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Gifts to keep movers and shakers off couch

Howard Schneider
L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service
Gift ideas for movers and shakers, from Howard Schneider who wears some of the fitness gifts he's tested. Illustrates HEALTH-EXERCISE (category l), by Howard Schneider (c) 2007, The Washington Post. Moved Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Julia Ewan.)
ALL | THE WASHINGTON POST

Okay, so what if Santa’s a fat slob?

Just because he has earned the right doesn’t mean we have.

As you work through your shopping list, here are a few ideas to keep friends and loved ones off the couch as we head into the new year, whether they are techno-geeks or old school.



Enjoy the season, go easy on the eggnog, and let’s make a promise to model ourselves after the Three Wise Men: Next time you have an important appointment, walk, ride your bike or take a camel ” anything to exert a little effort.

Take martial arts champion Bas Rutten, have him bark orders at you, and set it to tunes from “The Fantasticks”? No problem.



Sick of the goody-two-shoes music you hear at most yoga sessions? Think sun salutations could go well with Marilyn Manson? That’s fine, too.

Podfitness lets you mix an extensive database of workouts with playlists from your iPod, Microsoft Zune or other MP3 player, customizing the soundtrack to a variety of exercise routines.

Sounds gimmicky, I know, but I have been playing with this for a few weeks and it’s fun. The routines are diverse ” yoga, shake-your-booty aerobics, weightlifting, whole-body workouts, outdoor and treadmill running sequences, sessions devoted to the elliptical ” and they get sequentially harder each time you download a new session.



You get your choice of trainers. I’ve been alternating Rutten’s conditioning sessions with interval runs set up by swimsuit model Jody Olson. (Fair warning: There is a Danny Bonaduce option, for those who dare associate with the rambunctious ex-child star of Partridge Family fame.) You can tailor the workouts to your fitness level, set them to match the equipment you have at home or at your gym, and tell the program whether the last round was too hard or too easy so it can adjust.

The service costs about $20 a month. A 60-day trial is included with the purchase of a Polar F11 heart rate monitor (roughly $150), and Polar has its own dedicated heart rate zone workouts on the site. One caveat from the Podfitness Web site: The program lets you use only imported music, not tracks purchased from the iPod or Zune music stories. And one from me: Although this has worked seamlessly with my iPod, it did not work with one of my other MP3 players, so buyer beware if you are not using the iPod or Zune.

Yikes! Hundred-millimeter wheels are really big and really fast, at least for someone used to a more modest skate. Between that and the stiff, light carbon frame, these are not for the timid.

But for someone who wants a challenging aerobic workout and wants to cover more ground than on a jog through the neighborhood, this is a gift worth considering. The skates retail for about $300, and unless the recipient is already adept, I’d recommend investing in a lesson or two as well.

The in-line crowd likes to boast that the sport is easier on the knees than running, but blading does carry its own risks. So please include a helmet and wrist guards with the skates.

The fate of home gym equipment is not always kind, as evidenced by the stationary bikes, rowing machines and treadmills that end up on Craigslist. But for someone who might actually use home equipment, weights offers more versatility than the standard home cardio machines, and these have the added advantage of not eating up floor space.

The Selectech design includes several plates in a case, with a cam on the bar that lets you dial different weights and lock them in place. The result: You get a range of intensities in a single set of dumbbells.

Consider carefully who will be using these. The largest set goes up to 90 pounds on each dumbbell (180 pounds total). The size of the handgrips might be uncomfortable for anyone with a smaller hand, and the width of the bar might make it unstable.

There are lighter sets that max out at around 50 pounds and 20 pounds per dumbbell. The retail prices listed on the Nautilus Web site are $149 for the lightest set, $399 for the middle weight and $599 for the heaviest pair. (However, the middle set was recently listed on Nextag.com in the low $200s.)

Nice shirt. Comfortable to work out in.

But ” how can I put this delicately? ” after a five-mile run, a night in the gym bag and an afternoon lifting weights, the shirt stinks, bamboo charcoal fiber or not.

Canadian company Lululemon is all peace and love in its marketing, but it has some issues to sort out. The New York Times recently tested the company’s “seaweed” fiber, advertised to release healthful marine chemicals on your skin, and found that it had roughly the same mineral content as … cotton.

When I bought my stink-free shirt a few weeks ago ” $64 ” I was told it was designed to be worn, say, on a camping trip, with the odor-absorbing carbon allowing you to wear the same item for a few days.

Well, at least the bears won’t be chasing me. Eleanor has been a bit standoffish as well, come to think of it.

Save your money (and your marriage).

Wash your clothes.

There’s a glut of fitness books on the market, difficult to sort through unless, for example, you want the “LL Cool J’s Platinum Workout” ($27.95) just because you’re an ardent fan of the hip-hopper. Me, I’d go for anything that explained how Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis got his abs. The Methadone Six-Pack?

If you’re tempted by this sort of gift, pay attention to the attitude of the author. Some people might find John Basedow a big turn-on, while to others he might seem like the Spawn of Stepford: a bit too creepily perfect.

One nicely voiced book that crossed my desk recently was Martina Navratilova’s “Shape Your Self” ($27.95). It includes not only exercise and nutrition information but also the author’s advice on how to motivate yourself. The workouts employ stability balls, resistance bands, foam rollers and other inexpensive equipment you can use at home.

For anyone who regularly lifts weights, “Power Training” ($19.95), published by Rodale, includes a lot of not-so-well-known exercises that would add diversity to the standard chest-press-biceps-curl rut that many men fall into. The book is refreshingly realistic in discussing what it calls “the big lie” that many fitness programs perpetuate.


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