On a recent visit to Winners, I was surprised to discover such an extensive range of home fitness equipment. There were the usual suspects: handheld weights, yoga mats, inflatable Swiss balls and the denser, canon-like medicine balls, all priced competitively and vying to become an impulse buy.
But the shelves also boasted more esoteric items. Hard to tell if they're shopping-channel rejects - contraptions destined to be tossed in the craptastic pile that many of us have accumulated in the name of a better body - or undiscovered gems.
One standout: a shoe-sized box containing Balance Pods, two spiky domes that promise to "provide progressive instability from both sides, essential to daily balance training."
Balance has never been my strength. In yoga, my tree poses sway back and forth like saplings in a tornado. In heels, I often appear tipsy despite being perfectly sober.
Perhaps these rubber armadillo-like aids could help.
Turns out, they might as well be called Massage Mounds because that's the only purpose they fulfill.
Unlike a Bosu, the ball-board hybrid training product now ubiquitous in gyms, these pods offer a much smaller surface, making the squats, lunges and one-legged "swan lifts" suggested in the instruction handout barely more effective than when done on a floor. The pods can be placed spiky side down for planks and push-ups, but in my experience this puts undue strain on wrists.
The exercises are performed barefoot or in socks so that the feet can experience the unstable surface. On the plus side, I felt my core engaged when attempting the squats, but I was so focused on staying perfectly atop the pods that I had trouble getting through a set of 10 without readjusting. (Hint: stand near a wall or counter, just in case). The handout shows a woman stepping between six pods, similar to hopscotch, yet the box only supplies two. Also, upper-body work is limited.
To confirm (or possibly refute) my impressions, I take them to Sender Deutsch, a chiropractor and certified trainer. "These are an ankle sprain waiting to happen," he says, after assessing them.
Mr. Deutsch, the co-founder of Shape, a combined training and treatment boutique facility in Toronto, says this would not be something he'd use with clients "They don't stimulate any muscle specificity and they're too small for anyone's feet except an infant's."
His advice for wobblers out there: Practice by alternating each foot on a pillow (the other slightly in the air). Or simply close your eyes and raise one leg; if you can't keep steady for 10 to 15 seconds, there's room for improvement.
I'm a fan of pods when they yield edible treasures: vanilla beans, fresh peas or raw cacao comes to mind. But I cannot recommend Balance Pods (on sale for $14.99). They are further proof that it's all too easy to fall, quite literally, for gimmicks.