Going negative – let’s start with my elliptical

I’m feeling a little grouchy this morning and I’m not sure why. It could be due to my workout this morning. The workout itself was fine, about 23 minutes on the elliptical. What wasn’t fine was the noise that my BH Fitness X1 unit often makes during operation. I’ve written before about my dislike for (among other things) the noise that my treadmill motor produces and lauded the elliptical for its quiet, human-powered operation. Unfortunately my X1 still manages to create a racket often producing a loud clicking/banging noise that’s hard to tolerate. We’ve had people service the unit four times. They have no remedy for the noise and each time the unit has been serviced it has operated a little worse than before. Hard to know if my unit is a lemon or if BH Fitness just makes problematic equipment. Either way, I suggest that anyone who’s considering buying a “gym quality” elliptical to avoid BH Fitness units.

While I’m complaining I’ll turn attention back to the treadmill. I read an interesting column in Running Times yesterday called “Step Off the Treadmill” written by Tamara Rice Lave, a former US IAAF marathoner. Her complaints about the treadmill were consistent with the mine (and those who have commented on the subject). Lave did present a balanced view and admitted that it works well for many. I spent a few minutes looking at the sunrise calendar yesterday desperately hoping to see that daylight and 4:00 AM would coincide some time this summer. Unfortunately not, the earliest sunrise is 5:23 so I’m going to have to keep running indoors in the morning.

I’ve been adding one long run into my routine every week and it’s helped get my weekly distance up closer to 20 miles. I want to be in good shape to run my 8K and I really want to run the Great Cow Harbor 10K in the fall. AG is running the Patch Sprint this weekend which is a grueling 12 mile course over the four Pok-O-Patch mountains. The note that accompanies the waiver indicates “IT IS VERY POSSIBLE THAT YOU WILL DIE BECAUSE MEDICAL PERSONNEL CANNOT PHYSICALLY GET TO YOU IN TIME.” Sounds like fun!

The fitness of my elliptical machine

This week we closed a chapter in the saga of my BH Fitness elliptical machine when the manufacturer sent their own service tech to replace a number of parts. The retailer, Fitness Showrooms, abdicated responsibility for the machine after a few failed attempts to fix its numerous ills. I’ve crossed Fitness Showrooms off the list of stores I’ll ever patronize again.

BH Fitness replaced everything (some parts for the fourth time) and the net result remains disappointing. The HRM is still completely inaccurate and the display is difficult to read when operating the unit. I would have been better off sticking with the original unit with a bad HRM. I’m not sure it’s the machine itself, design engineering flaws or tech incompetency (this last round my wife had to point out to him that he’d installed the arms backwards) but I’m not going to endorse this unit.

I was going to use the machine this morning but my muscle soreness on my right hip made me rethink doing a lower body workout. I ended up doing about 20 minutes of arms and upper body work. My HRM readings showed it wasn’t much work at all so I can hardly count it as a conditioning day. If I feel less sore tomorrow I’ll consider a run. Otherwise I’ll try a round with the elliptical which will hopefully put less strain on my injured area.

Fitness Showrooms: Deal or bad deal?

The latest episode in the ongoing saga of our BH Fitness elliptical machine played out yesterday when the Fitness Showrooms tech replaced the X1 display and logic board for the third time since November.

Unfortunately this didn’t solve the problem with the inaccurate heart rate monitor (HRM) nor did it fix the problem with the angle of the display. So the net result of all of this is that we’re back to the starting point with a unit that doesn’t provide a key capability. We are actually worse off than when we started because the original display was properly centered but the last two displays have sat off center.

What’s frustrating is that the Fitness Showrooms tech told my wife that the HRMs don’t work on these machines and that includes the one in their showroom. While Fitness Showrooms was happy to use the HRM as a selling feature they’ve refused to rebate the cost to buy an accurate, wearable HRM. Although I like the design and feel of the X1 I am tempted to send it back and buy another brand that has more features and that works as promised.

If I do decide to buy another elliptical I won’t be getting it from Fitness Showrooms. Their position is that we should address our problems with the unit directly with the manufacturer, BH Fitness. Fitness Showrooms represented the HRM as a key feature in order to make the sale. But, to date, they have not stood behind what they sold.

Core competencies

This month’s Runner’s World ran a story on core fitness that illustrated the various muscles that, when developed, enhance a runner’s performance. The other side of this is the injuries that are likely to occur if a runner fails to condition properly. I decided to try the 15 minute workout to gauge the impact and to see if it isolated muscles that I’ve, ahem, neglected. I was pleased to see that not only was the workout (5 exercises) possible to do in 15 minutes it was more relaxing than arduous. The article had very clear illustrations and provided guidance on how to ensure you were doing it correctly. They even suggested ways to make it harder. Maybe next time for that.

After the core exercises I was very energized and decided to do a medium long run. We’re going to a family event tonight and I didn’t want to be too tired to socialize (admittedly, I have trouble in that area under any circumstance) so I cut my run a little short of 4 miles. The good news was the core exercises provided a great lead in for the start of my run. No “stage 1” struggles and the first mile came so fast I had to check twice to make sure I wasn’t misreading the display. The bad news was I grew very tired around mile 3. I kept on telling myself the glycogen boost was imminent I just needed to hold on but the boost didn’t come. Being slightly insane I constantly calculate my pace by looking at the time and mileage on the treadmill and the mileage on the Sportband. That’s a lot of math to do in real time but it gives me a good distraction. I can tell if I’m losing steam when the mileage numbers on my Sportband (which is tied to stride and foot speed) and the mileage on the treadmill (a constant) begin to diverge. That happened around 3.1 miles (at least I hit 5K at intended pace) and I barely managed to run another half mile before I slowed to cool down.

So I think I will integrate the core exercise workout into my fitness program but it’s going to be difficult to find the time to do it consistently. Perhaps I can do it at night although my time after I get home from work is already short. Well 15 minutes isn’t a very long time so I can’t make excuses. The energy boost you get is worth the effort.

When bad things happen to good elliptical machines

I’ve talked before about how the elliptical workout complements running and I have been very happy with my machine, the BH Fitness X1. The only issue I have with the unit is that its heart rate monitor has been completely inaccurate. The people at Fitness Showrooms have been responsive to my complaints and ordered a replacement unit that was installed yesterday. I was very excited to use the unit today but was ultimately disappointed to see that the service tech installed the HRM and display unit off center so that the display is very difficult to read while in use. Well, at least that would be fixable with some adjustments. I was further disappointed when I started using the machine only to see the starting pulse at 175 and the HRM reading out between 190 and 43 throughout my workout. The readings (which did not in any way tie to my level of exertion) jumped around so much it was almost like the monitor was generating random numbers.
I’ve asked the supplier for a modest refund so I can buy a watch with a built in heart monitor. I’ll wait to hear how they respond. In the meantime I’m open to suggestions on who has the best HRM watch for under $100.

A new way to use the elliptical

A combination of pushing too hard and stretching too little this weekend aggravated a muscle in my leg. My wife told me I should skip today’s exercise but I just couldn’t. Mondays are elliptical days for me and although I felt it had less impact on my muscle strain than running I decided not to use it for my legs. Instead, I straddled the elliptical machine but only worked the arms. Unlike the normal use where resistance is minimal at the first level, this experience was more akin to cross country skiing. Increasing the resistance made the effort very challenging. I ended up doing 15 minutes which was enough to get my heart rate up for a while. It wasn’t the same amount of exertion as running but today was scheduled to be a light to moderate workout. Besides that, my upper arms are not used to working that hard and I didn’t want to pull a muscle there either. I had not heard of anyone using the elliptical this way but I plan to use it for upper arm training even after my short break from running.

Fitness Showrooms responds

In an earlier post I mentioned that the heart rate monitor on our new BH Fitness elliptical was wildly inaccurate. I requested a solution from Fitness Showrooms and they responded very quickly by ordering a replacement part. They will send a tech to install it when it comes in. I don’t know what kind of response I would have got from a big sporting goods chain but I am very pleased with the level of service we’ve received from Fitness Showrooms.

Problem with my elliptical machine

We looked at a number of elliptical machines before buying ours. After much discussion with friends and lots of online research we ended up buying an X1 from BH Fitness. It’s a quality unit and we bought it from a company called Fitness Showrooms that sells high end equipment. Our unit was reasonably priced and it seemed to be built better than the units they sell at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Overall we are happy with the unit and the service (we had some small installation problems and a tech from Fitness Showrooms came by and addressed most of them). One problem that remains is that the heart rate monitor is completely inaccurate. I wonder if it was installed backward because my starting point is usually a HR of 170 and after a fairly intense session it drops below 100. The Fitness Showrooms tech told my wife that the HRM won’t work if there is a computer in the same room or even on the same floor as the elliptical unit. I know enough about wireless networks to debate that. First, although it isn’t listed in the manual I’m assuming that the the elliptical’s control panel operates on a different frequency as my home network. Second, the HRM doesn’t work even when when the computer is off. I’m going to ask the dealer to fix it or rebate me the value of the HRM so I can buy one like the Polar RS100 watch.

Cross training with an elliptical machine

I run every morning and as I increase my distance I worry about the impact on my body. We got a BH Fitness elliptical machine on Friday and it gives me an opportunity to alternate between running and a lower impact form of aerobic exercise. I used it this morning instead of running (first time I’ve not run since early Sept. – I feel a little guilty). It will be interesting to see if I feel more rested tomorrow when I run.

I had a long weekend and ran longer than usual on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m thinking about entering a 5K race some time in early 2009.