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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Review : Total Gym 1000

by Scott Bird

I love this thing.

Total Gym 1000
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the Total Gym infomercials featuring the well-known faces of Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley, the photo at right should give you an idea of the basic arrangement. It’s essentially an inclined bench (with a sliding pad), and a cable at each side to lift/lower the user along the bench. A very simple setup.

The company was founded in 1974 by Tom Campanaro, Larry Westfall, and Dale Mc Murray - with the product changing little since then. As the height of the incline was soon changeable (with 6 heights available on the 1000 model I’m currently using), adjusting the resistance of various bodyweight exercises became a simple matter and the Total Gym products were taken up largely for rehab use. In that respect they’re still ideal.

In the mid-90s the Total Gym was brought to a home-user market, with an advertising campaign featuring the Norris/Brinkley combination in 1996 and a website (totalgym.com) the same year. Several advertising campaigns later, the Total Gym range still boasts large numbers of both home and medical centre users.

I am still surprised at how effective the setup (at least on the 1000) feels; whilst I’m not expecting to build large slabs of muscle with it, I’m experiencing far more muscle soreness than following typical bodyweight workouts. All of the exercises I’ve tried so far (and there are far more than you might imagine - it’s a very versatile setup) have been using the steepest incline, which averages out at around 44% of bodyweight. That may sound quite light, but keep in mind that everything on the Total Gym is a compound exercise, and there’s more balance and control involved than in many bodyweight movements.

In addition to its common rehab uses, the Total Gym is also a good intermediate point for a few of the more difficult bodyweight+free-weight exercises; such as chin-ups and handstand push-ups. Neither of these are easy, but using 44% of bodyweight brings them a little closer to attainability.

Overall, think of the Total Gym as another tool that can be used. It certainly isn’t better (or worse) than any other form of resistance exercise, but very good at what it does. The only point I’d make on the range available is that many of the optional extras seem quite pointless to me; such as the extra hooks, cables, pins and plates (yes, you can add weight plates to them - but if you really want to lift weights, why start with a Total Gym?). Grab one of the simpler models (usually the lower numbers - which are changing all the time). You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

My own setup

I first tried out the Total Gym in May 2004, when I was at my parents' house in Sydney (the city I now call home). With no power rack in sight, and desperate to do a little strength training, I decided to give it a thorough test.

As you may have guessed, it held up extremely well. I was amazed at the versatility afforded by such a simple thing, as well as the amount of work it enabled me to do. It was a great workout.

Where does it fit into my routines now? This really depends on the type of exercises I perform on it. Generally it forms part of a warm-up (light ab work, angled shoulder presses and so on) or a cardio routine on its own (many, many types of rows). Whatever I'm doing, it fits in nicely.


If you haven't seen the infomercials for this wonderful device, here's Chuck Norris putting it through its paces. Superb.

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