Fernando Gomez had just earned his MBA from the University of Maryland University College in 2009 when he was struck by a boxing glove — or, rather, the idea of one.
“I wanted to make a free weight that was as variable as possible,” says Gomez, who realized that exercisers holding his glove-inspired inventions would be able to do more than just lift them up and down. Thanks to the flat surface that would cover their knuckles, they could put the weights on the ground and rotate them (like the Perfect Pushup), or slide them out and back (like an Ab Roller). A set would be well suited for punching drills, too.
And then a knockout name hit him: Fistbells.
For Gomez, 33, the goal wasn’t to introduce just a product, but a brand. So he spent years developing what Fistbells would look like. Working with a design firm, he refined his prototype. The final product has an oval handle, not a round one, to provide an easier grip. There’s a protective pad at the wrist. He also created an accompanying mat that diagrams how to perform several exercises, so users can make the most of the product.
“I want to teach you how to use them,” Gomez says.
The weights made their gym debut in January at Results on Capitol Hill, where Gomez is a personal trainer (in addition to working in business development for Benjamin Moore).
Although Fistbells are available to the general public (see box), fitness professionals are Gomez’s first target market. That’s because, he says, they understand what Fistbells are capable of.
Sarah West, director of training at Results, says all of those sliding moves on the mat force core muscles to pull together and work like they’re supposed to. You can do situps all day to try to get stronger abs, she says, “but this is just more realistic.”
If anyone understands the benefits of proper strength training, it’s Gomez, whose childhood friends in Equatorial Guinea knew him as “El Flaco.” The nickname — which means “the skinny one” — was fitting at the time. He was frequently ill, and one case of malaria at the age of 8 even required him to learn to walk again.
“The first time I saw a 20-pound dumbbell, I could barely pick it up,” says Gomez, who began exercising every day when he moved to the D.C. area for college, and transformed his body in the process.
Despite his current athletic physique and expertise, exercising with Fistbells can still pose a challenge for Gomez. None of the weights are all that heavy — Fistbells are available in sets of 2 pounds, 3 pounds, 6 pounds and 10 pounds. But it’s how you use them that counts.
When you hold them with an “active grip,” so the flat part is up against your wrist, muscles all along the arm get involved. The “low grip,” with the flat part hanging under your knuckles, isn’t as tough — until you realize that from that position, a Fistbell can take the place of a kettlebell for a series of swings.
Gomez has devised more than 50 variations of Fistbell burpees. And he keeps coming up with new ways to use his Fistbell mat. One particularly tough move: the horizontal pectoral slide. Starting in regular pushup position, slide one hand out to the side while sinking down, and pull it back in as you get back up.
“Everything is engaged,” Gomez says.
So being struck by a boxing glove, even just the idea of one, can still hurt.
The Fistbells “Pioneer Home” package ($195-$198) is available this spring. Customers receive two sets of Fistbells, a Fistbells mat, a kneepad and 13 boot camp sessions in D.C. (or Oxford, England, or Barcelona, Spain).