Does the Total Gym Work?

Young man drinking water in a gym
Muscular man sitting in a gym drinking water (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images)

There are some mighty strange pieces of infomercial exercise equipment out there -- but not everything you see advertised on television is a hoax. Case in point, the Total Gym -- one of the original "poster children" for infomercial exercise equipment -- is an effective, even therapeutic, piece of equipment, as long as you have realistic expectations and use it properly.

How It Works

The Total Gym could be called a glideboard gym, because you perch on a board that glides up and down a pair of inclined rails. You control the glideboard's movement by pushing or pulling on handles attached to cables that run from the top of the glideboard, through pulleys at the top of the inclined rails and back down to your hands. Your body weight plus the weight of the glideboard itself are the sources of resistance. You can change how much of your weight you lift -- in other words, the resistance level -- by adjusting the rails to a higher incline for more resistance or a lower incline for less resistance.

Where It Excels

A Total Gym workout is enough to challenge almost anybody, but it really excels at forcing your muscles to stabilize your joints as they exert power; if one arm pushes or pulls more than the other, you're going to notice it. Yet at the same time, you don't have to worry about dropping any weights on yourself. Those are just two of the reasons why the Total Gym and similar glideboard gyms are so commonly used in therapeutic settings, although they can provide similar benefits in the comfort of your own home.

The Total Gym's Limitations

Like all exercise equipment, every model of the Total Gym has an upper limit for how much weight it can support. If your body weight plus any weights you intend to add to the Total Gym surpass -- or even come close to -- the weight limit for a particular model, you could be at risk of a fall or other injury if the Total Gym breaks. Consider upgrading to another model; you'll have a better workout experience overall. For example, the Total Gym 2000 only has a 300-pound weight limit, while the Total Gym FIT and Total Gym XLS can both support up to 400 pounds.

When It Doesn't Work

In order to continue developing your muscular strength and endurance, you must subject your muscles to increasingly greater challenges; this is known as progressive overload. Although the Total Gym can do a lot for you, it limits you to lifting about 70 percent of your body weight at most -- and in many cases, 50 percent or less. If you develop your muscles to the point where this is no longer a challenge, it'll be time to look for another piece of exercise equipment.

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