Are You Using the Right Exercise Equipment?
A documentary about computers shaped the way I coach. In the beginning of the film, it was believed that the world would only ever need five computers. Total. But that thinking changed one day when a programmer showed the head of an accounting firm an Excel spreadsheet.
"Does this have value?" asked the programmer.
"I employ 400 people a week to do what this spreadsheet can do with the push of a button," said the accountant. "It has immense value." From that day forward, the demand for computers drastically changed. The spreadsheet was the killer app for the computer.
I began thinking about fitness equipment in a new way after watching this: What's the killer app for each implement? I've broken down 6 pieces of gym equipment every man needs—and the best exercises for each one. If your workout contains these tools and moves, then I guarantee you've got yourself a near-perfect program.
Best exercise: farmer's carry
Forget the dumbbells at the beginning of the rack. Instead, head straight to the end of the rack and grab a pair of those dust-covered heavy dumbbells. These are perfect for loaded carries, which boost lung capacity, improve your grip, and sculpt your abs and glutes in one shot. Outside of learning an authentic squat patten, I believe there is no single thing that can increase an athlete's capacities faster than the farmer's walk. To start, shoot for 85 pounds in each hand, and work your way up to your bodyweight in each hand.
Best exercises: swings, Turkish Getup, goblet squat
It's no secret that I love the kettlebell. Since the tool's center of gravity is off-center during many exercises, it provides an added challenge that other pieces of equipment can't. Plus, it's unique shape allows you to transition from one exercise to the next without putting it down. Compared to all the other pieces of equipment available, the kettlebell is irreplaceable for total-body exercises like the swings, Turkish getups, and goblet squats.
Best exercise: lateral walk
For a long time, I could never understand why you would use one of these. Then one day, I strapped a mini-band around my ankles and walked from side-to-side. My glute medius instantly lit up.
Your glutes might be the most powerful collection of muscles in your body—so if your glutes are weak, everything suffers. Now I do lateral walks after a set of swings and a set of squats to target my glutes and maximize my body's potential. This wicked trio will teach you more about your butt than any anatomy class could.
Best exercise: rollout
Most trainers have a saying: If you hate an exercise, you should probably be doing it. That's because men tend to avoid doing movements in which they're weak. I believe that's why the ab wheel falls in and out of popularity—it's super-hard and hits muscles most men don't spend a lot of time correctly working.
With a $10 ab wheel, however, you can get the best "anterior chain"—also known as your abs and hip muscles—workout ever invented. I can't think of a program that wouldn't be improved by rolling out on one of these.
Best exercises: military press, deadlift
I've used barbells in my workouts since 1965. You absolutely need it for presses and deadlifts, which are two of the most important lifts in a man's exercise arsenal. The barbell grows with you, too. You can load it with 55 pounds or 700 pounds, depending on your level of strength. Moreover, the barbell is a must for powerlifting moves like the squat, bench press, and deadlift, or Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk.
Best exercises: T-Y-I pulls, rows
If you're like most men, you spend time training what you see in the mirror. The problem: This leads to muscle imbalances and weaknesses. The TRX enables you to target your often-neglected upper back and rear shoulders. I've tried pulling exercises with other pieces of equipment, but the TRX always answers these issues smarter and faster.
Dan John has taught and coached for more than 30 years. As a coach, he's helped hundreds of athletes pack on double-digit pounds of rock-solid muscle. As an athlete, John broke the American record in the Weight Pentathlon. He is the author of several books, including musclemorphosis.com.