When it comes to Sprint 8, not all cardio machines are created equal. Some machines make it easy to achieve maximum intensity during your sprints. Others make it easy to slack off. To understand why, you need to know how Sprint 8’s difficulty settings work.

The Sprint 8 program has four stages: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Elite. Each stage has five levels. Levels 1 through 5 are in the Beginner stage, levels 6 through 10 are Intermediate, levels 11 through 15 are Advanced and levels 16 through 20 are Elite. These levels feel different depending on your choice of cardio equipment. Level 1 on a treadmill is a walk in the park — literally — but level 1 on an elliptical is tough, even for professional athletes. This guide will help you figure out which cardio machine is right for you.

Recumbent Cycle

This is hands-down the best machine for beginners. In fact, it’s a good choice for anyone, especially if you like running. The recumbent cycle targets the muscles that you use to run, so it’s a great alternative to running outdoors or on a treadmill. But no matter how good of a runner you are, sprinting on a recumbent cycle is tough enough to leave you totally exhausted — if you do it correctly. Remember these three tips:

  1. Don’t force yourself to do all eight sprints right away. Start with two and work your way up.
  2. If 90 seconds doesn’t feel long enough for your recovery period, skip the next sprint.
  3. Go all-out during sprints. If you don’t feel like collapsing after 30 seconds, you didn’t do it right.

The most important part of sprinting on a recumbent cycle is finding the right resistance. If the resistance is too high, you won’t be able to pedal for more than a few seconds. If it’s too low, you’ll never reach maximum intensity, no matter how hard you pedal. Keep changing the resistance until you find a setting that leaves you totally exhausted after 30 seconds.

For the recumbent cycle, I recommend starting at level 6, 7 or 8. These levels should give you just the right amount of resistance. If you’re using a Matrix recumbent cycle with Sprint 8 installed, the machine will automatically change its resistance as you progress through the workout. For those of you who don’t have access to Matrix cardio equipment, these are the resistance settings for level 6:

When you move up a level, increase the resistance for each sprint by 1. The warmup, cooldown and active recovery stay the same until you move to the Elite stage, where they increase by 1. If you decide to start in the Beginner stage, reduce the warmup, cooldown and active recovery by 1.

Upright Cycle

The upright cycle is built for efficiency, just like the high-speed racing bikes used in the Tour de France. Athletes need to travel long distances without getting tired, and their bicycles are designed to help them do just that. This makes the upright cycle a great machine for steady-state cardio. Sprint 8, not so much. The upright cycle is too efficient to let you go all-out during sprints. That’s why I recommend the recumbent for beginners. If you still want to do Sprint 8 on an upright, you have two options:

  • Crank up the resistance.
  • Sit up straight while sprinting.

When you sit up, you’re taking the efficiency out of the machine. This makes it easier — “easier” — to sprint correctly. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but Sprint 8 wasn’t designed to be comfortable. And remember, you can still lean forward during your recovery period. If you’d rather lean forward during sprints, make sure the resistance is high. This is a good option for people who want to feel like they’re riding a bike.

The upright cycle has the same pre-programmed resistance settings as the recumbent. If you decide to sit upright during sprints, choose level 6, 7 or 8. Otherwise, start with level 11, 12 or 13.

Hybrid Cycle

If you have mobility issues, Sprint 8 may seem impossible no matter what kind of equipment you choose. The upright cycle forces you to sit up straight without back support, making it difficult to keep your balance. The recumbent cycle is better for your back, but it takes more effort to move the pedals. Treadmills and ellipticals are clearly off the table, so what’s left?

The answer is the hybrid cycle. It combines the recumbent cycle’s back support with the upright cycle’s performance, making it perfect for people with mobility issues. Sprint 8 is still a very demanding workout, and you should always check with your doctor before doing high-intensity interval training. But if your doctor says it’s okay, the hybrid cycle is the way to go.

The hybrid cycle’s back support also makes it easier to sit up straight during sprints, so I recommend starting at level 6, 7 or 8. If you prefer to lean forward during sprints, start with level 11, 12 or 13.

Elliptical

Sprint 8 is tough. If it doesn’t feel like the hardest workout you’ve ever done, you aren’t doing it right. And nothing feels harder than doing Sprint 8 on an elliptical. So naturally, I recommend it. Why is the elliptical so tough? Because unlike the exercise bikes listed above, the elliptical works your arms and legs at the same time. That means your heart is working extra hard to power your entire body. I’m not saying the elliptical is better than the exercise bikes. If you do Sprint 8 correctly, you’ll get results on any machine. But the elliptical is a great choice for experienced sprinters who want a challenge.

Of course, if you REALLY want to punish yourself, you should do Sprint 8 on a Matrix Ascent Trainer. It’s just like an elliptical, except it has incline. That means you’ll have to work even harder during your 30-second sprints. Have fun!

Whether you choose the Ascent Trainer or elliptical, I recommend starting at level 1, 2 or 3. Here are the settings for level 1, including incline settings for the Ascent Trainer:

When you move up a level, increase the resistance for each sprint by 1. The warmup, cooldown and active recovery stay the same until you move to the Elite stage, where they increase by 1. When you advance to the next stage, raise the incline on each sprint by 10%. The warmup, active recovery and cooldown don’t change until you reach the Intermediate stage, where they increase by 1 resistance level, and the Elite stage, where they increase by another resistance level.

Treadmill

You might think the treadmill is the best machine for Sprint 8. After all, you can literally sprint on a treadmill. If you enjoy running, and you already have some experience with Sprint 8, the treadmill is definitely a good choice. But if you’re new to Sprint 8, you’re much better off choosing the elliptical or exercise bike. Those machines have something the treadmill lacks: control.

When you do Sprint 8 on an exercise bike or elliptical, you’re always in control of your speed. But when you’re running on a treadmill, the machine controls your speed for you. If you want to go faster, you have to manually change the settings. This makes it a lot harder to achieve maximum intensity.

You should only do Sprint 8 on a treadmill if you know exactly how hard to push yourself. If you go too slow, you’ll never reach sprint intensity. If you go too fast, you might not be able to complete the sprint. This is why beginners should learn to do Sprint 8 on a different machine before attempting it on a treadmill. It’s difficult to find the right speed unless you already know how Sprint 8 is supposed to feel.

To make things worse, the treadmill’s pre-programmed levels are much easier than you would expect. For example, a level 1 sprint is only 3.7 miles per hour. That’s barely a fast walk, let alone a sprint. Because the pre-programmed levels are so easy, beginners who start with the treadmill usually don’t get a good workout.

I’ve probably made the treadmill seem like the worst possible machine for Sprint 8. But honestly, if you know how Sprint 8 is supposed to feel, there’s nothing wrong with doing it on a treadmill, especially if you like running.

I recommend starting at level 11, 12 or 13. These levels will probably be too easy, especially if you’ve learned to do Sprint 8 on another machine, but they’re still a good starting point. Here are the settings for level 11:

You don’t have to stay at 0.5 miles per hour for the entire warmup. In fact, it’s better to gradually increase the speed to a light jogging or running pace. This will help you avoid injury.

When you move up a level, increase the speed of each sprint by 0.5 miles per hour. The incline stays the same until you move to the Elite stage, where it increases by 1%. The settings for the active recovery and cooldown also increase by 0.5 miles per hour and 1% incline. If you decide to start in the Intermediate stage, lower the incline for all sprints by 1%, and reduce the settings for the active recovery and cooldown by 0.5 miles per hour. If you start in the Beginner stage, reduce these settings again by the same amounts.

In Summary

If you’re just starting Sprint 8, use a recumbent cycle.

If you really want to feel like you’re biking, use the upright cycle.

If you have mobility issues, use the hybrid cycle.

If you’re an experienced sprinter who wants a challenge, use the elliptical or Ascent Trainer.

If you enjoy running, and you’ve already learned to do Sprint 8 on another machine, use the treadmill.

Phil Campbell

“Sprint 8 is a tried and true workout that can rapidly and radically change your body for the better. It’s simple. It’s effective. And you’re going to love what it does to your body.”