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Aerobics classes, cardio machines and jogging all let you create workouts that improve your heart health while you burn calories. Depending on which classes you take or machines you use, you'll experience different levels of impact and muscle use. Understanding some basic differences among these exercise options will help you choose the right workouts for you.
Aerobics classes get you in a target heart rate range of 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for most of the workout. This is comparable to a jogging pace. Step aerobics classes are low-impact, while aerobic dancing or martial arts-type classes, which cause you to leave the ground with both feet at once, are high impact. When you take an aerobics class led by a trained fitness instructor, the class leader will raise and lower your heart rate based on healthy parameters for the experience and fitness level of the class. For example, during a bicycle spinning class, the instructor will have you raise and lower the gear settings, make you pedal faster and slower and provide coasting periods for you to recover. The instructor will also have you work a wide variety of muscles, something exercise machines such as ellipticals and outdoor jogging don't.
Cardio machines raise your heart rate using a repetitive motion, such as walking, jogging, running, pedaling or rowing. Common options include treadmills, ellipticals, stair steppers, rowing machines and exercise bikes. Most are low impact, unless you run on a treadmill. Some machines come with programmable consoles that let you create different types of workouts that raise and lower your heart rate and automatically change resistance or incline. Working on your own, you won't get the feedback or instruction you get from an instructor, as you do during an aerobics class. You also won't have the opportunity for the social interaction a class offers.
Jogging is a high-impact workout generally performed at a steady state. You can burn more calories by adding short sprints, followed by a slower recovery period, but the aerobic heart rate you reach during jogging makes this difficult for many intermediate joggers. Unlike an aerobics class, rowing machine or elliptical with poles, jogging provides very little upper-body exercise because while your core helps stabilize you, it doesn't experience resistance. While your arms act as pistons, swinging back and forth as you run, unless you're jogging with hand weights, you don't experience resistance.
Pros and Cons
Professionally led cardio classes usually feature a warmup, aerobic exercise that includes some type of resistance, an adequate cooldown and a stretch. When you take aerobics classes, there's often a fee involved and you must exercise based on a set schedule. Cardio machines usually come free with a gym membership, let you work at your own pace and offer you the opportunity to create a different workout each time you exercise, either by changing programs on a machine or using different machines each time. Exercise machines other than a rower or elliptical with handles focus on your lower-body muscles only. Using the same machine for every workout, you can experience repetitive-stress injuries. Jogging outdoors is free and lets you create aerobic workouts, but might cause repetitive stress injuries, especially if you run on a hard surface, such as cement.