Technology has invaded every other corner of the home, so it’s not surprising that the exercise room has also gone digital. Your biggest investment, however, will still be fundamentally analog: the exercise equipment itself, whether that’s a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stepper or stationary bicycle.
More Americans work out on treadmills than any other device, although elliptical trainers — which provide low-impact, upper- and lower-body workouts — are gaining in popularity. But when space is a problem, treadmills are available that fold up; most elliptical trainers do not. And for solid feel and durability, you’ll probably need to spend well over a thousand dollars for either a treadmill or elliptical trainer. A stationary bicycle can be cheaper, although it won’t burn calories like either an elliptical trainer or treadmill. And if you’re really feeling thrifty, you can always buy an attachment that turns your regular outdoor bicycle into a stationary version for about $200.
There’s a great deal to consider when choosing exercise equipment: you can learn more about that by clicking here for an article by Teri Goldberg. Strictly on the digital side, however, most exercise machines in the $1000-plus range now come with electronic controls and built-in exercise programs that will vary the speed and intensity over a preset workout. Some also include additional memory to store previous workout data. But probably the most dramatic digital upgrade in recent years has been iFit technology, available on a variety of exercise machines — treadmills, incline trainers, bikes, steppers, and ellipticals — made by companies including ProForm, Reebok, NordicTrack, Image, and HealthRider.
Machines enabled with iFit have jacks into which you plug an audio cable from your computer, CD or MP3 player or VCR. Then you buy special CDs, MP3s or videotapes from iFit (or log onto the company's Web site for streaming versions) that contain customized exercise programs. Each program not only combines visual images with music but also contains commands that control your exercise equipment. In other words, you can choose, say, a run through the hills of San Francisco. You’ll see, on screen, a runner’s eye view of the city’s famous hills — and the exercise machine will automatically change its difficulty level to match whatever hill you’re scaling. The soundtrack includes both music and encouragement from your choice of a male or female coach. Besides San Francisco, you can exercise in Yosemite Valley, on Kauai’s Na Pali coast, Lake Louise in Canada and half a dozen other scenic venues.
You don't need to spend big bucks to bring entertainment into your exercise room, however. If you’re already on the iPod bandwagon, all you need is a good armband. Apple makes a very sleek one for the Nano and Mini, available in five colors, for $29, and a number of third parties produce armbands for other models and at slightly lower prices. Perhaps the coolest iPod Shuffle solution is the iMojo Sweats: made of terrycloth, they are worn on the forearm for easy access and can be laundered with the rest of your gym outfit ($18.95 for two). If you don’t already have an MP3 player, you might look at the new Philips Active PSA612 Blue, a 4GB sports player that includes an FM radio. Philips has worked on previous products with Nike, and the exercise-friendly PSA612 shows the influence. Complete with bicep strap, the player is shock-resistant and also supports PlayForSure files so you can use it with subscription music services.
If you’d prefer to watch television during your workout, a wall mount will take up the least space and can also be placed at eye level for whatever exercise equipment you use. Too expensive? Some of the lesser-known brands of LCD televisions are becoming surprisingly affordable. Models like the Westinghouse, Norcent or Olevia 20" LCD TVs often sell for less than $400, and prices continue to drop. While you’re not going to get HD resolution at those prices, this is, after all, the exercise room: all you really want is a moving image to keep your mind off the pain.
And finally, staying hydrated is an important part of the workout. Here’s a low-cost way to keep pure water in the exercise room: the $100 PUR 200 Advanced Filtering Water Cooler. You refill the removable three gallon reservoir with tap water from your sink, place it atop the PUR 200 and the 47 inch tall unit provides chilled (as well as hot) purified water at the touch of a button. Drink up! And now, back to that treadmill ...