The fear of going to the gym is real. One of the most significant sources of apprehension: the weight room floor is littered with a wide variety of strange-looking training gadgets. We’re not just talking about barbells, dumbbells, and medicine balls.
Everything from sandbags to suspension trainers to gymnastics equipment like parallettes can be found these days. How can you use this equipment without making a fool of yourself or, worse, injuring yourself?
Jenny Harris, a Daily Burn Fitness and Nutrition Coach, and Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, a San Diego-based personal trainer and strength coach, were brought in to help us understand the most prevalent strength training equipment.
Your Strength Training Equipment Gym Guide.
Dumbbells, which are a common sight in most gyms, are a fantastic place to start if you’re new to strength training. Dumbbells ranging from 1 to 100 pounds can be found in almost every gym. “They’re great for strength training,” Harris explains.
“They’re better for joint health.” Your body can move in a more natural motion because your hands aren’t in a fixed position. (Are you looking for some motivation?
These aren’t only for bodybuilders and Olympic lifters. For techniques like back squats, deadlifts, and snatches, barbells can be a lifter’s best buddy. “You can go so much further [with barbells] because you can add so much more weight,” Harris says, referring to the 2.5 to 45-pound weighted plates that can be slid onto each side of the metal bar.
Remember that the bar might weigh anywhere from 45 to 100 pounds, so factor that into your calculations. Fixed barbells are a good option if you’re not quite ready to go heavy (which are usually grouped together on a rack and start at 10 or 20 pounds).
3. Body Bars
Body bars are iron bars that have been wrapped in foam rubber, giving them a friendlier (and lighter) alternative to traditional barbells. “These bars enable users to conduct a variety of barbell workouts with weights that are simple enough for beginners to use,” adds McCall.
While body bars may not provide enough of a challenge for your main set for experienced lifters, Harris recommends using them to warm up for movements that require a conventional barbell. Use them in this beginner-friendly 5-move BodyPump circuit.
The cannonball-shaped weight with a single loop handle may appear like something out of Game of Thrones, but it’s a fantastic technique to increase strength. Many classic kettlebell workouts, such as kettlebell swings and cleans, necessitate swift and powerful movement of the weight. (It’s also a clever method to get some heart-pounding workout in.)
Your body has to work harder to stabilize the weight because it isn’t balanced like a dumbbell and shifts when you move it. “Kettlebells train your body to adjust to changes in your center of gravity,” Harris adds. Have you ever used kettlebells? It’s a good idea to seek advice from a trainer on proper form.
5. Resistance Bands
Resistance bands may resemble gigantic, colorful rubber bands, but they provide a shockingly effective form of exercise. “It’s low-impact and good for your joints,” Harris explains. Because the band produces resistance in both directions, your body is forced to stay stable while moving.
Choose your chosen resistance level, length, and style (from tube bands with handles to flat bands to closed looping bands) and get used to it. Overhead presses, squats, and lateral band walk (a highly powerful dynamic warm-up motion!) are all great workouts to do with resistance bands.
Bands are also an easy-to-pack piece of equipment when traveling and can be a fantastic introduction to strength training for someone who is new to the gym.
The seemingly innocuous straps suspended from your gym’s ceiling are actually an all-in-one gym. “You can do a large variety of workouts,” Harris explains. One of the most significant advantages is that it is [dynamic] rather than isolated movement.
“You work out various muscle groups at the same time.” When you put your feet into the TRX handles, for example, a typical push-up becomes a core and shoulder-stabilizing exercise. You can alter the resistance by moving your feet closer (less resistance) or further away (more resistance) from the anchor point because you’re only using your body weight.
Sandbags are exactly what they sound like: weighted sandbags that resemble large duffel bags. You can slam them down, press them up, and slide them across the floor like a pro. Squats, lunges, and carry can be used to incorporate them into your regular strength training regimen.
According to Harris, sandbags are a terrific tool to simulate functional fitness and get you ready for everyday life chores like moving fertilizer bags, lifting your kids, or carrying grocery bags.
And here’s something to add to the mix: As the bag is moved, the sand shifts, forcing the wrist and forearm muscles to work harder to control the weight, according to McCall.
That strangely shaped hollow tube you saw at the gym? No, this isn’t a brand-new foam roller. It’s the ViPR, a gadget that uses loaded movement training to improve mobility, stability, and dynamic strength.
The ViPR simulates real-life and sports-based movement by allowing you to pick it up and move it about in space. This forces your entire body to work together. Consider forward lunges with rotation or lateral lunges with the ViPR swinging over and up like a shovel.
“Using the ViPR can assist enhance muscle and connective tissue strength and resiliency, making them more resistant to many sorts of strain injuries,” adds McCall, who is also a ViPR master trainer. “As the muscle lengthens under resistance, it grows stronger as collagen is added to help improve the tissue’s strength and density.”
You can change the intensity of the movement based on how you hold the ViPR and how you move the tool in relation to your center of mass, so moving it away from your body makes it harder.
9. Medicine Balls
Think of medicine balls as chicken soup for the soul. You’ll often see people using these basketball-shaped weights to add resistance to core exercises like sit-ups or Russian twists. But they’re meant to be carried, lifted, and thrown.
“Moving [medicine balls] in multiple directions and planes of motion can involve more muscle tissue, which elevates energy expenditure,” says McCall. Harris likes to use them with plyometric exercises as a way to build explosive strength.
10. Slam Balls
Slam balls are non-bouncing, slightly larger (and occasionally heavier) forms of medication. You won’t have to worry about a hefty ball bouncing back in your face after you’ve slammed it to the ground. (Ouch!) “They’re fantastic for building strength, speed, and power,” Harris explains. It’s one of those exercises that keeps getting better and better.
Your muscles will respond to the ball faster and more powerfully if you throw it faster and more powerfully. To join in the fun, simply make sure you’re in a slam-free zone. Don’t go busting a hole through a wall; gyms will often post where you can and can’t use such equipment.)
11. Stability Balls
Another technique to boost the ante on strength training routines is to use these massive inflatable beach-ball-like equipment. Stability balls are useful for bodyweight workouts that target the core muscles that connect the pelvis to the femurs and spine, according to McCall.
Crunches, push-ups (hands or feet/legs on top of the ball), hamstring curls, and pikes are a few exercises to consider. Moves like back extensions and planks can also help to build spine stability. “This could be beneficial for someone who spends a lot of time sitting at a computer or in a chair,” Harris says. Are you ready to go?
12. Bosu Balance Trainer
The BOSU Balance Trainer, which looks like a stability ball split in half, is likely to be found next to the stability balls. It stands for “both sides used,” which means you can do workouts on both the dome stability ball-like side and the flat platform.
The dome side has the advantage of allowing you to execute workouts like crunches on a soft surface while yet allowing your spine to move freely. “It also produces an unstable surface, which can be beneficial for improving foot, ankle, and lower limb strength,” McCall explains.
Standing on your feet creates a unique balance platform that can help you engage your lower body muscles. It’s also wonderful for developing dynamic balance, which is important for busy lifestyles because it allows you to maintain your balance when moving or changing positions.
13. Gliding Discs
At the gym, you could be tempted to miss these plate-size discs. Don’t. Use them to increase the intensity of reverse or lateral lunges (place one foot on the disc and glide into the lunge and back to the starting position). Your core, glutes, and inner thighs will undoubtedly light up.
They’re great for ab exercises like mountain climbers and pikes, according to Harris. Because your feet are no longer providing resistance, your core must do all of the jobs of body stabilization, according to Harris. If you can’t find these at the gym, take two tiny towels to achieve the same slick look.
Commonly used by gymnasts and CrossFit athletes, parallettes let you test (and push) the limits of your physical strength. “Gymnastics exercises are excellent bodyweight training for developing strength and definition, but not many gyms have space for parallel bars.
“[Parallettes] are smaller bars that allow you to do exercises like handstand push-ups, L-sits, and other gnarly feats of strength,” says McCall. And since they’re raised off the ground, you can move into a deeper range of motion with each exercise.
15. Battle Ropes
Looking for an intense but stress-relieving workout? Try battle or battling ropes. (Cue baller inspiration HERE.) Grab one of these giant ropes in each hand and begin lifting the rope up and down explosively, creating waves. The higher the wave, the more energy you’re pouring into the rope.
“The challenge is keeping them moving at a fast rate,” says McCall. “Using a battling rope is like doing sprints for your upper body.” And you can’t cheat. “They’re really good for fixing imbalances because you’re using both sides of the body to do separate work,” says Harris.
“You don’t have one side overcompensating for the other.” Plus, let’s talk about the forearm and grip strength!