Five fitness gadgets I love

My passion is fitness, and part of fueling the passion is having the right gadgets to stay motivated, work hard, and enjoy what I do. Here’s my top five (which is subject to change any year).

FitBit

I’m not the first to put the fitbit at the top of a list — mashable did it just two weeks ago.

The original fitbit. A small, clever, wireless pedometer that’ll keep you motivated

For $99 you get yourself a tiny, wireless pedometer. It counts daily steps accurately, measures how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, and has a nice stopwatch. It also has a clock, a fairly useless calorie burn guesstimator, and a few other features. The stopwatch is useful for timing how long you’ve been asleep — press and hold the button on the front and the stopwatch starts, press and hold the button and it stops. If the stopwatch runs for an extended period, fitbit figures out you were asleep and records it as such.

What’s most cool is the website. When you walk past the basestation that comes with your fitbit, your data is uploaded to fitbit.com. You can then inspect the data online, including step totals for the week, badges you win for hitting milestones, lifetime achievements, average sleep duration, and more. For me, there’s a healthy competition with friends I’ve connected to on fitbit: who’s did the most steps this week and where am I ranked. You get a weekly email on Tuesdays with a summary of last week’s performance.

The fitbit leaderboard at the fitbit.com website. If you own a fitbit, compete with your friends.

I can’t say I’m achieving my step goals every week, but I love how the fitbit motivates me to move.

TRX

The TRX Suspension Trainer or TRX is a new essential in my fitness arsenal. I throw it in my carry-on luggage when I travel, and toss it in the car when I hit the running track. It’s around $200.

The TRX is simple: two handles attached to each end of a strap, with an anchor point in the middle. You attach the anchor point to a stable, high mounting point, and then use the handles to workout. It’s a cousin of men’s gymnastic rings. You can attach it to a tree, monkey bars, a chip up bar in the gym, or the (slightly expensive) mounting options that the TRX folks sell.

The TRX is cool because it replaces a variety of other workout gear. You can use it to exercise your chest, back, abs, arms, and much more — it’s a fine alternative to dumbbells, barbells, and the variety of machines in your gym. The bonus is it’s also unstable in a good way — you need to work more muscles to carry out many of the exercises, and so even the humble pushup becomes more of an abs and shoulder stabilization exercise. The video that’s embedded below shows you fifty exercises you can do — it illustrates the amazing versatility, even if a few of the exercises aren’t to my liking.

Chin up bar

When I was in high school, my record number of chin ups was (maybe) three. They’re a lifelong nemesis. But me being me, I like a challenge — so what’s better than installing a chin up bar in your garage, and getting after improving? I’ve tried a few, and the stud bar pullup bar is the standout winner at $140. It’s sturdy, reasonably easy to install, and easily mounted far from walls.

The stud bar pull up bar. It attaches sturdily to the studs in your roof, giving you plenty of clearance from walls.

Chin up bars aren’t just for chins ups, and they don’t just work your lats (the muscles under your armpits). With a forward grip, you sure do work your lats, but you also work your core muscles and more. With a reverse grip, your biceps come into play. And there’s lots of great abs exercises you can do by hanging from the bar, and lifting, raising, or rotating your knees. If you want a strong core, it’s a great investment.

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are rubber bands with (usually) handles at each end. Similarly to the TRX, they’re a versatile way of working muscles in a way that doesn’t require iron. They’re almost as portable as the TRX — easy to throw in a bag when you’re travelling. My favorites are from bodylastics.com. For $36, you can buy their entry-level set — and, honestly, I wouldn’t but their more expensive ones (unless you’re super strong, or you want to work out with a partner frequently).

A truly random picture of a few resistance band exercises. It shows you that pulling the ends of a long rubber band is a versatile way to exercise your body

The idea is fairly simple: pull the handle, stretch the band, work one or more muscles. For example, you can wrap a band around a pole, and pull the handles on each end toward your hips to work your back muscles. The bodylastics products come with a nice booklet that illustrates tens of exercises, and has a few suggested routines for those interested in different sports and with different levels of experience. YouTube is also full of resistance band workouts.

Agility Ladder

An agility ladder is a set of plastic straps that are held together on either side by a rope or strap to make a ladder-like apparatus. You lay it out on a floor or path, and then run through it in a variety of different ways; indeed, “run” is a gross generalization, there’s tens of complicated ways to traverse the length of the ladder, many involving complex aerobics-like moves. The benefit is a cardio, brain, and agility workout — you work up a sweat while also teaching your body how to react, accelerate, and move in patterns. They’re incredibly portable, they stow away in a small bag that’s easily thrown into your luggage.

Three guys making their way through an agility ladder. It’s fun to follow someone else — a great way to learn, and challenge yourself to a race

I’ve got a list in my head of around thirty different moves I do with an agility ladder — I do each one up and back, catch my breath, and hit the next. It’s a buzz, and doubly-so if you’ve got headphones, music that you can keep pace with, and you’re in the mood to push yourself.

Honorable Mentions

I’m disappointed I couldn’t squeeze in my iPod, jump rope, medicine ball, Bowflex 1090 dumbbells, or some humble cones. If this post gets more than a few views, I’ll post my top ten someday soon. See you all next week (and apologies for the intermittent posts this month — work is super busy).

6 thoughts on “Five fitness gadgets I love

  1. Han-Shen Yuan (@h6y3)

    You might want to look into the BodyMedia CORE armband as an alternative to the Fitbit. It is similar to the FitBit but the calorie measurement is based on actual contact with skin. I’ve performed various experiments on myself using HIIT intervals, jump roping sessions, etc. to determine max cal/min and it has given me a perspective on my metabolism which is useful for managing bulk vs. tone cycles. As an example, people say jump roping is one if not the highest cal/min exercise but since my body is so acclimated to the exercise (I can jump up to 2 hours at once), I am only pulling in 9 cal/min vs. 16 cal/min on outright foot sprints for an HIIT interval.

    It’s more expensive than the FitBit and more intrusive but I’ve gotten used to it and the perspective it gives me insures I can create calorie deficits on a daily basis if I want to.

    It does everything else the FitBit does too (step counter, sleep, etc.) due to a 3-axis accelerometer.

  2. Hugh E. Williams Post author

    Luis -> great gadget (best GPS watch I’ve owned — and I’m on my third), but not in the top ten fitness gadgets yet.

  3. Rohan

    Love my iPhone and digifit app, and my wahoo bluehr, and Nike Lunarglide 3 runners, and treadmill in the garage in front of the old plasma tv, and fitbit, and compression gear, and Xbox kinect exercise games and……

    Overall it is pretty exciting/encouraging for geeks to get into exercise with so many gadgets!

    Certainly gave me something to help get me moving again.

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