The Workout Connoisseur
REVIEW: PRECOR AMT
I tried out this wacky thing while staying at a Hampton Inn near Chicago. It’s essentially an elliptical with varying stride length, allowing you to use it as a stair-stepper (stride length = zero) at the one extreme and a sort of neo-Nordic Track at the other. I love cardio and I love difficult cardio (hello, StepMill!) so I was psyched to get on this thing. Alas, however, I wasn’t crazy about it.
There are no manual settings to control the stride; you have to use your legs and the arm levers to make the stride longer. Without a lot of focused attention, it defaults to a stair-stepper setting, or mysteriously causes you to pedal backwards in a sort of mini-ellipsis. I found it extremely difficult to maintain my form, and wound up leaning forward and using my arms more than I’d like.
Because I couldn’t get into a rhythm, I didn’t sweat much, which made me feel like I didn’t achieve enough, even though my heart rate was in the 160s or 170s every time I checked. On the plus side, though, there were so many ways to change what I was doing that I could assemble a pretty interesting interval workout (e.g. stair-step quickly for 2 minutes, Nordic Track quickly for 2 minutes, backward ellipsis slowly at a high resistance for 2 minutes, etc).
I’d give it another go if I encountered it again, but I’d make sure I had a full hour so I could waste some portion of it figuring things out.
I hear the best cardio machine out there is the Jacob’s Ladder, but I haven’t yet had a chance to try that one…
PRECOR AMT recommended for:
-Confident exercisers with high body awareness
-Anaerobic conditioning
-Making the time pass

REVIEW: PRECOR AMT

I tried out this wacky thing while staying at a Hampton Inn near Chicago. It’s essentially an elliptical with varying stride length, allowing you to use it as a stair-stepper (stride length = zero) at the one extreme and a sort of neo-Nordic Track at the other. I love cardio and I love difficult cardio (hello, StepMill!) so I was psyched to get on this thing. Alas, however, I wasn’t crazy about it.

There are no manual settings to control the stride; you have to use your legs and the arm levers to make the stride longer. Without a lot of focused attention, it defaults to a stair-stepper setting, or mysteriously causes you to pedal backwards in a sort of mini-ellipsis. I found it extremely difficult to maintain my form, and wound up leaning forward and using my arms more than I’d like.

Because I couldn’t get into a rhythm, I didn’t sweat much, which made me feel like I didn’t achieve enough, even though my heart rate was in the 160s or 170s every time I checked. On the plus side, though, there were so many ways to change what I was doing that I could assemble a pretty interesting interval workout (e.g. stair-step quickly for 2 minutes, Nordic Track quickly for 2 minutes, backward ellipsis slowly at a high resistance for 2 minutes, etc).

I’d give it another go if I encountered it again, but I’d make sure I had a full hour so I could waste some portion of it figuring things out.

I hear the best cardio machine out there is the Jacob’s Ladder, but I haven’t yet had a chance to try that one…

PRECOR AMT recommended for:

-Confident exercisers with high body awareness

-Anaerobic conditioning

-Making the time pass

Must-Have Equipment

I love gyms. I mean I love, love, love gyms. But sometimes you’re trying to get a workout while your kid naps or the snow is six inches deep or you just don’t have time to drive there and back. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much space or money to equip yourself for at-home exercise. 

In truth, you can get in fantastic shape using nothing more than your body weight, but let’s assume you like a few toys to play with. Here’s what I recommended for different budget levels:

$50:

  • Yoga mat 
  • Exercise Ball (can be used as a weight bench)
  • Lighter dumbbells (5-15 lbs, depending on your size and gender)

$100: add

  • Exercise bands with handles
  • Heavier dumbbells (15-35 lbs)
  • Medicine ball (5-10 lbs)

$500: add

  • Cardio machine

That’s really all you need. Add on a few choice DVDs in your library and you’ll never have an excuse to skip a workout. 

Entertaining Intervals

We all know intervals are key to increasing your calorie burn during and after cardio. But when you’re doing your workout in front of the TV, it’s too easy to zone out and do a half-hearted session that’s barely worth showering over. 

Here’s a trick that can be usen on even the simplest equipment, like my low-budget bike. Pick a central character on the show and bump up the resistance every time they’re on screen. Sure, you might find yourself resenting the heck out of Serena van der Woodsen (or whoever you’ve chosen as your signal to increase intensity), but you’ll come to value her contribution to your cardiovascular health. 

Why I Love Ashtanga

Want a serious, sweaty workout that covers cardio, strength, and flexibility, AND leaves you feeling completely blissed out? Get thee to an Ashtanga class. This style of yoga follows a sequence that begins with a flowing warmup, progresses through challenging standing postures and balances, and finishes with intense stretches. It just might be the perfect workout. 

Ask around to find a “led” (rather than Mysore) class that moves at a fast clip. Note that you need either some previous yoga experience, an extremely accommodating teacher, or the patience to flail through the first few classes. 

Here’s the best Ashtanga practice DVD I’ve found, from David Swenson. 

Recommended for:

-All-in-one workout

-A little enlightenment with your exercise

-People who don’t take themselves too seriously, as Ashtanga will humble you in a hurry.

Abs, Arms, Buns workout video

From “Buns of Steel” queen Tamilee Webb, this strength training video will rip your abs, arms, and buns to shreds. It’s tough to find a DVD that will do that. I come back to this one year after year when I want to get good and sore, especially for the lower-body section. 

There are six 15-minute workouts, two each for abs, arms, and buns. The pace of the arm workout feels to me absurdly fast — you’ll have to use smaller dumbbells than usual. Some of the ab exercises are extremely advanced, but that gives you something to aim for. 

I usually choose one segment for each target area for a 45-minute full-body workout but, unfortunately, there is nothing here to address the chest or back, so you need to tack on some push-ups and rows or something to make it comprehensive. 

Recommended for:

-toning rather than hypertrophy

-serious glute workout

-abs so advanced you won’t be able to do every exercise

This series of variations on the plank bills itself as “Flat Abs in Five Minutes,” but I did only one set of 10 reps of each exercise and it took about 15. Still, the time flew by and I was sore as hell for days afterward, which to me means success. You need to know what you’re doing in order to protect your back in these exercises, so be sure you are comfortable holding a plank for a full minute before you attempt this workout.

Recommended for:

-A break from all those crunches

-Supplement a serious yoga practice

-Perfect cap to a steady-state cardio session