Health clubs are loaded with amazing machinery. With all the high-tech, futuristic equipment that's available, it can almost feel like you're on The Jetsons. (“Hey Jane, how long you been on that Stairmaster?”) Take advantage of this and try them all. Don't get stuck in that “same machine day-in, day-out” routine. Swap around from week to week and keep your workouts interesting and fun.
Get to Know the Aerobic Contraptions
Do something too much, too hard, or too often, and sooner or later it'll get stale. Don't be afraid to vary your activities and change your program. In fact, I encourage it. Try inline skating instead of using the treadmill. Use weight machines instead of free weights. Attend an exercise class instead of riding the Life Cycle. Hey, if you want to dance around naked, I say go for it. ( Just keep it at home, and close the window shades
All cardiovascular exercise equipment is designed to get large muscles pumping in a rhythmic fashion—to increase the heart rate and blood pressure and burn calories. What's the best piece of cardio equipment? The answer: any machine you'll use. Download some favorite tunes to your iPod, read the paper, or watch TV (Good Morning America, VH1, Spongebob Squarepants—whatever grabs ya), and you'll be surprised how quickly the time flies:
- Treadmills. Cardiovascular equipment that presents light-to-moderate impact on your joints, depending on whether you're walking or running. Walking on a flat grade is a good starting place for beginning exercisers. As fitness and confidence builds, you can fool around with increasing the incline and speed.
- Stairclimbers. Cardiovascular equipment that provides a challenging work out with some potential stress to your knees and lower back. (Listen carefully to your body.) This is a more advanced piece of machinery due to the importance of technique, and therefore, you need a base level of stamina and strength to use this machine, even on lower levels.
- Stationary bikes. Now, they come in two flavors—the upright bike (like a regular outdoors bicycle) and the recumbent bike (legs out in front with high bucket seats lending more support for people with lower back pain). Both types provide aerobic workouts that give your joints a break because they are non–weight-bearing activities. Make sure the tension isn't too high and the seat isn't too low. If you're a beginner, ask a trainer to help you get into the proper position. When you're ready to pump up the intensity, increase your speed before increasing the tension.
- Cross conditioner/cross-country ski machines. A great aerobic exercise that uses the entire body and burns tons of calories without any jarring impact. It's also good for quick warm-ups because it gets the whole body going. There is, however, one catch: learning the movement can be tricky for some people, and let's just say the term “poetry in motion” takes on a whole new meaning.
- Rowing machines. Another good “total-body” workout (and a warm-up machine) without any impact. Be sure to get some pointers on technique; there's an easy way and the right way to do it. Obviously, the right way requires more energy, concentration, and muscular effort.
Become Familiar with the Weight-Training Tools
Do I really need to
buy all of the belts, wraps, and straps associated with weight training?
No. In fact, the only peripheral equipment you might need is a pair of gloves to help protect against calluses.
Weight-training equipment can be super high-tech (multi-muscle machinery) or super low-tech (a pair of dumbbells and a box). Don't be fooled into thinking that something more complicated means a better workout. That's not the case at all:
- Weight-training machines. In general, machines are a good starting point for beginners. They remove a lot of the guess work; you just move from machine to machine. (Adjust your seat, stick in a pin, and you're ready for action.) Several machine variations include weight stacks with pulleys and cords (such as Universal and Cybex), metal rod systems (such as Cybex and Med-X), cams and chains (such as Nautilus), or air pumps (such as Kaiser). Just name the nut and bolt, and there's a machine out there that has it. Test them all and find the one you're most comfortable with.
- Free weights. These, on the other hand, require a fair amount of coordination, strength, and skill because they heavily depend on your balance and body control. Although weight training with barbells and dumbbells (free weights) might seem significantly harder at first, some people claim free weights yield greater gains than machines. When embarking on a free-weight program, consult with a qualified trainer for tips on proper form and technique. Bad habits lead to bad injuries.