasize different muscle groups so that some muscles are resting while others are working. Because successful circuit training requires relatively high effort levels throughout the workout, each exercise is performed for just three to five minutes at a time. Consider this sample program for a 32-minute session: walking warm-up (four minutes), recumbent cycling (four minutes), treadmill jogging (four minutes), rowing (four minutes), elliptical training (four minutes), upright cycling (four minutes), stair climbing (four minutes), walking cool-down (four minutes). In addition to the physical benefits of performing seven different exercises, the brief training segments make circuit aerobic workouts more interesting from a mental perspective.


Interval training


The most challenging and productive form of aerobic activity is called interval training. Whether you are a beginning exerciser or an advanced athlete, interval training is the most effective means for improving your present level of cardiovascular fitness. The basic principle of interval training is alternating periods of higher-effort exercise and lower-effort exercise.


Let’s say that you normally ride the stationary cycle at 50 watts for your three-minute warm-up and cool-down segments, and at 100 watts for your 20-minute steady-state period. Do the same warm-up and cool-down protocol, but divide your steady-state period into seven intervals of three minutes each. Cycle your first, third, fifth and seventh three-minute intervals at 125 watts (higher-effort training), and cycle your second, fourth and sixth three-minute intervals at 75 watts (lower-effort training). You should see results after as little as three weeks of interval training, especially if you perform at least two interval training sessions per week.


Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College in Massachusetts and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has written 24 books on fitness.