Our Favorite Stuff
Compiled by the Editors
We've been writing Consumer Reports-style articles since 2000. We've told you about new gear and accessories for training, new books and DVDs, even new food items. The goal is to help you make better decisions about how to spend your money in pursuit of your goals.
But it's been three years since our last "Stuff We Like" column. It's not that we stopped caring about how you spent your money, or whether you achieved your goals, it's just that ... well, we've been kind of busy with other things.
Now we're ready to renew that tradition of separating the good from the garbage. From gym gear to kitchen gadgets, we'll buy it, test it, and let you know whether you should whip out the debit card or keep it tucked away in your wallet with that two-year-old Trojan.
To kick-start the revised series, we asked our regular contributors and staffers a simple question: "When you think about training, athletic preparation, and/or nutrition, what's your favorite thing?"
Here's how they answered.
Our Favorite Things
Dave Tate: Prowler
I'm strapped for time these days, so hours of cardio are out of the question. That's why my favorite thing right now is the Prowler, which I use for all types of sled dragging and pushing.
It's great for general conditioning, developing lower-body strength and endurance, and helping me burn tons of calories in a short amount of time, while also helping me recover from my just-completed strength phase.
You can learn more, and see videos of athletes training with the Prowler, by clicking here. That takes you to my site, where you can also order a Prowler of your own. The list price is $325; I'm currently selling it for $269.
Chris Shugart: Shun Knife
You've heard my mantra: "The more you cook, the better you look." But if you're going to take my advice to spend more time at the stove and less at the microwave, it helps to have the right tools.
You don't need a 24-knife set (although they do look kind of cool when you're trying to impress the date you've invited over for a home-cooked meal), or a drawer full of one-trick-pony specialized tools. What you need is a good cutting board and one good chef's knife. (An eight-inch model works best for most people.)
But here's the thing: You need to pay more than $50 for that one good knife.
That's why my favorite tool in the kitchen right now is my Shun eight-inch chef's knife. This, my friends, is a violent work of art. It's made with the kasumi method, the same process used to make samurai swords. They start with an extremely hard carbon steel to create an edge, then protect it with a layer of stainless steel on each side.
The steel-on-steel combo gives the blade strength, stain resistance, and scary-as-shit cutting performance. (It also makes it beautiful, giving it the look of ancient Damascus steel.
My Shun retails for $150, but if you Google around you can find it for less.
Eric Cressey: Lynx Grips
Originally, we used Lynx grips as a replacement for gloves with our female clients, who're naturally averse to calluses. Since then we've found more uses. For example, when we do reverse sled drags, we'll wrap them over the chains that connect to the sled so our athletes don't tear up their hands while holding on. I've even started using them doubled-up for grip work.
The flexible grips are made of neoprene rubber, and as such they're not only versatile, they're also easy to clean with soap and water. I like them so much that I jumped at the chance to buy 1 percent of the company.
The list price is $20, but you can find them online for $15.
Dan John: Kettlebell
Last track season, I tossed my 16-kilo kettlebell into my truck and took it to every meet and training session in which I needed to throw a discus. In the beginning, I did some simple swings and presses with the k-bell to warm up for throwing. Then I added some waiter walks (walking with the k-bell in the overhead snatch position) and "kettlebell yoga" moves.
I'd tried this in the past, but with a heavier kettlebell. The change in weight made all the difference. I enjoyed doing the movements, and didn't sacrifice any emotional energy doing the swings and snatches.
After a few weeks, I noticed that my joints felt better during and after training, and I had better throws. I even got leaner.
Adding that 16-pound kettlebell to my pre-throwing routine was simple. And, like all the other simple things I recommend — more protein, more Flameout, more sleep, more fun — the payoff was huge.
You can get a 16-kilogram/35-pound kettlebell from Dragon Door for $110, plus $33.50 for shipping.
Christian Thibaudeau: FitDay
Successful eating requires precision. It's the attention to details that determines your success. Whether you're training to gain muscle without adding fat or lose fat without sacrificing muscle, a good food journal can make all the difference.
I've been using the free online food journal at FitDay for years. It's not the only one out there, but it's the best one I've used.
John Berardi: JB's Muscle Gruel
When I'm not a vegetarian, I eat JB's Muscle Gruel daily. When I've been away, it's the first meal I have when I get home.
Here's the recipe:
2 scoops Metabolic Drive
1 cup frozen berries
1/4 cup oats
1 tbsp almond butter
1 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut flakes
Handful mixed nuts
Handful cocoa nibs
1 tbsp coconut cream
Soy milk (less than 1/4 cup) for texture
Mix together, adding just enough of the soy milk to get a cake-batter-like consistency. Then eat it with a spoon. It looks gross, but tastes great.
Chad Waterbury: Xvest
The Xvest is the most underrated training tool I know of. Not only does it make every exercise more challenging by increasing your body weight, it catapults your anaerobic endurance. One of its lesser-known benefits is providing resistance against your respiratory muscles. That gives you the benefits of high-altitude training, without the hassle of trudging up into the Alps to do your workouts.
You can do just about anything with the Xvest that you could do without it: pull-ups, dips, deadlifts, energy-systems work, total-body mobility drills. When you take it off, you'll feel like you're walking on air. But it also looks pretty damned cool when you have it on.
The vests are available in several sizes and weights, ranging from the 84-pound "fireman model" ($311) to the 20-pound X2 vest ($136).
Alwyn Cosgrove: Magic Bullet
No, it's not what you think. It's a blender — the only blender featured on late night infomercials (and one of the very few recommended in a Testosterone Muscle article.
Don't let the relatively compact size fool you; it's stronger and faster than most of the bigger blenders I've used. And the size is perfect for a post-workout shake; since the blender itself doubles as a cup, you save time because there's less to clean up afterwards.
The only drawback is that it's too strong. You have to use the "pulse" setting to chop vegetables, a lesson I learned the first time I used it to chop some green peppers and onions for an omelet. Liquefied vegetables are about as appetizing as they sound.
To buy one, stay up really late and catch the infomercial, or order online. (Amazon.com sells it for $55, with free shipping.)
Nate Green: Blender Bottle
I've tried a lot of shakers, everything from Rubbermaid and Nalgene to the ones they give away for free at GNC, and nothing compares to the Blender Bottle.
The concept is so simple that I want to slap myself every time I use it. Why the hell didn't I think of putting a wire ball into a shaker bottle? It's like hands-free whisking — no violent shaking required. And no more worries about that Metabolic Drive you bought with your hard-earned dough sticking like paste to the bottom of the cup.
The original Blender Bottle sells for just $9, and if you order three or more you get free shipping. Why would you want three? One for work, one for home, one for your gym bag.
Charles Poliquin: Black Iron Dumbbells
Training with fat equipment can help you build your forearms, improve your grip strength, and provide new growth-producing stimuli. My favorite thick-handled equipment comes from Black Iron, a company based in Vancouver, Washington, that makes high-quality, maintenance-free, custom-engraved strength-training equipment. I especially like their dumbbells; they also make fat-handled rotating bars, along with pulldown bars and kettlebells.
Price? Well, you have to call them to find out; the phone number is listed at the website.
Tim Ziegenfuss: SKYPE
With SKYPE, a free computer-based phone service, I can speak to (and sometimes even see) colleagues across the world. No, it doesn't help me build strength or improve my body composition, but it does preserve my gray matter by allowing me to communicate without using a brain-irradiating cell phone.
Did I mention that it's free?
Olesya Novik: StepMill
Your thoughtful editors figured you'd rather look at Olesya than her favorite piece of equipment.
If you can't run sprints outdoors, and don't have access to a Prowler, the StepMill is your best bet for efficient energy-systems training. It's the best piece of cardio equipment I've used in a commercial gym, hands-down.
I love doing HIIT on the StepMill — a set of revolving eight-inch steps — taking it to a point where I'm running up the stairs for as long as I can handle it, slowing it down a bit, then starting over again. I'm always drenched in sweat, barely breathing, and feeling absolutely incredible by the time I'm done.
The only downside? They're not found in every gym (even though they're far superior to the ubiquitous StairMaster, which is made by the same company), and they're too big and expensive for most home gyms. But if you have $5,000 and a home gym with high ceilings, it could be a good investment.
Lou Schuler: Valslides
Back in April 2008, Mike Boyle mentioned Valslides in passing in this article on core training. He said you could use them to do an advanced version of the ab-wheel rollout, a favorite exercise of his, and mine.
At the time, the rollouts were challenging enough for me, so I didn't give any thought to the slides. Then, by chance, I met Valerie Waters, celebrity trainer and inventor of the slides, at a conference. And I realized that some very serious fitness-industry folk were big fans of Waters' invention.
So I paid my $30 plus shipping, got the slides, and immediately understood why Boyle considers them a more advanced training tool for rollout-type exercises. I've been trying off and on for months, and still can't do some of the exercises shown in the videos at Waters' site.
The reason is simple enough: Unlike an ab wheel, which you control with two hands while it travels in a straight line, the slides are like two of your neighbor's unruly children. You never know where they'll end up. Controlling two independent pieces of equipment that are capable of movement in any direction takes strength, stability, coordination, conditioning, and focus.
I don't know about you, but for me that could take a lifetime.
Those are some of our favorite things. Got a few of your own, or know of a product you think we should review in future "Stuff We Like" columns? Let us know about them by hitting the "discuss" button below.
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