From ‘arm bikes’ to ropeless skipping, we investigates the latest fitness fads
It is about this time of year that our new year enthusiasm for getting fit begins to wane and our attendance at gym classes becomes patchy, to say the least. By April, even our best attempts at cross-training can mean that we have tried and tested every available activity on the gym menu and, without new challenges, motivation begins to stall as boredom sets in.
There is, however, more to exercise than running, pumping iron or yoga — and the fitness industry is ever-ready to re-invent the wheel when it comes to working out. Thought you’d seen it all after kettlebells, power hoops and dance poles? Here are the latest fitness gadget innovations designed to keep you moving.
Technogym Recline Personal
Exercise bike with built-in office
We are the most inactive when we are working: sending e-mails rather than walking to take a message, using lifts instead of taking the stairs.
But the latest innovation from Technogym aims to bring the benefits of the gym to the workplace. This exercise bike features an ergonomically designed office chair (to protect your back) and integrated internet access, allowing you to work up a sweat as you do your job. Launching next month (but on sale to the public later in the year) it is costly, but will save time and money on gym membership.
Price/stockist About £5,000; technogym.com
Verdict One solution, albeit pricey, if you find yourself chained to your desk for too long.
A weighted fitness ball
A cross between a bean bag, a weighted medicine ball and a yoga chi ball, the Ugi ball is the latest incarnation of fitness balls to hit the market. A soft, squidgy (but heavy) ball, it is 38cm (15in) in diameter, available in weights from 6lb to 12lb and can be used for warm-ups, cardio, strength training and flexibility, working every muscle in the body.
Classes are held at trendy Equinox gyms in California and are likely to start here next year. For now, you can get Ugi-fit at home with the help of an instructional DVD that comes with the equipment and guides you through 30 different exercises in 30 minutes.
Price/stockist £117; ugifit.com
Verdict A versatile and less daunting take on kettle bells
TRX Suspension Trainer
The oversized elastic-band workout
Gwen Stefani and the Beckhams are among those who are said to hang partially upside down in the name of fitness using a TRX Suspension training device. Developed by a US Navy Seal, it comprises stirrups, handles and nylon strapping that can be anchored to a door frame and used to perform more than 300 different moves — including press-ups, sideways crunches and pull-ups — that will improve strength and flexibility, as well as increase cardiovascular fitness.
It’s popular with physiotherapists, who have long used a similar approach to help people to rehabilitate from injuries. And it will give you arms, legs, stomach and buttocks of steel.
Price/stockist From £148.83; trxfitness.co.uk
Verdict Among the best ways to improve strength and tone, but correct technique is essential
The exercise bike for your arms Invented by the American trainer who came up with indoor spinning, the KRANKcycle is a stationary “arm bike” that has a seat, suspended front wheels and hand-pedals, where the handlebars provide a workout for the upper body. Kranking classes have started at some gyms, but you can krank in the privacy of your own home.
The device is operated by turning two rotating handles while your legs remain still as you half-stand, half-sit on the equipment. Resistance can be increased and the muscles in the arms, shoulders, chest and back are fully engaged, while the core muscles work hard to stabilise the body.
Verdict Offers some cardiovascular benefit, but not as much as regular cycling — and it neglects the lower body.
Gymnastics in your house Performing strength and pilates-style exercises on this 5ft x 6in foam balance beam will test your core strength like no other item of equipment, its manufacturers claim.
Beaming is mostly about improving balance — the most neglected component of physical fitness — but it also forces you to tighten muscles and align your body in the process.
The idea is to focus intently on your posture, pull back your shoulders and hold your head high as you move, gymnast-style, on the beam. Beaming classes are hugely popular in New York gyms, but you can do it in the comfort of your own front room.
Price/stockist £77; beamfit.com
Verdict Good for toning, but not all-round fitness
JumpSnap The skipping rope with no rope Among the more bizarre fitness offerings is this skipping rope, without the rope. Basically a pair of handles containing a computer chip that tracks skipping time and calories burned, it emits a snapping sound to help the user to skip to a regular beat.
Add weights (provided) to the JumpSnap handles and it even feels as if there is a rope attached. Weighted handles such as this tone your arms as well as your legs. Skipping — even without a rope — is so good for the cardiovascular system that the British Heart Foundation recommends it for heart health while the National Osteoporosis Society says that it is among the best ways to strengthen bones.
Price/stockist From £25; jumpsnap.com, available from April 17
Verdict High novelty factor, but you can get the same cardiovascular benefits from a regular rope
A balance board
Originally a training aid for surfers, this handcrafted board made from sustainable wood balances on an inflatable ball. Being easily transportable, it is set to become 2011’s answer to the Swiss Ball and has already developed a cult following among surfers, runners and skiers.
Its benefits come from engaging muscles in the trunk as you exercise on the board to keep it stable — and there is no end to the number of exercises that can be performed on it, from multi-dimensional press-ups and planks to ab crunches or simply trying to stand and balance on the wooden surface.
Price/stockist From £97.99; coolboard.co.uk
Verdict Great for the trunk muscles and also for injury rehabilitation
The treadmill/bicycle hybrid
Think of the average gym elliptical trainer being put on wheels and transferred outdoors and you have an idea of what the ElliptiGO 8S offers. If you like running outdoors but your knees don’t, this bike-treadmill fusion will give your joints a break from pavement pounding, but still provide similar calorie and fat-burning benefits to running. Be prepared for some strange looks as you pedal along in an uproght position and summon up courage to go downhill at speed, but rest assured that your thigh muscles will be quivering when you step off. It’s about the same price as a good treadmill — and you get to head outdoors.
Price/stockist £1,666 (plus VAT); elliptigo.com
Verdict Pricey, but worth it if dodgy knees prevent you from running
The acupressure yoga mat
With its 8,820 flower-shaped acupressure disks, lying on this mat is at first uncomfortable (its based on the principles of the therapeutic effects of lying on a bed of nails), but soon it feels like hundreds of fingers soothing the pressure points on your back and buttocks. It is recommended for anyone who has problems sleeping, has muscle tension or who is simply stressed.
It gently releases feel-good chemicals and hormones as you relax. Perfect portable stress relief — and great for jet lag.
Price/stockist £29.90; theyantramat.co.uk
Verdict Helps to relax tense muscles but won’t improve fitness
The state-of-the-art indoor bicycle
The ultimate stationary exercise bike partly developed by experts at British Cycling. It comes complete with a training guide designed by leading sports scientists. It is already used by elite sportspeople, including world and Olympic champions, but it is equally suitable for beginner cyclists of any age. It replicates the sensation of real cycling and is the first factory-calibrated bike provides highly technical feedback with a computer that displays, among other things, your power output, pedalling technique and heart rate.
Price/stockist £1,850; wattbike.com
Verdict Expensive, but you can’t get more from an indoor bike.