Most gyms are filled to the gills with different kinds of exercise equipment. Yet gym-goers typically gravitate to the same basic cardio machines and weights over and over.
“When people think of getting a good workout in, they typically think of the standard treadmill, spin bike, or elliptical,” says Cat Kom, the founder and head trainer of fitness app Studio SWEAT onDemand. While she agrees that these are excellent machines, there are other options out there that “can take your workout from a good one to a great one,” she says.
One reason certain pieces of equipment get overlooked? “People have no idea how to even begin incorporating them into their routine!” Kom says. And even advanced athletes can get stuck in a comfortable routine that brings them to the same corners of the gym day after day.
Yet incorporating some new props can boost your fitness in new ways—and keep things interesting. In particular, Kom says these five key pieces of fitness equipment are underutilized but deserve a place in your workout routine.
You may see people jumping or stepping up onto these boxes of various heights—particularly if you’re watching a CrossFit workout. Kom says that these multifunctional boxes are perfect for lower-body workouts as well as for improving balance. “Plus, you will get a cardio workout too!” she says.
Try it: Box jumps
“Keeping good form while jumping onto the box is key,” says Kom. “Engaging your core and leg muscles will help ensure you land firmly on the box.”
As a beginner, start with the lowest plyo box at your gym.
Facing the plyo box, take a step back and begin with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend your knees, swing your arms back, and then propel yourself up onto the box.
Jump back off the box and repeat.
Try three sets of five jumps.
These high-density foam or cork bricks are designed to support different yoga poses and assist in modifications, says Kom. “Yoga blocks can help make sure you don’t injure yourself when trying out more advanced poses and stretches,” she says. They can also be used to lift you off the ground (or bring the ground closer) in bodyweight exercises.
Try it: Triceps push-up
By bringing your body up off the floor for a triceps push-up, the yoga blocks increase the range of motion available to you in this classic exercise.
“Proper form is very important here,” Kom says. “Keeping your arms at your sides and focusing on engaging your core will help keep your back flat.”
Place two yoga blocks on the floor vertically, shoulder-width apart, so you can put one hand on each in your push-up.
From a high plank position, bend your elbows to lower your body until your shoulders touch the blocks, keeping your arms close to your ribs.
Press back up to return to the high plank position and repeat.
Try three sets of five reps.
Even though the large prowler sled is likely the most intimidating piece of gym equipment on this list, Kom says that even beginners can benefit from using it. “The prowler sled is one of the best ways to get a killer lower-body workout while also getting an instant dose of cardio,” notes Kom.
Try it: Push and pull
Kom says this is a simple exercise, but not easy. This movement works your calves, core, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
Kom says that beginners should start out with no weights added to the sled. “Starting out with too much weight could result in serious injury,” she cautions.
Grab onto the handlebars of the sled and begin pushing it forward, keeping your back stable and your arms straight.
Push the prowler sled as far forward as you can.
To pull the sled back, put a rope on each side, then drag it back to the starting position.
Try going back and forth twice. Build up to more sets as you get comfortable with it.
A Bosu Ball basically looks like a yoga ball cut in half, and can be used with the dome side up or down for a variety of exercises. Because it provides an unstable surface Kom points out that it can give you an “effective, full-body workout that also improves your balance.”
Try it: Bosu lunge
This exercise works the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, and can improve core, hip, and ankle stability.
Place the Bosu on the floor with the ball side up.
Step back about two feet and place your front foot in the middle of the Bosu Ball.
Keep your back foot planted on the floor like you would for a regular lunge. Lower your front leg down until your knee is bent to about 90 degrees, then stand back up
Repeat three sets of 10 reps on each side.
If you’re looking to elevate your core workouts, TRX straps may be the missing piece of the puzzle. These suspension straps with handles are usually found hanging from the ceiling or an anchor point high on the wall.
Kom explains that TRX (Total Resistance Exercise) straps are a unique and efficient way to train your rectus abdominis (the “six-pack”), transversus abdominis (deep core muscles), and your internal and external obliques (the muscles on the side of your torso). “TRX straps are perfect for all fitness levels, so if you’re new to working out, don’t let these scare you,” says Kom.
Try it: Reverse mountain climber
Kom says that this total-body exercise works your triceps, core, hip flexors, and quadriceps.
Lie down on your back with your feet facing the straps.
Lower the handles of the TRX to about mid-calf height and place your feet in the handle loops.
Lift your body up into a bridge and bring one knee towards your chest, keeping your other leg straight.
Straighten your leg back to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg.
Keep alternating legs for 30 to 60 seconds.