Cardio Training Quadrophenia
Four limbs working trumps two limbs working
Featured Cardio Training Equipment: stationary bikes, assault air stationary bike
My default cardio training mode is running through the woods at dawn. Less than four hundred yards from my house I can access a series of intersecting trails that crisscross a 150-acre farm nestled at the base of the Catoctin mountains. Outdoor Nature cardio fires me up and I look forward to it – which is the key to consistency. Every other form of cardio training bores me and pales in comparison. During the months of January and February, ice makes trail running dangerous. It takes a sharp eye and a practiced eye to run trails quickly under the best of conditions. Ice, particularly ice hidden beneath snow, makes quick passage foolhardy.
What’s a man to do when the elements drive him indoors? I become afflicted with cabin fever and get edgy and volatile when deprived of my early morning stress-busting farm cardio. I am also allergic to stationary bikes: I feel that they are extremely inefficient as cardio tools. The classic stationary bike relies on legs and legs alone to generate 100% of the cardio effort. Well so what, I hear the uniformed protest as they read this (all own stationary bikes,) your beloved trail running relies on “just” your legs to generate 100% of the effort. Not really.
My favored protocol is sprint, recover, sprint again, over and over. I will do this for the entire length of the cardio session, currently 40-45 minutes. On squat day, I don’t do any cardio at all. The day after squatting my legs are usually dead, so I run the farm trails but use a ‘steady-state pace. Sprinting is different: running all out, 100% or more, works the hell out of the hips, hamstrings and most the shoulders. Sprinting demands violent shoulder rotations that amplify the effort. A stationary bike requires the arms stay glued to the handlebars, ergo zero shoulder rotation or activation. The shoulders are the fulcrum for the rapid rotation of the arms integral for optimizing all-out sprint effort.
When forced indoors I use my push/pull bike, aka “fan bike”. My push/pull bike is not the typical effete and delicate ski devices. My push/pull bike is the manliest aerobic machine on the face of the planet. This thing puts me in mind of a steam locomotive, mechanical and formidable. The Assault Air stationary bike is a modern take on the classic Schwinn Airdyne push/pull bike. The old Schwinn exercise bike was a workhorse, rugged, raw and the choice of champions. While the original Airdyne was a WWII Sherman tank, the Assault Air fan bike is an M-1 Abrams tank.
There is a heft and sturdiness to the Assault Air upright exercise bike that invites all out cardio effort. This device can stand up to all the punishment that a seriously strong trainee can inflict. The “AA” bike enables the athlete to work arms and legs equally hard. Most cardio devices work legs exclusively and most trainees don’t give this dramatic attribute a second thought. Being able to use the arms to generate a sizeable portion of the aerobic effort makes cardio twice as effective.
The Assault Air bike has many amazing attributes: obviously working the arms is huge, however another real plus: the AA bike allows you to push/pull backwards. This is positively profound in that whatever exercise protocol you develop going forward, you can reverse it and right then and there you have expanded your exercise arsenal 100%. What better compliment to working a highly effective exercise one direction than immediately mirror-image reversing? What could be more perfect and appropriate, work the hell out of one side of a limb then, without pause, work the hell out of the muscles that lie on the other side of that same limb?
From an effectiveness standpoint, from a result standpoint, cardio exercise that allows four limbs to participate is demonstratively superior cardio that relies on legs alone to generate 100% of the aerobic effort. Physiologically speaking, the ability to tax arms and legs simultaneously “spreads” the cardio effect, allowing the athlete to generate more power and velocity with seemingly less effort. Whatever velocity the legs alone attain, far greater velocity can be attained using legs and arms.
My strategy when using the AA is to replicate my highly effective outdoor protocol: sprint-recover-sprint again, only now astride the Assault Air in my ancient basement during the hibernation months of January and February. I go all out, for as long and as hard as I can before oxygen debt shuts me down. Breathing deep and hard, I slow down to a jog pace, recover, get my shit together psychologically and physiologically and hit it again, all out. sprint, recover, sprint again, ad infinitum.
I need a cardio machine that can stand up to my repeated 100% efforts. Assault Air “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” as the old adds for Timex watches used to tell us. This is no effete push/pull device better suited for an Ikea showroom than a hardcore gym. Having access to a push-pull machine that can take the beating and taxes both arms and legs - in both directions - allows the clever athlete to devise an amazingly sophisticated cardio protocol, one with a vast menu of exercise/sprint possibilities…
- Arms and legs, forward, seated
- Arms and legs, backwards
- Legs alone, forward
- Legs alone, backwards
- Arms alone, forward
- Arms alone, rearward
- Each limb, one at a time, forward
- Each limb, one at a time, rearward
- Arms and legs, forward, standing
- Arms and legs, backward, standing
I set sprint benchmarks in each variant. I seek to exceed personal bests each session. Variety is the spice of life and I know of no other cardio device that offers as many movement possibilities. At last count, there were 20 separate and distinctly different exercise variations, all doable on the Assault Air. By way of comparison, super expensive super slick stationary bikes have exactly two variations: leg-only forward, pedal seated or pedal standing. Yawn! This factor alone, variety of cardio movement, demonstrates how woefully inadequate conventional stationary bikes are for generating cardio inroad.
Use the built-in wattage display as the report card. Establish wattage personal records (PRs) sprinting all out in each of the exercises. Even if you fail, the severity of the attempt ensures cardio benefit for that session. Create wattage records in every push/pull category. The gains lie in seeking to exceed current limits.
The Assault Air is a heavy duty mechanical marvel that will stand up to abuse from the strongest of men. Assault Air is a weapon of war, functional and terminator-like. When you compare the limited menu possibilities of conventional stationary bikes to the big doable menu of the Assault Air bike, you will become as mystified as I am as to why this machine is not used everywhere by everyone.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.