From the infamous Thighmaster to the downright peculiar Shake Weight, the fitness industry is saturated with products promising big results with little effort. Six-Pack abs in sixty seconds? Only in your dreams. Shoes that tone your legs and behind? Better keep on walking. That's not to say all gadgets are a waste of your time (and money). There are products out there that actually work, whether by helping you target specific muscle groups or offering a mental boost to push you past physical thresholds. If you're seeking a little extra motivation, or just itching for something new to play with, we've rounded up 20 pieces of gear—from high-tech toys to gym staples-- that will actually help you get in shape.
By all means, you can run or walk off fat. But bouncing it off is just so much more fun. With the rebounder--a fancy name for a mini trampoline--you can jump, jog, and just have a good time while torching up to 1,000 calories per hour. Other boosts to bouncing: It can speed up your metabolism, cleanse your body of icky toxins by stimulating the lymphatic system, and give you more energy to boot. Plus, it’s low-impact, so you don’t have to worry about doing damage to your joints. Many gyms have rebounders available, or you can buy one of your own to use at home (prices range from £50-£200).
Short for “both sides up,” the BOSU trainer provides two types of workouts from one piece of gear. Use either side to make upper body exercises--such as pushups, planks, or other abs movements--more difficult by adding instability and forcing your muscles to work harder. But be wary of standing on the ball for exercises--research shows that doing exercises on one leg is a better (and safer) way to build balance and stability. All together, you’ll work your body harder without adding weight. Many gyms offer BOSU trainer classes, or you can opt to add one to your home gym for around £60 (check out the BOSU Total Training System; which comes with a set of workout DVDs).
There’s a reason why Gwen Stefani and swimmer Christine Magnuson, an Olympic medalist, are hooked on TRX. The suspension system--which uses nylon straps and your own body weight to build strength, balance, flexibility and core stability--was created by a US Navy SEAL and targets every part of your body in one workout. Just fasten the straps to a sturdy tree branch or piece of gym equipment and you have 300+ exercise options (including lunges, chest presses and one-legged squats) TRX is available at many gyms, or shop for your own (the pro kit, which includes the straps and a training DVD is available at amazon.co.uk for £180).
Forget plain old pedometers: The Nike+ Fuelband records your activity plus counts the calories you’ve burned--and encourages you every step of the way. Using a calculation based on your rate of motion and oxygen consumption, the Fuelband works with a points-based estimate of how much “fuel” you burn every day while you do anything active--from running to walking to dancing. Set a points goal for yourself--based on time, calories burned, or distance--and then watch the band go from red to green as you beat it. Need even more motivation? Sync up to the Nike+ website for personalised progress reports, tips on hitting your goals, and virtual trophies and rewards.(£139)
Plug in underwater with the UWaterG4, a walnut-sized waterproof MP3 player. It’s so tiny, you can clip it onto your goggles with the elastic headband (or fasten it to your suit). It’s even got a flotation device in case it comes loose. Just press play and let the upbeat grooves of whomever floats your, um, backstroke, motivate you through that last set of laps.
How do you up the intensity of your Pilates workout? Put a ring on it. Squeezing this steering wheel-sized orb engages whatever muscle group you're working on and helps them work overtime every time you lift and lower. The ring’s resistance also works to keep your body properly aligned and your core tight. No wonder it’s also known as the magic circle.
Reebok inTouch Heart Rate Monitor
Strap on the Reebok inTouch Heart Rate Monitor to keep track of just how hard you’re working while you go the distance--no chest strap required. All you have to do is touch the screen to get an update on your heart rate and calories burned, while the Fit Zone Indicator feature keeps you on a perfect pace. And unlike many clunky fitness trackers, this version is sleek enough to wear as an everyday watch.
Just Dance 3
Who said video games are for couch potatoes? Shake off the fat with Just Dance 3, available for the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation3. Even if you don’t have moves like Jagger, it’s still fun to try and match the prescribed choreography and gain enough points to advance to the next level. Manufacturers claim that 30 minutes of playing Just Dance can burn 190 calories. And with your pick of songs from Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” to Aretha Franklin’s “Think”, there are plenty of tunes to keep everyone entertained.
Talk about music to our ears: Motorola’s MotoActv not only keeps tabs on your workouts (tracking time, distance, speed, calories, and heart rate) it also figures out which songs pump you up most, and then creates a personalised playlist. How? The program measures your performance against your tunes accessed from a built-in MP3 player. With 8GB of memory, you can load up to 4,000 songs right on your wrist.
Iron Gym Pullup Bar
If the gym is closed and playground monkey bars make you feel ridiculous, you can work your back and biceps in the comfort of your home with the Iron Gym Pullup Bar. Portable and lightweight, the bar attaches to almost any door frame –so you can get your pullup on anywhere around the house. You can also place the bar on the floor and knock out a few sets of dips and push ups.
Those long, foam logs you’ve probably noticed laying around at your gym are the ticket to preventing muscle soreness--and potentially sidelining injuries. By simply rolling over sore and stiff spots, like your hamstrings, quads and middle back, you’ll break up muscle knots with your body weight. This improves bloodflow, aids flexibility, and can provide serious relief from aches and pains. Think of the foam roller as a personal masseuse--without the hefty price tag.
Here’s one way to raise the bar on your next workout: Incorporate a Body Bar, a simple but effective tool for increasing strength and flexibility. These weighted, easy-to-grip can be used for resistance training or stretching.
These gigantic playground balls have bounced their way to gyms around the world as tools for doing everything from improving your balance to whittling your waistline. An easy way to target trouble spots, exercises with a stability ball can work the muscles in your legs, core and upper body.
Don’t get the wrong idea when we say this, but a little bit of latex—or rubber—goes a long way. A recent study showed that using bands--also known as resistance bands or stretch cords--can be as effective at improving strength as weight machines. These stretchy training tools work to build muscle mass and power by adding resistance as you pull, lift, and stretch. Plus, they're cheap and portable enough to pack anywhere, so you'll never have an excuse for skipping out on a toning session.
Believe it or not, the Nano is now in its sixth generation. And while it may have shed past features such as the camcorder, games and an alarm clock, this micro music player remains a great fitness companion. Now equipped with a “wearable” spring-loaded clip a la the Shuffle, it stays secure on your shorts or shirt while you workout. And with fitness-tracking software and accessories, you can get immediate feedback on your workout without having to stop. Because when it comes to exercise, you don’t have a (nano) second to spare.
Want a shoe that puts some extra spring in your step - literally? Strap on Kangoo Jumps, which are like ski boots with two plastic shock absorbers attached beneath the foot. Use them to jump, jog, or bound inside or outside, and it reduces the impact you feel (the manufacturer states that the boots decrease impact forces by as much as 80 percent).
Pear Square One
Training with the Pear Square One is kind of like having a running coach in your pocket. Using smart technology, this tiny gadget tracks your runs with a wireless heart rate monitor and a foot pod that fastens underneath your shoelaces. Pear Square One then figures out a training plan based on your own goals--entered online--which can range from gearing up for a marathon to running a fast 5K. When it’s time to work out, the tool makes important workout stats, pace guidance, and motivation available at the click of a button.
Even ultramarathoners need a break from pounding the pavement. And when it comes to cross-training, pros hop on the Elliptigo--an innovative combination of the cross-trainer and bicycle. Just like the super popular (and normally indoor) cross-trainer machine, you pump your legs in a circular motion, but doing so propels the bike forward. The low-impact exercise has become a favorite of 2008 Olympic marathoner Magdalena Lewy Boulet, track superstar Lauren Fleshman, and a host of other endurance athletes.
Let’s face it, there are times when it feels like we’re running in place at work. At least with the TrekDesk, you can actually run (or walk, if that’s more your speed). With a adjustable-height workstation that fits over any standard treadmill, you can hammer out those TPS reports or tweak that spreadsheet while staying upright. It's the perfect solution for those who think better on their feet. Plus, studies indicate that walking 10,000 steps a day can boost your immune system and help stave off cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Thousands of years ago, Hippocrates had his patients tossing balls made of animal skins stuffed with sand to prevent injury. While the concept hasn’t changed much, today’s versions are prettier--and, in the case of the UGI, squishier. A twist on the old-school medicine ball, the beanbag-like UGI is perfect for throwing around, and can be used to stand on for balance work and other moves that’ll boost your range of motion and create long, lean muscles.
What did we leave out?
Is there a piece of equipment that’s helped you achieve great results? Tell us about it in the comments below. If you own or have tried any items mentioned, feel free to weigh in.