Friday, February 29, 2008

Review: PAST Balance Trainer

A good sense of balance is vitally important for most outdoor activities but especially things like climbing and hiking through boulder fields. One of the major focuses of functional training is combining multi-plane resistance exercises with balance challenges. These routines require the use of less resistance but offset this decrease by invoking more stabilizing muscles, including those of the core, and integrating the whole body.

There are numerous training aids for balance such as wobble boards, BOSU trainers, and slacklines. While working on the new edition of my training book, I've tried a wide assortment of these products. Among the best that I've found are the PAST balance boards.
Sold as a pair, these are unique compared to standard wobble boards and bongo boards because there is one for each foot. While a wobble board uses one half of a sphere attached to the bottom, the PASTs have a central rubber column. The difference is that you can't really balance on a wobble board but you can with the PAST, with practice. Also you start out of balance with a wobble or bongo board and must try to bring it to balance while you step onto the PASTs in a position of balance and work to maintain that position. Since the feet are independent and the platforms can rotate, you can perform a number of twisting motions not possible on other balance products.

The other unique aspect of the PAST system is that you can flip the platforms upside down and attach two handles for pushups. If you've seen the obnoxious commercials for the Perfect Pushup gizmo, this is basically the same thing only better. The wide, padded handles rotate as you perform the pushups to allow a natural hand position at all times. What is better is that you can make the grips unstable to increase the challenge or you can turn a collar to make them stable like with the Perfect Pushup. The unstable PAST pushups are nearly as good as performing pushups with Elite Rings and you don't have to worry about installation.
The PAST system also comes with elastic cords that attach to the platform for doing easy resistance exercises. This sounds good in theory but I found them to be essentially useless for any sort of workout. Also included is a cheap nylon gym bag and two rug adaptors. And you can view a selection of training videos on the web site (no DVD included).
All in all, I find the PAST system to be a superior balance training product to most of the alternatives. However, I have two major gripes: comfort and price. The platforms are very uncomfortable in bare feet, which discourages use around the house (pain is never a good enticement for training of any type). A smooth deck would be a huge improvement. The system sells for $120 (plus shipping), which seems pretty steep; if they sold for $80 (or $60 without handles) a lot more people would be interested.

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