Many people choose to exercise with fitness machines such as treadmills, stair-climbers, stationary bicycles, and cross-country skiing machines. These all offer aerobic conditioning and may also strengthen muscles.
Fitness machines can be great for exercising when the weather is bad or days are short. You may also like the fact that these machines let you control the intensity of your activity and may give you information about your heart rate, calories burned, or miles covered. Fitness machines are safe and handy, but they can be boring. Listening to music, watching TV, or exercising with a friend may make it more fun.
- Treadmills offer the simplicity of walking or jogging along with precise information about your activity, such as time, distance, and speed. Many have adjustable inclines to provide a greater challenge when you want one. Handrails (located in front) should be provided to allow you to keep your balance or to steady yourself now and then, but you should not hold onto them during exercise. It's better to swing your arms as you walk or jog and to only use the handrails if you need to steady yourself or keep from falling.
- Stationary bicycles work much like regular bicycles. Many come with computers that calculate your workout or programs to simulate real bicycle courses. These extras aren't necessary and aren't as important as having a bike with a good overall design that pedals smoothly, has a comfortable seat, and can be adjusted to the proper height. If your seat is too high or low, you can have knee or hip pain. Try to have a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of your pedal stroke.
- Cross-country ski machines are very good for burning calories and developing both upper- and lower-body muscles with little stress on your joints (low impact). But they require coordination and they may tire you sooner than other machines, because they use muscles in both the upper and lower body. If you are new to this activity, start slowly (5 to 10 minutes a session) and gradually do more as you are able. Look for models with pulley systems for the arms (rather than poles that you pull) and adjustable parts.
- Stair-climbers (stepping machines) are similar to ski machines, but they work only the lower-body muscles. They are simpler to use than ski machines, requiring no special coordination. Beginners should start slowly and gradually increase intensity and length of time on these machines. Keep good posture and avoid leaning on handrails.
- Elliptical cross-trainers combine elements of treadmills, stair-climbers, cycles, and cross-country ski machines. Some machines include arm resistance to work both the upper and lower body. Like ski machines, they require some coordination and may tire you faster than other machines, but they give a very thorough aerobic workout along with some resistance training.
Advertising for fitness products often promises large gains with little effort. This is a promise that sounds good but is rarely true. Before you buy, think about these tips:
- Be sure you already like the activity. A machine or device probably will not make you like an activity you dislike in the first place.
- Avoid products that are available only through a television offer. You won't be able to "try before you buy."
- Test a machine in the store before deciding to buy it. Make sure it feels right to you. Sometimes the more expensive machines work more smoothly and make exercise more comfortable and fun.
- Get the opinion of a trainer or experienced person at a health club, YMCA, or other fitness setting about the equipment you are interested in.
- Many products promise to help tone and develop abdominal, thigh, or buttock muscles. These muscles can be strengthened and toned without special devices, and most devices don't make it easier or safer than doing exercises on your own.
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Current as of: May 5, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Heather O. Chambliss, PhD, FACSM - Exercise Science