Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and long-time player in the fitness industry. He has been featured as an expert in the Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Runner's World and Self. He holds a master's degree in exercise science and health promotion, and several advanced certifications and specializations with NSCA and NASM.
The Latest Tools of the Trade: The Terra Core
Each year brings a nearly non-stop stream of new fitness products promising to help consumers reach their health and fitness goals. While one new product might be a revolutionary way to challenge the human body, others simply aren’t worth the material they are made from. The question is, how do you tell the difference?
Over the next few issues of CERTIFIED, we’ll be reviewing the latest cutting-edge exercise equipment. We’ll cover the features, advantages and benefits of each one, and present a sample workout so you can see exactly how each piece of equipment can be used in your clients’ programs.
We’ve instituted some fairly stringent criteria for the types of equipment we’ll be reviewing to ensure that the information—and the products themselves—are ones you can actually use with your clients. Here’s what these products have in common:
- Recently introduced to the market
- Possessing unique design features or a significant update to an existing product
- Sold at an affordable price point and capable of being used for either one-on-one or group training programs
- Portable for fitness professionals who work in a variety of locations
And so, with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, here is our first review in this series.
The Terra Core was created by Vicore Fitness, an equipment company based out of Bluffdale, Utah. Terra is Latin for earth or ground, while core refers to the activation of the deep muscles responsible for creating stability in the spine while exercising on an unstable surface.
One side of the Terra Core is an inflatable rubber dome with a wide, level surface that allows the foot to remain relatively level when standing upright. The other side is made from molded plastic and is flat, allowing the Terra Core to remain stable when placed on the ground flat-side down. The hard, flat surface has two plastic handles, making it possible to perform planks, push-ups and push-up variations without putting too much pressure on the wrists. The flat surface also includes two metal bars running along each side of the unit and a number of grooves or channels iwhere a resistance band can be anchored to the unit. The Terra Core is 46 inches (117 centimeters) long, 17 inches (44 centimeters) wide and 10 inches (26 centimeters) tall and weighs 28 pounds (13 kilograms).
“The unique design of the Terra Core creates a more comfortable platform for supine exercises like chest presses or triceps extensions while challenging users to engage more muscles without the risks created by the inherent instability of traditional exercise balls,” explains Greg Nigro, Vicore’s vice president of sales. “In addition, the air bladder surface creates an unstable platform for stepping exercises that challenges individuals to perform a slightly different movement with each repetition; research has found that this movement variability can help recruit more muscle and connective tissue while improving overall movement efficiency which could help reduce the risk of common injuries like muscle strains.”
At first glance, the Terra Core looks like a balance-training device, but it’s actually designed to allow a wide range of movement patterns including step-ups, split-leg squats, and a variety of push-up and jumping options. When properly inflated, the air bladder of the Terra Core provides an even surface that allows the feet to remain relatively level, which helps promote proper knee, hip and core mechanics. Additionally, the Terra Core is long enough to allow most people to lie comfortably in a supine position with the head and lower back supported by the surface of the air bladder, which means it can also serve as a bench for lying supine to perform free-weight exercises.
Vicore Fitness introduced the Terra Core in early 2016 and promotes it as an “air-filled, core-building, multifaceted balance machine.” According to Nigro, it can be used by trainers working one-on-one with a client or coaching circuit training-based small-group programs, as well as by instructors leading large group fitness classes.”
Out of the Box
At first glance, the Terra Core looks like what would happen if a traditional aerobic step were to mate with a domed balance trainer. The black and orange colors are visually appealing, and the grooves and bars integrated into the surface of the base look suitable for using different types of elastic resistance. Included with the unit: a pump, exercise DVD and poster, measuring tape to help determine the proper amount of inflation and a QR code that links directly to the company’s online exercise library.
The Terra Core was easy to inflate, but it took a little trial-and-error to determine the appropriate amount of air. Both the exercise poster and the online library accessed through the QR code are helpful for some initial ideas. However, given that many exercise programs are now streamed directly through online portals, the inclusion of a DVD felt a little outdated.
The air bladder surface is very comfortable and feels as if it provides good support through the full length of the spine. Taller users, however, may find they won’t be able to fit both their low-back and head on the unit. The soft air bladder allows for greater motion around the scapulae and shoulders, although it’s important to note that due to this instability, users will need to reduce the amount of weight they typically use when first attempting dumbbell chest presses or flyes.
Either side of the Terra Core can be used to perform push-ups. The air bladder feels comfortable on the wrists when using the soft side, while the handles on the hard side allow the wrists to remain in a neutral position. Using the orange rails for triceps push-ups or planks adds an additional challenge because the unit will rock from side-to-side, which requires more strength to help it remain stable.
Standing on the Terra Core takes some getting used to. Increasing the amount of air in the bladder can help increase the stability for standing, while still providing a challenge for exercises like squats, hip hinges, step-ups and split-leg squats.
Standing on the hard side is a different story. Getting both feet up on the hard side is a little tricky unless you are holding onto something stable. It is especially challenging in the sagittal plane because of the tendency of the surface to move either forward or backward. However, once you’re on top of the hard side, it is relatively easy to maintain control. While there may be balance benefits from standing on the hard side, this side is better used in a more controlled environment, such as a one-on-one training session, rather than in a large group class where it can be difficult to spot a number of people at the same time.
The variable surface of the Terra Core is an added feature that can be used to enhance mobility and stability relationships in the body, while integrating different body segments to work together to generate and control muscle forces.
A few notable limitations: While the Terra Core is easily portable for moving around a studio or health club, at 28 pounds it might be a little heavy or cumbersome for a trainer who transports equipment to various facilities or clients homes. Likewise, its larger size might prove a challenge for studios with a limited amount of storage space. And although the air bladder surface can serve as a bench for a wide variety of exercises, it lacks the ability to be adjusted to create an incline. Being able to elevate the air bladder surface into an inclined plane would make it possible to do even more exercises on the Terra Core.
Given its recent release, the Terra Core is not yet widely used by instructors, but early responses have been favorable.
Meech Aspden, the director of group fitness at Pure Fitness in Singapore and Hong Kong, is an early adopter and has started offering Terra Core classes at a couple of her locations. “I was enamored with the versatility of the product, because it allows us to do challenging exercises for balance and agility using the air bladder side up, core strength and variability training with the handles on the hard side, plus normal bench-based exercises that we do in traditional strength classes,” Aspden says.
The Terra Core appears to be a hit with her instructors, as well. “Our instructors are enjoying using a new product that gives them a wide variety of options to be creative in their exercise programming,” says Aspden. “We’ve only recently launched the classes and so far the Terra Core has generated significant interest from our members. Far more men are attending our Terra Core classes than other group fitness formats because we are positioning it as a tool for total body strength and conditioning.”
Christine DiBugnara, the National Director of Group Fitness at UFC GYM, has introduced the Terra Core at select locations with a 30-minute total-body workout class.
“The Terra Core allows us to change the exercises and other equipment from class-to-class. Our members have been really enthusiastic about it and the variety of exercise options it provides.”
Amanda Vogel is a prolific fitness writer and presenter who recently reviewed the Terra Core on her Fitness Test Drive product review blog. “The Terra Core isn’t the only balance training device on the market. But it’s the best one I’ve tried. My reasoning? It’s more versatile than others like it, and the features (handles for push-ups, notches for resistance bands and the bench-like shape) are in line with how people in the fitness industry are training these days. The Terra Core feels as fresh as it is multi-purpose.”
The Terra Core can be used for one-on-one private training, small-group training or large group fitness classes. Whether lying on top for traditional chest presses or using it to perform fast-paced footwork drills or body-weight exercises like push-ups, the Terra Core is exceptionally versatile and provides a wide variety of programming options.
The following total-body workout is provided to give you an idea of the types of exercises that can be performed on the Terra Core. You can either perform all sets of an exercise with a rest in between each set before transitioning to the next movement or you can approach it like a circuit and move from one exercise to the next with minimal rest (allow for two minutes of rest at the end of the complete circuit).
Note: All of these exercises are performed with the dome-side up, with the exception of the bent-over row.
People are always looking for new ways to work out and the Terra Core provides you with plenty of options for helping clients to reach their goals while creating a visually appealing platform that can enhance your visibility in your training environment. Whether you are looking for a piece of equipment that can serve a variety of functions for your clients or you are a group fitness director looking for a new class program, you may want to take a closer look at the Terra Core.