As it turns out, there are a bunch of muscles in the human legs, lower back, upper back, shoulders, and arms that I didn’t know existed. You find out about these things when your body is twisted and contorted into new and
excruciating exciting angles by new and exciting exercise equipment from Nautilus, a brand dedicated to pairing fitness and technology.
First, a bit of backstory…
I was contacted a few weeks back by a gentleman who works with Nautilus, Inc. He had seen some of my fitness/outdoor lifestyle writing and wanted to know if I would be interested in attending the company’s “Find What Fits” events in downtown NYC, a visit during which I would be able to test out there latest exercise equipment and train with celebrated fitness expert Tom Holland. (Tom is a weight lifter, a marathoner, a triathlete, and has competed multiple Iron Man competitions, FYI. He is in very good physical shape.) I said: “Sure, why the hell not?” (Don’t worry, I was actually quite polite and appreciative and probably didn’t even swear.)
And thus it was that, earlier this week, I stepped into a lovely studio in Lower Manhattan where lots of very fit people were milling about among lots of very fancy looking fitness equipment. Now listen here, I’m a relatively fit person, OK? I run four to five times a week, I do calisthenics and lift weights a few times a week, and I even hike and/or climb mountains when time permits. No matter… I was still about to be pushed pretty damn hard and would end up pretty stiff and sore the next day. That’s because until you use the right equipment with guidance from the right people, chances are good that you’re not using all of your muscles properly, if at all.
OK, so I walked in, met some Nautilus folks, then changed into my workout clothes. I met Tom Holland and we shared a few moments of pleasant conversation before he started me off producing copious amounts of lactic acid. First up was the latest take on the Bowflex Home Gym. (Nautilus is the parent company of Bowflex, for the record.) Guess what? Gone are those bendy bar thingies. The resistance in these new models is controlled by a computer and provided by a fan. Instead of connecting wires to flexible rods, you punch in some commands on a screen, and then you follow a real time exercise regimen that takes you through your entire workout. Yep, you now have a digital personal trainer (or you will, once this product is released sometime next year, and also you buy it). You can also use a paired app to get video tutorials on how to properly conduct each exercise and to use various tailored workout routines. Tom had me do a series of squats and chest presses, with three rep sets and brief intervals. Being an idiot, I went pretty much all out, doing as many repetitions of each exercise as I could per session. Oh well.
Next it was on to a series of elliptical machines. But you know how with a standard elliptical your feet follow that one — how should I put it? — elliptical path? Not so much with these. The first unit approximated the motions of skiing moguls, with my feet moving forward in a circular motion but also sweeping from side to side. Thus the first soreness in muscles I hadn’t really known were present in my legs. The next elliptical has an articulated joint at about the height of the user’s knee. Thus your feet don’t just spin around in an ovular pattern, they actually approximate the lift (or “heel kick” as I learned it is called) of actual running. So here you have an almost zero impact running experience that actually feels like natural running. Once you get the hang of the machine, that is, which takes a minute or two.
Next it was on to a treadmill that is connected to an app that let’s you virtually run with people from all over the world. As I jogged along in place, I watched a screen depicting my “run” through Death Valley complete with the avatars of runners from Rotterdam, Singapore, and beyond. Maybe we were thousands of miles apart, but our virtual selves were all running through the California desert together. Until it was time to move onto a balance skill building session. Then I tried out some “dumbbells” which were actually pretty smart. Why? Well because they can be adjusted to any weight between five and sixty pounds, and because they have a built in accelerometer that tracks whether or not you have properly completed a specified exercise. If you don’t lift the weight high enough for a complete curl, for example, the app won’t give you “credit” for the rep. It’s both motivational and a bit harsh.
The penultimate stop of the day was using the Bowflex Max Trainer, a device that gets your heart rate up to the proverbial “eleven” in mere seconds (FYI if your actual heart rate is 11, seek medical help or a mortician right away.) I used it for mere seconds.
Last, I had Wendi Morin, known as the “Shoe Whisperer” analyze my running gait, my balance, my actual feet, and study my current running shoes. Her expert eyes quickly concluded that I need new and different shoes, and that I need to improve/alter my running posture. Apparently, I’ve only been doing it wrong for seven or eight years…
Throughout all the work at these various stations, Tom and I talked about exercise, gear, life in general, and let’s just say we also discussed astrophysics, because that would have been awesome. Tom is a man who has known from a young age what he wanted to do with himself. He played hockey and football as a young man and transitioned into solo sports, like marathoning and triathaloning (we’ll just pretend that’s a word) in his early 20s. Ask him what his favorite exercise is and you don’t get some highfalutin answer, though. You get: “Pushups, definitely.” He has his reservations about “The C Word” (which is Crossfit, not anything untoward), though he’s glad to see people focusing on fitness no matter what route they take. He is active in charitable work, regularly appears on TV shows as an expert consultant on health, fitness, and lifestyle, and is a writer, radio host, product development consultant, and is a member of various boards, teams, and associations. And he was enough of a gentleman not to ask me to do more than 30 seconds on that dastardly Max Trainer device.