My Top Ten Training Tools for Better Workouts

TAGS: top 10, tools, Sean Barker, training

After 16 years in and out of gyms, I’m still surprised to see how many guys just walk in straight off the street with only the clothes on their backs. And the guys who wear jeans during their workout—well that’s just wrong!

If you’re serious about taking care of your body and you make time to get to the gym, you need to make sure you bring the proper gear. Yes, I know you can still get a great workout without any gym gear or gadgets, but if you want to “protect this house” (as Under Armor says), you need the right tools.

After seeing my two-year-old daughter tear into my gym bag the other day like it was her toy box, I thought I would share with you what lurks in the smelly and sweaty darkness of my gym bag to help me stay lean, strong, and pain-free.

1. Under Armor gym bag: I used the same old Adidas bag for over ten years until I needed more room for my gear, so I picked this one up. It has room for all the gear, it’s strong and durable, and it matches my Under Armor shirt, shorts, and socks, which I find to be simply the most comfortable workout gear around.


2. Nike Frees: Surprisingly, the sneakers I wear to the gym are Nike, but these aren’t your normal running shoes (which isn’t as great as you may think for running or training). I have the Nike Free’s 7.0, which are almost completely flat on the bottom. Keeping your heel flat to the ground and more flexible allows your feet to move almost as if you were barefoot. This is great for long-term structural alignment and stability from your toes to your back.

3. Foam roller: Your muscles are like rubber bands, and most people have little “knots” or tight spots in their muscles. They don’t even realize how these tight spots affect their mobility and range of motion inside and outside the gym. Foam rolling breaks up these tight spots like a 400-lb Samoan giving you a massage. Yeah, it isn’t enjoyable but the benefits are.


4. Bands and balls: I only have one medium-sized band in my bag, but a pack of different sized bands are great for stretching and dynamic warm-ups and for simulating free weight movements. For you guys who can’t do a chin-up on your own, these are great for helping you along. Loop the band over the bar and place your knee in the loop. It’s a great way for your wife to do them, too! I have a small, yellow ball that I use in a manner similar to the foam roller. However, I can get at smaller trigger points like my feet and glutes with it.

5. Jump rope: It might be “old school,” but it’s one of the most effective forms of exercise equipment for burning off that belly. It’s great for workout warm ups and high intensity cardio. Not convinced? Try it for a couple minutes!


6. Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle: One thing I see many guys at the gym doing is sucking back the protein shakes in those supplement-branded plastic shaker bottles in hopes of putting on muscle. Little do they know, those cheap plastic bottles leak BPA and estrogen-like compounds into their shakes, contributing to man boobs, not perfect pecs. I have a whole bunch of these stainless steel water bottles for me, my wife, and our daughter.


7. Chalk: Get a grip and use gym chalk to help you strengthen your grip and hold on to heavier weights. If your gym doesn't allow chalk, consider training at one that does or just be sneaky with it and clean up the weights afterward. I still use an old Tupperware container that my dad used for his gym chalk for over 20 years! Don't use your kids’ colored chalk—get the right stuff! One block has lasted me a long time.


8. Training journal: I think this is a must if you’re serious about progressing and getting results from your workouts. It’s similar to how you might track your financial statements, but you will get a better return on your investment with a training journal. I’ve been using these MuscleMag training journals for years and find them to have a great layout for recording your exercises, sets, reps, goals, and comments. One book lasts almost a year when you’re training 3–4 days a week.


9. Tunes: Before I got my iPhone, I used this other small Mio MP3 player with headphones for years to keep me focused and intense in the gym. Luckily, I train in a small dungeon of a gym where most of the time I can just connect my iPhone or player to the little stereo and crank up some Linkin Park. I’m sure you know where to get an iPhone.


10. Belts, straps, and wraps: These all seem to get a bad rap lately (excuse the pun), but I think they all have their place in your training. Belts, straps, and wraps just help to keep your form tighter and support you during heavy lifts. I only use my belt for low rep heavy squats, usually under four reps. I use wrist wraps for heavy dumbbell presses and barbell presses and wrist straps for heavy dumbbell shrugs. Don't be like some guys and wrap yourself up like a mummy because of years of bad training habits. Use them. Don't abuse them.

Miscellaneous items

  • Gym towel: You do sweat during your workouts, right? A large towel is also good if you have to do any exercises on the dirty floor. I got mine for free with a tub of creatine.
  • Weight collars: My gym doesn’t have any, so I bring my own.
  • Fat Gripz: These wrap around the bar to give you stronger forearms with a thicker grip. I also bring red tape and a yellow paint marker to mark grip widths on barbells and racks.
  • Membership card: My gym finally realized that it's 2010 and is installing a swipe card system along with new dumbbells and equipment.
  • Calculator: I bring one to add up the thousands of pounds I lift during my workouts. Math was always my worst subject...
  • Back up tunes: I have an extra Linkin Park Hybrid Theory CD and extra batteries for when I don't have my iPhone with me, which I hope is never.

I get most of my gear through It’s where most professionals and their gyms get their gear, and I can see why. I also love their hoodies for staying warm during the cool days when you’re heading to the gym.

So what’s in your gym bag?

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