January is a time for New Year's resolutions, a time when we tearfully grab a hunk of belly flab and decide to buy fitness gadgets and gym memberships. Don't waste your money.
Back in the days before becoming a gadget-deal guru, I was known as Prof. Buffmodo, certified personal trainer—so I know what it takes to get in shape from a physical and a fiscal standpoint. The bottom line is this: Most fitness gadgets are gimmicky junk and a lot of gyms will rip you off in a heartbeat. With the economy in the shape it is, fitness will probably be one of the household expenses put on the chopping block, but this might not be a bad thing. The truth is that beginners can get in shape on a budget by keeping things simple.
What Not To Buy:
Common sense should tell us that products like the Springflex and the Gamercize PC Power Stepper are gimmicks catering to people who are unwilling or unable to devote time to exercising. Besides, neither offer anything close to a full-body workout. These half-assed approaches cost $90 and $200 respectively, and they will end up sitting in your garage after a month.
Along those lines, we have products like the Steelcase Walkstation. Losing weight and increasing heart and lung health is heavily dependent on the heart rate you achieve while doing cardiovascular exercise (see Karvonen formula). But the Walkstation moves no faster than 2 mph. Unless you are morbidly obese or like 90 years old, a walking pace isn't going to achieve these goals. It may be be better than sitting in a chair, but I can think of better ways to spend five grand.
What About Bowflex, Weight Benches, Treadmills and Ellipticals?
Generally, I don't have much of a problem with the performance of these devices, but they are nothing if not expensive. These are often the go-to machines for people who don't want to go to a traditional gym. The problem here is with motivation. The vast majority of people quit working out altogether within a few months, so if you have a history of not finishing what you started, going all in financially like this is most likely a bad move.
What About Wii Fit?
I have never tried Wii Fit, so I can't make any claims as far as its effectiveness is concerned. Our own Brian Lam argued after six months with it that it has more of a mental impact than a physical one. To me it reeks of something you would have fun with for a few minutes, then forget about completely. Not only does it not offer a lot of options in terms of strength training, but it relies heavily on the fairly useless body mass index. At 6' 3 and 205 pounds, my BMI is 25.6—a figure that would be considered "overweight." However, I only carry about 7% body fat. Body composition is what is truly important. All-in-all, it doesn't seem to be worth the $90-$130 to me.
What You Should Buy:
An effective home gym for beginners that gets results can consist of the following inexpensive devices:
• A set of basic dumbbells at 5, 10, 15 and 20 pounds for high-rep exercises: Keep in mind that you don't need expensive gym weights. Ten pounds is ten pounds—as long as it is comfortable and balanced. Prices vary and dumbbell sets can be expensive, but if you shop around you can get deals for under $30. (A Hobomodo strategy would be to use gallon water jugs for your lower weight exercises.) I do not recommend dumbbells with interchangeable weights as these are often bulky and dangerous to operate. Exercise bands of various resistances offer an even cheaper alternative at prices under $20.
• A Swiss balance ball: Sizes generally range at 55cm, 65cm and 75cm for people under 5'5, 6'0 and above 6'0 respectively and can be found for under $20.
• A total body bar ($30-$40): You could go up a notch and pick up something like the Perfect Pullup which offers ab straps and adjustable/rotating grips to add another dimension to your workout. ($60)
• A 6- to 10-lb medicine ball: Prices vary, but these can be found for between $10 and $20.
Basically, we are talking $200 for the basic equipment that offers a full-body resistance workout and the opportunity to perform a wide range of exercises at low risk of injury. Cardio can be handled with a jog around the park, a swim, a bike ride, a game of basketball or tennis, a jump rope, etc.—activities that can be done inexpensively or at no cost. Throw in a free yoga program on FitTV or Oxygen and you have the stretching and flexibility portion of your fitness routine down as well.
A Word On Gym Memberships:
Truth be told, I have a very expensive gym membership. But then again, I have been doing this in a very hardcore fashion, week in week out for the last 8 years. The point I am trying to make is this: If you are a beginner or someone who can't devote a lot of time or money to working out, it's best to start small and work your way up. This is true for both the exercises that you perform and the equipment that you spend your money on. If you stick with it...awesome. Maybe then you can mix it up with a gym membership or some more expensive home gear (although that, in truth, may never be necessary). If you quit, at least your only out $200 and not $2000.
If you do decide to join a gym, keep these tips in mind:
• Treat it like a car purchase. Sales reps work on commission, and they are not going to give you their lowest price unless you fight for it. January is usually the best time to find a deal.
• Always read the contracts. This is true with everything, but gyms can be really shady. They are not above pulling one over on you.
• Try and pay your dues in full. Some of the shadier gyms kick in auto-renew policies for people that go month-to-month. That means they will continue to draw money from your account even after the contract has expired (hence the need to read that contract).
Now go, exercise, be healthy—but try to keep some extra weight in the wallet region.
Prof. Dealzmodo is a regular section dedicated to helping budget-minded consumers learn how to shop smarter and get the best deals on their favorite gadgets. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "Professor Dealzmodo" in the subject line.