The Tools Of The Trade

In the training world, there is an incredible array of implements and tools that are designed to give you the biggest bang for your buck. The proponents of each of these training tools swear that their gadget is the most effective of them all. But who is right?

Kettlebells, suspension straps, barbells, dumbbells, parallettes, strongman implements, the list goes on and on.  Most people desperately want to cut through the BS and discover which one will give them the best results possible.

It would certainly be nice to pick just one tool and use it exclusively. After all, life is complicated enough. Why do our workouts have to be complicated also? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.

Using only one of the above-mentioned approaches may seem like a good idea, but it isn’t best for overall training results and training longevity.

The truth is that if your chief goal is to achieve well-balanced fitness and stay motivated and healthy for the rest of your life, a hybrid routine would definitely serve you better.

You see, each training tool has their strengths and weaknesses. So it’s the proper combination of them, in the right ratios, intensities, and volumes, that assures an effective, stimulating, and balanced routine.

Which tools you should emphasize depends on your specific goals. So, in order to help you decide what your personal “training tool recipe” should be, let’s break down each one.

The Barbell

The barbell is the greatest tool for developing absolute strength, grinding strength and hypertrophy. Thus, if your goal is to gain muscular size and/or strength, you must take advantage of the barbell’s effectiveness for stimulating these training effects.

Power can also be effectively developed with the proper use of the Olympic lifts.

There are many barbell exercises to choose from. Some of my favorites include: the standing press, squats, deadlifts, RDL’s, power snatch, power clean, and jerks.

The downside to barbell training is that if it is done incorrectly or too aggressively, injuries are likely to occur. Be sure to hire a qualified coach to teach you how to perform these lifts properly.


Kettlebell training is one of the best methods for developing the quality of power-endurance. Power endurance can be defined as one’s ability to perform quick and powerful muscle contractions over an extended period of time. This particular quality helps improve one’s ability to excel in many sports.

In addition to increasing power-endurance, kettlebell training also increases forearm strength, improves one’s ability to absorb and produce force, amplifies conditioning levels, and develops mental toughness.

The kettlebell exercises to most emphasize are: KB snatch, KB clean and press, KB front squat, Turkish get up, and KB swing variations.

Suspension Straps

Rings, Jungle Gym straps, and TRX systems all fall under this category. These tools allow for nearly limitless variations of bodyweight training exercises.

The beauty of these tools is that they help trainees develop the perfect combination of strength and stability. In fact, there is no tool that develops this particular blend of quality better than strap systems.

That is because the strap handles can move in all planes of motion, thus maximally activating your stabilizers while the prime movers create the movement.

Some type of suspension training should be a must for all trainees. A short list of the movements to include is: chins, dips, push ups, rows, and support holds. Advanced trainees can also incorporate muscle ups, front and back levers and inversions.


Dumbbells are another useful training tool. They can be effectively used for several purposes. For one, they can be used as a safer alternative to all upper body barbell exercises.

Due to the fact that dumbbells are not “locked in” to a particular groove, they allow you to make slight “bar path” adjustments. This is safer for your joints.

Dumbbells also can be used for a multitude of assistance exercises.

Medicine Balls

Med ball training is awesome for concentric-only power development. The benefit from med ball training comes from the releasing of the ball. This allows you to express your power with no deceleration phase.

Performing a variety of throws is highly recommended. Some of my favorites are: overhead forward, underhand forward, and underhand backward.

Strongman Implements

Strongman implements best develop what I call “bear functional strength”. This is a “real world” strength that when developed, has carry over to just about everything that you can do, both in sports and in everyday life.

The strongman implements I like best are: sleds, ropes, logs, and farmers walks handles.


In this category, I’ll list items that are useful but don’t fall under a specific classification. Benches, jump ropes, GHR’s, specialty bars, power wheels, parallette bars, plyo boxes, pull up bars, bands, etc. all have their place in a balanced training routine.

Additionally, there are many other tools that you can use in your training program besides the ones mentioned in this post. But these are the main ones to build your routines around. This integration will make your training more fun, balanced, and effective!

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  1. amancay says

    John I used a lot of sandbag with the standing press, squats, deadlifts, power snatch, power clean, and jerks. I just put a chain on two sides of the end of the sandbag, so I can put my hand on and do this training. Also you get a very strong grip so. And with kettlebells I used some things I made myself.

  2. Brent says

    Can we see a tour of your new gym? In the future could you do a post about how you would set up a home gym. Thanks for all the great information you put out!

    • John Alvino says

      @Steven Sashen: Hey Steven, pull up bars are a must. I originally had them in this post but that section became very redundant with the rings paragraph. Maybe I should put it back in anyway.

      I also like to use a variety of toys from time to time. Definitely fun to mix things up. Thanks for the feedback, brother!

    • John Alvino says

      @Gina: Hey Gina, I personally prefer to use a variety of implements in each workout. It just makes for a more interesting routine. That being said, there are certainly times when emphasizing one tool for a phase or two would be recommended or even necessary.

  3. anuj says

    hey, nice post :) If only I could get our stupid gym to buy a TRX lol. I used to use TRX a while ago but it was borrowed from someone. Oh, and idk why but I’m not getting the updates on new posts on my email and i have subscribed ………… anyways its always fun reading your postss…*thumbs up*

    • John Alvino says

      @anuj: Hi Anuj, thanks for the “thumbs up”. To be honest, I like the TRX the least of all suspension systems. Go with a pair of rings or a Jungle Gym XT. Hope this helps you out, man

  4. says

    Nice article as always. The problem for most people is similar to the’best’ way to diet. currently, IF is very popular. In the past, we’ve had low carb, high carb, high fat, anabolic, paleo etc. Lots of folk tend to swing to whatever is flavour of the month. In my opinion, too much change stops people following through on an approach long enough to get results.

    With exercise choicers, many people do the same. Bodyweight stuff is popular right now so suddenly, people put away the trx and do just bodyweight. Before that, the trx shoved the kettlebells into the cupboard.

    As you said above, there are lots of advantages to each method. It obviously depends on situation and goals. It always makes me sigh a little bit when people jump from one method to another, without keeping anything at all.

    For what it is worth, I think a great way to train for many is to do one heavy barbell/db exercise, then do a couple of trx/bodyweight/kettlebell things to round things out.

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