The Stuff of Fitness

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Like any community, the fitness village works best when everybody shares. So we were pleased that many of you responded to last week's column about some of the more curious new products at a fitness trade show with your own reports about the stuff that makes your workouts more fun, effective or bearable. Your input is especially illuminating since here at Crew HQ we tend to use whatever is lying around -- paperweights, traffic cones, congresspersons in recess -- to get our exercise.

Bernard Tate of Manassas swears by kettlebells -- free weights that resemble cannonballs with handles on top. Despite their simplicity, they require caution: The design practically invites users to swing the weights around (for example, while raising it overhead for a shoulder exercise), increasing the chances of whacking oneself.

Alas, you still have to lift the things to get any benefit. Poke around on Google and you'll learn that kettlebells constitute a kind of underground Russophilic religion in the strength training world. Converts rave about how kettlebells build functional strength, lean muscle and explosive power. For basic information, visit . For a view from the religion's orthodox wing, including photos of some pretty hard-core exercises, visit .

Regular runner Jeremy Weiss of Arlington swears by (and undoubtedly sometimes at) his Garmin Forerunner , a wrist-worn GPS (global positioning system) device that measures pace, distance, rest intervals, calories burned and, in the advanced models, heart rate. The device lets you map and save routes and -- marking a seriously disturbing fitness trend -- includes an imaginary jogging partner who will let you know if you're behind (or ahead of) pace.

Like much GPS technology, the device often loses its signal in forests and, alas, you still have to actually run. (Sensing a trend here?) Basic model from $115; check it out at .

Phil Kotiza of Oakton cited his Concept 2 rowing machine , which he credits with helping him shed 50 pounds in 15 months. (Note to those seeking motivation: He started with just five minutes per session.) Rowing machines provide an all-body workout with minimal impact on knees, hips, ankles and other joints. One caution: Use proper form to avoid back injury. (Technique and product information available at ).

Think Kotiza couldn't have lost all that weight with one machine alone? You're right: He also uses an "old-fashioned 27-inch TV" that he parks in front of the rower.

Like your toys simple and portable? Kelly Metz of Derwood endorses the jump-rope.

"I used to travel to far-flung places for my job, some of which didn't even have hotels, let alone workout facilities," Metz told us, and then bragged about skipping twine in Congo, Indonesia, India, Barcelona, Berlin and Sao Paulo. We love the jump-rope because it offers a quick, efficient cardio workout with only one real caveat: If I am staying in the hotel room below you, take it outside.

Want to tell us more about, or ask about, your workout routines? Join us for our legendary, or at least occasionally amusing, live chat today 11:30 a.m. at .

-- John Briley

© 2006 The Washington Post Company