Exercise Equipment You're Not Using (cont.)

With a wrist/forearm machine, you can work the wrist in all directions -- up and down and side to side -- while holding the forearms parallel to the floor, elbows bent at 90 degrees, says Westcott.

If you don't have the machine, Westcott says, there's another way. Simply attach a light weight or sandbag to a dowel with a strong piece of string about 3 feet long. Then practice holding the forearms level while you roll the weight toward the dowel and back toward the floor.

Elastic bands. "People don't realize these bands have benefits that machines can't provide," says Stoppani. "They provide linear variable resistance," he says, which means that as you continue through your range of motion, the resistance increases.

"Bands cause you to recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones with the greatest potential for increasing strength and are the ones we tend to lose as we age," says Stoppani. "They also can provide resistance in any direction and are great for mimicking sports activities like a golf swing."

Ankle/wrist weights. "Just doing some traditional, old-school calisthenics with weights on your ankles or wrists can give you a great added benefit," says Moreno. "There's something really nice about feeling the whole body having to work to isolate that one area you're working."

Cardiovascular Fitness Equipment

Step mill (a stair-stepping machine with actual steps). Choosing this machine over the treadmill will likely give you a better workout, says Moreno.

"It's like a really nice cross between not having to do too much and getting a lot," she says. "If you walked at the same pace, you wouldn't get the same benefit."

Because it closely simulates climbing steps, and you have to pick up your feet to get to the next step, it burns more calories than walking while it works the hamstrings and glutes, she says. Just 1-5 minutes on this machine can be beneficial, says Moreno.

"It will help you develop leg strength you can't develop on any other machine, besides, it's everyday life," she says. "We need to be able to walk up stairs."

Upper body (arm) ergometer. Most often used by people trying to get a cardiovascular workout while recovering from an injury, this machine can do a lot more. It's great even if you're not injured and don't need to sit, says Moreno.

She recommends hovering over the saddle in a mini-squat (dropping the seat a little, if necessary), which makes you use your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core for balance while you work your entire upper body and increase your heart rate.

"It brings the calorie expenditure up and it brings the fun up," she says.

For more challenge, Moreno suggests timing yourself to keep the rhythm of the song you're listening to for one minute, trying single-leg squats while using the machine, and switching directions without losing the beat.

Versa climber. You remember this oldie but goodie: the vertical climbing machine with pedals and handles you slide up and down to simulate climbing.

This machine goes back to basics, says Moreno: "You're moving your body weight. It's whole-body movement. There's a simplicity to it."

With arms and legs moving up and down, she says, you can incorporate more and different muscle groups that you would with an elliptical machine, bike or treadmill.

Rowing machine. The rowing machine has "tremendous applications for all kinds of individuals," says Westcott. "No. 1: it's not weight bearing, so there is no landing force.

Better still, he says, this exercise machine works more major muscle groups than any other cardio tool in the gym -- including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and anterior tibials (shins) in the lower body, and the pecs, shoulders, triceps, rhomboids, and lats in the upper body.

Exercise Equipment and Safety

All our experts advise working at your own level and getting instruction from a qualified professional if you're not sure how to use a particular machine. And as always, be sure to get cleared by your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

"Begin everything by taking a moment to stand in good posture," says Moreno, with ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles.

When executing a strength exercise, "try placing a small squishy ball (yoga block or towel) between the knees," she says. "You get extra inner thigh work plus an awareness of form and alignment."

Medically Reviewed February 14, 2008.


SOURCES: Jim Stoppani, PhD, senior science editor, Muscle & Fitness Magazine; author, Encyclopedia of Muscles & Strength, Human Kinetics, 2006, Los Angeles. Patricia Moreno, ACE, fitness instructor, Equinox Fitness Clubs; creator, intenSati fitness class, New York. Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, CSCS, fitness research director, South Shore YMCA, Quincy, Mass.

©2008 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.