A gym bag is more than just somewhere to throw your sweaty vest and grow bacteria on your towel – its a vessel for storing all the equipment and aids that can instantly turn a good gym session into a great one.
A lot of training aids are marketed as the next best thing – THE game changer of the fitness industry. Sadly, most of the time, they aren’t.
So, as a start, I thought i’d discuss what we use and why we use it and I’ll mention some things I’d recommend to add to the armory.
A good powerlifting belt can do wonders for stability and back health during heavy compound lifts. Most people see a boost in performance as well.
Most of us use this 10mm belt from strength shop – https://www.strengthshop.co.uk/powerlifting/powerlifting-belts/strengthshop-10mm-lever-belt.html
If you’re serious about weight training a belt is a good investment, buy right and it will last you a long time and it goes a long way in stabilizing your back and improving your lifts. A good way to include a belt in your training is to put it on before max effort sets, still perform all your lighter sets without the belt to avoid creating a dependance on it.
7/10 – A good investment if you squat and deadlift regularly, use it for max efforts and not all the time, or you’ll become reliant. The purpose is to squeeze out a couple more reps, not to make your life easier or boost your ego.
Chin ups and Dips feature in almost all of our clients programs, both create exercises for building the upper back, arms, chest and shoulder girdle. The obvious limitation with both of them is that, without a belt, they are clumsy to load – dumbells between your heels is pretty much the only (often uncomfortable) option. If Chins and Dips are exercises you do regularly it is certainly worth your while owning one. When buying you want to ensure that the chain and clip is strong, some cheaper ones tend to bend or break with heavier loads. I use this one and its lasted me 2 years of heavy use:
Rating: 9/10 – A great addition to your arsenal.
Grip is often a weak link in heavy pulling movements and while heavy deadlifts can be great grip training, if your grip is limiting the weight you can use straps are worth looking into. They’re extremely useful for all deadlift variations, most Olympic lift variations and heavy dumbell rows. They also have the added affect of making a heavy session less draining on the nervous system.
We recommend using them on heavier sets only and warming up without them. They can be detrimental for some people as they do create a small gap between your hand and the bar which can make olympic lifts tricky but generally they help a lot in being able to move more weight. There are an awful lot of options with these, some cheaper than others:
MyProtein and IronMind are both great choices:
Rating: 6/10 – Cheap and useful for several movements, although not essential.
Training with a Fat Gripz is something that can only really be appreciated once you’ve tried it. The theory says that a wider circumference faciliates more efficient neural activiation and stabilises the shoulder joints in pressing movements. My experience with them has been good, my shoulders do feel better when I use them on bench and overhead press and I notice a big benefit if I use them for lighter sets and remove them for heavier ones. I like them a lot but are quite expensive for what they are.
Rating: 5/10 – Solid product, but the benefits are subtle. Not exactly life-threatening if you don’t have a pair of these.
Vibram Five Fingers
Despite being expensive, I think buying a pait of Vibrams actually saved me money in the long run. In that I no longer have to throw away socks that have been ruined from walking around on dirty gym floors. As soon as I tried training in socks or barefoot I never went back to trainers. The stereotype sports shoe tends to have a clumpy heel and ankle support which hinders performance in squats and deadlifts. Vibram five fingers mimic the effects of barefoot training and are actually extremely comfortable and good for running in as well. Only downside – they stink! So I’d strongly suggest buying a pair that are machine washable.
I’d recommend these http://www.baselayer.co.uk/Men-s-Vibram-Fivefingers-Komodo-Sport-Multi-Sport-Footwear-M-36–Grey-Black-Blue-product-408-82#Black/Silver
Rating: 9/10 – improve performance, comfortable to wear and very versatile, you’ll never need to buy trainers again.
These are great if you’ve ever had knee problems or even if you just value knee health. They don’t add anything to performance but they keep your knees warm and certainly help with feeling stable with heavier weights. We recommend putting them on at the start of the session and leaving them on as long as your performing any exercise that puts lot of stress on the knee joint. Again, strength shop have a good range, I’d suggest these:
Rating: Priceless, honestly, you don’t appreciate healthy knees until they start to hurt. Damaged knees can stay with you for life, considering this its a small price to pay.
Ben has previously outlined the importance of Self Myofascial Release to us here. My two (thoroughly ghetto) items of choice are the 2 litre Coke bottle and the golf ball. I use them before workouts on tight muscles and areas with restrictions. Be warned, both are very painful and unforgiving, but will yield fantastic results in terms of mobility and how you feel. More to come about how to incorporate these tools in your training.
Rating: 10/10 – No excuse not to get a hold of these! They both will cost you pennies and will immediately improve your soft tissue quality, performance and flexibility.
So those are our favorite training aids, we’d love to hear what yours are. Add to the discussion below.