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Maximum results, minimum time

If you're looking to get more impressive results from your home workouts without adding extra time, we've got a simple and speedy solution: Start using balance tools, like a wedge, foam block or air-filled disc. By combining dumbbell moves with cushy equipment, you increase the workout challenge and the payoff.



That's because when you step onto an unstable surface, your body has to work to stay balanced -- so you naturally recruit more muscles than just the ones you're targeting. Strengthening these stabilizer muscles (the quadriceps, hamstrings, upper hips, inner thighs and core muscles work the most when you're standing on a balance tool) reduces your risk of injury and helps you perform everyday activities with greater ease. Plus, you'll look slimmer and more sculpted from head to toe.




In addition to dumbbells, you'll need three pieces of balance equipment to perform this program, designed exclusively for us by Charleene O'Connor, a certified personal trainer and fitness director at Clay, an exclusive fitness club in New York City: the foam BodyWedge21; a nubby, air-filled Xerdisc; and a soft Airex Balance Pad. If you want to invest in only one piece of equipment, opt for the BodyWedge21 (use the lower end when a disc or balance pad is recommended). Or buy nothing at all: To start, you can perform most of these moves on an unstable surface such as a couch cushion. Do this workout consistently as prescribed and you'll get a sleeker, stronger physique without ever leaving home -- and in less time, to boot.

Workout guidelines

Do this workout twice a week with 1 or 2 days off in between. Begin with 2 sets of 10-15 reps of each move in the order listed, resting 60 seconds between sets. When you're ready, you can progress to 3 sets or increase your weight enough to challenge your muscles without disrupting your balance.



Warm-up

Begin by marching or jogging in place for 5 minutes. Or jump rope for 5 minutes using a boxer's shuffle. Then, do side-to-side lateral hops -- one foot at a time -- to warm up your ankles. Finally, stand erect on one of the balance tools and lift one foot slightly, rotating it 20 times in each direction. Then, do the same with the other foot.



Cool-down

Complete your workout by stretching your major muscles, holding each stretch for 30 seconds without bouncing.



Cardio Rx

Aim to do 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 days per week, doing a mix of steady-state and interval training to challenge your cardiovascular system and burn more calories. For ideas on how to crank up the calorie burn at home, see "Quick-Results Cardio."



Beginner Rx

If you haven't strength trained in 3 months or more or you've never used balance tools or done these particular dumbbell exercises before, simply perform this workout standing on the floor without the balance tools, as directed.



Once you've learned proper form and alignment or you feel you can keep your balance on an unstable surface, progress to doing 1 set of exercises on the floor and 1 set on the balance tools without dumbbells. After 3-4 weeks, you should be able to do the entire workout using all equipment as prescribed.



6 balance tool don'ts

For safety and improved results, avoid these mistakes when using any piece of balance equipment.


  • Don't move too quickly; this is an easy way to lose your balance.


  • Don't do plyometrics or jumping moves on balance tools unless you're extra-cautious; this requires even more stability and control and may lead to injury if you're not experienced working out on unstable surfaces.


  • Don't cheat by frequently putting your hands or feet down to reestablish your balance (unless you're in danger of falling); this minimizes the effectiveness of the exercise.


  • Don't put balance tools on an unstable surface like a slippery floor; this can lead to injury.


  • Don't forget to keep contracting your abdominal muscles as you perform each rep; not contracting them is a primary reason you lose your balance.


  • Don't use as much weight as you would when doing resistance exercises on a stable surface; this can compromise your form.
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