Your comprehensive guide to buying fitness & gym equipment

Fitness Equipment Buyers Guide

Not all fitness equipment is the same so don’t move a muscle until you’ve read this guide.

TREADMILLS

Treadmills are the most popular piece of fitness equipment in our range. Understandable since walking or running is a natural form of exercise and the user determines the level of exertion.

Types of Treadmills:
There are two types of treadmill, motorised and manual.

  1. Manual treadmills require you to push the running belt around with your feet. In other words you are the motor. The advantage of a manual treadmill is they are cheap to buy. However they do have a few downsides. To make sure the belt turns easily and smoothly you will probably have to keep the treadmill on an incline. This will mean you are always going up hill and unless the bearings are of an exceptional quality you will need to push the belt hard with your feet and this will more than likely result in you raising up on your toes to give it the push required. This not only feels awkward it will also but a strain on your knees and lower back.
  2. Motorised are used in health clubs. Home treadmills are not as big or have the same size motor but they function in exactly the same way. Read on to find out what you need to look for when buying a motorised treadmill.

Motors
Treadmills mostly have two motors, one to drive the belt and the other to raise the elevation. The drive belt motor is usually measured in horsepower (HP). Most sources recommend a continuous duty motor and go for a minimum level of 1.75HP as a rule of thumb however not all motors are the same. Test the treadmill by trying it at different speeds, listen to the motor for signs of labouring and be aware of the motion of the belt, it should remain smooth.

Speeds
The motor should drive the belt at a slow start speed (from 0.1 – 0.5mph). Top speed depends on your intended use. Most treadmills will offer 10-11mph and that is fast enough for the majority of exercises, but some go as fast as 15mph (25kph) that‚s a 4 minute mile.

Elevation Option
A feature to raise the running bed incline to simulate hills for a more intense workout. This can be achieved with a motor or manually. Manual inclines are not ideal, as you have to get of the treadmill and interrupt your workout to alter it. Motorised inclines should raise the treadmill smoothly and the treadmill should still feel solid underfoot as it does so.

Running Bed
A cushioned running surface will help reduce the impact on limbs and joints by absorbing shock. Once correctly aligned the belt should not move from side to side with the impact of moving feet.

Belt Widths and Lengths
Widths range from 11″ to 22″. Lengths vary from 36″ to 60″. Compare different sizes for comfort and price. Most people agree that the wider and longer the belt the more comfortable and safer the workout feels.

Emergency Shut Off
Most machines have this facility, which stops the machine should you fall. Additional safety keys will allow you to control who may use the machine.

Console and Feedback
The control console should, at minimum, tell you your speed, distance and time. More advanced consoles offer pre-programmed workouts or the facility to customise your own. Consoles that show you a hill profile are popular as they tell you where you are in a programme and show you what’s coming next. Take the time to understand and operate all the controls.

Heart Rate Monitors and Heart Rate Control
There are two types of heart monitor, contact and radio transmitter. Contact monitors include ear lobe units, thumb pulse and those you grip hold of. Radio transmitters involve a belt that is worn around the chest. Radio transmitter belts provide a more accurate reading. They send the read-out to a receiver, which can be the equipments console, a wristwatch or a PC.

Space Saving Folding Features
A popular feature whereby the running bed folds up for storage purposes. Check to see if the treadmill has a good piston assist. Quality treadmills have heavy running decks and this will help prevent you putting your back out.

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STATIONERY EXERCISE BIKES
Exercise bikes are popular because the exercise is familiar. They are ideal for beginners, rehabilitation and advanced workouts.

Upright Exercise Bikes
Similar in form to traditional road bikes. This is still the largest selling style.

Recumbent Exercise Bikes
These have a chair like, or bucket seat that provides more comfort and lower back support. The pedals are out in front of you instead of straight below. Many people are still under the misconception that these are an easy option but nothing could be further from the truth. Recumbent exercise bikes, because of the riding position work more muscle groups than an upright bike including the stomach. Because the feet are raised and in line with the heart, recumbent exercise bikes can also help control blood pressure better than a traditional exercise bike.

Dual Action Exercise Bikes
These have handlebars linked to the pedals, so as you pedal the handlebars move forward and back. Using them during your ride increases the intensity of the workout and provides some upper body workout.

Resistance Mechanism
There are three different systems to choose from:

  1. Belted Flywheel
  2. Air bikes with fan blades
  3. Solid or electro magnetic

Magnetic are the most popular due to their quiet, smooth ride.

Console and Feedback
At the minimum you should have a speedometer, time and distance. More sophisticated programming is available including hill profiles, which automatically alter the resistance, heart rate monitoring and heart rate control.

Heart Rate Monitors and Heart Rate Control
There are two types of heart monitor, contact and radio transmitter. Contact monitors include ear lobe units, thumb pulse and those you grip hold of. Radio transmitters involve a belt that is worn around the chest. Radio transmitter belts provide a more accurate reading. They send the read-out to a receiver, which can be the equipments console, a wristwatch or a PC.

Comfort, Feel and Fit
Spend time on the bike in store to test overall comfort and stability. Make sure the seat is comfortable and adjustable and the seat post is long enough and stable when at the proper length. Pay attention to the noise level and vibrations. Proper leg extension is important. The knee should be slightly bent when the pedal is at its maximum distance from the body. Make sure the pedal action is smooth at all times.

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ELLIPTICAL CROSS-TRAINING MACHINES
Elliptical Cross Trainers offer an easy to learn, upper and lower body low-impact aerobic workout. Standing upright on the machine you move your feet in an elliptical motion, a motion somewhere in between cycling and stepping. You can go forward or backward and at the same time the handles that are linked to the footplates are working your arms

The Ellipse
Ideally the shape your feet make should be a perfect ellipse. The idea behind the original elliptical was to replicate the motion of running but with the ground removed. However patents have resulted in many variations of this movement and some are better than others. Test in store if you can and you will be surprised how different they are. The bottom line is to get something you feel comfortable on.

The Stride Length
This is another important feature of an elliptical. A too short a stride or a too wide a stride will feel unnatural. Today some machines offer adjustable stride lengths, either by manual adjustment as in the case of the Life Fitness X5i or automatically as on the Kettler Sycross V2 and V3.

Resistance Mechanism
All elliptical cross trainers use magnetic resistance either a solid magnet on the manually adjustable units or electro magnetic on the programmable ones.

Consoles and Feedback
At the minimum you should have a speedometer, time and distance. More sophisticated programming is available including hill profiles, which automatically alter the resistance, heart rate monitoring and heart rate control.

Heart Rate Monitors and Heart Rate Control
There are two types of heart monitor, contact and radio transmitter. Contact monitors include ear lobe units, thumb pulse and those you grip hold of. Radio transmitters involve a belt that is worn around the chest. Radio transmitter belts provide a more accurate reading. They send the read-out to a receiver, which can be the equipments console, a wristwatch or a PC.

Their Versatility; The Elliptical Cross Trainers versatility is appealing since you can change your pace and stride easily in the middle of a workout. As a home machine their versatility may be an advantage if more than one person will be using the equipment.


ROWING MACHINES

Rowing machines are about as close as a machine can come to providing a full body, aerobic workout. These machines are particularly good for strengthening the upper and lower body. People with back or knee problems may sometimes find rowing machines inappropriate.

Piston Rowers
These have two independent arms at the side of the seat monorail and use pistons for resistance. Very dated and do not provide a true rowing motion.

Draw-bar Rowers
A single cord or drawbar rower will provide a more realistic rowing experience. The magnetic resistant type is quiet and smooth, but there is a lack of the feeling of momentum. The Air and Water resistant models give a feeling of water against oars, the harder you pull, the greater the resistance created by the flywheel. Although these machines are about eight feet long, folding or stand upright models are available.

STEPPERS
Steppers (also called stairclimbers) have fallen out of favour over the last few years maybe because some people have trouble getting use to them. Beginners may find them too strenuous, but they do provide a high calorie burn workout. People with bad knees may also experience difficulties with steppers.

Hydraulic Steppers
Hydraulic or manual steppers are less expensive versions in which pistons under pressure regulate the stepping resistance.

Motorised Steppers
Motorised or electric stairclimbers are the kind used in the majority of health clubs. That is, the motor controls the movement and resistance of the steps.

Console and Feedback
At minimum you should get a system that reports time and number of steps. Many of the better quality stairclimbers offer built in programs, heart rate monitors and heart rate control.

Other Features to Consider
Resistance should be easily adjustable. On the best steppers the steps will operate parallel to the floor at all times. Movement should be smooth and quite. Unit should be stable.

Stepper Training Tips
Stand up straight. Don‚t lean on the console or brace yourself on the handrails; this cuts your calorie burn. Take natural, steady steps, about eight inches deep, not lots of fast tiny ones.

Exclusive to Fitness Options – The Helix lateral trainer which works the body side to side and in two different directions.


MULTI GYMS

Home Multi Gyms have grown in popularity in recent years and as consumers have shown more interest in buying these machines, manufacturers have worked to make them smaller and more versatile.

The original term multi gym actually related to a weight-training machine that would accommodate multiple users all at the same time and was primarily designed for the commercial market. However it is now used as a general term to describe any gym that uses weights, cables and pulleys, whether that is a single user home gym or a commercial multi user gym. Unlike free weights multi gyms are safe to use alone. The most familiar of these machines use one or more weights stacks attached to cables and a system of pulleys to provide resistance. You put a pin into the stack at the weight you want to lift. These are called “selectorised” machines.

Types of Multi Gyms
There are 3 main ‘types’ of multi gym.

  1. Standard Multi Gym
    These are the gyms that everyone recognises. A weight stack moves up and down when you perform an exercise and you perform the exercises from a seated or prone position. Seated machines take up less space than a prone machine. Can be designed for a single user or multi users. The number of weight stacks determines the number of people that can use it at the same time. These are still the most popular as they are familiar.
  2. Cable Motion Gyms
    Similar in many ways to the standard gym, with a weight stack, cables and pulleys but instead of handles attached to shaped steel tubing as in the case of a bench press or pec dec station the handles are attached directly to the cables. This allows you to move in any direction when you perform your exercise increasing the number of muscle groups used and also actuating the stabilising muscles. These machine are great to use but require a little knowledge of weight training to get the most out of them
  3. Body Weight Resistance
    These use your own body weight as resistance. The seat you sit on rises when you perform an exercise. The seat is attached to a fulcrum construction with a method of changing the pivot of the fulcrum. Changing the pivot point increases or decreases your body weight. The advantage of these machines is the lack of weight stack makes the whole machine lighter and there is no noise from clanging weights. This makes them ideal for apartment blocks or people with small children. The disadvantage is the lack of weight stack means you cannot see at a glance the progress you are making which is not as motivating.

Cables and Pulleys
Most home gyms use aircraft cables with a breaking strain of 1000kg. Some of these cables now come with a plastic coating to protect and lengthen the life of the cable.

Weight Stacks
These vary in weight from 40kg to 118kg. For ladies and youths 40kg may be fine but it’s important to remember that you progress very quickly with a sensible weight training routine and the last thing you want to do is run out of weight. However 118kg is serious stuff so anywhere between 75-95kg should be fine. Some gyms allow for additional weight stack options.

Seats and Upholstery
Good upholstery should last many years so examine how it’s put together. On cheap gyms the back of the upholstery is stapled but quality upholstery is stitched. The seat, backrest and pec dec should be adjustable (not all of them are) so that you can get the perfect position before you lift. Important if you want to prevent injury.

Siting a Multi Gym
Many people are worried about putting a multi gym upstairs. The frame- work of the gym is tubular steel and the real weight lies in the stack. However this is only around 100kg, around 16 stone. Imagine a 16 stone person in a bath full of water. Floors can handle this with no problem so a multi gym should be fine. The only place to be careful is if you are considering placing it in an attic. Get professional advice first.

To find the right multi gym it is important to test any models you intend to buy.
Comfort, fit and natural motions are extremely important. Not all offer seat and arm adjustments, which are important but if they do they should be easily adjustable. Make sure the machine provides adequate exercises for all essential muscle groups. Some machines allow you to add options such as leg presses and additional weight. Look for solid quality, upholstery firmly sewn and no cable changes. Also the weight on the stack should be enough so that it can grow with you. 80kg is usually ample for most people.

You can get an adequate machine for around £400 but be prepared to spend a £1000 or more for one that gives health club feel and results and remember at the end of the day if the machine doesn’t feel right, it may never get used properly.

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