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Last year I wrote The Unconventional Gym Bag: 5 Cool Things You Don’t Use and a few months prior, I wrote about Building the Perfect Home Gym. As expected, my training has evolved over the past year – and will continue to evolve – and the contents of my actual gym bag (and home gym) have also been upgraded. I take my training seriously – more seriously every year – and making sure I’m up-to-date on the latest and greatest is part of the fun.
While I’m a strong believer in self-experimentation, I also “keep it real” with basics in every training session. Loads of bodyweight workouts for general physical preparedness, and of course moving big iron for strength skill work. My strength & conditioning sessions (the primary choice for my entire adult life) consist primarily of the basics: kettlebells, deadlift, squat, bench press, and military press variations. Depending on my goals at the time, I vary the sets, reps, tempo, rest periods, and “supplementary” work. Sometimes the goal is to get stronger or bigger, sometimes it’s to get faster, and sometimes it’s to get leaner. I enlist the help of an awesome, experienced strength coach every few weeks or months to make sure my form is spot-on, and that I’m constantly improving (something I shouldn’t have waited so long to do).
I’ve also evolved my programming and have found a pretty good rhythm. After tearing my right medial meniscus after a July 4th Crossfit workout last year, I realized the hard way that there is a big difference between exercising and training. As much as I loved Crossfit workouts, anyone will sweat and feel spent if pushed to the breaking point. Training is different. Training is personal. Training is about goals. Now, every time I enter the gym, I have a goal to hit. That’s what training is all about. No more random daily workouts with no structure or sound programming behind them.
So what’s new in my gym bag? Let’s get to it.
If you aren’t lifting with chalk, you aren’t really lifting. Chalk helps tremendously with bodyweight and barbell work – and it significantly increases the safety of any lift. Sweat is slippery, and if you’re lifting anything of substance, slight shifts in the grip can cause issues elsewhere. Worst case, slippery hands could result in dropping hundreds of pounds on your head.
Problem is, most commercial gyms don’t have chalk. It’s messy and requires maintenance. Of course, the fact that it’s the safest way to lift doesn’t convince most gym owners to have chalk clouds in their gyms. Crossfit gets this right for what it’s worth.
I stumbled upon a great alternative, however, called Liquid Grip. It’s liquid chalk in a small bottle – squirt a little liquid into your palm, rub your hands together, and boom – instant hand chalk that lasts an entire session. My first workout using Liquid Grip, I was able to set a personal record on the rack deadlift (365lbs for 3) and I credit this to being able to hold the darn bar without worrying about it slipping. I also haven’t had a blister since I started using it. This stuff is super impressive and really convenient.
A great addition to the gym bag for soft tissue work, the Tiger Tail is small (18” or 22”) and portable. It’s basically a mini foam roller for the body (though it’s easiest to use on legs). In the past, I’d used and recommended The Stick but wasn’t thrilled with either the pressure I could generate OR the way the pieces interacted during the roll. I was occasionally pinched. The Tiger Tail feels more durable, doesn’t bend as much, and I can get a better ‘massage’ using it. The only downside is that it’s a little long, so it can be a little unwieldy to tote around the gym.
How do I use it? Pre-workout to warm-up my always sore calves and quads mostly, and then I switch to a foam roller or PVC pipe for other body parts. I also use it on my off days to roll out sore muscles as part of my “prehab” routine.
Note: If you don’t use a foam roller, I’d also recommend The Grid – but honestly, any foam roller will do. For more advanced athletes, PVC pipe is also great to have handy. I bought a 6” outdoor pipe from Lowe’s for $6 and it’s proven invaluable for soft tissue work.
These are very new for me, and I honestly don’t have much to say about them yet. In fact, I was just introduced to them a week ago by my strength coach and I’ve since done a bunch of reading, DVD watching, and a little light practicing. I’m fascinated with Indian Clubs the same way I was fascinated by kettlebells last year. There’s something very primal about using such basic tools to train. This is especially true given my martial arts background, specifically in Kali and other Filipino arts, which have a focus on weaponry (I love my Kali sticks).
The thing that’s most interesting to me about Indian Clubs is their use in warming up and patterning shoulder movement in a safe yet effective way. There’s an element of “getting ready” from a neurological perspective that seems to work well too, “grooving” your movement prior to training or on off days. And of course, one of the stated benefits rings true for me: “Counteract the negative impact of too many hours sitting hunched at a computer keyboard.”
The Stretch-Out Strap is the best I’ve found for doing contract-relax (or PNF) stretches without a partner. It’s sturdy and strong, and has a series of loops for your feet/legs. While the examples in the included book are pretty comprehensive, I primarily use it for hamstrings and hips and I’ve found it to be a pretty great resource. There’s a reason strength coaches and physical therapists use this thing.
For what it is, it’s also very reasonably priced ($12). It will probably outlast everything in my gym bag.
Primal Pacs + Macadamia Nuts
This suggestion is probably better suited for a “focus snack” style post, but it’s become such a routine for me that I do carry these around in my gym bag (or in the side pocket of my cargo shorts like right now).
Primal Pacs, made in Seattle, consist of organic grass-fed and finished beef, dried mango, and raw nuts. The beef jerky has some special seasoning on it which makes it, to my taste buds, the best tasting “paleo” snack out there. And because of the quality of the meat included, it’s high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) which are both great for overall health, body composition, and the brain. I love these things.
While there are a few macadamia nuts included in the packs, additional nuts are always good to have handy in case you need them. Having healthy snacks at-the-ready is the best way to keep yourself from reaching into the bread bowl at a restaurant or ordering a large popcorn at the movies. Macadamia nuts are not only delicious, but they’re incredibly good for you as well – in fact many would argue they’re more of a “superfood” than almonds are due to a better Omega-3 to Omega 6 ratio and high monounsaturated fatty acid content.
If you have your own favorite piece of gym gear, please do post it in the comments and help out the thousands of people who stop by Refocuser every month!
And if you’re looking for a good gym bag, I use the rad OGIO Locker Bag for getting to & from the gym, and a drawstring back sack (though mine has a special symbol on it) for toting around the gym itself.
* On another note: I’ve settled on the “best” way to track my training, and frankly it should have been obvious from the start. While other online options are appealing, using an Excel spreadsheet stored on SkyDrive has proven to be the most flexible for me (and given my day job as group program manager of SkyDrive apps, highly appropriate). Excel spreadsheets are infinitely customizable, and can be accessed from any device using the many SkyDrive apps. Right now, I’m gearing up to do the 5/3/1 protocol and Excel is practically a pre-requisite.