Pump it up and pull
Question: What do you get when you marry a stability ball and stretch cords? Answer: An inflatable home gym. The ball forces you to engage your core and numerous other supporting muscles as you try to maintain balance during an almost endless variety of ball-only and stretch-cord exercises. Useful for general toning, flexibility and some minor strengthening, these hybrids inflate and deflate for easy storage and transport (pumps are included for all but the Gaiam BalanceBall Resistance Kit) and deliver an inexpensive, practical home workout.
Staying on base
Everlast For Her Pilates Inflatable Ball, Base and Adjustable Tubing: Conventional ball that sits atop a base, which has stretch cords attached.
Likes: Two-way pump inflates the ball quickly; four-section plastic base snaps together in seconds. Allows for moderate-intensity chest flys, triceps extensions, lateral stretches, knee extensions and leg abductions.
Dislikes: The base must be used for cord exercises, so some desirable exercises are off limits, such as a seated, ground-floor row with the ball against the soles of your feet. Also, the base tends to slide around on noncarpeted floors.
Price: $25.99; www.amazon.com.
Where you can harness the power
Gaiam BalanceBall Resistance Kit: An add-on harness and stretch cords that fit over any brand of inflatable fitness ball.
Likes: If you have a ball already, this saves you as much as $20. Includes an excellent workout DVD.
Dislikes: Putting on the harness is a minor hassle for a few minutes.
Price: $19.99; www.target.com.
Smaller but just as effective
uni-BODI Ball: Innovative, compact sphere with a single, dual-handled stretch cord running through a hollow plastic axel in the center.
Likes: Cord exercises feel extremely stable because of the solid anchoring. Three cord lengths allow for different exercise and resistance levels. Small size (16 inches high -- about 4 inches shorter than popular 65-millimeter fitness balls) is easier to store than others and does not seem to inhibit effectiveness. Can also be used as a regular, cordless ball. Accordian-like palm pump provides fastest inflation of the bunch. Large, well-illustrated exercise chart included.
Dislikes: The hard plastic portals of the cord channel can jab you if you don’t center your body during noncord exercises.
Price: $79.99. (888) 348-2634; www.unibodi.com.
Right on the ring
Danskin Core Ball Plus: Ball with built-in loops for attaching stretch cords; sits in an inflatable stability ring.
Likes: Use of the ring limits ball movement, a benefit for beginners, and can be removed to increase the difficulty as you improve. Workout exercise poster included.
Dislikes: The thin-walled cord tubing, like that of the other models reviewed here, may offer too little resistance to satisfy fit men and women looking for a strength workout, unless you foreshorten the cord to increase resistance.
Price: $39.99. (800) 704-5561; www.danskinfitness.com.
Roy M. Wallack