Rocketlok Adjustable Kettlebells (Rocketlok )
Old core workout: Crunches and planks. New core workout: Almost anything, as long as it's an all-body movement that forces you to stabilize yourself. As the trend to functional fitness grows, activities that involve compound movements — such as kettlebell swings, heavy-rope whips, hula hooping, even a dumbbell bench press on an unstable surface — are increasingly recognized as terrific core builders that can improve posture and performance in all sports as well as reduce injuries. After all, the abs, hips, butt and lower-back muscles that constitute the core don't work in isolation (as they might on a sit-up or back-extension machine at the gym). In real life, they work together. Work them to the core with the innovative products reviewed below.
Balance your bells
BalaCore Bench: This simple concept grafts a Bosu ball-style inflatable bladder onto a 50-inch long, 21-inch high strength-training bench. The unstable surface adds an instability to all dumbbell and barbell exercises that forces you to engage the core far more than usual.
Likes: It works. Every exercise I did on the BalaCore clearly hit my core as well by forcing me to balance while doing, say, a bench press. It does seem to promote the "accelerated muscle failure" BalaCore claims, and therefore may give you a better workout in less time. The foot end of the bench is not inflated, allowing you to stabilize your body. A BalaCore Floor model ($449.95) is a good option that rests on the floor, where it's safer to use for squats and dumbbell exercises.
Dislikes: None, although it makes for a very high-priced bench.
Price: $699.95. (800) 356-5434; http://www.balacore.net
Hula from hell
Empower Cardio Core and More Fitness Hoop: A 3-pound, 40-inch wide foam-padded hula hoop whose eight sections (four heavy pink ones and four lightweight orange ones) can be reconfigured to make the workout harder or easier. A DVD with three workouts is included.
Likes: As a man, it's not easy to admit this: I love hula hoops — they hammer your core and improve your moves on the disco floor. Empower, which makes fitness products geared to women, adds real oomph to hooping with the weighted sections, which snap together and come apart easily. Alternate the pink and orange sections and the hoop spins normally; segregating the sections by quarters or halves, however, adds a pronounced imbalance to the spin, forcing you to work harder to keep it spinning. The three-pound weight alone works up a good sweat; a half-and-half set-up doubles it. The DVD offers lots of challenging moves. Easy to detach and pack for traveling.
Price: $39.99. (800) 704-5561; http://www.empowerfitness.com
Rocketlok Adjustable Kettlebells: First adjustable metal kettlebell that retains its solid kettlebell shape and smoothness through different weights. The RKB-35 offers four options: 24, 28, 31 and 35 pounds. The RB-20 can be set to 13, 17 or 20 pounds.
Likes: Kettlebells are always a fantastic all-body/core exercise tool. But "adjustable" varieties, which let you alter the weight to accommodate different exercises and users, have problems that the Rocketlok avoids. This ingenious design nests weight rings inside the smooth outer shell, which will not rub skin and catch on clothing like models that use weight plates. Also, the tool-free, stationary internal weights don't rattle, an improvement over aqua-adjust plastic bells, which have water sloshing around inside them.
Price: $199 (RKB-35) and $113 (RKB-20). For sale in late November; orders accepted now. (214) 271-4727; http://www.rocketlok.com
Whip it good
GoFit Combat Rope: A simple 40-foot, 1.5-inch diameter, 25-pound rope that allows you to quietly replicate the rope-whipping drills now in vogue among MMA fighters and football players.
Likes: Whoa! The all-body whipping motion (either both hands at once or each hand used alternatively) put my heart in my throat almost instantly. The simultaneous aerobic and anaerobic agony of this caveman-ish, calisthenics-meets-strength challenge works you head-to-core-to-toe, supposedly blasting fat as it sends your metabolism into hyperdrive. Set-up is simple: anchor the rope by looping it through a stationary object, like a kettlebell, then hold one end in each hand and give it a good whipping until you are spent. If you last 60 seconds, you deserve a medal.
Dislikes: None, although you do need a large hallway (at least 20 to 25 feet long) to use it.
Price: $159.99. (888) 530-4441; http://www.gofit.net
Wallack is the coauthor of "Barefoot Running Step by Step." firstname.lastname@example.org