Enhance Your Gym Workout With These Popular Pieces of Exercise Equipment
Get the most of your workout by using these expert-approved tips.
Mercey LivingstonCNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Entering a gym can be intimidating because of the various types of equipment spread across the room with different purposes. But how do you know what's worth using and what you shouldn't waste your time on? If you're a beginner it's even more daunting since you don't know where to begin.
A good way to get some guidance is by talking to personal trainers who can vouch for the best equipment in the gym and teach you how to use them. There are many options that help you get a full-body workout, but it's good to consult with the pros to make sure your sessions are as efficient as possible.
We spoke to a personal trainer to determine what pieces of equipment you should add to your workout. Another plus is that once you get the hang of them, many of these are home-gym friendly, so you can add them to your at-home workouts as well.
Keep reading to find out what workout equipment at the gym is worth your time, according to New York-based fitness trainer Brooke Taylor, founder of Taylored Fitness. You'll also find tips for how to use each piece of exercise equipment for the best workout.
A BOSU, or bionic oscillatory stabilization unit, ball looks like a semicircle or half exercise ball. It usually has hand grips on the sides, making it easier to hold onto than a regular exercise ball. Taylor says the BOSU is great for helping with stabilizing your body and strengthening your muscles.
"No matter what muscle group you are targeting, it forces you to use your core throughout. It also aids in the development of proprioception, which is awareness of where your body is in space and time. You can progress any exercise by just adding in the balancing aspect. Your body has to learn not only how to react, but how to stabilize with an unstable surface," Taylor says.
Try this exercise on the BOSU:
Squat curl to press on the BOSU -- Start by standing on the BOSU with your legs hip distance apart, arms resting by your sides holding onto two dumbbells. As you inhale, send your sitz bones back, forming a 90 degree angle from the hip, like you're sitting back into a chair. As you exhale, drive the feet evenly into the BOSU, maintaining balance as you simultaneously straighten the legs and do a bicep curl to overhead press. Inhale to lower the arms down and repeat. Focus on engaging your core throughout to maintain balance evenly.
Not all treadmills are the same. A prime example? The Woodway treadmill, designed to mimic running on a track. This treadmill has a grip that helps absorb shock, taking pressure off your joints. It's a bit expensive, so it's not as widely available as the rest of the equipment featured on this list. But if your gym has one, you should definitely try it out.
"This is by far my favorite ... cardio machine. Regular treadmills can be jarring on the body, making you more susceptible to injury and draining a lot of the runner's energy. The Woodways are shock absorbing, are designed to give you energy back and enable you to maintain an even stride to avoid muscular imbalances and impact on the joints," Taylor says.
Try this treadmill workout the next time you're at the gym:
"I personally love doing intervals to challenge different cardiovascular systems and keep the body guessing. An example is to start off walking at a 4 mph speed for three to five minutes, then pick up the pace to 6 mph until I reach the high end of my heart rate zone. I then drop the resistance back down to recover at 4 mph," Taylor says.
A jump rope just might be the most underrated piece of fitness equipment. If you haven't used one since you were a kid, be prepared to be surprised by just how challenging it is as a workout tool.
"This portable piece of equipment can be used anywhere, anytime. It is a quick and effective way to elevate the heart, maximize your caloric expenditure, increase your metabolism and get your blood flow moving. You can use it as a simple warm up or for cardio bursts in between your circuits to keep your heart rate elevated," Taylor says.
Try this jump rope circuit workout:
"Warm up [for] five minutes [by] jumping rope to get the blood flow moving and heart rate elevated. Then complete a three-step circuit such as lunge curl to press, push-ups, and pull-ups, then add a burst of jump rope for one minute as active recovery, then repeat," Taylor says.
Regular resistance bands come in all different types of resistance and styles. Some are simply a long band cut to a certain length, and some are designed with loops for your hands, or even have handles attached. No matter what style you find at your gym, or purchase on your own, they're versatile and effective tools to get a full-body workout.
"These cost-effective, portable bands are amazing because they can easily adapt to all different fitness levels, utilizing various tensions and exercise modifications to progress or regress any workout. Imagine an arc when you are doing a bicep curl. While free weights are the heaviest at the bottom of the arc, resistance bands are heaviest when the bands are pulled taut. This is when the greater force of production occurs. It also forces you to move through both the concentric and eccentric phases of contractions, which can shock the body in and of itself and burn the muscle out," Taylor says.
Try this exercise with a resistance band:
Squat to row: Start standing with the band wrapped around a pole, barre or other stable post. Pull the resistance band away so you have even tension in both hands. Place your legs hip-distance apart with your arms in line with your shoulders and your palms facing in.
As you inhale, send your sitz bones back, and as you exhale, simultaneously drive your heels into the ground to extend the legs and pull the elbows in toward your rib cage. Inhale to release the band, and hinge at the hip to repeat.
Mini resistance bands
You'll find mini resistance bands at most gyms, and they're inexpensive to buy and keep at your house or to travel with. Mini resistance bands, also known as "booty bands" in the fitness community, are small bands that are circular loops. They can slip over your ankles and fit over your legs or ankles -- usually they're quite tight.
"They are transportable, which is always a perk because you can use them anytime/anywhere, but also they force you to control the contractions of the muscle throughout the exercise," Taylor says.
"For example, if you are standing with a mini resistance band wrapped around your ankles and your legs parallel and closed together, as you step open you are contracting your abductors to make the band taut, and as you close the legs back together you are lengthening the adductor muscles to bring the legs back together. It forces your body to work against resistance, controlling both the concentric phase (shortening phase) of the muscle contraction and the eccentric phase (lengthening phase) of the muscle contraction. These are a quick and effective way to get those tiny muscle fibers to activate," Taylor says.
True story -- I actually use a resistance ball at my desk at home for a chair. I feel like it forces me to have better posture and keep my abs engaged. But stability balls can serve a lot of different functions for you at the gym too.
"A stability ball is one of my favorite pieces of equipment to add into any workout because it activates your core, improves posture, balance, stability, coordination and proprioception/body awareness. It aids with corrective exercises, mobility, flexibility and overall sports performance," Taylor says.
Use a stability ball to help you work more muscles and level-up exercises you've already mastered on a stable surface, like a chest press. "You can perform a Dumbbell Chest Press on the stability with two arms, one arm, alternating arms and reciprocal action. Each progression involves the core, glutes, spinal stabilizers to activate on a deeper level in order to maintain proper form and control throughout," Taylor says.
Pilates balls are small balls that are used in a variety of workout settings, including pilates, barre and other classes.
"Coming from a pilates background, I love these mini stability balls and use them to get my clients to connect with their core, adductors, abductors, glutes, quads, hamstrings and spinal extensors on a deeper level. They enhance core stability and strength by recruiting the intrinsic muscle fibers which aid in maintaining evenness and support around the spine. This helps people connect with their core on a deeper level and work against postural deviations that form every day from habitual patterns," Taylor says.
Try this exercise with a small Pilates ball:
Imprint plus release on the ball: Place the ball behind the small of your back underneath your sacrum. As you exhale, scoop your navel in toward your spine, shifting your pubic bone up toward your rib cage, and lengthen your lower back in toward the ball. Inhale to release, exhale to scoop.
"This small little movement will get the deep intrinsic muscle fibers of the core activated around the spine and get you shaking. As I always say, it's the small movements performed correctly that burn the most," Taylor says.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.