Last Christmas, my parents bought me a large Under Armour gym bag to carry supplies with me to and from the gym. When my mom first began researching bags, I believe she was thinking about bringing clothes and changing at the gym. The bag has a large center pocket that can hold a complete outfit, pockets for shampoos, body wash, and deodorant, and a separate pocket for sneakers of wet clothes. It’s a pretty sweet bag, so I’ll show you a stock photo:
My bag is even more stuffed than this one, but with all of the zippers are closed, you can’t really tell what’s in there. If I casually walked by, you’d probably think it was a change of clothes and a towel like any other person using a gym bag. Actually, I like to put all of that stuff in my backpack.
That red gym bag is like a treasure chest to me. I keep all of my ‘portable’ fitness equipment in it, and it works perfectly. When I’m at the gym, I like to keep it out so that folks can use some of the equipment that they wouldn’t have access to on a regular basis. Training partners will usually grab what they need, and everyone is very polite about borrowing what they need. Sometimes, people see the bag and think, “Ah crap, what does he have in store for me today?” Perhaps they would prefer if the name of this post was “Harold’s Red Pandora’s Box”. Let me share with you what I keep in the bag, then you can let me know if you think it’s awesome or evil.
Your warm-up is your workout. Most people fly thorough a warm-up and completely skip extremely important elements such as addressing tissue quality with tools for Self Myofascial Release, and skipping mobility and corrective work. Shame on you! The daily aches and pains build up, and small adhesions (or knots) in your muscles can become painful trigger points and scar tissue. In essence, our couch-potato life style leads our bodies to gluing tissues together instead of allowing for free movement. That doesn’t sound too hot, does it? Not at all. To avoid walking around like a zombie, make self massage a part of your daily routine using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, and or tennis ball. You can see a great foam roller demonstration in the video below, and if you’d like to find some
painful really effective ways to increase mobility and quality of movement, check out Kelly Starret’s Mobility WOD. Kelly thinks that “All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves,” and I completely agree with him; start taking care of tissue quality and mobility issues now, before they lead to chronic pain or injury down the road.
Regardless of what my training emphasis for the day is, I’ll include Indian Clubs in my warm-up. It’s a great dynamic warm-up for the shoulder complex and thoracic spine, and while I’m not very well versed in their use, I have found them to be a wonderful addition to my warm-up. The ones I have are an old-school model that’s at least 30 years old and from Belgium, but there are new ones sold by Perform Better that you can find HERE:
A Christmas gift from two years ago, my TRX Suspension Trainer gets a hell of a lot of use. I initially requested it thinking I’d use it for rows, split squats, and core work. Little did I know that I’d find hundreds of exercises to use it for, allowing for regressions for 8-year-olds to 8o-year-olds, and the strongest people I can find. If I were to recommend a single piece of home exercise equipment, it would probably be the TRX. To me, it epitomizes functional training to use your body and a simple suspension system to develop mobility, stability, and impressive relative strength.
I have a number of rubber bands in my bag, including Super Bands from Perform Better, Mini-Bands from Perform Better, and Monster Mini Bands from EliteFTS. I’ll use bands for everything from deloading chin-ups to banding barbells for speed work with squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. They can be used practically anywhere, and I like using them for a wide variety of exercises. Each band above is linked to its respective website, and I’ll include some videos demonstrating band usage:
If the bands are the second most versatile piece of equipment in my bag, then ValSlides are probably the most versatile piece. Folks that haven’t used them might compare them to furniture sliders, but I don’t think that does them any justice. ValSlides are evil little buggers, that can make almost any exercise very difficult, but can also be used to regress exercises to make them more appropriate for a wide variety of ability levels. I’ll share two examples of deceptively difficult ValSlide exercises with you. The first video shows yours truly performing an anti-rotation single arm fly push-up. All of the benefits of a push-up, plus some wicked anti-rotation work for the whole trunk. The second video is of the insanely strong single-leg guru Ben Bruno performing a Goblet Reverse Lunge with the ValSlide. It’s probably the single best lower body exercise you can use, and I’d suggest giving it a shot. It’ll be a humbling experience.
Note: When I was organizing this list, I realized that the following three items on this list all have to do with grip strength and wrist stability. I sequenced this little section in order of what I use the most, and what I’d recommend you using or purchasing for your own use. You’ll see chalk all the way at the bottom, and those probably tie with Fat Gripz for helping develop a grip that would even impress the Jaws of Life.
Fat Gripz are a new addition to my bag; I bought them in mid-November. I’ve implemented them in a number of exercises, including chin-ups, rows, barbell and dumbbell pressing, an TRX push-ups. Long story short; they make you suck at everything at first. The first day I used them for chin-ups I completed a set of 8, a set of 6, and two sets of 4. My grip was shot. I’ve benched less, pressed less; it makes you feel pretty weak. Funny thing is, they really make your grip strong. In just a month, I’ve found that my grip strength and endurance has gotten a lot better, and I feel a lot stronger when I grab the bar. If feeling weaker makes you stronger, I don’t have a problem with that.
I have a pair of Wrist Wraps from EliteFTS which I’ll use during pressing exercises; specifically my overhead press and bench press. I haven’t used them for much pressing recently, which may be a result of increased grip strength, or due to the fact that I’ve done much more military pressing than bench pressing recently. I have used them while squatting, because with the lower bar position on my back (across the rear delts/mid traps, not upper traps) I find that it puts a good deal of pressure on my wrists. I’m a drummer, and I’m not ready to give that up, so I like to keep my wrists feelin’ fresh.
I purchased a pair of lifting straps a few years ago, when I thought that 20 rep lat pull downs were more important than not having the grip strength of Bambi. I use them way less now, and it’s more common that I’ll use them to set someone up to front squat than to actually use them for holding on to things. I wrote a post about touched on using straps during front squats to avoid wrist pain, and here’s a picture showing the set up:
The sneaker and wet/clothes pocket is self contained, so if you had a wet towel or muddy shoes, you wouldn’t make a mess out of the rest of your bag. I’ll use the section to hold two little white baggies. Man, does that sound sketchy.
The first baggie contains chalk that I’ll occasionally use for lifting. Most gyms don’t allow it, but if you’re neat and clean up after yourself, you can get away with using it. Chalk is magnificent for reducing the influence that sweaty hands can have on your grip, so you’ll be able to pull (or push) with more strength. I typically use the chalk for heavy pulling exercises, such as heavy chin-ups (with additional load), or with deadlifts (trap bar, sumo) and cleans. The chalk also comes in handy when you’re dealing with heavy weights for pressing exercises, such as the push-press or bench. If you can get away with using chalk at your gym, I’d definitely suggest using it. (If not, try liquid chalk.) It’ll do your grip and your PR’s a favor. Plus, it looks really cool.
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll discuss what’s in that other ziploc bag…