How to choose a sport-specific machine for automatic fitness
Outside magazine, January 1998
THE STREAMLINED HOME GYM | ESSENTIALS | THE OTHER STUFF | BOOKS
If your enthusiasm for fitness clubs ranks right up there with your lust for a dental cleaning — which incidentally is now recommended every three months — your winter workout options may be few. But now that you know how to
That’s right. Because aside from a recent long-term study at the University of Florida, which showed that cross-training at high intensity often causes injuries, there’s the matter of practicality. If you ignore your trainer’s pleas to constantly mix it up, you can do with a lot less equipment. The key is to choose a cardiovascular machine that replicates the biomechanics of
With a little ingenuity, you can supplement your newly prized aerobic beauty with a set of dumbbells for strength training and a few other small items that together will fairly well replace a Universal Gym — and save space and money in the process. In the end, your streamlined gym will fit neatly in any corner of the house, and it will last for years to come.
When it comes to pedaling in place, look for smooth-stroking machines that allow you to gradually vary the resistance, which gives the sensation and benefit of riding up real hills. The options extend well beyond standard bikes found at the club, and the best choice depends on why you’re logging miles on a stationary bike in the first place.
People who simply prefer to take their aerobic exercise sitting down on a bicycle seat will gravitate toward the stalwart Lifecycle 5500 HR
($1,499) from Life Fitness. Essentially the seven-year-old 5500 souped up with a heart-rate monitor, the 5500 HR still outperforms many slicker models. A chain-driven alternator means you don’t have to plug the thing in. While not exactly sleek, it gets the job done: Extended handlebars allow you to pop out of the saddle and pedal standing up — important both for
If you suffer back pain or simply want a more comfortable way to cycle, try the Schwinn Airdyne Backdraft ($799). This recumbent — you sit in a padded chair and pedal with your legs in front of you — uses a large fan for its brand of resistance. Twist a nifty shifter on the handlebar to make it harder (and louder). The display panel
For a workout that more closely replicates the feel of riding your bike, you might just ride it inside. Like many such bike stands, the CycleOps Fluid+ Trainer ($290) renders any steed shod with smooth tires a stationary machine. The difference here is a thoughtful bit of technology: Instead of whirring noisily in the open air of your living room,
At first glance, a treadmill seems rather basic — a plasticky moving sidewalk hooked to a glorified calculator. But to find one that will provide a respectable workout sans injury, you’ll need a checklist. In addition to inspecting the general quality of the deck, belts, and rollers — the elements of shock absorption and stability — consider four
The best treadmill on the market below $2,000 is the Precor 9.2s ($1,899). The reason? Like all Precor treadmills, the 9.2s uses a microprocessor that adjusts the speed of the belt upon each stride (called integrated foot-plant technology), preventing that herky-jerky sensation typical of less powerful or sophisticated machines. It features a
If you want a little more performance and happen to have another $900 to drop, the Landice 8700 Programmable ($2,795) will suit the most intense of runners. The deck inclines to an interval-emulating 15 percent, and the speedometer goes to 12 mph. You’ll be able to keep going at this hard-charging pace for 6,000 hours, because the deck flops over
The first rule of buying a stair climber: No matter how inexpensively enticing it looks at the garage sale, pass up the dependent-pedal variety, which pushes one foot up as you depress the other pedal. Independent climbers — similar to those escalator varieties that aren’t available for home — force you to do the work, making you lift each leg and step up so you
Climb on the StairMaster 4400 PT ($2,295), cue up “Gonna Fly Now,” and you’ll know how Rocky Balboa felt atop those steps. A patented chain-driven resistance system that keeps pedal speed even throughout the stroke
lets you find a seamless rhythm, as if you’re ascending the real thing. After years of watching people stepping incorrectly, StairMaster trotted out this model with no side rails, so you can’t lean on anything. As for the electronics, you can choose seven programs on the 4400 PT, and it will inform you of how many calories you’ve burned, how many flights of stairs you’ve
If you simply can’t do without the handrails, try the Tectrix CardioTouch 2000 ($3,095). A cable-driven machine, the Tectrix runs quieter than the StairMaster. Protruding below the electronic console is something unusual: a T-bar with proprietary rubber hand grips for reading your heart rate. Thanks to quicker and more sensitive sensor technology,
To stretch your calves, ankles, and hamstrings after a particularly long turn on the climber, try the StepStretch from NordicTrack ($30), which resembles a half-moon-shaped teeter-totter for your foot. Place your heel in a groove with the forefoot angling slightly up toward your shin, and you can rock your heel down for a great stretch.
NordicTrack remains the best maker of cross-country ski trainers at any price. The new MedalistPlus ($900) one-ups the familiar Classic with refinements like fatter skis and a lower stance, which enhance overall stability — crucial, considering how awkward it is to learn any ski machine. Now
you get a flywheel for upper-body resistance, and you can even ski uphill, though you have to hop off to raise the slant. The programmable computer has all the goodies, including a heart-rate monitor, and the unit features steel and cherry wood construction.
If your snow-sport interests run toward alpine adventures, whether skiing or snowboarding, no aerobic machine will do the job. The Tri-Level Wobble Board ($59) from Fitter International, however, is a low-tech toy that’ll improve your balance. You stand on a saucer-shaped board that rotates and wobbles atop a dome of polyurethane anchored to the
Why fool with perfection? With its weighted flywheel, which emulates the momentum-stifling effect of water on the hull, the Concept II Indoor Rower ($725) does an admirable job of giving you a real-world workout. Sliding back and forth on the stainless-steel and aluminum H-beam, you can vary the resistance by adjusting the air-flow in and out of
Photographs by Michael Llewellyn; Clay Ellis