How to succeed with home fitness gear

December 16th, 2010 - By Marilynn Preston, The Bryan Times

At some point—perhaps when I was busy planting organic basil in my window box—shopping became our nation’s No. 1 patriotic activity. It’s the economy, goofball: When U.S. consumer spending is up, our economy is growing. When we stay home, grill turkey burgers and play Monopoly in comfy old jeans, we’re just not doing our part.

OK. I get it. So this week I’m encouraging you to join the tens of thousands of consumers who spend an estimated $4 billion annually on home exercise equipment. There are huge end-of-year sales now on treadmills, elliptical cross trainers and, my personal favorite, the stationary bicycle. Do it for Uncle Sam. Better yet, do it to improve your health, drop some pounds and reclaim your energy without a shot of Red Bull.

Do ask, do tell: I’ve been in love with Ida, my Life Fitness recumbent bike, for years, and I can’t imagine how much I would weigh, or how flabby I would be, if I didn’t ride her as often as I do. Sometimes I watch TV; sometimes I read; sometimes I even talk on the phone. (Sure I get comments about heavy breathing, but what can I do? It helps to keep the mouthpiece angled toward your ear.)

To me, jumping on my bike after my morning coffee or just before dinner is the single smartest way to work a 30-60 minute workout into a busy day.

No commuting to gyms, no dressing up, no monthly fees. But sadly, all the research shows I am the exception. Most people who buy a piece of home exercise gear end up using it as an extra clothes rack. They stick with their routine for a few weeks or months, and then they cave. They get bored, they get lazy, and they toss in the towel and feel like a failure.

To avoid all that and make the most of your purchase, consider the following:

Try it before you buy it. Treadmills are forever trendy, but your body may be happier working out on an elliptical cross-trainer. Test drive the different kinds of aerobic gear—don’t forget a rowing machine—until you find the one that feels the best to you.

Recumbent bikes are especially good for people with back issues.

If you’re unsure about your choice, consult with a trainer or fitness coach, and take home some tips about proper use.

Don’t buy cheap gear. This is crucial. Whatever gear you buy, make sure it is strong and solid and doesn’t feel wobbly or noisy when you use it. Buying used, high-end gear is wise and will save you money, but buying low-end home exercise equipment that shakes and breaks easily is a big mistake. It won’t feel stable. You won’t use it. So what’s the point?

Be mindful about placement. Don’t relegate your exercise gear to a dismal basement or ugly corner. Give it a name, and treat it like the magnificent lifesaver it is. Place it in a bright, uncluttered spot with access to sunlight and fresh air, if possible. Dress the set with a TV, flowers, incense, music, whatever it takes to keep you coming back.

Have a not-so-secret plan. No one knows for sure why so many people quit using their home exercise gear, but one thing is clear: if you have a plan and stick to it, if you are motivated to succeed no matter what, if you set modest and achievable goals, a stationary bike really can change your life. Give yourself six weeks to start your new habit, committing to (at least) three workouts a week.

Tell family and friends about your plan. Take notes after every session. Begin your six-week commitment with a private ceremony. Dim the lights, light a candle, close your eyes, still your mind. Follow your breath to a place of inner confidence—fitness experts call it “self-efficacy”—where you nurture a deep belief in yourself to achieve your goals. Come back to this place at least once a week for six weeks. After the first six weeks, commit to another six weeks. And so on . . .

And never, ever hang a piece of clothing on the handlebars.

Marilynn Preston, fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues, has a website, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to

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