With the fitness boom on an upsurge, the market is exploding with exercisers promising to slim you down, build you up, boost your energy levels – give you Total Fitness in short.
Does such a dream exerciser exist? The experts assesses the wide range of workout equipment, both high-tech and low, in terms of what they can and cannot do for your body.
Exercise Benefits: The Exer-cycle is highly effective in fat-burning provided you reach your target heart-rate zone (generally in about 20 minutes of continuous exercycling – at this point you start burning calories from fat.) Cycling is particularly effective because it works the correct powerful thigh muscles to produce a conditioning effect.
As cardiovascular fitness improves, stamina receives a natural boost.
Stationary cycling also tones up your lower body. It strengthens your thigh, buttock and calf muscles.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: You must cycle for a minimum of 20 minutes, and then continue for about 20 minutes more to obtain good aerobic benefits. Recommended frequency: Four times a week.
Risks and Cautions: An exer-cycle is low-risk machine and can be used by people of all ages. But it’s not a recommended option for those with very bad backs who cannot sit for long.
Tips: When buying, ensure that the bike offers the option of adjustable handles and saddle height.
Stretch your muscles well before getting on.
Riding position is very important: your knees should have only a slight bend at the end of the downstroke.
Sit erect and keep your head up.
Stationary bicycling often becomes boring after a time, so try and combine it with other diversions such as reading, catching an FM programme video-watching.
Exercise Benefits: The rowing machine is the most effective total-body toner. It’s also excellent for building strength since it’s a strenuous exercise. Flexibility gets a boost since the body has to go through a range of movements.
Rowing is not a very effective fat-burner as fatigue point is reached too quickly for most people to get into their training zone. For the same reason, most people don’t see more than moderate improvements in stamina.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: Beginners shouldn’t attempt to work on the machine beyond 10 minutes. Recommended frequency: Three times a week, so that the muscles get sufficient time to rest in between sessions.
Risks/Cautions: There is a high risk of injuries. Proper co-ordination of movements is very important. The intensity is high and the workout can cause certain stresses in the lower back. Niggling backaches shouldn’t be ignored.
Rowing is recommended for younger people as the pulse rate rises very fast in this workout and people with cardiac problems should avoid it. So also those with severe back-aches.
Tips: Rowing is a skill, so learn it from an instructor. Use it more as a supplementary exercise to a basic aerobic work-out.
Exercise Benefits: Chest-expanders work on the isometric principle: when you push the springs inward you create stress within the muscles you are using (the muscles of the chest), thus strengthening and bulking them up. When you pull the springs apart, the muscles around your shoulder girdle are exercised.
But the fat-burning value of such exercise is minimal as here again the upper muscles are used. Balance and flexibility benefits are also low.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: Frequency here is in terms of the number of repetitions, which should be gradually increased, depending on how well your body tolerates the exercise. It’s the ‘no pain, no gain’ formula at work – you have to create pain and tension that results in muscle stress and muscle build-up. It’s a very rigorous process of (spot) body-building.
Risks/Cautions: Chest expanders are safe for everyone, except those with tennis elbows or upper extremity problems. Stretching as an adjunct to the exercise is necessary or you will develop strong-looking but rigid muscles.
STEPPERS AND MINI-STEPPERS
Steppers are large and durable, while mini-steppers are small, compact and convenient to have around a small house; but both offer basically the same exercise benefits.
Exercise Benefits: Since the stepper exercises the large muscles of the body, which can bring up the heart-rate and maintain it for a long period, it has superb aerobic benefits, including fat-burning and stamina-boosting.
Strength benefits are high for the lower extremities. Flexibility and balance are however not markedly affected.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: Build up from five to around 20 minutes at least – longer than 20 minutes means more fat-burning. Do four times a week.
Risks/Cautions: Since there is only one-way movement, that is, in the vertical direction, certain lower-extremity problems tend to develop after prolonged use of this exerciser.
Tips: Posture is very important in gaining maximum value from the stepper.
Exercise Benefits: If you manage to achieve a good heart-rate elevation (that is, if you keep at it until you are in your training zone), you get aerobic benefits and burn fat.
The trampoline is a good strength developer for the lower extremities. Stamina gets a moderate boost.
Balance is honed, but flexibility improvements are moderate.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: You can work on it for 20 minutes or more. Frequency: About four times a week.
Risks/Cautions: it’s basically a workout for youngsters wanting to have a good time. Not recommended for grossly overweight novices. There is a risk of tripping and falling, therefore one should first practise under the eye of an instructor.
Exercise Benefits: The treadmill is a great method of exercising. With a motorized treadmill, you can choose your speed and incline and set parameters for yourself, which enables you to keep checking your pulse-rate and maintaining your progress.
It’s excellent for fat-burning, incorporating walking/running benefits. An excellent stamina enhancer. It also builds strength in the lower body.
Flexibility and balance improvements are low.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: Since it’s an aerobic workout, one should exercise for more than 20 minutes to obtain the benefits. Frequency: about four times a week.
Risks/Cautions: Although this is basically a safe exercise, you shouldn’t get too carried away: your heart rate may rise, causing problems. Overstepping your speed limit can also cause shin or ankle pain. Ensure proper rest intervals between sessions.
BAR-BELLS AND DUMB-BELLS
(Bar bells are long bars with or without weights on them. Dumbbells are small one-for-each hand weights.)
Exercise Benefits: They are cheap and very effective in exercising all the muscles of the body if you know how to use them to advantage. They isolate specific muscles and work on them (unlike rowing, for instance, which exercises several muscles at a time).
Fat burning is possible if you attain your target heart-rate. But it’s difficult for a beginner to achieve since it requires a lot of strength.
Dumb-bells and bar-bells tone up your body excellently, also are good at strength-building. Balance is improved to some extent, but these exercisers don’t do much for flexibility. Therefore stretching exercises are a must before and after these workouts, or you can turn into m inflated balloon after pumping weights.
A recommended exercise for women nearing their menopause, to help them reduce the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Recommended Duration and Frequency: Frequency here is in the form of repetitions, which depends on your physical capability and must be gradually built up. Should be done three to four times a week.
Risks/Cautions: People with existing muscular problems should avoid using bar-bells/dum-bells. Also, getting carried away can cause over-use injuries. Someone with a tennis elbow or a backache, for instance, who does a reverse curl may drop the bar and not only worsen his problem but also risk breaking a toe in the bargain.
Tips: Learn from an instructor how to use these exercisers to best advantage.
Exercise Benefits: Various weights can be used effectively to strengthen and develop the muscles. You can use weights while walking – either ankle weights or a waist-band or hand-held weights. They help you keep pace with your exercise partner if he’s slow, and also get the same exercise benefit in less time – that is, with weights you will need a shorter period of time to reach your training zone than you do walking without weights.
They are an excellent body toner and great for strength-building, too. Balance improves, but flexibility benefits are low.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: A three-times-a-week workout is best. Frequency is in terms of repetitions, which must be gradually increased.
Risks/Cautions: Weight training, though interesting, needs prior medical consultation, exercise supervision and nurturing. Injuries take place due to lack of attention to the norms. Neglecting warm-ups can lead to stiffness; omitting stretching exercises can lead to pulled muscles; picking weights not recommended for you can cause injury. Have someone supervise you while you exercise with weights, especially while doing squats; if you get stuck coming up, you’ll struggle and push and get into a fix.
While walking with ankle weights, if you miss your step it may affect your stride. Weights jackets or hand-held weights are preferable.
Exercise Benefits: Skipping provides a very good aerobic work-out and has a high fat-burning value.
Also, it’s an excellent work-out for your calves and the lower-body muscles.
A good stamina-builder.
It is not a total body toner; nor does it do much for the muscles of the upper body.
Recommended Duration and Frequency: Duration should be gradually increased to at least 20 minutes. Frequency: Can be done on even a daily basis (though athletes commonly use it as an adjunct to their running and walking routine).
Risks/Cautions: Skipping is a high-impact exercise and can cause degenerative knee disorders. Also, use proper footwear and skip on a good surface – made of either wood or a synthetic material that absorbs the shock.
People with knee and back problems should avoid it.