8 Essential Tools for Personal Training
Are you outfitting a new facility or looking to expand your arsenal? These are the best tools to get the job done as a strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer.
This isn’t a What’s Hot Now list, but a selection of equipment that’s been proven effective and will last for decades to come.
In addition to the various tools listed below, if you plan on managing a fitness business, having fitness business management software is essential. Request a demo today of our All-In-One Fitness Business Management Software to see how you can manage your clients, employees, billing, marketing, and scheduling easily and efficiently.
#1 – Concept 2 Rower
Indoor rowing is an incredible method of conditioning that practically every client on your roster can perform and benefit from. Biomechanically, it utilizes the broadest range of muscles and joints of any other single conditioning movement.
It is suitable as the general warm-up before any type of training as well as being a primary tool in conditioning workouts.
Those made by Concept 2 are the highest quality money can buy and at a cost of under $1K, this machine has a huge bang for your buck. With very little maintenance, you and your clients can put millions of meters on this rower without issue. What’s more, the company offers a warranty covering all parts for two years and frame, monorail, monitor arm for five years just in case you do have a problem.
– Sample Training
Row 500m at a pace of 2-2:30 per 500m prior to weight training or other conditioning.
Conditioning Workout – The Viking Row:
Row 100m as fast as possible then rest for that time period before repeating the pattern with 200, 300, 400, 500 meters.
Save the overall time to completion as the metric to gauge progress on future repetitions.
– Where to Buy
Whether purchasing from Concept 2 directly or through a retailer like Rogue Fitness, the price of the machine does not vary much. Your best bet is to compare shipping rates as the determining factor in where you buy.
#2 – Power Bar (Barbell)
There’s no getting around it: the best way to get strong is barbell training. Due to the prerequisite investment of time and effort in learning how to perform and coach the lifts, training with barbells is still avoided by many in the public and by personal trainers. However, those who are willing to seek out knowledge and develop their skill in this arena will be much stronger for it as will their clients.
What makes barbell training the most effective method for strength training?
Mark Rippetoe, the prolific coach and founder of Starting Strength explains it as follows. “The reason barbells are so very valuable is that they are the most ergonomically-friendly load-handling tool in existence… Their extremely adjustable nature allows small increases in stress to be applied to the whole body over the full range of motion of all your major leverage systems.”
“The barbell offers a way to load the body’s normal movement patterns with progressively heavier weights, a process that essentially forces the body to get stronger whether it wants to or not,” says Coach “Rip.”
While the barbell exists in many variations, the most valuable for almost any application by a trainer will be a power bar. A power bar is one designed specifically to resist bending, allow a moderate amount of spin at the sleeves, and have a knurling type that enhances the lifter’s grip.
Center knurling, a hallmark feature of power bars, is not always a necessity, but it’s never a detriment. Its primary purpose is keeping the bar in place on the back during squats but there’s nothing wrong with using a power bar with center knurling to bench press, deadlift, or perform Olympic lifts. This makes a power bar the best all-purpose tool for strength training.
– Sample Training
The best training method for new lifters is to follow a simple linear progression model for the four major barbell strength lifts: the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, and Overhead Press. Linear progression, as the name implies, involves steadily progressing the weight used in a lift each time it is performed. The Starting Strength program is the best example of such a model.
Starting Strength consists of two workouts with three lifts in each. These A and B workouts are performed on an alternating schedule three times each week on non-consecutive days and with each repeated performance of a lift, the goal is to increase a single variable, the weight, by five pounds.
Over a short timeframe, around the first four-to-six months of lifting, there is no faster method for getting stronger on the barbell lifts and instilling solid technique in these fundamental movements.
For instance, a novice male who begins with 135 lbs for five reps on the squat can be reasonably expected to perform the same with 250 lbs or more after four months and will likely have a one-rep max of at least 300 lbs.
Intermediate / Advanced:
Naturally, no program works forever. If that were the case, a basic linear program could last decades and there’d be many more 1000 lb squatters! In reality, the more one has adapted already to a given stimulus, the more difficult it will be to illicit further adaption. What’s more, the work required for adaptation will require a much greater magnitude of both objective and subjective effort which, in turn, requires a more complex strategy for managing training stress.
When a lifter has reached the level of advancement at which the full cycle of stress, recovery, and adaptation can no longer be completed within 48 hours of training, or they have hit a hard stop on getting stronger in a beginner method, it is time to move up the ladder to a level to programming designed for those who are already at a respectable level of strength.
While good programs at this level are too numerous and complex to highlight in this article, our suggestions are 5/3/1, The Texas Method, or the Four Day Split. The overall takeaway on Intermediate to Advanced training is this: the stronger one becomes, the more training must be personalized to account for stress and to carefully balance workload.
– Where to Buy
Because high-quality barbells can be used for many years, there’s a fairly strong secondary market for them. If you know what to look for, you can sometimes find a gem on your local Craigslist from a garage gym owner or from a gym that is going out of business.
For new purchases, go to a reputable online retailer like EliteFTS or Rogue Fitness who sell high-quality bars of their own label as well as long-time favorites from York Barbell and Texas Power Bars.
With standard bars weighing 44-45lbs, shipping can be expensive so look for free shipping specials. But, even if you can’t find free shipping, don’t let this deter you from getting a quality bar that will last for years of training.
#3 – Power Rack
A quality power rack is vital to your barbell training and is a necessity to perform the squat, bench, and overhead press. While there are many types of racks, the full power rack or “cage” is the best option for safety and adaptability.
With many more manufacturers entering the market in the past 15 years, some great innovations have taken place that make many racks not only a station for performing your barbell lifts, but a modular system that can be expanded and used as the base for a greater variety of movements as seen in the video above by Rogue Fitness.
– What to Look For
- Plenty of holes for a variety of placement for J-cups, pins, and any accessories.
- 2×3 or 3×3 inch steel tube uprights and crossmembers and heavy-duty hardware. Any smaller and the rack may not be sturdy and while bigger 4×4 racks exist, that size is overkill or possibly compensation for using low-grade steel.
- Safety system such as pins or straps that can be adjusted to a height just below the lowest point of descent in a squat in case a lifter fails a rep.
- Decide in advance whether you need a rack with built-in plate storage or if you’ll use separate weight trees.
– Where to Buy
While there are several manufacturers of great power racks, the best around with respect to value and variety of options is Rogue Fitness. Their racks are very simple in design but with no compromise to quality. They are well-constructed and can hold up to incredible stress and heavy weights.
The racks to absolutely stay away from are any of those sold by sporting goods or department stores. These will be made of the lowest quality raw materials and often poorly designed. It’s all too common for a rack bought on the cheap from these retailers to be missing parts and have misaligned joints and poor welds. You get what you pay for!
#4 – TRX
The TRX is an excellent tool that vastly multiplies your options for bodyweight training by letting you achieve various angles and grips.
With a TRX you can:
- Scale basic exercises up or down like a bodyweight row with the body at a 45° angle or a tougher 30° from the floor
- Perform exercises with the hands or feet in the straps; think push-up or hamstring curl respectively.
- Perform unique movements only possible with suspension such as the Pendulum Swing:
They are a very simple tool, nylon strap with rubber handles and a metal hook, but the maker has honed in the design to be just right in terms of adjustability, durability, and feel.
For the number of exercises you can perform with this, it is a great value at under $200. For a solid tool you can use every day with clients it is very inexpensive and takes up little space in your facility.
– Bonus Tip: Hanging the TRX
While the TRX comes with a strap for easy attachment to any power rack or pull-up bar, the accessory called the XMount is a game-changer.
Bolt it securely to the wall or (even better) the ceiling to put an anchor point anywhere you need it and ensure freedom of movement around this point while performing exercises.
– Where to Buy
The system is available to purchase directly from the maker at trxtraining.com, through various online retailers, or even in certain sporting goods stores. This is one item that, fortunately, can be bought in various ways as long as you get the real TRX brand product.
Since there are a few versions, make sure you are getting the Pro or Tactical level systems which are more durable than the TRX for home use.
#5 – Bumper Plates
For barbell training, weight plates are obviously a necessity and no matter what type of plates you decide to purchase, the most important quality is accuracy.
To be clear, only calibrated plates are guaranteed to weigh exactly what is printed/engraved on them. Thus, these are primarily used for competitions where lifts must be validated to be eligible for official records. These calibrated plates are far too expensive for most gyms to have for daily use but the next best thing will be plates that are accurate to within 2% of the marked weight.
Outfitting your training facility with bumper plates will serve the most uses as well as providing some extra perks over steel plates:
- These plates are primarily designed for use in the Olympic lifts where a controlled drop is appropriate at the end of each repetition. While this isn’t a necessity with any of the standard power lifts, it’s also not a drawback. Bumper plates, therefore, are the best multipurpose option if you can’t invest in multiple plate sets of different types.
- Bumper plates are uniform in diameter, regardless of weight. A 45lb plate, for instance, is the same height as a 25lb plate with the only difference being the thickness. The benefit of this is that exercises like the power clean or deadlift which begin on the floor will always be the right height off the floor whether the client is a brand new lifter using 95lb or veteran lifting 500.
- Because they’re made of rubber, bumper plates make much less noise than steel plates while loading them on a bar and while lifting. This can be worth noting for the gym owner who needs to operate multiple types of training simultaneously or whose facility is connected to other businesses.
– Where to Buy
Shipping costs will be very high on weights unless you find a rare free shipping special. Often, this fee will be as high as 50% of the dollar amount you’re spending on the actual plates! Based on this, opt to purchase in your local area if possible.
You may have to bite the bullet and take the shipping cost if you want plates from the industry leaders like Eleiko or Rogue, but you may be able to find a smaller manufacturer in your state from whom you can purchase and pick up in person. For example, Vulcan Strength in Charlotte, NC, produces high-quality equipment for sale online and those living in North or South Carolina can also pick up orders in-person at their headquarters.
#6 – Dumbbells
The dumbbell is a type of resistance training equipment that is safe and accessible for any trainee. While some degree of technical skill must be learned to perform movements correctly, many will find that lifting with dumbbells is easier to get started on than the more complex barbell lifts.
Another strength of dumbbell training is the great variety of exercises that can be performed, particularly those in which the body is positioned asymmetrically or work is performed by each side independently.
– Sample Training
Some of the most valuable uses of dumbbells are in complexes. A dumbbell complex involves performing multiple exercises back-to-back with the same weight, usually without ever setting the dumbbells down in between. Here is an example that has become popular within the strength coaching community:
The Waterbury Complex
Reverse Lunges: 6 reps on each leg
Romanian Deadlift: 12 reps
Good Morning: 12 reps
Front Squat: 6 reps
Military Press: 6 reps
Bentover Row: 6 reps
Floor Press: 12 reps
– Where to Buy
Like weight plates, you can expect high shipping costs if ordering online. Again, you should opt for something you can purchase in your local area.
When shopping for dumbbells, avoid any that have rubber-coated handles, common in light weights under 20lb, as this inevitably wears off with use. Go for a steel handle with light knurling and welded ends as opposed to those which are screwed on and can break with relative ease.
For trainers who work exclusively in a one-on-one atmosphere, adjustable dumbbells like the Powerblock are a viable option that saves space and money compared to a full set of ten or more pairs of dumbbells.
#7 – Resistance Bands
With resistance bands, you can add a new variation to barbell training by adding band tension to squats, deadlifts, and bench press. This method is known as accommodating resistance, the goal of which is to alter the point in a lift at which the resistance is greatest in order to prevent stagnation of strength gain.
To put the method in its simplest terms, the band anchored to a power rack or platform and looped around the barbell adds resistance as the bar is lifted so it is heaviest at the top. This has been found to challenge and, therefore, improve the ability to accelerate the bar and transfer well to performing the competitive lifts with greater weight when bands are not being used.
In addition to upgrading barbell training, bands are incredibly valuable for modifying challenging bodyweight exercises like pull-ups to help clients train those movements and improve. The band-assisted pull-up involves hitching a band in the center of the pull-up bar then placing the other end around one’s feet such that the band contracts and effectively negates some of the person’s body weight.
Bands will also open up a variety of exercises without the need for expensive, single-purpose equipment. Typical machine-based exercises like pulldowns, hamstring curls, or tricep pushdowns can be set up quickly by attaching the band to any secure anchor point (like your power rack) and using any handle you need with a carabiner.
Bands are inexpensive and space-efficient; there’s simply no good reason to be without a collection of resistance bands in your gym or studio.
– Where to Buy
Opt for a retailer that specializes in powerlifting equipment such as EliteFTS. Moreso than any other training discipline, certain powerlifting methods have mastered the use of bands in training and retailers targetting those customers are likely to have the best quality bands available.
Other than that, resistance bands differ very little from one company to the next. In fact, most bands come from the same few sources and equipment brands simply have their logo printed on them by the manufacturer. As a piece of equipment that inevitably wears out and requires replacement no matter who you buy from, don’t sweat too much over this decision.
#8 – Business Management Software
Running a business is tough. When you’re a personal trainer, you have a lot of things to juggle — clients, billing, marketing, scheduling, employees, merchandise, etc. Because of this, time-management is essential. Purchasing fitness business management software is crucial if you want to grow your business while maintaining time for your personal life.
All-in-one business management software platforms, like the one offered by Exercise.com, can do everything from appointment scheduling to delivering training programs and tracking nutrition.
– Where to Buy
Upgrade your business with Exercise.com’s Fitness Business Management Software. There’s no better system for bringing together all of your needs like Workout Creation, Billing, and Scheduling. Additionally, unlike other fitness business management software platforms, there is no cap on how many people can access your custom apps and website or how many clients you can manage before purchasing an “upgraded” platform.
Exercise.com’s All-In-One Fitness Business Management Software is built to grow with you and to help your business thrive. To learn how Exercise.com can set your business up for growth and efficiency, book a demo today.