Writing about fitness, we see a lot of gear, clothing and gadgets -- some useful, some fun and some downright weird. So take our advice: When choosing a gift for a loved one this season, think practicality with a dash of indulgence. That doesn't mean said gift has to break the bank, but it should be more exciting than a basic cotton T-shirt or moisture-wicking socks. Here are our picks for some fitness-themed holiday gifts:
A mat is the most basic piece of equipment in the yoga repertoire, and the most necessary. Not all mats are created equal -- some provide more stickiness, making it easier to stay on during an especially arduous session, while others are extra-thick to provide more padding.
JadeYoga mats are known for being ultra-sticky, important for power or hot yoga classes, or even any crowded class where room and body temperatures can heat up quickly, eliminating the need for mat towels. Yoga practitioners who are also environmentally conscious will be pleased to know that the mats are made from real rubber, a sustainable resource, or recycled rubber. And, for every mat purchased, the company plants a tree via Trees for the Future. JadeYoga also encourages people to recycle their old mats via its 3R program -- Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. Details are on the website.
"This is an audience that cares about the Earth and their spiritual well-being," says Pennsylvania-based company founder Dean Jerrehian, a former Environmental Protection Agency attorney. "We have a new feature in our newsletter asking customers what they're doing with their mats in the community, and it's amazing what we're hearing back, like someone teaching yoga to recovering alcoholics and people with HIV."
The mats come in a variety of colors, widths, lengths and thicknesses, and some even have a cool die-cut edge. Kid-size mats are also available.
Swimming endless laps isn't the only way to get fit in a pool. A few inexpensive pieces of gear can offer a great workout by providing flotation or water resistance, which causes the muscles to work harder and the cardiovascular system to ramp up.
Hydro Resistant Arm Trainers from Speedo have a hand grip and provide a great upper body workout as arms move through the water. Use the trainers for individual exercises that target specific muscle groups, such as the triceps and biceps, or simply move them back and forth through water while you are traveling or standing still. Either way, the resistance of the water will tone muscles and increase the heart rate. The material is resistant to pool chemicals.
For the lower body, there's the Hydro Resistant Leg Trainers, which fit around the ankles and use the force of the water to work muscles. The multi-fin design won't encumber movement, and the neoprene cuff that wraps around the ankle is cushioned and comfortable.
Both have a distinctive ergonomic design that enables you to move through the water efficiently but doesn't stress the joints. An oversize grip on the arm trainers, plus wrist stabilization, prevents tired hands and wrists while in the water.
Technology can be a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to creating new fibers. This Shuksan jacket from REI is made from a new fabric called eVent, which allows perspiration to escape, while still keeping out wind (it's windproof to 60 mph). So there's no need for underarm zippers or extra-large gussets (and the bulk they bring) to allow for air flow -- a big plus when you're working up a sweat. Closed seams also protect against rain. Other features include a helmet-compatible hood, an earphone cord port, and shoulder straps and hip belts that won't get in the way of the two mesh-lined front pockets.
One of the jacket's most outstanding features, however, may be the embedded Recco chip, a small reflector that can be picked up by a signal-emitting detector that is used by hundreds of search and rescue teams and ski areas. It supplements, but doesn't replace, avalanche transceivers.
Headlamps aren't only for hikers and backpackers -- people who exercise outside can benefit from a little illumination, too. Runners, walkers and cyclists can also use them to light up their immediate surroundings and as a reflective device for oncoming traffic.
Petzl makes various styles of headlamps, from small and compact models to slightly larger ones with more functions. The e+LITE is one of the company's newer models, and its small size and light weight set it apart from the rest. Although small, its three white LED lights produce a beam that goes to 19 meters as well as a single red LED light that's better for seeing in the dark. There's even a flashing strobe option. Need the light elsewhere? The light can come off the headband, allowing it to be clipped to a belt, bag strap or affixed to a stationary object.
Southern California runners have a lot to deal with, weather-wise. The beginning of a run may be cool, but things can heat up quickly when the sun gets high and the sweat starts pouring. A simple T-shirt may be too little, a jacket may be too much. The answer? Brisk Arm Warmers from Lululemon Athletica. (These are designed for women; similar products are available from other companies for men.) Unlike other arm warmers that start at the wrist, these have fold-back "cuffins" that extend over the fingers for especially cold days. They're made from a nylon-Lycra blend and have silicone strips that keep them in place as you move. When the weather shifts, simply scrunch the warmers down.
They could be used for other outdoor activities as well, such as boot camp, in-line skating, even walking the dog.
Women, some insist, don't sweat, they glow. Whatever the case, perspiration -- especially buckets of it -- can make a workout uncomfortable. While most people suffer through a long run, bike ride or group exercise class bathed in sweat, the Swiftly Tech T-shirt from Lululemon Athletica for women is all about keeping cool. It has built-in mesh panels that allow air to flow, plus X-static silver fibers that are antimicrobial and antistatic -- way more high tech than most workout gear. What's so special? In short, this shirt has it all. Seam-free construction means no chafing, especially good for long runs and epic-length spinning classes. It conforms to the body without being too tight, which is a nice compromise.