"Use it or lose it" goes for most things in life, including balance. Athletes use it to stick a landing, dodge a would-be tackler and score 9s on "Dancing With the Stars." When de-conditioned folks lose it, they feel shaky on a bike, walk stiffly and slowly, and risk falling and breaking their hip while vacuuming the floor. Fortunately, balance comes back when you work the quick-reaction core muscles that coordinate a body in motion, traditionally with the assistance of stability products such as wobble boards and Swiss balls. Here are four new takes that strike a good balance of simplicity, challenge and fun.
Workout 180: Unstable half-circle platform with built-in stretch-cord mini-gym.
Small but effective
Likes: Fun, effective, compact. You get a nice core workout on the rocking, round- bottomed 24-by-14-inch platform while doing stretch-cord curls, overhead presses and especially tough squats. The platform makes push-ups and planks far more challenging. The clean, space-saving design houses three retractable resistance cords of varying difficulty levels to which the user attaches clip-on handles. You can use it with your own dumbbells too. The included frame stabilizer can be used as push-up bar. Easily stores in a closet or behind the sofa.
Price: $199.99. (888) 355-5335; workout180.com.
Like a skateboard
The Woggler: Innovative dual-footed pivoting footboard that builds core balance as you "walk" on it. Stretch-cord strength attachments included.
Likes: It's almost as fun to use as it is to say. The Woggler looks and feels like a slim-waisted, 28-inch-long, 5-inch-high plastic skateboard with a pair of 6 1/2 -inch suction cups instead of wheels. The rubber-ringed cups don't suction, they pivot; you move in steps by shifting the weight off one foot and rotating the board under the other foot. Trying to move the cups precisely along a marked course on the 12-foot-long rubber-backed, roll-up fabric mat (an option I recommend), I could feel the balance and weight transfer working on me. The push-up position -- crab-walking with hands on the foot platforms -- is exhausting. A great workout for functional core fitness, ankle-calf-Achilles tendon strength and all-body coordination. Optional stabilizing rods ($69.99) act like "training wheels" for those with low balance. A "bucket kit" ($134.99) with stretch-cord attachments, hand grips and knee pads helps create a mini-gym.
Price: $84.99; exercise rug, $159.99. (877) 964-4537; thewoggler.com.
Getting on the ball
Bosu 3D Body Sculpting: A docking station for the regular Bosu (an inflated half-ball popular for stability training) that includes a safety bar and clip-on resistance cords.
Likes: Gives de-conditioned people the superb benefits of the Bosu, which creates an unstable stepping surface for balance-enhancing exercise, by helping prevent falls. All the exercise routines on the included DVD can be done with or without the bar. The resistance cords allow some upper-body toning.
Dislikes: None. But if you're fit, save money and buy the regular Bosu without the bar ($59.95) or the Bosu classic, which also includes the DVDs and a pump ($99.95).
Price: $149.95. (800) 348-5890; bosu.com.
TP Stability Pods: Three 5 3/4 -inch diameter discs of pliable foam ( 7/8 -inch, 1 3/4 -inch and 2 5/8 -inch tall) that are used to destabilize basic exercises.
Likes: Simple but effective. Adds difficulty to one-legged knee raises and push-ups, one-foot balancing, kneeling in "bird dog" pose (one knee, one hand), and some one-foot balancing. Discs can be stacked for added difficulty. You can further intensify any core exercise by applying one or more pods to any of your points of contact with the ground.
Dislikes: Boredom may set in; the number of exercises is limited.
Price: $25.95. (888) 31-BALLS; tptherapy.com.
Irvine-based endurance cyclist and runner Roy M. Wallack is coauthor of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100." Reach him at email@example.com.
-- Roy M. Wallack