Meet the Machines: Going Beyond the Treadmill

Joining a gym is good. Going to the gym is even better. But if you really plan on getting into shape, exploring the gym is critical. ”If you don’t know how to use it, you’re not taking advantage of it," says Ed Trainor, vice president of fitness, services and product development for Town Sports International, the parent company of Washington Sports Clubs. So, for all the new members who signed up Jan. 1 but haven’t managed to move beyond the treadmill yet, here are a few pointers on newer machines and how to use them.

Time for Technology
TV screens and iPod docks are on their way to becoming standard, which is awesome for people looking for entertainment. But the more intriguing technological advances are ones that aim to ensure a harder workout.

Want a virtual personal trainer? Mitch Batkin, senior vice president of fitness for Sport & Health, points to the Life Fitness treadmills in his clubs that offer an on-screen motivator. They also have USB ports through which users can track their data and download workouts — although no one's really doing it yet.

Trainor expects that to change over the coming year, especially as more manufacturers develop similar products. That will probably lead to reward programs run by employers or even the health clubs themselves. But even if it doesn't, it pays to press buttons, try the available options and understand how to make the most of these innovations.

Muscle Matters

One high-tech improvement you probably haven't seen is the migration of those TV screens from cardio equipment to weight machines. But it's coming. Life Fitness recently announced the development of a dual adjustable pulley with a console that can walk you through a series of exercises. There's a "wow" factor, of course, but the real reason this is necessary is that the trend is away from machines that isolate one muscle toward versatile pieces that work all of them.

The downside of this sort of equipment — along with the other popular functional fitness tools — is that it requires a little more know-how than the old-school circuit. So, if you're clueless, don't be shy about asking your gym's trainers for guidance.

Another newish, more intuitive addition to the weight room is the Ab Coaster. The idea is simple: Kneel on the seat, grab the arms and ride on up. To be sure you're not relying on momentum to do the work, slow down.

Endless Ellipticals

If you've been on one elliptical, you most certainly have not been on them all, Batkin says. Larger clubs now usually offer at least two varieties of the low-impact, total-body workout.

Increasingly, that includes the Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer, above, which doesn't force you into a set path. "It's a little weird at first. But then you get a gentle bounce going, and you can move into a step or a run," Batkin says. Perhaps the most baffling to folks is the seated elliptical from Octane, below. Trainor says it seems like something for seniors, but it can be just as effective for athletes.

Chances are, you'll decide one machine is your favorite. But Batkin urges regular elliptical exercisers to switch it up to challenge their bodies in different ways. "The human body loves to move, but not in the same pattern forever," he says.

Make It Count

Regardless of which cardio machine you pick, Batkin wants to see some similarity in how you use it. That means starting with an easy pace before getting to the core of the workout. Then, find ways to challenge yourself for short intervals by increasing speed or resistance. When it's too much, back off so you can recover while moving. "That teaches the body to push harder and burn more fat," he says. And remember: You're never really done until you cool down. If you try to stop too suddenly, you can get light-headed and even faint.

Photos courtesy Ab Coaster

Posted By Vicky Hallett at 12:00 AM on January 18, 2011