Thingamajigs and Whatchumacallits
James M. Evans
DEAR JIM: After several years of reading your columns, I have finally convinced myself to follow through with my New Year’s resolution and start a regular exercise program at the ripe old age of 72, but I am confused and frightened by all of the strange-looking equipment at my local health club. Even some the equipment I thought I might be most comfortable with – like stationary bicycles and treadmills – are all computerized now and very confusing. Whatever happened to the simple stationary bike where you could just climb on the seat and start pedaling or the old-time manual treadmill where you just started walking without pushing a lot of buttons to make it work!?! I don’t know anything about computers anyway.
DEAR RIPE: Ah, yes, the good old days! But, like everything else, the fitness industry has changed too. Remember the ’54 Chevy that you thought was so "cool" when you were 22? Compare it to the new 2004 SUV that you might be driving now and, perhaps, you can see how fitness equipment has evolved over the years too. However, you shouldn’t be intimidated by all of the "bells and whistles" on the high-tech equipment at your health club.
A persistent problem for most health clubs is member retention because people, in general, are very indifferent about exercise and usually don’t stick to their exercise program for very long. As you can imagine, New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get back in shape are notoriously shortlived. When health clubs first became popular back in the fifties in the days of Vic Tanney, Jack LaLanne, Ray Wilson, and other fitness pioneers, exercise was a novelty, and the public flocked to gyms and health spas across the country. But as the novelty wore off, and people became bored with exercise, the fitness industry responded to the challenge by improving the quality and appearance of their equipment and adding lots of fancy "thingamajigs" and "whatchumacallits" to keep your attention and to make exercise more fun.
The end result is that modern exercise equipment – especially the cardiovascular equipment – now offers computerized screens that tell you what distance you have traversed, how many calories you have burned, and much more. By keying in your age, fitness level, and other data, the machines can adjust your workout with variable time, speed, and resistance; change the grade of incline or decline; measure your heart rate, and even talk to you during your workout. You can plug in your own ear phones and listen to your choice of music or even watch television from a remote or dedicated monitor, and some equipment is even hooked up to the internet.
Today’s treadmills have flexible decks under high density rubber treads to reduce the impact on your bones and joints and reduce the incidence of injury. In recent years, they have been somewhat supplanted by the popular elliptical machine – a kind of suspended treadmill that allows you to literally run "in the air" with no impact whatsoever. Stationary bikes now come in standard, racing, and recumbent style, and stairclimbing machines? - Well, it’s hard to make climbing stairs any easier, but the bells and whistles do make it more tolerable.
Aesthetically, most fitness equipment is more modern and streamlined in appearance than it was 40-50 years ago too. Even the traditional free weights are rubber or vinyl coated in many cases to reduce the clanging and banging of yesteryear. The resistance training equipment allows you to isolate specific muscle groups like never before using a variety of resistance mechanisms including selectorized weights, resistance bands, hydraulics, and even air compression.
So, stick to your New Year’s resolution and understand that there is a simple learning curve associated with using today’s modern fitness equipment. With a little tutelage from one of the club’s fitness instructors, you will find most of the equipment to be very user-friendly, and in no time at all you will be singing the praises of modern technology and enjoying your exercise more.
Jim Evans is a 38-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and a nationally recognized consultant on fitness for seniors. He is chairman of the advisory council for RSVP of San Diego County and host of the popular radio talk show "Forever Young" on KCBQ 1170 AM (KCBQ.com).
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