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A new exercise machine

From Tony Little's Gazelle Freestyle Elite User's Log

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BACK to Tony Little's Gazelle Freestyle Elite User's Log

5-22-03: A new exercise machine

Almost any American who's seen much TV in 2002 and 2003 is likely familiar with infomercials regarding Tony Little's Gazelle Freestyle Elite exercise machine. It seems sort of like a cross-country ski machine to me-- a device which I believe I read somewhere may perhaps be one of the best overall designs for getting a good total body workout.

You have to be careful not to confuse Little's latest machine with previous incarnations. It appears there's been several models under slightly different names over the past several years. I believe most or all those older models are available from more vendors and at lower prices than the latest machine described here.

I don't know all the differences between these models, but this most modern version possesses shock absorber-like devices which likely give it more resistance potential and workout flexibility than many older versions. Perhaps there's been changes in accompanying video and instruction packages and digital readout meters as well.

WebFLUX Central has had its own latest and greatest Little machine for a week now. I did the assembly personally. The assembly process makes for a workout in itself, so be warned. I was sore for a couple days in my upper thighs, apparently just from all the floor sitting and squatting necessary for assembly. The assembly instructions were pretty good, though a few details must be gotten off a bundled video tape.

I was able to do the assembly alone, having considerable mechanical experience and male strength, but for one stage in the process lots of folks (especially women) may need or want a second person to help, as basically the machine comes in two big 'halves' that must be attached near simultaneously at three points. If you're unlucky the parts could be a little more off tolerance-wise than mine were, and require some substantial man-handling to fit together (it's typical for mass-produced parts like these to vary somewhat in fit and finish, so this is not saying that there's any unusual quality problems with Little's machine).

The parts arrive in a fairly heavy box. My own box arrived a bit damaged from transit and I worried that something may have fell out on the way, but it turned out everything I expected was present.

There was a bit of damage to the parts in shipping, but luckily no 'show-stoppers', and nothing worth calling up the manufacturer about. The unit has a couple of wheel fixtures that aid users in moving it around post-assembly, and the housing of one of these was cracked, but it still works as designed and posed no problem in assembly. The water bottle holder's plastic flange for attaching it to the machine was completely broken off, but when I finally learned where the broken part came from during the assembly process I was vastly relieved that it didn't involve something more important.

A few tips: It's best to assemble the machine in the same place you plan to use it, as moving the completed contraption won't be trivial for lots of folks-- especially if the movement will involve stairs. Though the machine in theory can also be folded up for transport and storage, if you think you'd need to do this pretty often you may want to seek out a smaller and lighter machine for your purposes. Also, just in general, if you have to do a significant amount of moving, unfolding, folding and moving of an exercise machine in order to use it, you probably won't use it as regularly or often, and its value to you will be greatly diminished. It's best if your machine can always be ready and waiting for you to hop on it at a moment's notice. So whatever machine you might get, you should try to put it where it can always stay ready for impromptu exercise sessions with little or no extra preparation (or putting away) efforts required.

One thing I was concerned about before purchase was the space the Gazelle might require to work. For on the infomercials you see these superbly conditioned athletes sprinting on the machine with a huge stride of the foot pedals, and leaning forward or backward to extend these strides still further ahead or behind the device. Would WebFLUX Central even have a spot with a large enough area to accommodate the Gazelle, I wondered?

Luckily, most normal people of average height are unlikely to require quite the range of space the athletes on the infomercials utilize, even when leaning forward or backward and lengthening their stride as much as possible. The leaning business can be pretty strenuous too, to keep up for any length of time, or at a significant incline. So I was pleasantly surprised at the machine's space requirements for use.

You typically pay for the machine in four monthly installments it appears. As much we can tell so far, total cost should be around $450.00 in the end-- unless you also buy into the related multi-vitamin program. I'm admittedly no expert on the subject, but from what I can gather from quite a few sources $450 appears to be a pretty good price for a machine of this functionality. Much, MUCH more expensive workout machines exist on the market, such as treadmills costing thousands of dollars, apparently.

Back to the multi-vitamin program mentioned above...we got a sample of "MetaTrim" multi-vitamins with the machine purchase. These I'm much more skeptical about. Firstly, they contain mega-doses of certain vitamins that seem excessive even for single daily tablets-- then the instructions on the box advise taking TWO them per DAY. YIKES! Personally, I'd be afraid to take more than one several times a week, for fear I'd overdose on something. And the vitamins may be over-priced too, from what I've learned of them so far (at least compared to what you can buy at Wal-mart). So I recommend NOT enrolling in the monthly vitamin plan offered by the machine vendor.

There were indications on the box that the machine was built in and shipped from China. As it arrived during the same week as much SARS news about China (as well as news that SARS can survive on many surfaces for DAYS), we were a bit apprehensive. But keep in mind that so far (3-22-03) there's been NO reports of anyone contracting SARS from Chinese-made merchandise shipped to America (to my own knowledge), and there surely would be if such events were possible, as perhaps a third of the stuff Americans buy in many discount stores come from China these days. I've personally had mucho contact with the machine in question for a week now, with no ill effects, too.

So what about beneficial health effects? In just a matter of days I appear to have significantly reduced my gut-size on the Gazelle. I'm also feeling uncharacteristically optimistic in general the last day or two (though to tie this feeling conclusively to Gazelle use will require more time). To see some reference info on the potential health benefits of exercise please refer to my Low cost health and medical care page. So far I've spent 30 minutes a day for three days on the machine, and one day of 45 minutes.

I fully intend to incorporate the machine into my daily schedule as much as events allow. We've set it up in a semi-public space where lots of folks here may access it. We've added a TV/VCR/remote combo and radio/tape player appliances to the mix to help users spend as much time as possible in their workouts.

Though it is theoretically possible for folks to obsess and spend too much time exercising, for the vast majority of us in the developed nations the real problem is usually far too little time spent in exercise.

The different types of Gazelle usage described by Little in his infomercials and video tapes seem pretty much essential for everyone who spends much time on the machine, and within single sessions. For the variety of moves helps the user endure the 30 minute or so a day workout time which is likely most advantageous health-wise.

Basically you can take it as easy or as hard on the machine as you like, so it's very flexible for a wide variety of health needs or desires. Ours does make quite a bit of racket/noise in use, but we haven't yet tried to quiet it with the several lubrication tips Little gives in his documentation. One assembly detail Little gives in his video but not hard copy instructions might also reduce the machine's noise level, but I only saw the video after I'd already put it together.

Note that it's fairly easy to lose your balance and fall off the machine if you're not careful, as the foot pedals are (mostly) free swinging. Mounting and dismounting seem the riskiest moments in use, but things can also get dicey if you try using a TV remote with one hand while continuing your exercise non-stop. All this may be no biggie for most of us, but I mention it because some folks in worse shape than I for various reasons may find it significant, and so should take extra precautions.

Is using the Gazelle effort-free? No, of course not. I seriously doubt you could find a workout machine which safely provides real health benefits for zero effort, circa 2003. I read somewhere that the major health benefits of daily or multiple weekly workouts require the user to break out into a sweat for at least around 15 minutes, and the Gazelle can surely accomplish that. Is it low impact? Definitely so-- if that's what you want. It can also be fairly high impact for the ambitious, I believe. At its lowest 'power piston' resistance level it seems to give more of a workout than the 'rocking horse' type machine I used a lot the past few years (a Weslo Cardio Glide).

I've thought for a long time that I'd prefer something like the Gazelle for workouts over the Cardio Glide. After a few days of use I see no reason to refute that belief. But of course the real proof will come over months and years of usage. The Cardio Glide kept spitting screws out of its handle bar that had to be replaced pretty often, plus developed a really bad squeal after several years of usage. But of course I did the very minimum maintenance on the machine I could get by with.

I'll try to keep you posted on anything new of significance with the Gazelle.

5-26-03 UPDATE: We waited a few months before buying the Gazelle, hoping a cheaper but highly similar alternative might make an appearance in the market. It never did, so we finally bought the Gazelle. Now, today, I saw what appeared to be such an alternative on the QVC TV shopping channel. I believe it was called something like the 'XL Elite', and was being sold for around $120.00(!) Big bucks difference here folks! The XL looked like a smaller, lighter, more fragile version of the Gazelle, and was painted white compared to the Gazelle's gray. It sported shock absorbers like the Gazelle too, though in the demonstrations on QVC these pistons weren't attached at one end (I guess so the show hosts and models involved wouldn't get sweaty on-air with the machines). I didn't catch the entire QVC session, so there's much I don't know about the XL offer. For example, it may be that a buyer wouldn't get all those video tapes with the machine. I didn't hear Tony Little's name mentioned once during the parts of the presentation I witnessed. However, it did seem that some sort of digital readout device accompanied the XL, similar to the Gazelle. And even better (if I heard right), the XL arrives in more fully assembled condition than the Gazelle. That right there would be a big incentive for buying the XL (if it means what I took it to mean). The XL's smaller stature looks like it'd make it easier to fold up, move, and store than the Gazelle. And easier to assemble too, if that still was required. But the smaller size also makes it plausible that the manufacturer might simply ship it folded up with minimal extra assembly required at the customer end, too. If you consider the XL, please try verifying such circumstances for yourself before purchase, as like I said, I missed much of the demonstration and specs.

Wow! Smaller, lighter, easier to move and store, maybe mostly assembled at arrival, and costing a fraction that of the Gazelle? Are there any potential downsides to the XL? Well, I mentioned before that I don't know if you'll get the wealth of video tapes that accompany the Gazelle with an XL buy. Some folks really like those tapes. It could also be that the shock absorbers are an extra cost option with the XL-- I just don't know since I missed much of the show. And the lighter duty nature of the XL compared to the Gazelle might mean the XL will need more repair and maintenance over time than the Gazelle, as well as NOT accommodate larger and heavier folk as well as the Gazelle, or be as conducive to advanced and highly strenuous workouts as the Gazelle might be. So the bottomline might be that the Gazelle would still be a better long term buy for larger folks, and/or those who might want to explore the high impact workout limits of such devices, and/or many men-- as well as for those who prefer to keep their machines fully functional and available on a moment's notice and also enjoy sufficient free living space (and extra money) to devote to such appliances.

On the other hand, folks like students and others living in cramped spaces, who'd need the flexibility of folded storage on a regular basis, as well as required the most economy possible in a machine, might be better off with the XL. Many women too, especially smaller ones, would likely appreciate the more diminutive stature of the XL compared to the Gazelle, and not require a more heavy duty machine.

Just keep in mind that either of these machines will likely be worth a thousand times their cost to you (in relation to long term health benefits) if only you use them regularly and as recommended by doctors and/or other physical fitness experts you consult. On the other hand, if you hardly ever use them or not at all, both would be a waste of money. END UPDATE.

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