Most athlete training programs focus on the basics. Barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells are prioritized over machines and other types of equipment, because they are considered more effective tools for building muscle strength and size. Plus, it eliminates the chance of falling for a gimmick.
But, many other training tools complement the big three or add unique wrinkles. Here are some of the latest fitness innovations shaping the future of strength and conditioning.
1. TRX Rip Trainer
Most exercises, like Push-Ups and Squats, train your body in a linear direction, but the TRX Rip Trainer works rotation and anti-rotation. "If you look at any sport like tennis, golf, hockey or lacrosse, you have to be able to control and produce rotation, because that's where all your power comes from," says Pete Holman, creator of the Rip Trainer.
A resistance band attaches to one end of the Rip Trainer bar, forcing your body to resist an uneven load. "No matter what exercise you to do, you have to control rotation and produce rotation," Holman says. "As soon as you grab the bar, there's a huge force going through your body."
The Rip Trainer's freedom of motion also allows you to perform exercises that mirror the movement patterns of many sports skills, like swinging a bat or a racquet, throwing a lacrosse ball, or taking a slap shot. Since your body is under constant tension, Rip Trainer exercises quickly elevate your heart rate, which improves your conditioning.
2. Bamboo Barbells
Yes, bamboo can be used as a substitute for a barbell. But it's an engineered product, not something you pick out of a Chinese forest. Besides looking cool, the bamboo barbell actually has performance benefits.
Jim Smith, owner of Diesel Strength and Conditioning, explains that bamboo improves rhythmic stabilization. "It causes muscles to contract rapidly more than a standard barbell lift," he says.
Smith primarily uses it as a rehabilitative tool to improve shoulder stability and rotator cuff strength. He recommends trying it with moves like the Bench Press, Military Press, High-Incline Press, rowing variations and even Bicep Curls to increase stability and reinforce movement patterns.
3. Core Stix
Sports are played in three dimensions. You have to push, pull and rotate while maintaining your stability. But these four components are difficult to train at the same time with barbells, dumbbells and other conventional equipment.
Mike Kadar, strength coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins, solved this problem with Core Stix, a system of rods mounted to a stand or fixed to the ground. "The rods flex, so you're not stuck in one linear motion," explains Kadar. "You can be slow and controlled or as fast and dynamic as you want. You can build power and even rehab by working through multiple planes of motion."
Having used Core Stix with many of the elite athletes he trains, Kadar claims he can crush even the strongest guys, because the rod poundage varies from five to 65 pounds.
"It's a total gym. You can do everything," he adds.
4. Cryo Therapy
What's the coldest temperature you've ever experienced? Think about that, then image what -280° might feel like. It sound horrible, but standing for two to three minutes at such an extremely low temperature—albeit with booties and gloves to protect your hands and feet—actually promotes recovery.
Cydne Currie, area manager for CryoUSA at Michael Johnson Performance (McKinney, Texas), says the body enters "fight or flight mode," sending warm blood to the core to protect itself. She says, "After two to three minutes, when you step out, warm blood recirculates throughout your body. This strips lactic acid build-up from your joints and muscle tissue, and reduces inflammation and swelling."
And no, it's not that cold. It's only three minutes, and you come out of the nitrogen-filled cylinder feeling loose and energized.
5. MARC PRO Electric Stimulation
If you've ever spent time with a physical therapist, you might have experience with electric stimulation—commonly referred to as "e-stim." The PT tech sticks pads to your body—typically near your injury—and sends a light electrical impulse to your muscle tissue. E-stim is an industry standard practice because of its ability to reduce inflammation and improve recovery.
The clever minds at MARC PRO decided to take this method and apply it to general recovery for non-injured athletes.
"Let's say you're a pitcher and your shoulder is tired. You could go out and lightly throw and help your body recover," says Gary Reinl, MARC PRO's director of national accounts for professional athletic teams. "[But] we help you recover without doing anything other than putting the tool on the muscle."
This is particularly advantageous when you're tired but can't get in a recovery workout. You can sit on the couch and let the MARC PRO target specific muscles you want to recover faster.
Again, this sounds more painful than it really is. It feels like slight pinpricks rather than an electrical shock. And, you can control the intensity.
6. AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill
When you run, your body takes a constant beating from pounding the ground. This is particularly problematic if you're recovering from an injury or playing a sport that puts a lot of stress on your joints. Many people turn to pool workouts for lower impact, but you don't move in water the same as you do on land.
Enter the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, a device that looks like it came from NASA—well, former NASA engineers actually designed it.
According to Currie, who has experience with the AlterG, the anti-gravity environment allows you to run with minimal wear and tear on your joints. You can select a weight as low as 20 percent of your body weight and still run with your natural technique. "It allows you to still run and get a great cardio workout without the damage that weight can do on your joints," Currie says.
These machines are typically found in rehab facilities, but don't be surprised if the technology goes mainstream. Overweight individuals are having great success with the AlterG, because it allows them to work out with minimal pain.
7. Elevation Training Mask 2.0
High-altitude training is a proven method for teaching the body to use oxygen more efficiently, thus increasing endurance. But let's be honest—training at a high-altitude is simply not an option for most athletes.
Try the Elevation Training Mask 2.0, designed to simulate training at an altitude between 3,000 to 18,000 feet without forcing you to travel to the top of a mountain.
According to its manufacturer, the Training Mask "promotes increased lung capacity by forcing you to inhale fuller, deeper breaths. When your body adapts to the resistance, your lungs will be trained to take deeper breaths and use oxygen more efficiently."
You may get some funny looks if you wear it in your gym, but you won't care when you take the mask off and notice how easy it feels to breathe.
8. Belt Grips
Ultimate Advantage owner Rick Scarpulla specializes in developing powerful athletes. To do this, he often uses resistance bands to either add resistance or assistance to movements, but he noticed that mounting points are limited, and the bands often impair exercise form.
So Scarpulla developed Belt Grips, a system of hooks that slide around a standard weight belt, allowing you to attach resistance bands to your waist. "The bands and tension are attached to your waist, overloading you from two positions on moves like Squats and Deadlifts," he explains.
You can perform Olympic lifts with bands, which previously was impossible. The system can also assist you on Pull-Ups more naturally than looping a band around your foot. You can attach the bands from your waist to a mounting point on the ground to perform Explosive Starts and other movement drills.
"If you have bands and a set of Belt Grips, you can completely transform your training and add hundreds of exercises to your program," Scarpulla adds.
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