Exercise Your Options-Hot Trends & Tips for Training & Trimming

If you’re thinking about joining the battle of the bulge you may want to check out the latest fitness and exercise equipment options available to you. In today’s fitness crazed world, the choices are nearly limitless, and many of today’s hottest exercise trends have actually been around for decades.

Here’s a list of the latest and greatest your local gym has to offer.

The Latest Spin

Go to your local gym and you’re likely to see an instructor playing “motivational” music while leading a group of enthusiasts on stationary bikes visualizing their way through an intense workout – uphill, then downhill and so on. Those who have tried it swear it’s the ultimate group experience for sweating and getting in shape. Equal numbers of men and women are packing into stationary bike classes in which you can go at your own pace, by manipulating the resistance knobs and positions on the handlebars.

“There’s no impact,” says Tracy Schwartz, manager of Gorilla Sports, a San Francisco gym that prides itself on being on the edge of the latest trends. “You’ll end up with literally a puddle of sweat underneath the bicycle,” adds Marialice Kern, PhD, Associate Professor of Kinesiology (study of movement) at San Francisco State University. In fact, it’s required that you bring a bottle of water and a towel to participate in the class.

Promoted as an addictive blend of sweat, endorphins and pure imagination, you can pedal away at home too. Stationary bikes by Schwinn go for around $500 and accompanying videos ($20 each) are also available featuring Johnny G., the program’s creator.

Punch Out And Mellow Out

Another hot trend is Kwando, a karate/kickboxing/aerobic class. Participants receive a cardiovascular workout by punching bags, kicking and performing drills to music. “People see results and it’s a great social outlet because it requires pairing up with partners,” says Schwartz.

Surprisingly, another focus at trendy fitness clubs is yoga. “Yoga is definitely cutting edge too,” says Schwartz. While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a gym, many people are in dire need of a stress-reliever as well as a work out. Yoga provides both as it’s great for stretching and toning muscles. Depending on the style of yoga practiced, it can provide a good cardiovascular work out as well.

The Dancer’s Edge

Yoga isn’t the only fitness movement of the moment that helps stretch and strengthen muscles. The Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez) technique has been used by dancers since the 1920’s, but Pilates is enjoying a new surge in popularity with people at all stages of fitness.

Developed by Joseph H. Pilates, the technique tones and elongates muscles without creating bulk. More than five hundred exercises are performed under trained instruction on floor mats and on an array of specifically-designed apparatus. Instead of performing many repetitions of each exercise, the method emphasizes fewer, more precise movements that require proper control and form.

“It’s a wonderful way to retrain the body, especially for people who have chronic injuries or muscular imbalances,” claims Laura Greenfield, a certified personal trainer and fitness manager for Club One in San Francisco, who takes the training herself. It is not a cardiovascular activity, so Greenfield also hikes and takes aerobics classes. She encourages others to make sure their fitness regimens include cardiovascular elements as well.

Have A Ball

Known as medicine balls, flexibility balls, stability balls and many other names, these large inflated balls have long been used in the physical therapy field for improving balance and flexibility. They too are experiencing a surge in popularity.

They can be used any number of ways, but are “good to just sit on to watch TV while gently bouncing up and down,” says Kern. According to Kern this can help people develop balance and coordination. Greenfield also uses them with all of her clients.

They cost anywhere from $30 to $60 depending on the size (ranging from 20 to 34 inches in diameter) and can be found at medical supply outlets. Books and videos are also available to show you what sort of exercises to do with them. Again, like yoga and Pilates, these are not for an aerobic workout, but are good for stretching and strengthening.

The Crowd Mentality

Equipment that was once found solely in the gym is now available for the home, while activities that you might have thought of as solitary, such as cycling, have now moved into the gym.

Even the highest quality equipment designed for home use has to compete with the boredom factor. Working out in the company of fellow sufferers on the other hand goes a long way to add a social and motivational element to your sweat-fest.

As Greenfield, a big fan of aerobics classes, describes it, “Being in a room with a lot of other people who are performing the same exercise to music is really motivating. It gets the endorphins flowing, and there’s a sense of camaraderie. There also might be some gentle competition going on that spurs you on.”

If you’re health club shopping, Kern suggests looking for a gym that features Keiser fitness machines. At San Francisco State University, Kern oversaw the installation of Keiser’s pneumatic circuit training system and liked what she saw.

“People can get through all their major muscle groups in 30 minutes. They absolutely love this equipment. You can increase or decrease the resistance just by hitting a plus or minus button in your hand. You don’t have to get up and change the weights and pull plugs out of one thing and push them into another,” says Kern.

The Home Gym

If you choose to outfit your home with a fitness machine, even treadmills, the workhorses of home fitness machines, have undergone some intriguing enhancements. The Spirit, at $2395, supports up to 300 lbs., folds up, elevates to a 12 percent incline and can tailor a workout to you in “real time” by means of a heart-rate monitor. Treadmills range in price anywhere from $400 for a non-motorized treadmill, on up to $3895 for a top-of-the-line Trotter 510 Treadmill.

You might also be intrigued by the “revolutionary” elliptical fitness machines. Touted as one of Popular Science magazine’s best products for 1997, they feature a non-impact elliptical motion for the feet which provides a good aerobic workout. However, home versions by HealthRider and NordicTrack ($500 to $700) were found to be disappointing by Consumer Reports magazine because they failed durability tests. Sturdier models found in gyms are, nevertheless, very popular.

The Personal Touch

If you are thinking of going the home fitness route, you might want to consider working with a personal trainer. Trainers can be a source of motivation and a valuable resource to make your fitness regimen safer and more effective.

Personal trainers can offer a number of services to help solitary exercisers get off to the right start. A thorough discussion of your goals and needs is one of the first steps. Trainers can help develop reasonable goals in a step by step fashion that keep you moving forward on your path to physical fitness.

If goals aren’t well defined it is nearly impossible to assess the effectiveness of one’s exercise program. This can cause a person to give up hope and stop exercising entirely.

Trainers can also provide you with a health and postural assessment. It is vitally important to, “learn how to do movements correctly,” says fitness specialist and certified personal trainer Barbara Fuess. This makes your regimen more effective and decreases your chances of injury.

In her San Francisco practice Fuess begins by asking her clients about what they do for a living and what they enjoy. She then tailors workouts accordingly. Do you enjoy working out with a tape on your TV or would you enjoy going walking or running? If you don’t like the outdoors, Fuess suggests looking into buying that treadmill or other home fitness device you might have been considering.

If you are considering working with a personal trainer you may want to find one who’s educated about diabetes. Any experienced personal trainer will be concerned about your health and safety, and should understand the basics of safe exercise techniques for people with diabetes.

A little extra knowledge never hurts, however. Greenfield, who has diabetes herself, says her diabetes can be helpful when working with other diabetics. “I can be empathetic about low blood sugar, and I can be insistent about testing.”

No Business Like Shoe Business

People with diabetes always need to be attentive to wearing quality footwear to avoid lower limb complications. This is especially true when exercising, as feet will be under additional pressure and strain.

When shoe shopping the most important thing to remember is to get fitted properly. When looking for exercise footwear it’s a good idea to bring your workout socks (and orthotics if you wear them), as well as your last shoes, so fitters can see how the soles have worn. You might even try out the movements that you do in your sport to better determine the right shoes for you. “Do a grapevine (an aerobic dance move); I do,” suggests Fuess. “People might look at you a little bit weird, but the salespeople are going to know what you’re doing.”

Knowing your needs and the specific activities you’ll be using the shoes for is the key to sorting out the vast variety of choices. Guy Smalley, a dedicated trail runner who spends four to six hours running each week, relies on his $100 Nikes that “just fit like a glove.”

Smalley, who lives in Phoenix where he is studying for his Masters in Public Health, says he’s “blessed with living where there are great trails to run on.” As a result of his surroundings and dedication to physical fitness he literally runs through a pair of trail running shoes every six months. He then wears them as street shoes after that.

After securing quality, protective footwear it is important to realize that they won’t be doing much good if you continue to wear them once they’ve worn out. Even if you don’t run trails for four to six hours a week like Smalley, you might be surprised how quickly your activities break down athletic shoes.

“If you’ve been using your shoes to walk the treadmill for six months, they are beaten down inside. They may look good on the outside, but the mechanism that cushions your feet may have broken down on the inside,” warns Greenfield.

Socks are also very important. Smalley and Kern both recommend the Thorlo brand. “I love Thorlo socks,” says Kern. “They even make a bad pair of running shoes feel okay.”

Whichever brand you choose, thick, protective socks without large seams are best for people with diabetes. Remember to discard socks once they develop worn spots or holes, as these areas cause friction that can result in foot ulcers.

Medication Management – Diabetes And Exercise

If you’re exercising and managing your blood sugar levels with oral medications and/or insulin, don’t take chances with hypoglycemia. Always keep the basics on hand: a fast-acting carbohydrate (glucose in liquid or tablet form, juice or candy), money for a phone call and current identification. Checklists and overall advice regarding participating in any type of physical activity are available from the American Diabetes Association, as well as the International Diabetic Athletes Association (IDAA).

The IDAA’s mission is to “enhance the quality of life for people with diabetes through exercise,” states president Paula Harper. The organization promotes safe diabetic protocols for participation in all sports. IDAA members are involved in everything from skydiving to wrestling, boxing, scuba diving and snow boarding. “You name it,” says Harper. Harper herself hikes Squaw Peak, a mountain near her home in Phoenix every morning.

It’s also a good idea to consider developing skills and enjoyment in more than one sport. This gives you the advantage of cross-training benefits, as well as providing alternate ways to keep fit.

“If I get injured from the running, I work a lot more on weights and bicycling,” says Guy Smalley. Smalley points out the importance of “thinking about physical activity as not just running or doing an organized, scheduled activity, but rather as increasing your physical activity on a real simple level – things like riding a bike instead of driving a car.” He suggests taking something you already enjoy, such as biking, a step further. “It makes it easier for people to fall into something they really want to do as opposed to something they think they should be doing,” he adds.

When deciding on your primary exercise activities remember to keep your personal preferences and lifestyle in mind. Look for specialized information on your sport or activities of choice with an eye out for any special concerns your diabetes might add to the equation.

The path to physical fitness can be exciting and fun, as well as leading to a lifetime change for the better in terms of your physical and mental well-being. The first step is the hardest, but once you get started you can continue to reap these rewards for the rest of your life.

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