Choosing and Using Athletic Equipment

A wide variety of exercise equipment is available for home use, but how do you determine which equipment is best for your needs? Experts say to choose equipment that you are familiar with and comfortable using and to make sure that you will use it regularly before making your purchase. In other words, you have to try it before you buy it. Let's begin with the basics. The most important athletic equipment you can own is appropriate shoes.

There are many different types of shoes for various athletic activities—running shoes differ from walking shoes, which differ from basketball shoes. Cross-training shoes can be used for more than one activity, such as running and walking. First you need to decide which activity you will most often perform and then shop for an appropriate shoe. Wearing the proper shoe for a particular activity can prevent blisters or injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures (see page 63). When trying on shoes, wear the kind of socks you will be wearing when you exercise to ensure the proper fit. A stable shoe is one that prevents excessive movement of your foot inside the shoe. The insole should be cushioned, and the sole should provide traction while retaining flexibility. Athletic shoes usually have a midsole, which absorbs shock when the foot strikes the ground during walking or running.

The midsole is the layer that will wear out first on any athletic shoe. That is why fitness experts recommend replacing your athletic shoe every 350 to 500 miles of use. If you are heavy, buy new shoes closer to the 350-mile mark. If you walk 15 miles per week, you will have to replace your shoes in 6 to 8 months. Your shoes may not look worn and you may be reluctant to replace your shoes so often, but the price of a good shoe is a small investment when it comes to injury prevention.

Your athletic socks are also important. Appropriate socks can reduce the likelihood of blisters, toenail injuries, infections, and bone problems. The right socks can also enhance performance. Cotton socks effectively absorb perspiration from your feet, but if you perspire excessively or exercise in the rain, your cotton socks may reach the saturation point. If that happens, your socks will stretch and lose their shape, and your feet will begin to slide around inside your shoes, leading to friction blisters and skin irritation. Socks made of acrylic or other synthetic materials may perform better under "wet" conditions. Try wearing different types of socks when you exercise to determine which type of sock works best for each type of activity.

When considering the many different types of exercise machines you can purchase for home use, choose carefully. Remember that exercise equipment does not have to be expensive to be effective; you can use a length of rope to skip rope, and walking requires little more than sturdy shoes. If you are interested in purchasing strength-training machines or equipment that delivers an aerobic workout, here is a short equipment guide:

Exercise and Fitness


Americans buy more treadmills for home use than any other piece of fitness equipment. The motorized track of a treadmill allows you to walk, jog, or run at a pace you choose. Many treadmills have programmed inclines to simulate the intensity of jogging uphill. Others include resistance levers that give your arms and upper body a workout. If you hold the handrails, you can lower the intensity of your workout.

Stationary Bicycle

Stationary bicycles are good for exercising when the weather is bad and, unlike running, have only moderate impact on your knees. You can increase the intensity of your workout by pedaling faster or adjusting the resistance on the wheel. Some models offer movable handlebars for an upper-body workout. To avoid injuring your knees, you should adjust the seat so that your knees are still slightly bent when the pedals are at the lowest point of their cycle.

Stair-Climbing Machine

Stair climbing is one of the most intense forms of aerobic exercise you can perform. Stair-climbing machines give you a rhythmic workout that does not put a lot of stress on your knees. You can adjust the resistance for a more intense workout. Be sure to place your entire foot flat on the step to protect your Achilles tendon, which runs from the back of your calf to your heel, from injury. Do not climb using only your toes.

Cross-country Ski Machine

Because this type of equipment uses the muscles in both your upper body and lower body, it is an excellent form of exercise that burns plenty of calories. Cross-country ski machines place little stress from impact upon your joints. Some models allow you to raise the front of the machine so that you can simulate uphill skiing for a more intense workout.

Rowing Machine

Rowing machines simulate the effort exerted when rowing a boat. Rowing machines work the upper body and the legs. Some rowing machines are electric, while others are manual. You can adjust the resistance to vary the intensity of your workout. Sitting upright as you row will help prevent back strain.

Exercise Rider

This type of exercise machine combines the motions of rowing with those of leg presses to provide a total-body workout. You can adjust the resistance to alter the intensity of your workout. Exercise riders provide a more intense workout for men of average fitness than for very fit men.

Staying Healthy

It is important that before you purchase a piece of exercise equipment for your home, you try it out for 5 to 10 minutes in the store to make sure your lower back and joints feel comfortable. Do you like the "feel" of the machine? Does it seem sturdy? Is it noisy? Does it operate smoothly? Are all of the handrails and bars padded? Are the controls easy to use? Ask the salesperson how long it takes to assemble the machine and how much extra features cost. Think about your home and determine whether you have enough room to set up and store the machine. And consider honestly whether you will actually use it.

To purchase good-quality, dependable equipment, be prepared to spend at least a few hundred dollars on each piece. Once you have the equipment, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and use it properly to avoid injury.

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