Gear: Exercise masquerading as old-school fun

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.

Whip it good

Acu Hoop: Foam-covered, multicolored hula hoop with wavy ridges that weighs 5 pounds and measures 411/2 inches across.

Likes: Nothing else melds fun and fitness like this. For a raw beginner, learning to hoop is a 15-minute laugh-fest; after that, it's core-workout bliss with a beaming smile that won't go away. Hooping hammers your waistline and glutes, and does wonders for your rhythm and coordination. The extra-heavy weight of the Acu Hoop multiplies the effect and really makes you sweat; the manufacturer recommends hooping twice a day for 10 minutes at a time. The wavy foam ridge adds nice massage action. It's a great workout for while you're watching TV. The hoop breaks down into eight sections, so it travels well too.

Dislikes: None

Price: $46. (866) 700-5668;


Perfect Situp: A unique take on working the abs, the muscles that go crazy when you laugh. The design combines an upper-ab crunch with a lower-ab leg lift.

Likes: Provides a wide variety of effective core exercises; I found the "bicycle" (opposite elbow to knee) to be an especially good workout. You lie down in a 4-foot-3 contraption of foam pads, plastic panels, a rubber headrest sling and steel spring blades that resembles a primitive robot skeleton, with handles built into the headrest and stirrups for your feet. The device forces you to engage your legs more, lifting them toward your body rather than just crunching your body toward them. The steel blades provide surprisingly strong resistance, so your abs are cooked quickly. Optional higher-resistance blades are available. Includes a chart with a dozen core exercises. Easy tool-free assembly took me 22 minutes.

Dislikes: It's big and rickety, although it comes with a hook so you can hang it up in the closet.

Price: $99. (877) 974-7733;

On a roll

The Grid from Trigger Point Technologies: Hollow foam roller with channeled grid pattern that'll have you rolling around on the ground.

Likes: A good leg and back massage with some minor core work. You set various parts of your body — hamstrings, calves, quads, back — on the roller and set about balancing yourself, elongating and relaxing muscles as you challenge them. Measures 13 inches long and 51/2 inches across. The grid pattern may provide a better massage than a standard foam roller. The relatively short length also means it travels better.

Dislikes: Not really a significant improvement over the old-fashioned, low-tech foam roller, but three times the cost.

Price: $39.99. (888) 312-2557;

Jump for joy

Altus 9-foot Beaded Jump Rope: For fitness-per-dollar, nothing comes close to this simple design, which stacks short pieces of plastic tubing over a thin rope.

Likes: This is serious aerobic exercise and coordination masquerading as a game. Jump ropes take you back to your youth while providing an intense, challenging and fun workout that can be varied with different styles of jumps. The heft of the beaded design helps the rope hold a great U-shape while jumping.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $5 to $13. (800) 654-9873;

Wallack is the author of "Run for Life: Fast Times, Fewer Injuries and a Lifetime of Spectacular Fitness."