We humans are driven to newer and better. Fitness seekers are always right out there on the innovative edge. Entire industries -- bikes, water bottles, exercise equipment, running shoes, recovery beverages, heart rate monitors, wet suits, supplements, clothing -- compete to help make us faster, stronger, more comfortable, look better or improve endurance. (Confession: This TOJ is no exception with an entire rack of running shoes in the garage and exercise do-dads all over the place.)
It's like we're always waiting to see what's next. With Internet, word spreads fast. Witness the meteoric rise of Vibram's FiveFingers, which are back ordered at retailers like REI. A couple years ago, Chris McDougal wrote Born to Run, a book, in part, about the incredible Tarahumara distance runners in Copper Canyon Mexico, who knock off hundred mile runs in primitive huaraches, basically a piece of tire tread with some leather thongs to secure it to the foot.
Part of the book was also about barefoot running, but most yuppified runners don't have tough enough soles to really do it (including me), so Vibram introduced a weird looking substitute for huaraches that promises all the benefits of barefoot running and works well for weight-lifting, too.
Standing in a line to use the porta-potty before the start of the Bolder Boulder last May, the guy in front of me had on a pair and he couldn't say enough good things about them for running. Next thing I know, my daughter has a pair she's using for CrossFit workouts and trail running. Though I'll resist the urge, I bet I own a pair within a year.
This TOJ isn't big on gym machines, preferring basic, cheap equipment, and exercising outdoors as much as possible. But that doesn't mean that there aren't worthwhile ways to exercise and improve fitness and health for people who enjoy gyms and apparatus.
A track coach at Linfield College in Oregon (he's also a big fan of Bill Bowerman, the great track coach Nike co-founder) has invented a new way to exercise in water. Originally, it was developed to help people recover from serious injuries, but has caught on with professional athletic teams, too. The coach designed wetsuit that is buoyant and has webbed feet, sort of like the creature in the old horror movie "The Thing." The person puts it on and runs around the pool, propelling the their floating body with feet and arms. The resistance of the water provides at whatever level of strenuousness is desired; the harder the person goes, the harder the resistance. People who've tried it say its a great workout. Google AQx Sports to learn more.
Another interesting exercise invention, soon to be product, is called the NeGator. Developed at the University of Florida, it relies on what is called eccentric resistance. The system is based on a little known fact about the human body -- surprisingly, we are able to hold up and lower more weight than we can lift up. The NeGator, through a system of cams, pulleys and motors (this will definitely be an expensive device like Nautilus once on the market) actually increases the weight as you lower it and decreases it to a range you can handle as you lift it. What is really unusual is that the machine is designed to have you do only one set per week! In just one set, you take your muscles to full exhaustion. The UF orthopaedists and exercise physiologists claim it provides the shortest, most efficient workout possible. (I guess this has been designed for people who hate exercise -- I'd like to exercise longer.)
I always try to observe TOJ's Fifth Rule: Respect all exercise religions, even those you don't believe in.