Be the Ultimate Athlete: Match Your Tool to Your Goal
There are so many ways to go about training, and so many goals. Strength, cardio, flexibility, fat loss. Combine that with the nearly unlimited amount of gear to choose from in order to achieve all these things. Barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, aerobic steps, Zumba sticks.
It’s hard to select the perfect piece of equipment. Though, I can promise you, the person who has “found” the perfect piece of training equipment is probably going to offer you a great deal to purchase one.
Me using the parallette bars for core work
So, what are the most important factors in determining which piece of equipment is right for you? Efficacy, progression, scalability, freedom, and movement. Given that there are so many options, it makes no sense to hammer a screw into the drywall. Use the right tool for the job, first and foremost.
If you are trying to improve your sprint speed, the best tool is going to be your body. If your goal is to increase your deadlift, it makes sense to have a bar with some plates.
Progression and Scalability
If all other things are equal, you want something that allows you the ability to progress an exercise, or scale it back if necessary. Along with scalability comes learning curve. The ability to implement a tool and have it enhance movement with minimal instruction is extremely useful in group settings or in one-on-one situations where teaching time is limited.
"When in doubt, simpler and more scalable is better."
This is a large part of why Apple has done so well as a company. They’ve made using their products exceptionally simple, even though there are some instances where a different operating system gives you more functionality.
When in doubt, simpler and more scalable is better. For example, a barbell can be loaded to different weights. Gymnastics rings can be adjusted and the exercises can be modified to change difficulty by altering the leverage.
There are a lot of barriers to exercise, and more often than not, it’s important to be able to get a training session without having to always go to the gym. In fact, some of the best training you’ll ever do will be outside. For this, things like a kettlebell, bodyweight, and rings are ideal because they are so nicely portable.
Me performing a Turkish Get Up. One of the many uses of the kettlebell.
The last and most important thing to consider when you are deciding which piece of equipment you need to get the job done is how you are going to use this to enhance your movement. The most important part of the puzzle is your own body and what kind of stimulus you are trying to impose upon it so it will create a positive change.
"In order to be the best athlete possible, it’s a good idea to be competent along the full spectrum."
For example, kettlebells are great tools for teaching someone to squat properly and how to use their posterior chain through swings. But for upper body pulling movements, such as pull ups and front levers, kettlebells are somewhat lacking in terms of improving overall movement.
Organizing Your Workout
Let’s look at these determining factors in the way you might when organizing your workout, goals, and equipment.
Look at the freedom a pull up bar and a set of gymnastics rings will give you for upper body pulling exercises. We have front levers, pull ups, skin the cats, hanging leg raises, and a multitude of other movements that can serve everyone from a total beginner at level zero to an Olympic gymnast performing a Victorian.
But those rings aren’t going to do you any favors for building leg strength.
Jumping, sprinting, and lifting heavy weights with a barbell is going to be the most efficient and effective for the legs, while also giving you the added benefit of that total body strength and coordination along a huge amount of muscles.
But that barbell isn’t going to be the best tool for improving flexibility.
When it comes to flexibility, your body, things you can hang from, and small weights or bands are much more effective.
A sandbag is an awesome tool for building serious strength and it’s probably the best piece of equipment for many different variations of carries, like Zercher and bear hug. If you get a good one, you can also throw it around, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing with yourself or with a barbell.
"The most important part of the puzzle is your own body and what kind of stimulus you are trying to impose upon it so it will create a positive change."
Kettlebell swings are fantastic. There are few things better for getting someone to be explosive through the hips in that middle range of the strength speed continuum. On one end, you have sprints and on the other you have deadlifts. In order to be the best athlete possible, it’s a good idea to be competent along the full spectrum.
Become the best all-around athlete.
My Favorite Pieces of Equipment
As you can see, there is a time and a place for many pieces of equipment. The only place it gets a little dodgy is when you start marrying yourself to one single thing. You miss out on so many potential benefits by closing off your mind to other tools.
Understand and respect the advantages and disadvantages of each piece of equipment and approach that evaluation with a clear and emotion-free mind.
Here are a couple of my favorites and when I use them:
Upper body work:
- Pull up bar or rings (hanging variations)
Lower body work:
- Barbells (deadlift)
- Kettlebells or sandbags for goblet and Zercher squats respectively
- Sled pushes
- Sprints and jumps
- Kettlebell swings
- Medicine ball or sandbag throws
- Pull up bar or rings (hanging variations)
- Sandbags (loaded carries)
Me demonstrating a front lever.
My personal go-to tools and equipment for specific goals:
Strength Block One:
- L-Sit to handstands
Strength Block Two:
- Front levers
- Sled push
- Sandbag carries or hanging leg raises
- One-arm kettlebell swing intervals
"The only place it gets a little dodgy is when you start marrying yourself to one single thing."
The above are just examples of my favorite, biggest bang-for-your-buck tools and movements. The most important thing is to have fun and stay healthy while getting better every day. If you hate using barbells, you don’t need to use them.
My personal goal is to always find the best and easiest solution that will also deliver the most benefit. This is what allows you to be able to do basically everything, without having to practice everything. This ability to adapt and “do it all” is what I consider the cornerstone of being the Ultimate Athlete.
In short, don’t screw yourself over by always using a hammer. #toolpun
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