Whenever I see someone walk into a gym completely empty handed, I’m blown away. First, I’m amazed and impressed that they can take such a minimalist approach to training and still get results. And then I awake from fairy tale land, snap back to reality and realize that most of those people are in terrible shape and don’t take their training very seriously.
The truth is most gyms lack the equipment to build a truly impressive physique. Unless you’re lucky enough to train at an amazing gym – like Xceleration Sports Training in New York, Total Performance Sports in Boston or Renegade Gym in New Jersey – you’re gonna have to stock up on some key items that will enhance your training experience beyond the basics of barbells and dumbbells.
Consider these items an investment. Do you NEED them? No. But they can significantly enhance the quality of your training. And if you’re putting in all the time and effort to lose fat, gain muscle and improve performance, why not invest in equipment that will enhance your progress?
1. Training Log
Like I said in my first post about training logs, you MUST keep close track of your training. That which gets measured improves. Bottom line.
Back in the day, I used to use scrap pieces of loose leaf paper. A notebook works better and lets you stay more organized. An even better option would be a yearly planner so it’s easy to keep track of week-to-week and day-to-day progress.
2. Proper Footwear
It’s scary how little thought people put into what’s on their feet when they work out. Your shoes connect you to the ground, and if you’re doing ground based exercises (squats, presses, sprints, jumps, etc.), you’d better have a solid base between you and the floor.
A solid base doesn’t mean heavy, clunky high top basketball shoes that will wreck your ankle mobility and make you walk like Frankenstein. And it definitely doesn’t mean Shape-ups (I don’t care what Joe Montana says). A “solid base” means footwear that provides the right surface and the proper amount of stability and mobility to perform the task at hand.
So if you’re pulling deadlifts, you’d want a good minimalist shoe like New Balance Minimus or Vibram FiveFingers to get you closer to the ground and let your body get into proper position. Even old school Converse Chuck Taylors would do the trick.
The Minimus are great for sprinting and jumping too, but if you’re looking for something with a little more cushion or support, older Nike Free models are a great choice.
And if you’re serious about squatting, ditch the running shoes. A good pair of Olympic lifting shoes is a must. As Jason Ferruggia so clearly pointed out to me this year, most people don’t have the ankle mobility to squat safely below parallel. But cutting out squats entirely would be doing yourself a great disservice since its the biggest, baddest exercise around. Olympic shoes give some forgiveness for lack of ankle mobility and help keep the lower back from rounding during deep squats.
3. Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Let’s face it – if you’re still drinking out of disposable plastic water bottles, you hate nature.
Gojira even wrote an awesome song about how awful plastic is.
There are exactly zero benefits to drinking out of plastic and exactly zero reasons NOT to own a stainless steel water bottle. They’re reusable, environmentally friendly, aren’t full of harmful chemicals, can hold a ton of water and look badass.
4. Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are one of the most versatile strength training tools you can own. I use mine mostly for stretching, but they’re great for many smaller exercises and can be used to add resistance to just about anything with a barbell.
Bands give you precise control over static stretches for your hamstrings, lats and other tough-to-stretch body parts. They’re irreplaceable for rehab/prehab/mobility movements like band pull-aparts, shoulder dislocations and X-band walks. They’ll give you a nasty pump for high-rep sets of arm curls and pushdowns. And, if you’re advanced enough, you can use “reverse band” bench presses, squats and deadlifts to “deload” the range of motion that is most likely to cause injury.
For novice trainees, bands are irreplaceable when learning to do pull-ups. If you can’t do a pull-up or can only bang out a few reps each set, loop a band around the top of a power rack and do band assisted pull-ups. Start with a strong band and gradually use lighter and lighter bands until you can do multiple sets of multiple reps on your own. It’s probably the most tried-and-true method for going from zero to hero in the pull-up department.
I own a pair each of the EliteFTS mini, light and average bands, but lately I just bring one of each to the gym for stretching, band pull-aparts and Triceps Pushdown Madness.
5. Jump Rope
It’s a warm-up, agility drill, conditioning session and active recovery – all in one!
Seriously, in terms of just getting your ass up and moving, few things beat the simplicity and accessibility of a jump rope. A couple easy 30-second rounds and you’ve got a good general warm-up. 60 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 10 minutes and you’ve got a killer conditioning workout. And some light skipping at the end of a workout serves as a low-impact cool-down.
And honestly, five to 10 minutes a day of skipping rope would do athletes far more good than any fancy agility ladder. Some one-foot hops, alternating jumps and double-unders and you’ll be floatin’ like butterfly and stingin’ like a bee.
I pack my jump rope on every road trip so I know that I can get in some conditioning anytime, anywhere.
Stayed tuned for five more items that everyone should have in their gym bag. Hint: no Shakeweights.