If you're like many people, your local gym has closed again because of COVID, or you at least have to wear a mask. In which case, maybe you've resolved to cancel your membership and kit out a home gym in your garage or basement instead. Here are five bits of essential gear to get you going.
1) TRX XD Kevlar Medicine Ball
The old-style leather medicine balls are great in many ways, but when it gets hot and humid, your hands can start to slip on the material – an issue that is exacerbated on vinyl or synthetic leather-covered options. Enter TRX with what I can categorically say is the greatest medicine ball of all time (and trust me, I’ve used every major brand and style as a two-sport college athlete who still trains hard almost 20 years after graduating). Simply put, the XD Kevlar ball is a beast.
Right out of the box, the feel of the exterior is different. Imagine grabbing a giant ball of yarn that conforms to your grip, instead of picking up a leather- or vinyl-covered rock. After a long, hard workout in 91-degree weather, I had experienced zero hand slipping and the ball had not become slick like other options invariably do. The acid test? This training tool is so intuitive that my kids joined me and had the most fun ever in our garage gym. And due to the Kevlar reinforcement – good enough for cops and soldiers in bulletproof vests and body armor that they wear in the field, good enough for your home workouts – it should last for years. If you need a new medicine ball or want to upgrade your old one, this is the way to go.
The original Hypervolt basically created the massage gun market category that has since expanded to include Therabody and TimTam at the professional level (both stellar companies that are worthy of serious consideration), and hundreds of cheap imitators that, if you care more about efficacy than saving a few bucks, should avoid like the plague. But when Hyperice released the Hypervolt Go last year after consulting with athletes like NFL Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, tennis phenom Naomi Osaka, legendary surfer Kelly Slater, and many others who need on-the-go mobility and massage, it was a true mic drop moment.
If you want the most soft tissue-liberating power in a massage gun, then go with a full-size device from Hyperice, Therabody, or TimTam – it will change your life. But if you travel a lot or want a lighter option that smaller people can use (think: your kids), then the Hypervolt Go stands alone. It’s portable, easy to manipulate on all your sore spots, and won’t cause your hands and wrists to fatigue like some larger and heavier alternatives might. Plus, for frequent fliers, it’s approved for in-flight use and carry-on bag storage. And for $199, it’s also a real steal of a deal compared to the $600+ that some brands are charging. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.
3) Rep Fitness 3-in-1 Soft Plyo Box
I have always had a love-hate relationship with box jumps. On the plus side, they develop leaping ability and power like few other pieces of equipment. On the negative side, I still recall the awful shin-bashing experience of colliding with the edges of wood and metal – literally, one coach glued carpet onto a metal frame that looked like something from a medieval torture chamber and called it a plyo box.
Now the negatives are removed, thanks to the Rep Fitness 3-in-1 Soft Plyo Box. It’s not so soft that I topple over or feel unstable. But those terrible hard sides and edges are long gone since I have put this bad boy in my garage next to an array of kettlebells and the other gear mentioned in this post.
Durability will inevitably be less than the old-style wood or metal alternatives that did me wrong for so many years, but Rep offers replacement covers in case yours gets threadbare. And I don’t see any wear at all after months of use from me and my kids. Rep and other companies also offer their soft plyo box in stackable configurations, just in case you can jump like Jordan and need to safely add more height to your plyo box. That being said, the 20, 24, and 30-inch sides of the TRX ball are plenty high for this old fella, who’s still hoping to get back to dunking at some point!
Over 30 years ago, a couple of good friends in New England went all Wright Brothers and cobbled together some leftover bicycle parts to create the first mass-market ergometer built and designed by actual rowers: the Concept2 Model A. Now, four product iterations later, the Model E RowErg is the gold standard that’s used in boathouses and gyms worldwide (they also created the SkiErg – which can build lungs and destroy souls like nothing else, and the super stable and reliable BikeErg).
But while it’s hard to beat the durability, comfy handle, and vibrant online community that Concept2 offers, there has been an advance that you need to notice if you want the best home rowing experience. No, it’s not those upstart companies offering a sub-standard machine with a touchscreen bigger than anything Tesla offers, but rather dynamic rowing that better mimics the actual on-the-water sport because you push the whole head unit away rather than your feet remaining in one place. Concept2 has such an option, but the best on the market is the Oartec DX. Invented by Matt Roach, who represented Australia at the World Championships in the men’s heavyweight eights and fours, the DX has followed the path of James Dyson’s game-changing vacuum cleaner.
In other words, after endless testing and revising, Roach has created a machine that’s easier on your back and feels – minus the tippiness and spray – like you’re actually gliding across a lake or down a river. Admittedly, I still like the relaxing swoosh sound of the WaterRower and the ruggedness of the Concept2 Models A through E, but having tried every option available, I assure you that the Oartech DX will be worth your investment. And as we learned in The Wind in the Willows, there’s nothing quite like messing around in boats (even when they’re in your living room.)
I’d previously only seen huge and strong power athletes use this innovative product, like it’s creator, lifting legend Donnie Thompson – who has also created several other unique fitness-building products under the brand Body Tempering. When I saw a photo of NBA champ and perennial NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jrue Holiday (see this NBA Finals steal/alley-oop) using the Fatbells, I had to get me some. Co-developed with CrossFit Games outfitter Rogue Fitness, this tool mimics the versatility of a kettlebell but with even better ergonomics for shoulder/push presses, overhead carries, and rows.
I’ve always loved how a kettlebell allows you to keep your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints in alignment for such exercises, but amazingly, Thompson Fatbells are even better in this regard. If you struggle to control a barbell in the gym or have issues in any of these aforementioned joints, adding this innovative solution to your setup will be nothing short of a revelation, and might even get you back into doing exercises you thought were permanently off limits. Bonus? The Fatbells look badass to boot. Bravo Mr. Thompson, bravo.