January 27, 2011

I've got a new favorite workout device: the Ugi (pronounced yoo-gee, with a hard "g" as in "girl"). I've never seen anything quite like it. It's about the size of a beach ball but squishy and heavy at the same time. You can swing it, hold it, toss it, balance your hands and feet on it, let your 4-year-old sit on it while she watches Sesame Street—you get the picture.

The Ugi comes with a workout guide and DVD; both contain five 30-minute workouts. There are 30 different exercises per workout, and you spend a full minute doing each (which means, in case you haven't done the math yet, that there are no rests). And with the mixture of strength and cardio moves, you end up with a butt-kickingly challenging workout that gets your heart pumping big time. What's more, the moves—with fun names like Froggies, Inchworm, and Round the Ugi—are so creative that there's no chance you'll get bored.

There are four weights to choose from: 6, 8, 10, or 12 pounds. Trust me—go low. I'm pretty fit and use 12- to 15-pound dumbbells for regular bicep curls, but wielding the 10-pound Ugi for 30 minutes straight (okay, with a few stolen moments of rest) left me worn out and sweat-drenched (in a good way)—and man, did I feel it the next day.

The accompanying how-to guide is pretty cool. It is styled like a spiral notebook with a fold-out base to prop it up. You can flip to any page and it still stays open. (Why aren't more workout books made like this one?) One quibble: It could use an index showing which moves target which muscles, to make it easier to create your own workouts.

I was less enamored of the DVD. There's no verbal instruction, so unless you're a seasoned exerciser, you need to refer to the workout guide to figure out how to do the moves properly—and who wants to do that?

Still, even with those minor drawbacks, the Ugi is one of the freshest, most versatile pieces of equipment I've come across in a long time. Now if I can just get it back from my daughter….

Product: Ugi at Home fitness kit
Category: Gear
Pros: There are five fun, challenging, full-body-toning workouts—and the ball itself is just plain entertaining.
Cons: The workout guide lacks an exercise index, and the DVD can be hard to follow. Not for novice exercisers.
Cost: $189 for a 6-, 8-, 10-, or 12-pound ball, workout guide, and workout DVD at UgiFit.com
Extra tip: Just starting out? Do each exercise for 30 to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 to 30 seconds before going on to the next one.

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