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Resistance retooled

Times Staff Writer

Most new weight equipment barely rates a raised eyebrow when it appears in a gym. One machine looks much like another, and members quickly adapt them into their routines.

Not so with Kinesis, a new resistance weight-training system now making its U.S. debut at the recently opened Equinox gym in Santa Monica. With their weight stacks, cables, sliding hand grips and sleek, undulating wood and metal design, the machines contain elements that are somewhat familiar but peculiar at the same time. That explains why the system has some people either scratching their heads not knowing what to do with it, or approaching it with a mix of curiosity and caution.

“It was kind of strange-looking, but it did look interesting to me,” says gym member Laurie DeYoung, 23, who’s been using the machines with her trainer for the last couple of weeks. “It looks like a cable machine, but it doesn’t feel like other cable machines.”

The four machines in the system, which uses a pulley method with cables, allow users full range of motion while doing a number of upper- and lower-body exercises such as lat pull-downs and tricep presses. That can be accomplished with existing machines, but this system also allows users to do more unconventional movements -- such as lying face-down on a stability ball and simulating freestyle swimming motions or hopping onto a low platform while holding onto the cables and doing a chest press.

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Unlike some cable machines, the system doesn’t include attached benches or seats, which means users must engage more core muscles while trying to stabilize their bodies. Instead of the usual handles and ankle cuffs, the machines have plastic grips and pads that slide along the cables. Adjustable weight stacks allow users to know exactly how much weigh they’re lifting.

Since the machines are set up side by side, cables can be mixed; one arm can be doing a chest press with a vertically mounted cable while the other does a bicep curl with a horizontal cable. The cables can be stretched fairly far, making it possible to do cardio-type movements and plyometrics, both of which increase heart rates. The proximity of the machines also makes it easy to do circuit training.

The manufacturer, Technogym, wanted to offer people more freedom in their exercises, instead of making them sit at a machine and adjust the weight stack, says Tony Majakas, the Italy-based company’s trade marketing and product director.

The company is responding to trends in functional training, which engages muscles used in daily living, as well as sports-specific training, which targets muscles used in activities such as tennis, golf or skiing. The increasing popularity of yoga and Pilates was a factor as well, as more people are emphasizing flexibility and core strength.

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The company won’t release the price of the system (it was given free to Equinox), but says it took a year and a half to develop and was tested by the Royal Marines in England.

“We wanted to create something that was human-centric and focusing on the body,” Majakas says. “An intuitive situation where you take hold of the handle and move the body in a freer way. We wanted people to be able to move in a three-dimensional way, so they’re activating a wider range of muscles.”

The diversity of the system appeals to Tony Brown, personal training manager at Equinox. With some other cable resistance machines, he says, “you’re in a seated position while doing the exercise and, in the lives we live, most of the time we don’t do things while sitting. Here you have to support your own body weight.”

He also likes the fact that the machine’s smooth pulley system lets users go from one exercise to another without much of a hitch: “You can go from doing a chest press to flys to reverse flys, rows and rotations, all on the same apparatus.”

Brown says that he initially approached the Kinesis system with skepticism, having seen his share of machines that don’t live up to the hype.

“It’s really hard to outdo the basics of normal weight training,” he says. “Like with a leg press machine -- someone will try a new angle, or try to make it fancy, and in the end it’s not very good.”

Pulley-system weight machines have a distinct advantage over free weights for some exercises, says William J. Kraemer, professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. “It’s very difficult to do a lat pull-down with free weights,” he says, “and this is an example of where cable systems are advantageous over free weights.”

Kraemer, who has not tested the new system, believes it will probably find its niche among other equipment, not simply replace similar machines. “I believe in a tool box concept,” he says. “Rather than one piece being better than another, use that which is best for each exercise. Someone who is more experienced might be looking for a certain feel that they get from a free weight, while novice exercisers might look for a machine that’s simpler.”

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Equinox is the only gym in the U.S. that has Kinesis; its official rollout is in March at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Assn. trade show in San Francisco. The machines (including the ones at Equinox) will feature touch-screen video monitors showing users various exercises.

Equinox member DeYoung says Kinesis “gives you resistance through your entire range of motion. And you can do more on it -- my trainer had me doing squatting jumps.”

The longtime exerciser, who uses the machines for general conditioning and to improve her tennis game, adds that the machines have targeted new muscle groups.

“I’m a little sore in some places,” she says, “and that’s good.”


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