SPECIAL ISSUE: SPRING HOME & GARDEN GUIDE : HIGH-TECH HOME : New Exercise Devices Do It All, Including a Fast Physical Exam

Times Staff Writer

The “eyes” of March are upon us, and they don’t like what they see: Holiday excess translated into not-so-strategically placed pounds. On your body.

But no matter how loose your love handles or hefty your hips, there’s still hope. And it comes in the form of electronic equipment as sleek as the latest summer swimsuits.

Home gyms have come a long way from the barbells, jump ropes and slant boards of the past. The most futuristic gadgets--electronic rowing machines, stationary cycles and heart monitors--are designed to slim and motivate at the same time.

For example, designers at Precor USA of Bothell, Wash., realized early on that the biggest obstacle on the road to a firmer physique lay not in the body, but the mind: boredom.


The firm conquered that mental malaise with a stationary bicycle and a high-tech treadmill made to get--and keep--you exercising.

With the M8.7sp Electronic Cycling Simulator, you exercise at home but feel as if you are riding through downtown San Francisco. Or Utah’s Salt Flats. Or a scrub pine-lined mountain trail.

The key is in a video display screen nestled mid-handlebar.

A microprocessor and three-dimensional graphics bring the rider 30 pre-programmed courses in three difficulty levels: advanced, moderate and easy. You can race alone or program up to seven pace riders at different speeds to go along on the ride. Or you can store your previous results in the bike’s memory and ride against your or someone else’s past performances.


Press the “Start” button and the video screen displays your options--including step-by-step instructions.

Say that you request the “San Francisco Interurban” course and program two pace riders, one cycling at 10 m.p.h. and the other at 20 m.p.h. The screen will display a road heading into The City with two riders positioned on it.

If you start out at 5 m.p.h. then speed up to 15 m.p.h., you will see the slower rider’s back, then his side as you pass him and then he will disappear altogether.

The longer you ride, the closer you will get to the pyramid-shaped Transamerica building in front of you. The Golden Gate Bridge to your left will increase in size. Fire hydrants, light posts and the dotted line mid-street will flash by.

When your ride is over, the screen will display the distance ridden, your time, your average speed and the number of calories that you’ve burned.

And the price tag? Well, it’s as advanced as the cycle itself: $1,995.

Precor’s treadmill is just as advanced--and even more expensive. Busy Body Inc. fitness stores sell the M9.4sp Programmable Treadmill Ergometer for a whopping $3,295.

What that substantial fee provides is 96 courses to choose from--48 at a run and 48 at a walk--all broken down into easy, moderate and advanced exercise levels.


If riding, running and walking do not appeal, you can always buy the Liferower rowing machine by Life Cycle of Irvine.

It too has a video display of graphics that place you in a scull cutting through water while racing against a competing rower.

There are 15 workout levels, and, as you exercise, the Liferower even lets you hear your oars slicing through the water. All for a hefty $2,795.

In the world of fitness, working out just isn’t enough. Efficient exercise is where it’s at, and that means keeping your heart beating fast enough for a good aerobic workout but not overdoing it.

How do you know if you’re achieving a proper heartbeat? You buy yourself a Heartwatch from Computer Instruments Corp. of Hempstead, N.Y. The Heartwatch, an electrocardiogram-type sensor, is strapped to your chest and transmits to a special wrist watch. The watch gives you a digital readout of your heart rate.

If you are working too hard, or not hard enough, an alarm sounds. There’s even a deluxe model that talks, with a polite voice encouraging you to step up the pace or warning against overtraining.

The Heartwatch goes for about $400, says Brian Cover, manager of the Busy Body store in Huntington Beach. An additional $650 will let you hook it up to your home computer via an interface cable. Special software analyzes your workout, and you can even get a printout of your heart-rate chart.

“It’s the most accurate and safest way to exercise,” Cover says.


And how do you know if your workout worked? With a Weight Talker II from Illinois-based Technasonic. It’s a talking scale that you can program to remember your weight from day to day.

“It’s $99, and it sells well,” says Harry Dudley, manager of The Sharper Image in Santa Ana. “We sell about 10 or 15 of those a month. You get on, and it’ll say, ‘Your weight is so much. You have gained or lost so much. Thank you.’ People think it’ll insult you, but it doesn’t.”