White Belt Fitness

Recommended Fitness Equipment

For many reasons, I’m a big fan of having access to a variety of fitness equipment, but have come to realize that not everyone has or wants access to a gym. It’s true, you can get a lot done with just bodyweight and you can get a lot done at home too. However, there are also obvious limitations with only using bodyweight for training. Namely that body weight is fixed, so making things progressively more and more difficult is challenging without external load. Progressive overload is a key principle in training. This limits your top end development, particularly with strength, and if desired muscles mass. Along with bone density and ligament or tendon strength, though explosive training can combat much of that — that is not a focus of this particular book, but it’s probably even more effective. 

External load gives you a good buffer zone for improvement, can really help improve movement and give you a lot more control over progressively loading yourself. Doing exclusive bodyweight training in the long term requires a good understanding of physics/biomechanics and will require moving to advanced forms of training. That advanced training can take considerably longer to learn and make effective use out of, while using external load will a faster process for the result you probably seek.

Purposely, you can do most of this book at home with minimal fitness equipment but probably not zero fitness equipment. I’ve always felt that being in the right environment for learning how to train should precede any serious training at home. You’ll learn this stuff better and more quickly with some feedback from a partner, mentor or coach. The open space of a good gym, is just more conducive in my experience at creating the ideal training environment, particularly for beginners. I also feel that you need a separate training environment within your home environment, or a reserved space, or you’ll have the best of intentions of training at home and just won’t. I’ve seen that happen again and again.

Yet, I’m sensitive to the fact that many people want or need to train at home for other reasons like the cost of a gym membership or the preference to avoid the judgement of others at the gym. I’ve also seen incredible benefit in getting things started at home as a way to build up your confidence prior to getting to a gym. It’s also a good time to do some stuff cheaply before deciding to invest in a gym.

At home, even if you want to do the bodyweight exercises in this book exclusively you’ll still need to invest in a few pieces of fitness equipment. Here’s the order I’d recommend them and why:

Dowel

Dowel Fitness Equipment

On the left a wooden dowel roughly six feet in length. On the right a four foot piece of pvc piping that can also act as a dowel in your training. You can get a dowel from nearly any hardware store for less than $10 making it a great investment for home fitness. It has a lot of uses in the context of fitness. In this book you’ll see it used often for double checking the neutrality of the spine in many exercises. Simply put if you can maintain three points of contact with a dowel roughly with the back of your head, your upper back and your tailbone/glutes then you’re probably moving your spine well during the exercise. In the absence of an external set of eyes to watch and guide you, a dowel is the next best coach you can have at home.

That’s it’s main use here, but beyond this book you can use a dowel for hundreds of mobility/movement drills and it is the tool I use with all of my new clients before progressing them to a barbell in almost every exercise. I use this piece of equipment nearly every day, whether it’s strength training or just warming up.

Elastic Bands

This at the top of my list because you can train nearly every major movement pattern with just bodyweight, except for the pulling movement. As a result most bodyweight routines are really lacking a pulling action, so that becomes a priority in my mind. A lack of pulling action in your training routine can result in a bit of an upper body strength imbalance within the biceps and the mid to upper back areas. If you’re going to spend any money on extra equipment then, it seems prudent to spend it here as bands permit you to train a pulling action, are relatively cheap and are very versatile for a lot of other movements too.

Elastic Bands Fitness Equipment

For instance, say you can’t do a single chin up or pull up right now, then you’re definitely going to invest $40-$100 into a set of athletic bands like you see in this photo anyway. Just stick the elastic band through itself on a bar and pull the band down to your knee or foot and voila! You have a fully functioning chin up assistance machine in your home gym.

In the photo above you’ll see a red, blue and green version of a 41″ band. The red is the thickest, the blue is slightly thinner and the green is the thinnest of this particular bunch. Having a few different thicknesses like you see above, provides more options for the exercises the bands can either help with, or provide resistance for. The thicker the band, generally the easier the chin up will be. This is especially important for women who want to train the chin up or pull up variation at home. Women will generally need a little boost with the chin up because they physiologically tend to have less upper body strength than men.

Not only that, you can use bands for training a lot of other stuff that might be challenging in this book for certain people, even something like the push up. If you can’t do a full push up, but would like to learn, all you have to do is wrap the bottom of the band around your waist and do the push up directly below your chin up bar. It can also help off-set a squat or a lunge, if the bodyweight version is currently too challenging for you.

If you don’t have access to a functional cable machine, then a door anchor and a set of bands suddenly become a decent functional elastic band trainer at home. The elastic band can also assist with various stretches by providing traction, and although that won’t be a topic of this book, is a very good thing to learn about eventually. Although this is more of a purple or brown belt topic, elastics can also be used very effectively for speed training and improving velocity of contraction. In a nutshell, they are a great piece of versatile equipment, that you can purchase on the cheap and get incredible usage out of.

Any set of bands resembling the ones above, that are roughly a 41″ loop will do. There are currently a lot of good versions of this product on the market, but again, if in doubt, I’ve generally found that the ranking system on amazon is a great place to do a little research. I will highly recommend getting at least three or four different thicknesses if possible so that you have a variety of options for a variety of different exercises.

Note: I realize there are many exercise bands on the market. It may be tempting to purchase cheap, thin, latex ones with handles. Those may even have a place eventually in your routine. However, I personally believe it’s important to look for the large linked-into-a-circle variety as your initial investment. Particularly, I recommend a set that has a few different thicknesses and is roughly 41″ in length. Doesn’t have to be exact. It’s been my experience that this specific type is the most durable, and offers the greatest number of use cases in the long term for learning the major movements and you can add handles and other accessories to them at some point if you so choose. However, I do use other types of elastic bands at the gym for special purposes, but again we have the space.

Door Anchor

This one comes cheap, usually less than $10, and is quite useful for turning the band above into a functional cable training using your door. Chances are good, you don’t have anything really in your home heavy enough to anchor a band to. A band and one of these, makes an excellent traveling gym as well. I will often just take this and a light band, so that I can get through some basic training moves while on the go.

Door Anchor Fitness Equipment

Here you see it attached to a thin band, but it’s pretty tiny on it’s own and easy to lose. This one has a cylinder like bit of foam, some have large square anchors, others are just folded and stitched webbing that are even smaller than this one. I recommend one that will be gentle on your doors like this one, with some kind of hard foam or rubber insert.

Door Anchor in Door with Band Fitness Equipment

Here’s it set up at the top of a door. Notice that the door closes towards me. That’s very important when using a door anchor. If you went the other way, it’s just the door handle mechanism preventing you from falling on your butt, or worse, your head. Always make sure that the anchor is secured on the other side of the door, and that the door closes towards you so that the weight will be dispersed onto the entire door frame. Double check that it’s secure before you do any exercises, especially any with my next recommended piece of equipment, which is often attached exactly where you see this anchor and band.

Suspension Trainer

One caveat about buying a door anchor, is that if you choose to invest in a suspension trainer, many of them already come with door anchors for use at home. This is another incredibly versatile piece of equipment and they have quickly become one of the most popular pieces of home workout equipment on the market.Many also include nifty little travel bags, and are great for toting along on trips. The only reason I put it in front of a chin up bar on this list, is due to it’s versatility, particularly for novices at home. If you could only afford one piece of equipment for your home, you’re probably better of with bands or this, over a chin up bar.

Unfortunately, if you’re using the suspension trainer with just a door anchor, the angle of pull you’ll be able to get is a fairly mild one. For many people this, roughly forty-five degree angle, gets easy pretty quickly, particularly for rows. Great for getting started and working a foundational movement workout in a pinch, but some of you may want to take it beyond that. That’s where the home chin-up bar below fits in, as it will allow you to use the suspension trainer perpendicular to the ground. This makes a lot of movements you can do with the suspension trainer considerably more challenging. I’ll detail this later in the horizontal pulling or row section of the book.

Suspension Trainer Fitness Equipment

One brand largely dominates this product segment in the fitness industry and it’s pictured above. However you don’t have to use a TRX™, and there are numerous options available on Amazon or other fitness retailers that come in at a fraction of the cost. Like anything though, I think you largely get what you pay for. The TRX™ connects from a single point and forms out into a V-like shape, making it a great option to use for training from home with the door anchor, particularly for the White Belt Program. It’s also pretty durable, the handles are comfortable, it’s easy to adjust, new models keep the V-shape pretty consistent if you only want to use one handle at a time, and the handle design can be useful for incorporating additional exercises using more than just your hands. If you notice the webbed loop below the handle, that’s usually for your foot or feet but we won’t be using that in this book.

At roughly $150, it works very effectively for all the rowing, and many of the pulling exercises we’ll discuss in this book and then some. I use it at the gym (obviously, given the photo) primarily for inverted body row exercises (AKA Reverse Push Ups) but it can be used for a variety of other things you’ll find in the book (mostly off-setting your weight). The company sticks by their product, offers good customer support and a product fitting of a company called Fitness Anywhere.

Note: I have no affiliation with TRX™, Fitness Anywhere, Powerblock™ or any of the companies I might mention in this section of the book. I have no vested interest in you buying any fitness equipment of any kind. I’m just recommending things based on my personal experience and the likelihood that I believe you’ll be able to find them.

However, one of the limitations of this particular brand is the required V taper, which works poorly for any pushing variations you might find in future. It’s more advanced than this book, but I find the V-shape pretty uncomfortable for that purpose, as it rubs hard against your shoulders right on the edges. The V-Shape design from a single fixed point is convenient to set up almost anywhere (even around telephone poles) at least, but a few months from now, you might want to try some new more advanced stuff than is featured in this book and your options with the TRX™ may be a little limited. If you think that it might be of interest to you, I recommend considering other options. For that I prefer a suspension trainer that permits you to set it up from two different access points. That gives you two options really, use something like the Jungle Gym XT from Lifeline or invest in Olympic rings. You can always get both, a TRX™ and Olympic Rings are a great combination but it adds cost.

Realistically going with any option is not without downsides. You won’t be able to really maximize olympic rings at home, and hooking your foot into an olympic ring is really uncomfortable (I’ve tried it…). The Jungle Gym XT, on the other hand, has a handle set up identical to the TRX but it’s more time intensive and not as versatile if you want to hang the suspension trainer off other things — like trees, poles, fences, etc... The main difference is that the XT lets you set up the handles wider so you can do many of the things you could do with the olympic ring, like dips or push ups.  Unfortunately, though the XT is a bit cheaper, I don’t find the current design to be as durable, nor as easy to use pretty much anywhere. For pressing exercises I still prefer the feel of an olympic ring over everything else too. It’s ultimately up to you, and your personal preference but one of those three options will allow you to do many of the pulling movements you see in this particular book.

Chin Up Bar

Door Chin Up Bar Fitness Equipment

The home version variations are numerous, this one is a common design that allows you to use a variety of hand positions. Most use a lever system between a doorway so they don’t require much if any equipment to install and can be easily removed. Others however are a little more in depth and can be bolted into studs or joists in your home to make them a little more secure and reduce any risk of denting or scuffing up your drywall. You can even find just a straight bar that leverages themselves between the doorframe. Recently an online client made me aware of towers you can buy relatively cheaper for home that permit something similar, if you have the floor space.

You should be able to track down anyone of those down for roughly $40-$150 dollars on amazon.com or your local fitness equipment retailer. Keep in mind that it’s been my general experience that you get what you pay for and the star ratings on Amazon are usually good indicators for your research. The choice is really up to you, but the reason I place this under the bands and a suspension trainer is the chin ups are harder to actually do, especially to do well.

Typically only kids or young men in decent shape will be able to do a full bodyweight chin up properly, right out of the gate. If you currently can’t do a clean chin up (or pull up) then you won’t get a lot out of owning a chin up bar without the bands to help at first. We’ll discuss all of that later in the book, but in short, you might need the bands to offset your bodyweight.

Dumbbells

For this program, this is pretty much the main external loading factor I utilize. Unfortunately a large set of conventional dumbbells in all the desirable sizes for progressive programming, could cost thousands of dollars on your own, depending on quality. If you have access to a gym, great, they might look a little something like this.

Dumbbells Fitness Equipment

External load, provided the movement is done well, masterfully concretes good movement patterns. Granted, you might not find rubber lined dumbbells in all gyms, they work the same as metal dumbbells. You can actually get a lot done with dumbbells, more than you might imagine and I’ll discuss some methods in this book that will make a strong case for their usage.

I know, I know, barbells are the feature attraction at most gyms but for home use, they are not nearly as multi-purpose for the new trainee and take up considerably more space. Barbells require additional equipment like a rack and/or rubber flooring to use effectively. Plus, barbells are not nearly as kind on the shoulders, which like to rotate as they move, giving you less margin for technical error. Dumbbells allow you to maintain balance from side to side considerably better than barbells. Barbells allow you to use more weight and in my opinion should eventually make their way into your training, just not right now. Hopefully you can see why I would choose dumbbells for this program as opposed to barbells. Don’t get me wrong, barbells are awesome pieces of equipment, but they are the next step in your training journey.

If you’re looking for a great, relatively inexpensive option for dumbbells at home, look no further than the PowerBlock™.

Power Blocks Fitness Equipment

There is only one other manufacturer I’m aware of that makes a set of dumbbells that you can adjust so easily and that’s bowflex. The bowflex option feel more like a more conventional dumbbell, but unfortunately the bowflex version only goes to 52.5 lbs. That’s heavy enough for most women for sure, but for men training at home I recommend the PowerBlock™, and more specifically choose one of their options that you can upgrade to at least 90 lbs, when the time comes. The pair in this photo, unfortunately only go to 55 lbs, and are one of the few options PowerBlock™ makes that won’t work with their extender packages. Their top two options, however, can often be extended to more than 130 lbs. What I like about the PowerBlock™ is that you can invest $350 in a pair that goes to 55 lbs, and then buy extender packs as you get stronger. Typically it goes 55 lbs, to 70 lbs, to 90 lbs, to 110 lbs and finally 130 lbs. Each extender pack, is roughly $150, meaning you can spread your costs out over time as you get stronger. The bowflex option is also roughly $350, so given that you can upgrade the PowerBlock™ for your home gym, as you get stronger, it just seems like the better option overall.

What many people find uncomfortable about the PowerBlock™ is that your hand is literally inside of the dumbbell. This might make you feel a little claustrophobic, they don’t feel quite as awesome as a more regular dumbbell design either, but as far as I can tell is mostly psychological in nature. You just can’t beat the value they offer for training at home on a budget.

The fact that you can extend thePowerBlock™ to pretty heavy weights is most applicable to men training at home. In many cases 55 lbs is more than enough for women to do every lift I’ll discuss in this book to a high level of proficiency, before needing a barbell to take it a step further. So ladies, if you want to skip this option in favour of something that more closely resembling a typical dumbbell, by all means.

Of course you can purchase regular dumbbells, which are easy to obtain at any sporting goods store, usually at a cost of $1-2 per pound — $2-4 a kilogram if you think metric as I often do. I’ll caution that many women are inclined to start out cautiously too light. Yes the fitness equipment industry panders to this with somewhat sexist pink dumbbells in the 1-8 pound range, great for some isolation movements in the shoulder perhaps, but not very useful for most of the compound movements I’m going to teach you in this book. Women will probably want to start with closer to 12-15 pounds, and go up in 2.5 pound increments — again 5-7.5 kg, and go up 1-1.5 kg increments for the metrically inclined. Men on the other hand often go optimistically heavy grabbing 45 or 50 lbs weights to start, when they should probably test out a chest press and row and find that 35 or 50 lbs is probably more appropriate.

All of this of course depends on the person. Some people are naturally stronger to start, others slightly weaker, I’m just making generalizations based on my experience. If in doubt, try a floor press in the store or a bent-over row and see if it’s appropriate. It’s better to cater to the weaker compound lifts first and just do more repetitions with your stronger lifts than buy dumbbells too heavy to start and not be able to use them for half the recommended exercises.

Workout Mat

Or yoga mat. Whatever is comfortable for you, sometimes I like a yoga mat, other times I like something with a little extra cushion. At home I use a yoga mat with a stability pad for half kneeling exercises and some planks. At the gym I often use gym mats for multi-purpose comfort, and yoga mats when I want someone to have better contact with the floor for something like a glute bridge.

Workout Mats Fitness Equipment

The pink mat above is a thinner yoga styled mat, while the black mat below is a considerably thicker exercise mat. Folding the black one in half, gives it more a thickness of a stability pad, often making the purchase of a stability mat redundant for home use.

You can get a decent exercise mat that is roughly 1.5-2″ (3-6 cm) thick for about $35. A decent yoga mat will typically be $20-30. The foam pad you see below is a knock off of the most well known brand, Airex™. The Airex™ will set you back $90 and is a bit pricey, while knockoff variations come in at about $60. In hindsight though, I would have gone with the name brand, it’s what we use in the gym and they just seem to hold up better in the long-term.

Airex Stability Pad Fitness Equipment

Mats are nice for all of the ground based work in this program. The Airex™ is totally optional, something down the road if you have some money laying around and want something more comfy to kneel on at home. An old pillow, or a folded towel/sheet can easily substitute for the pad and in some cases probably a mat. You’re certainly welcome to do floor based exercises on your floor or carpet if you prefer, but I find a mat makes things just a little more comfortable. A mat will also protect your floors from sweat and inevitably stinking like the boxing gym Rocky probably trained in. Plus they can easily be wiped down with light cleaners or in the case of the Airex™ pad are made with antibacterial materials from the get go. These are both ‘nice-to-haves,’ rather than ‘must-haves’ like the bands or suspension trainer (possibly even chin up bar).

Stability Ball

AKA Swiss ball. AKA Physio Ball. I will often abbreviate it down to SB. If you see SB Front Plank, that means a front plank done on Stability Ball. The stability ball is an inexpensive piece of equipment that can double as a office chair. If you’re under about 5’6″ or so, you will probably want to look for a 55 cm version. If you’re between 5’7″ and about 6’2″, look for a 65 cm version and if you’re taller than that, you probably want a 75 cm version. It’s been my experience though that if you’re ever unsure about the right size, the 65 cm is the most versatile.

Stability Ball Swiss Ball Physio Ball Fitness Equipment

Swiss balls range in price from about $15-50, and it’s generally worth spending a little more than the low end but not necessarily the high end. Specifically look for ‘Anti-Burst’ or ‘Burst-Resistant’ balls that come with a pump. A special pump is used for these, so once you have one, if you have to replace your stability ball, you probably don’t need the extra pump. That’s up to you. Generally speaking you can get a good quality stability ball for home for less than $30 and it doesn’t take up too much space. Heck, you can even turn your warm up and cool downs in to inflating and deflating the ball if you like!

One caveat about the ball: Many people get crazy with stability balls, all you have to do is check youtube to see the many mishaps people find themselves in trying to stand and kneel on them. Please don’t be that guy or girl at the gym. I use them very sparingly and mostly only for upper body/torso exercises in this book, or at home as a viable substitute for having to purchase a bench. Trying to stand on them or doing exercises where you’re kneeling on them have a really high risk and low reward. Plus, nobody on youtube is laughing with you, they are always laughing at you. Keep its use to the handful of exercises that use one in this book and you’ll be fine. You’ll see it used more in the blue belt book and beyond, but you’ll never be asked to stand or kneel on one, unless you want to train to be a circus performer.

Bench

Adjustable Training Bench Fitness EquipmentI prefer an adjustable bench of some kind, but it’s lower on my list of priorities, especially if you’re training from home. Many of the pressing exercises I might ask you to do with dumbbells can easily be done on the floor with a mat, or worst case scenario your stability ball can do double duty. I’m not wild about pressing from a stability ball typically but if it came down to equipment and price is an issue, get a bench after you get everything else.

If cost is a significant factor and you don’t mind laying on a hard surface, and aerobic step might be a better initial investment. An aerobic step will cost you anywhere from $40-100, depending on the type and the number of risers you get with the step. To use them as a bench, I’d recommend laying your exercise mat over them, just for added comfort. Reebok, last I checked made one that could even adjust as a bench in addition to being a step, but at roughly $140, is almost as expensive as a decent home bench anyway.

A bench will give you some versatility in movement and increase the range of motion for various exercises. You can do step up variations on them and various pressing movements if you have an adjustable one, everything from a flat press to a seated press. They are also very sturdy for bent-over row exercises and chest supported row exercises. Furthermore, though I won’t get into a lot of these in this particular program, there are a ton of other prehabilitation-type exercises that can be done with a bench and a light dumbbell or band. A bench is also versatile for learning how to squat.

Powerblock™ makes a folding traveling bench, that is under $200 and can be tucked away into a small space. It has the padding of a bench, but can be adjusted to at least two different heights and can be used as an incline pressing position. It’s a pretty solid piece of equipment for your home gym. However, if you are intent on crushing the white belt program in a couple of months, you might want to invest in a full size adjustable bench that you can use with a power rack and a barbell down the road, if you have the space. It’s completely up to you and how far you want to take this fitness thing. Of course you can bypass all of this with a decent gym membership too, until you’ve mastered a lot of these exercises, and then make a decision about what equipment is worth it for your home gym in the long term.

Cable Functional Trainer

I love cable trainers for a variety of reasons, but they are never really that practical for the home gym. They require some space, cost $1500+ and are often quite heavy, so in lieu of one for your home just use the bands with a door anchor. That will at least give you enough resistance to master most of the movements you’ll find in this book that can be done with a cable machine or bands with a door anchor. Bands in a door won’t quite be the same, but when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

Functional Cable Machine Fitness Equipment

What is great about cable machines is that you can put the loading challenge into multiple planes or different force vectors, just like you’re more likely to find in real life. Most traditional exercises done with free weights, have to move you directly against gravity, but many sports and everyday life require movement against friction. Movements like pushing a door, running, rowing or controlling another person’s body in sport don’t happen against gravity and are common enough that I believe they are worth training. Sometimes you have to stand and push or pull something, sometimes you’re almost kneeling or on one leg.

Staying stable, while you exert force is a core theme of the book. Sometimes you have to take something from high and put it low, other times you need to pull something low to high. I’ll still use bands with an anchor like I use a functional cable machine, because that trains speed better, but speed in this program isn’t really a large focus. Speed is a progression. So having access to a functional cable stack allows you to visibly see progress, you’ll know you’re getting better if you can lift more weight, but the progression with an elastic band isn’t always as noticeable in the same way. It might take you a little while to move to a thicker band, or you might just have to do more repetitions to get a good training effect.

Honestly outside of free weights, this is one of my favourite pieces of equipment. I highly recommend that you have access to one, or are willing to pay for access to a gym, that you use it, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. You can still get a lot done without one and there is a lot of variety in the exercises contained in this book.

There are also some elastic band variations that attach to doors for home now that seem like reasonable substitutes but don’t quote me on it. TRX™ makes a device called the Rip Trainer that can provide a lot of the benefits of a functional cable machine but there are others. If you get one, I’d love for you to email me and tell me what is good about it and what sucks.

Why the Variety of Fitness Equipment?

The reason for at least having access to a few different pieces of equipment is that it’s actually easier to learn the nuances of a movement if you can make slight modifications to it over time. For instance, external load by itself helps people solidify motor patterns significantly better than unloaded versions alone. Bodyweight training gurus will tell you ‘screw-the-gym’ and ‘you-don’t-need-no-stinking-weights.’ Partially true, you can get a lot done with just bodyweight, a playground, and a strong working knowledge of joint levers, but the learning curve for people over the age of 30 is typically steep. That’s fine if you’re willing to put in the time investment, but a lot of people I work with are busy professionals with families, who want the biggest bang for their buck.

One additional big benefits of having access to external load is that it appears to tune the nervous system more readily to help ingrain better movement more quickly. It’s also easier to heavily tax your neuromuscular system. I favour variety because the body craves some variety (but not too much!) and calisthenics alone tend to be much more specific in their benefits, rather than transfer to other parts of life, like helping your friends move a couch. Loads of Russian research shows that training with external resistance single handedly leads to the best performance transfer in sport, other than playing the sport itself. In this case, it’s just the sport of life.

There is also the concern of ‘overuse.’ A term often used to describe a problematic situation, usually an injury, that is thought to be the result of a lack of variety and quite simply doing far too much of the same thing over and over again. Theoretically this can convince the brain that there is a problem in the area and pain needs to be triggered as a protective mechanism. For example, I see a lot of long-distance runners with a variety of painful situations, more so it seems than other participants in other endurance sports. Partly because of any endurance sport, long-distance running is probably the most stressful on the body and partly I suspect because there is little variation within that repetitive movement. You’re constantly running in the same direction, with the same technique. Merely introducing some strength and mobility training into the mix drastically lowers the incidence of a problem, if for no other reason, that it provides some movement variety and balance.

I stumbled across a tennis study a few years back that gave me the indication that learning how to serve from three different positions made tennis players better servers long term than players who always served from the same spot. This slight variance might be an indication, that slight but similar movements, are great for embedding motor patterns into the nervous system. It turns out this concept is called ‘interleaving’ and the further I went down that rabbit hole revealed a bunch of evidence that weaving together movements leads to better motor learning. As opposed to just focusing singularly on one movement to make it better for a block of time. In other words doing a squat three slightly different ways might help you learn it better in the long-term than just doing one squat for the same period. It could also mean that training circuits or paired sets that use multiple exercises simultaneously, as I’ll discuss later in the book, might also lead to better motor learning in the long term.

My experience appears to match the interleaving research. Indeed people learn how to move best when they can provide just slightly different stimulus to the process on a semi-frequent basis. Meaning, that a goblet squat, a bodyweight squat and a low cable squat, though all squats, can help a person learn how to squat more quickly and with greater proficiency long-term. The same amount of body weight squatting only for the same amount of time, just doesn’t seem to be as effective by comparison. The only way to progress the bodyweight squat is really to add repetition, leading to improved fatigue resistance, but not much else. With that in mind you’ll see almost every exercise in this program with at least a few variations, where variation can exist. The body seems to crave a little bit of variety and nuance in the movement, but not too much variance and nuance in that movement when it’s learning. You’re looking for similar but slightly different.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what that all means yet. I realize that not everybody has access to every little bit of equipment that I may or may not use and recommend in my gym. For instance I really like Trap Bars but sadly, most commercial gyms don’t have them in house. At $200, it’s not exactly something I expect a lot of folks with home gyms to go out and purchase either. There a lot of ‘nice-to-haves’ but a big component of this program is teaching you how to make due with what you’ve got.

I believe that everyone should have access to physical education, so with that in mind, I designed this initial program to be used with minimal equipment if need be. I will offer up some suggestions along the way for equipment modifications as best I can. Sometimes you just can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. This program is a stepping stone to more progressive movement training. Most things can initially be performed with bodyweight, but after a certain point in time body weight just isn’t quite enough. You need to provide a stimulus that challenges the body to create an adaption and adding some kind of external load is optimal.

The tool is less important than how well you use the tool. Give me a chin up bar and some bands, and I can teach you how to make it work. Give me a suspension trainer and I can probably teach you how to make it work. You’re better off investing in at least some equipment if you don’t want to go to a gym, or can get to a jungle gym outside year-round, because bodyweight alone needs something to accent it. Something to hold on to for pulling activities at a bare minimum.

If you can, and it’s in your budget, I highly recommend that you go to a gym with a reasonable amount of equipment to complete this program. Overall I believe that a gym is a better environment for learning to train. Arguably because you should be surrounded by other people who are also learning to train and are potentially near your skill level. I know that it’s not always convenient or cost effective for everyone. If you insist on training at home, you still have some viable options here that will only set you back a few hundred dollars or less. Outfitting a gym with a good variety of equipment can in fact be a lot cheaper these days than it used to be. Now all you need to do is make sure you find some social support or a training buddy to join you and you’re all set.

Additional Fitness Equipment You May See (But Won’t Need)

This chapter is getting long, but I wanted to take a final moment to touch on some of the pieces of equipment that you may see me use in this book as options down the road. More likely you’ll see them come up in subsequent programs/books. This is mostly just to give you an idea of where all of this can go. I always like my clients to have an idea of where everything is heading. There is always something else to progress towards or attempt. You may be curious, or you may progress through this program very quickly and want a new challenge, so you’ll have new options. I’ve had people get through this program in 6-8 weeks even, others may be closer to 6 months. If I did my job at teaching you the basics of movement, then using new tools will be easy, because you’ll understand the basic principles of training at that point.

Keep in mind that you’re learning the foundational movements and changing the equipment here will feel a lot different, even when it’s the same exercise. If you’ve done well with the white belt program, you should be adequately prepared to take the next steps. If you’re not, you can always practice a little more or learn some more fitness hacks.

For example, I generally won’t let clients progress to a barbell squat, until they have a goblet squat with 45 lbs down cold. That’s just the weight of your typical barbell, so if you can’t do that weight with the easier goblet position, do you really think you’ll be able to use a barbell just yet? What often ends up happening as I’m working with clients is that certain lifts lag or progress quickly. We’re all just a little bit different, from our body proportions to our previous experiences, you’re likely to find that certain things appear to come naturally to you, while others do not.

The reality of a coaching situation versus a book, is that I can progress a person to a blue belt or beyond level of skill for a couple of exercises, while we continue to groove a white belt pattern that might not be developing as quickly. I most likely won’t have advanced belt books out before you master a couple of these exercises so the purpose of this section is to simply make you aware of places you can take your training. If you master everything in this book, then you’ll be ready to tackle some heavier objects like barbells or more disproportionate weighted items like sandbags. You could even move onto more intermediate and advanced training books written by many of my influences. This is just a good primer, so you know what else is out there and waiting for you.

Barbells

Barbells Fitness Equipment

The logical next step for trainees is to progress movements to a barbell. For the most part, I’ll break down barbell training in a new book, but you might see it’s usage a little here or there. For instance, a barbell can be put into a corner or in a device called a landmine and then pressed or moved at an angle, increasing it’s versatility. You’ll see an example in the section on overhead pressing and that example is extremely useful if you don’t have the mobility to get into a straight overhead position.

Beyond that, barbells allow you to significantly increase load by providing more stability. The various rack positions for squatting or benching with a barbell, combined with a power rack, naturally permits more weight. Grip is typically the limiting factor working solely to dumbbells, and you’ll have a difficult time trying to rack a significant amount of weight with them on the shoulders. Even in a grip intensive exercise like the deadlift, using a barbell will allow you to increase the load because gripping a barbell is still easier than two separate dumbbells.

The problem with barbells is that because it’s a long fixed stick, it doesn’t allow the shoulders to move as freely as they’d like to during many upper body exercises. This can make them more prone to yielding overuse problems, if they are overused, the natural way to circumvent that problem is to use a little variety in your training. That’s why using it in conjunction with bodyweight exercises, dumbbells or kettlebells is often a good idea. Lift more load with the barbell, keep things moving well with the other tools at your disposal. I’d like to see all of you progress to barbell training some day but it’s not always practical for home gym scenarios. Unless you’ve got the space and money for a rack, additional weight and some rubber flooring. It’s important to remember that these are really just tools and not the more important principles. Keep in mind that that tool is only as good as the quality of it’s use. You can have the best screwdriver around, but if you have bad technique you’re still going to strip the screw.

Kettlebells

Kettlebells Fitness Equipment

Kettlebells are a wonderful piece of equipment that I make more and more use of every day. You’ll see them sometimes substituted for dumbbells in some of the pictures in this book. Due to the shape, they significantly increase the stability demands of the shoulder for a variety of exercises, but especially presses. Nearly the opposite effect of a barbell, they permit a more natural arc of movement for many exercises. As a result, you won’t be able to lift as much weight with a kettlebell as compared to a barbell or even a dumbbell, but that’s fine sometimes. The variety can bring you back to dumbbell pressing more stable and thus appear even stronger, despite maybe not having done dumbbell training in weeks. The shape makes them ideal for learning to deadlift and although I won’t discuss this exercise in this book, I absolutely love the kettlebell swing as an exercise. I use Kettlebells most often for deloading weeks and improving stability.

Unfortunately they have a long learning curve for a lot of people to fully utilize beyond deadlifts or goblet squats. You’ll see them used for this purpose in this program but not much else. The moment you try to use them for significant upper body training, they often have to touch the back of the wrist/forearm and most people find this incredibly uncomfortable, at least at first. Using wristbands where the bell touches the forearm can be a nice work around for people at the start but it still takes a lot of getting used to. Some ‘tempering’ may be required, which is just a fancy word for toughening up the area where they need to rest. If you can get past that discomfort, kettlebells can become an incredibly powerful training tool.

Trap Bar

Trap Bar Fitness Equipment

AKA Hex Bar. Deadlifts are a tricky movement to learn with a barbell. You won’t see that exercise in this book, but when you do, you’ll first see the use of the trap bar. They are not very common in most commercial gyms, as they are a bit of a one trick pony and at $200+ are not as versatile as the $200+ barbell. They make learning to hip hinge with appreciable load far easier. They also account for varying ability in mobility. See that there are two handles, flip this trap bar over and it becomes the same height as a barbell off the floor, but from it’s current position you’ll grab and sit a bit higher. That higher position is often necessary in the initial steps towards learning to deadlift with appreciable load. There appears to be less stress on the back as a result too. The high position creates a bit of a new exercise that’s part deadlift and part squat, so you’ll usually be able to lift more from that position. That position adds some variety to your training but the improved stability also allows you to go heavier with less risk.

Hip Extension Device

AKA Back Extension Device. These are usually found in every commercial gym, in one form or another. I call it a hip extension machine because I’m pretentious, but if you’re using this, most of the action should really be happening at the hips and not the back. Sure you will feel it in your back, as you would a deadlift, squat and a bunch of other exercises but the primary action should really come from the stronger glutes and possibly hamstrings. I just feel that calling it by what is actually doing most of the work is a better descriptor for the device.

Hip Extension Device (HED) Fitness Equipment

This one is very adjustable for the angle and length so you can make a movement harder or easier. You can use one leg, or two. The former will strain the hamstrings considerably more and you’ll probably see me demoing the basic hip extension movement somewhere in this book but that’s about it. This device is a good isolation tool to supplement the deadlift and other hip dominant movements found in the book.

Glute Ham Device

These are becoming more and more common at gyms, especially Crossfit boxes. I’m not a huge fan of this machine at this stage in a beginner’s development but you’ll see it being used on the sorensen test somewhere. Basically a test of low back trunk endurance.

Glute Ham Device (GHD) Fitness Equipment

I’ve been working on ways to make the GHD a little more versatile, but overall it remains not nearly as useful as most of the equipment above. A pure glute ham raise is also extremely challenging even for elite athletes and all-star gym rats. If you can do a few full glute ham raises with good technique, your hamstrings are pretty damn strong.

Given the cost and the limited use cases of these last two pieces of equipment, I’m not sure they are ever reasonable to own, unless you want a really awesome garage gym. There are some cool usages you can get out of these that won’t require more traditional and thus more expensive pieces of equipment like leg curl machines. Again, machines are not really the focus of this book, I just wanted to touch on some things you might have questions about later.

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Darren Beattie

Coach, Writer and Founder of Fitnack and Skill Based Fitness. I'm going to change how you think about fitness and coaching. Quality of Life Crusader. Knowledge Junkie. Recovering perfectionist.

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