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Finally: Exercise equipment for the obese

March 5, 2009 | 11:21 am

Bike_3For obese people, joining a gym can be daunting — what if they can't fit through the turnstile? What if the exercise machines aren't sturdy enough to hold them? What if people stare?

Another option is to exercise at home, although opportunities are limited there as well. But one company is offering equipment strong enough to hold up to 500 pounds, and it may spark a trend.

LivingXL is a catalog geared to larger folks (it's an offshoot of the big and tall men's catalog Casual Male), offering products such as camping gear, bathroom scales and towels. Early on it also carried bike helmets and bicycle seats for larger people, but as the company's chief executive soon found out, more was needed.

"We got inundated right away about exercise equipment," David Levin said. "People said, 'There's nothing for me,' 'We need to exercise,' and 'The stuff out there today is not designed for our size and weight.' "

Since much wasn't available on the market, the company had to find other sources, which it did. New York-based Worksman Cycles makes the catalog's heavy-duty bicycles for men and women, plus an adult tricycle, all of which hold up to 500 pounds. From Theracycle there's the Motorized Total Body Workout Machine, a souped-up stationary bike that will hold up to 550 pounds. Exercise accessories in LivingXL include a belt and weights for pool workouts; the belt extends to fit a 61-inch waist.

Prices are not cheap — those Worksman cycles are $550 to $1,350, and the motorized stationary bike is a whopping $5,000. It makes that aqua exercising set seems like a steal at $80.

Levin is aware that those prices are high, especially in today's economy: "We're trying our best to source new products so we can get to more affordable prices. We're in the early stages of this ourselves."

Worksman has been making industrial-grade bicycles and tricycles for years for use in places such as movie studio lots and factories, but when they started selling to the public they discovered another fan base: overweight people. "The e-mails we got confirmed that people were so glad there was something they could ride and not feel left out," said company President Wayne Sosin. "They felt confident and safe."

These aren't the only options for the overweight. Star Trac's consumer and commercial cardio machines are built to handle up to 350 pounds. But while the trend in consumer and commercial exercise equipment is toward high-tech machines, will gear also be built tougher to accommodate a larger population?

"I wouldn't be surprised if the industry saw the opportunity to provide exercise machines and equipment for these populations to make exercise more accessible for them," said Kara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Boston-based International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Assn., a fitness industry trade organization. "Clubs would be looking at a huge return on their investment because they'd see a huge increase in traffic, and people would feel comfortable and welcomed."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo of Living XL's Women's Heavy-Duty Bicycle courtesy of LivingXL

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