When you visit our personal training studio in Northampton, the first things you will notice are the large pieces of traditional weight training equipment – the power rack, lifting platform, dumbbells, kettlebells, cable machine. If you were simply to stick your head around the door, you might think it was just a weight training studio.
But if you look closer, you’ll see a lot of other functional kit, most of it used for exercises that you wouldn’t even think of as weight training. These additional bits of kit add variety and enable us to devise workouts precisely tailored to our clients’ needs. That means we can progress clients in exactly the right way for them to achieve their goals. We can also keep the workouts varied so that they are never repetitive or boring.
Read on to find out a little more about the functional kit we use as personal trainers, and look at the video for examples of how it can be used.
Power bags offer a novel way to load people up. Rather than hold dumbbells or a bar, you can use a power bag. I like to get clients to cradle it at chest height in front of them and perform walking lunges. This really activates the postural muscles of the upper back. You can do other stuff with power bags, like deadlift and clean them, perform asymmetrical whole-body lifts, swing them around and so on.
In the video, you’ll see front-loaded and back-loaded walking lunges, as well as front-loaded squats.
Box jumps are a great way to develop power. They are often used as an assistance exercise for Olympic lifters and jumpers – athletes who need to move a load as powerfully as possible with their legs. You can turn the box so that the jump is 20, 24 and 30 inches. We like to do combination jumps, building the height, as demonstrated by Ray in the video.
The safety bar is a great tool to reduce risk and help people with flexibility issues. It shifts the weight forward when you lift the handles, forcing the lifter to sit back more in the squat to retain balance. When you can sit back in the squat, it’s a lot easier to go lower without the lower back rounding, so it’s less likely to lead to lower back strain.
The weighted vest packs a 30kg punch when fully loaded. You can load it up in small 400g increments, but I tend to leave it loaded at 30kg. We use it mainly for walking lunges – as shown by Ross – but, appropriately loaded, you could also use it for, as shown, push-ups, dips, pull-ups or a variety of traditional bodyweight movements.
The Hex bar allows our clients to deadlift more safely than using a straight bar. For a start, it enables you to pull the weight straight up without the inconvenience of the shins being in the way. This reduces the risk of lower back strain. Second, you have the option of flipping the bar to use the higher handles. This helps people who have not yet developed the flexibility to use the lower handles. In the video, Sara is using the higher handles and James the lower handles.
The sled will get your heart racing and your lungs bursting. It’s straightforward: you load it up and then push it down the track. But, of course, the heavier you load it, the harder it is. We tend to load it pretty heavily for our clients so that we build strength rather than endurance.
You can also pull the sled – facing forward with the harness, pulling backwards, or as a rope pull.
Of all the exercises we give our clients, the sled push probably has the highest oxygen debt of all of them. So it’ll have you puffing away for a while afterwards.
The TRX is incredibly versatile. Think of any bodyweight, barbell or dumbbell exercise, and, chances are, you can do a form of it on the TRX. Plus, there is a whole list of exercises that are unique to the TRX. In the video, Samantha shows you a small selection of exercises to give you a flavour of the versatility.
The battle ropes offer a way to get panting without using the legs much, so if you have lower body movement restrictions, it’s an excellent alternative to traditional cardio equipment.
You can move the rope around in numerous ways, but it will usually hit your core and shoulders most. In the video, you’ll see a selection of moves that’ll work the shoulders, core, heart and lungs.
Power bands are very versatile, but we tend to use them a bit like the reverse of a weighted vest. Instead of adding weight to an exercise, they make it easier by taking some of your weight. We use them primarily for assisted pull-ups, as demonstrated by Samantha, but there are lots of other things you can do with them, such as natural hamstring curls.
The BOSU (Both Sides Up) is an excellent piece of kit for developing balance and stability. You can have it dome side up or dome side down. Dome side up will tend to produce small random agitations and work the feet and muscles of the lower leg. Dome side down will feel much more wobbly and require a whole-body response to achieve stability. Either way, they are great functional training tools for stability and core activation. Squats and medicine ball wood chops are great moves, but you can also do push-ups and all sorts of other bodyweight exercises.
You may have seen the farmer’s walk on World’s Strongest Man. Basically, you pick up a heavy weight and walk with it. These handles allow us to load up plates and create something a lot heavier than our heaviest dumbbell. A heavy farmer’s walk will challenge your core, your upper trapezius and, above all, your grip. It’s not nice to do, but it is a very effective strength exercise.
We use the farmer’s walk as a posture drill, requiring our clients to walk tall and adopt upright posture whilst they walk.
The agility ladder is for developing agility, speed, coordination and balance. You might use it if your sport requires this – racquet sports come to mind. We use it a bit like the way we use boxing, as a great finisher and a good bit of fun. And just like boxing, it’ll make you puff pretty hard.
We also have a set of low hurdles to add variety to agility drills. The hurdles develop similar skills to the ladder, but this time there is some vertical height, adding an element of power to the movements.
Boxing gloves and pads
Our clients love to finish a session with 5 minutes of boxing. It’s a great way to end on a high. The client wears the gloves, the coach wears the pads and takes all the hits! You can combine punch combinations with squats, ducks, sprints and so on for a more exciting and challenging session.
The steps are a great way to add height and depth to movements such as Sumo squats or push-ups, or to add asymmetry, as demonstrated with the asymmetrical power squats in the video. You’ll also see them in the box jump video as a build-up to the main box. Barely a session goes by without using the steps for something.
That’s quite a diverse range of equipment that might not be evident at first glance. And we even have other stuff: a broomstick, bungee cords, foam rollers, yoga blocks, glute-ham developer, weighted cuffs…. you get the gist. So, we’ve got a lot more kit than the average personal trainer to help our clients move better, straighten up and, ultimately, reach their goals.