Essential Equipment for Strength Training

by Travis Hlavka

This is important information!!
Do yourself a favor and read the entire thing.

Here is a list of what I consider to be the “basics” of “equipment” for strength training.  None of it’s fancy, but it’s functional and it works.  Too many people think #1, they need to look good at the gym, and #2 they need to buy fancy new fangled doohickies for working out.

Remember, we are “strength training”, so if you think you need fancy nice looking stuffs and thangs, then get over it.  Keep that in mind as you see/read the following.

A Brain

Yup, I dun did say a “Brain”.  If you’re an idiot, then stop reading now.  If not, then just don’t be dumb when your training.  If it hurts, stop.  Not if lactic acid is built up and your tired and whiny, but if you are going to hurt yourself if you keep going, then stop!

Also, don’t rely on me or anyone else to come up with every single exercise you should do.  (Yes, there are standard exercises like squat, bench, deadlift, but you should be doing assistance work also like dumbbell work or bodyweight work).  Mix it up from time to time and create your own exercises.  BE CREATIVE!  For one thing, it’ll be fun, and for another… You can laugh at all the “normals” in the gym doing the same lame crap all the time.  I have people looking at me strange all the time with some of my assistance work (and not because I am so suuuuper fashionable.  haha).  Plus, it’s always nice when you see other people start trying out what you’re doing and then asking for tips and then saying thanks.

Starting Strength 3rd EditionStarting Strength (Basic Barbell Training)

by Mark Rippetoe & Lon Kilgore

This by far is one of the best, if not the best, strength training books on the market.  I read the 2nd edition front to back and highlighted and dogeared a ton of pages. (The Starting Strength, 3rd edition came out recently).  No matter what level you are at, this is a must have book!  It will take you through a variety of compound exercises like squat, bench, deadlift, press, and power clean, along with instruction on form with photos.  I plan on buying the 3rd edtion to add to my collection.


Shorts, or loose sweats if you want.  I prefer short shorts and I even pull them up when I squat/deadlift heavy because I don’t like them catching on my legs.  Personal preference, and my red 1960’s bike brand coaches shorts give everyone something to talk about.  It’s even better when I pull my socks all the way up for deadlift.  (If only I had some socks with stripes. LOL).
Shirts:  No tank tops!  Especially on squat day!!!  If you sweat, you don’t want the bar on your sweaty back sliding around.  It’s not safe.  Plus, you’re there to “strength” train, not show off your muscles.  If you want to show off, then pick up something heavy and put the people to shame that are twice your size.  Save the gun show for the pool or beach!

Chuck Taylor All Stars

Shoes:  Get yourself a pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars or something similar with NO cushioning.  You’re not running or doing zumba.  The reason you don’t want all the cushion is because it causes instability when squatting and dead lifting.  You need something SOLID to stand on. (I found my Chuck’s at Ross, a discount clothing store, for $13 bucks!  That was about 5 years ago tho).

Vibram Five Fingers KSOIdeally, barefoot is most difficult and can make you even stronger. That’s why I wear Vibram Fivefingers when I squat.  I would wear them on deadlift also but I like my Chucks because it makes me move the bar about 1″ farther.  (When I compete I wear my vibrams).  HOWEVER… DO NOT just go get some vibrams and start working out in them.  You need to get accustomed to wearing them first and then do some simple or light workouts in them and see how it goes.

Cardillo Weight Lifting BeltWeight Belt

Get yourself a very good weight belt.  DO NOT SKIMP.  It’s not going to be cheap, but it’s not that expensive either.  Probably around $50-$80 depending on what you want.  Plus, a nice belt will last you forever.  I’ve been using the same one for almost 14 years.   I have a Cardillo belt and I love it.  Mine doesn’t have dual prongs though and I wish it did.  (Do some shopping around.  If you buy direct from their site you’ll probly pay too much).

NOTE: I do recommend using a belt, BUT, I only recommend using it on your last set or last couple sets (IF you feel like you need it).  Do NOT wear your belt all the time for ever set and walk around the gym like a douche bag.  If you use it too much, you will actually make your back weaker.  Never become dependent on a piece of equipment that supports you.  Otherwise you will definitely get injured at some point in real life while you’re not wearing it.  ALSO… You probably won’t even need a belt if you’re in the beginning of your training.  Even though I recommend a belt, it’s not absolutely necessary.  I know guys that put up some big weight on deadlift and never use a belt.  HOWEVER, I do think even those guys should put on a belt for their last set.

Weight Lifting ChalkChalk

If your gym doesn’t have chalk, buy some and bring it yourself.  If your gym says you can’t do that…. FIND ANOTHER GYM.  You don’t want to be doing any strength training with a slippery bar because your hands are sweaty or the douche bag that was using it before made it nasty and slick.  Plus, chalk is very cheap and you should be able to find it easily.

You don’t need to buy any fancy shmancy chalk either.  It’s just magnesium carbonate.  Gymnastic chalk.  You should be able to find it locally in your area pretty cheap.

Valsalva Maneuver

The what?  That’s not a piece of equipment!  Technically you’re right.  I put it in the equipment category because it is a “tool” that you can use.  What is the Valsalva maneuver?  Basically it’s holding your breath.  Oh, but you were told to breath during your sets right?  Exhale when your exerting yourself right?  Well, that’s great if you’re over lifting with the tools doing curls and whatever they do. Think about the last time you were at home or somewhere outside the gym and you had to move something heavy.  Remember that time?  Remember how it was really heavy and you may have grunted a little picking it up, but when you put it down what did you do??  WHHHHEW…   You were performing the Valsalva maneuver and you didn’t even know it.

DISCLAIMER:  I am NOT telling you to start holding your breath while working out!  You need to “learn” how to do the Valsalva maneuver properly.  I’ve seen videos of people passing out and hurting themselves from doing it and it can also be VERY DANGEROUS if you have high blood pressure or a myriad of other ailments.  The people over at LiveStrong seem to think you should never do it and and and….. I will say that I know for a fact I couldn’t put up the weights I do without it.  (LiveStrong on Valsalva)  DISCLAIMER AGAIN:  DO NOT PERFORM THE VALSALVA MANEUVER UNLESS YOU ARE INSTRUCTED BY A PROFESSIONAL.  I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE IF YOU HURT YOURSELF OR DIE.  THIS IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY!

Ok, so why did I even include the Valsalva if it’s dangerous and now I’m saying you should not do it.  Mainly because it is a tool that all experienced powerlifters use and it does stabilize your core better when you do it.  I have been doing it for years and it looks like my head is about to explode when I do it.  People actually ask me if I’m ok after a heavy set.  HAHA.  SO AGAIN…. DO YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE AND MAKE YOUR OWN DETERMINATION ON WHETHER IT’S RIGHT FOR YOU.  I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU.  YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS.

Wikipedia on Valsalva Maneuver

NOTE:There are links on this page that if you click them and buy the product, I might make a couple bucks.

Any comments or questions, please leave them below.  That’s my simple list of essential equipment for strength training.

Travis Hlavka (9 Posts)

I may act like a 12yr old a lot of the time, but that's because I have a genetic defect that will not allow me grow up. HOWEVER, I do take strength training and fitness very seriously and I love using what I know to help others reach their fitness goals and avoid the bazillion mistakes I've made in my 25+ yrs of training. Since I don't know everything, I never stop learning. Note: I am no longer a "certified" trainer, but I truly understand more about fitness and health now than I ever did with that official piece of paper.

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