Computerized Rowing Machine Adds Competition to Workout Program : SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY

Can't seem to stick with your exercise program? An Irvine health fitness equipment company has a product designed to motivate you with a high-tech twist.

Life Fitness Inc., a division of Bally Manufacturing, has been marketing its computerized rowing machine, the Liferower, for about a year. An unusual feature of the rowing machine is a 13-inch color video screen resembling a computer video game. The screen depicts two racing sculls in the water. One boat represents you; the other, your competitor.

The purpose of the video program is to motivate people to exercise longer and harder by appealing to their competitive nature.

"People have tired of traditional weightlifting, of staring at a blank wall while they exercise," said Michael Hoffman, a Life Fitness spokesman. "In every sport, you're always pitted against something physical. The video screen creates a psychological impulse to adhere to exercise."

Hoffman said company research has shown that about half those people who begin exercise programs will quit within six months.

Until recently, the Liferower video program pitted you against a pace boat with a single rower. Now the Irvine firm has developed a new version that uses a helicopter airlift and an attacking shark to heighten the drama of your workout.

As you exercise, a helicopter appears on the screen, accompanied by the appropriate sound effects. A rope ladder drops from the helicopter. A rower climbs down the rope and into the pace boat, which begins to speed up. You must row faster to catch up.

The helicopter continues to add rowers until it is time to ease up a little. To accomplish that, a shark fin pops onto the screen to music similar to the "Jaws" theme. The shark gobbles up the additional rowers, and the pace boat slows down.

Hoffman said the helicopter and shark are devices to vary the pace of the workout to provide a more beneficial health effect.

All this high-tech gadgetry doesn't come cheap. The Liferower retails for about $2,700.

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