Do We Need Gym Equipment?
Before I answer this question directly (or any of the following questions), understand that need is based on a desired outcome or result. Every answer in this blog post will essentially be, “it depends” and here's what it depends on.
- What are your goals?
- How accurate do you need to be in achieving them?
- How timely do you need to be in achieving them?
- What are your available resources?
- Do you have (or have access to) the equipment you need?
- Are you capable of using the equipment without instruction?
- What are your constraints or limitations?
So let’s create some case studies to better understand this issue:
- The Person Who Just Wants To Be Healthy and Strong Into Old Age (The Person)
- The Hulking Bro
- The Trained Athlete
- Longevity of mobility and strength
- Looking fit enough that people assume you exercise
- Feeling strong and confident in your body
- Does have time to access the gym and has gyms nearby
- Slightly unsure of how to use gym equipment and is intimidated by big lifts
- Time for 3-4 hr long gym visits a week
- Money is not an issue
- Has kids or a stressful job/school situation and feels like they have limited energy
This is the situation that a large population of the United States (and probably the world) finds themselves in. This person is least likely to need gym equipment but is also the person that most gyms are trying to convert into a member. The reason why is that these people are most likely to have a gym membership and not actually attend the gym. Most gyms actually try to sell more memberships than they can handle because they are anticipating that people won’t attend on a regular basis. This is how gyms can charge $15-25 a month for a membership to a large facility.
Now to answer the question, does this person need gym equipment to achieve their goals?
Short answer, no.
Long answer, if they are the type of person that thrives in a gym environment and enjoys the time they spend at the gym, they should have a membership. However, if they dread the gym, there are tons of other ways to meet their goals… so no.
Here’s my shtick for the average person, not looking to be an athlete or a hulking monster that rips shirts when they flex:
You are missing out on valuable opportunities to connect with your world by using your energy in a place like a gym. If you don’t value the community at your gym then leave, there are other people/pets who need you. If you have a dog, or if you have kids, you have the workout of a lifetime. If your fitness goals are general and not directed towards a marathon, or a weight lifting PR then you should be gearing your body up for playtime!
It breaks my heart when people have young kids or pets (particularly large dogs) and they leave them at home to go to the gym so they can be fit. I understand that for many parents and dog parents this is much needed time away from the dependents, but save that alone time for something you really enjoy. If you have spare gas in the tank, use it on the ones who want to play with you. Don’t be a turd who thinks they are too good to get on the ground and roll around!
I guarantee that if you make a habit of active play with your small beings you will notice an increase in strength and vitality. If it helps, try to structure the play times like workouts (set up a timer and bang out a 30 minute play session) but it will probably be easier to just be open to playing whenever the gauntlet is thrown your way. If you are just looking to be healthy and have energy, imagine having energy that matches your kids or your dogs, you would be a beast!
The Hulking Bro:
- Massive Gains Bro!
- I live in the Gym Bro!
- All I know is lifting Bro!
- Not enough time in the day to get my swole on!
- All my money goes towards my gym and protein shakes BRO!
- I have no life outside of lifting heavy things…
This is a person who needs the gym. I am gonna go out on a limb and say this is about .05% of the US population. There are not many of these gargantuan monsters but to those out there we salute you.
All jokes aside, if you are looking to make large strength gains it is in your best interest to get your hands on some weights, bands and other gym goodies. However, if you are someone who wants these gains but lacks access to gym equipment on a regular basis, all is not lost.
There are some studies that show you can make increases in muscle size and strength without any equipment. The hypertrophy (muscle size increase) from these studies is usually not as profound as the hypertrophy from resistance training but it's much better than nothing. Other than martial arts training, this is my main form of muscular training. I have noticed pretty solid increases in size over the last couple of years but my reasoning for using this style of training is that I can have more control over the workout and my strength is not dependent on a particular technique or piece of equipment. Most of what I do is training with my hands above and behind my head to increase the stability and strength of my shoulders to avoid injury. This training is different from body weight training as it is actually a form of resistance training where you use the opposing muscle groups or an opposing limb to provide resistance. Email me if you would like to see what those workouts look like.
The Trained Athlete:
- Better athletic performance
- Enough time and access to necessary training implements
- Plenty of knowledge or access to knowledge about training
- Limited Constraints (if professional)
- Time and financial restraints (if amateur or hobbyist)
Now, here is the tricky one. I don’t want to get into solving this issue as much as I want to highlight the proper questions you should ask to see whether or not you need gym equipment to increase athletic performance.
The first question being, what is the weakest link in your athletic foundation? Are you injury prone? Too slow in comparison to your competitors? Too heavy to compete in your optimal weight class? Lacking power in comparison to your competitors?
Hopefully, as an athlete, you know what you need to work on. If you need to increase size? You probably want weights and machines. If you want to increase speed and power production? Bands and other types of dynamic resistance equipment should fit into your training protocol. Are you dealing with chronic injuries? It’s probably better to do more proprioceptive work and joint articulation which may or may not require much equipment or any at all.
For the athlete, equipment is almost a requirement. An athlete's competitors will certainly be using anything they can to gain an edge, so it makes limited sense to deny yourself a training modality. I only bring this up to highlight the full spectrum of exercise requirements. In reality, an athlete is probably not going to be reading this for advice on whether or not they need gym equipment.
My point with this section is for you to understand that as a person who is trying to make exercise a part of their life, gym equipment is probably not holding you back from becoming more healthy. If you follow me on social media or get my newsletter I will show you a multitude of ways to exercise without equipment. While I think equipment is fun and can be extremely useful, I think your exercise should be driven through a desire to learn about your body. Learn how to balance and be sensitive, while also learning how to be strong and powerful. All it takes is time and attention. I know it might feel like you don’t have enough of either sometimes but as long as you know how to train, you always do.
This next section focuses on fitness food products. An industry that thrives on people not having enough time to eat healthy and not really knowing what healthy eating is.
Fitness Foods: Should We Eat Them?
Just like with the last section the answer is IT DEPENDS! In this case, it depends on the person (their lifestyle, genome and environment) and the “food” in question. I will highlight this section by discussing bars (protein, energy etc.), shakes, other drinks and briefly discuss supplementation.
Let’s start off with what appears to be the most common fitness food product, the bar. Protein bars, energy bars, fat bars, fiber stuffed bars, bars bars BARS! So many bars on the market that you can see an entire wall filled with them at your local grocery store. Here is my main issue with bars and the bar industry: Where are the freaking micronutrients!
Pretty much every bar company produces a bar that is focused on a macronutrient. We have protein bars for those people who feel like they aren’t getting enough protein in there diet. We have fat bars for people on keto. We have energy bars for people who are too delusional to not realize that they are eating a less tasty candy bar, but where is the bar that actually functions like a real food?!
Fitness foods make a killing off of people not knowing what they really need from their diet. Since there are so many micronutrients and so few people who understand how to balance them all into a solid diet, the industry makes bank by telling you what you need. You need more protein (essentially you need more muscle)! You need more energy! Hey maybe, but don’t let an industry that capitalizes on your hunger and cravings make decisions for you.
They all claim to be “healthy” but in what way? The health of a food or food product is completely dependent on the person in question. So here is a little list of questions to ask yourself to see if you even need a bar:
Do you eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy with most of your meals?
- If yes, chances are low that you need a protein bar:
- Making sure to have a protein source with most meals should have most people covered
- Are you on a Keto/low-carb diet?
- You probably don’t need a fat bar, but I get it. Some of them are tasty and it's the only thing that seems like a treat on this godforsaken diet. Have a bar but don’t mistake it for a meal, it's a snack and a treat.
- Are you low on energy?
- YOU DON”T NEED A FREAKING BAR! Get better sleep, exercise regularly, stay more active during the day (don’t sit for longer than 30 mins at a time) and breathe better!
If you can’t tell, I am not a fan of the energy bar. In the Standard American Diet (SAD), people generally consume far too many easily digestible carbohydrates. These energy bars provide almost nothing else but carbs so they can claim to give you energy. They also cram some fiber in there from tapioca starch or whatever so they can make more silly health claims. The bottomline is that you can snack on any kind of real food for energy, as long as it has carbohydrates. May I suggest some berries or an apple? Not only would something like that have carbs and fiber, it also has MICRONUTRIENTS!
Before we move on from bars I want to make the disclaimer that not every bar company lacks micronutrients or a soul. One company in particular that I like is Perfect Bar (sponsor me perfect bar!). They make a variety freaking delicious bars, some of which taste like the center of a peanut butter cup, and it has a lot of micronutrients. This bar is like a supplement and while I am not sure if you will digest every micronutrient in the bar, at least it freaking has some! The only thing to watch out for with bars like Perfect Bar is that it usually has a lot of nuts in it so obviously avoid if you are allergic and maybe keep to a minimum if you already eat a solid amount of nuts or other things containing polyunsaturated fatty acids. Anyways, if you are reading this Perfect Bar, I am still looking for sponsorship, I will take free Perfect Bars over payment… Thank you for your time.
On to shakes, this one will be brief since most people that consume shakes are just about that life and will not stop because of one blog post. Shakes, in my mind, are either protein shakes or pre workout shakes, the staples of the lifting bro. If you are someone who has been told by a doctor or nutritionist that you need more protein you can opt for a shake. Dropping powder into a blender or a shaker bottle is a super easy way to increase your level of protein. However, it’s coming back to what I discussed before, where are the micronutrients? I understand that eating enough meat or high protein veg is time consuming but maybe consider meal prepping some protein sources before opting for the protein shake. If money is an issue than yeah I get it, just chug down some whey my friend and hold on to that cash for later. Now, vegans, probably best to try out a pea protein or other plant protein shake in order to get enough in your diet (but don’t take me word for it, follow people who understand veganism better like @backtobasics). If this is you, try to see what the amino acid content of the powder is. There are some specific amino acids you will want that are harder to get in a vegan diet (read here for more on that). Before we move on from shakes I just want to caution any current pre-workout users on their product. Please do some research! Many of these products contain some gnarly stuff that your body does not need, maybe just have a cup of coffee before your morning workout?
Before moving on to sports drinks I want to briefly cover wellness beverages. Things like turmeric lattes, Fitaid, cold-pressed juices and the like focus on benefits like the reduction of inflammation and being low calorie or fat-burning. Please be cautious of these claims as they can vary anywhere from accurate to wildly over exaggerated depending on the product. While ingredients like turmeric can reduce inflammation and lemon juice with apple cider vinegar can "boost metabolism" these effects are dependent on the dose of the substance. So before you buy a 7 dollar CBD infused beverage, check how much CBD is in it, or whatever magical substance you are trying to consume.
Now let's talk about some other sports drinks, energy drinks, superfood drinks and the like. Most of these drinks are caffeinated or are in some way supposed to provide energy. If you are the person who “needs” caffeine to get through the day, I want you to try this little social experiment. Say this out loud. Instead of saying, “I need coffee to get through the day” try “I need drugs to keep myself awake and remain productive”. How does that feel after saying that? Do you feel under control of your stimulant use or do you feel that it is controlling you. I am not saying this to shame you or anyone else. I used to “need” to smoke weed to get through my days so I am not in a position to judge. Please view your simple sugar, caffeine and other legal stimulant use as what it is, drug use. There is no strict health benefit to caffeine (yes I know you’ve read an article on how “healthy” a cup of coffee is, but please try to have a broader perspective) so there is no reason to treat is as a necessity. Caffeine, like sugar, is a treat, not a dietary requirement.
Now that I am done ruining your day, let's talk about what these sports drinks are claiming. Other than a boost of energy, many drink companies are sport focused, meaning they are trying to replace electrolytes that are lost during sweat. These drinks (think Gatorade or Powerade) are theoretically good for the athlete. As we sweat, we lose many minerals that are vital to our function at a cellular level. If we didn’t replace these minerals our muscles would cramp, our brain would reduce in function and a whole host of other organs would struggle to do their thing. Now, before you take away that you need a sports drink in order to be an athlete or an active person, I want you to understand that most fruits and vegetables can provide similar relief. The only added benefit of a drink is that it's easier to replace the electrolytes fast and efficiently in order to continue training or competing. Many of these sports drinks contain simple carbohydrates (essentially sugars) in order to replace the glycogen (stored glucose in the muscle and liver) that was used during exercise. All this sounds good, and for the athlete it is, but many of these drinks (Powerade and Gatorade specifically) contain plenty of unnecessary stuff including more sugar than the exercise requires, dyes and other useless and arguably harmful substances like preservatives. If you are sweating a lot and need to replace electrolytes I recommend finding a brand that uses all ingredients that you understand to be useful (if you are unsure what this means please message me) or just simply add these minerals to water and drink it fast. I just squirt some of the essential minerals into water and chug it down fast because unfortunately it's the sugar not the electrolytes that make gatorade taste so good.
Before we move on from drinks, there is a new style of fitness beverage emerging in the marketplace that I am more interested in. These new fitness drinks are essentially micronutrients in can/bottle… finally, some micronutrients! Most of these drinks contain water soluble vitamins like Vit B12 and Vit C in higher doses than you probably need (especially if you eat a diverse diet) but water soluble vitamins in high amount get peed out so there is nothing to worry about. Read here for a list of water soluble vitamins. The vitamins you don’t want to consume too much of are fat soluble vitamins (especially if you are consuming them with fats), because these vitamins will stick around in the system and can potentially cause harm. Read here for a list of fat soluble vitamins. Many of these drinks are also caffeinated and filled with anti-inflammatory substances like turmeric and green tea extracts. Overall, I like these beverages more than the sugary sports drinks but not every brand is getting a green light from me. Make sure to read the ingredients and the nutrition label to see if you are getting what you need. Again, feel free to contact me to discuss your favorite brand of fitness drink and we can discuss how often you should probably be drinking it.
To finish this section on fitness foods I want to briefly discuss supplements. Supplements can be a great idea if you find that there are certain micronutrients that you can’t get from your normal diet but I would almost never suggest supplementing before making a dietary change. In general, making sure to eat a full spectrum of colors in fruits and vegetables (along with meat and dairy products if your diet allows) will get you close to your micronutrient requirements, if not exceeding them. Some vitamins (like B12: methylcobalamin) can be consumed well beyond the daily requirement and still have health benefits so supplementing with them can be a good idea. Just make sure to be careful with what you supplement and where the product comes from. Use websites like https://examine.com/ to find out what a specific supplement can do (according to clinical trials) and what a quality source would be.
Fit trackers: Do We Need To Use Them?
Do you need to track your fitness? Is the data that comes from a fitness tracker a good indicator of health? If it’s useful, what's the value of these products and how much should I be spending?
There are a ton of fitness trackers on the market, which ones work? Chances are most of them work to a certain level and all of them don’t work at the level we’d like to think they do. The accuracy of a mobile device the size of a watch or belt is still suspect in the current era of technology (as far as I can tell in 2019).
In a study published in the Korean Medical Journal Synapse, 17 products were compared for accuracy and precision of their step tracking. The products ranged from 79.8% accurate to 99.1% accurate with the most accurate device being the MisFit Shine. It appears that things like steps taken and heart rate are easy to monitor but predicting calories burned and other measures from these data points are proving difficult. In an article written by Justin Cappos et al. titled “Measuring the Fitness of Fitness Trackers” published in the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), the authors concluded:
“ Little correlation was found between the number of calories burned and the variations seen in the step count across multiple devices. Our results demonstrate that the reporting of health indicators, such as calories burned and miles travelled, are heavily dependent on the device itself, as well as the manufacturer's proprietary algorithm to calculate or infer such data.”
These authors compared three devices on their ability to track steps and mileage, and then calculate calories burned based off of those data points. These two studies highlight the main issues in fitness tracking which is:
1.) The data may be inaccurate
2.) The algorithm used to generate things like calories burned or other health indicators may not be good enough
3.) The data that you collect might not even be useful for you (without the help of a coach, trainer or medical provider)
The third flaw in this list is one that doesn’t always make it into the fitness tracker discussion. To summarize this point:
Data is only as useful as the Interpreter.
It doesn’t matter how accurate your tracker is, or how much data it can generate. The data is meaningless without someone to tell us what it means. Are you going to let the company who created your fitness tracker dictate what you should do based on your data? It’s probably best to discuss your data with a medical or fitness professional who is well versed in the science and application of fitness tracking. Since I am not one of those people I decided to look into some of the literature produced by the professionals in this domain.
Unplugged: evolve from technology to upgrade your fitness, performance and consciousness
Written by world-renowned strength and conditioning coach Brian Mackenzie, Dr. Andy Galpin and Phil White, this book is a guide to navigating fitness technology so that it truly benefits your fitness without creating obstacles between you and your goals. I love how these men approach this topic. They are very careful not to demonize technology and acknowledge the technology is apart of our human evolution. Their main concern is how we choose to utilize this technology so that it doesn’t do more harm than good. A point that they bring up in this book, that I hadn’t considered before reading it, was the idea that these fitness trackers can be misused like our cell phones, for instant gratification. According to the authors, getting notifications from your fitness tracker (just like a notification on your phone) affects the dopaminergic system in a way that causes obsessive (sometimes addictive) checking and rechecking of the device. The issues with this (other than creating poor behavioral patterns) is that people become more concerned with getting 10,000 steps and the coinciding congratulations on their device instead of focusing on the actual movement of their body. The goal becomes a ping on your wrist instead of a boost in your health. While the two can be correlated, it's not doing your body any favors to listen to a watch instead of your own feelings of wellbeing.
So, to conclude this section: Do you need a fitness tracker? Short answer, no.
Long answer, fitness trackers can be useful tools to increase your awareness of your activity or measuring your performance, but they will never compare to your own intuition (assuming that you cultivate it through regular training). If you find that your device helps you get more exercise than you would if you weren’t wearing it, then WEAR IT! However, if the device starts to become just another nagging thing in the back of your mind telling you to move more it’s probably time to drop it and find a real reason to be more active and enjoy your body. If you are interested in learning more about the book Unplugged, I will be releasing a book report on it in January 2020. Stay tuned to learn more!
Cleanses: Do we need to partake?
Beyond Energy bars, I don’t know if there is a bigger scam in the fitness industry than cleanses. Buy this juice and smoothie kit for a 28-day cleanse! Buy this book telling you to cut out all the foods you enjoy for unforeseeable future! Sign up with this meal planning group and eat 500 calories a day for a month!
Do you really need to do something so extreme? Do you need to participate in these cleanses for a whole month? Will there be any lasting benefits? In general, I would answer these questions with a blanket no. Your body is in a constant process of detoxifying. You release toxins in your feces, urine, sweat and even through breathing. Are there ways to improve your body's ability to this? Sure, buts its not very complicated.
To simplify detoxification I want you to think about why your body needs to excrete things in the first place. The human body is not a perfect machine and it does not run on perfect fuel. The human body is an incredibly adaptive example of biology at its finest. It’s essentially a machine that was designed by its own environment, through this evolution the human machine developed systems to incorporate what it needs while excreting the unnecessary. In the example of air, the human system requires the oxygen from its gaseous environment but what it doesn’t need is a substances like benzene (a common pollutant produced by gasoline), which it will try to remove through various processes. So in short, the good comes with the bad, and we need to get rid of the bad. So what are some strategies to help the body do this.
Strategy 1: Limit the intake of all things so that the system (the body) doesn’t have to work so hard and can allocate its resources to get rid of the left over bad from previous consumption. This strategy includes things like limiting air intake to become better at utilizing oxygen (while also limiting the consumption of airborne pollutants), obviously not a long term strategy but it’s something that can be done intermittently. Speaking of intermittent, you can also try to limit food intake for varying amounts of time. Many people consider forms of intermittent fasting where you consume less or no food on specific days of the week. There is also a strategy called time restricted eating where all of your calories for the day are consumed within a 12 hour window or less. Fasting strategies are a good way to help the body detoxify as long as some planning and preparation go into the fast. Just like after dieting, people may have a tendency to over consume hyper-palatable (read tasty) foods after a fast. So making sure to plan your first meal after a fast, along with the duration of the fast can help to make this process more beneficial. Forgetting to eat and calling it a fast can work for some people but its not a long term strategy that I would recommend. Be conscious of when you limit calories because it can have impacts on various parts of your wellbeing including your energy levels and your mental and physical ability.
Strategy 2: Eat well, breathe clean air and perform stretching, yoga or tai-chi like activities. While this doesn’t seem like much of a cleanse or a super secret strategy, it is quite effective at improving your body’s ability to excrete toxins. While limiting all intakes can be helpful it’s just a good idea to avoid consuming anything that's unnecessary (read harmful). Excessive sugars, air pollutants and a sedentary lifestyle create a debt of wellness in your human system. Trying to be easy on your system at all times so that you don’t need to cleanse is a better plan than depending on a cleanse to restore your health.
The only other strategy that I would recommend as far as aiding the body in detoxification is spending time in a sauna. The body secrets heavy metals and other substances through the skin by sweating. Saunas make you sweat, like really sweat, it’s the best. If you want to learn more about how beneficial saunas are please check out this in-depth article written by Dr. Rhonda Patrick on her website. If you don’t have access to a sauna don’t worry, you can benefit from pretty much any activity that gets you sweaty. Just be careful to rehydrate and consume enough of the minerals that were secreted during your sweat session.
So, if you read all the way through this congratulations. I hope now you realize that what you need for health is more based on behavior than it is on what you are buying. Get good sleep, eat whole foods, move your body and relax, you aren’t missing out by not having a massive home gym or the latest sports supplement. Bring it back to the basics and talk with your trainer or medical provider if you are still considering buying some new gadget or food product.