With balance training being the all the rage these days in fitness and conditioning, balance-challenging products are entering the market at a rapid pace. The Airex balance pad is from a Swiss company called Alusuisse, a subsidiary of Alcan composites, and is relatively new to the North American market.
It's simple enough: a square piece of closed-cell foam about 2 1/2 inches thick, about 20 by 16 1/2 inches, reminiscent of thick pads used on gymnastic floors, but softer. Its applications include club classes, personal training and personal use at home.
Already used in Europe in group-exercise classes, the Airex can be used a bit like a step or BOSU (that half-ball rounded balance trainer) where you step up and down from it, forcing your body to catch itself while on it and not wobble. The softness of the foam forces the muscles of the foot, ankle and lower leg to work to keep you upright and challenges the reaction of nerves that trigger muscles to respond to the challenge -- all so you don't fall over, a skill applicable to the real world of athletics and daily living.
We used one in a home situation for several weeks and found we liked it best not only for standing balance maneuvers on both one and two legs, but also to perform other sitting, lying or kneeling core strengtheners. For example, placing one knee on the pad, while extending the opposite leg behind you and then extending the opposite arm on the supporting knee added an extra challenge to this basic exercise. Even crunches and V-sits gain a new dimension, as do back extensions, when your mid-section or glutes are on the soft, thick pad. Its softness also makes it more adaptable to less experienced or less balance-proficient people than some wobble boards. More advanced users could stand on it while throwing or catching balls for an extra challenge.
A disadvantage we would perceive with multiple users in a gym setting would be the need for a towel to keep it clean and sweat-free -- who wants to share sweat? And we haven't used it enough to judge its durability and resistance to tears or other long-term abrasion.
Its backing allows it to stay put well on both carpet and wood floor -- without any danger of denting or marking floors.
SNEWS Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $49.95
For more information:www.alcanairex.com/products/e/200/260_e.htm