They say good workers don’t blame their tools but what about gym-goers? There’s no point in buying or having access to a load of kit if you don’t have the first clue about how to use it – your workouts won’t bring you the results you want and you risk injuring yourself.
Fortunately, most gyms have personal trainers and fitness instructors on hand to guide you through the options. Meanwhile, here are a few pointers.
Short bar with weighted ends.
Good for: isolation exercises; help to develop stabilising muscles; when used in pairs they will prevent your stronger side taking more of the load.
Tips: use light weights to build lean muscle; avoid arching your back when lifting.
Long bar with weighted ends.
Good for: heavy compound lifts that build muscle and increase strength.
Tips: keep the barbell close to the body as you lift; engage your core; get advice from a professional on your posture, plus the best grip and recommended starting weight.
Ball shape with handle.
Good for: combining cardio and strength training with flexibility; developing balance; strengthening the back.
Tips: choose the right weight for the exercise (swings, squats); posture is all important; avoid high reps that might cause stress on the joints.
Long tube-like hanging bags, filled with grains, sand or cloth.
Good for: cardio, strength, stamina; strengthens core muscle groups and burns calories.
Tips: work on your stance, balance and breathing; know when to move and when to plant your feet; use snap punches rather than ‘pushing’ the bag.
A tube-shaped bag with handles, filled with sand.
Good for: all-round strength, stability, conditioning, and grip.
Tips: technique is important to avoid injury as sandbags are unstable objects and can be challenging to work with; understand that you will be able to lift less weight than you might with other gym equipment, but still achieve results.
Bands with handles, fixed to a wall or ceiling.
Good for: building strength and core stability; developing balance, flexibility and coordination; low impact so suitable for beginners.
Tips: find the best body and foot stance before you start each exercise; maintain tension on the straps and don’t lose core stability during the exercise.
Long sheets or tubes of rubber, sometimes with handles.
Good for: strength training and toning arms, legs, glutes; low-impact so good for physical therapy.
Tips: bands come in different colours for different uses; don’t jerk the band and avoid letting go while under tension as the band can snap back and cause injury.
A wide, supportive belt worn round the waist.
Good for: reducing stress on the lower back, avoiding hyperextension of the back.
Tips: belts can reduce abdominal muscle strength and cause increased blood pressure so avoid overuse and loosen the belt between sets.
Fingerless gloves with padding, made from breathable fabric
Good for: preventing your grip slipping due to sweat, preventing callouses.
Tips: overuse can reduce grip strength; bulky gloves can prevent the bar being close enough to your body, affecting technique and potentially causing wrist injury.
Powder and liquid chalk
Chalk in powder or liquid form
Good for: preventing slippage when climbing, weightlifting, doing yoga and taking part in grip sports such as tennis.
Tips: liquid chalk dries quickly and leaves less residue than traditional powder; avoid over-chalking hands as this can increase friction.
Prowlers and sleds
Platforms with handles that can be loaded with weights and pushed or pulled
Good for: increasing strength, in particular in the lower body; aerobic and anaerobic conditioning; endurance.
Tips: build up gradually as it’s easy to overexert yourself on the cardio side.
Soft or solid boxes or cages
Good for: explosive strength; developing leg and core muscles; cardio and endurance.
Tips: chose the right kind of box; hone your technique and balance; keep focused when fatigued to avoid falls and injury.
Drinks, powders and pills.
Good for: building muscle and recovering from training.
Tips: consult a qualified nutritionist or other specialist before adding supplements to your diet.