I try out a lot of things for this site and I'm not just talking workouts. Part of the fun of doing this site is that I also get to try out lots of new cool fitness stuff and - in the best situations - get to pass it on to you too.
There have been some epic failures: how do I write in 500 words how insanely unflattering these pants are ? The stripe goes right over the largest part of the thigh! Their model , naturally, looks gorgeous in them but I am evidence that real women... not so much. Another lame one were the " pinhole glasses " that looked like the eye wear brainchild of Kanye West and Napoleon Dynamite. (I couldn't even bring myself to write the review.) The biggest diet fail was probably Sensa , the powder crystals that you sprinkle on your food that are supposed to decrease your appetite through some science-y way with real research! I wanted these to work so badly I did that Experiment twice. Never lost an ounce. Also bombed: Carmen Electra's Aerobic Striptease Collection - maybe it's a good workout but I couldn't stop laughing long enough to find out. But then I'm guess stripperobics aren't meant to be done in flannel pjs dotted with polar bears wearing scarves and sipping hot cocoa. We won't even talk about some of the downright insane stuff I get offered and have the good sense to say no to (more male enhancement products than I can shake a stick at, har har.)
Honestly though, the bad ones are prettyrare; most products I try out either fall into the "Eh, it works but I wouldn't go to the effort of using it very often" or "Holy balls of toilet-sore awesomeness, how have I lived my life without this?" categories. So today I'm giving you my list of AMAZING fit gear. Every item on this list I have loved so much I've ended up buying with my own money. Plus I've enjoyed working with these companies so much that I want to sing their praises as much as I can! I'm not being paid for this review, I don't get any kind of kickback from these companies; these are things I just really really love.
1. The handful bra ($40). You might remember my post crowing about how great it worked as a nursing sports bra but now that my girls are back to being single-serving I love it even more. I bought the Handful in nearly every color they have. (Dear Handful, make a gray one already! Also, your "nude" is totally not my "nude", just saying.) These are the only sports bras I wear anymore. (Although if I have to do something really high impact, I will layer a compression bra over the top.) Many of the Gym Buddies are converts as well with one wearing hers day and night for all occasions. They are that flattering. One downside: they are made for us small-chested sisters. They only go up to a c cup.
2. Kettlebells ($20-$50 ish, depending on weight). At first I was not convinced that these weren't just dumbbells with a handle. They are so not! I have fallen in love with the versatility of these iron balls-o-wonder. Even the basic swing is an amazing functional, multipart exercise. (Just don't copy Jillian Michael's form.) These are the #1 workout tool the Gym Buddies and I request in our boot camp classes. Downside: Really expensive to get a whole set. If you have to choose just a couple, pick one lighter one (but nothing less than 15lbs, seriously - with KBs you can go heavier than you're used to because of the swinging action. Those stupid 5-pounders are useless.) and a decently heavy one, like 35-45 lbs for swinging.
3. TRX Suspension Trainer ($150.00). Definitely the priciest item on the list (if you workout at a gym, put in a request that they get one!) but totally worth it. This is the #1 item I recommend to people looking to build a home gym or who workout almost exclusively at home. You can hit every body part and with much more efficiency than by just doing bodyweight exercises. Plus it only weighs a couple of pounds, sets up in about 5 seconds and is super portable. And they have tons of free exercise vids on their site . Downside: $$$ If you can't afford a TRX, you could do a little DIY-project and whip up something similar with some nylon rope and handles.
4. Dove Ultimate Visibly Smooth Anti-Perspirant Deodorant ($4 ish). Oh sure it'll look strange sticking out of your loved one's stocking ("Um, honey? Are you trying to tell me I'm hairy? Or stinky?" "Both, Love!") but as a girl with armpit issues, this is my favorite stuff. They say that it's supposed to reduce armpit hair over time and if it does, the effect is pretty small but it sticks with me through my workouts and doesn't leave white marks on my tank tops or those little white balls in my pits. Downside: what is the point of wearing deodorant to workout in? I sweat, literally, from head to toe so what's the point of making my pits the oasis in that swamp? I'm a slave to convention...
5. Cute-butt pants. You know I love my Fila toning pants (55$) but sadly they only come in 1 color (black) and one length (short-ish). But have you heard about Lululemon's groove pant 's ($98) legendary butt-shaping abilities? It's all true. Plus they come in so many colors and patterns even a clothes-horse like me would never get bored. Even better, they're reversible so it's like two pants in one! Downside: Spendy! My tip - buy them on eBay or craigslist. I only own one pair (so far...) but I got them on eBay for about half the price and they were brand new with the tags still on and everything. I've seen the pre-owned ones go for as low as $15.
6. Weight lifting glove s ($12). Call me a princess but I hate ripping my hand open in the gym (Hi open wound! Have you met my friend MRSA?) and so gloves are a necessity. Having gone through several pairs now, I'm not really brand loyal but my current pair are Nike. Gym Buddy Megan bought them for us last Christmas and we all wear them on a nearly daily basis. So far nobody's gloves have ripped, stretched, torn or gotten that awful "weight glove" stank. Plus we get to keep all our callouses intact. My only tip is to look for gloves with mesh on the outside (your hands sweat too!) and no seams across the palm and thumb (those will really start to dig in after 6 or so reps!). Downside: Your hands will really hate you if you happen to forget them once.
7. The Skinnygirl Dish: Easy Recipes for Your Naturally Thin Life by Bethenny Frankel ($10.88). So help me I wanted to hate this. I hate the whole idea of a "skinnygirl" brand. And yet when I read it, it was... probably the best cookbook I've ever read. I assumed that Bethenny would be self-righteous and require crazy ingredients and the recipes would turn out awful because I don't have all the fancy chef's utensils but it was the exact opposite. She is totally down to earth, all about budgeting, not wasting ingredients and making do with what you've got in the fridge. Her recipes are simple enough that a cooking buffoon like me got them all to turn out wonderfully. It also helps that she follows the Intuitive Eating principles very closely in her food philosophy book Naturally Thin: Unleash Your SkinnyGirl and Free Yourself from a Lifetime of Dieting , which is also really good. Winner winner chicken dinner! Downside: I had to swallow my pride and admit I actually like Bethenny, baby onesie debacle and all. Crap.
8. My heart rate monitor . Are you working too hard? Is your sprint really "maximal effort"? How many calories have you burned? The Gym Buddies and I look like total geeks syncing up our watches at the beginning of a tough workout but there is something really motivating about seeing that heart rate climb. I've gone through several different models over the years but my current favorite is the Sportline Duo 1060 ($100 ish). Monitors come in every level from super-simple (but not super informative or reliable) to crazy-tricked-out (but require a PhD to read the manual and set the sucker up) and this one is a nice compromise. It has heart rate monitoring through a touch pad and a chest strap, a calorie counter, an interval timer (perfect for Tabatas!), a pedometer, a visual zone chart and lots of other goodies and it even looks really cute. Yes, you could go fancier (no GPS) but for what most of us do, it's perfect and for the price it's awesome. Downside: Can be expensive. You don't want the $30 heart rate monitor, I promise. You'll hate it. At least get one with a chest strap - they are way more reliable and therefore useful. Other downside: can be addictive. Gym Buddy Allison and I once wore ours for 24 hours straight just to see what our heart rates did over the course of a day and how many calories we really burned.
9. A BPA-Free Water Bottle ($5-$20). No workout bag is complete without a water bottle and because we want your cellular structure to stay un-mutated you need to make sure it's BPA free. Water bottles can be as simple as the ones at the dollar store all the way up to this fancy model: the Sportline Hydracoach Water Bottles ($20). This baby monitors how much you drink (yeah, that's a little computer on the front), how much more you need to drink and motivates you to meet your drinking goals. Anything that holds water without leaking will do the trick though. Downside: wide neck bottles spill too easily, straw bottles lose parts in the dishwasher and pop tops make you feel like a baby.
10. My book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything ($8.03). I know, I know, you are so sick of hearing about my book but it's great for people just getting into fitness - it summarizes most of the popular workouts out there and tallies up their pros and cons - and it's great for more seasoned exercisers who are just glad to know that they are not the only one who has fallen off their step in Step Class. It's funny! It's heart breaking! It's a quick read! Plus, they've dropped the price again! Downside: Nothing!
What is the piece of workout gear you can't live without? Got a fave pair of workout undies? (Please share because I have NOT found one yet - Hanes apparently assumes "her way" means wedgie.) Love your music player? What gift did you get the fitness freak on your list? Shout it out in the comments and you'll be entered to win a Hydracoach of your very own!
Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2010. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!