Mixing Training Implements for Ultimate Results

Franco Columbu Mixing ToolsThere are so many debates on what implement is the ultimate training tool. Barbells? Dumbbells? Sandbags? Kettlebells? Bodyweight? You name it. People tend to oppose them to each other. One camp says: “Barbells are the best because you can always make micro adjustments in weight”. The second camp replies: “Sandbags or kegs are the best because they rock the stabilizers big time; barbells cannot offer this”. Yet other dudes say: “Kettlebells are the best because they are fun and versatile and can offer unique exercises”. The fourth camp states: “Forget about weights! Old school bodyweight strength training is the king because you learn to master your own bodyweight”.

So who’s right and where’s the truth?

The Truth

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. The key problem in this discussion is that people oppose all training implements to each other. People think that they found a ‘magic pill’ in form of either of them. I mean something like “Wow! Kettlebells are so fun and they take much less space than barbells. All of Eastern Europe trains with this secret implement. That means they must be the end-all be-all training tool. I should drop barbell training because it’s useless compared to kettlebells”. This is a very-very wrong standpoint! Every training tool has its own benefits, as well as flaws. You should understand that there is no magic training tool. Every one of them has its pros and cons.

Some Example Pros and Cons

Barbells

Pros:

  • Ultimately adjustable – You can make the smallest increases in working weight. For example, you can press 200 lbs, but cannot nail 205 yet. With barbells, solution can be in adding 2.5 lbs instead of 5.
  • Universal – The range of exercises that can be done with barbell is amazing. You can work your body from every angle with only a barbell and a set of plates.
  • You can go maximally heavy – Any other implement I tried requires less weight because of instability.

Cons:

  • Very space-consuming – Of course, it’s less space consuming than all those crappy machines, but we don’t take them into account. You need a solid piece of space to store a full barbell set or you need to go to commercial gyms, which is not optimal way to train, in my opinion. Also, remember about power rack.
  • Pricey – High-quality barbell and all the plates will cost you pretty decent money.
  • Sometimes it works your body in unnatural angles – What can lead to injury. It’s common in older athletes to drop barbell training because of shoulder or knee injuries. You can get away with too many mistakes when you’re young. But as you become older you will pay your dues.

Sandbags

Pros:

  • Adjustable – You can make any sandbag adjustable using the strategy I outlined in this post.
  • Works stabilizers – You need rough strength to stabilize a heavy sandbag. It always changes its form.
  • Works grip – Even grabbing a sandbag is a big deal.
  • Increased metabolic efficiency – You’ll be huffing-n-puffing on any sandbag exercise. No need for cardio.
  • Low price – It’s almost free.
  • Very safe – As long as you use sand for a filler. Drop it on your leg and feel almost nothing comparing to dumbbell or kettlebell. [UPDATE: I dropped a 32 kg kettlebell on my toe once. What can I say? There were lots of blood. Old nail just fell off of my toe, but with time new one grew]

Cons:

  • Too much setup for some exercises – It’s not a con for me, but for some people it is. Getting a sandbag in position in Sandbag Floor Press is a workout-in-a-workout.
  • You can’t adjust a sandbag quickly.
  • You need to switch sides – Distribution of sand is not equal inside the sandbag.
  • It can get very messy if you don’t use inner bag.

Kettlebells

Pros:

  • Low space requirement – One pair of kettlebells can take less place than a dog.
  • They are versatile and fun.
  • Unique movement patterns – Kettlebells offer ballistic exercises such as swings and snatches.
  • Feel heavier – That’s due to the off-axis center of mass. You’ll need to fight every inch of movement.
  • Probably the ultimate shoulder developer.
  • Very hard to break.

Cons:

  • Pricey – One set of kettlebells is not so expensive, but what to do when you need to move to heavier ones? There are some thoughts about it in this post.
  • Leg work is pretty questionable. Especially comparing with barbells.
  • Not adjustable – Either lift it or go home.

Bodyweight Training

Pros:

  • Requires no equipment – Hell yeah!
  • Easier on joints – No external load is used. [UPDATE: Some people would disagree with this point, but I started feeling MUCH less pain in my joints after switching my upper body work almost exclusively to calisthenics. And, yes, I do train Planche and Front Lever]
  • Lightning fast strength gains – I’m talking about quicker neural adaptation here.
  • The most impressive – Crank out a human flag or front lever, or planche in crowded place and you will be a living legend. You can show your skills almost anywhere. On the other hand, nobody cares how much you squat or bench. [UPDATE: It is debatable, I know. But from the ordinary person standpoint, I guess, it is true]
  • Mastering your bodyweight – It’s hard to explain to someone that haven’t felt that. Imagine a feeling of strength in your whole body.

Cons:

  • Resistance is limited to your bodyweight – It’s not actually a con, but for skinny guys who try to gain mass it is. My professional advice is to start eating big! If you are on the right bodyweight program and not gaining mass, then you eat too little.
  • Leg work is limited.

You got the idea.

What to choose?

You won’t believe. Choose what you like and what fits your goals and conditions. Actually, the more variety will be in your training tools – the better! You can pick one or all of them. Why restrain yourself to using only one implement if you like several? The more implements you pick – the more overall development you can expect.

You should understand that if you’re a competing athlete, for example, in powerlifting or weightlifting, your basic tool is barbell. Most of the time you should train with it. But adding sandbags, kettlebells and bodyweight to the mix is worth bothering because you can expect more overall strength. On the other hand, if you are just average Joe who wants to be in shape and don’t have money and time to go to the gym or buy expensive equipment, it’s no big deal. Bodyweight strength training will cost you nothing and you can do it anytime anywhere. And, what is important, it brings results!

OK. So How Can I Mix All This?

Options are endless. There’s a big chance that you can come out with a totally unique routine. Using the principles that I outlined in this post you can mix anything you want anyhow. For example, if you can go to the gym only 2 days a week you can organize routine that will include two days of barbell training and one day of sandbag and/or bodyweight training. Here’s the sample schedule:

Monday – Gym

A1) Barbell Military Press 5×5

A2) Barbell Bent-Over Row 5×5

Perform all sets in alternating fashion. Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with seven-rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight or cut the rest periods. Finish all the sets and then move on to the next exercise.

B) Barbell Squat 5×5

Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with your seven-rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight or cut the rest periods.

Wednesday – Home

A1) Dips 5×5

A2) Pull-Ups 5×5

A3) Sandbag Zercher Squats 5×5

Perform all sets in circuit fashion. Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with your seven-rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight, reps or cut the rest periods.

Friday – Gym

A1) Barbell Bench Press 5×5

A2) Barbell High Pull 5×5

Perform all sets in alternating fashion. Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with seven-rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight or cut the rest periods. Finish all the sets and then move on to the next exercise.

B) Barbell Lunges 5×5 (each side)

Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with your seven-rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight or cut the rest periods.

Also, if you want, you can mix everything in a crazy unique strength building routine. It may look something like this:

Monday

A1) Handstand Push-Ups 8×3

A2) Barbell Bent-Over Row 8×3

A3) Sandbag Zercher Squats 8×3

Perform all sets in circuit fashion. Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with your seven-rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps add weight, reps or cut the rest periods.

Wednesday

A1) Barbell Floor Press 5×5

A2) Weighted Pull-Ups 5×5

A3) Kettlebell Double Snatch 5×5

Perform all sets in circuit fashion. Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with your seven rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight, reps or cut the rest periods.

Friday

A1) Kettlebell One-Arm Military Press 4×6

A2) Sandbag Shouldering 4×3 (each side)

A3) Barbell Squat 4×6

Perform all sets in circuit fashion. Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets. Start with your eight rep max. Use the same weight for all sets. When you will be able to finish all sets and all reps, add weight, reps or cut the rest periods.

I used Monday/Wednesday/Friday only for example purposes. Pick the days that fit you. Use one of the above routines and drop me a note on how it worked. You can contact me through e-mail roughstrengthmailbox@gmail.com or through comments. You can check my personalized program design services here.

In conclusion I’d like to say some words on being open-minded. Don’t be afraid to go against what mass culture tells you. Try different implements and discover what works for you. Mix what you like and reap tremendous benefits.

Stay tuned for more on rough training.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

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