Kettlebells

kettlebells.jpg

Kettlebells are used for exercise and training. They look like a cannonball with a handle, come from Russia, and provide a great workout focused on whole-body exercise (rather than muscle isolation), with great benefits for strength, cardio, stamina, and flexibility. Unlike regular weights, the kettlebell’s center of mass is extended away from the hand which is optimized for a variety of different movements including swinging.

I specifically like exercises that work the entire body. The kettlebell does that and allows a continuous routine of various exercises without having to stop and change equipment. Moreover, you can do quite fine with a single kettlebel. You can start with a 1-pood (16.6 kg, or 35 lb) or lighter kettlebell and for many that will be enough. These weights take up little room, will not break down or wear out, and require no batteries.

-- Michael Ham  

[The founders of Cross Fit have published a useful guide for proper kettlebell swinging form.-- OH]

J FIT Cast Iron Kettlebell
$54 (30 lbs)

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by JFIT



Treat Your Own Neck

treat-neck.jpg

Treat Your Own Neck saved my neck! The book is very thin but packed with the info you need to treat your neck pain. The author clearly explains the physiology of the neck, and describes specific exercises to treat specific types of neck pain/injury. The exercises are simple, but not intuitive.

About a year ago I got a bulged disc in my neck. This had never happened before, and I had no idea what was going on. I had very limited movement and what movement I had was very painful. At first, I thought it was just a sore or stiff neck from an awkward bike riding position, or a slight workout injury. As it progressively worsened over the next couple of weeks I started to realize this was more serious. A visit to my MD and a referral to a neurologist confirmed the bulged disc diagnosis. What was their advice for me? Basically a shrug, and they said, “Sometimes it goes away, sometimes you just have to live with it.” They offered me some muscle relaxants. I couldn’t believe that was all modern medicine had to offer.

I was a little panicked, to be honest. I wasn’t really interested in being partially disabled. I remembered a couple of friends who’d experienced debilitating back problems. They both solved their own issues using some exercises out of book. I figured maybe there was something in there for me, too. Turns out the author, Robin McKenzie, wrote a book for backs, AND a book for necks!

Personally, I’d never have figured this out on my own. By following the exercises in the book my neck pain was reduced the first day, and eliminated within two weeks. For my particular symptoms, the book provided just one specific exercise, and suggested some postural changes while sitting and sleeping. Though my bulged disc is gone, I continue to use this exercise whenever I have a stiff or sore neck (bad posture at work, or long drives), and continue to find immediate relief.

The book is the price of an insurance co-payment and, for me at least, worth many times what I paid.

-- Brendon Connelly  

Treat Your Own Neck
Robin McKenzie
2006, 46 pages
$10

Available from Amazon

[Note: Robin McKenzie has also written a well regarded manual for back pain called Treat Your Own Back that can be found here. -- OH]



Surefoot Foot Rubz

surefoot-rubz-sm.jpg

The Surefoot Foot Rubz is a massaging ball that has given me relief from aching feet caused by Ballroom dance lessons. You massage your feet by gently rolling the knobby ball under them. You can apply as much pressure as necessary. It is much more effective than the wooden foot rollers I’ve tried in the past. Best $ I’ve ever spent for relief of tired and achy feet.

-- John B.  

Surefoot Foot Rubz
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sure Foot



Stretching

stretching1sm.jpg

I haven’t encountered any source on this subject as broad, accessible, and easily applied as Bob Anderson’s classic Stretching, a patient and friendly stand-in for my eight-grade P.E. teacher.

The 30th anniversary edition of this guidebook came out recently, with even more stretches and illustrations, and it’s easily the most comprehensive work on the subject. I love the activity-specific sections: cyclists, for instance, are shown stretches that not only address the muscle groups made tight and tense by our specific sport, but the stretches geared toward bike riders even include a bicycle to be utilized as a support. Activities from weightlifting to computer using get their own sections, too.

Organizationally, Stretching shines. Tight neck? Rigid shoulders? Thumb through to your prescribed routine and get to work. With minimal flexibility but a willingness to make an effort, almost anyone can use this book to become more limber, healthier.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Stretching: 30th Anniversary Revised Edition
By Bob Anderson, illustrations by Jean Anderson
2010, 240 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Stretching feels good when done correctly. You do not have to push the limits or attempt to go further each day. It should not be a personal contest to see how far you can stretch. Stretching should be tailored to your particular muscular structure, flexibility, and varying tension levels. The key is regularity and relaxation. The object is to reduce muscular tension, thereby promoting freer movement—not to concentrate on attaining extreme flexibility, which often leads to overstretching and injury.

*

Who Should Stretch?
Everyone can learn to stretch, regardless of age or flexibility. You do not need to be in top physical condition or have specific athletic skills. Whether you sit at a desk all day, dig ditches, do housework, stand at an assembly line, drive a truck or exercise regularly, the same techniques of stretching apply….if you are healthy, without any specific physical problems, you can learn how to stretch safely and enjoyably.

*

Why Stretch?
- Reduce muscle tension and make the body feel more relaxed
- Help coordination by allowing for freer and easier movement
- Make strenuous activities like running, skiing, tennis, swimming, and cycling easier because it prepares you for activity; it’s a way of signaling the muscles that they are about to be used.

*

stretching2.jpg

*

stretching3.jpg

*

stretching4.jpg

*

stretching5.jpg




Yamuna Body Rolling Footsavers

foot-savers-sm.jpg

I was turned onto the aptly-named Yamuna Body Rolling Footsavers about five years ago and haven’t looked back. Like a hard racquetball that has been sliced in half, the Footsavers are designed to help realign the bones, muscles and tendons in your feet. You stand on them and work your feet, positioning each foot down the inside line, outside line and mid-line. It’s a simple routine that’s explained on the instructional DVD it comes with. If you have any foot discomfort, the kind you get from imperfect shoes or simply being on your feel all day, these really can make a difference. At first, it will be painful. You will likely have to not put all your weight onto the Savers, and probably need to do it next to a wall for balance. But the moment you step off the saver, your feet enter a whole new world. I always take these when I travel, as they are quite small. They have saved me after days of walking all around Manhattan and after ultimate frisbee and any bike ride. I find they’re also great after or before any normal day as well. What I appreciate about Footsaving is that you can do it while you drink your morning coffee or while you watch a little TV. Makes it difficult to use the “too busy” excuse. The routine is quick and the relief to my feet has been monumental. I’m sure there is an acupressure effect of some kind with these, though I don’t know exactly how/why it works. I just know they’ve been well worth the initial discomfort and adjustment.

-- Aaron Pastor  

Yamuna Body Rolling Foot Savers
$39
Manufactured by Yamuna Zake

Available from Amazon



TheraTherm Digital Heating Pad

theratherm-sm.jpg

Finally a digital heating pad that can maintain a temperature you set — not just one of three arbitrary settings. This heating pad has a range from 86 to 166 degrees F that can be adjusted in 2-degree increments. I don’t have any particular injury or ailment, other than occasional mild back pain, but I use this unit daily (actually nightly). This is probably not recommended use, but I have developed the habit of sleeping with a heating pad. Instead of running all the time like older units, though, this one has an auto-off function that lets you set it to stay on up to 60 minutes at a time. Also it only turns on the heating coils to bring it up to temp and when it falls below temp. Once it reaches the desired temp, it shuts off. The heat generally continues to rise 2-3 degrees, peaks, then starts to fall, then kicks back on. And so it cycles for the amount of time you program into it (the default is 30 minutes). I prefer 118°, which seems to work best for me. You can also switch the display to a ‘monitor mode’ and see the actual temp it’s reading from the pad instead of what you’ve set the thermostat to. I have no idea about the “moist” aspect of the heating pad, since I only use it as a dry heating pad. At about $60, it is a bit expensive if you’re used to the $20 pads. Also the cord to the controls could be longer and there’s no back-light on the controls, so it’s harder to use in total darkness. But once it’s set at night, I don’t have to fiddle with it or remember to turn it off anyway. The pads come in various sizes. The one I have is the 14″x14″ blanket pad.

-- Jay Harrison  

TheraTherm Digital Heating Pad
$64
Manufactured by Chattanooga Group

Available from Amazon



StrechCordz Short Resistance Training Belt

strechcordz-sm2.jpg

The StrechCordz resistance training belt makes expensive, complex, “endless” pools obsolete. At one end of a 4-foot, black rubber tube is a nylon belt with a simple plastic snap-clip that slips around my waist. On the other end is a loop I attach to the deep-end ladder of our modest home pool. That’s it… just tether up and start swimming. Swim as hard and fast as you like yet stay in place.

I’m able to do backstroke, crawl, butterfly (well, I try to butterfly), even frog-kick with no interference. Stop swimming and the belt gently pulls me back to the ladder. And, no, my legs don’t get tangled in the line! The rubber tube is just stretchy enough to allow a good resistance for natural swimming feel, but I hardly notice the belt at all. Significantly, I even forget I’m wearing it. It’s completely comfortable for long bouts of swimming. The one I own has been in almost daily use for one swimming season in a relatively mild salt-water home pool. Not any sign of wear at all on the belt, but I do put it away out of sunlight between uses.

I wasn’t sure I’d need the belt, frankly, since our pool is big enough for actual swimming. In practice, however, even though our pool is 32 feet long, it’s not really enough to be comfortable for laps. The belt is an elegant solution. There’s no more constantly calculating the strokes left till the next turn. Swimming in place allows a steady, relaxed rhythm that would otherwise be impossible. I find I can swim longer on the belt and get more of a workout. Our pool is 18 feet from side to side. The short belt (4 ft.) is plenty long enough for me, but there’s a longer version for larger pools.

There are other products for resistance swimming, but I haven’t needed to try them. For one, the Super Swim — a suspension apparatus — is 10 times the price and needlessly complex. I can see the theory behind it, but it would entail major pool-side visual and actual clutter, and would be a bother to store away. With the StrechCordz it’d be easy to raise the point of the tether if necessary, but I hook it at the deck level and it’s fine. At only three-times the price of the Strechcordz unit, the RipTide’s a relative bargain. It’s a belt with shoes you slip on. I just don’t think I’d want shoes on in the water… just something funny about having my feet tethered. And then there’s having a size suitable for everyone. The StrechCordz belt is easily adjustable to basically any size. It’s very simple to use, safe (one snap of the belt and it’s on or off), and compact enough one could easily travel with it. Packing it really is a non-issue.

My office overlooks the pool and a swim workout is a good mid-afternoon tonic for neck and shoulders after hours of computer work. Looking forward to getting back to it now that the weather’s warming up!

-- Bill Womack  

StrechCordz
$34
Manufactured by NZ Manufacturing, Inc.

Available from Amazon



Body Back Buddy

I recently discovered a better-designed variation of the Thera-Cane that’s perfect for loosening up tight back, neck and shoulder muscles. The Body Back Buddy has a total of 11 knobs (the Thera-Cane has just six), so you have more options for how to put it to good use. For instance, the two small knobs that are fairly close together are great for massaging both sides of the neck, essentially straddling the spinal cord.

I had never come across anything like this until my physical therapist showed me a picture of the Thera-cane. When I went to the store, I tried out both products and discovered that the Body Back really is an improved version. While it may look a bit unwieldy, I can attest to its effectiveness and ease of use. It has proven perfect for reaching my muscles without forcing me to become a contortionist (and maybe pulling some other muscles in the process). It’s also good for massaging around the cervical spine, an area that tightens up on me regularly due to some mild spinal scoliosis.

-- Jojo  

Body Back Buddy
$30
Manufactured by Body Back Company

Available from Amazon



Gripmaster

Gripmaster consists of four little buttons on springs (think of a trumpet) and lets you exercise each finger separately. It really helps keep hands strong & healthy. I’m on a computer at least 8 hours a day, and using Gripmaster has helped me tremendously.

I gave my mother one (a yellow one) for her arthritis and she’s able to open soda bottles again. They come in 4 colors each of different resistance. I use the blue one which is light. The yellow one I gave my mom is extra light. They also have more difficult ones.

-- Joe Spadaro  

[I assume everyone understands that the Cool Tools list is not intended as a source of definitive medical advice. If you suffer significant inflammation of tendons in the carpal sheath, perhaps you should check with a physician before embarking on an exercise regime. -- CP]

Gripmaster
$11
Manufactured by Gripmaster

Available from Amazon



G5 Massager

The G5 is a professional-grade massage unit that has long been a staple of naturopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists, many of whom report still using their 40- or 50-year-old units on a daily basis. The G5 comes in dozen or so professional models for use in hospitals, physical therapy and similar clinics. Most pro sports teams (football, basketball, baseball, anyway) have a G5 in their training rooms. This is no Costco-type unit, but an unbelievably robust massage gun that will astonish you within seconds.

The larger professional units with stands and rollers go for about $1,200. The secret to their extraordinarily powerful and effective massage action is a coiled cable that turns and rotates the head, rather than pounding or vibrating as less durable units do. All of the G5s have changeable applicator heads for doing reflexology, exfoliation treatments, lymphatic drainage, cellulite reduction, Trigger Point therapy, therapeutic massage, or just plain old relaxation massage.

For home use I recommend the Pro-Power unit, which is sold as a portable travel version of the G5. It goes for about $350. Since I write and work at a desk a lot, I use mine almost daily, especially when doing big long projects. If you don’t want to take the time to schedule and pay for an $80 massage, anyone can use this on you without getting sore hands or wanting to quit. I actually own two!

-- Hakim Chishti  

G5 Pro-Power Massager
$405
Manufactured by General Physiotherapy

Available from Amazon

Or $423 from PainReliever.com (currently unavailable)