Top 5 Gym Equipment Choices For Size and Strength Gains
Some of the best gym equipment choices for increasing size, strength and endurance are simple tools.
I was talking with JP Brice, owner of Iron Company, the other day about some gym equipment and what Iron Company currently sells and what is popular and then we were discussing the different types of gym equipment that we use now that we are in a geriatric stage of life, and I said, “Hey, how about I write about my 5 current favorite pieces of gym equipment?”
He thought it was a great idea. So, I have whittled down the gym equipment choices to pieces that I use now, as a 54 year old weightlifter. This is the gym equipment that I use that has enabled me to work around some of my injuries that I have accumulated over the years and to continue training 5 days a week, consistently.
Olympic Barbell - I am partial to a bar like the Iron Cowboy power bar, because it reminds me of the Texas power bar when I used to compete in powerlifting. Stiff, but not overly stiff, and the best part to me is the knurling. It may be too aggressive for some, but whenever I walked into a power meet and the bar had a nice, rough knurling, I was happy because I knew that grip would not be a factor. An Olympic bar that is too smooth, especially a cheap bar, is a nightmare when deadlifting, and using chalk just makes a smooth bar more slippery as it gets caked in what little knurling is available. I currently use it for bent over rows, heavy barbell shrugs and barbell incline presses.
Power Rack - Everything can be done with a properly equipped power rack - chins and dips, squats, bench press, incline barbell press, overhead press, rack deadlifts and much more. Along with an Olympic barbell, the power rack is a must have for any serious lifter. And purchase one that is sturdy. Spend some money on this piece of gym equipment. If you get a good one, it should last you a lifetime. A Power Rack is where I do my squats, bent rows, and shrugs.
Bent Olympic Bar - With my lack of shoulder flexibility that has gotten worse over the years, I find that squatting with a bent bar, or "cambered bar", enables me to widen up my grip and be more comfortable. This bar also seems unable to roll down my back into a low bar position, and the squats with the bent bar sits on my back in a high to medium bar position, which seems to put less strain on my low back. This is the first year that I have experimented with the bent bar, and I am pleased with its functionality. I will continue to use this bar as part of my leg day program
Safety Squat Bar - After I had back surgery a few years back, the back squat with an Olympic bar inflamed my low back something fierce, most likely because of my squatting style; with a significant forward lean. The safety squat bar seemed to solve that issue, reducing the strain I felt in my back and enabling for me to stay more upright when squatting. It really was a Godsend for me. In addition, the handles being in front of me made the lack of shoulder flexibility a non-issue. I know that some lifters use handles attached to a power rack to hold onto when using this bar, and I have done that also. But to me, holding on to the handles that are attached to the bar itself makes the movement more difficult, and thus gives you more strength and size. This bar does wonders for quad development, and I used it exclusively when training for one of my bodybuilding shows and noticed an improvement in my leg muscularity.
Functional Trainer (for chest and shoulders) - I love this machine! The cables give me constant tension on the muscles being worked and using it combined with a good weight bench makes it more stable, enabling me to use more weight. I do a cable press and fly combination for my chest and with the weight stack right in front of me, I can perform drop sets with very little rest. For shoulders, I perform presses. Again, it’s the constant tension, concentric and eccentric, that sets cables apart from dumbbells and barbells. Plus, it’s convenient. Finding someone to hand me dumbbells can be a real pain, and the barbell press, once a mainstay in my program, seems to limit my range of motion when compared to cables.
Kettlebells - I love kettlebells! My favorite attribute about kettlebells is convenience; you can take them anywhere. I used to take my 54 pound kettlebell on overnight fishing trips and perform 300 swings before we hit the water. I just toss one in the back of my truck, and I am good to go. Also, its great cardio, without riding an exercise bike or walking which we all know can become monotonous. You aren't going to get massive muscles working with kettlebells, but your grip will improve, your cardio will improve and I found them to be a great beginner tool. Teaching a beginner the proper squat form using the kettlebell goblet squat has been a staple of my programming for years, especially if someone is intimidated by having a bar on their back. And as Marty Gallagher made the point on one of the RAW podcasts, for some folks, a kettlebell may be all they need for their workouts. For someone who doesn't want to go to the gym, or for someone for whose busy lifestyle doesn't allow the time for a commute to a gym, kettlebells are perfect. Do some swings, some Turkish get ups and presses and you have a complete workout for someone who wants to improve their strength, mobility and (especially for older folks), their bone density. Although I don't think that they are the most efficient way to put on muscular size, I did notice that my spinal erectors got thicker and my forearm size improved with the kettlebell swing program that I was performing. Kettlebells should definitely be part of a complete weight training program and gym equipment selection.
Bonus Piece - I had to add the Belt Squat onto the favorite gym equipment list. This has been a welcome and surprisingly effective machine that I have added to the program recently. It takes the stress off of my low back and gives me a wicked leg pump. I have used the plate loaded and selectorized versions and like them both. I have only been using the belt squat for a few weeks but I can see myself alternating these with the other types of squats as time goes on.
So, there you have it: my top 5 (really, 6) pieces of gym equipment that I am currently using in my program. My exercise choices change from time to time, but these 5 pieces are a mainstay, no matter what I am trying to accomplish in the gym.
About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.