August 17, 2008

Fiscally Fit ; Gyms and Gadgets Too Expensive? These Alternatives Will Keep You in Shape — and Don’t Cost a Fortune

By Jane Kwiatkowski

When it comes to getting fit, all roads don't lead to the gym. Nor are they lined with treadmills or pricey personal trainers. There are plenty of low-cost alternatives that will allow you to exercise seriously -- lose weight, too -- without breaking your budget.

Gym membership is not essential, for one. And even though many fitness clubs experiencing the summer doldrums offer some sweet membership deals, cash conscious folks are exercising their right to opt out of the health club, according to the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, who reported club membership decreasing for the first time in a decade -- from 42.7 million to 41.5 million in 2007.

Exercise DVDs help save fitness costs, and a trip to the park is a sure-fire excuse to break out the Frisbee. But did you know those park benches provide the perfect prop for push-ups and step-ups?

Don't throw the towel in on your fitness plan. You may be sizzling off more calories than you realize. Remember that the next time you go out Latin dancing.

>Throw your weight

Special equipment is not required when you use your body's weight as resistance, according to personal trainer Patrick Hall of Personal Best Fitness on Washington Street.

"You forget your body is actually weight," Hall said. "Look at the body of a gymnast. They are probably the strongest athletes and have the best physiques."

Using exercise machinery and equipment can shortchange fitness development. Besides, how

many people do you know whose elliptical has become a clothes horse?

"Long gone are the days of muscle isolation," said Hall. "The human body is designed to function in a three-dimensional world. Take one movement and work your entire body, not just one muscle."

To prove his point, Hall created "Primal Fitness" workout, a series of exercises that combine two essential elements of fitness on a budget: no equipment and group training. Four days each week, Hall offers a 60-minute Primal Fitness class for $10 that features exercises with novel names including G.I. Jane, Tractor Plow and the Human Hurdle.

A class regular, Pat Jensen could barely complete three push-ups when she started the classes. Now she tallies 20 push-ups and a dozen pull-ups.

"It really gets your heart rate up," said Jensen, who recommends the class for other women in their 40s and 50s. "It really strengthens your core. You're never too old to get stronger."

Try the Burpee yourself with these instructions from Hall:

Start by standing straight, then bend forward at the waist and crawl forward a few steps with your hands until you're in a push-up position.

Do five push-ups. If you can't, Hall suggested a modified push- up from your knees.

Crawl back to where you started, squat down and jump up in the air.

Repeat five times.

"This works everything," Hall said, "your arms, shoulders, back, stomach. When you crawl out, you work your chest, shoulders and triceps. The jump works your legs, back, butt, hips -- everything. So that one movement works your whole body without any equipment at all."

Now grab some friends and try the Human Hurdle:

Line up in a push-up position, shoulder to shoulder 10 feet apart.

One person hurdles over each person. Every time they leap over a person, that person does a push-up.

At the end of the line, the hurdler falls into push-up position and the next person in line starts the hurdles.

>Kettlebells, anyone?

Dumbbells are far from pricey. You can get a few pairs for a few dollars -- in pink and green and sunshine yellow. But if you search, you may find a different kind of hand weight, one really not so new at all.

Kettlebells were a favorite among Soviet athletes for decades. In fact, both the Soviet Special Forces and numerous world-champion Soviet Olympic athletes used the ancient Russian kettlebell as their secret weapon for extreme fitness.

The unique design of the kettlebell -- the weight is located four inches below the grip bringing every muscle group into play -- forces you to use stabilizing muscles to control the weight. Exercises with dumbbells and barbells do not hit those stabilizing muscles to the same degree; they train only the major muscle groups. What's more, these bells are nearly indestructible, relatively inexpensive and deliver fast results.

Beth Chamberlain, an actress on television's "Guiding Light," started using her kettlebell a year ago February. Her triceps and abdomen were the first areas to show change.

"Six weeks after I started, I did not recognize my body," said Chamberlain during a phone interview. "My body had always looked the same. I was 44 and giving up on exercise, but then my husband started working out with kettlebells."

Chamberlain started with a 12-pound bell and has worked up to 18 pounds. The routine she follows, created by Indianapolis Colts trainer Anthony DiLuglio, consists of 14 two-minute exercises. It affords a total-body workout.

"I aim for three times a week," she said. "You don't need to do another thing. I had a very hard time sticking with weight training. Here, you don't have to switch weights. You use the same weight throughout."

Chamberlain and DiLuglio have collaborated on an exercise DVD called "The Kettlebell Way to Perfect Your Body." Available with a set of kettlebells for $60 online at, the DVD is one of many that provide kettlebell instruction.

Locally, kettlebells starting at $24.99 are available at sporting goods stores including Pacillo's and Dick's.

"I never had great abs in my life," Chamberlain said. "I had a bubble belly and I probably bought every ab book on the market. With the kettlebell, I could not believe the fat loss and toning."

Many exercisers have stepped from the gym room to the ballroom for their dose of calorie-burning activity. Latin dance is a popular choice.

"In Latin dance, you're constantly shifting from hip to hip, so it's like doing hundreds of repetitions of oblique crunches," said Desi Bartlett of "Dance and Be Fit" videos. "Within four to six weeks, you'll see your body start to change."

Two 20-minute Latin dance workouts each feature a four- to five- minute warm-up followed by 15 minutes of simple, expressive and effective toning. And get this: 20 minutes of salsa dancing burns 200 calories. Considering that one hour of general aerobics burns 354 calories, dancing Latin can save you money and time.

"Anytime you get your heart rate from 65 to 80 percent of your maximum, you burn fat," said Bartlett during a phone interview. "In Latin dance, there's a lot of grounded energy. Anytime you get people together to dance, there's always a spirit of celebration."

Introductory salsa is being taught at many area clubs, dance studios and even yoga centers.

"Latin Groove," the DVD set for release by Acacia next month, features merengue, salsa, rumba and even some lessons in hip rolls for those who believe they lack the coordination to move fluidly.

"Brazilian Body," with Kimberly Miguel Mullen, offers three 12- minute workouts.

"Start with the basic step and repeat it over and over until you are comfortable," she said. "Simply repeating it allows you to get the rhythm. You can't help but move. It's intoxicating."

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Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

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