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Must-have Workout Tools

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Reshape your body with these great fitness accessories -- all for $100 or less.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on exercise equipment to get a sleek, toned body. In an industry rife with gadgets and gimmicks, a few inexpensive-yet highly effective-tools have stood the test of time because they work your body without breaking the bank. They're highly versatile, cost as little as $5 (and no more than $100) and are available in most sporting-goods stores. Incorporate the following gear and moves from top trainers into your repertoire to sculpt muscle, burn fat and reenergize your workout.

Balance Board ($40 to $80)

Works: Shoulders, chest, abs, back, hips, glutes

Why we love it: Like the exercise ball, this device is a great ab toner. "Your core remains constantly engaged, even when you're doing strengthening moves for other muscle groups," says Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Northeast Texas Community College and the author of Athletic Abs (Human Kinetics, 2003). Bonus: Learning to balance on this tippy platform reduces your chances of tripping and falling in real life.

Best new use: It's a favorite tool among trainers for squats and other weight-bearing moves. Also gaining in popularity: the Reebok Core Board, a modified version that allows you to adjust the instability.

Move to try: The Balance Plank Start in a push-up position, forming a straight line from your head to your heels, arms extended. Place one hand on each side of the board. Maintaining a plank position, keep the board even (don't let the edges touch the floor) and slowly lift your right leg until it's parallel with the floor, then lower. Repeat with the left leg; do 5 to 8 reps on each side.

Exercise Ball ($25 to $40)

Works: Abs, back, obliques

Why we love it: Simply stabilizing yourself on a ball works your core muscles; add sculpting moves like biceps curls or shoulder presses and you'll increase the challenge. According to researchers at San Diego State University, doing crunches on the ball is one of the top three exercises to work the rectus abdominus (the "six-pack" muscle).

Best new use: Exercise balls are being added to everything from Pilates to ballet classes. "The round shape makes them very adaptable to a variety of moves," notes Troy Stallman, an advanced trainer at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York City. "Plus, they're just plain fun to work with-it's like being a kid again."

Move to try: The Kneeling Press-Out Kneel on the floor with a ball in front of you, hands folded together, pressing bottoms of hands and forearms against the ball. Lift feet and shins off the floor, balancing on knees. Slowly roll ball forward until body forms a straight line from knees to head. Hold for 1 count; roll back to starting position. Repeat 10 to 12 times.

Step Bench ($80 to $100)

Works: Legs, butt, abs; burns fat

Why we love it: Fitness gadgets come and go, but the step has remained popular-82 percent of all clubs offered a step class last year. "It's a great aerobic workout that also sculpts your lower body," says Seabourne.

Best new use: In Zig Zag Step, held at Crunch Fitness clubs in Atlanta, two steps are placed in an inverted V pattern. Meanwhile, at Crunch Fitness Miami, instructor Kevin Creegan has invented FANtasy Step, which incorporates decorated flags for an enhanced upper-body workout.

Move to try: The Rock Climber Facing your step, begin by running in place quickly for about 20 seconds. Then drop down, placing hands on the step. Keeping your upper body stable and your head above your heart, alternate bringing knees to chest for 20 seconds. Return to standing and repeat the run/knee combo. Work up to 4 sets.

Resistance Band ($5 to $10)

Works: Chest, biceps, triceps, abs, shoulders, back, quads

Why we love it: With their varying levels of resistance, portability and supreme versatility, resistance bands are suited to most fitness programs. "You could work out with bands every day for a month and never hit the same muscle the same way twice," says Seabourne.

Best new use: Long a staple of travelers who want to work out in their hotel rooms, resistance bands have recently caught the yoga and Pilates bug. "They add resistance and challenge, so you work your arms and legs as well as your core," says Moira Merrithew, program director of Toronto-based Stott Pilates, who has made three Pilates videos that use bands.

Move to try: The Double Leg Stretch
Lying on your back, wrap a band around the balls of both feet and hold one end of the band in each hand, palms facing each other, elbows bent near sides. Keeping your spine neutral, bend knees 90 degrees and lift your feet off the floor. Lift your upper torso and simultaneously straighten legs while extending arms above head (keep them close to your ears). Return to original position; do 5 reps. Work up to 3 sets. (To modify, do move with one foot on floor, knee bent, band around extended foot.)

 

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