Smart Bells

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The Smart Bell is a rather fascinating strength-training accessory. Forget the typical dumbbells of whatever shape or size that you hold in a hand. These are sculpted discs that curve oh-so-slightly resembling a dish or serving platter -- but prettier.

About 12 inches by 15 inches and approximately an inch thick, the curved weight plate with rounded edges is made of solid cast aluminum coated with thick PVC to give it a smooth feel in the hands, warmer and more inviting than many weight plates or bells. The curve is designed to conform to the body when it is held either by both of the two gaps that serve as handles or by only one. Because of the curve, exercises can be performed near the body, as the weight can be moved naturally, especially noticeable when the exercises are swinging or circular and using only one hand and one handle. Smart Bells come in three sizes and types: 3-pound Fusion Bell, 6-pound Original, and 14-pound Power Bell. We used the Original Smart Bell for this review.

The concept is beautiful and the weight itself very pretty, nearly begging to be picked up, touched and have fingers run across it. It is unfortunate that the DVDs, provided with the Smart Bell are not so pretty or inviting.

So, let's start with the good.The Fusion and Original Smart Bells (SMART not DUMB… get it?) appear to be most applicable to two groups and the needs of those people: A more beginner and more female market because of its lightweight, pretty colors and unintimidating and inviting shape, and an advanced even athletic market that wants to do lunges, bounding, plyometrics, ab and torso movements, twists and other high-powered activities while using weights that won't bonk them and will move with them. (An athlete could also choose the Power Bell and be very happy.) We think both markets could find a great place for this weight in the workout repertoire. We like the way the Bell feels in the hand and the way it moves nicely around the body.

If you look at what is called "The Smart Bells Routine," developed by the inventor Paul Widerman who was captain of the Harvard wrestling team and first alternate on the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team in 1984, the difficulties begin. The exercises are simply not ones a person who is not at least an intermediate to advanced level athlete should attempt. We suspect this stems from his rather hardcore athletic background. In some cases, the movements that are suggested and demonstrated on the Basics DVD are done in such a way, without an alternative given, that will likely leave behind anyone except the most fit and flexible, either due to the speed, the placement of the Bell or the range of motion expected. For example, a hamstring stretch is done and only demonstrated assuming someone can stand, lean forward from the waist and WITH STRAIGHT KNEES also touch the floor. That'll leave out all but a small portion of the population. And there is never a warning about "if you have a bad back" or an alternative shown. Many of the twists, circles, lunges and squats are shown initially at a moderate pace but then sped up beyond a reasonable pace for most users -- basics, we kept thinking, give me the basics.... Granted, the instructor says to use "controlled momentum," but most people have no idea what that is or how to control it, and that bit of detail is missing.

The instructor enunciates well, speaks clearly and is easy to listen to; however, she uses instructions that would leave most scratching their heads or misunderstanding: What normal person knows what it means to "Shorten the range of motion," keep "nice and free through the neck and face," "open your heart," or "find your posture?" Heck, most people don't even know what good posture is, let alone how to find it. On the Strength CD, which by the way is for the ADVANCED exerciser, shows a series of really dynamic and challenging exercises that will likely find their way into our advanced routine. For example, the instructor shows an exercise sitting down, holding the Bell in front of the stomach, and curling backward slowly to challenge the ab muscles. Fine, for an advanced person. Then she adds that "the range of motion is dependent on you." HUH? We would assume an advanced exerciser would be able to modify movements appropriately, even in this reverse curl, but we're not sure this DVD could even be for the intermediate, as advised on the package since, again, no explanation or alternate demonstration is offered. The Basics DVD, despite the name, is DEFINITELY not for a beginner, unless it is someone who understands well how to slow down tempos and modify exercises. We did not watch or use the Fusion DVD, which says it combines mind-body movements, like yoga, with the Smart Bell.

OK, so what do we have here? A really beautiful, usable, sculpture of a weight that could be used by beginners to advanced exercisers in many exercises. What do we lack here? A truly basic and introductory DVD or poster that shows simple and beginner exercises.

What else did we like? Of exercises, oddly enough the push-up was super. You use the handholds of the Smart Bell, which is resting so it curves upward in a slightly unstable and tippy way, giving you not only good wrist support, but also a bigger challenge to your core muscles to keep you stabilized, whether you do the pushups on your knees or full-body.

The product is a good one; however, without the proper accompanying instruction, it may be difficult to use by all but the most savvy or more advanced exerciser. We think that is too bad since it has great potential.

SNEWS® Rating: 3.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)

Suggested Retail: $75 (one Bell and one DVD) to $190, depending on which Bell, how many Bells and how many DVDs are selected.

For more information:www.bodybars.com (for purchase) or www.smartbells.com (to see more about the product and exercises) or 1-800-500-2030

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