As we swapped stories about past jobs one colleague told of working at an exercise equipment manufacturing company. "I had a hard time feeling good about working there," he said. "All of the equipment we made was junk. They engineered it to last only 90 days."
Another colleague opined that the complaint and return rate must have been pretty high, which must have eaten into profits. "Nah," said our friend. "They know that almost nobody that buys exercise equipment uses it for 90 days. It ends up sitting idle or being used for hanging clothes. It never get used long enough to break down."
I have gone through several pieces of exercise equipment over the years. My first machine was a rowing machine. You can get a decent full-body workout with a good rowing machine. The problem was that this was not a good rowing machine; it was a cheap one. I used it a lot until it broke. Even then I used it until I couldn't make it work anymore. That's way more than most people use a piece of exercise equipment.
My parents once bought a HealthRider that I tried several times. It consistently gave me saddle sores so I quit using it. Mom used it as a clothes hanger for years.
My most enduring piece of equipment has been a NordicTrack cross country ski machine. Unlike most consumer exercise machines, these devices are built to endure years of use. I got my first NodicTrack about a quarter century ago. I used it so much that I replaced some parts twice. Eventually I got a better model and gave the other one away. I now have a second machine that we bought cheaply simply so that we could cannibalize parts for the machine I use regularly.
My next most enduring piece of equipment is a bunch of free weights. Weights are fairly cheap and are very durable. I have a cheap foldable lifting bench that I also use.
But it takes time to fool around with free weights. Switching weights around can seriously interrupt the flow of your workout and increase workout time. So I acquired a Bowflex machine. Bowflex equipment isn't cheap, but it's quite durable.
I'll be the first to admit that resistance machine workouts lack some of the physical benefits of using free weights. But machines are much more convenient. Besides, I work out for fitness, not so that I can look like a gym buff boy. After several years of Bowflex ownership, I upgraded to a higher model. I am quite pleased with my Bowflex, which I use in combination with free weights.
We have an exercise bike in the basement that rarely gets used by the family member for which it was purchased. I have a couple of chap ab wheels that I use. Come to think of it, every durable piece of equipment that I have used with consistency has been acquired AFTER I already developed the habit of working out in that manner. The equipment was acquired for the sake of convenience, not to try to spur me on to exercise.
What this means is that I am abnormal—or at least not average. A normal (i.e. average) American buys exercise equipment thinking that it will get them to commit to doing exercise that they feel they ought to do but that they currently do not do. The same is true of gym memberships.
As explained in this Active.com article, people that buy exercise equipment quickly discover that exercising requires a time commitment. It is often boring and difficult. It's uncomfortable to the point of being painful and only produces results after much time and effort. Most people are not ready for that set of tradeoffs. Consequently, the purchase of equipment rarely engenders the required level of commitment. So after a few uses the equipment sits.
Exercise really comes down to the level of commitment, not to the equipment. Frankly, you can engage in very healthy exercise routines that require no or very little equipment at all. Some fitness experts say that these routines are much healthier for you than are equipment based routines.
In fact, some experts say that exercises that most closely approximate normal physical work are the healthiest. But if you're going to do that, why not just do the actual physical work and bag the silly fitness routine?
It comes down to what is going to keep you exercising. The linked Active.com article suggests that hiring a personal trainer does it for many people. I guess it's not that much different than hiring a piano teacher to give you piano lessons. But most people just aren't into hiring a personal trainer. Where do you find them? At the gym? And what if you don't like going to the gym?
That's me. I don't like going to the gym. Many people need the social aspect of working out to exercise. Not me. I'm an antisocial exerciser. I don't want to exercise with anybody else. It's my personal thing. That's why I have my own gym at home.
Nor am I like my friends that run. I don't like running, an activity that one critic calls a one-person parade. I force myself to run sometimes, but I don't like it much. I don't like the shin splints I inevitably get or the results of joint jarring. I don't like dealing with the gravel, the cars, weather, etc.
And don't bother writing with great tips on how to avoid shin splints. I've heard them all and I've found the only one that really works for me: just don't run.
One morning I was walking our dog (a necessity if you're going to be a responsible dog owner) as passels of runners in a local 5K race (not a necessity) went by. None of those people looked very happy, especially the gal running with the front of the pack that stopped long enough to vomit in my neighbor's bushes before carrying on. And marathons? That's pain for the sake of it. I can't even begin to fathom barefoot running, which seems like taking an already insane activity to a new level of lunacy.
In fact, recent research suggests that extreme fitness really isn't very good for your body. It should be noted that extreme fitness enthusiasts have found fault with these studies. But who am I to quibble with research that gives me a great excuse for avoiding ultra fitness craziness?
I have said before that a fitness program has to work for the individual both physically and psychologically. So your fitness program may not look like somebody else's. And what works for you today may not work down the road. Fitness programs need to change with the individual's changing needs. So I really can't tell you what kind of program will work for you. I have arrived at my current routine through trial and error.
So, as we embark on a new year and its attendant resolutions, what will it take to get YOU to exercise and to keep exercising? If you're like the average American, the answer is nothing. Because nothing seems to be effective.
Professional, amateur, and government scolding and nagging doesn't do it. Buying expensive exercise equipment doesn't do it either for most people. So maybe you ought to save your money until you can dredge up the requisite level of commitment. It's far cheaper and no less healthy than the alternative of buying equipment that you won't really use.