NEW YORK (Reuters) - Santa's fitness elves have affixed smartphone technology to home equipment, programmed Tour de France terrain into stationary bikes and stuffed holiday stockings with trendy and functional workout toys.
Home treadmills, those stalwarts of basement exercise intentions, are becoming so sturdy, smart and sophisticated that they're giving the fitness center machines a run for their money, according to Colleen Logan of ICON Fitness, a Utah-based equipment company.
"Consumers can check email, watch news, shop online and do everything they now do with a tablet," Logan said of the new NordicTrack X9i, a home treadmill with an Android browser built into the console. "This is a brick house; a 100-percent gym experience at home."
Technology has revamped the stationary bike as well. The ProForm Tour de France, which inclines and declines to 20 percent, allows the home exerciser virtual access all 21 legs of the Tour de France bicycle race.
"This is really a cycling trainer, not just a stationary bike," Logan explained.
Treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike or stair stepper, before you surprise someone with a big-ticket item, make sure it's one they'll use, advises Jessica Matthews of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
"When it comes to cardio (machines), be in tune with what they're in tune with," she said. "So much depends on personal preference."
Of course, the smaller the gift, the smaller the worry.
Among the many trendy stocking stuffers for sale in this season of giving, Matthews calls the ViPr, a hollow, handled cylinder designed to be pushed, dragged, lifted tilted thrown and flipped, a great functional training tool that doesn't take up a lot of space.
"It's a 'wow' gift for the fitness enthusiast that works all range of motion," she said.
Also topping her list are Sandbells, stackable neoprene bags filled with sand that provide a soft and droppable substitute for dumbbells.
"It's a great option for older adults," she said.
Other colorful new items include the Kamagon ball, which adjusts resistance by adding or removing water, and Ripstix, the weighted drumsticks that have been adding an upper body workout component to many hip-hop and Zumba classes.
For a back-to-basics option, ACE's FitKit includes a stability ball, resistance tubes, a stretch mat and medicine ball.
"We review a lot of consumer products," Matthews explained. "We worked with manufacturers to find the most versatile, affordable, durable pieces of equipment."
Also common as Christmas lights are DVD packages with small props added in: a yoga strap for beginning yogis, an inflatable ball for Pilates workouts.
"We started putting our DVDs with equipment three or four years ago," said Julie Cartwright of Anchor Bay Entertainment. "It made a lot of sense to offer a full solution in one box."
Or consider coaxing your recalcitrant couch potato with a subscription to a workout or wellness site, such as Bettercheaperslower.com, or a subscription to Yoga Journal.
Whatever new and unfamiliar activity you're gifting, remember the morning after.
"Our three-in-one self-massage roll nests two foam rollers and one massage stick into a single product," said Logan. "It's the perfect recovery tool."