The Best New Fitness Gear
By Kyle Western, Menís Health
Overhaul your physique with this power-boosting, fat-blasting equipment
Wall Street shouldn't rule your workout. But marketing fitness products is a big business--$5 billion in 2007--so the industry is full of gear meant to deliver fiscal dividends first and physical results second, says Fabio Comana, C.S.C.S., an educational curriculum developer for the American Council on Exercise. "There are a ton of bad fad products out there that are either ineffective, unnecessary, or dangerous," he says. His fail-safe rule for filtering out the duds? Seek out simplicity. "Recent research into how the body's muscles and joints move has given us a better idea of what type of equipment is actually effective," says Comana. Read on for our favorite low-tech, high-intensity power tools.
Best Home Gym
FreeMotion EXT Dual Cable Cross
Most home gym machines lock your limbs into one range of motion, limiting potential strength gains. The arms on this machine swivel like shipyard cranes into 108 different positions, recruiting stabilizer muscles and increasing the time muscles stay under tension. The net benefit is a superior workout, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Scientists found that compared with users of fixed-form equipment, men who work out on free-form machines saw a 58 percent greater improvement in strength and a 196 percent greater improvement in balance, and they felt 30 percent less pain. "The repetitive motions on fixed-form equipment probably cause muscular imbalances that lead to structural changes and the increase of skeletal-frame stress," says study author Keith Spennewyn, M.S., president of the National Institute of Health Science. "Free-form exercise reduces these factors by training muscles and joints together, the same way they function out in the real world." The FreeMotion machine isn't cheap, but free delivery and in-home setup sweeten the deal. ($4,000, freemotionfitness.com)
Kneeling cable pulldown: Resistance and rotation challenge your core.
Best Lo-Fi Fitness Tool
Iron Woody Woody Bag
The rugged PVC shell of this amped-up sandbag allows you to perform dynamic moves, such as snatches, jerks, and throws, without creating a dust storm in the process. "We have about 400 athletes a week using them," says Tracy Sibley, director of strength and conditioning at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. "Even with all that punishment, the bags are nearly indestructible." ($60 to $120, ironwoodyfitness.com)
This exercise builds total body strength and muscle.
Best Total-Body Tool
Fitness Anywhere TRX Suspension Trainer Force Kit
Designed by a Navy SEAL as a go-anywhere workout, this set of nylon straps creates resistance from two sources always at your disposal: body weight and gravity. Lock the straps onto any elevated fixture--a pullup bar, door, or tree branch--and you'll unlock new dimensions in your training. "Traditional isolation exercises, such as the biceps curl and side lunge, primarily occur in only one of the three planes of motion," says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. "But with multiplanar training on the TRX, we're able to strengthen muscles and joints as a group, ironing out any muscular imbalances. That makes the moves more effective, realistic, and challenging." Resistance can be adjusted from 5 percent to 100 percent of body weight by changing the incline of your body. ($210, fitnessanywhere.com)
Best Stability Trainer
These foam-topped plastic sliders transform hard floors and carpets into ice rinks, intensifying old standbys like pushups, lunges, and squats. "We can replicate the glute, hamstring, and core-focused exercises that can be done on a 10-foot slideboard in a fraction of the space," says Mike Boyle, C.S.C.S., cofounder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, in Winchester, Massachusetts. "The collegiate and pro athletes we train are always shocked with the workout intensity that can be achieved with two pieces of plastic." Simple, portable, and versatile, they're ideal travel training tools, turning hotel floors into proving grounds. ($30, valslide.com)
The reach forces the abs to step up and support the body weight.
Best New Cardio Tool
Art of Strength Ropes Gone Wild
Jump ropes are for playgrounds, right? Not if you're hurling around these python-size cables, which had us sucking wind after a 15-minute session. Instead of hopping over the ropes, though, you guide them through undulating and rotating motions, recruiting your core and taxing your heart and lungs while sparing lower-body joints from treadmill torture. "Some players love it because it's so challenging, and others hate it for the same reason," says Jason Novak, C.S.C.S., an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. "But when any of them want a conditioning boost and need to keep their legs fresh, the first thing they go for is one of these ropes." Be forewarned, however: These 30- to 100-foot manila monsters require plenty of room and a sturdy anchor point. ($85 to $350, artofstrength.com)
Muscle perk: Big waves require all-body stabilization.
Best Upper-Body Upgrade
JC Predator Band
Elastic resistance bands create constant tension that dumbbells can't match, recruiting more muscle fibers during a movement. The problem is, most bands are more brittle than Eli Manning's ego. "The Predator Band is one of the only sets that uses dipped rubber tubing comprising several layers, as opposed to the cheaper and weaker extruded rubber made of a single layer," says Grif Fig, C.S.C.S., a coach with the Institute of Human Performance in Boca Raton, Florida. Tougher guts means these bands can handle more explosive repetitions and be attached to rougher surfaces, like park benches. We also like the 4-foot, tri-tube design, which makes it easy to switch resistance between sets: Simply snap bands in or out to adjust the difficulty level. ($50, ihpfit.com)
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