Unless you’ve been living in the mountain highlands of New Guinea for the past 15 years, you’ve seen an ad for the Total Gym. You know, Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley with that machine with the slanted board that rolls back and forth? That.
I wanted a Total Gym as soon as I saw the infomercial. It was the range of motion that hooked me. It was obvious that it was fluid, allowing not only for resistance training–the most important form of exercise–but also stretching. Further, because the Total Gym requires the user to stabilize all through every motion, it recruits the mid-course corrector muscles, the little muscles missed by machines that isolate motion.
I am now on my third Total Gym. No, it is not a flimsy piece of equipment; we put more weight on the first one than it was rated for, and the second was a cheap, inferior model; we wanted a better one. It is everything I thought and more. Here are the pluses and minuses:
Pluses of the Total Gym
- You can work out every muscle of your body.
- You can do this quickly. That Nice Boy I Married and I do our Slow Burn workout–the Total Gym DVD is called SMART Workout–in about 20 minutes each, working every major muscle group to failure in that time. Beat that.
- If you buy the right model (I suggest the Total Gym FIT, you can use anything from very light to quite heavy resistance, making it great for everyone from beginners to serious workout buffs.
- Motion on the Total Gym is just as fluid as I thought. You can flow from one exercise to another–from, say, pec flies to lat pull downs to dips. It’s fun.
- Unlike free weights, you can’t drop the Total Gym. This means you’re not at risk of dropping a heavy weight on yourself. No spotter needed.
- It allows those of us who are in less than perfect shape to do exercises we couldn’t do otherwise. I can’t do a pull up on the traditional bar. But because with the Total Gym I lift only a fraction of my body weight, I can do the same motion, working out exactly the same muscles, increasing resistance over time. If you’ve watched men’s gymnastics and wished you could do an Iron Cross, you can!
- It can be used not only for the obvious resistance exercises, but also to do Pilates; my current model came with a DVD demonstrating how to use a Total Gym in place of a Pilates Reformer, though I have not tried this.
Minuses of the Total Gym
- Despite the claim made by every ad for exercise equipment, collapsing the Total Gym and storing it “under the bed or in a closet” is a pain. It’s best if you have a place to leave the Total Gym set up; otherwise you’re unlikely to use it. And the sucker takes up quite a bit of room.
- If you want to use heavy weight–more than about half your own body weight–you’ll need the expensive infomercial model. This allows you to put a bar through the glide board and add weight plates. Cheaper models do not.
- Even with the FIT model, the weight limit of the Total Gym is 400 pounds, body weight and any weight plates combined. If you’re a bodybuilder, this may be insufficient, especially for squats.
There are several models of the Total Gym, from cheapies sold at discount stores to the FIT version that costs over a grand. Having used two expensive models, one 15 years earlier than the other, and a cheap one sold for a couple-hundred bucks on QVC, I very much recommend you buy the expensive one. It’s not only that it allows for a weight bar and plates. Some of the cheap models do not have a squat stand, ruling out this very important exercise. Too, on the FIT model the glide board is longer and wider, making it more comfortable, and adjustments in the slant of the board are far, far easier. It is simply a much better piece of equipment.
Has my Total Gym made me look like Christie Brinkley? No. But at 55 I’m willing to wear tank tops; that has to be worth something. And I’m heading off the bone and muscle loss of old age in the most efficient and effective way I know. Resistance exercise is the true Fountain of Youth. That’s the most important thing of all.