Back in the Saddle Again

Article excerpt

So you're out of shape, but too stressed to do much about it. Enster home-exercise riders: easy-to-use, moderately priced ($200 to $500) contrivances that look like a cross between a stationary bike and a mechanical bull. Just 20 minutes a day, three times a week on the padded saddle of an all-in-one fitness machine and -- yippee! -- you're on your way to a leaner, healthier you. At least, that's the seductive message being gobbled up by thousands of fitness wanna-bes.

Sales of exercise riders--sold under names such as Healthrider, CardioGlide and The LoneRider--have taken off in the last 18 months. The HealthRider alone is moving at 10,000 a week and is the hottest-selling item at The Sharper Image, a chain of 76 high-tech emporiums. Says Sydney Klevatt, the chain's senior vice president of marketing, "It's new, it isn't motorized and doesn't require a real high degree of physical fitness to begin." All riders work similarly You push and pull a handlebar that, in turn, lifts the seat. The rider's own heft provides the weight and resistance; workouts can be tailored by adjusting parts of the machine. But the heavier (and probably less fit) you are, the more the machine requires you to work. That's a problem, says Kam Miller, a clinical exercise physiologist at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. As you lose weight, the value of the workout lessens. Miller adds that the riders' rocking motions are especially stressful on the hip flexer muscles--ones usually well toned by, say, climbing stairs--that attach to the lower lumbar. Overworking them, experts say, usually results in backache and loss of flexibility. "I didn't think it was a bio-mechancially sound device," says Miller. But a spokesman for HealthRider says the machines are safe and effective if adjusted and used properly.

Though there's no study yet on the effectiveness of riders, some critics say the companies that make them seem far better at marketing fitness than actually helping people obtain it. In short, they produce greater ads than abs. Ned Labonne is so convinced that riders "don't do what they're supposed to" that he won't stock them in his New York City bike and fitness store -- even when his customers ask for them. For Laverne Cose, a working mother in San Diego, the rider was a disappointment. …