By Dorene Internicola
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dumbbells, medicine balls and jump ropes have once again taken center stage on the gym floor as the newest workouts drive a revival of the oldest fitness tools, experts say.
Even step aerobics is getting a second wind as workout trends turn back to the tried and true.
The popularity of back-to-basics workouts such as CrossFit and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes have lent new cool to old-school fitness tools, said Colleen Logan, vice president of marketing for the exercise equipment manufacturer and marketer ICON Health & Fitness.
"They're always in the mix, but they haven't been used in a class setting," Logan said. The Logan, Utah-based company said jump rope sales and kettlebells sales are both up.
"Sales of kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls and jump ropes, we feel, (are) attributable to huge growth in CrossFit," said Logan of the hugely popular workout of constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.
Running is also up, Logan added, pointing to Running USA's annual Marathon report, which showed a record number of Marathon finishers in 2013.
"People are perpetually short on time and money and looking for something that's working," she said.
In his book "Dumbbell Training," Allen Hedrick extols the virtues of fitness tools so old that their antecedents were lifted for strength training in ancient Greece.
"I think traditional dumbbells have been viewed as an accessory rather than a primary tool," said Hedrick, who is head strength and conditioning coach at Colorado State University at Pueblo.
That's something he would like to change.
For general fitness, Hedrick recommends making at least one day a week a complete dumbbell day.
"I've always used traditional tools," said Hedrick, whose athletes also use medicine balls and even water-filled kegs in their squats and presses.
He said the pendulum has swung away from the weight machines that dominated the gym floor in the 1970's.
"Lifting two dumbbells develops coordination, motor skills, balance, and certainly recruits the stabilizing muscles," he said. "Trainers are putting a greater emphasis on balance."
Exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews said old-time exercises such as squats, lunges and push-ups, are tried and true precisely because they deliver on what they promise.
"It's great to see people recognizing the value of things that have been around for a while," said Matthews, who teaches exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, California.
She is especially pleased to notice the reappearance of step aerobics group fitness classes, some 15 to 20 years after their heyday.
"A lot of people enjoyed them then and they're kind of gaining popularity again," Matthews said.
While some useful modalities are lost to the cyclical nature of the fitness business, Matthews said, others are abandoned as the science evolves.
It was discovered that hand weights, a popular addition to running and walking routines, alter the gait in a way that can predispose exercisers to injury.
"We learned that little (aerobic) boost comes at a cost," Matthews said.
Similarly, for runners seeking to add more load to their run, wearing weighted vests has been found to be safer than wearing backpacks.
"Weighted vests distribute weight over front and back, not just the back, like a backpack," she said. "How we distribute the load can have negative consequences."
She said medicine balls and stability balls continue to work because they get the job done.
"These pieces of equipment have stood the test of time," she said. "Sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel."