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Fitness equipment for the home

A review of home gym gizmos

Author: Charlotte Kuchinsky February 9 2011

Ab Lounge abdominal exerciser

With so many people wanting to get fit, the choice of hundreds of pieces of fitness equipment to choose from, much of it costing over $100, can be both confusing and frustrating. Equipment that works well for some people doesn't work for others, which could be the result of different levels of commitment, ways of exercising, or other issues, all of which further muddies the waters.

Over the years this writer has tried her fair share of exercise trends as well as a lot of different types of equipment. For the most part, the purchases were unsatisfactory and disappointing. Only two machines, Suzanne Somers's original Torso Track, and the trusty old treadmill actually worked as advertised. However, when the Torso Track was "upgraded", adding in a ski motion for the legs, it lost its original focus and failed miserably all the way around.

The number one problem area that most people want to address is the abdominal muscles. Whether it is men or women, the core muscles of that region are crucial to any true fitness regimen. That is why dozens of pieces of equipment are invented or re-invented each year just for that purpose. But which ones work and which do not?

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The Ab Doer, which was introduced in the 90's was highly popular at the time. It has now been repackaged and re-advertised as "new and improved." Does it work? I found it to be less than worth the time and money. I purchased the machine for around $179 and used it faithfully for quite some time. But all I got out of the effort was a sore back from the lack of sufficient and comfortable back support.

Of course, the machine itself will not burn fat off the midriff to expose those supposedly tightened muscles. That only happens through proper dieting leading to genuine fat loss. For that you still have to change the way you eat; just exercising with the Ab Doer or anything else won't do the job for you. Since I was actually dieting at the time, I can confim that the machine did not make the muscles appear more toned, and I'm not alone in that assessment. Many people have experienced the same lack of results.

As noted before, Suzanne Somers's original Torso Track does actually work if you can get your hands on it. I got lucky and found one at a local garage sale. It was the best $10 I ever spent, and I happily discarded the so-called new and improved version. However, even the Torso Track can't work unless you get rid of some of the fat hiding those newly toned abs. A good eating plan is just as important in the process and Suzanne has one of the best, which is called Somersize; it teaches you how to eat the right foods in the right portions and combinations during the right time of the day. The end result is a jump-started metabolism that will help burn more fat, quicker than ever.

The Ab Lounge is another trend that has been around for a few years. Some people swear by the machine. I like mine well enough but don't see nearly the results that I get with my Torso Track. What the Ab Lounge does well however is help your body stretch to achieve a leaner look when done in conjunction with dieting and other exercise routines. Alone it can do little, but used in conjunction with a good eating plan, aerobics, walking, and other exercise efforts it can make the body appear slimmer. You have to decide for yourself if the $150 plus price tag is worth it.

Many weight benches and weight machines from the simple to the highly complex Bo Flex promise not only to tone abs but to also work the chest, arms, back and even the legs. These machines retail from a mere $199 to upwards of $1000 and many of them do seem to work if they are used routinely as well as correctly. The problem is that most people do not know how to use the equipment the way it was designed to be used and, therefore, experience little or no lasting results. Others assume that exercising is a substitute for eating properly and become discouraged when the fat doesn't come off along with the muscle changes. Some even add more bulk instead of getting rid of those unwanted pounds. Plus, let's face it., weight lifting isn't easy, it is hard work that takes a lot of dedicated time.

Elliptical machines have gained popularity in the last decade despite their high price tags. Some people view them as something magical that can erase pounds and tone and trim the body with very little effort and a whole lot of fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. These machines, like bikes, stair steppers and treadmills, require long-term, dedicated use. A few minutes a day is a good place to start but to really experience results, that time has to be expanded. These machines don't work in a vacuum; they have little fat burning effect if the metabolism remains sluggish because of improper diet. What they do offer is low impact cardio training which can be helpful when used in conjunction with a good eating plan.

Oddly enough, it is the tried and true equipment like bikes and treadmills that often offer the most bang for the exercise buck. That is, of course, assuming the equipment is used regularly and along with a diet plan. Many people like bikes because it brings back good childhood memories and because the equipment can be used while doing other things like reading or watching television. Of course the price tag of today's fancy equipment can be a deterrent for some. Bikes generally range in price from about $300 to $1000.

Likewise, treadmills that offer a good cardio workout; walking is the first type of exercise that many doctors recommend. However, today's busy individual may not find the time to walk outside during safe daylight hours. The treadmill allows them to walk in the early morning, late at night or any other time they have free. These machines that have several speeds as well as both flat and incline walking offer the best of all worlds, letting the individual progress as their strength grows. However, these treadmills can also be pricey, ranging anywhere from $300 to over $1000 with all the bells and whistles.

Stair steppers remain popular as well because they provide cardio exercise while working the legs and buttocks. This is a case where more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. Simple hard plastic stair steppers used as directed are just as effective as the more expensive motorized versions. But steppers do not work out the entire body even when used in conjunction with weights, which is why many people abandon them before they experience any real results.

Simple equipment like dumbells, light weights, jump ropes and tension bands can provide a good workout at very little cost. Plans can be developed around this equipment to include a good cardio workout in the process.

The most popular trend today; however, includes gaming exercise with equipment like the Wii. This writer was surprised when her neurologist actually recommended this form of exercise. However, after a bit of research it is easy to see why. The system helps individuals start at their current fitness level and progress over time. The balance board begins by establishing weight and current body mass index. Based on balance and those other factors, the game determines where to begin exercising. This often starts with games meant to improve balance like skiing or soccer.

As balance and endurance progress so do the programs, which are then centered on providing a good core workout. This may include yoga, strength training, aerobics or even dancing. A biofeedback component lets the user know how well they are doing, providing the positive feedback that most of us need to keep exercising. It may; however, be the "fun" factor that makes this exercise equipment so popular. It delivers where many other pieces of equipment do not. Of course, at around $199 for the system and an additional $199 for the exercise component, this isn't exactly a cheap option.

In the long run, any piece of exercise equipment is only as successful as the commitment of the individual using it. If the commitment isn't there to really make a change, then spending big bucks on anything will eventually lead back to major depression.

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