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Selecting Exercise Equipment

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by Wayne L. Westcott PhD. View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott Because winter weather makes it more difficult to exercise outside, many people consider purchasing indoor exercise equipment to maintain their fitness program. Unfortunately, not all of the exercise products available for home use are particularly useful or durable. Worse yet, some carry a high risk of injury, especially for individuals with predisposing problems such as sensitive shoulders, lower back weakness, or poor balance. Let's take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of several popular home exercise machines to help you with your purchasing decisions.

Exercise Cycles
Time-tested, tried and true, it is hard to beat a well-designed exercise cycle for a safe and effective home training device. A major advantage of cycles is the body support you receive from a sturdy seat. This is very important for persons who are overweight, in poor physical condition, or unsteady on their feet. Another plus for cycling is the externally applied resistance. Rather than working against your bodyweight, which may be too difficult for many people, you can easily adjust the work tension to an appropriate effort level. Also, the resistance can be conveniently changed throughout your exercise session, with less tension for your warm-up and cool-down segments, and more tension during the mid-ride.

The pedaling action is a normal and comfortable movement pattern, that involves the large muscles of the legs, thighs and hips. When positioned properly on the cycle, there should be little stress on the knees, lower back or shoulders, making cycling a relatively low-risk indoor exercise activity.

In comparison to other types of exercise equipment, stationary cycles are generally less expensive and more durable. A good cycle will function well for decades, with little more than some occasional oil applications and resistance pad replacements. Also, cycles have rather small space requirements.

If you like to read while you exercise, cycling is one of the few activities in which your upper body and head remain motionless, making it easy to focus your eyes on written materials. All things considered, a good indoor cycle is my first recommendation for at-home exercise equipment.

Treadmills
Certainly, the most natural physical activity is walking, and a visit to any health club confirms the popularity of treadmill walking as the premier indoor exercise. If you do not have difficulty walking outdoors, then you should soon become just as comfortable on a well-constructed, motor driven treadmill. Although balance and concentration are clearly more critical when the treadmill belt is moving under your feet, most people quickly acclimate to treadmill walking.

Like cycling, this indoor activity addresses the large muscles of the lower body, but it involves upper body action as well. The effort level may be increased by speeding up the belt or by raising the incline so that you are walking uphill.

The major disadvantage of training on a home treadmill is the purchase price. It is almost impossible to find a treadmill with sturdy construction, sufficient motor power, stable belt function, and smooth operation for less than $3,000.00. Less expensive models rarely hold up to the constant landing forces produced by your bodyweight against the belt frame and motor. Non-motor driven treadmills are almost always problematic and not recommended.

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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth......more
 
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