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FITNESS | GEAR

Extend workouts with a stretch-cord system

April 17, 2006|Roy M. Wallack

Here's a new idea so simple and efficient you wonder why it hasn't been around for years: Take rubber stretch cords, attach them to a strong, lightweight base on which you can sit, stand or lie -- and you have an economical, convenient, stow-away mini-gym. Just now catching on in strength classes and in workout video/DVDs, these surprisingly effective stretch-cord gyms are designed to do more than tone. With hard work and challenging resistance, they'll build dumbbell-quality muscles using a wide variety of familiar strength exercises.

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-- Roy M. Wallack

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Simple and effective

MyGym Fitness System: Padded deck with six trios of varying-resistance stretch cords built into it.

Likes: Simple, clean design; stretch cords are out of the way, not lying on the floor as with the others. There are three cords (light-, middle- and heavyweight) at six positions on the unit. Easy to use; to change resistance, clip the gripping devices (two handles, a handlebar or a rabbit-ear strap) to one, two or all three cords. Padded deck is very comfortable to lie, sit or kneel on. Includes several well-made, high-energy DVD workouts that offer good explanations of technique and enough variety (rows, bicep curls, chest presses, squats, abs, etc.) to keep newbie and veteran exercisers satisfied. Lightweight enough to carry with one hand. At 40-by-21-by-8 inches, it'll fit under the bed.

Dislikes: No foot straps, which limits leg exercises. No built-in back-support panel (like Targit and Reebok).

Price: $279. (866) 879-3491; www.mygymdirect.com.

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Closest real-gym feel

Targit Fit Trainer Pro: Cleverly engineered deck, with adjustable back pad and seat, that allows highly realistic simulation of gym exercises.

Likes: The comfortable, supportive seated position creates the most solid, gym-like feel of the test group. Setup is simple: Stretch cords attach to 12 rings on the case or to a 30-inch aluminum crossbar that slides into place through two holes across one end of the deck like a T; using a separate handlebar or pair of individual handles (all included) allows a large variety of presses, pulls, seated crunches, squats, lateral love-handle bends and more. Includes ankle straps for leg exercises. Several videos, led by a gruff Hulk Hogan-ish brute in hot pants, are bare-bones but effective and motivating. All bars, cords and DVDs are stowed inside the hollow, 48-by-15-inch footlocker-like case, which has a handle and carries like a briefcase. Easily slides under a bed.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $375. (866) 9-TARGIT; www.targitfit.com.

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High on aerobics, low on strength

Reebok Deck: Stretch-band compatible exercise platform with an adjustable-slant back pad that allows for seated exercises. Deck can be raised from 8 to 14 inches high.

Likes: Sleek design. Fold-out legs add 5 inches of height (to 14 inches), significantly adding to the challenge during step-aerobic workouts. Seated position (when back panel is raised) is comfortable and familiar for a variety of workouts. DVD workouts, including cardio, cords and dumbbells, provide good all-round aerobics and toning. Eight slots anchor resistance cords.

Dislikes: Deck seems better suited to aerobics or free weights (like a regular weight bench) than to stretch cords. The cords offer minimal resistance even when shortened, and the DVD does not include many stretch-cord exercises. There's no built-in handle, so the heavy 42-by-13-inch unit is cumbersome to transport.

Price: $249. (877) 363-8449; www.reebokdeck.com.

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Budget traveler

Fundamental Fitness

Products Powerbase Strength: Simple base with attached cords.

Likes: So light and compact (19 1/2 -by-15-by-1 1/2 inches) you can take it anywhere. Comes in a zippered carry bag. Includes six pairs of built-in, progressively denser stretch cords with color-keyed alligator

clips that hook to a handlebar, two handles and two Velcro foot straps.

The three workout videos, some featuring Powerbase's inventor

Michael Flynt, are low energy but offer a good explanation of

exercises.

Dislikes: So many cords lie all over the floor that exercises can be confusing. Unlike the others, doesn't have a "gym-like" feel. Small size makes it less comfortable to lie on; light weight makes you worry it might fly up and hit you in the face if you mistakenly release your foot.

Price: $129. (866) 207-6308. www.funfitpro.com.

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