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10 Tools You Aren't Using at the Gym

I once heard the phrase, “Fitness is like fashion.” In other words, certain equipment, workouts or programs might be “in” right now and promptly “out” tomorrow.

During my nearly twenty years in the profession, I have found this to be the case. Tried and true exercise tools suddenly fall out of favor and collect dust in the corner while many people choose to wait around for more popular equipment during peak hours.

The fact is, many of our members use a very narrow set of tools and resources at the gym. Why is that? There are plenty of benefits to be had from bringing a more exploratory mindset to the fitness floor - including more variation and (often) better results! Check out these 10 tools that can expand your fitness horizons. 

The Training Log (or App)

This is the simplest and least expensive tool you can use to get better results. Most people don’t keep track of their workouts in terms of exercises, sets, reps, resistance, etc. This is unfortunate, given that fitness enthusiasts I know who achieve excellent results keep a regular log.

If you’re “old school” like me, a simple spiral bound notebook can do the trick. If you’re into technology, try an app (as long as you can stay away from email/texting while working out).

Whatever you use, give your training log a chance for 3-4 months and see what type of fitness results you get. At the very least, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Heart Rate Monitor  

For all the discussion of how effective heart rate monitors are, well over 90% of Life Time Fitness members still don’t use them!

Think of the heart rate monitor as a speedometer and gas gauge for your body. It tells you if you need to speed up or slow down as well as how much and what type of fuel you are using during your workout. This is critical knowledge that will help you reach your fitness and weight loss goals more effectively and efficiently

Consider it the ultimate time management tool for moving your fitness forward.

The Power Rack (Caged Squat Rack)

Actually, this piece of equipment gets a fair amount of use - but for the wrong exercises! There used to be a time when gym members would perform hard multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts (or at least rack pulls) and even bench press variations with it.

Now it’s mainly used for hanging leg raises or biceps curls. (Most people are too lazy to bend over and pick the bar up off the floor.) If more members would go back to the difficult – but effective - exercises the power rack was designed for, they would see much better results in their fitness.

Rowing Machine 

This piece of equipment gets credit for being one of the first “cardio machines” in gyms or health clubs. For a while, there were a few in fitness facilities that usually collected dust as most members favored treadmills, elliptical machines and steppers.

However, the rowing machine is slowly making a comeback because of the popularity of Crossfit and Alpha programs. Personally, I still don’t think it gets its due. Give it a try, as the rowing machine offers a great cardio variation not only for the lower body but the upper body as well.

If you have a training partner, find two that are side by side and have rowing competitions to increase the intensity and fun of your cardio workouts.

Jump Rope

It’s by far the least expensive and most portable piece of equipment, but very few people use it anymore. Experiment with something as simple as working up to 100 jumps in a row. From there, progress accordingly and watch what happens to your cardiovascular endurance.

Like the rowing machine, this can be a great piece of equipment to use with a training partner.

Upper Body Ergometer 

Unfortunately, people seem to only use the upper body ergometer when they have a lower body injury and can’t use the traditional cardio equipment. This machine, however, will test and push your capacity in big ways you'll come to appreciate.

Just try it for five minutes and progress accordingly. Use it in tandem with your favorite cardio machines that focus on the lower body. For example, perform five minutes on the upper body ergometer and ten minutes on a treadmill. 

The Basketball Court  

Although this isn’t a piece of equipment, it’s unfortunate that the only time you see the basketball courts being used is for actual basketball (e.g. pick-up games or Ultimate Hoops tournaments) or Boot Camp classes.

When the court is open, there are endless options for exercises that improve cardiovascular work capacity because of the large open space. Some options include running ladders, plyometric hops, medicine ball throws, etc.

Gliding Disks 

Like the jump rope, this is another very inexpensive and portable piece of equipment. It allows you to perform sliding lunge progressions in multiple directions, leg curl progressions, push-up progressions and plank variations by sliding the hands or feet back and forth on the floor while they are on the disk. Ask a trainer to show you the tricks!

The Aerobic Step 

Many members can relate to the frustration of seeing all the flat or adjustable benches “occupied” on the main fitness floor during peak hours.

The fact is, you can create your own bench by adding 5-7 risers on each side and put an abdominal mat on top of it. Now you have a bench to do rows or presses with dumbbells! Additionally, there are many other exercises you can do with the step, such as step-ups, hip raise variations or abdominal exercises.


Unfortunately, the only exercises I usually see people doing with resist-a-bands are biceps curls and sometimes rows if they attach the band to something. If you know how to properly anchor bands, the amount of exercises that can be done with a resist-a-band is impressive. It can be a great option when traveling (fully portable like the jump rope) or when the fitness floor is really busy and the equipment you want to use is taken.

Consider these 10 just a start to the list. Look around next time you're in the gym, and make a point to try a new fitness tool each week. You may find a few tools that will shake up your workout routine entirely!

Thanks for reading, everyone. Are you looking to branch out at the gym and move your routine beyond the popular machines? Talk with a fitness professional today!

In health, Corey Grenz, Personal Trainer

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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