No-frills fitness

Workouts that use the whole body need not involve expensive, high-tech exercise machines



The buzz in fitness these days is all about "functional training," which is good news for those looking for low-cost alternatives to workout machines.

Definitions tend to be fuzzy, but the idea is that your fitness regimen should mimic the physical stresses of your day-to-day life or sport. It typically involves the whole body. Maybe you've seen that guy at your gym balancing on a wobbly ball while he lifts dumbbells. That's functional training. He's working on his core stabilizing muscles and bodybuilding at the same time.

You're usually seated when you work out at a machine, explains Penny Crozier, who runs the California-based C.h.e.k. Institute, which trains fitness professionals. (Its founder, Paul Chek, is one of the leading advocates of functional training.) You're not using your whole body to balance, which you do when, for instance, you lift groceries from the back seat of the car. Fitness machines also have a fixed axis, so every repetition is the same - unlike, say, hitting a racquetball.

Chek says he can achieve the same results as a $2,000 Pilates Reformer with a Swiss Ball and a wooden dowel rod. Such pronouncements have led to some new gyms eschewing Nautilus and Cybex machines and opening instead with low-cost, portable equipment like stability, medicine and Bosu balls; speed agility products; dumbbells; bands and tubing.

The downside, warns Scott Lucett, director of education for the National Association of Sports Medicine, is that some athletic trainers are so taken with the idea that they don't personalize the program for the individual.

"A lot of people see that the exercises are outside of the box, think they're neat and have their clients do them who aren't capable of it," he says.

Some beginners may need to start on a machine for stabilization and then wean themselves off. And some fitness fanatics will mix functional training with machine-based training just to vary their routines. But until the next craze comes along, you'll probably see people who used to spend their time on machine-based workouts throwing medicine balls and doing speed agility drills instead.

Store opening

Beauty First

Timonium and York roads,

410- 252-8521

If you wash your hair with whatever drugstore shampoo is on sale, read no further. But if you love to pamper yourself with high-end brands, head for Beauty First, now open in Timonium Crossing.

The store stocks professional products like Redken, Skinceuticals and O.P.I., and hard-to-find items like The Thymes line and those oh-so-trendy lip plumpers. Need quality cosmetic brushes, Votivo candles or European soaps? Beauty First has them.

Plus there's a massage therapist on staff (giving free five-minute chair massages on Tuesdays and Thursdays when he doesn't have clients). And in a couple of months, Beauty First's full-service salon should be up and running.


Jump Start

Jumping rope is a great way to get in shape. Just don't be surprised if you can only go for a minute or so at first. Here are some tips from the newOutside Fitness by Paul Scott (Countryman Press, $22.95).

Aim for a pace of 2 to 3 jumps a second.

Stay upward on the balls of your feet and flex your knees.

Avoid looking at yourself in the mirror; it will throw your rhythm off.

Start with an easy double-leg hop. Move on to double-leg jumps just high enough to clear the rope.

Move on to alternating single-leg jumps, two-left, two-right.

Progess to repeat single-leg jumps. (Do sets of 10.)

For advanced jumpers: Try a crossover, where you cross your arms in front and uncross them as you bring the rope up from behind.

Finally, try two swings per jump.


Spa incentives

According to a recent Harris survey, only 33 percent of American women have ever been to a spa. aims to change that by persuading visitors to the site that spa going isn't a luxury, but a necessity - and an affordable one at that.

That means the site offers lots of ways to save on spa vacations and day spa visits, including specials, discounts, promotions and reward programs. There's also a nationwide directory, getaway of the month, spa sweepstakes, explanations of treatments and spa etiquette tips.


Feminine Mystique

If you embrace the feminine side of this spring's fashion trends - ruffles, chiffon, lace and white dresses - don't forget your makeup is part of the look. Lancome's spring collection emphasizes delicate pastels in innocent shades of pink, peach and lavender, sheer lips and romantic eyes. Pictured is model Daria Werbowy wearing Lancome's Enchantress line, at department store counters now.

PRICE: $14.50-$38


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