Technology mixes exercise with entertainment

Elizabeth Alonso works out on the treadmill at the YMCA in Orlando, Florida, December 22, 2006. JULIE FLETCHER | MCT CAMPUS

Credit: Ron Soltys

An LCD screen displays information on a Nautilus TreadClimber at Precision Fitness Equipment in Altamonte Springs, Florida, January 17, 2007. STEPHEN M. DOWELL | MCT CAMPUS

Credit: Ron Soltys

Welcome to the future, in which you can zap calories using electronics-laden cardio equipment that sends boredom to the locker room. A new generation of machines — from treadmills and elliptical trainers to stationary bikes and stair steppers — is taking exercise to higher levels while offering entertainment options such as iPod ports, games and built-in TVs.

“Interaction is everything,” says Mike May, spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C. “It’s where the future of industry is headed. People like to be entertained, they like a little enlightenment and they want exercise.”

The NordicTrack ViewPoint 3000 treadmill exemplifies the trend. The machine has an MP3 player port and a flat-screen TV built into its console. While the user churns along, the console also displays time, distance and calories burned. The machine is outfitted with iFIT technology, which enters a user’s workout by reading data on a small plastic card. The iFIT’s “personal trainer” coaches the user throughout the workout, giving tips on such things as breathing and posture while offering encouragement. The program offers 24 workouts, all based on an eight-week program that builds toward the exerciser’s goal.

Cardio technology has come a long way since the first electric treadmills appeared in health clubs decades ago. The pace picked up as electronics made possible programmable controls, a selection of workouts and ramps that incline at the push of a button. Innovations quickly jumped to other cardio machines. Nautilus Club equipment, for instance, offers things such as programmed workouts, fitness tests, LCD displays and heart-rate monitoring with a belt or via the machine’s grips, says Dale Griffin, sales manager of Precision Fitness Equipment in Altamonte Springs.

“People want all the bells and whistles,” says Tony Tamules, fitness manager at the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland, who notes that his upscale club’s new Technogym treadmills, which have built-in televisions, are tremendously popular with members. “The ones with the TVs are the ones that are used the most when we look at the usage report.”

Among the most recent innovative products for clubs and homes are:

n ProForm’s 20.0 CrossTrainer elliptical machine, which integrates fitness and two games that are controlled by buttons built into the trainer’s handles. The faster a user pedals while playing “Fat Blocker,” the slower blocks “fall” on the console screen and the easier the game becomes. Pedal faster while playing “Calorie Destroyer,” and a man on the screen runs faster, which allows him to better avoid bullets coming at him.

n Horizon Fitness’ WT950 Wireless Pedometer treadmill, which lets you count your steps during the day, then transmit them to the machine for workout credit.

n The Nautilus TreadClimber, a hybrid stair stepper/elliptical machine that gives users a running workout at a walk, which saves wear and tear on the back, feet, ankles, hips and knees. It can convert to either an elliptical trainer or a treadmill.

n HealthRider’s 8.5 EX CrossTrainer elliptical, which has a multi-layer monitor that allows users to watch TV while tracking workout information.

n Newfangled equipment does come at a cost. A club-quality TreadClimber, for instance, is $7,000 at Precision Fitness Equipment. A home-use HealthRider elliptical is $899 at

n Equipment manufacturers say games, programs and other diversions keep users motivated and engaged. They also allow users to multitask, says Tamules — whether it’s catching up on world events via TV or listening to a radio sportscast. “You kill two birds with one stone. Days are getting busier. The more people can multitask, the more they can get things done.”

Lisa Roberts

The Orlando Sentinel