Fitness's State-of-the-Mart

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A dumbbell is a dumbbell, a treadmill a treadmill and an exercise band . . . well, that's just a glorified piece of rubber tubing, right? Actually, yes, but don't share this insight with the makers of fitness gear. They would be so sad, considering the time, money and effort they expend blitzing the market with new versions of familiar accouterments.

We can't blame them: This is, after all, America, where we like our products new and improved. But I still felt a pang of disappointment walking the exhibit floor this month at the annual conference of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), where I found mostly old-fangled equipment dressed up to look fresh.

To be fair (and I occasionally like to do that), the display included some potentially useful innovations. More on that presently. But there were many more pointless retreads: rubberized weight plates in updated colors; alluring machines with a new-car smell but no meaningful innovations; and, of course, booth upon booth of nutritional supplements promising to make you stronger-faster-taller and more adept at advanced trigonometry equations.

I cast no kettlebell at NCSA here: The core of the conference was a collection of lectures targeting athletic coaches and trainers, and for many attendees the exhibit hall was an afterthought.

I did find a few things that could -- emphasize the conditional nature of that word -- prove to be of use to us hapless civilians modestly pursuing better fitness.

· The Power Plate ( http://www.powerplate.com ) purports to boost the benefits of exercise with whole-body vibration. The electro-shaking, the maker of this device avers, results in reflexive engagement of more muscle fibers and thus greater strength gains per training minute. This product -- which is also used in rehab and has more science behind it than much fitware -- enhances, rather than replaces, a conventional workout. Alas.

· Also of interest was a simpler toy, a set of thick pads called Kinclo Mats ( http://www.kinclomat.com ). These resemble giant, brightly colored pizza slices and are available in various thicknesses. They are designed to take pressure off the knees and other joints during aerobics, plyometrics and strength training. They're also good for balance exercises.

· Perhaps my favorite, due to its simplicity and relative affordability ($120), was a set of adjustable nylon straps -- designed to be attached to almost anything sturdy (tree, door, ceiling joist, NSCA master trainer, etc.) -- that allow people to do more than 250 exercises using only the straps and their own body weight. The system weighs less than two pounds and packs down to the size of a sneaker. The trick will be finding that sturdy anchor ( http://www.fitnessanywhere.com ).

The overarching message? No matter what shows up in your health club or at your fitness retailer, exercise still takes effort and persistence. But if you think a blinking purple barbell that plays "We Are the Champions" every 10th rep will help you stick with a strength routine, who am I to argue?

Crew Q Please tell us what kind of equipment -- a warhorse set of barbells, a fuscia rubber balance disk, an electrogizmo you strap around your skull -- you have found genuinely useful in your fitness regimen. We'll publish some of these in a future column. Send a photo if you have one. E-mail to move@washpost.com .

No chat today. Catch us live online next week.

-- John Briley


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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