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Locker-Room Etiquette At the very end of the season-ending episode of E!'s reality television program The Anna Nicole Show, the star of the show, a former Guess model gone soft, walks out her front door to find fitness guru Tony Little working out in the driveway on his signature exercise machine, "The Gazelle." It was a sight to behold. Here was America's newest symbol of sloth face to face with America's latest symbol of manic bootstrap-yanking, a beefy cheesecake who has dubbed (and actually trademarked) himself as "America's personal trainer." Not since Poison Ivy joined forces with Mr. Freeze have two opposite, but equally evil, powerhouses jumped in the potato sack together. Alas, we'll have to wait until Anna's second season to find out what happens.
But I couldn't wait.
I've been studying Tony and his infomercials for some time. And I'm curious about how much of a rip-off it is. The Gazelle, which looks a lot like those expensive, motorized elliptical exercisers popular in gyms, replicates a motion found in cross-country skiing (Remember NordicTrack? Got one in your garage?), but with more of an arc. And as much as Little looks like an orange-tinted satyr riding his macho machine, the thing seems like it might be fun to ride.
Now, it might be hard to take a guy seriously when he punctuates every single word with the same enthusiasm you'd reserve for warning others they're in the path of an oncoming car, but clearly people do respond to Tony Little and his interjection ejaculations. The first Gazelle model was launched in 1997, and since then more than 850,000 have been sold worldwide.
After several model changes, the latest to hit the market is the Gazelle Freestyle Elite, which includes a piston to make your workout harder and some Tony Little workout tapes. It costs $414.75. A week after ordering, the box arrived. With the help of some friends, I hauled it to my basement.
Opening the carton and realizing that there were many pieces to put together was a bit of a bummer, but to its credit, the Gazelle comes with easy-to-follow directions, a bag of tools you'll need and, in case you get really stuck, a how-to video. With the help of a very handy friend, it took about an hour to assemble. If I had done it alone, it would have taken at least twice that time.
Once I mounted my Gazelle, I realized the machine is much sturdier than I expected. If you expect to fold this thing up and hide it under your bed, you'll be unpleasantly surprised by how unwieldy it is. But, hey, that's not a concern if your plan is to keep active. The Gazelle, which has no motor, is powered by gravity, as well as by cables attached to the foot platforms and hand poles. A battery-operated console charts heart rate, speed, distance and calories burned.
After my first week of riding it for 30 minutes at a time, I found it not as challenging as some of the cardio equipment I've used at the gym. Likewise, the pistons on the Gazelle are a bit of a pain to engage (you have to put a pin in near the foot platforms) and leave you in one resistance zone, whereas with a mechanical rig you can constantly change the resistance to carve out an individualized workout. But the Gazelle's structure in some ways beats out the gym elliptical--by simply putting different kinds of pressure on the foot panels you can do different sorts of exercise, which keeps things interesting. For example, if you rise up on your toes at the bottom of the angle, you'll fly into an extended arc, and if you keep your feet flat and your legs straight, you do a short, brisk movement that's a lot like speed walking. You also have the choice of using your arms or not, which adds options and makes your workout less rote.
But is any of it doing me any good?
I talked to Gary Brodowicz, a professor of community health at Portland State University, to try to get an answer. Brodowicz has never seen a Gazelle on the hoof but, like most people who have a television, has seen the commercials. His first impression: "Here's another guy who's going to make money off what will become, for most people, a coat rack."
Brodowicz thinks the money plunked down for the Gazelle could be put to better use, like buying some running shoes and rain gear. Still, he says if your heart rate is elevated, the machine most likely works. At the end of the day, however, he says, "If I were prescribing exercise for people to pursue, this isn't what I'd recommend."
It's true the Gazelle is not my first cardio option--I much prefer bike commuting. But I'm also a pussy. I can take a little wind when I'm cruising to work, or a little rain--but not together. Since the weather turned wintry I've curbed my bike commuting considerably. So it's been nice to have Tony Little in the basement for those days I haven't gotten my heart pumping.
I'd recommend you steer clear of the high-end model that I have. There are versions out there for half the cost, without the bells and whistles (pistons, videos, water bottle), that do the job just fine. Of course, you'll miss the videos.
And that's saying something. It's almost worth the price just to see Tony Little himself (on a set reminiscent of gay porn star Jeff Stryker's greased scenery) stroking his Gazelle while soullessly chanting, "You can do it."
And, guess what, you can.
Check out www.fitnessquest.com for the full line of Tony Little products.
The Lowdown on Infomercial Ab Gear
BY RACHEL BECKMAN 243-2122
A sculpted six-pack is the most coveted of fitness accomplishments--and often the hardest to attain. Luckily, myriad fitness "experts" on TV have just the right product to tone your tummy! But whom to believe? Thousands of crunches later (OK, maybe not that many, but it sure felt like it), here's the skinny:
For Belly-ginners: Weider Ultimate Ab Shaper
The Pitch: Shapes and tones abs without unnecessary strain on the neck, back or hips.
The Real Deal: For someone who has no idea how to do a stomach crunch safely, the Ab Shaper is helpful. The pillow makes it easy on your neck, but the exercises are still challenging. However, if you know how to do crunches but are just too damn lazy, don't bother buying into this one. Having new equipment will inspire you to work out for the first week, but you'll be back on the couch when the novelty wears off. Another drawback: The handles don't collapse easily, so it's bulky to store.
For Intermediate Midsections: ABslide
The Pitch: Not only tones your abs but also works your shoulders, back and arms in just three minutes a day.
The Real Deal: If nothing else, the ABslide is definitely fun. But it's easy to get over-ambitious and slide too far out, straining your lower back. Pay attention to the handy instruction guide, do the motions right, and the ABslide efficiently works lots of different muscle groups, even those two lower ab muscles that are so hard to tone (because you've already got the upper four in top shape, right?).
For Gutbusters: TerraStar Denise Austin Torso Toner
The Pitch: Similar to ABslide, except with an inner spring that winds and tightens as you roll forward. It also has wrist supporters and three handles for more exercise variation.
The Real Deal: For fitness freaks. The sliding movement here is a welcome variation from endless stomach crunches, but the same features that differentiate it from the ABslide also make it inferior. The inner spring is too powerful, and you have to stop periodically to let it unwind. It also snaps you back to starting position, making the workout too easy. The wrist supporters just get in the way, and the third handle is unnecessary.
Not up for the late-night infomercials? Find these products at the As Seen On TV store (1310 Lloyd Center, 493-8269) or online at www.abslide.com or www.terrastar.net.