January 28, 2008

Exercise Equipment : We Have Opinions!

[By Crabby]

No, this isn't a useful product review of the best and worst fitness equipment out there. (There are plenty of those around and they all contradict each other). This is just a list of things I like and why. Chances are, you'll all have opinions of your own that are different—because of course you're all wrong we're all unique individuals, and isn't that what make the world a wonderful place!

(Note: at some point soon we'll also do a “worst exercise equipment” list. After all, this blog is not called Cheerful Fitness is it?)

So here we go,

Crabby's Entirely Subjective List of Best Exercise Equipment Ever:

Big-Ass Weight Machines: And yes, I love the girly kind where you just move the little pins, not the macho kind where you lug big plates around and try to wrestle them onto each new machine like you're building the damn thing from scratch.

It’s very out-of-fashion to like these anymore. You're supposed to be doing free weights or having a personal trainer devise sadistic unendurable creative ways to use your own body weight to get stronger or whatever. It's uncool to use a machine to isolate just one set of muscles at at time.

Well, screw that. I like to sit down on a comfortable machine and only be miserable in one body part at a time. (And I only do one set apiece, at the heaviest weights possible, so it doesn't last long). Is using a bunch of big machines like this less efficient? Is it less functional for carrying groceries or hand-to-hand combat with invading aliens? I don't give a crap. I can still schlep groceries with the best of them; the aliens have not yet arrived; and I like my big-ass machines.

Elliptical Machine: This is another relatively wimpy choice, in some people's eyes, compared to the treadmill or the stairmaster. But getting on a treadmill to walk or run just makes it obvious that you're not outside, where such activities are much more entertaining. Even though I do use a treadmill, it is essentially a compromise machine. And a stair-stepper (especially the backwards escalator kind) is a torture device. Whereas an elliptical machine?

An elliptical machine is a RIDE! If used properly, (or actually, improperly) an elliptical machine is fun! Here's how to make it a piece of playground equipment and much less of a chore.

You must:
  • Play awesome kick-ass music with exactly the right cadence so that each step is to the beat.
  • Get a machine without the stupid handlebars, or if you can't find one, try to avoid getting smacked by them when you forget they're there.
  • Pump your arms vigorously and cultivate the ability to balance, both going forward and backwards. (This must be good for some core muscle or other, don't you think?). Finally, the most important part:
  • Launch yourself higher in the air than you need to on each upswing so that you feel like you're sproinging along like an antelope to the beat.
It's fun, really.

WARNING: Following these instructions puts more stress on your knees and may result in your looking like an ass. (Especially if you close your eyes, add some dance moves, and lip synch to the music. But that part is totally optional).

Big Bouncy Inflatable Ball. I know you’re supposed to do all sorts of challenging exercises on it and that it will get your core muscles in great shape, but I lost the little pamphlet that came with it. (And also the pump, so it’s kind of squishy now).

But what I love about the big goofy green ball in our basement is that it’s a great way to stretch out my back. I sit down on it, then lean back until my head dangles upside down, trying to keep my feet somewhat balanced on the ground so I don’t lose control and crash-land on my head and split my skull open. Once equilibrium is obtained, however, it's a great stretch--you can feel all the little vertebrae spreading out and relaxing and putting their feet up, happy to have a little personal space for once.

It’s also my impression (based on something I read somewhere long ago that probably isn’t even true), that using gravity to pull your spine apart will keep you from shrinking as you get older. If this is a totally preposterous theory, don't tell me, because part of the fun of the stretch is my belief that it's making me taller.

Well, duh. Gotta have tunes. (On the other hand, this device, or at least my old-fashioned version of it, has enough infuriating quirks that it will also be appearing on Crabby's Entirely Subjective List of The Worst Exercise Equipment Ever Invented.)

Heart Rate Monitor
Notice how I'm running out of steam here, and all of a sudden the sections are getting shorter? Sure, I started off with lots of energy, but now, wow, this is getting old. I'm tired. Am I putting out enough effort still or am I just going through the motions and secretly slacking?

Well, if you're exercising instead of blogging and the same questions come up, you'll have an answer--if you own a handy-dandy heart rate monitor!

(So was that the lamest segue ever??)

Actually, part of the reason for not saying much down here is that I already wrote a whole post on the awesomeness of heart rate monitors. The bottom line? They give you a concrete number to fixate on and become completely obsessed with inform you about your progress. (And you can also use them as handy biofeedback devices).

Anyway, I've been opining for long enough--I want to hear about other people's favorites. That is, if you have any opinions about exercise equipment... or anything else for that matter. At Cranky Fitness, we love opinions!


  1. Those are all good! The elliptical has become the most popular at my gym along with the treadmill. I'm still a stairmaster fan, but I avoid the elevator stairs as I see them as an accident waiting to happen! Using the balance balls is also popular. The most recent trend I'm seeing is the instructors on the line of workout machines, adding small weights, resistance cables, push up/sit up exercises on the BOSU, etc as you progress from machine to machine. It's a workout just watching it all!
    Dr. J

  2. Back when I had a gym membership I used to alternate between the different types of equipment, and for the most part there were things I liked about all of them. These days I'm an at-home exerciser, and I have free weights, a stability ball and a treadmill. I find those are all fairly versatile pieces of equipment, so they work well for a home gym.

    I do agree that if the weather is nice, I'd rather be outside than on a treadmill. Right now it is snowing and blowing and cold though, and that makes the treadmill look pretty attractive.

  3. The elliptical trainer is by far my favourite machine. I love the low impact, but I get to work as hard as I can!

  4. satan. (aka the stairclimber, elevator stairs) he's my favorite by far.

    Do psychotic teachers at the gym count? They're my second favorite.

    I love my big bouncy ball (and so do my kids, they can actually launch each other off of it). But you're right, it's great for the back.

  5. The Bag Lady doesn't have a gym membership. Nor does she have exercise equipment.
    Lately, her favourite work-out equipment has been an axe. Here is her workout routine: Pick up axe, raise high overhead, launch at upended piece of wood sitting on stump. Repeat. Pick up sticks of wood (as many as possible), carry into house, throw in wood box. Repeat (as many times as possible without freezing to death!).

    Weight-training involves filling, then carrying two 5-gallon pails of oats (which weigh approximately 50 lbs each) into the corral, then spreading them out for the calves, all the while dancing around to avoid being run over by an excited animal.

    Your machines, indoors in the warmth, sound like fun...wimpy, but fun...;)

  6. Oh, and glad to see the cupcakes back! (Is that a new batch, seeing as Hilary snarfed down the last bunch?!)

  7. Thanks all, sorry for the hecticness and scattershot comment reply--we just got into DC last night (I survived the plane flight, hooray!) and I've got some 'sploring to do.

    Katieo, you're a true masochist, I love it!

    And Bag Lady, I doubt your average gym rat would last five minutes on a ranch--that stuff is hard.

  8. I love the elliptical because it seems to work my heart and muscles at the right balance - on a bike, my legs are tired before my heart is pumping. And treadmills are for what? Running? I don't know what that is.

    Being a stumptuous devotee, I'm also a freeweights devotee. But I'm with you on the swiss ball. If the crunches are that much harder than on the floor, so be it - the stretching more than makes up for it.

    One machine I *loved* at my old gym, and sorely miss, was the treadclimber - there's a picture here. It's like a treadmill but with two treads, one for each foot, that go up and down as you walk. Sort of the opposite of the bike for me, as it wouldn't make my legs burn yet somehow got me panting and sweating like crazy. I liked that one a lot.

    Oh, and leah's mention of a yoga mat reminded me of a simple necessity - a pair of towels. One to lie on, and the other to pull my foot up and over my head for the best stretch ever.

    I feel like such a weirdo. I'm gushing about the gym.

  9. Hey Bag Lady!
    Don't the Buddhists have a saying about"Chop wood, carry water"? I like to chop wood, but carrying the 50 sacks of horse feed does get tedious! I have a maul for splitting the big logs! It's the smaller size. I don't think I could lift the "male" version :-)
    Dr. J

  10. aside from the dreadmill, my fave is the Step-mill. It looks like an mini escalator that takes you straight to heart thumping, sweaty, hell! It is much harder than it looks and it always kicks my butt! Tons O'fun!

  11. Im SO THERE WITH YOU ON THE GIRLY MACHINES (who knew they were girly? :)).

    Im proud if I drag my dimpled white thing which rhymes with CLASS to the gym.

    Im not lugging the plateweights around.


  12. Oh my, does my vacuum count? No? How about crawling under my desk to plug in new computer equipment?

  13. Dr. J, now the Bag Lady is jealous 'cause you have a maul! She just uses two axes if she can't split the logs with one (use the back of the second axe to whack on the other axe stuck in the wood!) She sometimes tries the Cowboy's trick, too, of sticking the axe in the wood, then lifting the whole block and turning it over in mid-air, then whacking the back of the axe on the chopping block. One needs to use caution with this method, though, and make sure the block of wood is firmly stuck on the axe. Otherwise, headache ensues when block falls off axe in mid-air...

    The Bag Lady doesn't use sacks of horse feed...thank heavens!!
    She's going now to Google the Buddhist sayings -- she has heard it but can't remember it exactly.

  14. OK, so I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Elliptical, it is fantastic. I have bad knees, so it is so much nicer on my joints yet I get the hard work of a pseudo-run...

    I have also become recently enamoured with the squat rack. I had been doing squats girly style with just a swiss ball against the wall and 10 lbs in my hands, but let me tell you, the workout from 135 lbs on your back is so much more satisfying...I also LOVE swiss ball crunches, I feel like I'm using more muscles and can do more than just on the floor...

    I missed them :)
    I lurv the elliptical and exercise ball. The elliptical is fun, works my whole body and makes your butt look good. Plus ours has a fan in it. Let me tell you...that fan rocks. And having adjustable resistance and hills makes it more fun when you have to workout indoors.
    The exercise ball rocks...I can work every major muscle group with it.
    I've been interested in heart rate monitors...enough to buy one. But I don't know which are good...anyone know a good one??
    I was all hyped about the Garmin 405 thingy watch super fitness doodad...but it's too $$.

  16. I have to admit that I don't use much at the gym other than the treadmill and the free weights. But at home, I love my exercise tubing. I have the heavy-duty kind, so if I want something lighter, I can leave more slack, but if I want something heavier, I can take it in and just do 10 or 12 of something. Plus, it's easy to pack when I travel. Woo!

    Off-topic: The Buddhist saying is actually a call-and-response sort of thing:
    Before enlightenment, what do you do?
    Chop wood and carry water.
    After enlightenment, what do you do?
    Chop wood and carry water.

    It comes from an old parable about a monk who meets an enlightened master on a path. The monk asks, "How do I attain enlightenment?" and the master drops the wood and bucket of water he is carrying. The monk immediately becomes enlightened: "That's it? Just let go of everything, and that's all there is to it? What do I do now that I understand?" In response, the master picks up the wood and water and continues on his way, saying, "Continue to live in the world."

  17. I like the backwards escalator-like stair climber; but, then again, I am a masochist...

    I also like the recumbent bikes. Every 'real' bike I've had in the last eight years has rarely been used and rusted from poor storage. So, I take advantage of the gym bikes.

    I love my yoga mat. Even if you ignore the yoga part, it's great for stretching. I can't not stretch now that I have a fancy mat - NO EXCUSES!

  18. I do elliptical about twice a week. If done properly (fast and no hands on bars!) it's a great low-impact cardio workout. Since my body doesn't tolerate daily running and I like to mix up my workouts, elliptical is a great option for me. Running motion without the pounding.

    I also like putting my road bike on a trainer, which converts it into a stationary bike. Unlike using an actual stationary bike, you get real bike geometry and are much less likely to suffer knee damage from a weighted fly wheel or bad fit. Since it's your own bike, your training translates directly into strength and speed on the road when you go for a ride outdoors. It's a win-win situation!

    Finally, I like the rowing machines. But the ones at my gym are broken right now. :-(

  19. God I love reading the comments...All the way from dimpled white things to squat racks to zen parables! (Shawn Colvin mentions the chop wood/carry water in one of her songs and I didn't get it before, thanks guys!)

    Oh and I like squat racks too, but only the girly kind with pins instead of plates, and they must enable me to push up or out with my legs. I hate the kind where you carry the weight on your shoulders because it violates my "hurt only one party of your body at at time" rule.

    And now I know the big bouncy ball is Swiss! (Just curious--do they make an edible chocolate version?)

  20. Hmmm.... my favorite is a jog in Forest Park which requires only my SuperNovas and ze shuffle. But if I had to choose a piece of equipment I would say the ArcTrainer. They're so fun, but at my gym, they're almost always either taken, or broken. =(

  21. I'm with you on the tunes. But, in a pinch, a magazine will do. I try to read on the elliptical, but definitely the one where the handle bars don't move because they keep knocking my magazine (in it's huge protective "don't steal me" plastic cover) around.

    I like an 8-lb medicine ball, too. Kind of fun to hold while doing squats and crunches and makes me feel sporty.

  22. How my knees miss the elliptical at the gym. Definitely the piece of equipment I would buy if I won the lottery.
    The weight machines, though, let me do things I can't do with free weights. I noticed, before I started doing any weights, that with free weights everything goes through the wrist. (I sprained both my wrists thirty years ago, and I still feel it, although wrist curls have improved things immensely.) Weight machines let me use some muscles without involving my wrists.

    Bag lady, when I worked in a kennel, I used to run carrying five gallon buckets of water from one end of the kennel to the other on hot days or cold days when we were rushing to get the dogs back inside. Nowadays, I just lift dogs onto tables. (When I started doing weights, I explained to the trainer, "I don't want to be sore--I have to use these muscles all day at work!"

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  23. Thickchick: I've been looking into the Forest Park trails, the boyfriend live in NoPo/St Johns and we love the drive over Germantown. Any trails that you would suggest for hobby-hikers, or weekend fun??

    I'm sure there is a swiss ball chocolate version...I would also assume that it is filled with some sort of gooey goodness...

  24. I love my elliptical. If it weren't fun I wouldn't do it and then I'd be back in front of the TV watching "The Biggest Loser" with a family size bag of Doritos chased down with a Dew.

    Glad I like my elliptical.

  25. If you run and you already have an iPod nano, you must go get the Nike+ thing for it immediately if not sooner. In truth, it's not as fancy or as accurate as the Garmin GPS thingy, but it still keeps up with your milages and pace (to decent accuracy after you calibrate it), plus you can download plug-ins where celebrity athletes talk to you during your run!!

  26. I've wanted a BOSU for ages and, instead of putting part of my Christmas bonus to hedonistic use, am using part of it to buy said BOSU. Some time in the near future. Chronic procrasinator. Is there a piece of exercise equipment to tone that?

  27. You're absolutely right about the elliptical. If I get on a treadmill, I feel like I should be outside. An elliptical? Can kick my ass but is also fun. :)

  28. I'm with you, sista! I have a knee whose cartilege basically dissolved over the ten years I spent running around with a huge rucksack on my back in the Army (in boots, with flat feet...and a leg length discrepancy...yeah, my knees are forever crunchy and painful). So the treadmill's out.

    You can seriously kick your own ass on the elliptical. I like an interval workout/torture session lasting 45 minutes, 2 minutes at 8, 1:35 at 15, then :30 at 18, all out, gasping for breath. Then repeat, pedalling backward. I challenged one of the big burly guys I work with on this workout, and he glared at me all the way through it, then cursed me the next day as he lowered himself into his chair like an old lady wriggling into the Hov-a-Round for a spin around the South Rim.

    It burns about 600 calories...at least, that's what the readout says. We all know those numbers are inflated, but it feels good to see it there.

    My knees improved as I built up my leg muscles, both on the elliptical and using *gasp* the weight machines. Heavy weights rock, by the way, with you on that one, too. Nothing says "I ain't scared" like squatting 170 pounds.

    Viva la elliptical!!

  29. Sorry Geosomin, missed your HRM question--I have a cheap-ass polar and it works great. But I wanted one with big numbers that did nothing but measure my heart rate.

    And such great comments and ideas! What's a BOSU? Is it pronounced like Boss You, and does it? And I want to be sporty and have a medicine ball too but I don't know quite what to do with one!

    Kristen, you are so hard-core, I love it! You and BunnyGirl should go on American Gladiator and kick some serious ass.

    TB--Hmmm, Dew & Doritos, that was your favorite poison, huh? I guess that's not too different from one of my fav Evil Combos, nachos and margaritas. Ole!

  30. Count me among the elliptical fans. Running hurts my knees and hips -- hey, I'm getting old -- but the elliptical is a great calorie burn, especially if you up the resistance level and use reverse mode from time to time. Gotta change it up...speaking of which, I'm not adverse to the occasional Zumba class. If you get a good instructor, it's a great workout.

    As for weights, I love the Smith Machine for squats. It makes me feel all macho and manly. And for isolation, you can't beat the cable pulls.

  31. I like the Precor the best too. I definately pick songs that can rock out to. Fast songs, I go really fast on a lower level, then slower songs I pump up the resistance. I'm drenched in about 10 mins! I'm sure I look like a freak, but it's fun :)

    But I'm definately a free weight girl.

  32. Sweet Jesus. I've been gone for so long (from all blogs, really, no need to be offended!) and I REALLY needed this laugh today.
    Thank you.


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