When the Abdometer, a new core-strengthening device, first came across my desk, I nearly rolled my eyes. I mean, can you think of a more infomercial-esque name? But the premise was intriguing: a machine that monitors your pelvic positioning to make sure you're targeting the right muscles. So I asked the advice of my go-to gal for fitness expertise, Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University, in Montgomery, Alabama. To my surprise, she told me she has the "scientific" version of this in her lab, and that it's actually a worthy product. So much for first impressions!
Here's how the Abdometer works: You lie on your back with your spine in its natural (neutral) position. Put the device's air bladder under the arch of your lower back, press a button, and voilà! It inflates to fit your body. It then monitors whether your spine is staying in the neutral position while you do your ab exercises, based on the pressure you're putting on the bladder.
Why does that matter, you ask? For one thing, Olson says, when your body's in proper alignment, you have better range of motion—and that makes the move more effective. Plus, you risk injuring yourself (think strained muscles, even disk damage) if your spine is in the wrong position.
Of course, I didn't think I personally would need such a device. I'm a fitness editor; I have perfect form, right? Apparently not. I tried my usual crunch style. "Beep beep beep!" went the machine. I tried again. "Beep beep!" It took slowing down and really concentrating to get the thing to shut up. But it was worth it: I could really feel the extra effort I was putting into the movements—and my ab muscles ached the next day (always a good sign).
About the beeping: When you're doing endurance (aka toning) exercises, the machine beeps when you're doing something wrong. But with strengthening exercises, it beeps when you're doing the move right. Why confuse people like that?
In any case, the Abdometer's a handy device. Is it crucial to your workout? Nah. But if you have a spare Benjamin burning a hole in your wallet, it could be just the thing to help you get a little more oomph from your abs.
Pros: It helps keep your body aligned so you get maximum benefit—safely!—from your core exercises.
Cons: The beeps can be annoying and hard to decipher at first.
Cost: $100 at Abdometer.com
Extra tip: Skip the food plan that comes with the device; it's bland and woefully short on fruits and veggies.