December 4, 1995 in Features

Exercise Items Come In Many Sizes And Prices

Paula Dillon Mays Special To In Life

Home exercise equipment is a major option for Christmas gift givers. In fact, Americans spend more than $2 billion each year just to sweat at home.

But how do you choose a machine that will actually get used? Surveys suggest that some people never use their exercise toys and most will discontinue use shortly after Christmas.

First, find out all you can about each piece of equipment. Ask questions such as:

Will my size (or the recipient’s) fit this piece of equipment? Or will the machine adjust sufficiently? Most home gyms are built for the average sized guy. A larger man or smaller woman risks injury lifting weights on a machine that has incorrect centers of axis or too much lever arm.

What accessories must come with this machine to make it functional? Weight benches often use weight plates for resistance. The Competition Weight Bench is $300, but plan to tack on more dollars for the weight plates. Fifty-pound plates run about $35 each.

How much space will these toys demand? Is there a way to store them away from daily traffic while they are not in use? Small stair climbers that demand only 1-foot by 1-foot of space may be ideal for the cramped home or office. How much expertise will it take to assemble the equipment? Home gyms take between four and seven hours to put together. Be certain that the expertise needed for assembly is not above your ability or your desire to use the exerciser.

Here are more pointers on buying exercise equipment.

Devices don’t have to be big or expensive to work. Tony Little’s Ab Isolator ($29.95) includes a rope with a handle attached to a plastic bar, and a video. The result is a scientific approach to strengthening specific stomach muscles.

Cardio Glide and Cardio Fit are different names for the same machine. Costing about $200, it provides a good aerobic workout while strengthening the back. People who have a tendency to slouch will find they benefit from using it.

A large variety of exercise bicycles are available. Look for a bike that is sturdy. It should have a smooth spinning or pedaling motion. Pedal straps are essential because they allow you to pull up with your leg as well as push down. Handlebars need to be adjustable and the seat must be comfortable. Resistance should be variable and have a good range. You should be able to spin at a minimum of 60 rpms to avoid knee injury. If you have a back or neck injury, try a recumbent model. For an upper body workout, try a bike with pumping handlebars.

Walk and run on a treadmill before you buy one. It must be wide and long enough to accommodate your stride length and gait pattern. Make sure the motor is big enough to match your speed. Treadmills can have a hard surface. Be certain there is good shock absorption and that you do not experience pain with running or walking. Treadmills with motors are best but are also more expensive. A type of side rail comes on most treadmills. Slow walkers are more likely to need the railing than runners or faster walkers. Most importantly, look for a sturdy, comfortable machine. Also ask about service and repair of the treadmill. Does the dealer carry parts or employ a serviceman?

Stair climbers have come into vogue within the last few years. Because there are so many new models it is hard to tell a good climber from one that won’t last or may hurt you. Pedals can function independently or may be “linked.” Linked pedals work opposite each other and are best for people who are not highly coordinated or are recovering from an injury. Linked pedals are safer because as one pedal goes up the other comes down, allowing a smoother, more consistent motion. Look for large pedals and a smooth stepping motion. The hand rails should let your shoulders and arms relax comfortably.

Some experts think the cross-country skier machine is the best all-around exerciser. Most muscle groups get a good workout. There is little risk of injury. Models come with poles or cords for upper body exercise. Machines with poles are usually less strenuous and easier to learn. Don’t become discouraged. It takes time to learn to coordinate movement on these machines.

Rowing machines are excellent for upper body workouts. Cheaper models have hydraulic arms and piston-type design and are more compact. The larger models have a flywheel attached to a cord which facilitates smoother motion. There is little stress throughout the body when a rowing machine is used properly. However, talk to your doctor before buying a rowing machine if you have a bad back.

MEMO: Paula Dillon Mays is a Spokane physical therapist with offices on the South Hill and in Airway Heights.

Paula Dillon Mays is a Spokane physical therapist with offices on the South Hill and in Airway Heights.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email