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Which Cardio Machine is Best?



After “How do I get a flat stomach?” the second most popular question I’m asked is “Which Cardio Machine is Best?” The menu of aerobic choices to pick from is vast and equipment manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ways for us to torture ourselves. If you walk into the cardio area at the gym, you could break a sweat trying to decide which equipment to use. Some choices include the Life Cycle, Precor EFX Elliptical, Stairmaster Crossrobics, Nautilus Arc Trainer, Versa Climber, Concept II Rower, Treadmills galore and one of my favorites, the Step Mill. You can choose lower body only, upper body only or both. You can ski, skate, climb, step or row. The definition of cardiovascular fitness is the ability to perform large muscle movement over a sustained period. It’s related to the capacity of the heart-lung system to deliver oxygen for sustained energy. It’s also called cardiorespiratory endurance or aerobic endurance.

So, with so many machine choices available to improve our cardio fitness, which one is best?When someone asks me “Which is best?” they usually mean, “Which is going to burn the most fat in the least amount of time and make me look great?”

Let’s take a look at some of the popular choices and what the pros and cons are.

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Pros — These are still the most popular, by far. Walking is a relatively easy activity that you’re already used to doing, so there isn’t much of a learning curve. Walking is a lower impact activity, so it’s gentler to the body. Treadmills help you keep pace and most have a variety of programs that can keep you challenged. You can monitor your progress and see improvements in time, distance and speed.

Cons — Walking can cause shin splints if done excessively, and it’s not the best calorie burner. Many people find indoor walking boring. Running is a great calorie burner, but at a higher cost to your joints. If you do progress to running, take several months to safely evolve to it. To compensate for the belt propelling your stride, add a 2 percent incline to the treadmill which more closely simulates outdoor walking. To make this challenging, try different pre-set programs which vary your speed and incline, then strive to beat your own record.

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Stationary Bikes:

Pros — There are both upright and recumbent bikes to choose from, as well as bikes with upper body levers. Bikes are less stressful on the joints and once you get accustomed to spending time in the saddle, they are relatively comfortable. Recumbent bikes are a good place to start for beginners and those with back pain.

Cons — It’s more challenging to get your heart rate up on a bike since the weight of your legs helps to propel the pedals, therefore needing less effort. To make this challenging, deliberately focus on keeping your cadence up or add resistance. Otherwise this can be a low calorie burner. Think Lance Armstrong as you ride.



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Step Mills:

Pros — You will recognize this one as being the tallest piece of equipment on the floor. It most closely represents stair climbing, which could be called functional training for those needing to climb lots of stairs. Also this is a very challenging exercise, because you have to support your body weight. This one will get your heart rate up for sure.

Cons — Takes a while to build up speed. The tendency is to want to look down because you feel as if you’re going to trip. You feel like you’re moving slowly, but your heart rate is really racing. It’s also easy to cheat on this one by leaning on the hand rails. To make this more challenging, lightly place your hands on the rails and eventually try to swing your arms by your side naturally as you climb.



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Pros — This family of equipment is relatively low impact and therefore is less stressful to the joints. They are excellent for rehabilitating injuries or for beginners. Arm work will help to elevate the heart rate and increase the work (calories burned).

Cons — Again, unless you are choosing a high level of intensity, it’s just easy to stride alone without breaking a sweat. To make this more challenging, attempt to increase your levels, pump your arms and change programs often.




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Stair Climbers:

Pros — It’s a great calorie burner when done properly. Even though you may be accustomed to going up and down stairs, this machine takes stair stepping and your body to a whole new level. You are completely supporting your body weight on the pedals; therefore, it takes a lot of energy (calories) to sustain this exercise.

Cons — It’s easy to cheat by locking your arms out on the equipment. Stair climbers may not be comfortable for anyone with knee pain. It takes some time to build up the endurance to sustain this exercise for 20+ minutes. To make this more challenging, focus on posture. You can ultimately do this exercise without holding on and by pumping your arms.


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Pros — It’s a great total body cardio exercise. Helps to improve the endurance of the postural muscles (abs and upper and lower back). This exercise is low impact and is easy to get into your target heart rate due to the arm and leg involvement.

Cons — It may not be comfortable for anyone with knee or hip problems. If you don’t keep good form, you can encourage poor posture and overstretch the muscles of the upper back and shoulders. To make this more challenging, focus on your posture and perfecting your stroke. Try to beat your personal score of strokes per minute or meters traveled over time. When it comes to cardio, several factors go into the answer of “which is best.” As you can see, there are pros and cons to any exercise you may choose.

Whatever choice you make, you must do it consistently, correctly and intensely. Consistency — Here’s your key. When you find a piece of equipment that you enjoy, you must do it often. “Often” means three times a week to improve your health and up to five times a week to improve your fitness, optimize calorie burn and improve your cardiovascular efficiency. Correct form — Never sacrifice form for speed or performance. If exercise is to be a lifetime commitment, you want to keep your body healthy, injury free and feeling as good as possible at all times. Think about keeping your entire body relaxed when you do cardio and you will find that you can become more efficient on whichever equipment you choose. Intensity — Your heart rate is usually a good indicator of your intensity. Healthy adults should strive for 6090 percent of their maximal heart rate. Click here to determine your target heart rate. If you aren’t working hard enough, you aren’t going to see the benefits. If you’re working too hard, you’re setting yourself up for injury. The bottom line is to choose something that you will do often, is convenient and feels good (when it’s over). The best suggestion I can give is to use a variety of equipment.

Some burn more calories, some are more physically challenging and some feel better than others. Your body may need different things on different days. If you had a tough workout, you may want to do an easy walk or bike ride. If you are rested and feeling energized, you may want to tackle the Stairmaster. What’s important is that you do it. The benefits are priceless.

Ilen & Lauren Bell are the husband and wife team behind Black Fitness Today, born, in 2011, out of their motivation to change culture, build a platform and lead the charge. Their purpose is to help change the culture towards health and fitness in the African-American community, showcase those who are making an impact, and promote healthier living. They also aim to serve as a platform for African-American fitness and health professionals and enthusiasts who are otherwise overlooked in traditional fitness media.

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CrossFit Inc Global Branding Manager Talks with Black Fitness Today Ahead of Manion-WOD to Honor Fallen Hero

Ilen Bell, MS, CSCS, Co-Founder of Black Fitness Today



Manion WOD events will be occurring at CrossFit gyms across the United States on Sunday, April 29, 2018. Times vary by location. Proceeds from each event will go towards TMF veteran initiatives such as TMF veteran expeditions, veteran-empowerment programs, and scholarships.


On April 29th, CrossFit gyms across the country will recognize the sacrifice of 1stLT Travis Manion and complete the Manion-Workout of the Day (WOD) to benefit Travis Manion Foundation (TMF) veteran initiatives such as TMF veteran expeditions, veteran-empowerment programs, and scholarships.

Read our interview with CrossFit Global Branding Manager, Jimi Letchford, and TMF President and Sister of Travis Manion, Ryan Manion.

Who was 1stLT Travis Manion?

Ryan: Travis was my best friend, and younger brother by 15 months. Even though I was the older sibling, I looked up to Travis in many ways because he always set the example. Travis was a high character person even from a young age, and when he saw something wrong, he would stand up. He was an all-league standout in wrestling, football and lacrosse, a member of five championship teams, and an All-American wrestler. Travis was best known as a motivating and popular figure to his classmates. This combination of leadership, athleticism, and academic achievement opened the door to his appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

After graduating from USNA, he decided to follow in our father’s footsteps and was awarded a commission into the United States Marine Corps. After finishing at the top of his class at The Basic School in Quantico, VA, Travis was assigned to 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force, with whom he deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. On April 29, 2007 during his second tour of duty in Iraq Travis, his fellow Marines and Iraqi Army counterparts were ambushed. Leading the counterattack against the enemy forces, Travis was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates. Travis Manion paid the ultimate sacrifice that day, but his selfless actions allowed every member of his patrol to survive.


How does CrossFit serve as a vehicle for honoring heroes like 1stLT Travis Manion, who paid the ultimate sacrifice?

Jimi: Every day, millions of people engage in CrossFit workouts around the world. Our Workouts of the Day (aka WODs) are constantly varied, (relatively) high intensity, functional movement challenges that are intended to elicit physical and mental responses like no other workout regimen. The CrossFit program may not be for everyone, but it is for anyone.

Our Hero WODs are a different breed. They’re intended to take you to your limit. It’s up to the athlete to decide whether they’ll push past this limit. During this process, we honor the Hero(es) in which the workout was named. The men and women we honor through these WODs have amazing stories of character and bravery, and knowing about their legacy pushes us to go even further than we thought possible.

CrossFit has closely aligned its core values with that of the military. Why might CrossFit be something veterans want to give a try?

Jimi: CrossFit has a very tight-knit community, and a great sense of camaraderie among participants. When veterans join a CrossFit gym, they often find that camaraderie very similar to what they experience while in service to our Country. The idea that you belong to something bigger than yourself can often be lost while transitioning out of the military to civilian life. Like the military, there’s also a competitive nature to CrossFit. That friendly competition is something many veterans continue to look for in the next chapter of their life, and CrossFit is a great way to fill that void.

“If Not Me, Then Who…” is a question that has come to shape 1stLT Manion’s legacy. How is TMF and CrossFit answering this question?

Ryan: “If Not Me, Then Who…” isn’t actually a question, it’s a mantra that Travis lived by every day, and we’re inspiring future generations to put that mantra into action within their own lives. Just before Travis left for his second deployment to Iraq, he attended a football game with my husband Dave, and while they were leaving the stadium, Dave said to Travis “How about I push you down the steps so you break your ankle, and you won’t have to go back?” Travis looked at Dave very serious, and simply replied “If Not Me, Then Who…” He went on to explain that if he didn’t go back, someone less prepared would have to go in his place. This is the way Travis approached everything in his life, even from an early age. Those words have grown into a national movement that is inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to be of service to their own communities, and to be part of something bigger than themselves.  

Jimi: Travis was as true a friend as you could ever find. He always looked out for others, and often times would even thank me for pushing him to work harder. He was also a fierce competitor, and would never cut corners. His mantra of “If Not Me, Then Who…” really does represent how selfless Travis was. To me, Travis is representative of all the other Heroes that our Nation, and CrossFit community, have lost. So, I’d like to tell anyone that will be honoring Travis (or whoever else they’ll be honoring this weekend) to do so with the utmost integrity to the workout standards. Remember that those we honor through our Hero WODs paid the ultimate sacrifice in their line of duty. It is now our duty to never forget them. “If Not Me, Then Who…”

How does CrossFit motivate its members to collectively complete intense WODs sometimes named in honor of fallen military and first responders whom the members have no personal connection?

Jimi: The people that walk into our CrossFit boxes are people that recognize that only hard work will achieve health and wellness. CrossFitters don’t believe that there is a ‘magic pill’ for fitness. It turns out that this psychographic also tends to be very altruistic and humble. As a CrossFit community, all we have to do is tell the story of the fallen Hero, how it may relate to the workout, and the rest just happens. For example, the “Manion” Hero WOD is extremely leg intensive. We know from our relationship with Travis that he always had the strongest legs of anyone on our team. So, Travis’ workout consists of a 400 meter run and 29 back squats (135lbs), done over 7 rounds. The numbers are somewhat poetic; Travis was killed 4/29/07.

Manion WOD events will be occurring at CrossFit gyms across the United States on Sunday, April 29, 2018. Times vary by location. Proceeds from each event will go towards TMF veteran initiatives such as TMF veteran expeditions, veteran-empowerment programs, and scholarships.

How can people exemplify Travis’ character and sacrifice beyond the four walls of a CrossFit box where many join together once a year to complete a WOD honoring Travis’ legacy?

Ryan: Get involved in your own community. Look for your passion and a purpose, and wake up with determination to make a difference in the world every day, no matter how small. Live by “If Not Me, Then Who…” and look for those opportunities that present themselves each and every day that you can be the best version of yourself, and take advantage of them.

What communities does TMF serve?

Ryan: We currently have offices in 8 cities across the country, which include: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington D.C. However our impact and opportunities for involvement are nationwide.

How does the Travis Manion Foundation ensure that children of fallen heroes are not left behind?

We work closely with families of the fallen, and specifically organize service expeditions for survivors. These expeditions allow family members of fallen military to spend time with others who can relate to their journey, while providing them an opportunity to carry on their loved one’s legacy by being of service to a community in need. We host 8-10 domestic or international expedition each year, and one such expedition is specifically for teens who have lost a parent or sibling in service to our country. These young adults learn that while their loved one may be gone, they can honor their memory and carry on their legacy through the actions they take each and every day.

Where can people find information on joining or volunteering with TMF?

Ryan: Anyone can join the mission by visiting We have volunteer and engagement opportunities throughout the year, which includes our Operation Legacy service projects and the 9/11 Heroes Run 5K series.

What do you want people to know most about Travis?

Ryan: Travis always challenged himself to be the best person he could, and he did that by focusing on being big in the little things. Because of that, he was prepared when bigger challenges arose. The legacy that Travis left behind, and for that matter all our fallen heroes, is one that we all have a responsibility to carry on. The way that we do that is by look towards the character they lived with, and challenging ourselves to think about how we can be the best version of ourselves – because “If Not Me, Then Who…”



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What is Irradiation and How Can It Maximize Your Lifts?

Ilen Bell, MS, CSCS, Co-Founder of Black Fitness Today



A couple weeks ago I attended the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) seminar, which focuses on training mobility. The course was a solid reminder and in some cases a perception-altering experience about human anatomy, physiology and functional movement. I’ll break down some of the components, theories and principles of FRC at a later time but for now, I want to focus on tension, a key principle in the FRC system. However, for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on how tension can increase general strength and performance.

How can tension take your lifts next level?

Tension – not to be confused with the general bodybuilding idea of “time under tension,” which usually is referring to keep a prime mover under tension, such as the pectoral during bench press. Irradiation is rather the isometric contraction of the non-prime movers and the prime mover along with the necessary contraction to produce movement or not; it depends on the situation.

Tension is a common word for “irradiation,” is often overlooked during training. Irradiation comes from Sherrington’s Law of Irradiation which states:

A muscle working hard recruits the neighboring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle reach other muscles and ‘turn them on’ just as an electric current starts a motor.”

Simply put, the more motor units recruited to produce movement or reduce movement, the better neural activation to help you control the weight or load.

Example: Think about a time when you had to push a car or lift a heavy object.

How did you prepare for the push or pull of the car or whatever that heavy object was?

Did you only concentrate on using your legs (prime mover)?

Or did you create tension throughout multiple muscle groups, possibly every muscle group (irradiation)?

More than likely you used irradiation. Why? Because your primal instinct kicked in and you realized to move that car or heavy object, it would take a lot of effort (neural drive) and you called on your central nervous system to recruit all the potential strength you possessed to apply maximal force.

Incorporate irradiation in your training

If done properly, irradiation can yield some quick gains to your lifts and increase strength simply by increasing neural muscular efficiency – the ability for the central nervous system to recruit the muscle required for your desired movement when called upon. The greater efficiency you have in recruiting motor units to produce movement or resist movement, the greater your force production or strength/power application will be.

How to perform irradiation

It seems easy but easy is not simple and simple is not easy. With that said, create tension throughout the entire body. For example, if you’re performing standing biceps curls, you create an isometric contraction throughout your entire body; feet (ground contact), quads, glutes, abdominal complex, forearms, scapulae retracted and of course tension and controlled movement in/with the biceps.

Although the primary focus in the above example is to perform a biceps curl, the irradiation effort thorough out the body is also training the nervous system to produce activation in all muscle groups more efficiently.


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How To Do The Barbell Hip Thrust…



Are you struggling to build bigger glutes?

Check out my video to learn about the 4 cues you must use with the barbell hip thrust in order to perform them with excellent form and maximize your gains.

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