Treadmills vs. Other Home Exercise Machines
By Aaron O'Connor
From the $2 jump rope to the $1,000-plus elliptical machine, home exercise equipment has continually evolved in sophistication and ability to deliver health benefits, with machines now designed for every level of fitness.
New equipment targets every muscle and fitness goal imaginable, with choices ranging from cheap infomercial fads to expensive gym-quality machines. Yet with the multitude of devices to choose from, many people may wonder -- what is the best option for someone just getting started on the road to optimal health and fitness?
Luckily there’s an easy answer to this dilemma, a treadmill. These devices are excellent for beginner fitness training, as they can provide a person with as little or as much exercise intensity as they desire.
The ancestor of today's machines was the medical treadmill, developed in the 1950s by cardiologist Robert Bruce (the father of exercise cardiology) and used for evaluating heart and lung health. It was a simple, flat surface set on rollers and human-powered. Bruce's design was eventually sold to StairMaster, which then became the famous company, Nautilus. While the fitness center industry dramatically increased in popularity, more advanced treadmills began to be sold for home use as people realized they could get fit without going outdoors and enduring poor weather conditions.
Today's treadmills come equipped with heart rate monitors, many different speeds and computers that record and compare workouts as well as calories burned. They can tilt to mimic uphill and downhill walking and running, which exercises different muscle groups for a more complete workout experience. Some models even have impact sensors in the belt to monitor stresses on backs, knees, feet and ankles.
As most treadmill reviews explain, these devices have several advantages for beginners over other types of home exercise equipment. The biggest advantage is that they are less complicated and expensive than elliptical machines. They exercise fewer muscle groups than rowing machines and ellipticals, which may be best for those just starting out, especially if back, neck or shoulder problems are present.
Impact on the joints is also an important consideration when choosing a treadmill over other types of exercise equipment, especially if a person is obese or arthritic. Treadmills are lower-impact than jump ropes and free weights, but higher-impact than ellipticals. Still, when used properly and with shoes that cushion the arch from the impact of walking and running, these devices provide an easy way to lose weight and increase stamina in relative comfort.
Treadmills also come in ahead of stationary bicycles, stair climbers, rowing machines and cross-country ski machines for burning calories, making them the best option if weight loss and reducing body fat is the user's goal. While they can't provide the strength training that free weights do, they're much safer.
Similarly, unlike many home fitness machines, the moving parts of a treadmill other than the belt are enclosed in the deck. As such, there are no cables, weights or springs to snap or catch on clothing. However, it's important to note that as with all exercise equipment, treadmills should only be used in rooms that are not accessible to young children.
Likewise, turned ankles, twisted knees and loss-of balance injuries are less likely for beginners using treadmills than other types of fitness equipment. The body's center of gravity remains stable because movement goes in only one direction as the belt moves under the feet. In other words, the body doesn't tilt forward, turn or twist and isn't in the constant "falling" mode of normal walking. Balance problems are easily corrected by holding onto the hand grips, and balance training may be improved by learning to walk and run on the belt without using the hand grips at all.
Finally, treadmills are generally a better investment than the fad-fitness contraptions sold by infomercials. Where these gadgets don't live up to their wild promises of perfect abs, buttocks and thighs, treadmills deliver, burning calories and increasing stamina, mile after mile.
Once the decision to workout on a treadmill has been made, individual fitness goals are the key factor in determining which type to buy. Setting these goals begins with a clear understanding of one's baseline health. A person’s medical history of heart attack or stroke, high blood pressure, heart rate, weight and level of aerobic fitness should be determined and discussed with a doctor before beginning any type of exercise program. Medications that decrease heart rate artificially, such as beta blockers, must also be taken into account.
After a person’s baseline health is evaluated, fitness goals can be set and choosing a treadmill becomes much simpler. If the goal is to slowly take off weight and improve cardiovascular health just by walking, a basic treadmill is the best choice. These machines go up to 10 mph, feature a 10 percent incline and have a basic display that tracks speed, distance and calories burned. Their decks are short, to accommodate the stride length of a walker.
Slightly more expensive treadmills can measure a person’s resting heart rate at the beginning of a workout. If a target heart rate is programmed into the treadmill, the device will alert the person using it when that rate is reached. Since beginning exercisers are often enthusiastic about their goals, they may have a tendency to overdo before they've built up physical strength. However, treadmill electronics allow for a precise, monitored workout that yields maximum benefit without strain or damage to muscles, tendons and joints.
Able-bodied beginners who want to maintain or increase their aerobic fitness may want to consider a treadmill that has steeper inclining and declining angles that imitate outdoor conditions and have resistance settings in the deck to further tone and strengthen leg and back muscles. These models are the most expensive, but have the greatest flexibility and longer decks to accommodate the length of a runner's stride.
It's been shown by study after study that exercise can improve quality of life at every age and stage of health. Among the many types of exercise, walking is one of the easiest and most beneficial when done on a regular basis. As such, treadmills are a steady, reliable way to burn calories efficiently, without gimmicks and at relatively low cost.
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