Most trainers and exercise enthusiasts have their favorite toy: barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, and more. Your choice of why a specific piece of gear is your favorite is not right or wrong, it’s merely your preference. It’s what you’ve grown accustomed to using and helps you enjoy training and, ideally, achieving your fitness goals. But, is there a hierarchy? Are some pieces of training equipment better than others? It depends. Is one of your goals to lift as much weight as possible? Then, lifting with a barbell is not only recommended, but also required. Wish to be extremely acrobatic? You only need your body weight and some rings. This discussion is an article in itself. This article is to go over my personal hierarchy of training equipment, from beginners to advanced trainees. While using a combination of the tools soon to be listed is ideal, some are more beginner friendly than others. Some individuals have a wonderful training experience with one piece of gear and feel no need to use others. That is ok. However, it pays to be versatile with multiple pieces of gear. So, where do you begin?
Created by a US Navy Seal to accommodate his lack of gym access while on deployment, it’s a mainstay in fitness facilities and homes around the world. Why? Because, it’s versatile and beginner friendly. Can’t do a pushup? With a TRX or suspension system you can, many variations in fact. Need help doing a squat? It can do that too. One of my favorite features of a suspension system is it’s ability to allow the user to change resistance with a simple change in angle. Depending on the excise you can make something easier or harder by raising or lowering your body position. If you wish to make any other piece of training equipment easier or harder you have to stop the exercise and change the resistance. Another feature of a suspension system is it’s portability. You have no excuse not to take it with you when traveling, that’s why it was designed! Finally, suspension systems are designed for full-body workouts. From traps to calves, you can perform dozens, if not hundreds, of exercises for muscular strength and development.
Unlike suspension systems, dumbbells have been around quite a while, over 100 years. It’s fair to say there’s a reason they’ve lasted so long and cover the walls of gyms around the world. Why? Two reasons: balance and diversity. Dumbbells are merely handles with weight equally distributed on either side. While some stabilization is required, it’s minimal and allows the user to focus on developing whichever body part they deem necessary. While most beginners/intermediate trainees could use some stabilization exercises in their workouts, the dumbbell allows you to concentrate on muscular contraction for a greater volume of work. More volume equals more results, most of the time. Throw in the option to perform many exercises with 1 or 2 dumbbells and you’ve literally double the number of exercises you can do. Similar to a suspension system, dumbbells can be used for full-body workouts. Legs, torso, and arms benefit greatly from lots of dumbbell work. However, for some reason a fan favorite seems to be the biceps curl. I wonder why :-/
Imported from Russia, this 200 year-old piece of gear was originally use to weigh crops. People started noticing the men lugging around these cannonballs attached to handles were incredible strong. Adopted by the Russian military it has been refurbished and refined to enhance one’s strength, power, and cardiac output with very few exercises. Why? One word: versatility. The majority of kettlebell training revolves around 8 exercises: swing, clean, snatch, press, squat, windmill, bent press, and get-up. Yet, with 8 exercises one is able to develop a very durable, strong, lean, and powerful body using a series of “ladders” and “complexes” to make workouts entertaining and efficient. In recent years, kettlebell practitioners have learned to use these exercises, and a handful of others, to help trainees heal from prior injuries. In other words, it can be used as a physical therapy tool. With all these benefits why isn’t the kettlebell near the beginning of the list? It’s difficult to master. Simply holding the kettlebell properly takes practice, let alone performing ballistic style exercises safely, such as the swing and snatch. In order to reap the benefits of a kettlebell one must practice with it daily and under strict guidance.
Want to have a nice figure? You don’t have to use a barbell. Want to be extremely powerful and strong? You need to use a barbell. Similar to the kettlebell, barbells take extensive practice and expertise to utilize it properly for safety and efficiency. The most traditional way many trainees have used a barbell in the past have been with the big 3: bench press, squat, and deadlift (and you thought the kettlebell was simple). These three movements alone are a constant staple in training programs for professional athletes, collegiate athletes, Olympians, and recreational fitness enthusiasts. There’s a reason; because, they work! As you progress some athletes begin focusing on Olympic lifts: clean & Jerk and the snatch. These movements create the most powerful athletes this will ever see. However, they are arguably the most complex and dangerous exercises to learn. Unlike the “big 3”, the Olympic lifts are performed with incredible speed and, usually, a great deal of weight; Great for power, extremely dangerous for the untrained.
There are many tools out there to help you achieve your goals and my recommendation is to “dabble” in as many as you can get your hands on. Eventually, you’ll find the ones that work best for you. This list was merely to guide you through the levels of “friendly” to “unfriendly” pieces of gear in your fitness journey. Begin with the basics of a suspension system and, over time, work your way to barbells.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!