The best exercise equipment for challenging workouts

By on January 21, 2020

Whether you’re in a rut with your training or you’ve noticed there are aspects missing from your fitness and performance, the best exercise equipment can make a huge difference in your workouts. While we’d ideally be able to get a complete workout using only our own bodies, it’s also true that there are some things you simply can’t achieve without the right tools. There is no substitute to squatting under a heavy barbell for instance.

Best training equipment

With that in mind, the right tools can be a fantastic way to challenge yourself in new interesting ways. To force your body to adapt, and to make your workouts more varied, interesting and challenging. Why limit yourself to training with just dumbbells and barbells? Why not combine unique tools like the kettlebell, clubbell, dip bars and more, in order to create a far more varied and creative routine? And once you build up a collection of these options, you can even start to combine them in unique ways for some highly creative and unique workouts.

Why limit yourself to training with just dumbbells and barbells?

In this post, I’ll share the best training tools for building a complete physique no matter where you are. This list will include things you’ve probably seen before, as well as some more out-there options that can train your body in entirely new ways.

Supinated support hold

Note: I’ll be adding from this list from time to time, so be sure to keep checking back! Also: these links are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you buy through them. Thanks 😀

The best exercise equipment 2020

Fat Gripz

Fat Gripz are an example of how the best exercise equipment is simple yet highly effective. These are essentially grips that you can attach to a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, or even a pull up bar, in order to make the handles slightly wider. The result is that it’s tougher to grip onto said bar, and you therefore get more benefit for your grip from any exercise. These are small enough to throw in a bag and bring to the gym, and they come in a variety of different sizes.

Weighted Vest

weighted vest

A weighted vest is a fantastic tool for increasing the challenge on any bodyweight move. This can also be extremely useful for progressing and achieving more difficult calisthenics moves. For example, performing explosive weighted pull ups is a great way to build up to the muscle up. Why? Because unlike other progressions, you are training using the same movement patterns but under greater resistance. Therefore, you are building the right neural networks and specific strength gains to unlock the next challenge.

Weighted vests also increase the cardiovascular challenge of nearly any activity: even just walking. Perform a bunch of pull ups with a vest on and you’ll be sweating and panting by the end.

Bullworker: Steel Bow

Bullworker Steel Bow Best Exercises Equipment

The Steel Bow from Bullworker is an isometric training device. That means it offers increasing resistance and eventually an immovable force for you to pull and push against. When you try to squeeze the Steel Bow, it will resist you until a certain point where it will go no further. You can then continue to try and push past this point, which means you’re summoning 100% of your strength. That’s great for increasing your muscle fibre recruitment and can lead to strength gains using similar mechanisms to lifting a one-rep max.

Hold these positions for 6 seconds a time, rest, then repeat. Train at 3 different joint angles for each movement you want to hit. To see how effective this can be, perform some overcoming isometric work with the Steel Bow, and then move immediately to regular repetitions of an exercise targeting the same area. You will fatigue much faster.

I particularly like the Steel Bow because it is small and easy to fit into a bag. I’ll be making a video shortly on the best overcoming isometric exercises, so stay tuned for that one!

Clubbell

Clubbell best training equipment

A clubbell – not to be mistaken for the slightly lighter Indian Club – is a large heavy club that you can swing around and lift in a similar manner to a kettlebell. Like a kettlebell, the centre of gravity is off-set away from the handle, creating a lever. The difference here is the way you grip the club, and that the lever is actually significantly longer – though you have the option to choke your hand up and down the handle to alter the amount of resistance.

Clubbells are fantastic for developing core muscles and balance as your body fights against the momentum and the constantly changing angles of resistance. They are excellent for your grip (simply holding onto the clubbell can sometimes be difficult), and they also help to open up the joints and the shoulders for developing mobility and joint strength. They’re popular among wrestlers for these reasons. Whatever kind of athlete you are though, you’ll find the Indian Club to offer a unique and enjoyable workout, and to be a highly versatile training tool.

Kettlebell

Kettlebells best training tools

While the clubbell is a powerful tool, the kettlebell is still the best exercise equipment when it comes to weirdly-shaped dumbbell alternatives. Kettlebells are useful for training strength at angles you can’t easily hit with a barbell and through a range of movements such as the Turkish get-up. Training with kettlebells therefore makes you feel as strong as steel.

Kettlebells also lend themselves very well to explosive full body movements and can be a great alternative to a barbell and rack when you don’t have space (although there’s no substitute for being underneath a 100KG+ bar).

Finally, thanks to the momentum you can build up with a kettlebell, they are actually ideal for metabolic conditioning: combining resistance training with cardio. A long set or circuit of kettlebell swings is one of the best methods for burning fat and building your endurance.

Resistance Bands

resistance band

Resistance bands can be used for all kinds of training. They are understated, but they’re still some of the best exercise equipment. They can provide a small amount of resistance for moves like light curls and presses, they can provide assistance during movements like dips (or planche progressions!) and they can even be used to create accommodating resistance during heavy lifts. The latter means that you attach the weight to the ground (in most cases) using the band, such that as you attempt to move it, the resistance becomes greater.

But the reason I like the resistance band at the moment is for training mobility. Simply using a band to test your external rotation from time to time is a perfect antidote to sitting at a desk! Tie one around your door handle so it’s always ready to go, and keep a couple in your pockets to use whenever you get a spare moment.

Training Mask

Training mask

Training masks came under some flack for false advertising. The problem was that they didn’t really offer the simulated high-altitude that they often promised in marketing. But that doesn’t make them useless!

In fact, training masks are awesome tools for training and developing the respiratory muscles such as the intercostals that we use for taking in oxygen. They can thus help to improve our VO2 max and work capacity, not to mention increasing calorie burn during training. Studies show this can improve cognitive performance (reference), and rowing speed/endurance (studies).

An inspiratory muscle trainer is a smaller device that you stick in your mouth and that you can use at any time. See my content on Aquaman Training for more about this.

Hand Dynamometer

Grip strength dynamometer

A hand dynamometer is a device that you can use to both train and measure your grip strength. This is a handle attached to a readout that shows you how many lbs or kg of pressure you are exerting. This is a useful way to gauge grip strength over time (which can otherwise be difficult to do) and it also lets you measure your recovery – grip strength is negatively affected when you are still recovering from training, or when you’re otherwise not at peak performance. If you measure your grip strength first thing in the morning then, this can be a useful factor to consider when deciding how heavy or light to go with training later on.

Dip Bars/Parallettes

Best exercise equipment

Using dip bars and parallettes allows you to work on movements such as planche and handstand press ups using a neutral wrist position, stronger grip on the ground, and greater clearance for moving your legs. This makes those moves slightly easier to learn and sustain, in turn allowing you to develop advanced calisthenics skills. They’re definitely some of the best exercise equipment out there, if only for the versatility. With dip bars, you can even practice front levers, bodyweight rows, and other pulling movements!

Learning moves like planche and its various progressions is something I highly recommend. Even if you never accomplish these feats, you’ll develop a lot of body awareness, mobility, and strength simply from trying. The planche requires so many different aspects of strength and fitness working together, that it serves as a goal that will help you to develop yourself fully.

Gymnastic Rings

Gymnastic rings

Gymnastic rings are the better-value and more versatile alternative to TRX. You can get a pair of rings from Amazon for around $30, whereas TRX will set you back over $100 and can’t be used in half as many ways.

Gymnastic rings are rings that hang from a bar, set of dip bars, or anything else, in order to allow for a range of movements such as dips, ring push ups, ring pull ups, bodyweight rows/inverted push ups, various support holds, and much more. Hang them higher up and you can even practice things like ring muscle ups, the iron cross, or maltese.

Rings require a huge amount of control and strength as you’ll be forced to balance at the same time as performing the pushing and pressing movements. They also again allow you to train at unusual angles and positions that will build strength and endurance in protective tissue, and help you work toward more advanced skills. Because they can be used for pulling or pushing, they are among the most versatile training tools you can purchase.

Fitness Watch

Fitness tracker Vivoactive 3

A fitness watch can be a very useful training tool in a number of circumstances. For those looking to lose weight, maintaining a caloric deficit remains the most effective strategy and for the majority of people, this will be enough. To do this, you need to know how many calories you are consuming, and how many you are burning in a day. The estimated Active Metabolic Rate provided by a fitness tracker is not perfectly accurate by any means, but is as good an estimate as any and can be a very useful metric if you also enter what you eat into a tool like MyFitnessPal.

Personally though, I find that a fitness tracker or running watch is most useful for steady-state cardio. I would highly recommend that anyone planning on getting into running use a watch, so that they can monitor things like their heart rate, distance covered, speed, etc. This allows you to set reasonable goals, and to see yourself improve over time – which is crucial for staying motivated and learning what works for you. Perhaps more importantly, a good running watch will also provide a real-time heart rate estimate that you can use for training in specific zones – such as threshold training which involves running at your lactate threshold (the fastest speed you can maintain for long periods).

Then there are things like sleep tracking and distance covered… but for me personally right now, the most useful feature is the ability to install apps. I have a 30 second timer on my Vivoactive 3, which allows me to very easily and conveniently time myself during calisthenics.

Halo Sport 2

Halo Sport 2 Halo Neuroscience

Finally, the Halo Sport 2 is something of a curve ball. This is a Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation tDCS device that runs a small current through the motor cortex of the brain. This isn’t enough to force neurons to fire, but rather increases the resting potential making them more likely to fire in future. You wet the pads, wear the thing for 20 minutes, and then go train in a “neuroprimed” state. The creators, Halo Neuroscience, believe that this can then put the brain (the motor cortex more specifically) into a hyperplastic state, helping athletes to more quickly learn new skills, to recruit more muscle fibre during training, and even to improve proprioception. The concept of tDCS is backed by a fair amount of research, and apparently the device is popular among certain athletes and MMA fighters.

But does this work? It’s too early to say. I’ve been testing it for the past few weeks in an attempt to improve my planche progressions, my pull up count, and more. I need more time to draw conclusions, at which point I’ll certainly share them here! I’m not recommending this yet, I just wanted to include it because it was cool and I thought you guys might be interested!

Putting it All Together

I certainly am recommending everything else on this list, though. It’s by combining the best exercise equipment like this that I’ve managed to keep every workout fresh and interesting. That keeps my body guessing, and it helps ensure my workouts stay engaging and interesting. You can perform calisthenics, barbell training, and kettlebell work all in the same workout! Or why not combine these tools – how about planche progressions wearing a training mask with a weighted vest, while using the dip bars and a resistance band to offer assistance? The sky is the limit!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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