by Rhian Hunt
My first introduction to the world of exercise machines, decades ago, was in the form of the NordicTrack – a machine I never actually used, but which came to be synonymous with ski-based exercise devices. You can doubtlessly imagine my surprise when, renewing my acquaintance with ski machines years later, their most advanced models no longer resembled the NordicTrack in concept, action, or appearance. In place of the sliding footboards and cord-based ‘ski-pole’ simulator of the original, ski trainers are now lateral machines.
This means that the exercise is carried out not by sliding the legs straight back and forth, but by undulating the legs and body laterally, from side to side, mimicking an almost slalom-like motion by professional skiers. Speed-skating is also the inspiration for these devices. The powerful but smooth movement of the body exercises most of the muscles in the legs and torso without stressing the joints, building strength while minimizing the chance of injury.
Two of the lateral ski trainers on the market today are the Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer and the Body Glide SST6000 Ski-Skate Trainer. At the most basic level, both offer a similar workout, based on side-to-side motion meant to simulate skiing and skating. However, their price points are considerably different, with the Body Glide SST6000 costing twice as much as the Pro Fitter 3D, and a simple glance confirming the totally different design philosophies that went into each.
Taking a closer look at these two systems reveals that each has its strengths and weaknesses, and examining these helps the potential user decide which better suits their needs.
The Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer – a Stripped-Down, Inexpensive Model
Built of metal, wood, and plastic, the Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer is by far the more economical of the two exercise machines. The design of the machine is straightforward – it is a platform with a rounded bottom which rocks from side to side, while the user, standing on two moving foot boards, slides from one end to the other, imitating the lateral undulation of slalom skiing. The Trainer definitely provides what it is meant to provide – a ski-like lateral workout that is strong on the muscles and easy on the joints. There are 6 settings of tension, as well as a half-hour training video and an exercise chart with close to two dozen exercises illustrated. Maximum weight capacity is 350 pounds.
The construction of the Pro Fitter 3D is solid, and the wooden elements might actually help to make it more long-lasting, since wood can flex and compact without developing microscopic fractures as is the case with metal. The ski trainer will definitely be used in such a way that it flexes constantly during use, so the natural ‘bounce’ of the wood might help to keep it in working condition for a long period of time.
However, the low price of the Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer and its simple, straightforward design come with several major trade-offs. One is that there is no built-in monitoring of any kind, meaning that exercisers who want to track their progress – and remain within safe heart rate limits – will need to buy additional equipment from other companies to track any information beyond what they can guess from how they feel.
The largest downside to the Pro Fitter 3D, however, are the safety issues that the design entails. There is no built in system of hand-grips, so the user must attempt to stabilize themselves by bending over sharply at the waist, which may be a problem for some users. Additionally, falling over is a real risk with no support for the upper body and no way to recover from a poorly-executed lateral motion. Some users report falling and injuring themselves extensively, especially since the feet can become tangled with the foot boards while falling, resulting in gashes or potentially bone-breaking wrenches.
Those who use the Pro Fitter 3D must maintain their concentration and use the machine carefully, because the possibility of injury is quite real in a system with no safety features whatsoever. Strong lateral motion is also not a type that most people have any experience with, and for this reason, it is especially easy for beginners or those who are using the machine as part of a physical therapy regimen to topple off the machine, collecting an assortment of bruises, cuts, and sprains in the process.
The Body Glide SST6000 Ski-Skate Trainer
The Body Glide SST6000 Ski Trainer is a much more expensive model than the Pro Fitter 3D – more than twice as expensive, in fact. However, it possesses many strengths that the Pro Fitter 3D lacks – such as effective safety features – while offering the same intensive lateral workout that exercises the major muscle groups without impacting the joints. The ski-skate machine uses two-foot pedals with a magnetic resistance system that makes operation nearly silent, meaning that the Body Glide SST6000 can be used late at night, early in the morning, or while watching television or a movie without disturbing other people in the house. The magnetic resistance system is powered by ordinary household current, and gives 16 different levels of resistance, compared to the Pro Fitter’s 6.
The Body Glide SST6000 Ski-Skate Trainer includes a computerized monitor which allows the user to track their progress and level of effort (as well as ensure that exercise intensity is remaining within safe limits), and 24 programs, including a fitness test and 5 programs which can be customized by the user. The handrail includes built-in pulse sensors which both provide visible measures of effort and operate three of the included programs.
The handrail is one of the best features of the system as well. Wrapped around the Body-Glide on three sides, built of heavy-duty metal tubing and padded for comfort and a secure grip, the handrail provides the SST6000 with a robust safety measure that is almost foolproof unless the user loses consciousness or leaps backwards off the trainer. I was very impressed with this feature because of the strong possibility of falling at some time in the absence of such a handrail – simply relying on balance while flinging your body from side to side on a shifting surface is a gamble against injury on a system that is supposed to promote health, not damage it.
Conclusion – Which Is Better?
For limited-budget exercisers who want to gain the impact-free benefit of lateral ski machine use, and who are willing to gamble against a significant chance of falling and possibly injuring themselves due to a total lack of safety features, the Pro Fitter 3D Cross Trainer is probably the first choice. It is risky but relatively frugal, and as long as nothing goes wrong, it will get the job done.
On almost all levels except its price relative to the Pro Fitter, however, the Body Glide SST6000 Ski-Skate Trainer is a far better choice. It is far more functional as an exercise device with its quiet design, finely-adjustable range of 16 resistance settings, smoother operation, and the highly important addition of a monitor that allows actual tracking of heart rate and exercise progress. It is also much safer with the sturdy handrail, which keeps the ski machine user safely upright at all times. In this case, it would appear, you get what you pay for – and what you are paying for with the Body Glide is much greater exercise flexibility and freedom from the constant threat of accidental injury.