5 Dirt Cheap But Effective Training Tools

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I love kit. I am a gear junkie. Nothing beats the sensation of opening a parcel to get a whiff of the tangy iron scent of a new kettlebell or the feel of lifting a barbell for it’s maiden lift.

I am also a bit of a skinflint. ‘Short arms, deep pockets’ as they say. To make a major investment in new kit, I have to really need it. My first thought is “how can I achieve the results I want with what I already have?”

This is why I have a large number of DIY training gear articles on this site. My lack of funds or resentment to part with my hard earned cash spurs me on to find a way to train without the added expense. It’s hugely rewarding too.

Not having enough money to focus on your health is a common concern. But as with all things of such importance, failure to prioritise now will cost you far more in the long run.

A stitch in time saves nine.

But I get it. The fitness industry will have us believe that to truly achieve optimal health we need to remortgage the house, have a purpose built gym in our garage, and hire specialist chefs and coaches to live with us just like the movie stars.

But most of us don’t need that. Most of us just need to move our bodies in a consistent way. Yes, a full gym like Dwayne Johnsons Iron Paradise would be lovely, but we can get a lot of results for very little outlay, if any.

What follows are some of my favourite (and I use this term lightly, as some are horrendous but effective) cheap training tools that I use nearly every day.

Gymnastic Ring

When I first saw a pair of these hanging in a gym my initial thought turned to the Iron Cross position in gymnastics and the many other dynamic, superhuman tricks we see in the Olympics. Yes, this is all done on the rings, but they have uses for all levels of gym goers.

The best thing about them is that they are portable and can be attached to a vast number of anchor points depending on your intended use.

They are my preferred way to do pull-ups as they give me the ability to turn my hands to whatever position feels most comfortable to me, really reducing elbow and shoulder pain.

Lower them down and they allow the regression to the inverted row position, great for those of you who cannot yet do pull-ups.

Face the opposite way and now you have an inclined push-up position that also challenges you balance and your core.

And ring dips continue to be my go to choice when I want to suffer.

I even use them as makeshift farmers carry handles attached to plates for loaded carries, or as handles for a DIY sled pull.

And kids can’t help but play on them, inadvertently strengthening their grip and shoulder mobility in the process.

And the best thing is you can pick up a pair of plastic rings for between 10-15 quid. That’s a weeks worth of coffee-shop coffees for a full body workout.

Resistance Bands

Band set with door anchor and handles

These oversized rubber bands have been about for a long time now. The type I like are the continuous loop kind.

The benefits of resistance bands are many.

They have strength curve when we use them, low resistance at the start of the movement where we are often weakest, and high resistance at the end of the movement where we are often strongest. This means we can fully work the muscle throughout the entire exercise and create a greater mind-muscle connection.

I use the bands for this, both by themselves and combined with other resistance training equipment, such as a barbell.

Because the resistance reduces as we return to the starting position, the eccentric part of the movement, there is less damage to the muscle tissue, resulting in quicker recovery and a greater ability to add more volume. This does reduce muscle growth to a degree though.

They also are fairly low stress on the joints (therefore lower chance of injury) and less intimidating than stepping into a squat rack.

They are very portable, taking very little room up in a bag and making them ideal for travel. With the addition of a door anchor, you can effectively use them anywhere.

Other than for resistance training, bands are excellent for rehab and mobility work. Whether you use them to aid stretching or wrapped over joint areas to open up the joint capsules, they are a great addition to your mobility kit.

I bought the above kit from Amazon, four bands with a pair of handles and a door anchor for about £25.

And for the true thrifty mover, check out my DIY tutorial for suspension trainers here.

Skipping Ropes

Wolverson speed demon rope

In my mind I skip like Mohammed Ali or Rocky Balboa. In reality I skip like a man that has too many elbows wearing diving flippers. A skipping session leaves me sweaty, breathless with burning shoulders and white welt marks over my buttocks.

Despite this, I love it and often skip as part of my daily warm up.

It doesn’t take too long to become competent at basic skipping. In fact even not being competent at it will still reap benefits.

It’s an excellent, fairly low impact form of cardio that also warms up and builds the shoulders. It’s no coincidence that the boxing greats of history used skipping as a constant feature of their training.

It’s a great way to get in some extra low level cardio work, and a great option if getting outside for a run or other cardio isn’t possible.

Cheap but adequate rope from Decathlon

Skipping ropes are stupidly cheap. A plastic cord type will set you back as little as £2 and they work just fine. You don’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of cash on a skipping rope, although the option is there.

The downside to the cheap plastic ones is that they will eventually break. Much of this depends on the surface you are skipping on. The Shred Shed here at Casa Del Wild Life gets pretty cold in winter which seems to make the ropes brittle.

My preference is for metal handled, steel cable, bearing swivel skipping ropes. They are much more pleasurable to use and I’ve never broken one yet. Beware though, when one of these bad boys whips you on the rump you really know about it.

You can pick up one as described for less than a tenner, but my go-to is the Wolverson Speed Demon Rope for around £20. A pure pleasure to use. Except the for arse-whipping.

Ab Wheel

Cheap Ab Wheel from Lidl

I remember seeing Ab Wheels being advertised in the Sunday supplement paper at my grandparents.

Alongside such products as the Shake Weight and the Ab Lounge, the Ab Wheel could be easily dismissed along with the other pseudo fitness dross on offer. But this would be a mistake.

The Ab Wheel is a brilliant way to build up the core, and by core I’m not just referring to the abs, it works the obliques, the lower back, and the glutes. You’ll feel your shoulders get a little burn too.

It’s a much more efficient core workout than the classic sit-up and crunch movements. You see, the Ab Wheel role out (the classic move of the Ab Wheel) is an anti-extension exercise. When you reach the end of the movement ( i.e. stretched out, arm out in front) your abs are actually stopping your back from over-arching into a hyper extended way. This is a major reason to do core work, to protect your spine. Poor core strength will even affect and reduce your range of motion in your arms and legs.

But the Ab Wheel is not for everyone, at least not straight away. If you are unable to hold a plank position for at least a minute, or do push-ups without your back sagging then stick with the plank, also an anti-extension exercise. But for those of you that can and want to up your core training game then have at it.

It’s a super cheap bit of kit, costing as little as £5 from some shops, and the perfect way to make an enjoyable workout horrible. But think of the washboard abs.

Yoga Mat

So this last one isn’t even necessary, it’s more symbolic. All you need is enough room to lay down and you have everything you need for a workout. Check out prisoner workouts for some great ideas.

A yoga/exercise mat is nice to give you some grip, cushion your knees and elbows, and to keep you from getting grubby. It’s perfect for bodyweight exercises and groundwork, and ideal for when you are working on your mobility. We have them in many rooms of the house should someone want to get down and at it (exercising, I mean), and I even keep one in the car.

You can pick up a cheap one for less than £10, or spend well over a 100 quid for a posh one that doesn’t look too different. There are some lovely eco material mats about today as well which I’d recommend.

There we have it, a nice little set up for not much more than £50. It won’t do everything but it does a hell of a lot.

Happy moving.

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