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High Tech vs. Low Tech - Exercise Bikes

Airdyne Exercise Bike

In 1978, a new piece of fitness equipment started appearing in gyms around the country. It was called the Airdyne Stationary Bike. The concept was remarkably simple. Instead of a heavy flywheel or complicated gears and belts, the Airdyne bike has a large fan, enclosed in a metal cage. When you start to pedal, the fan spins. The faster you pedal, the faster the fan turns and the more resistance you experience.

The Airdyne also has moving handlebars. When you pedal, you use your arms to assist in the movement, giving you both an upper and lower body workout. The mechanics are so simple, the bikes last for years. There's just one problem with the Airdyne, and that's the way people used them.

In the late 70s and 80s, cardio sessions were an hour or more, nearly every day, moving at a constant speed. You weren't encouraged to push too hard, so people riding an Airdyne didn't get much of a benefit. What was worse, the fan made a lot of noise, so it was hard to watch TV while you were on that long boring ride.

Their entertainment factor was limited, so Airdyne bikes were moved to the back of gyms and forgotten in basements everywhere.

In 2007, when I opened my private training center, I looked for exercise bikes that would provide the most entertainment for my clients while still giving a good workout. Even then, the prevailing wisdom was that you should do cardio for an hour or more at a time, at a moderate pace.

I found these amazing, interactive bikes from Expresso Fitness. They had dozens of courses that you steered through. They talked to each other so that riders on bikes near each other, could compete in the digital world. They were fun and they kept people moving, but the fitness results were mediocre.

Then there were the breakdowns. Computers don't like to be mounted on a piece of exercise equipment that's moving, being sweat on and having an occasional water bottle spilled over it. Some part of those fancy bikes broke about every 4 months. I replaced half a dozen failed computers, unresponsive screens and shorted out keyboards.

By the time the company went into bankruptcy in 2009, I celebrated shipping them to a scrapyard. The timing couldn't have been better.

We had begun experimenting with a type of cardio training called intervals. They are short bursts of high-intensity cardio, followed by a recovery time, and then another short burst. Early research was showing they were much more effective than traditional cardio, and you could do the workout in less than half the time.

Intervals work great on treadmills, ellipticals and rowing machines. But it's difficult to do them on fancy, interactive bikes. That's when we re-discovered the Airdyne.

Riding an Airdyne stationary bike, as fast as you are able, can burn 50 to 75 calories EVERY MINUTE. Doing six or seven one-minute intervals can burn more calories than 30 minutes of traditional cardio. Instead of worrying about constantly adjusting the resistance, Airdyne does it automatically. The harder you push, the more Airdyne pushes back. It's the perfect bike for intervals.

The Airdyne is also good if you're injured. You can use just the handles if you have a lower-body problem, or just the pedals with an upper-body issue. Put them together for maximum fat burning.

I started looking around for television sets I could attach to the Airdyne, but realized it wasn't necessary. Doing just four or five one-minute intervals on an Airdyne will take every bit of concentration you can muster. By the time you've finished channel surfing and programming a fancy interactive bike, your workout is finished on the Airdyne.

You can guess what I did. With those $8,000 exercise bikes gone, I got Airdyne. It was a valuable and expensive lesson. Never let the CONCEPT or TECHNOLOGY, become more important than the results.

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