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Free Weights & Beanbags
A free weight is narrow in the middle — designed to fit in your hand — with two larger ends. It is raised and lowered by the hands and arms which helps you to strengthen and maintain your arm and shoulder muscles. Beanbags, of course, are lighter and more flexible (for holding over a knee or an ankle, for instance).
At the WECC there are weights from 1 lb to 15 lbs, though not in one-lb increments. Most are made of metal, but some are covered with plastic which are preferred by those who have an allergic reaction to metal. The beanbags are approximately 1.5 lbs each.
Here are some general recommendations for use of free weights:
If you are unable to complete 12 repetitions, or if you suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness after every fitness class, then you may need a lighter weight.
If you feel no muscle changes (sometimes referred to as "the burn") while exercising, you may need a heavier weight. As well, by the end of class, you should feel some weakness or exhaustion in your muscles — a sure sign that you did something!
As a rule, you should use the same weight in each hand, but if you have an injury you might need a lighter weight in one hand.
You might also choose to use heavier weights for some exercises, and lighter weights for others.
It is important that your muscles are doing the work, not gravity. As you do the exercise, concentrate on your movement — make it slow and deliberate.
Resistance Band, Rope or Tube
Resistance bands ￼are flat pieces of rubber — often made of latex. Ropes are tubes which have handles on the end. Whether a band or a tube, each provides resistance for your muscles in a variety of exercises.
Bands, ropes, and tubes come in different strengths — you can tell by its thickness — providing less or more resistance. 2
Some can be used with handles, attachments or anchors. At the WECC, the colours, from easiest to hardest, are: yellow, green, pink, and purple.
You need to choose the thickness that works best for you — and that may be through trial and error. If you are unable to do the exercise as demonstrated, you should try a thinner resistance rope or tube.
Half-Roller and Full Roller
A half-roller￼ is a round foam roller, cut in half, about 85 cm long. It is used for balance and strength exercises.
Half-rollers come in different colours — just for variety. They can be short or long. Shorter ones are used with strength exercises; longer ones with balance exercises.
For balance practice, participants stand on the half-roller, facing forward, or to the side, with one foot, or two. The half-roller will, of course, move, challenging the participant to keep their balance. Half-rollers are also used in other exercises: a push-up, for instance, with hands on the half-roller, or sitting on the half-roller on the floor or in a chair to stimulate core muscles.
The Full Roller is used while on the mat. There are a number of stretching exercises where the full roller is used.
A tennis ball ￼is, of course, designed for the sport of tennis. It is about 7 cm in diameter and is usually yellow. The fibrous felt covering the ball modifies its aerodynamic properties. Size and colour are standard for professional use, but less important for its usage in a fitness class.
When throwing and catching the ball in the right hand, the left brain does the work, and vice versa. While working the brain, balance is also challenged, especially if throwing and catching the ball while walking.
The stability ￼ball — or fitness or balance ball — is firm, large and inflatable. It is used in strength exercises, chiefly for the back, pelvis, and abdominal muscles. It is also effective for balance exercises. It is available in three sizes — 45 cm, 55 cm, and 65 cm diameters.
While sitting on the ball, your knees should be at 90-degrees with feet planted firmly on the floor. There are various positions on the ball (sitting, lying over the top, either supine or prone). The ball can also be lifted and squeezed with hands, legs, or feet. Strength exercises can be done while sitting on the ball. Some exercises use the ball against a wall.
Leslee Bender ￼developed an entire set of exercises with this ball which she designed, hence the name. It is about 15 cm in diameter — apparently always green — and is not blown up completely, allowing it to be held in one hand.
The Bender Ball is used for strengthening. Like the stability ball, it can be squeezed between feet and hands. A variety of exercises can occur while holding it in one hand.
The cloths ￼are just ordinary dish cloths, but used differently in exercise class.
While sitting and putting the cloths under each foot, several exercises can be completed which might not be possible without the aid of the cloth sliding along the floor. Feet can be moved forward, backward, in a circle, and out to the side, each movement working different muscles and joints.
Like the cloths￼, the sponges are used in daily life for a different purpose.
They can be thick or thin and come in different colours (but colour makes no difference as to their usage). However, the thickness of the sponge may make a difference to those who have severe arthritis in their hands.
The sponges provide a small but very movable resistance for exercising the muscles of the hands.
Yoga Straps are used primarily for — surprise! — yoga. However, some fitness instructors have found that they are quiet useful with some stretches. They have a buckle which allows you to use a strap like a belt and make a loop at one end. Then the strap can be attached around the ankle or wrist and the arm or leg can be stretched with the assistance of the strap.
The exercise mat is usually thick and portable, allowing the participant to lie on something more comfortable than the floor.
They come in various thicknesses, colours, and textures. The ones we use at the WECC are thick and smooth, while yoga mats are quite thin and usually textured.
You may want to clean your mat before you use it; there is cleaning fluid and paper towels provided at the WECC. Many participants cover the entire mat with a towel, or use a smaller towel just under their head. Some prefer to use the thickness of two mats with some exercises. One of the best usages of the mat is the simple act of getting down on the floor and getting back up after exercising — a skill we all need to maintain as we age.
- The Stability Ball: Why You Should Try It
- Fitness Class Benefits
- Fitness Principles
- Dictionary of Common Fitness Terms
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.