Holiday fitness gifts trend from high-tech to basic

NEW YORK Mon Dec 3, 2012 4:02pm IST

A woman runs on a treadmill as part of her training during a six-week programme in an exercise room at the Bodyworks weight loss campus in Beijing August 26, 2011. REUTERS/Soo Hoo Zheyang/Files

A woman runs on a treadmill as part of her training during a six-week programme in an exercise room at the Bodyworks weight loss campus in Beijing August 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Soo Hoo Zheyang/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Looking for the perfect holiday present for a fitness fan? Gift offerings this year range from apps that can store a run in the country to be viewed later to gadgets so sophisticated they measure quality of sleep as well as calories burned.

There is also the revival of the humble foam roller, which experts say, like old-time push-ups, squats and planks, has never been more popular.

Anita Golden, fitness manager at a Crunch gym in New York City, said she'll be giving clients a foam roller called the GRID.

"We've always had foam rollers in the club but now more people are using them as a way to ease post-workout muscles, prevent injuries and exercise the core," Golden said.

When it comes to big-ticket items, Colleen Logan of Icon Health and Fitness, which manufactures a number of fitness brands, said the treadmill remains the most popular gift.

"Treadmills continue to lead the industry in terms of home fitness purchases," said Logan.

They account for about 57 percent of fitness purchases, while elliptical trainers and stationary bicycles are a distant second and third place at about 8 percent each.

The average home treadmill costs about $700, said Logan, but the technology revolution has transformed even this stalwart at the high end.

The ultimate splurge, at $4,000, she said, is the Boston Marathon Treadmill, which allows users to adjust speed in 1/10 of a mile per hour increments without touching the console. It also lets users run a virtual Boston Marathon.

For people on a smaller budget, there is the iFit app that lets the iPhone capture a favorite vacation run or bike ride in Hawaii, store it in data centers all over the world which collectively are referred to as the "cloud," and download it to an iFit-enabled treadmill at home.

"You'll view the exact route and experience the same terrain again," Logan explained.

Devices, gadgets and apps proliferate as tech-savvy fitness becomes more accessible, according to Jessica Matthews of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

"There's a lot of interest in on-body monitoring devices as ways to motivate and track progress," she said. "They run the gamut from basic devices to track hours, steps, and caloric expenditure to full-body tracking."

Nike+ Sportsband has a series of small lights on the wrist band that change from red to green as the runner nears his goal, while the BodyMedia FIT Armband tracks everything from the number of calories burned to the quality and quantity of sleep.

ACE also studied fitness DVDs released for the holidays.

"We evaluated them for quality of instruction, safety, effectiveness and design of workout," Matthews said.

Among the best were "Amy Dixon's Breathless Body Vol.2: The Edge." Matthews called it a challenging cardio workout best suited to those on your list with "an established base of fitness."

"Jessica Smith's 10 Pounds Down Better Body Blast" also got a thumbs up for its well-rounded routine and clarity of instruction.

For people seeking a mind-body approach, Matthews praised "STOTT Pilates Intense Body Blast: Pilates Interval Training: Level I," which she said is accessible for someone new to fitness.

"They do a great job queuing movements and creating flow," she said.

Richard Cotton of the American College of Sports Medicine suggests giving the fitness novice the gift of a personal trainer.

"The best is human assistance," he said. "Another way is a beginner group exercise class."

He also suggests a gift certificate for shoes at a running store equipped with a treadmill.

"You need shoes that fit your gait," he said. "People should always get their gait analyzed."

Golden likes to cite the law of reciprocity to the personal trainers she manages.

"I always tell them to get their clients something," she said.

And what does the personal trainer want for Christmas?

"I like the roller, or a new jump rope," she said. "Fitness people aren't hard to please. Get me a new yoga mat and I'm happy." (Reporting by Dorene Internicola; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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