I’m not a big proponent of exercise equipment. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with using weights to strength train, or wearing nice workout clothes or playing around with rope skipping.
However, modern fitness industry has its ways to make us believe that we need to buy the newest and trendiest kind of gear to get fit.
The average dude or dudette simply does not need any equipment to get incredibly strong and fit.
Read on if you like to know how I elaborate this.
Many people struggle to find a way to get fit that suits their lifestyle. The most wide-spread excuse is certainly a lack of time. But enough people find excuses like “I don’t have a gym membership” or “If only I had gear X, I would be fit as hell”.
They don’t take action because they make themselves believe that they lack the resources to exercise.
Because of the huge information overflow that the fitness industry floods us with and the ubiquitous bro-science that rattles around the gyms, people think getting fit is rocket science. People actually do heavy research before embarking on a fitness journey.
Yet, all it takes for the average person to get fit is some common sense. Want to lose weight? Start eating more vegetables, less junk food and maybe less food overall. Want to get strong? Do some basic, compound exercises and progressively add resistance over time. Want bigger muscles (read: look strong)? Well, get stronger.
If you used your common sense, would your first answer to any of the above questions be “buy some gear” or “start a fancy diet“?
If you struggle to make significant progress regarding your health and fitness, it’s probably because you don’t tackle the big rocks first. If a Happy Meal is a regular dinner for you, don’t even think about taking supplements or protein shakes. If you cannot consistently follow a simple workout routine for any noteworthy period of time, don’t buy equipment you won’t use.
A very good friend of mine told me that buying new running shoes motivates her to actually go running on a regular basis. The idea is that the big investment (expensive shoes) forces her to go running, because otherwise, she would have bought them for nothing. Regardless whether this works or doesn’t work for her, I see a serious contradiction in that logic.
I would argue that this motivation is short-lived. Sure, she’s excited to test the new running shoes and really enjoys them for the first few weeks. It really gives her momentum for a while. But there’s no long-term, intrinsic motivator. After a while, the excitement over the shoes fades, life gets in the way and the shoes are just a nice addition to the collection.
I suggest a better motivation would be to reward yourself, if you must buy something to motivate yourself. In the running example, challenge yourself to run 3 times a week, for six weeks, in your old running shoes. If you were successful, buy those new shoes as a reward.
Shiny Object Chasing
The problem of the shiny object chasing is usually a problem for people who are already quite enthusiastic about fitness. They read a lot of fitness blogs, magazines and the like. They try everything out, have a closet full of exercise equipment and yet don’t make any progress.
One day, they think medicine balls are the shit, then it’s battle ropes, Bosu Balls and then resistance bands.
Their biggest obstacle in making progress is that they lack consistency.
While the style of exercise is a question of taste and personal preference, this hopping around often results in the trainee running in circles.
If someone asked me how to start an exercise routine, and they don’t have much prior knowledge, I’d advise him/her to start with really basic bodyweight exercises. Push-ups, pull-ups or bodyweight rows, squats and planks can get you very far if you consistently train them.
If you’ve developed that consistency and have no problem to stick to a basic routine for more than a month, we can talk variety.
The Gym Cage
Being a member of a gym gives you the convenience of having lots of equipment readily available to you. They have machines, weights, racks, mats, medicine balls, barbells and a smoothie bar. While some of those might be useful, many of them are not.
In Germany, if you’re a newbie at a gym, a gym employee (I refuse to call them trainers) will be assigned to you. He/she shows you around and gives you a pre-designed routine that almost exclusively uses machines. It’s the easiest and safest way for the gym. Machines don’t require any kind of motor skill, they’re easy to teach (most of the time, instructions on how to use them are attached to them) and risk of injury is usually low. The gym employee spends half an hour showing you the machine park. After that, your “personal training session” is over.
The problem is, those machines are everything that’s wrong with modern fitness in so many ways. They’re useful if you need to rehabilitate from an injury or are not able to handle your own bodyweight properly. For the average exercise beginner, they’re just not a good fit.
They don’t teach proper movement mechanics like you would need in the real world. When was the last time you had to do a biceps curl with a cushion under your arms? Exercise should not only be effective for body recompositioning, it should be functional first.
Most of them work muscles in isolation. You almost never use a muscle in isolation. This is for bodybuilders who need to squeeze the last 1 % of potential out of their body. What you need are compound exercises. They give you the most bang for your buck. With them, you’ll burn more calories (if that’s a goal) and you’ll give your whole system a more impactful hormonal signal to adapt to a big stressor such as a compound exercise. Plus, you work a lot of muscles at once, without targeting each and every fiber in isolation. This will save you a lot of time.
They neglect the posterior chain. If you’re a desk jockey, chances are you sit most of your day. Then you get to the gym to just sit down some more on those aweful machines. Get your ass up and train like you mean it.
You’re not gonna get the butt you want by sitting on it.
Using compound calisthenics exercises or free weights naturally engages your core and posterior chain. There’s no need for ab crunch or back extension machines.
If you really love going to the gym and don’t want to abandon lifting weights, insist on getting an introduction to the free weights section.
Not being dependent on equipment and being able to work out everywhere is one main advantage of calisthenics.
Even if you really love to work out in a gym or with home equipment, it’s a good thing to have enough bodyweight exercises in your arsenal so that you are not a slave to your gear.
When I travel, I usually try to find a nearby playground, mostly so I can do pull-ups. But there is almost always something that you can hang from to do pull-ups or bodyweight rows. The rest you can simply do on the floor.
There is no excuse to skip workouts other than your personal priorities.
If you’re able to do your workouts everywhere, you can’t blame the lack of equipment. All that’s left is your own mindset. Sure you can say “I’m just too busy to exercise”. But this is simply a problem of prioritizing.
If exercising is really important to you, you’ll find the time.
Here’s the thing: I find nothing wrong with buying equipment. I like my Vibrams, I bought a medicine ball, a foam roller, gymnastic rings and some other stuff. Some of these I use regularly, like the Vibrams and the rings, others I used a few times and discovered that I don’t need them.
If you are a fitness enthusiast and you have no problem with training consistency, a piece of fresh gear might stirr things up for you. However, if you struggle to include exercising in your daily life, gear is just a distraction. Don’t be that guy with the dusty dumbbells lying around in his room.
It ultimately boils down to what kind of exercise works best for you. For me, it’s bodyweight strength training. I live for that stuff. Others prefer lifting weights or combining weigths and calisthenics in one routine. It’s a matter of taste.
Take it from Bruce Lee: “Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.”