Gear: Accessories and tech devices for your workout
10:00 PM EDT, October 10, 2014
As a kid, having no understanding of fashion, I never understood pointy shoes. After all, the human foot doesn't come to a point, which to me seems to explain the popularity in the early 1970s of Earth Shoes, which had a down-sloping negative heel and a foot-like shape with an almost-rectangular toe box. They were odd-looking but so comfortable that I always hoped they'd make a running shoe.
5:45 PM EDT, September 26, 2014
The big buzz at the annual Interbike show this month in Las Vegas was the e-bike: a bike with a stealthy electric motor hidden in the wheel hub or crankshaft that pedals like a normal bike but gives you a quiet boost when you want it. By clicking a handlebar button, you tell the motor how much or little "pedal-assist" you want. Die-hard cyclists called it sacrilege, but they'd better get used to it. E-bikes are already huge in Europe and exploding here. A 30-second ride explains why: The "e" is for exhilaration. E-bikes let couples ride together — as slow or fast as they want — at the same pace. They get college students to classes and commuters to work sweat-free. Best of all, they get everyone — young, old, skinny, fat, fit, non-fit — over the thing that stops most regular folks from cycling in the first place: the hills. In that sense, they are great starter bikes to shape up the out-of-shape … and might even lead them back to non-motorized bikes. Not cheap, but nearly free once you own one (no insurance is required since the electric assist cuts off at 20 mph), the e-bike eliminates all the negatives of cycling — and just leaves the fun.
7:01 PM EDT, September 12, 2014
In the ongoing battle against flab, experts have been homing in on the active workstation in which you burn a surprising amount of calories and stay mentally fresh with constant low-level movement that stays below the sweat threshold. The trouble is that many of the solutions focus on the treadmill desk, which can be expensive. More economical options will turn your workstation into a bike, a home gym, a stand-up desk (merely standing burns calories) or even make sitting an adventure.
3:30 PM EDT, August 29, 2014
Changes in most product categories in the bike world usually are incremental in nature. But every once in a while, a technological leap occurs — which is the case with the radical designs of the new helmet, bike saddle and riding jacket below. Along with an innovative power supply for a cyclist's cellphone, GPS device and other now-indispensable "leap" products, every ride can be safer and faster.
4:00 PM EDT, August 8, 2014
To go out for a good all-day hike nowadays, everyone pretty much knows that you need a backpack, poles, a hydration system and a mapping device. But what about the luxuries that aren't really luxuries anymore? The stuff you always realize you need after you've missed one too many wild animal photos, had your neck burned to a crisp or stayed out so long that you used up your water and had to take a chance on an iffy stream? Here's the hiking gear that, once you know about it, you may not be able to live without.
5:05 PM EDT, July 25, 2014
Do you remember two years ago, when this column reviewed the "29er," which had come to dominate the mountain bike world with super-fast, roll-over-anything, monster-truck 29-inch wheels that made traditional 26-inch bikes look like children's toys? Well, forget about that. Big tires still rule, only they're not as big. The new king is 27.5 inches, a size virtually unknown two years ago. Almost overnight, the 27.5 has become the de facto standard of the mountain bike world for several reasons: Compared with 29ers, 27.5s have quicker handling on trickier trails, easier acceleration and pedal turnover on steep climbs, fit shorter people better with less pedal-tire overlap and have less of a steroid-freak look. The 27.5s roll over bumps and drop-offs faster than 26ers and have greater rolling momentum and raw speed, just slightly slower than 29ers. With most of the benefits of the 29ers and none of their drawbacks, 27.5s are now acclaimed by mountain bikers as the best of both worlds. That is, until the next new size comes along.
6:40 PM EDT, July 11, 2014
The only thing more astounding than the number of runners nowadays — 541,000 finished a marathon last year, and 2 million ran a half-marathon — is the number of running injuries. The guesstimates never change: Every year, half of all runners get hurt enough that they must stop running — sometimes for a few days, sometimes forever.
6:30 PM EDT, June 27, 2014
You learn to put up with lots of inconveniences while camping, which is half the fun of it for some. But the other half of us can do without an uncomfortable, too-tight sleeping bag that gives you sweaty feet on a not-so-cold night, a ground pad that makes you lightheaded while blowing it up, a lantern that inevitably gets placed too far away to do much good and the increasing risk of Lyme disease hanging over the proceedings. That's where these four innovative products come in. Some revolutionary, some just practical, they are sure to make some happy campers a little happier.
7:05 PM EDT, May 23, 2014
Going to the beach and lying around on a towel all day doesn't cut it for everyone. For active people, the sand and surf are an extension of the gym, with nonstop movement ruling the day. Here are a few toys to help you keep your aerobic fitness, coordination and neuromuscular reaction time honed while the rest of the family binges on Cheetos, hot dogs and Red Bull.
8:00 PM EDT, June 6, 2014
The bike industry, always in search of the next big thing, stumbled upon it a few years ago in the form of hundreds of underground events and races being held on gravel back-country farm roads throughout the Midwest and the Great Plains. These "gravel grinders" are now everywhere. Naturally, so is a new category of bikes specifically built for them — and everything else, it seems. Like road bikes on steroids, gravel grinder bikes are built to go fast and handle abuse, with disk brakes, burly frames, taller handlebars (for an upright riding position), wide tires (for better traction on dirt and gravel) and a design with lowered cranks, a longer wheelbase and slacker head angles (for better long-distance comfort and stability). Not surprisingly, they turn out to be good at just about everything: touring, commuting, riding around town, some mountain biking — and even for cyclo-cross, multi-surface races that use similar but slightly more agile bikes. In short, if you want a go-fast, long-haul, indestructible, any-terrain bike, look at a gravel grinder, even if you're miles from a gravel road.
9:15 PM EDT, May 2, 2014
Coaches and physical therapists call it the RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, elevation. After a workout, runners and cyclists who want to reduce muscle injury and fatigue, speed recovery and safely get faster and stronger should take it easy the day after a hard workout, ice to reduce inflammation, use rollers and tight clothing to squeeze out exercise waste products and excess fluids, and raise the legs (from a supine position) to prevent blood pooling. That's why old standbys like ice bags and foam rollers are essential for endurance athletes, and why the devices here, which often combine several RICE functions at once, are worth a look.
6:35 PM EDT, April 18, 2014
Can your footwear speed you up? We gave four new running shoes, each touting an impressive design technology, to four college runners. One shoe was super-flexible, one super-bouncy, another super-flat and another super-light. The verdict: Set your sports watches, because fast times are ahead.
9:30 PM EDT, March 28, 2014
To get strong, you don't necessarily need a rack of dumbbells. To get flexible, you don't necessarily need a yoga class. The innovative products here will do all that and more, providing an all-in-one stretching, strengthening, posture-improving workout from your living room, or wherever else you happen to be.
5:38 PM EST, January 17, 2014
You'd think, after 125 years, that the simple bicycle wouldn't have many radical new ideas left. Well, the glacial pace of change on two wheels is a thing of the past. The 2014 models showcase at least four huge and practical changes: mountain-bike-style braking that has broken into road bikes, new and improved mountain-bike wheel sizes, built-in lighting for commuter bikes, and even extra water and tool-storage capacity for mountain bikes. It's just too bad you can't get them all on one bike.
6:30 PM EDT, March 14, 2014
A tidal wave of apps and digital fitness products — loaded with practical data and often inexpensive (or even free) — is making tech-free running a thing of the past. A survey from Freescale Semiconductor, the chip supplier behind Fitbit and other wearable devices, found that 88% of runners training for marathons used wearable technology. Here's a sample of some data-tracking apps and gear we found useful.
4:30 PM EST, February 14, 2014
If the five-toed shoe and the kettle bell were among the biggest innovations in workout gear in recent years, how do you make them better? That's the question that inventors face every day as they try to improve the seemingly unimprovable. Below, find four valiant — and fairly successful — new takes on old fitness standbys.
5:00 PM EST, December 13, 2013
Back in the day, "Just do it" was the standard exercise mantra, a simple, silent pact between an individual and his or her motivation.
12:45 PM EST, November 8, 2013
The era of scheduling an appointment and waiting for your doctor or physical therapist to explain your vital signs is coming to an end. "I call it wireless medicine," says cardiologist Eric J. Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego and author of "The Creative Destruction of Medicine."
5:30 PM EDT, October 11, 2013
The folding bike is riding the cycling commuter wave, and the clever engineering is making it quicker than ever to carry on a subway or in a car trunk. Now found in some regular bike shops as well as specialty urban-transportation stores, better designs are helping the bikes shrug off a nerdy-professor stereotype of being ugly, tiny-wheeled, poor-riding machines. Breakthrough models come with chainless belt drives, electric engines and even recumbent formats. Most sport 20-inch wheels to make the bikes compact when folded, with elegant frames that hinge and lock at mid-frame. That keeps the drive-train area (front chain rings to rear wheel) intact and makes the bikes so solid that you almost forget that they fold up.
4:00 PM EDT, August 23, 2013
My co-tester went off to college last week, and I'm a little worried about how he'll keep in shape. Ever since I started this fitness gear column for the Los Angeles Times in 2002 — now up to 280 of them — my son, Joey, has helped me test pull-up bars, elliptical machines, pole-driven skateboards, Trikkes, mountain bikes, golf Frisbees, mini-snow sleds, bodysurfing hand-planes, five-toed running shoes and more.
4:30 PM EDT, August 10, 2013
It seems like nothing's really changed about camping in the last 100 years. You start a fire, sit around it, tell stories and make s'mores, then crawl into your sleeping bag ... and check your email. So a few things might have changed. But the good news is that innovative designs have made each of the aforementioned a little easier, more comfortable and more convenient. Pass the marshmallows.
July 13, 2013
In the old days of running (that is, three years ago), figuring out what running shoe to buy was simply a matter of determining whether you were a pronator, supinator or neutral runner. Today, however, with the explosion of barefoot running and crazy obstacle races, the running shoe world is more complex, with cushioned shoes, minimalist shoes and specialty mud-running shoes all offering new and different technologies suited for specialty uses.
6:30 PM EDT, August 2, 2013
Back when I was a kid going to the beach every weekend with my dad, I never thought of body surfing as a workout. It was just pure exhilaration — dog-paddling out there for hours, waiting for a good swell, then swimming like crazy for a couple of seconds to catch the wave and ride it at eyeball level, a human surfboard in a rush of sound and foam. Gear wasn't necessary, other than a fin or two. But when I rediscovered body surfing recently, I was surprised to find that gear for it had evolved and that it was a fantastic all-body workout — and just as much fun as ever.
10:00 AM EDT, June 29, 2013
There's a million ways to get fit without joining a gym. And with lots of innovative space-saving fitness devices hitting the market every year, there's no need to turn your entire living room into one. Here's four economical workout machines that'll get you surprisingly fit and even make you feel muscles you never thought of. Then the machines will disappear into your closet until the next round.
April 27, 2013
For all the hoopla over "natural" and "functional" fitness movements, one of the most popular workouts for all body types and athletic levels continues to be the wholly unnatural egg-shaped stride of the elliptical machine, invented by Precor less than 20 years ago. As smooth and joint-friendly as cycling and almost as calorie-burning as running, the elliptical offers an unmatched all-body aerobic workout in a number of creative variations, from front-drive to rear-drive, electronic or mechanical, and standing or seated. All of them have the famously addictive oval gait pattern that now seems as natural as the circular pedal stroke of a bike, which, come to think of it, was a completely unnatural act until it was invented 150 years ago.
June 15, 2013
People can't stop tinkering with the bike. This year, dreamers out to reinvent one of history's most basic mechanical contrivances give us groundbreaking innovations such as the hammock seat, the asymmetrical frame and one-handle brakes, plus the most expensive, sophisticated e-bike of all time. And they all did a pretty good job of it.
May 11, 2013
"How do I make this old bike go faster?" That refrain, heard frequently among the teeming masses riding from downtown to the beach in last month's CicLAvia and sure to be repeated again at the next one on June 23, has one obvious answer (work out more, dude) and three not-so-obvious ones: Oil the chain, adjust the seat to the proper height (so there's a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke) and get some "clip-in" cycling shoes and pedals.
April 13, 2013
I should be dead, twice. The fact that I'm not — or even brain-damaged (I think) — is due to the helmets I wore while being hit by a car and slamming head-first into a mountain trail. By design, their foam shells cracked instead of my skull, leaving me with scrapes, a concussion and the ability to ride another day.
May 25, 2013
Hydration. Heart rate. Music. Compression and icing. Whether you get your workout on the running track, in aerobics class or on a bike, it's likely that some or all of this quartet of common workout accessories is part of your routine. With innovative flourishes galore, they can help you upgrade performance as well as recover from it.
March 30, 2013
Electric bikes are slowly picking up speed. Already booming in Europe and Japan, these bike-path legal bicycles combine a normal drivetrain with an electric motor, which is usually embedded in the rear hub. You decide how much to juice your pedaling with the motor, allowing you to fly up steep hills or commute to work without huffing and puffing, then push it manually when you want a workout. There are two types of electric bikes: a "pedal-assist" that kicks in only while you are pushing the pedals, and a throttle-actuated motor that works without pedaling. Electric bikes aren't light (typically more than 50 pounds) or cheap ($2,000 to $4,000 for a model with a 36-volt or 48-volt motor and a lithium-ion battery good for 500 to 1,000 charges). But they're far cheaper than a moped or motorcycle and are invaluable for anyone who wants the joys of cycling with less of the sweat.
March 9, 2013
Put a bunch of brand new, high-tech tennis rackets in front of a handful of pretty good middle-aged 4.0 players (7.0 being Roger Federer and 1.0 being an untrained monkey), and they won't care what kind of Nobel Prize-winning innovations went into building them. But they will tell you what works. Here's how they rated the hottest new tennis technology, all about $200 retail, on a cold winter night in suburbia under the lights.
February 23, 2013
Camera shutters clicked. Techno music throbbed. Dramatic slow-motion images danced on massive video screens. World-famous athletes bounded up on stage to spout well-rehearsed sound bites. Last week, before hundreds of assembled media flown in from around the world, the top brass of one of the world's largest sporting goods companies breathlessly revealed a radical new high-tech product, years in the making after thousands of engineering man-hours, that they claimed would take running to a new level and revolutionize the athletic shoe world:
February 9, 2013
The old home gym isn't what it used to be. It's more creative, often combining traditional fixed-path movements with self-balancing "functional" movements that force you to use more muscle groups to stabilize the load. Despite very different designs, the four models reviewed below share key attributes most people will love: compact, room-friendly footprints, a wide variety of exercises that can work you hard from head to toe, and retail and online sales prices of less than $2,600.
February 2, 2013
Nothing's scarier than being invisible on a bike, and that can happen too often with the sun still setting before 6 p.m. That's why there's no excuse not to carry bike lights along, especially when some of the new ones are so convenient and compact that they'll stow in the smallest fanny pack, pocket or tool bag.
December 29, 2012
Too cold outside to go out for a run? Too wet, icy? All the old wintertime excuses for ditching your daily jog don't work with the new breed of bad-weather footwear. Warm, dry and grippy, they're designed to get you safely through rain, ice and snow without a chill. Just don't forget to wear a jacket.
January 12, 2013
The L.A. Fitness Expo, to be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center next weekend, is always a good showcase for innovative, far-out and just plain weird new fitness products. Here's a preview of four standouts that tackle full-body and upper-body workouts.
December 8, 2012
Yoga and Pilates are the missing ingredients in many fitness plans, the ideal complement to cardio and strength work. Here, just in time for the holidays, are four convenient, space-saving innovations and the timeless gifts of flexibility and postural alignment.
October 27, 2012
The invention of the wheel sometime around 4,000 BC suddenly made all kinds of things easier, from carrying to killing to athletics. Fitness is great on wheels; putting a circular ring with an axel on any athletic contrivance instantly gives it an exhilarating sense of speed that can turn any workout into fun. Here are some of the newest wheeled workout wonders sure to inspire feats of fitness at any age.
October 13, 2012
Jump, push, pull, lift, move. The boom in functional fitness, led by hot, high-intensity programs such as CrossFit and P90X that use traditional exercise movements and gear, has caused people to look at old-school strength in new ways. The result: house-friendly innovations that update classic exercises to deliver surprisingly thorough all-body workouts.
December 15, 2012
What's more fun: getting hold of some of the coolest new athletic technology, or giving it as a gift? You could end up buying two of each of these noteworthy innovations.
November 10, 2012
For the last five years, this column has avoided covering one of the hottest youth-culture urban crazes in the bike world: the fixie — a minimalist, single-speed bike with a fixed gear and no brakes. Some people like them ugly, others gaudy and others tricked-out with doodads and custom paint jobs. To be honest, I thought these bikes, which have introduced thousands of former non-cyclists to two wheels, were dumb deathtraps (hey, no brakes?) and that the fad would disappear along with the first crash.
September 29, 2012
When the weather cools off (we hope) this fall, the active man and woman will hit the trail. Whether you hike, bike, run or bird-watch, carry a giant backpack or a pocket-sized water bottle, push your heart rate to the limit or barely break a sweat, the items below will add to the fun — helping to speed you along, keep you on track, record the adventure and get you home safer and sounder.
July 14, 2012
What do you get when you mate old-school strength devices like push-up bars, ab wheels and vertical knee-raise, dip and pull-up stations with balls? Some of the most innovative, effective home fitness devices to come along in recent years.
September 15, 2012
Although it is said that cycling is the "new golf" for aging baby boomers, it's clear that the low, aerodynamic position of a Tour de France racer doesn't work for old bodies burdened with stiff backs and diminishing flexibility. Enter one of the hottest cycling categories: the "endurance" race bike. Built for comfort, it's got a raised handlebar, a sloping top tube for more stand-over clearance, some shock-absorption in the frame and a slightly longer wheelbase for better stability. Although these are bona fide race bikes designed for rough roads and long stages on European tours, their comfort has proved ideal for people taking on century rides and all-day challenges. Several new breakout models, including three reviewed below, sport intricate vibration-eating designs and bold manufacturer claims that they'll keep you fresh through endless days of cycling abuse — er, fun.
July 28, 2012
Stand-up paddleboarding is free once you get the gear — but the gear's not cheap. Besides the board itself, the shopping list includes a paddle; a personal flotation device (PFD), which has to be worn by those 12 and under or otherwise carried; and a hydration pack — not to mention a car rack. Advice? Rent before you buy.
June 16, 2012
Bike computers get better and more complex every year. The trick now becomes simplifying the experience, from easily accessing the fancy data to being able to attach and move the hardware quickly. These four new models offer tons of data at different prices.
September 1, 2012
Runners naturally lust for high-tech GPS wristwatches that measure heart rate, altitude and dozens of other metrics and record way-points of your route (which is why I'll review one in this column next month). But the stuff that can make more of a day-to-day practical difference for runners often proves to be lower-tech, more affordable fare that, in its own way, is no less innovative. Below are four good examples.
March 24, 2012
Gasoline is more than $4 a gallon, and you know what that means: A lot more people than just college professors and DUI offenders are going to be interested in bike commuting. They'll find everything from high-end electric-assist bikes to bare-bones models, all with fast-rolling 700C road-bike wheels, upright positioning and clever convenience and safety features designed to help reduce the work of pedaling to work.
1:51 PM EDT, June 1, 2012
Music may be the ultimate performance-enhancing drug. It makes long runs shorter, big hills smaller and hard stuff easier. In fact, studies have shown it can speed your warm-up by raising your heart rate, motivating you to move faster, even enhancing your coordination. On the other hand, wearing earbuds can be dangerous — and illegal — for cyclists and runners because they can seal out ambient sound; in fact, Florida and Rhode Island prohibit headphone use in any vehicle; California, Maryland, and Delaware legally limit their use to one ear. Here's some innovative, sports-friendly sound systems that either get around those legal limitations or stay in place better, making them safer and more convenient ways to feel the beat.
May 19, 2012
The revolution is over — and big wheels have won. The "29er" mountain bike, which first appeared on the scene a decade ago with monster-truck tires 3 inches taller than the age-old 26-inchers, now dominates the market. It's easy to see why: The bike makes you faster and safer, gaining more momentum and floating better over sand and rocks. This year, the demand's so hot for huge hoops that some companies don't even sell 26ers anymore. Others have started experimenting with different-size big wheels, like the 650B, a "27.5er" (reviewed below) that touts faster speed with sharper steering. At the recent Handmade Bicycle Show in Sacramento, one company even rolled out a 36er — a cruiser with 3-foot-diameter tires. A mountain-bike version can't be far behind.
March 10, 2012
Staying hydrated is serious business when you're working out. Sure, you can just grab any old $3 plastic water bottle and go out for a run, but these days you also can buy a customized bottle that complements your sport, your music and even your hygiene requirements. Here are some of the new shapes, materials, technologies and accessories that'll help you go with the flow.
May 23, 2011
Creative bicycles, long a favorite subject of student industrial design contests, are busting out of art college and onto the streets. This year, there's been an explosion of creative frame designs across the cycling spectrum — road, mountain, electric, commuter — that are nothing short of sculpture on wheels. And unlike a lot of artsy inventions that are good only for mounting on a wall, these two-wheeled wonders not only work but also offer some innovative functional capabilities not seen on bikes with the century-old diamond-shaped frame.
August 11, 2012
If you're ready to ride a bike for fitness but not ready to hunch over like a Tour de France racer or tackle death-defying single-track trails in the mountains, a single-speed, bulbous-tire beach cruiser won't do. You need a "fitness bike," what the industry now calls the broad category that combines the large, fast-rolling 700-C wheels of road bikes, a tough multi-tread tire and the straight handlebars of a mountain bike. Formerly known as hybrids, these lightweight aluminum-frame bikes have become more refined, stylish and specialized; all work for commuting while sporting varying capabilities for pavement and mild dirt paths. Here are four notable, entry-level 2013 models, each outfitted with mounts for racks and water bottles, and priced so they won't break the bank.
July 18, 2011
Whenever I write about bicycles, I inevitably receive emails from older folks who are interested in adult three-wheelers. "I'm a 71-year-old whose balance is not as good as in the past, and I'd like to take up recreational bike riding but don't trust myself on a two-wheeler," wrote Marion Levine of Laguna Woods last month, voicing a common concern. So I called up my dad, Norm, an 82-year-old retired aerospace engineer who used to hit the bike path once a week, and put him atop some of the hottest new upright and recumbent trikes.
June 20, 2011
For those times when you can't get to the gym — or don't feel like breaking out your credit card to pay the membership fee — home workout equipment is essential. But as these innovative, lightweight and very portable devices show, a home gym doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg or take over the entire living room. They don't even have to stay at home anymore.
June 30, 2012
Summer's here, and you know what that means: Lying on the beach and ducking dozens of colorful rubber and plastic projectiles. If you can break away from your Corona and dog-eared copy of "50 Shades of Grey," get up and join the fun. Playing ball games that involve hitting and throwing build coordination and flexibility and burn calories like crazy. And when you've worked up a good sweat, collapse back on your towel. There's a great one reviewed here too.
April 21, 2012
Home workout products made of resistance cords, including stretchy rubber tubing and retractable nylon cables, usually don't get much respect from hard-core fitness freaks. The innovative products below could change that. Often inexpensive and portable, they get the job done and would complement anyone's normal 20-mile run and super-set dead-lift session.
December 5, 2011
The "retro-grouch" — that hard-core traditionalist cyclist who was riding before it was cool and grew to hate the carbon fiber frames, heart rate monitors and other technological advances that swept the bike world in the last two decades — is a dying breed. The final high-tech nail in his coffin may be the items in this column. How good is this stuff? It makes pedaling a bike so irresistibly better, easier and faster that it might make no sense to be retro — or grouchy — anymore.
June 6, 2011
For some outdoor enthusiasts, the age-old question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" has been replaced by "Did we actually have any fun on our rockin' mountain biking/kayaking/rock climbing adventure if we didn't get it on video?" Simple and rugged, wearable cameras have been proliferating on the market, recording video from a perch on one's helmet, chest or handlebars. Watching and editing is simple; just plug the units' USB cords into a computer to turn your high-adrenaline pursuits into home movies.
May 9, 2011
Barefoot running has become a hot fitness trend thanks to evidence that it can reduce injuries and strengthen feet. But ironically, many "barefooters" prefer to keep their feet covered. Fear of injuries from broken glass, rocks and other sharp objects inspired the invention of the "minimalist" running shoe, whose essential feature is a thin, tactile and flat bottom that lacks the elevated heel cushion typically found on running shoes. This category — pioneered by Vibram's popular FiveFingers individual-toed shoe-glove four years ago — now includes styles that enclose all five toes together. Hard-core barefooters will scoff at any shoe, even these stripped-down alternatives to traditional running shoes with generously padded soles. But for those who want the benefits of barefooting with some protection, the minimalists have you covered.
February 21, 2011
The elliptical trainer and its smooth oval foot pattern was a hit the moment it arrived on the scene in the mid-1990s, but a good one that could stand up to regular home use without rattling apart has never come cheap. That's doubly true of some of the expensive new sub-categories that have arisen recently, such as the seated elliptical, which gives older exercisers a safer all-body workout, and the suspended elliptical, which has a free-form, variable movement that is a favorite of high-performance exercisers. Fortunately, the market has finally responded with newer, high-quality and affordable alternatives, such as the models below.
April 25, 2011
Serious cyclists become obsessed with flashy new miracle-material frames and high-tech componentry, but there's also plenty of innovation among the less-glamorous parts of the bike. Here's proof that essential-but-mundane products like inner tubes, pedals, water bottles and indoor training stands can have a "wow" factor too.
May 5, 2012
Time does not pass quickly when you're going nowhere fast. Suddenly, however, a new crop of stationary cardio exercise machines has livened up the indoor workout world, adding everything from Internet compatibility to ecology aids to creative new movement patterns. Here's some innovative aerobic body blasters worth working up a sweat for.
April 7, 2012
With summertime weather hitting lots of the country in late winter this year, overnight backpacking trips can now conveniently move to April and May. Just in time, an impressive new crop of hiking and camping gear has sprung up along with the cherry blossoms, promising easier times on the trail in any season.
January 9, 2012
At first, they laughed at Vibram's weird ultra-light shoes with the five individual toe compartments. Now, with the barefoot-inspired minimalist tide sweeping the running and workout worlds, competitors big and small are rushing to copy it. Converts rave about the better balance, greater speed and reduced injuries that result from the funny-looking shoes, which enable a lower-impact forefoot landing. As companies experiment with new takes on the concept, they're adding cushioning and enclosures and trying to broaden the appeal to cross-training activities. Here's a quick look at the new minimalism.
8:41 PM EDT, March 25, 2011
The price of gas is topping $4 a gallon — again. And like 2008, when this last happened, interest in bikes for commuting and shopping is rising fast. With a variety of designs and technologies now available, there is now a practical bike for all types of work, be it urban city transport, long-distance commuting or short-haul shopping and delivery.
April 11, 2011
Good grip is a good thing. In daily life, you need strong hands, wrists and forearms to hold grocery bags, staircase railings, steering wheels and plenty of other things we take for granted. In athletics, your grip is the last link between you and your sport — whether it be gymnastics or tennis or rock climbing or ping-pong. New research even says your grip is an indicator of overall body strength — and also maybe how long you'll live. Bottom line: It pays to keep your grip strong, especially if you play hard or are older than 50, when strength wanes. Below are four ways to do it conveniently, even as you sit in front of the TV.
December 13, 2010
The serious athlete is a picky fellow or gal, normally quite unwilling to delegate the critical task of shopping for high-tech training gadgets to mere holiday well-wishers. But the stuff here is disappointment-proof — compact, functional, not prohibitively expensive and, best of all, so new that it will impress any recipient's hard-core buddies.
July 4, 2011
Getting out in nature for a hike or a trail run can offer an escape from the modern world. But that doesn't mean techie innovations should be left at home, especially when they enhance the experience in a quiet, unobtrusive way. If you want to get there or get back faster and safer, these lightweight devices can help.
February 7, 2011
Whether you're 18 or 80, if you like to run, bike, row, swim, cross-country ski or climb mountains, you have to keep an eye on the old ticker — for training and safety purposes. Those aiming for victory have to know how hard to push it; those out for basic health and longevity have to know when to throttle back. And those who take it too far absolutely have to get help fast. Here's some technology that provides instant access to your vital signs exactly when you and your helpers need it.
December 27, 2010
You don't need to be a Mayo Clinic researcher to figure out that being glued to an office chair all day makes people fat, but that's what it took to start a revolution. A few years ago, the clinic's Dr. James Levine theorized that raising one's metabolism through low-level, daylong movement could burn at least as many calories as a conventional workout at the end of an inactive day. He proved it by grafting a treadmill to a desk — his test subjects got healthier and walked off dozens of pounds without breaking a sweat at a 1 mph pace. Naturally, that led to the Levine-designed $4,199 Steelcase Walkstation, followed by a host of lower-cost, move-while-you-work accessories, some of the best of which are reviewed below.
October 18, 2010
Wes Williams was right. In the late 1990s, the tiny custom-bike builder in Crested Butte, Colo., developed a cult following for his odd Willits mountain bikes with their weird, 29-inch wheels — 3 inches taller than those on standard bikes. He told everyone that "29ers" would take over the industry some day. When mountain-bike icon Gary Fisher rolled out his own 29ers, his dealers laughed at him — until customers started clamoring for the monster-truck tires that fly over rocks, mud and sand so much faster and easier than little wheels. Today, big wheels have become the hottest story in the bike world. And Williams has a mile-long waiting list for his prestigious, all-titanium 29ers.
January 24, 2011
Snow is a beautiful thing, especially when you have the right toys for playing in it. Some of these items are simple and others are high-tech, but all are innovative and are sure to make any winter wonderland even better.
January 3, 2011
Remember how fun it was when you were a kid — jumping up and down, swinging your hips and rolling around on the floor? It was really just stealth exercise, and it can be just as fun for adults with the help of the products reviewed below.
October 4, 2010
Recession — what recession? So say makers of bike racks, who claim that the tough economy has encouraged more people to take up healthy, inexpensive activities like cycling. For those who would rather drive to the start of a century ride or an off-road trailhead, these innovative new bike carriers are loaded with convenience and security features to get you rolling faster and safer.
November 15, 2010
Two wheels and pedals, a handlebar, frame, chain and derailleur gears. The bicycle's basic design is so simple and efficient that it hasn't really changed for more than 75 years. But the relentless human urge to improve produces annual refinements in bikes — and maybe none push the envelope like the 2011 models examined below.
September 20, 2010
"I simply can't believe that the world needs a $50 T-shirt," said my editor, forever banning reviews of "high-tech" clothing in this column. Well, in the eight years since that conversation, high-tech's gone higher and attitudes have mellowed. "Performance" clothes for sports and fitness are everywhere, and a few of them actually work. A few examples are below — including a $99.95 T-shirt.
November 1, 2010
As the minimalist tide sweeps across the running world, a battle rages for the soul of trail running shoes: Thin, low-profile padding versus regular cushioning. Do you want the superior ground "feel" and stability of a lower shoe, which can rattle your bones? Or do you go for the taller, more traditional padded shoes that pamper you over rocks and ruts at the expense of that prized feel? We took four pairs out to the trails in Orange County's Peters Canyon for a mano a mano (or is that pies a pies?) showdown.
August 23, 2010
The Santa Monicas. The San Gabriels. The Santa Anas. Los Angeles and Orange counties are loaded with mountains and mountain trails that are begging to be hiked, run and biked. You could conceivably do these activities in tennis or running shoes, but those shoes lack the burly pedigree of the stable, protective and fast breed known as "lightweight hikers," cross-trainers designed to help you do it all.
September 6, 2010
Adding dynamic movement to strength exercises, such as doing a squat on a moving surface, is a good thing, forcing your body to balance, coordinate and challenge a wide range of muscle groups at once. Here are some dynamic new fitness products that encourage creativity and enhance workouts for exercisers of all ages and abilities.
August 9, 2010
Riding a golf cart is so old-school. Golfers are interested in fitness like never before — with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other top players working out to play better and physical conditioning increasingly recognized as a performance enhancer. The modern fit golfer enthusiastically walks the course and works on strength, aerobics and core with golf-specific fitness products. Those featured here were reviewed with the help of several serious sandbaggers.
June 28, 2010
Tackling three sports at once has a strange effect on triathletes: It makes them famously open-minded. Always in learning mode, tri guys and gals flock to clinics to improve their swim-bike-run, pay online coaches big bucks for training advice and love to experiment with far-out, supposedly performance-improving gear — often long before their single-sport counterparts. Here's a look at some of the hottest innovations for which triathletes are currently opening their minds and wallets.
June 21, 2010
Always a tinkerer's delight, the bicycle offers inventors an endless challenge to improve the ride. The four new accessories below make on- and off-road touring a breeze, indoor training more realistic, fast rides more comfy and data-rich biofeedback safer and more accessible.
July 26, 2010
The Back Bay loop, a 10.5-mile nearly car-free bike route around Upper Newport Bay filled with birds, scenic vistas, a museum, exhibits, side paths, headwinds and a few quick, steep climbs, is a worthy notch in the belt of a beginner cyclist and a good training ride for a veteran. It's also the perfect route for the comfortable flat-bar road bike known in the cycling world as the "fitness" bike, or as some local shops refer to it, the "Back Bay" bike.
May 31, 2010
Tungsten. Basalt. Giant holes. "Smart" materials that morph from hard to soft. Tennis rackets, like everything in life, seem to get stranger and techier by the minute — but do they actually make you hit the ball better? We gathered four of the hottest new upper-end models from the biggest brands in the U.S., put them in the hands of enthusiastic players, from college-age to middle-age, and headed to the courts to find out.
July 12, 2010
Vibration platforms, which purportedly provide a host of bone, muscle, circulatory, flexibility and injury-rehab benefits by shaking your body 20 to 50 times a second as you stand on them, are becoming more varied and practical as the market grows beyond pro sports teams and physical therapy offices. Backed by numerous studies (sometimes company-supported) suggesting that vibration increases load and stimulation with less joint stress, the machines are promoted as "workout accelerators" that hammer muscles in half the time of normal gym sessions.
May 3, 2010
How low can carbon go? Carbon fiber, the ultra-light, ultra-strong, ultra-shock-absorbing and ultra-expensive frame material once limited to exotic, $5,000 bikes, can now be found on dozens of road bikes retailing for around $2,000. This hot-selling category is made possible by manufacturing efficiencies in China and by pairing lower-end components with carbon frames, forks and seat posts often found on pricier machines. With sloping top tubes and taller head tubes/handlebars, these bikes are a bargain both for casual riders moving up to century rides and for serious, over-40 bike geeks looking for more upright-position comfort with no performance penalty. Here are four versions of the concept across the comfort-performance spectrum – all available for less than $2,000, despite list price.
April 26, 2010
The growing popularity of kettle bells, the primitive-looking bowling-balls-with-handles that deliver a great all-body workout, has given rise to similar products with more flexibility. Available now are weight-changeable kettle bells that can be customized to new fitness levels, for different family members or even during a workout — so you don't have to own more than one. Below, find four innovative ways to throw your weight around. — Roy M. Wallack
May 17, 2010
"Come on — you can actually get a workout with that?" That was my first reaction to these four products, but I was wrong. Simple and relatively inexpensive though they might be, you can work up a sweat with these low-tech yet innovative strap- and string-based resistance devices. They won't turn you into Arnold (the bodybuilder, not the governator), but they can be used at your desk and on the road, and, with a little effort, can make you feel the burn.
November 16, 2009
Nothing would seem to be more "green" than exercise, which gives off sweat and smell but not pollution. But if you get your cardio on a machine, you're not completely eco-clean unless you use one that doesn't plug into a wall socket, which is at least partially powered by fossil-fuel-burning power plants. Aside from a few categories -- rowing machines, spinning bikes and some high-end self-generating exer-bikes -- there have been no other electricity-free treadmills and ellipticals available until just a few months ago. Here's the first look at the workout world's newest green machines.
April 5, 2010
"Every runner over 45 that I see in here has advanced osteoarthritis in his knees," my doctor told me last year before recommending surgery for my torn meniscus. "I tell all you guys the same thing: ‘The impact is too much. Switch to the elliptical or cycling.'" Instead, some runners take up impact-reducing techniques such as the Pose Method, ChiRunning, aqua-jogging or barefooting. Others eye innovative running machines — indoor and outdoor — that once might have been reserved just for rehabilitation and high-performance training. If you're addicted to the runner's high and want to save what's left of your cartilage before it's too late, one of these expensive contraptions might be worth the investment in the long run.
November 30, 2009
Ever since two Ohio bike shop owners named Wright changed the world, tinkerers have been using the bicycle as a launching pad for new ideas. Now, in an effort to get America outdoors and exercising more, modern-day inventors are tapping the unique efficiency and comfort of the bicycle once again -- mating the bike with popular indoor exercise equipment. Below, meet a new elliptical, a rower, an all-body ergometer and even a treadmill -- on wheels.
March 22, 2010
In bike racing and triathlons, aerodynamics can become an obsession. Because overcoming wind resistance is key, riders have for years shelled out big bucks for aero bike frames, aero handlebars, aero wheels and aero helmets — without giving a second thought to sticking a blunt, wind-dragging 3-inch-wide water bottle right in the middle of it all. Now, straight from the wind tunnel, the final piece of the puzzle has arrived: the aero hydration system.
January 11, 2010
Fitness stores sell a variety of spinal decompression/traction devices -- inversion tables and ankle boots that hang you upside down and stretch out your back -- on the promise that they help relieve back pain, enhance general back fitness, provide deep relaxation and maybe even slow age-related height shrinkage. The last, after all, is partially caused by the flattening and dehydration of the soft disks that separate your vertebrae.
September 21, 2009
Sure, you're fit. But are you functionally fit? The hottest trend in fitness today is "functional training," which means working out in a way that better prepares your body for real-life movements such as catching a pass, hitting a tennis ball or hoisting a couple of bags of groceries up the stairs.
April 6, 2009
Five years ago, a serious man named Pavel Tsatsouline, a lean, muscular Russian who listed his former occupation as a physical trainer for Soviet special forces (which I assumed meant KGB), took me through a workout with an odd, low-tech device I'd never seen before called a kettlebell, a dense cast-iron weight, with a handle, that looks like a solid tea pot.
March 9, 2009
Once the quirky love object of obsessed cyclists who couldn't travel anywhere without getting their ride in, the funky-looking folding bike has morphed into an everyman's transportation solution -- a fast, easy way to get to work and around town. These bikes don't just help you skirt painful airline bike-luggage fees; they collapse in seconds to carry-on size after you've pedaled to the subway, bus or carpool van. And when you get where you have to go, forget about locking the bike to a tree or a railing; just fold it, head up the elevator or stairs and set it quietly in the closet. It's as utilitarian as a jacket or an umbrella -- that you use for a 20-mile workout during the weekend.
March 8, 2010
The 24 Hours of Adrenalin Solo World Championship is often a grueling showcase for the world's toughest bikes and riders, but the July event in Canmore, Canada, was something special.
January 25, 2010
When times get tough, people go hiking. That's the news from a CBS News/New York Times poll released a couple of weeks ago, which found that recession-wracked Americans are now getting by on less, doing more and valuing experiences over things. High on the list: inexpensive, exciting family-bonding adventures like canoeing, biking and backpacking. Coincidentally, backpacking was the theme of the mammoth Outdoor Retailer trade show that began Thursday in Salt Lake City. Straight from the showroom floor, here's a look at some standout backpacking gear that can offer assistance on the long, adventurous trail to recovery.
February 23, 2009
Truth is, when I planned this review of fitness hoops and attended a 90-minute hooping class in Santa Monica last Sunday, I did not know that hooping had become a giant fitness trend and that Marisa Tomei used it to get in shape for her role as a stripper in the Oscar-nominated film "The Wrestler." But I can tell you that it is a smile-inducing, easy-yet-challenging, sweat-drenching, skill-building core workout for an uncoordinated male, and that when I woke up Monday morning I swear my gut had shrunk by an inch or two. And having seen "The Wrestler," I can also tell you that I recommend the products below to every woman in the universe.
February 9, 2009
The attraction of the bare-bones stationary bikes used in spinning classes has always been that they feel like real bikes, with the same saddles, pedal spacing and body positioning found on race bikes. The newest spinners have the same feel -- but with one big change: They're far from bare bones. Some have program-laden touch-screen monitors; some rock and bob and require balance; others provide sophisticated, downloadable electronic feedback. With enough bells and whistles to please hard-core cyclists and average exercisers alike, these super spin bikes might just make you forget about class.
March 30, 2009
"I can't do that," said the 36-year-old woman to my right as I leaned down and touched my toes in a yoga class. "I'm a runner." Such limitations may seem ironic, but they're all too common among seemingly fit athletes: marathoners so tight that they can barely reach their shins, cyclists so fixed in their hunched-over riding position that they can't lie flat -- "like crabs," as one masseuse told me. Flexibility is a key element in performance, and a fun and effective way to get it back is through yoga, which is increasingly popular among the high-VO2-max crowd. Helping the cause are new yoga accessories that can help loosen up any body, athletic or not.
November 3, 2008
Big, burly bodybuilders generally don't do them. Neither do little old blue-haired ladies. Nor does anyone in between. That's because, as strength training goes, the pull-up, the king of the back exercises, is quite difficult. But the benefits of this rigorous, compound body-weight movement -- which targets the latissimus dorsi along with a host of supporting muscles -- are so pronounced for posture, balance, flexibility and overall upper-body strength that everyone should try to do at least one or two at home. After all, pull-up bars are among the least expensive of all home-training equipment, require no space other than a few inches of a door frame, and will even help you blast your abs via hanging leg lifts. A couple of the models reviewed below offer some surprising innovations that make pull-ups more convenient and doable for all ages and fitness levels. And, of course, they all double as great coat hangers in a pinch.
September 8, 2008
In the 51 years since a company called Wham-O made a plastic saucer and named it Frisbee, we've gotten disc golf, a team disc sport called Ultimate and even an annual World Canine Disc Championship, featuring disc-catching dogs performing jaw-dropping aerial gymnastics. Those dogs are on to something. As you twist your body, whip your arm, then run after and catch a flying disc, you stretch your muscles, strengthen your back, build coordination and burn as much as 200 calories an hour, according to www.fitday.com. It's stealth fitness, masquerading as pure fun, that you can do anywhere at any age. Here are four spins on the concept
June 30, 2008
Last Monday morning, I was splashed by a mullet when it leapt at least five feet out of the water in a crazy attempt to fly. I cruised alongside a guy who casually reached down and picked up a Frisbee-sized jellyfish. I stood within four inches of the long, thin beak of a pelican resting on a buoy; it looked at me and yawned. You get a wondrous workout of wind, water and wildlife when you push off into Newport Bay. On a recent day, after lessons from Jim Smiley of Paddle Power, I headed around Balboa Island in sit-down kayaks that let you paddle and pedal, then cruised along on trendy stand-up paddle boards, balancing on two feet like a Venice gondolier. From your shoulders down to the soles of your gripping feet, these innovative paddle craft deliver an all-body, all-sensory workout you won't soon forget.
October 27, 2008
Buying an expensive, all-body elliptical machine -- even cutting-edge models that push the technology envelope like the novel sit-down and multi-mode models tested here -- might seem a bit counterintuitive in the midst of tough economic times. But bull and bear markets don't matter if you think of health as a long-term investment. The four excellent, club-quality machines below, each of which deliver smooth, heart-rate-monitored, arm-and-leg aerobic workouts that burn calories without joint stress, will pay dividends for decades.
September 22, 2008
With innovative board sports growing -- think snowboarding, wakeboarding, kiteboarding -- it makes sense that the granddaddy of them all wouldn't stand still. Skateboarding, developed in the 1950s among surfers who wanted to "surf the streets" in their spare time, is being influenced by its modern offspring. Novel new boards let you carve asphalt like it's powder, stand up and paddle like you're in Waikiki and twist like, well, nothing I've ever seen.
August 25, 2008
The mantra was "Comfort = Performance," and the product was radical in 2005: A high- performance endurance road bike for aging baby boomers who rode a lot but didn't want to lean over so much anymore -- such as Specialized President Mike Sinyard, originator of the idea. In less than four years, this simple concept -- that normal folk could ride longer and stronger with a stiff but shock-absorbing frame and handlebars raised a couple of inches -- has swept the industry. The 2009 road-bike lineups of the big brands are dominated by these so-called relaxed-geometry models with upright riding positions. And they're no longer targeted only at big-mile boomers -- because, it turns out, riders of every age like to be comfortable.
March 10, 2008
"How to get the kids off the computer?" is the question for today's parents, who often are alarmed to find themselves more fit than their children. One answer: Give them outdoor sports gear so cool, so innovative, so captivating that it tricks them into running around in the grass or playing on the streets -- if not all day, at least for an hour or two. That'll still leave them plenty of time to rush back in and instant message their friends about it.
December 17, 2007
What to buy the biker/runner/swimmer/backpacker/kayaker/skier who already has all the sport-specific toys he/she will ever need? Preferably something that's functional, has a cool design, is so new that no one's heard of it and, of course, is small enough to slip into a stocking.
March 24, 2008
Five inches. In the mountain-biking world, where the probability of enjoying a breathtaking descent is often measured by the distance your bike's wheels can compress, or "travel," when they hit a big rock, 5 inches of travel is way better than 3 or 4. Although 5 inches typically came on heavy, slow-climbing, 33-pound bikes, advances in suspension design and tubing fabrication have brought big travel to nimble, sub-30-pounders.
October 22, 2007
Go on vacation and come back in better shape than when you left? It happened to me last year when I went to northern Spain -- with a jump-rope. Packing more luggage-friendly fitness-per-ounce than any other exercise, skipping rope obliterates calories, rocks your heart rate and does wonders for your agility, posture, balance, reflexes and upper-to-lower body coordination. Always a boxing mainstay, it's increasingly being used as a warmup and tune-up for weightlifters, wrestlers, volleyball players, skaters and swimmers. Remarkably efficient and economical, these unique jump-ropes let you target your home workout to speed, strength and general fitness -- wherever in the world you happen to be.
December 31, 2007
Every Dec. 31, thousands of people make resolutions to start weight training, only to wake up New Year's Day and remember they can't stand the sight of dumbbells. That's why we made sure that none of the simple, innovative, compact strength products reviewed here looks like one. But don't be fooled: They'll build and tone muscle quite well -- and do it in a fun, functional and flexible way that'll keep your inner Arnold pumped all year long.
January 14, 2008
Mild weather might make Southern California one of the best places in the country for winter cycling, but the short days and the occasional monsoon blowing in from Alaska mean you still need an indoor trainer. Whether you own a mountain bike or road bike or no bike, the devices below can get you a great cycling workout any time -- night or day, rain or shine.
February 11, 2008
Love monitoring your heart rate, but hate wearing the tight, uncomfortable transmitter chest strap? You're not alone, as the sudden rise of the strapless heart rate monitor indicates. Popular with walkers and gym rats but viewed skeptically by hard-core athletes for a perceived lack of accuracy and potential danger during cycling (you have to take one hand off the handlebar to get a reading), strapless monitors come in convenient wristwatch and finger-ring form. There's even a breakthrough design that incorporates a chest transmitter into a bra and shirt.
November 19, 2007
Runners run through a lot of shoes -- the reason is the foam midsole, which steadily loses its cushioning. Brands are experimenting with models that replace foam with shock-absorbing structures they claim don't degrade as much.
June 4, 2007
Although bike riding is an ideal fitness activity for all ages and abilities — doable from home, easy on the joints, free (after buying the bike) — most people don't ride.
May 21, 2007
On Sept. 17, 2006, in the Netherlands, Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya set a world record in the 10-mile run after some unconventional training.
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