Equipment is one of the most fun ways to spice up any class. Equipment is a modality, or, a way in which to challenge, change, and add variety.
The use of certain pieces of equipment does more than just challenge the body, they also create new neuromuscular pathways as they conquer new tasks through skill acquisition. These benefits are hugely important because they lead to improvements in all areas of life and fitness, from improved memory to balance.
The use of various modalities in the group fitness setting provides an opportunity to improve participants’ fitness in fun and challenging ways. For you, the modalities help keep things fresh and continue to push your creativity.
Benefits of Using Tools and Equipment
Today, there are no shortage of modalities, and if you ever attend a large fitness conference or convention, you can see collections of hundreds at a time. Most are designed to create a new or unique stress to the body.
Stress in this case is a good thing. Think of it like overloading a muscle so that it grows. In this case, inventors are developing things that make fitness safer, or work the body for a specific purpose, or, make fitness more portable and convenient. Exercise tubing is a great example of an invention that’s stuck around for decades. Tubing creates resistance and can be used by huge clubs, or individuals who travel and can’t bring dumbbells in their luggage, but who want to resistance train while out of town.
Types of Fitness Tools and Equipment
Instructors should be well versed in any modality they’re using in classes, but also in modalities inside their gym, and cutting edge trends members might ask about. Of the utmost importance: for whom is the modality appropriate? The instructor must consider age, fitness level, safety, fitness goals, class type and personal preferences when selecting equipment. Be sure you’re exploring all kinds of possibilities, and that you don’t fall into a trap of relying too heavily on one modality.
1. Bodyweight is perhaps the simplest to explain because there’s no equipment needed, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! Position, direction, speed, and reps all determine how difficult and effective bodyweight exercises are. When you’re working against gravity, sometimes bodyweight is all you need to fatigue a muscle quickly and effectively. One of the nice things about bodyweight exercises is that they’re easy to modify for your members.
2. Weights are the next most popular modality. Near- ly every fitness facility will have an array of dumbbells, at the very least, while others will have weighted bars, kettlebells, sandbags and more. When dealing with weights, it’s very important to consider your population, class type, the structure of the class and which muscles you’ll be working if you teach on multiple consecutive days per week. Dumbbells are a form of free-training and can be used for stable strength, compound movements and even some dynamic movements. Kettlebells, medicine balls and sandbags were designed for dynamic and ballistic moves. They can be used in stable strength moves, but typically you’ll use them in ballistic movements because they can travel through space much differently than regular dumbbells. Kettlebells and balls can be held further away from the center of the body, and therefore, tend to use a lot more core and stabilizer muscles.
3. Resistance Tubing provides resistance to the body when stretched and anchored. Bands are inexpensive tools to be used in gyms, at home, and even on vacation. Personal trainers and traveling group instructors often carry several with them for their clients and classes at parks or the beach. Long tubes have handles and can be anchored by passing the tube through a handle and secured under a foot, or simply looped around the foot, arm or under a knee. Figure 8 tubes are generally placed around the feet, ankles, or quads for lower-body work, but can be used for upper body as well. Circle tubes are flat and come in a variety of thicknesses. These are usually for lower body, secured at the ankles or quads. All tubing has a variety of stretch, making them more or less difficult. They’re often color-coded to indicate their level.
4. Balance Tools such as BosusTM, stability balls and gliding disks allow for fantastic instruction for functional movements that improve balance, the core and strength. Cardiovascular endurance is also tested on these modalities because they can be used for speed and explosiveness. Stability Balls are large, inflated balls used for everything from core work to dynamic exercises. Because they’re so unstable, it often takes practice and a lot of core engagement before members feel like they won’t fall off them. Over time, however, sta- bilizer muscles create memory and strength and members become quite proficient in this modality. Gliding disks are used to increase range of motion, as well as for speed during certain exercises, like Mountain Climbers. From a planked position, it is possible to slide in any direction, thus, radically engaging the core. Another very unstable surface that trains stability is a BosuTM, which is an inflated dome over a hard-plastic surface. Both sides can be used, and depending on which side is up, the difficulty increases significantly.
5. Speed and Agility devices are commonly found in Boot Camp-type classes. The goal of these classes is to train like an athlete, and most of these modalities have been used on fields by sports teams for decades. The beauty of these modalities is, you can often make them yourself. An agility ladder, for instance, can be made from duct tape, and agility dots can simply be stickers. Most are inexpensive and portable, and train explosively (plyometrics/jump training), laterally and for increased agility.
6. Myofascial Release is sometimes performed by a physical therapist to a client, but a variety of modalities have made it so people can work on themselves, which is called SMR, or self-myofascial release. The rehabilitative benefits are astounding; so much so, that many health clubs are offering Myofascial Release classes several times per week on class schedules. Tennis balls, lacrosse balls, foam rollers, and self-roll- ers are all used to release tight fascia, decreasing excitation of receptors to ease muscle tension/knots. When connective tissue bands together, it reduces range of motion, and often causes pain and tender- ness. This leads to imbalances in the body, inflamma- tion and injury. Most people discount the importance of foam rolling and stretching, stating “I have 2 foam rollers, but they collect dust because I’m just too busy to use them.” Unfortunately, they usually pay the price later and end up having to stop workouts to heal instead of budgeting time each day to use preventa- tively. SMR breaks up adhesions by placing pressure or by rolling on the knot for a minimum of 30 seconds. The direct pressure (which is often quite uncomfortable, and sometimes quite painful) allows the recep- tors to relax.
7. Suspension Training is another portable way to train the body almost anywhere. You generally need an anchor site up high, either affixed to the wall, a fence or door jam, to allow suspension exercises and body weight to train the core and muscles.
8. Aquatics classes have evolved from just people and pools to people and water equipment. While the pool water itself is resistance, inventions such as foam water “dumbbells,” aquatic belts, noodles, kickboards and other webbed hand devices have taken resistance to a new level. Some are used for flotation, while oth- ers are designed to refine form and add difficulty.
9. Yoga equipment ranges from basic mats for support, grip and cushioning, to blocks, straps and even very light weights. There are a variety of yoga classes available, from flow, to heated to power yoga, and
the goals are different for each one. Yoga blocks and straps provide postural support while in certain poses, or when flexibility, is limited.
10. Specific Skills are basically anything else that doesn’t fall into the previous categories. These are tools specific to a genre of class, such as a reformer for Pilates, punching bag for kickbox, step for step class, mini-tramp for trampoline class, or a bar for ballet class. These modalities require further credentials. One must be certified in the specific format, at which time you’d be educated on the tools and equipment for that format.
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