This holiday season, why not consider a gift that will help the receivers to feel better about themselves, lower their stress levels, and help them prevent injury?

Exercising helps people live better lives—period. But deciding the type of exercise to do can be overwhelming. Do you join a gym? Hire a trainer? Get an exercise DVD or fancy at-home equipment?

Help someone you know cut through the clutter—these are pieces of equipment I think are worth trying, and worth the money.

SpriSpri Xertube resistance bands
Spri Xertube resistance bands

For Strength Training: Spri Xertube resistance bands (about $10 each)

Rubberized resistance tubing (those stretchy bands with handles) makes an inexpensive, versatile, and effective gift for someone needing or wanting to increase his or her functional strength. If I had my choice between a $10,000 traditional home gym with different exercise stations on it and a set of tubing, I would choose the tubing. It’s convenient, portable, and simple, takes up no space, and provides a superior workout in many ways to big machines. Tubing comes in various resistance levels, determined by diameter and thickness, and differentiated by color. For the elderly or deconditioned, go with the very light (yellow) to start.  For an inactive female, try the light resistance tube (green). For the active female or inactive male, medium (red) is probably a good place to start. Strong females and active males may prefer a heavy resistance tube (blue), and strong males would definitely need the ultra-heavy resistance (purple). Because some muscle groups are stronger than others and certain exercises place muscles at a disadvantage in terms of leverage, it’s best to have two or three bands of various resistances. You can often find a combo door anchor and tube at Amazon, so try that in addition to the Spri website.  The Spri website also has online videos of tubing exercises, so you don’t need to buy a DVD or book to find out how to use them.


First PlaceKettlebell

For Strength Training: Kettlebell (from $15)

Kettlebells have been around for over a century, most widely used in Russia but also among serious lifters in this country. As is often the case, equipment once used by the “professionals” works its way into the mainstream, and kettlebells are making their entrance. A kettlebell is a free weight, like a dumbbell, but the bulk of the weight is 6 to 8 inches below the center of your hand when you lift it. This makes many exercises more challenging. I would suggest this as a gift to someone already using free weights, as an addition to provide more variety and develop further skills. Perform Better has them on sale now with free shipping on orders over $75.


TRXTRX Suspension Trainer Professional Pack
TRX Suspension Trainer Professional Pack

For Strength Training: TRX Suspension Trainer Professional Pack (from about $110)

The TRX doesn’t look like much more than a branched rope with handles, but it facilitates one of the best and most effective workouts you can get. Think about the kind of bodies male gymnasts develop from training on bars, rings, and the pommel horse and you’ll have some idea of how this piece of equipment works. Exploiting bodyweight and gravity, it allows the user to shift their center of gravity away from their feet or other base of support (hands or knees in some cases) to provide an almost infinite number of exercises and intensity levels. Athletes as well as seniors can benefit from it, and all you need is a door to anchor it in. It comes with an exercise DVD and guide. The TRX can range from $80 to $199 online, depending on sales, so search for the cheapest price.



For Strength Training: PowerBlocks (from $279)

Are your dumbbells scattered all over the place? Or do you need to buy some? Consider PowerBlocks. PowerBlocks allow you to have the equivalent of 18 dumbbells in the space of 2 big dumbbells. The weights nest inside of each other, and you select the resistance simply by inserting a sliding pin below the weight you want to pick up. And another perk…they look really cool and last a long time. I bought the commercial set for my training studio 15 years ago, and they still work and look like they did the day I bought them. 

LifelineLifeline jump rope
Jump Rope

For Cardio Training: Jump Rope ($12-20)

Jump ropes are cheap, versatile, fun, and they build bone density and coordination.  If you or the person you’re giving to is a beginner, it will take a little time to build up the muscular strength and endurance to jump for very long, but you can use it for interval training from the first day you get it.  Lifeline makes some good ropes.  Beaded and power ropes are best for beginners, rather than the speed ropes.


The StepAerobic Step
Aerobic Step

For Cardio Training: Aerobic Step (from $30)

I know, it seems very old school, but a step provides a simple way to get some cardio in at home during a time when you might otherwise sit and watch TV. You don’t have to follow DVDs and get fancy with your moves, though lots of people like to do that. You can simply step up and down. Get a step with at least a couple height settings. It doesn’t need to be the Original Step shown here. It can be smaller and less expensive. But it should have some type of rubber anti-skid feature on both the bottom and the stepping surface.


For Cardio Training: Roller Blades, Skates, Scooter, Ripstik, etc. (from $50)

For someone who likes to be outdoors and has some sense for adventure, something on wheels can provide a new challenge. The Ripstik looks a bit intimidating at first, given that it only has two wheels, but it’s not much more difficult than a skateboard. And you propel it by shifting your weight as you stand on it, rather than pushing off the ground. You also get three or four gifts out of this one because of all the recommended safety gear (knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmet, etc.)—those are a must.

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