Slinging weights around at the gym can get boring fast. So at a personal trainers’ conference last month in Alexandria, Va., I went on the hunt for the newest exercise “toys” — the props designed to boost the efficacy (and hopefully the fun) of a workout. Here are three, also available for home use, that trainers are likely to be playing up soon at a gym near you.
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Dynamax Medicine Ball
These spheres, bigger and squishier than other medicine balls, aren’t a new idea ($74-$136, www.medicineballs.com). Dynamax introduced them in the 1980s, and you’ll find them lying around at most fitness centers. But the manufacturer realized that they’re typically viewed just as weights that happen to be balls, so Dynamax Director of Education Jeremy Shore is trying to teach smarter training techniques.
One key point: “Size matters.” The 14-inch diameter means you can hold the ball in front of you without having to hunch your shoulders in. But weight is not a big factor. Although Dynamax sells balls up to 30 pounds, and there are moves specifically designed for heavier ones, Shore recommends using a four- to eight-pound ball for most exercises. “If you can’t control it, it’s dangerous,” he says.
That’s especially true when you’re hurling the ball at someone, which is what Shore says they’re meant for. The real benefit comes from being able to accelerate through the movement and let go.
Sample move: Try “sit-up throws.” The client lies down holding the ball with arms extended, and then sits up while tossing the ball to the trainer. The trainer passes it back, and the move repeats.
Trainer’s take: “There isn’t a sport here that doesn’t use them to train,” says the University of Virginia’s strength and conditioning coach Ed Nordenschild, who’s worked with Dynamax balls for nearly 20 years. One of his favorite drills is knee kicks. That’s kicking a ball up with your knee, which is something you can’t do with a hard medicine ball (unless you want monster bruises). He also appreciates that his athletes are able to throw them — and miss their targets — and not cause much damage.
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TRX Rip Trainer
The Rip Trainer ($189.95, www.trxtraining.com), a lightweight bar connected on one end to a resistance band, targets your core. You secure the band to a fixed point — it comes with a door anchor — then grab the bar. Even just standing still, you can feel your middle tighten to resist the pull of the band, and you’ll feel it more once you start mimicking movements such as hockey slap shots. Make it harder by standing farther from the anchor point, which can be moved up and down to alter an exercise.
Inventor Pete Holman was on the U.S. national taekwondo team before becoming a physical therapist, so he’d always been looking for ways to up his power. Playing around with a curtain rod, Holman developed this setup that allows users to work on generating force while rotating their body, which is how we often move in life. TRX bought the concept and gussied it up a bit. A key feature is the safety strap that’ll keep the bar from flying across the room if you fling it and accidentally let go. (It’ll also prevent you from switching sides quickly.)
Sample move: Prepare to throw some “punches” by anchoring the Rip Trainer, turning around so the resistance band is behind you and gripping the bar with hands shoulder-width apart at chest height. If your right hand is closer to the band, stagger your stance so your left leg is in front. Then thrust your right arm forward, bring it back and repeat for 30 seconds. Take a 15-second break while you switch sides.
Trainer’s take: The Sports Club/LA’s Matt Weldy scored his TRX Rip Trainer for Christmas and has been introducing it to clients at the D.C. club gradually. “It’s a new tool to give me more versatility. And to get people moving differently is what I’m all about as a trainer,” says Weldy. He’s also thinking about pairing the device with slacklining (tightrope walking on a rope that isn’t tight). “My clients won’t know what’s coming,” he says.
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Balanced Body Orbit
“It’s basically a furniture dolly,” says Balanced Body education coordinator Nora St. John. But the Orbit ($229, www.pilates.com) is a particularly lovely one, with a cushioned top that makes it more comfortable to grip and lie on. Because the four wheels let you roll, it’s also similar to the carriage of a Pilates Reformer. Only it’s smaller and allows more freedom of movement, which can mean a more challenging workout.
Rolling turns out to look pretty and feel hard. The wheels allow you to move between exercises with a graceful fluidity. For example, you can reach down and instead of touching your toes, grab the edges of the Orbit. Then, you can roll the Orbit out in front of you until you’re in plank position, hold it and then reverse. When the goal of an exercise is to make controlled movements, the Orbit’s instability — particularly on a slippery hardwood floor — can drive you nuts. Despite the difficulty, there’s something compelling about gliding around on a scooter. “Everybody sends us photos of dogs and cats on them,” St. John says.
Sample move: Work your spine with “skydiver.” Lie prone on the Orbit, lift your arms and legs (so you’re in what’s normally called “superman” on the ground). Then, give yourself a quick push with your arms so you’re spinning in circles.
Trainer’s take: Sport & Health’s Nancy Sanchez, mind/body director for the club in McLean, Va., says her private clients immediately embraced the Orbit repertoire, particularly the pendulum movements with their feet on the device and swinging from side to side.
“There’s absolutely no way to perform these exercises without digging deep to stabilize,” she says. “But you get to twist and turn and feel like you’re driving it.”
So far, Sanchez has used it only for private lessons, but she hopes to incorporate it into a circuit training group class soon.