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Who hasn't dreamed of trading their gym towel for a TV-side treadmill? But with a new wave of home fitness machines promising things you can’t even pronounce, setting up a home gym demands diligence, writes Jess Harding

Who hasn't dreamed of trading their gym towel for a TV-side treadmill? But with a new wave of home fitness machines promising things you can’t even pronounce, setting up a home gym demands diligence, writes Jess Harding

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Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Before you head out the door with that stocktake brochure in hand, take a crash course in what’s hot, and what’s not, in home gyms.

 

  • Treadmill / The ultimate energy guzzler

Burn Rate: 50 kJ per minute
Price Range: $900 to $6,000
Traditionally the top of the list when it comes to home cardio equipment; whether it’s walking while you watch television or training for a marathon, you’ll be blitzing calories in the comfort of your own home – rain, hail or shine.

The benefits

  • Treadmills blast calories faster than any other exercise machine, according to a 2001 study in Medicine and Science.
  • Jogging gives your heart a world-class workout linked to all sorts of health benefits and emotional perks.
  • Hitting the treadmill puts less pressure on your joints than running outdoors and actually bolsters your cartilage by increasing oxygen flow and strengthening the ligaments around your joints.
  • Weight-bearing exercise gives your bones a boost, helping to prevent osteoporosis.

Do it right
Raise the incline of the treadmill to one; research has found that this is the set-up that most closely approximates outdoor running.

What the experts say

Four of five trainers WH&F consulted rated running as the ultimate calorie burning, cardiovascular workout for those capable of high impact exercise. If you have 30 minutes at home to crunch out a cardio session, maximise it by doing interval training on a treadmill and you’ll be surprised how fast you see results. But check your goals – if jogging is not your thing and your goal is to improve your cardiovascular fitness, just walking on a treadmill is not your best option.


  • Elliptical Trainer / The knee saver

Burn Rate: 50 kJ per minute
Price Range: $900 to $6,000
A big hit in gyms, sales figures for home use are starting to soar. It looks like jogging on air but it’s not a walk in the park. A cardio machine that can plough through calories at about the same rate as a treadmill, the elliptical is perfect for training at increasing intensities without punishing your joints.

The benefits

  • Researchers at the University of Mississippi found that ellipticals provide similar cardiovascular benefits to treadmill running.
  • The elliptical movement mimics the natural path of the ankle, knee and hip joints during running; controlling that movement alleviates a lot of the alignment and impact issues associated with running.
  • If you adjust the resistance appropriately, muscle recruitment is maximised involving the arms, torso and legs in the movement. You’ve probably heard them called cross-trainers and now you know why!

Do it right

Set the elliptical trainer to a challenging resistance level. That sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people kid themselves out of a quality cardio session by swinging about for 20 minutes. Be careful, it’s much easier to coast along on an elliptical than a treadmill. Use an interval program to get the most out of your workout.

What the experts say

Liz Neporent, a fitness author and personal trainer, recommends ellipticals for those looking to improve their cardiovascular fitness without slogging it out on the treadmill, especially those with knee and back problems. They might be more ‘fun’ than other cardio machines but the reviews aren’t all glowing. Edward Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas, has serious doubts about the benefits of their ‘effortless’ motion. “They just aren’t always effective in providing resistance to movement,” he says. It may not be a case of no pain, no gain, but the human body appreciates a physical challenge. Know your limits but push them.

 

  • Rowing Machine / The total body burner

Burn Rate: 63 kJ per minute
Price Range: $700 to $1,700
Overshadowed by rows of treadmills and ellipticals, rowing machines are often wallflowers worthy of way more attention.  As a home fitness machine, you’ll discover a smooth operator that’s easy on the joints and endowed with a powerful burn.

The benefits

  • Work your ticker with a fat-burning aerobic workout one day then challenge your anaerobic strength and muscular endurance the next.
  • The sliding motion designed to imitate rowing is smooth and low impact on joints.
  • Analysts say the legs get up to 70 per cent of the workout benefits, and the upper body gets the rest. The figures don’t reflect the serious burn you’ll feel in your back and core muscles after a short period though.
  • Big brownie points for being the only one of the cardio machines tested that truly challenges the arms, shoulders, chest and back.


Do it right

On the backstroke, your knees should be almost completely straight before you squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the handle towards your sternum. Your back should stay in its naturally arched position during the entire movement. Technique is important with this one and possibly why people are timid to try it out. But it really is worth the effort.

What the experts say

Getting the thumbs up from all our trainers, the rowing machine has emerged as the most underrated cardio machine on the gym floor. “It’s a total fitness machine and probably the best piece of workout equipment,” says Dr Timothy Hosea of the American College of Sports Medicine. “You exercise every major muscle group in the body in a smooth, controlled manner. If you do it on a regular basis you’ll start to see changes in two to three weeks, but you have to have good technique.”

 

  • Bike – Upright & Recumbent / The practical pedal pusher

Burn Rate: 42 kJ per minute
Price Range: $700 to $3,500
Strengthen your heart, hips and knees with this age-old home exercise staple. Upright and recumbent (reclined) stationary bikes offer a no-impact cardio workout that tones the legs and butt without stressing weight-bearing joints.

The benefits

  • The most comfortable way to turn television time into toning time.  Spin your way to stronger, sexier legs while you read a magazine or watch a movie.
  • Researchers at the University of Northern Arizona found cycling on a stationary bike for as little as 10 minutes a day reduced fatigue and negative moods, while improving energy levels.
  • The reclined position and backrests on recumbent bikes make working out more comfortable for those who require additional balance and support. They’re ideal for those who experience back pain.

Do it right

Adjust the seat so there is a slight curve in your knee at the most extended point of your cycle. Remember, cycling focuses almost exclusively on the legs and butt, so balance your workout with upper body and core training.

What the experts say

Top tips from our trainers? Hill climbs are an excellent way to build strength and rev up your metabolism. Bump up the resistance too; don’t be daunted by the misconception that cycling hard will give you chunky quadriceps, it won’t. What it will do is sculpt lovely, tight, toned legs.


Save or splurge?
If you’re willing to splurge, expect some handy innovations to monitor your heart rate and calorie consumption, adjust your speed, incline or resistance, and even select specific programs like interval training or fitness testing. With adjustable features, you won’t get bored or grow out of your equipment either.  So remember, before you flip over the price tag and faint, most of us spend more on one year of gym fees! If you still can’t justify the pennies, there are plenty of great rental deals available, too.

 

Best of both worlds

Not willing to rack up a few k on the credit card but cringe at the cattleyard scene at the gym at peak hour? Guess that’s what inspired 24-7 US gym chain Anytime Fitness to launch down under. Don’t know about you, but we rather fancy an uber-modern, pro-level gym to ourselves (so please don’t come between 1am and 2am Tuesday). Visit anytimefitness.com.au for locations Australia-wide.

Want more diet tips? Try the Drop A Dress Size diet or check out our fitness tools to help shed those pounds.