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.
Split-toe running shoe
TOPO ATHLETIC Run Trainer: Ultralight low-rise running shoe with a split-toe "Tabi" design that separates the big toe from the rest of the foot, theoretically allowing it to move independently and work as a key stabilizer, amplifying the foot's natural biomechanics.
Likes: Super comfortable and agile for running and walking. The separate big-toe compartment and wide toe box have a natural, non-cramped fit, with the toes able to spread naturally. The minimal cushioning and independent toe give it an excellent ground feel and dexterity. It's the best of both worlds: far more natural feeling than a regular enclosed-toe shoe with similar protection, but with most of the dexterity of a five-toed shoe. It weighs 8.5 ounces in men's size 9.5.
Dislikes: You can't use a normal sock. A five-toed or mitten-style one-toed sock is necessary.
Price: $99.95. www.topoathletic.com
e3 Core Activation fingerless gloves: These gloves are designed to help improve your balance — and therefore, strength and speed. The design, from Sacramento biomechanist/Shiatsu massage artist Stephen Tamaribuchi, claims to straighten your posture by reducing the arm's internal rotation, which causes shoulders to slump forward and inward. Utilizing the same principles used in the inventor's e3 Biogrips, well-known among runners (and reviewed favorably in this column) for reducing side-to-side body sway, the gloves include a pad that rounds the thumb position and dense material that restricts the closure of the index and middle finger, thereby increasing the grasping responsibilities of the pinky and ring finger. Operating from a more-stable base, the arms have more leverage to fully use their power.
Likes: It actually works. During a barbell exercise, your body position is more stable and balanced. I could actually do more reps of most strength exercises that involved a hand grip.
Dislikes: None, if you already wear gloves while weight lifting.
Price: $29.99. e3grip.com
Define Bottle: 20-ounce clear water bottle made of two plastic compartments connected by a filter/strainer. You insert fruit, tea bags or herbs in the bottom half and water in the top. Includes a freezable base piece and lanyard.
Likes: Tasty idea. A small chunk of strawberry or orange (even an orange rind) gives off a refreshing tinge for many hours and refills. Flip-top, twist-off, and 7- and 10-ounce versions are available. The BPA-free co-polyester plastic is dishwasher safe (as long as you remove the silicone gaskets first).
Dislikes: You must clean the gaskets occasionally to stop mold build-up; if you lose them, the bottle will leak.
Price: $29.95 www.definebottle.com
Adaptable kettle bell system
CrossBell: Two plastic water-filled kettle bells and a barbell that offer a range of workout options.
Likes: Practical and effective. The plastic, hollow kettle bells, each fill with 10 pounds of water and won't scuff or dent your wood floors. They function well in all standard kettle bells exercises. When attached to the 10-pound padded steel barbell (made of two pieces that thread together and apart for easy storage) with plastic quick-release clamps, it makes for a handy 30-pound barbell. Four workout DVDs are included. A number of exercise routines can also be found on the website.
Dislikes: At 10 and 30 pounds respectively, a kettle bell and the loaded barbell will be too light for most men, and there is no room on the ends of the bar to slip on some weight plates.
Price: $179.97. A single kettle bell is $49.97. www.crossbellfitness.com
Wallack is the co-author of "Fire Your Gym: Simplified High-Intensity Workouts You Can Do at Home." firstname.lastname@example.org