“The human body is the only machine for which there are no spare parts.”
It’s the 21st century, and humans are more career driven than any time in the past. A cent percentile in the engineering entrance exams, an MBA degree from a prestigious B-school, a high paying job at one of the technology giants, a promotion to one of the higher ranks in the organization are what all strive for. It is unquestionably healthy and downright necessary for the mind to spare no efforts in attaining career growth, however, in the pursuit to attaining mental progress, one aspect that takes a major hit is the physical fitness of the body that houses that genius mind.
Most of us find ourselves being able to devote little to no time on our physical fitness, thanks to the ever increasing work responsibilities, family duties and physical and mental exhaustion after fulfilling the first two. In such scenarios, the very thought of taking a gym session, or pursuing a strenuous sport seems to be a task too daunting.
So, are we left with no choices to keep ourselves in good shape and physically healthy?
It seems that we do. In fact, not one, rather two – a treadmill and a bicycle.
And today, we will make purchasing these two fitness equipment a breezy process for all.
Now, if you are a frequent visitor to the posts on this blog, you might be probably aware that we take each topic from the grass root level and we will do the same with this post as well. We will begin with the treadmill first, discuss the various components among electric motor, running belt, console etc. that make up a treadmill and analyse the particular specifications of these components one should opt for in a treadmill as per one’s fitness goals. Following which, we would proceed onto learning about the outdoor bicycle and explore how each constituent of it – tyres, seat, frame and brakes have a pivotal role in facilitating right environment for the workout and ensuring safety of the rider. We would also examine how to go about deciding upon the right tyre size as per one’s height.
Next, we will proceed onto exploring the stationary bicycle. In this, we would learn about the three types of form-factors among Upright, Recumbent and Spin which one can consider buying a stationary bicycle in, and which form factor among these should one buy based on the consideration of the fitness goals of the users and their age. Following the stationary bicycle, we would discuss about the ways in which some manufacturers cut production costs to enhance profits and manufacture below-par products, the structural built of which is heavily compromised and learn how to safeguard oneself from falling trap to such manufacturers. Then, we will move onto deciding which are some of the best fitness equipment available in the market which are not only constructed from durable and structurally strong components that facilitate safe workout environment for the user, but are also designed keeping ergonomics in consideration to enable one to lose calories in utmost comfort, thereby offering the most value for one’s money.
You might be glad to know that I am a fitness enthusiast and have been an active gym member since the past 7 years. This post has been curated keeping into account my in-hand experience of the various equipment over the years and detailed discussion with some of the learned personnel of the fitness industry.
So without further a do, let’s begin…
Treadmill is one of the most popular exercise machines of all time, perhaps for the fact that unlike other gym equipment that require one to have a thorough knowledge of their method of use and need to be guided by a certified trainer, with treadmill, one does not need to invest in highly prized gym memberships and then devote time to attend the gym sessions. One can purchase a treadmill and place it at any convenient location in one’s home and it can be used by all family members of every age group alike. Using a treadmill is akin to walking or running, therefore most people find themselves at home when using it.
A treadmill is primarily a composition of five different components – electric motor, console, frame, conveyor belt and deck. These five components work in perfect harmony with each other to facilitate workout environment right at one’s home.
An electric motor is the heart of the treadmill. It powers the conveyor belt which continuously moves on the deck at a constant speed fixed by the user. There are two different ratings of the treadmill motor that ascertain the kind of performance one can derive from the treadmill. Those are:
- Peak horsepower
- Continuous horsepower
As the name suggests, peak horsepower of a treadmill motor pertains to the maximum output it can produce. Mostly, the peak horsepower is achieved by the motor during the initial second or two and is not retained throughout the course of the workout. On the other hand, continuous horsepower is the sustained output the motor is capable of churning out at all times as long as the treadmill is in use. Continuous horsepower rating is what holds paramount importance when performance of a treadmill is in context.
As a rule of thumb, someone considering to use a treadmill merely for taking a brisk walk on the conveyor belt would find his/her requirements fulfilled by a treadmill that makes use of a 1.5 horsepower continuous duty motor. Whereas, someone looking forward to workout at a pace that is equivalent to taking a jog or a light run would require a treadmill, the electric motor of which churns out 1.75 continuous horsepower. For dedicated runners, it is advisable to settle on a treadmill that makes use of a 2 to 2.5 horsepower continuous duty motor to power the conveyor belt.
As integral component of a treadmill as the electric motor is, there is a category of treadmills that does not come equipped with one. In those treadmills, the pace of movement of one’s feet on the deck moves the conveyor belt at corresponding speeds. Such treadmills are popularly known as ‘Manual Treadmills’.
Conveyor Belt and Deck
A large rectangular board known as deck of the treadmill supports two rollers at its two ends which are responsible to reverse the direction of the conveyor belt each time it passes over them. The conveyor belt is that section of a treadmill one actually jogs/runs on and it runs across the length and breadth of the deck. The electric motor drives the belt as per its continuous horsepower and the speed selected by the user. One may increase or decrease the speed of the belt as per one’s fitness goals by the press of relevant buttons on the console of the treadmill. The material out of which the belt is designed is primarily polyester with the top coating made out of Poly-Vinyl-Chloride(PVC).
Modern treadmills make use of conveyor belts and decks that provide little cushion to the feet when they land on it in order to reduce the intensity of impact so as to safeguard the knees and ankles from suffering any undue injuries. As a matter of fact, in comparison to jogging/running on hard surfaces such as that of paved roads, performing the same exercise on a treadmill, the conveyor belt and deck of which are thoughtfully designed diminishes the force of the impact by 15 – 35 per cent.
Most treadmills provide their users with the facility to set the deck at an incline so as to make the workout a little more strenuous and assist the user in burning calories at a faster rate. Depending upon one’s fitness goals, one can choose from the various incline angles by pressing relevant buttons on the console of the treadmill.
The physical dimensions of the treadmill are largely governed by one’s fitness goals. For someone considering to purchase a treadmill primarily for running, a larger conveyor belt, typically, 45 inches in length and 16 inches in width would solve the purpose. When consideration is walking and jogging, a conveyor belt 40 inches in length and 14 inches in width would suffice.
(Image depicting conveyor belt of the treadmill and the deck underneath it)
The console of the treadmill is the user-interface(UI) one interacts with in order to set parameters to suit one’s workout requirements. Those parameters include: setting appropriate speed, choosing between one of the preset workout programs, raising/lowering the inclination of the deck, setting the console to determine the calories burnt by the user during workout, monitoring heart rate, etc.
More advanced treadmill consoles pack in high-quality speakers so as to facilitate the user with an option to listen to his/her preferred playlist by docking a mobile phone to the console by the means of an AUX cable. In recent times, manufacturers have come up with installing small screens in the centre of the console in some of their high-end treadmill models. The screen serves dual purpose – display all the vital statistics related to the workout and at the same time provide the user a facility to browse the internet, stream videos and check important e-mails.
As the name suggests, the frame of the treadmill is the chassis that holds together all the other components – deck, console, belt and electric motor. One of the essential functions of the treadmill frame is to keep the deck sturdy when the user is running on the belt at high speeds. A poorly built frame tends to wobble and shake as one approaches higher speeds which could result in user tripping off the conveyor belt and getting injured.
Now, having learnt about the utility of a treadmill and its various components that work in perfect harmony with each other to impart the user an effective workout environment, let us proceed to understand the various aspects of the second fitness equipment: a bicycle.
Commonly known by the name ‘cycle’, a bicycle is one of the oldest and most effective machines that can assist one in maintaining good health, developing endurance and losing weight. Bicycles have been around since the late 19th century and have never lost popularity ever since. A well liked iteration of a bicycle is the stationary bicycle also known as ‘exercise bicycle’. As the name suggests, a stationary bicycle is an indoor exercise equipment resembling an outdoor bicycle without wheels.
A bicycle is an excellent means to achieving one’s fitness goals without requiring one to allocate time from one’s busy schedule to take gym sessions. By the virtue of its design, an outdoor bicycle is compact enough to be tucked away in any part of one’s home/veranda from where it can be taken outdoors.
Just like a treadmill, a bicycle too is a machine that is a composition of multiple constituents – frame, tyres, seat and brakes.
The building block of any bicycle, the chassis that encompasses all the other pivotal components is called as the frame of the bicycle. In majority of bicycles, the materials used to fabricate the frame are steel or aluminium, both of which are known for their tensile strength, as a result of which, the bicycle stays well planted on the ground even at higher speeds.
One characteristic property of aluminium fabricated bicycle frames is that they are relatively lighter than their steel counterparts. Due to relatively less weight of the aluminium frame, the bicycle rides with slightly more agility.
Tyres are the most crucial component of a bicycle for the fact that they transfer the combined load of the rider and the bicycle through the axle to the ground and provide necessary traction on the surface travelled over. In addition to providing grip on the surface, tyres are an important source of providing shock absorption and imparting assistance in balancing and turning the bicycle.
Diameter of the tyres is an important consideration one needs to cater to before deciding on a bicycle. The only prerequisite needed to determine the tyre dimension that would suit one’s needs is the rider’s height.
- For kids and riders of a relatively shorter stature(~ 5 feet 2 inches), a bicycle that comes fitted with 24 inch tyres would prove to be a decent choice.
- For someone over 5.5 feet in height, deciding on a bicycle that comes equipped with 26 inch tyres would make for a reasonable purchase.
- For taller riders(~ 6 feet and taller), it would be wise to opt for a bicycle, the diameter of whose tyres is between 27 and 29 inches.
When multiple riders of different stature are to use the same bicycle, it is imperative to opt for a bicycle that comes fitted with 26 inch tyres and adjust the seat height to befit one’s individual needs.
Cycling is an exercise that makes one burn calories and move steadily towards one’s fitness goals while providing utmost comfort. The key element in facilitating comfort and support is an ergonomically designed seat, the proper name of which is ‘saddle’. The more supportive the seat is, the longer and faster one would be able to ride.
In majority of bicycles, a lever to adjust seat height and orientation is provided by the means of which one can either raise or lower the seat as per one’s riding requirements and lock the lever in place. It is highly recommended that while setting the seat in position, one ensures that it is aligned with its nose pointing in the centre and its seating surface parallel to the ground.
The very reason one can ride/drive a vehicle faster and without a fret is one’s sure-footed faith in its brakes. The very belief that in case of any emergency, one has the facility to engage the brake pedal and abate any mishap is what lets one move on the road without second thoughts.
In bicycles, brakes are available in two configurations depending upon mechanism of braking involved. They are:
- Rim brakes
- Disc brakes
Rim brakes also known as ‘wire brakes’ are a very popular choice with manufacturers for their relatively simpler architecture and less complex braking mechanism involved. Rim brakes are essentially a set of rubber brake pads attached to either side of the rim. When the rider pulls the brake lever, a wire connecting the lever to the two brake pads contracts, as a result of which, the brake pads are drawn closer to the rim of the moving wheel and eventually make full contact with the rim. Due to contact, friction between the brake pads and the rim increases which leads to reduction in speed of the bicycle and ultimately it comes to a complete halt.
Disc brakes have been doing their duty in engine driven vehicles since a fairly long time. However, seeing their potential utility in the sphere of bicycles and realizing their slightly better braking prowess as compared to rim brakes, they have been introduced in bicycles as well, though after making some design changes. Disc brakes consist of a metal disc mounted to the centre hub of the wheel from which all the spokes originate. Brake caliper, which is a part of the disc brake assembly surmounts the metal disc. When the brake lever is pulled, brake pads drag against the disc, as a consequence of which, friction between the metal disc and the brake pads increases that leads to slowing down of the bicycle.
(Image of metal disc and brake caliper mounted to the centre hub of the wheel)
A slight moderation to the traditional bicycle by removing the wheels and installing a single flywheel. Flywheel is a spinning, weighted metal disc, in the place where the front wheel would be in a traditional bicycle results in a marvelous exercise equipment called stationary bicycle. This fitness equipment comes as a boon to those who reside in areas where weather is not always pleasant to favour cycling on road/tracks or taking gym sessions.
A rotary dial/lever to adjust the tension on the flywheel is attached to the frame by the means of which one can increase or decrease the resistance on the flywheel to make the workout challenging or easy as per one’s fitness goals.
Stationary bicycles are manufactured in three configurations on the basis of the purpose they solve. Those are:
- Upright. Upright stationary bicycles are the most common type among the three and highly resemble the traditional outdoor bicycle. The greatest advantage of upright stationary bicycles sharing a footprint with outdoor bicycles comes from the fact that in addition to being seated during the workout, the rider can make the workout more challenging by increasing the pedalling speed if he chooses to pedal while attaining a standing position. This configuration of bicycles provides an opportunity to the rider for great cardiovascular and lower body workout just like outdoor bicycles. Additionally, due to the upright posture of the rider, the other areas that are greatly stimulated by a workout on these bicycles are abdomen and arms. Besides proving as a great equipment for achieving one’s fitness goals, these bicycles tend to have the smallest footprint among the three and are easier to transport.
- Recumbent. Recumbent stationary bicycles are designed with keeping rider’s comfort in consideration. The seat is wide, the back support is adequately cushioned, the pedals are all the way ahead near the front flywheel. The entire seating setup allows one to achieve one’s fitness goals and burn calories with utmost ease. Such form factor facilitates maintaining healthy spinal posture during the workout. The workout performed on recumbent bicycles also tends to be gentle on one’s knees and other joints. The lower seating position ensures that even the elderly family members and kids would find themselves at ease using this configuration of stationary bicycles.
- Spin. Spin stationary bicycles have a higher seating position as compared to the other two configurations with the seat almost at the same level as that of the handlebars. This results in the rider maintaining a very aerodynamic shape which is quite similar to the posture maintained by professional riders in competitive biking. This trait of the spin bicycles instills a sense of accomplishment in the user. Just like upright bicycles, this configuration too provides the rider with an option to pedal while attaining a standing position, which results in higher number of calories burned as compared to pedaling while seated. The design of these bicycles inherently requires one to pedal faster and apply more force on the pedals to keep the flywheel rotating. Thus, in the same time spent on the workout on the other two configurations, one would lose more number of calories when using a spin bicycle.
(Image of a Spin Stationary Bicycle)
Having discussed the two types of fitness equipment – treadmill and bicycle along with their various components and configurations, let us proceed to learn the ways in which some manufacturers (names not taken) cut production costs and manufacture products that are poorly built and are very ineffective in helping one achieve one’s fitness goals.
- Unstable, wobbly frame of the treadmill. As discussed earlier, the frame of the treadmill is the chassis that holds all the other components together, therefore, it must be sturdy and be built to withstand even the healthiest of users. However, building high-quality frame requires use of metal in plentiful quantity, which increases the overall cost of the product. In order to reduce manufacturing costs and to lure the customer citing low prices of the product, some manufacturers resort to using frame fabricated out of light, non-durable and rust prone materials. As a result of this, when a user sets the conveyor speed to a higher value, typically in the range that corresponds to the speed of running, the frame due to its light construction tends to shake and wobble. An unstable frame can cause the user to lose balance and trip on the conveyor belt which could lead to injury. In worst cases, the entire frame could collapse under the stress and might cause disaster. Moreover, the shaky structure inhibits confidence in the user to go faster and hinders one in achieving one’s fitness goals.
- Substandard rims of the wheels of the bicycle. Quality of rims deployed in the bicycle has a large impact on the safety of the rider. Rims are the weight bearers of the rider and the bicycle, therefore, it is imperative to decide on a bicycle, the rims of which are made of tough and resilient materials. Unfortunately, most buyers do not pay much attention to the rims of the bicycle when purchasing one. This fact serves as a perfect opportunity for some manufacturers to reduce production costs and increase their profits. When encountered with an undulation on the road or when one rides over a pothole at higher speeds, weak rims tend to lose their shape and deform at microscopic levels. Over a period of months of use, the structural strength of the rim continuously deteriorates. In such scenario, one hard blow to the weak rim could cause it to completely collapse, exposing the rider to unfortunate consequences.
Now, having analysed how some manufacturers resort to cutting production costs in order to increase their profit margin, let us proceed to zero down on some of the best built fitness equipment that are not only made of durable, resilient materials which can easily stand the test of time but are also designed keeping ergonomics and comfort in consideration which makes one’s journey towards fitness a rather pleasing one, thus offering the most value for one’s money.