Beyond Hand Weights: More Tools to Help You Stay Toned

If you're tired of lifting the same old dumbbells and need something new to motivate your strength training routine, go shopping for these tools, toys, and weight options to help you stay toned.

The barbell workout bar looks like a baton, but its unique shape and even distribution of weight throughout the bar's length lends this strength-training tool to all kinds of workouts. Fitness experts incorporate "the bar" into strength and condition routines, circuit training, yoga, Pilates, cardio classes, kickboxing, martial arts, and all kinds of flexibility workouts. They're often used in group exercise classes, but they're also perfect for home gyms because they store easily, are padded so they don't damage floors, and furniture and work for a wide variety of exercises. Bars weigh between 4 and 36 pounds and cost between $17 and $110 a piece.

Medicine balls may look like the playground balls you remember from elementary school, but these rubber-coated bouncy balls come in a variety of weights. They can be bounced off a wall or tossed between partners. Their textured surface also makes them perfect for grabbing and using as you would a hand weight or barbell. Since they require a two-handed approach, medicine balls help you keep the weight evenly distributed and under control while you exercise. They're great for squats, lunges, arm, leg, and core workouts. Many medicine balls come with instructions for a wide variety of exercises. Balls range from 2 to 12 pounds and cost between $12 and $65 depending on weight.

Kettlebells look like a cross between a cowbell and a fishing sinker. Usually made of cast iron or cement, some are covered with a rubberized coating to prevent them from damaging floors and surfaces. With a handle at the top, kettlebells are designed to be gripped with one hand, with both hands, or held on each hand. Kettlebells can be used in a variety of weight lifting exercises. They're are popular in gyms and at home, especially since Jillian Michaels used them in Biggest Loser workouts. They weigh between 5 and 50 pounds and cost between $10 and $60.

Resistance bands look like big rubber bands, jump ropes, or stretchy ribbons. Some have handles to make them easier to grip or step into, but others are handle-less to make them easy to pack and store. Since they weigh next to nothing, it's tempting to think they only provide a lightweight workout, but in fact, resistance bands can supply all the strength training you need. They come in a variety of color-coded tensions that provide light to heavy resistance. There's no end to the exercises you can do with bands. For example, you can loop them around your calves or thighs for a legs and core workout or step on one end and pull with your hand for a biceps workout. They're inexpensive, ranging from about $7 for a single band to $35 for a complete set and they're so compact, you can tuck one into your suitcase or briefcase for a perfect on-the-go workout.

Bodyweight exercises use the weight, leverage, and resistance of your own body to provide strength training. Think yoga, push-ups, pull-ups, and planks. Without using any equipment or spending a dime, bodyweight exercises provide intense, total-body strength training that can be done anywhere.

Any time you're working with a new weight-training tool or system, it's a good idea to get some basic how-to and safety tips from a professional fitness expert.

Mike Ceja, Certified Personal Trainer/Sports Therapist, reviewed this article.