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Get fit at home this winter: do your homework and know your needs and goals before purchasing home exercise equipment.

It's a new year, and you've made a resolution for better health. Maybe you want the lean, muscular body you never had. Maybe you just want to preserve your aerobic fitness or improve your balance.

You could spend time (and hundreds of dollars) at a health club, but you've decided to invest in a home gym. Now, you're perplexed by all of the options you have available, from treadmills to elliptical machines, weight machines to free weights. The right choice is the one that will meet your individual needs and goals and, most importantly, keep you on the path to better health, a Cleveland Clinic expert says.

"The most important question to ask yourself is, 'Is it something I actually want to use, something that, at the bare minimum, I can tolerate?'" says Heather Nettle, Coordinator of Exercise Physiology Services at Cleveland Clinic. "Many people buy fitness equipment, they don't try it out first, they don't particularly like that form of exercise, and it just becomes a very elaborate clothes hanger."

HELP YOUR HEART

Aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, or biking, improves your cardiovascular and respiratory fitness, increases your heart rate, and burns calories. Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week, usually broken down into 30 minutes daily on at least five days a week. The following equipment can help you achieve your goal:

Treadmills: These machines are good choices because almost anyone can use them. Unlike other aerobic equipment, such as elliptical machines and stationary bicycles, treadmills allow for weight-bearing exercise (walking, jogging or running), which is beneficial for improving bone health.

On the downside, using a treadmill may not be suitable if you have arthritis or other joint pain in your lower extremities. Plus, treadmill walking is not as intense as walking on a natural surface because the motion of the treadmill does some of the work for you. If you have access to an indoor track or mall nearby, you might get your walking in there and spend your money on something other than a treadmill so that you can vary your exercise. "Also, if you don't want to run, you might be slightly limited in terms of how high you can build the intensity on a treadmill," Nettle says, "whereas on an elliptical or stationary bike you could exercise at a higher intensity with less of a tax on your bones."

Ellipticals: These machines mimic the motion of walking or running, without the impact placed on the leg joints. However, since ellipticals prevent lateral movement and work on a fixed linear pattern, they may not be suitable if you have a shorter stride or an abnormal gait.

Stationary bicycles: This equipment is also kinder to your leg joints, but if you have significant knee problems, make sure the seat is adjusted correctly so that you don't bend your knees past 90 degrees. Upright stationary bikes also may be problematic if you have considerable back or groin pain. Instead, consider a recumbent bicycle, which may allow you to exercise more comfortably. Just remember that recumbent bikes usually require less effort than upright bikes and other aerobic exercise equipment, so you may have to adjust the intensity of your workout.

Stair climbers: These machines provide a more intense aerobic workout and, when used properly, strengthen the muscles of the thighs, calves, and buttocks. Proper form is a must. Rest your hands or fingertips lightly on the hand rails--if you have to grip the rails tightly to keep up with the machine, you're stepping too fast--and stand mostly upright. "Most people don't use steppers correctly," Nettle says. "They drape themselves over the top and just pump their feet quickly."

BUILD MUSCLE

Because of aerobic exercise's beneficial effects on disease prevention, most people are geared toward cardio-based equipment, Nettle says.

"But strength training may be more effective in terms of long-term weight management, and it will be extremely important in terms of helping you with functioning as you age," she adds.

All-in-one gyms: Because of their ease of use, these machines are ideal for most men with little or no strength-training experience, Nettle says. By limiting the ways you can use the equipment, weight machines also may reduce the odds that you'll lift with poor form and cause injury. But this aspect of all-in-one gyms also limits how much you can vary your workout, and, like treadmills, these machines do some of the work for you and "take away some of the intensity of free weights," Nettle says.

Free weights: Dumbbells and barbells may afford a more intense workout compared to weight machines, but they also allow more room for error in your form. "I encourage everyone who is doing strength training at home to install a mirror where they exercise," Nettle says. "Even the most advanced person should be watching his form."

Resistance bands: If you're new to strength training, these "stretchy" bands may suffice. But if you're an experienced lifter or you've built ample muscle through manual labor, chances are these bands will not be enough of a challenge. Plus, the bands work on variable resistance, so although you may have 15 pounds of resistance when you stretch the band, that amount may fall to only five pounds when the band is loose.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

With so many options to choose from, keep in mind that you might not have to buy any exercise equipment at all. Your doctor, physical therapist, and/or an exercise professional can customize a simple exercise regimen for your individual fitness level.

"I've created programs as simple as marching in place in front of the TV and lifting milk jugs," Nettle says. "You can make it as simple as you want. There's a fair amount you can do."

If you decide to buy exercise equipment, first carefully review the warranty that comes with it.

Make sure the equipment is appropriate for your size, and check the weight limit on any aerobic equipment. The closer you are to the weight limit, the more wear and tear you'll put on the equipment, Nettle cautions.

"Go to the retailer and use the equipment several times," she says. "Just proceed wisely. Take your time and do your research before you actually make a purchase."

BEFORE YOU BUY

* Consider these points before you purchase exercise equipment:

* Cost: Buy the equipment you can afford, and include any taxes, shipping or delivery charges in the total price.

* Comfort: Each brand of exercise machine feels slightly different, so make sure you're comfortable using it. Always test it multiple times in a store before buying it.

* Size: Make sure the equipment fits in the space you have available and allows you to see the television if you want entertainment while exercising.

* Sound: Find out how noisy or disruptive the equipment is. It's hard to hear the TV if your treadmill or stationary bike is too loud.

* Simplicity: Look for equipment that's easy to use, has easy-to-read displays, and comes with clear instructions on use and assembly.
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Title Annotation:Exercise
Publication:Men's Health Advisor
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Words:1173
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