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How to go about your holiday fitness shopping?

“Tis the season”, so it seems. The holiday season is upon us. Even in these gloomy economic times, gifts will still be exchanged; however, being a smart shopper has never been more important.

With the New Year’s resolution season coming right on the heels of the holiday giving season, fitness equipment and fitness-related gifts are often on many lists. The ocean of choices that are out there can leave the average consumer “dazed and confused”. If you are considering purchasing or even asking for fitness-related gifts this holiday season, I’d like to help you negotiate these confusing waters.

You can spend a lot of money very quickly when shopping for fitness equipment, etc. Sometimes the old adage, “you get what you pay for” is true, and sometimes it is not. Being in the business, I have learned a few secrets over the years that can save you time, money, and aggravation.

First, let’s talk about strength training equipment. Remember, strength training is an important part of ALL fitness programs; aerobic exercise IS NOT ENOUGH. If you are not a “gym person” and want to stay at home, then you will need some kind of strength training equipment.

Whether purchasing for yourself or someone else, you will have to decide to go the machine route, or the dumbbell and bands route. What’s the best? There is no best, except what fits you and your personality. Machines (I am speaking of the all-in one machines) can be great, but only if you know how to use them. Knowing how to use them will take some time; there is a learning curve. If you do not put in the time to learn how to use the machine effectively, change the positions, etc, then don’t go this route; your machine will become an expensive clothing rack.

Two good choices for home machines on the market today are, 1) the “Total Gym” and 2) the “Bow Flex”. There are several reasons that I gravitate to these: They are built well; can provide a full body workout; are fairly easy to use and adjust and are priced well, for what they offer. Although both men and women can use each of these machines effectively, I think the Bow flex is more geared and built for men. The Total Gym is less expensive, with the basic model starting as low as $399.00 and the top-of-the-line model going for about $1600.00. The Bow flex starts at $900.00 and goes to $2500.00. The good news here is that both of these machines can easily be found “used” or “refurbished” on eBay or from actual dealers. As long as you get some type of guarantee or warranty, I think buying used or refurbished equipment is a smart thing to do.

If machines are not your style or are too pricey, don’t worry. You can get a great, full-body workout with a combination of dumbbells, rubber tubing, and a stability ball at a fraction of the price of any machine. Dumbbells are all priced about the same (about .50c a pound). Some are iron, some are coated in vinyl, and some that are interlocking to make storing easier. Most women need dumbbells that go from 3 to 20 pounds; most men will do fine with 5 to 50 pounds. Rubber tubing is sold in most fitness stores and several sources online. The price range is from $3.00 to $15.00 per tube. They come in several different resistances, usually called “easy, moderate, hard, and extremely hard”. I recommend one of each. Stability balls are about $15.00 each and come in a variety of sizes; the size of the ball depends on the height of the person using it. Getting a proper workout at home, using this equipment, will take some instruction. Believe me, it is well worth paying for a couple of at-home training sessions, to keep you from hurting yourself and making the best use of the time you put into working out.

Now, let’s talk about treadmills. Always a popular fitness gift, but often not an educated purchase. Treadmills are priced based on two specific things; the size of the motor and the construction of the frame. Computerized bells and whistles do not make a better treadmill. It is often the cheaper treadmills that have all the fancy computerized displays and programs. This is because, in today’s world, computerized components are cheap. What is expensive is a strong motor that can go and go and go and a solid steel frame that can take day after day of pounding and hold up to corrosion caused by sweat.

In treadmills, and cardio equipment in general, you get what you pay for. A cheaper treadmill will not perform as well as a more expensive one. However, if you are just going to walk 30 minutes a day at 3.5 or 4.0 mph, and weigh less than 180 lbs. then a cheaper treadmill is fine. “Weslo” is a good brand that makes a 2.2 horsepower treadmill, for about $400.00. If you weigh more than 180 lbs. or want to run on a treadmill, then you will have to go with the stronger motor and frame models. The brands are many, but for my money, you can not beat “Precor”; they have the best reputation in the business. The difference in the motor and the frame takes the price for the basic, at-home, Precor treadmill up to about $1900.00 and you can go as high as $4600.00. I know this may be a little sticker shock, but it is worth it. A treadmill like this will last you years and years and will be good to your body. Treadmills can be found “used” and “refurbished” also, but I would only get them from the actual dealer or a large used equipment dealer. I would not buy a used treadmill from another consumer unless I had it checked out thoroughly by a professional.

A final note about fitness/workout clothing; another popular gift. While I do not think you have to pay top dollar for the fanciest brands, you do have to choose things that are made well. Most workout clothing has spandex, lycra, and elastic. Cheap clothing loses its elasticity and shapes quickly; it can look really bad, really quickly. My advice to get good quality clothes, at a good price is twofold: 1) check out the “C-9” brand at Target. This a special line, made just for Target, by Champion (a leader in the workout clothing field), 2) check out stores like Marshall’s and TJ Maxx for brand-name workout gear; it is hit and miss, but you can get some great stuff at unbelievable deals.

I hope this helps some of you make smart purchases, for others or yourself. Have a great holiday season.