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December 3, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: What's the best machine in the gym?

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Christian DeBenedetti, in a November 24 New York Times story, attempted to answer this question.

In a most interesting approach to the ongoing controversy — among users and machine–makers alike — about which of the many varieties of machines provide the best workout, DeBenedetti "... asked 10 experts — physiologists, researchers, doctors and personal trainers — to rate the five most popular cardio machines on five criteria" —

• Cardio benefit

• Calories burned

• Muscles used

• Wear and tear

• Monotony factor

They compared the stair climber, treadmill, rowing machine, elliptical and stationary bike.

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The results, in order, winner first:

1) Elliptical

2) Treadmill and Rowing machine (tie)

3) Stair climber

4) Stationary bike

So that settles it, right?

Get on the elliptical and forget about the others... right?

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Not so fast.

Let's go BehindTheGymspeak for a moment, shall we?

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The rankings were established by the following formula:

1) Each of the 10 experts gave each of the five machines a rating of 1 to 10 in the five categories noted above

2) 10 = excellent for a given category; 1 = poor. Thus, a 10 in monotony means a machine is not boring at all, because to be not boring is a good thing = a high score

3) The highest possible score for a machine is 500 (10 x 10 x 5)

Now, take a look at the actual raw numerical scores in the table below. (Unless you're a robot or a hawk, you'll find it easier to click on the graphic to enlarge it.)

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Wrote DeBenedetti in his article, "The winner, by a solid margin, is the elliptical trainer."

Say what?

This guy is a drug company representative in the making, with that kind of statistical "analysis."

Because when I consider the final scores — 369, 340, 334 and 313 — on their scale of 50 to 500 I see no practical difference at all.

This kind of number massage is precisely why most science articles in the lay press — and many in scientific journals — draw unjustified and often erroneous conclusions from the raw data presented.

You tell me that those are blood sugar values, I'll tell you they're essentially the same.

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High, but functionally the same in terms of what I'd do to treat them.

Often attributed — erroneously, it turns out — to Mark Twain is the following statement: "There are three types of lies — lies, damned lies and statistics."

In confirming that "fact" I learned it was not at all a fact, or even remotely the case.

Here's a nice bit of detective work that seems to pin down the origin of the famous phrase.

Would that my crack research team were capable of this kind of performance.

But I digress.

Catherine Saint Louis wrote a useful accompanying article entitled "What Not to Do At the Gym," about how not to use the five machines featured in the main story.

You'll find me here

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tomorrow morning and every morning after that.

Same as it ever was.

December 3, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

Best things in gym for me were: bar with 300lbs for deadlifts, chin-up bar, and jumprope. Oh, and health insurance, lots of health insurance.

Posted by: Hugo | Dec 3, 2005 9:38:06 PM

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