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The fitness industry is just that...an industry. A profit-driven and revenue-chasing industry. It relies on a flow of money from consumers into the pockets of service providers and equipment manufacturers. My suspicions are always raised when there is a chance for someone to make money.
Marketing and advertising for fitness equipment is quite brilliant. It shines a light on a need or a desire, then fills it with their piece of gear. Simple and effective. Some of the gear is a complete waste of money, while other stuff is actually quite valuable. The trick is finding what works and weeding out what doesn't.
There are gyms, classes, health associations, and trainers who build their entire business around a single piece of equipment. Some business people take in revenue purely by selling the gear. Some of these entrepreneurs make their dough by multiplying their profits when making money on both the sale of the gear AND by then charging to teach you how to use it. Genius.
No matter what the piece of equipment, nothing is that terrific that it is irreplaceable. In the functional fitness community, there are LOTS of pieces of gear that are touted as necessary:
- gym rings
- Concept 2 rowers
- huge truck tires
- rubber barbell plates
- thick climbing rope
- Battling Ropes
- medicine balls
For example, I am a huge proponent of kettlebells. I even owe my introduction into practical fitness to a single 35#KB. But there are plenty of restrictions that come with KBs: First off, they are relatively lightweight for strength work. Secondly, they are not load-adjustable (well there are a few expensive models that have ways to adjust their weight). Even a 100#KB isn't heavy enough for most men to develop strength in the major lifts such as squat, clean, or deadlift. I bring up the KB as this example not because I don't like them....but for the exact opposite....I REALLY like them. But one must still understand the limitations of this highly versatile piece!
Many of the other pieces of equipment in the list above have much less versatility than kettlebells. Most of them are designed to assist in one (or a few at most) attributes of fitness. There is only so much that can be done with a truck tire or sandbags. There is less than can be done with a climbing rope. At least a C2 rower can be used in various time durations, and build capabilities in different metabolic pathways.
When it comes to purchasing equipment, I try to take a rather business-like approach to a decision: What is the return on my investment? In other words, what can I expect out of this piece of equipment? Is it only for one or two limited movements, and rather pricey? Or can I make it from inexpensive materials and use it for lots and lots of movements and purposes? What comes to mind is my 500# truck tire. First off, the price was right: free. Secondly, there are actually quite a lot of exercises that can be done with the tire: flipping, flip-jumps, jumps, sledgehammer strikes, GHD situps, decline pushups, and back extensions. I'd say that the tire was a decent acquisition. And the price was right.
My barbell sets are another great investment. I have two barbells - one is a quality 45# Pendlay Econ bar, and the other is a cheap 25# short Oly bar. Yes, there is a difference in quality and craftsmanship. But only when doing Olympic lifts. The Pendlay bar is MUCH easier on the hands and wrists because of the bearings. The cheap bar puts more strain on the wrists during cleans and snatches. I also have a fairly extensive collection of rubber bumper plates. These rubber plates allow me to push myself harder during the strength work. The rubber gives me an opportunity to fail and "dump" the bar to the ground without worry of breaking either the weights or the flooring. Collectively, my barbells and weights are by far the most expensive pieces of fitness gear I own. But well worth the investment. There are endless exercises that can be done with nothing else but the floor and a barbell set!! If there is a must-have, this is it!
But the barbell sets are expensive. So fitness trainers might try to fool you into believing that something less costly is the answer -- a KB, a TRX Suspension System, a pair of 5# pink dumbbells, or something from a late night infomercial. Companies will fill your television or centerfold poster with images of rock-solid fitness models using that particular piece of equipment.
My view of the topic is this: There is no such magical piece of equipment. And when someone tells you that there is a must-have, be skeptical. Demand to know why. But also be prepared to discuss your wants and needs in terms of: specific goals, fitness components (strength, power, accuracy, balance, etc), time durations (energy systems used), and versatility.
For example, right this minute, my usage of kettlebells, stair climbing, and medicine balls is the lowest it's been in three years. However, my usage of my barbell set, jump rope, and sandbags is the highest. But as my fitness needs and wants change, so does my equipment. It's very possible that I will switch gears for the winter months and get back into some serious kettlebell juggling. There is nothing in my arsenal I absolutely need. Unlike the multi-tool pictured above, few pieces of fitness gear can do it all.
Do not be sold some piece of equipment without first researching it on many different levels. Be skeptical and ask questions. Purchase only quality, time-tested gear. You are worth the investment. And if you find yourself immersed in workouts that are centered around a single piece of equipment, you are likely missing something too!