You do not have to be an exercise guru or search endlessly through magazines, television, and the Internet to see the enormous amount of exercise equipment on the market today. Though many of these devices are here today and gone tomorrow, one piece of equipment that has proven competitive in both the exercise and rehabilitation industries is the Total Gym.

What is the Total Gym?

Yes, this is the one that Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley promote on T.V. Personally, I was first exposed to the Total Gym while on an orthopedic clinical rotation in physical therapy school several years ago. Since this time, the Total Gym has not only found a place in the health care industry, but has found a position in the consumer fitness market as well.

The Total Gym is a multi-use machine that manufacturer's claim can "replace an entire gym." It allows users to perform 60 different exercises for toning and strengthening muscle groups and improving flexibility, range of motion and cardiovascular fitness. The smooth transition between exercises is said to allow users to maintain momentum in the workout.

It works on the basis of a pulley system using body weight to produce resistance, rather than stacked weights or high-tech resistance mechanisms. Hand and foot attachments use cables with pulleys to simulate weight-lifting movements. You can vary the incline of the bench and use anywhere from 4% to 60% of your body weight depending on the setting, without using any additional weight stacks. Designed specifically to limit compression on the joints and back, the push-pull, incline plane system is said to be orthopedically sound, safe, and simple for all ages and fitness levels ranging from the novice athlete to the professional.

Which model is for you?

Since the Total Gym originated in the rehabilitation industry, the basic clinic model (the 2400), is like most medical equipment: well-built, stable, and ergonomically sound. This model is beyond the needs of most athletes costing $1,200, $3,000 with all accessories.

The Chuck and Christy infomercial model is the 2000. It costs $749.25 regular price, but can generally be purchased at a sale price of $599.95. This model has a lighter, narrower base, and smaller-gauge cable and comes with an instructional video. The lighter frame makes adjustments easier and an optional bar beneath the bench lets added weight plates increase the load.

The Total Gym 1000 is a little less stable than the 2000, does not come with an instructional video or flip cards for quick reference to exercises, and has no free-weight bar. This model costs $199.95.

The machine has also become popular in the consumer market because of the limited space needed and the reasonable cost.

What health and exercise professionals think of the Total Gym

Overall, exercise and health professionals see the Total Gym as a useful exercise device for their gyms and clinics and agree that for the value it provides home fitness with the benefits of safe, efficient and functional exercise.

One physical therapist calls it similar to the popular pulley systems seen attached to many gym walls with the exception that body weight is used as the resistance, and each body area can be addressed without a great deal of changing positions, benches, and weights.

Fitness and rehabilitation professionals note the ongoing research conducted on the Total Gym at the Medical College of Ohio at Indiana University and in private clinics across the country. This is important for demonstrating personal safety and valid, proven results in the healthcare industry.

Functional exercises

Current studies in physiotherapy and conditioning have shown that functional exercise promotes natural movement, creating the best environment for strengthening and conditioning. Functional exercises refer to movements used commonly in activities of daily living (ADLs). This feature allows people to do exercises that may be closely related to the type of movements required at work, in recreation and athletics, or normal day-to-day activities.

Functional exercises can also be sport-specific. For example, there are several programs helpful for the upper and lower extremities and torso for the golfer or the skier addressing both stretching and strengthening. Additional accessories broaden the scope of available exercises and enhance workout capabilities.

Who will benefit from the Total Gym?

The Total Gym will prove beneficial to those seeking to tone and build lean muscle, improve joint mobility, and enhance their overall endurance by improving cardiovascular fitness. Those who have been in rehabilitation under the supervision of a physical therapist and are now progressing to an independent home program will also find the Total Gym a good option for their home program.

Who may not benefit from the Total Gym?

Although this machine does offer limited joint compression, there are some people who may find the resisted range of motion from the Total Gym painful. For example, people with joint and soft tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and who are experiencing an acute episode or "flare up" of the disease are not candidates for aggressive strengthening. Those who have any form of cardiovascular disease may not be candidates for this machine and should always consult their physicians regarding the exertion level they should be avoiding.

Powerlifters who depend on high resistance and low repetitions for maximum lifts and increased muscle bulk may find the Total Gym unable to deliver the amount of resistance desired for their needs in the sport of powerlifting.

The total view

Overall, the health and fitness industry is giving the Total Gym "a thumbs up." The Total Gym provides a good general fitness program for those wishing to optimize their "total" health.