Caution: Dueling Sweat Machines

THE BOOMING HOME-FITNESS industry is developing both well-defined abs and sharp elbows. Rivals are churning out infomercials that snipe at each other's exercise contraptions. But nothing tops the rancor between the makers of two hot-selling--and similar--new machines where you push on both pedals and handlebars for a total body workout.

The maker of HealthRider, ExerHealth in Salt Lake City, accuses Icon, the manufacturer of CardioGlide, of unethically slamming Health-Rider in a fitness magazine that has links to Icon. Shape magazine's December issue knocked HealthRider as being possibly harmful to the lower back--and didn't mention its relationship with CardioGlide. Until November, when Boston's Bain Capital purchased it, Icon, based in Logan, Utah, was owned by Weider Health & Fitness, Shape's publisher. Two Weider execs, though, now sit on Icon's board. "They didn't disclose this," gripes Gary Smith, chief executive of Ex-erHealth.

Icon denies having anything to do with the article. And Shape Editor-in-Chief Barbara Harris says an independent expert rated HealthRider. Plus, Harris notes, the magazine also gave a thumbs-down to another Icon product, Jane Fonda's Walk to the Music treadmill.

This flareup is in the nasty spirit of the half-hour infomercials that sell a lot of this stuff. CardioGlide ads say HealthRider is too expensive; HealthRider's say CardioGlide isn't as effective. And with family-oriented baby boomers increasingly spending more time at home and less in the gym, conflict in this $2.5 billion market is sure to intensify.

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