Feature Article - March 2009
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Shaping Up

Staying on Top of Fitness Trends

By Dawn Klingensmith

Fitness Goes High-Tech

Even the most basic fitness tools, such as workout videos intended for in-home use, reflect the technological advancements of the digital age. Exercise DVDs are broken down into segments, or chapters, so users can choose from a menu of preprogrammed routines; program their own sequence of exercises; or set the chapters on random mode to create a unique workout every time.

New, computer-based programs can transform cell phones and MP3 players into sophisticated fitness monitors that measure and record weight-loss and overall-wellness metrics such as heart rate and calorie expenditure.

But the biggest revolution in home-based fitness is "exergaming," or combining the interactivity of videogames with exercise. Enjoyed as much by adults as kids and teens, the Nintendo Wii system offers sports and fitness programs such as boxing, which allows individuals to square off against a virtual opponent and execute actual boxing moves from a standing position. This new generation of videogames has been lauded as a clever means of getting kids to exercise—which is critical, given the prevalence of childhood obesity—but one possible downside is that "There's nobody checking your form and correcting poor posture, so injuries are likely for the inexperienced," said personal trainer Ariane Hundt of New York.

Thrills on Wheels

Plugging into the digital age, commercial-grade cardiovascular equipment has evolved to include interactivity and dynamic virtual environments similar to those found in videogames.

For example, one manufacturer of upright and recumbent bicycles uses sophisticated computer software and widescreen LCD monitors to simulate outdoor environments, such as woodsy trails or professional racing tours. Riders can race against their own best personal time using a "ghost rider" feature; ride alongside a pacer; or compete in real time against virtual competitors or members using other machines in the same facility.

Over time, riders can track their mileage and other measures of progress on the Internet and see where they rank on global and facility-based boards.

The software-based programs are automatically and continuously refreshed to keep riders coming back for more.

For those who aren't necessarily interested in pretending they're Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France, the screens are configured for television reception, as well.

Hydraulic bikes are another indoor cycling trend. One model has an articulated frame enabling it to tilt, turn and bank like a real bicycle, working core muscles and improving balance in ways that are unique among stationary bikes.

As a final tribute to verisimilitude, some of these new high-tech stationary cycles allow riders to "clip in" to the pedals just as they would on a road or mountain bike.

Turning indoor cycling upside down, the man behind the Spinning phenomenon has come out with a new cardio concept called Kranking, which uses a stationary hand cycle and focuses on upper-body development.