We’ve all seen this guy at the gym: He lifts everything with a weight belt, has the latest cooling-technology shirt and moisture-wicking socks, uses hand wraps for just about every pulling exercise, points out you have the “wrong shoes” for a certain exercise and opens up a gym bag with enough bottles, shakers and potions to start his own pharmacy.
iPod? Check. Beats by Dre headphones? Check. Pulse-monitoring watch? You know it. Phone with workout tracker on it? Obviously. Those weird Vibram FiveFingers shoes? Gah.
This is the “Bionic Gymgoer.”
He is most likely wasting a lot of money.
We know fitness has become an industry, but we still like to think of it as a lifestyle — it’s a way of being and doing that benefits your health. The focus should always be, first and foremost, on how your body and mind are responding to exercise and nutrition when it comes to fitness. Everything else is ancillary.
This week, our goal is to take a look at some of the best and worst investments you can make in gym equipment: The essentials, the new ideas that could really be helpful, and the items you shouldn’t waste your time with. Follow along on this post as we update it throughout the week!
Before getting into any of this, let’s throw in this caveat: It’s all about what makes you comfortable and what gets you results. Ultimately, if you really want to wear a back brace for your forearmcurls, we can’t stop you.
We’ll begin with our first “must-have”: CLEAN, comfortable clothes.
Notice the emphasis on “CLEAN.” (We did it again there, just to be clear.) This is a two-fold operation: 1) You should pick clothing that doesn’t encumber your movements or cause any kind of discomfort. This benefits you. 2) You should pick clothing that you don’t have to “smell-test” to make sure it’s OK. And for crying out loud, don’t put on anything from the laundry hamper. Yes, gyms can smell. But as you’ve certainly experienced, there’s a difference between a good sweat and a stink-bomb of B.O.
The ideal choice: Lightweight, well-fitting athletic gear and good-quality cotton socks. You don’t want to be hitching up loose shorts or drowning in an ill-fitting shirt as you exercise. Another great investment, especially for men, is compression shorts. Do one set of crunches or flutter kicks in loose shorts and boxers, and you’ll know why.
Do you really need a music player? This one’s debatable. Personally, I’ve gotten great results at times where I just got sick of strapping on the iPod every single day and just went to the weight room with nothing in my head but the focus on the task at hand. In the mind, you can really get a lot done when all you’re concentrating on is your workout. That said…
If you train at a commercial gym, there’s always the chance that they’ll play their own music, and if the person in charge of the station or playlist has iffy taste in workout music, you could very well be stuck trying to hit your squat max while Justin Bieber is singing. And nobody wants that. In scenarios like this, having your own, personally selected music is invaluable, and for many, it’s the difference between a focused gym session and a distracted one. Opt for something as simple as possible (a Nano or Shuffle is great) and preload it with songs you know you won’t be skipping or groaning about every time they come on. And if you do decide to use your cell phone as a music player, remember to turn off your notifications. A text or call while you’re lifting is a royal pain.
A water bottle. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But the line at the water fountain at the gym confirms it: Many people forget this simple but critical piece of gym equipment.
One of the reasons we’re always throwing bottles in free with purchases is that they are absolutely crucial for delivering nutrition to your body when the luxury of a glass and a fountain isn’t there, even if the nutrition is only H2O. We like filling up a bottle with BCAAs and sipping on it during a workout for continuous muscle-building and replenishment, something you just don’t get if you go in to the weight room without one. The other aspect of trying to exercise without a ready supply of water is, obviously, dehydration. You need to stay hydrated during intense workout periods, and if you’re taking 2 minutes at a time to walk to the water fountain, you’re risking sacrificing your workout intensity with prolonged rest periods. Compare that to a high-tempo workout, where your rest period is just as long as it takes to take a draw off your water bottle — we’re all about efficiency.
It’s about as low-tech as you can get when it comes to gym equipment, but it’s necessary. And like we said before, when we’re throwing them in with purchases, often for free, it’s tough to beat the price. There’s really no excuse to not bring a bottle to the gym with you.
Chalk. This one’s more debatable than the first three, but in our eyes, there’s no better way to ensure you’re getting your most effective workouts possible. Chalk is cheap, it works just as well as straps without destroying your grip strength and it looks cool (ignore that last part).
There’s a school of thought when it comes to grip strength and just how important it is, and it’s one we can easily get behind: You are as strong as your grip says you are. In other words, if you can’t grip something, then no, you can’t really lift it in a real-life application. This applies to the gym, too — yes, you could use straps or hooks or any other kind of grip-neutralizing apparatus you can think of, but why sacrifice? Chalk up your hands instead, and build up a vice-like grip on whatever weight you’re handling. And investing in your own isn’t expensive — just throw a block in a plastic bag and off you go. That way you’re not sharing with the whole sweaty gym. Gross.
There are some gadgets out there that we admit are pretty cool. Still…we can’t in good conscience put them under the “must-haves” list. Simply put, unless you’re swimming in cash, you really don’t absolutely need these to get results.
Heart rate monitors are a nice tool, in theory. For those who are exercising solely for cardiovascular health purposes, in fact, we’d consider throwing them in the category above. For everyone else, though, they aren’t totally necessary. Most of the time, you can “feel out” your cardio effort in degrees, and match it to your goals. And you can do this without constantly checking back to a screen, writing down what you see and then adjusting again. For those of you distance runners who like to rely solely on your aerobics for your training, forget we said anything — you probably can put these to good use.
A watch. Assuming it’s a digital sport watch, we can make enough excuses to justify bringing one along if you had to. They’re great for timing your rest periods, or sets where you have to hit a certain time (you’d be amazed at how slowly or quickly you can count off seconds while planking). They can also give some extra motivation if you have a time frame you have to get your workout squeezed into. They can also be a distraction as you adjust them, twisting them around so they don’t interfere with a wrist movement, taking it off so it doesn’t get in the way, etc. Nice to have with you? Sure. Just pick one that won’t be the focus of your workout and you’ll be fine.
Leave your phone at home. Or in your locker. Or on silent, in your bag. The No. 1 way to derail your workout plan is to let distractions take over, and today, your cell phone is a primary distraction. There are examples where you might need to bring it — you’re expecting an important call while you train, or you use your phone as your music player. In that scenario, find the “do not disturb” mode and let your Pandora do the work. But in most cases, your cell phone doesn’t belong in the weight room.
Specialized “five-toe” shoes. Vibram’s FiveFingers enjoyed a bit of celebrity status for awhile, touted for potential health benefits and comfort. And then people started doing research, and suddenly they noticed that customers weren’t seeing those benefits the way they thought they would. Furthermore, Vibram then settled a class-action lawsuit for $3.75M to make it go away (they do deny that they advertised falsely). The point is, when it comes to your training, use shoes designed for your activity: Running shoes are still great for you cardio buffs, a good cross-trainer is an excellent choice for all-around training (some are flat-soled, even, which can be a bonus), or just stick to good, old Chuck Taylors for your off-the-floor heavy training.