- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Treadmills are the best-selling home exercise machines in the country because they burn calories faster than any other, Consumer Reports has found.
A treadmill also is the machine least likely to sit around unused in the home, the magazine says.
That doesn't mean every consumer hoping to lose weight and improve aerobic conditioning should run out and buy one.
Many other considerations go into the challenge of staying fit and trim when a person hopes to achieve his or her ideal form in the privacy of home.
Key factors include the goals of the exerciser what he or she hopes to achieve from a routine; the physical condition he or she is in to begin with; and definitely the size of space available for the equipment needed for a workout routine.
Setting up a home gym seldom is possible for people who live in apartments or small houses. Even people who have an extra room available may not want to fill it with machines. Not all fitness experts think it's necessary to own expensive equipment to do the job.
A treadmill and other metal mechanical tools don't impress one Silver Spring lawyer who has achieved her ideal routine without them by sticking to what she calls "simpler toys."
"Those big machines scare me," she says. "My exercise bike turned into a fancy piece of coat-hanging equipment."
Working under the direction of personal trainer Betsy Aigle, the woman who asked not to be identified instead chose stability balls (large inflated balls), hand and ankle weights, and resistance bands, plus a regular walking routine. Weight loss was important to her, but strength and conditioning were even more so.
Working with free weights for 1 years, she began with 3 pounds and now handles 8- and 10-pounders. She can help her husband move a TV set when necessary and "sling around" a 40-pound bag of dog food.
"Strength is wonderful. If you live alone and have a 10-pound weight, you have something to hit a burglar over the head with," she adds whimsically, saying that she regularly spends an hour or two a week with weights for strength training and works with a stability ball to do push-ups. She also uses weights on the ball for abdominal work.
"I couldn't do a single prone push-up when I first started," she says. "I've seen a definite improvement in shape and tone."
People tempted by machines should realize that the ones used in sport clubs usually are of a different, higher caliber than what is sold commercially, says Brian Moody, general manager of the Results gym on Capitol Hill.
"A lot of those machines are sold as fads," he says. To do what a body needs, he advises that a person spend at least 45 minutes three times a week paying attention to all three components involved in a good fitness routine muscle strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance.
"It's very important that you talk to your doctor ahead of time, particularly if you are 50 or older and haven't been exercising much," Ms. Aigle says. "For many conditions, exercising isthe therapy and the thing that will make you better. You just have to know how to do it safely. Senior people are prone to lose 30 percent or more of muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 70."
Instructional videos are fine as far as they go, she says, "but the issue is doing it right. Too many people start out by themselves and end up getting hurt. You should do an exercise for each of the eight to 10 muscle groups three times a week. It's really important to have another human being trained to watch you for a few times to be sure your form is correct."
Ms. Aigle is a big believer in stability balls, which come in various sizes. She says they mainly are 22 or 26 inches in diameter. To determine the correct size, she says, one should be able to sit on it and have one's knees resting at a 90-degree angle.
"Depending on what you buy, you can outfit yourself with a set of resistance tubs, dumbbells, stability balls and mat for between $75 and $100," she says.
Ms. Aigle suggests that a person can go to a local gym a few days to find out what equipment he or she likes, but equipment isn't everything.
"A friend of mine going for a 40th-birthday trek trained with a backpack full of heavy objects and walked up and down stairs," she says. "You work until you can do it longer and faster."
David Keller, an exercise therapist at Fitness for Life in Georgetown, says he equates the home gym to a kitchen. "It's that personal," he says. You don't design an elaborate kitchen for a non-cooker. Generally, the simpler the better."
Mr. Keller agrees that the "most user-, travel- and cost-friendly item" is the inflated ball. He maintains it isn't hard to fill it with air manually or with a small portable pump. The alternative is to take the ball to a service station or any business accustomed to filling up tires.
Pattie Cinelli, a personal trainer for eight years who started the aerobics program at Gallaudet University, recommends purchase of a treadmill over the habit of running outside and breathing in the pollution and carbon monoxide.
"You have to look for the width of the tread, since some of them are narrow and you could trip," she says. "I like the Precor machines for cardiovascular equipment." Precor was third of 11 treadmills tested in the Consumer Reports study.
"Lately, the trunk of my car is filled with weights, but I love the wobble board a balancing board. You can use machines with it or [use it] with free weights and medicine balls," Ms. Cinelli says.
Like Ms. Aigle, Ms. Cinelli is a fan of the stability ball because of its beneficial effect working the core muscles the ones most important in everyday life.
"You sit on it and lift one leg horizontally in front, and you can see how your entire body then works to keep you upright," Ms. Cinelli says. "It involves a lot of intrinsic muscles more than a machine that works your back. Some European companies use the ball for a chair since it is possible to order it with a frame."
Another piece of equipment she recommends is the relatively inexpensive step, which she says can be used along with an instructional video and music to provide a rhythmic beat.
Trainer and former professional dancer Roberta Stiehm, who operates the RSA Studio in Takoma Park, favors a trampoline in addition to some free weights preferably dumbbells or a body bar. She cites studies that purport to show that "the bouncing movement is like when people jog, that you reach a 'runner's high' faster on a trampoline. There is some evidence that bouncing around is very healthy for the immune system if you do light bouncing for three to five minutes at a time."
Her 12-year-old loves the trampoline, she says, making the point that getting children started on it is a good way to get them accustomed to regular exercise.
The trampoline is good for aerobic conditioning as well as for flexibility, but she cautions that it isn't for people with back problems because of pressure on the back caused by jumping on the hard elastic surface.
Ms. Stiehm coaches individuals and other personal trainers in the Pilates method, a regimen she describes as "strengthening through stretching. Some of Pilates exercises have yoga components, but yoga has more stretch while Pilates has more exercises and fewer repetitions."
Joseph Pilates, who invented the Pilates system, Ms. Stiehm notes, "really intended for mat work to be the basis of all of what you do. The machines provide resistance." Three times a week, she teaches Pilates on mats as well as dance to students enrolled in the Shakespeare Academy for Classical Acting, run by the Shakespeare Theatre in conjunction with George Washington University.
Yoga, which she endorses fully, is "holding a position," she explains. "What happens with Pilates is you take a position and move on, doing repetitions but changing exercises quickly."
She has six Pilates machines at home in her studio, but people interested in the method can do most of the work on a single basic machine called the Reformer. The instructional video that accompanies the Reformer isn't nearly good enough for someone just starting out, Ms. Stiehm says. She urges people to learn the method first by hiring an instructor or going to a gym.
With any exercise program, she says, "You need to have good instruction, and you always need to remember there are different levels and components for each exercise, so you can gradually make it more difficult or challenging. And you shouldn't go up to a second level without mastering the first."


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