What's the deal with resistance bands and medicine balls? What can they do for you? And should you buy them? Here's the lowdown on these simple strength training products.

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands bring a simple and fun essence to your workout. The bands resemble large, open-ended rubber bands and come in various sizes. They can be used to exercise upper and lower body through resistance.

Exercises

"You can hook them around anything that is stationary and exercise almost any part of your body," says Chantel Durelli, a personal trainer in Hollywood, California. Tie them around a high bar and do lat pull downs; hook them under your foot and do biceps curls; hook them around a pole (back to the pole) and exercise your chest and arms; hook them around your ankles, raising one leg out to the side to exercise your abductors. "There are many exercises you can do with bands to condition your entire body," says Durelli.

Advantages

One of the great advantages of resistance bands is the cost. For less than $75, you can purchase bands to exercise your body. They come in a variety of sizes and strengths so you can choose appropriate levels of resistance.

"Bands fold easily to fit in any gym bag or pocket so you can bring them anywhere," says Durelli. "Since you can use them around any fixed object, finding a place to exercise is effortless."

"Bands are good for someone who is beginning to work with weights or recovering from an injury," reports Walter Laws, exercise physiologist at Fitcorp in Boston, Massachusetts. "Bands allow you to use full range of motion with light weight (resistance) which is important when you are rehabilitating an injury." You can increase your strength to the injured area by using stronger bands and eventually work up to using weights.

Disadvantages

Resistance bands do not provide an aerobic workout, which is an important part of being fit. Another disadvantage is that they do not significantly increase strength. "Bands are great for general conditioning of muscles," says Laws.

Buying Advice

Exercise bands are worth the small investment if flexibility in your workout is what you need; you can take them on the road with you. Seek the advice of an athletic trainer before using resistance bands so you can be sure to use proper technique and reduce the risk of injury. If you are purchasing resistance bands, try the various types before buying. Resistance bands will let you stretch your exercise routine to new levels.

Medicine Balls

Medicine balls are rubber balls, ranging in size (softball to basketball size) and weight (from one pound to thirty pounds). They can add fun to a workout, and improve the strength of your muscles.

"Athletic trainers are integrating medicine balls into the training of serious athletes because there are many sport specific benefits to be gained," says Shawn Thiboutot, CSCS, an athletic trainer in Brunswick, Maine. Passing and jumping with weighted balls increases your strength and endurance. Balance is also improved through training with medicine balls. "The greatest benefit is the strengthening of core muscles back, abdomen, hips, and shoulders," explains Thiboutot.

Exercises

Here's a sampling of the exercises you can do with medicine balls. "Have someone toss you a ball while you are on the up-swing of a sit up," says Laws. "Or stand back-to-back with a partner. Twist left to pass your partner the ball, twist right to receive it." Consult a trainer for a medley of exercises that can be done with medicine balls.

Caution

Proper use of medicine balls requires that you have a healthy back, relatively strong core muscles, and strong joints. The nature of medicine ball exercises depends upon your ability to twist, bend, jump, and maintain good balance. Although use of medicine balls improves upon all of those areas, you must begin with a good base, otherwise you risk injury.

"It is important that you consult a trainer for proper technique before using medicine balls," warns Laws. "Also, be sure that the ball you use is not too heavy to maintain proper technique, especially as you increase the weight of the ball."

Buying Advice

The prices of medicine balls vary depending upon the size and weight of the ball. Different companies make medicine balls in various sizes, so shop before you buy. Some companies make a three-pound ball in softball size only and some offer it in volleyball or basketball size. Depending upon how you will use the equipment, you may want a specific size. Take time to study and test the different balls so you can buy the equipment best suited to your needs.

Also interested in exercise balls? Check out the article Play Ball in the House .