Get more bang for your exercise buck with these simple but underappreciated fitness tools.
Fact: If you want to get results from a workout routine, you have to be consistent.
Fact: The archenemy of consistency is monotony.
What does this mean for you? Working out regularly is a good thing, but if your workout always consists of the same exercises using the same equipment multiple times per week, you're bound to get bored. Motivation wanes, results plateau, and suddenly you're inventing reasons to skip the gym.
There's a simple solution: Be willing to move away from the familiar. By trying new movements with new equipment every few weeks, you'll not only prevent plateaus, but you might also discover more effective-and fun-ways to challenge your body.
“I always see people using equipment they assume they can’t mess up instead of more functional equipment that would help them move better in real life and really give them more bang for their buck,” says Rachel Prairie, C.P.T., director of training at Anytime Fitness.
Here are three pieces of functional equipment to keep your workouts fresh and effective, plus tips on how to integrate them into your routine.
As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
All-Star Equipment #1: TRX Suspension Training Straps
You'll typically see these black and yellow straps with handles hanging against a wall or pillar in your gym. They look complicated, but they're really not.
You can do hundreds of exercises with TRX, Prairie explains. How so? They're just straps, right? Yes, but they enable you to leverage your own bodyweight as the resistance. And because they're flexible, you can use them in a variety of positions and angles.
The result: You can do endless variations of exercises like pushups, rows, squats, and lunges. And virtually every exercise improves your core strength and stability, Prairie says.
Additional perks: Suspension training is a low-impact workout, so it’s an excellent way to develop strength, balance, and flexibility without stressing your joints. And if you have difficulty getting down and up from the floor, TRX bands can be a great option for strength training.
Where to start: Some gyms offer TRX classes, but you can also ask a trainer to give you a few tips, Prairie says. They’re simple to use once you know how to lengthen and shorten the straps.
Try one or more TRX exercises in the video below.
All-Star Equipment #2: Medicine Ball
"You don't need much weight to get a great metabolic workout with a medicine ball," Prairie says. "It'll get your heart rate up and work your entire body as one functional unit."
Plus, using brightly colored balls helps workouts feel more like play than work.
Some of Prairie's favorite ways to use a medicine ball: tosses to a partner, squatting and throwing them into the air, or slamming them into the ground. All of these exercises replicate real-life movements while improving coordination, power, and muscular endurance.
Where to start: The key to any medicine ball exercise is bracing your core and keeping your back neutral to help protect against injury. Other than that, the sky is the limit, Prairie says.
Look for classes that incorporate medicine balls, and don't hesitate to ask a trainer for guidance. If you're throwing the ball up in the air, down on the floor, or to a workout partner, snag a clear space in the designated medicine ball area. And as always, start with a lighter weight to make sure you're comfortable with the movement.
Try one or more medicine ball exercises in the video below.
All-Star Equipment #3: Kettlebell
It may look intimidating, but a kettlebell is nothing more than a dumbbell with a handle on top. This is a more versatile and natural position. Think of any bag you've ever carried. The weight is below the handle, right?
Because kettlebells are easier on the hands than dumbbells, their design allows you to carry more weight comfortably. That means better results.
Where to start: Kettlebells can be subbed in for any exercise where you usually use a dumbbell, says Prairie. For example, you can hold them at your chest to add resistance during squats.
Kettlebells are also terrific for one of the most effective exercises of all time: the carry. The farmer’s carry is a good place to start, and you can see more versions of the kettlebell carry here.
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