Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toys vs. the machines

You don’t have to be a gym member to get or stay fit. Working on those bulky weight machines may seem to be the be-all-end-all, but they definitely aren’t the only way to gain strength and better health as well as improve your appearance. Exercise props or “toys” as some of us like to call them, can be just as effective and in some cases more effective. So don’t despair if the gym is not for you for whatever reason!

Before I studied to become a personal trainer and group exercise instructor I relied on weight machines for my resistance training. But when I started training to be a trainer I became better educated about the advantages of toys. I’ve come to use them pretty much exclusively for my own workouts because of their convenience, flexibility and power.
Instead of struggling with machines that are often awkward to adjust, I can custom tailor my workouts and those of my personal training clients as well as my group exercise classes. Another advantage: You get more core work in by tightening and stabilizing your abs and lower back muscles, etc., when doing resistance while sitting on a stability ball or standing.

Exercise toys are extremely inexpensive and portable. You can buy them at many discount or sports stores. Getting a basic set up can cost you less than $50, approximately the price of one month of a gym membership. I use toys all the time when I do in-home training, carrying dumb bells, bands, a weighted ball and ankle weights in a bin and a mat under my arm. Some of my clients invest in their own set of equipment plus some additions, including a stability ball. Having toys on hand makes working out so much more convenient and private. Some of my clients take exercise bands or tubes with them when they travel in case their hotel doesn’t have a fitness center.

I also use toys in my group exercise classes. My students love the variety. Instead of doing two or three sets of the same arm and back exercises on a machine, for example, we vary the sets by training the arms and upper back as well as the core stabilizers first with dumb bells, then with exercise bars and then with tubes.
Afterwards we get down on the mat and really work that core some more! Seated crunches on a machine get awful boring by comparison to Pilates-style body work on the mat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing exercise machines. Machines can be valuable for gaining and maintaining strength if you regularly get to the gym. Some of my clients who are gym members prefer them for at least part of their regimen. And if you are exercising without a trainer, machines require less memory work. They often include instructional displays in case you forget how to adjust or use them.
Still, I recommend even those who have access to and enjoy machines to learn how to work with dumb bells, exercise bands and the like whether at the gym, home or when traveling. Toys give you more options and ability to do strength training!