The Question

What's your favorite lifting tool or fitness-related gadget that actually works?

Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

The MAG attachment.

MAG Attachment

MAG (Maximum Advantage Grip) manufactures a number of attachments, but the close supinate grip is my favorite. Here's why:

  • Pulling with a supinated hand position is one of the best ways to target the lower lats, but this often creates joint issues with the wrists and elbows when using a straight bar. Anatomically, this attachment alleviates the problem.
  • No lifting straps are required even with heavier weight. This makes the MAG attachment an excellent choice for super and giant sets when speed matters. No time wasted with lifting straps.

Here's a video of a standard seated row using the attachment:

You can also use them for other unconventional exercises like overhead triceps extensions:

Bonus: It's small and easily fits into a gym bag. – Mark Dugdale

Eric Cressey – Strength and Sports Performance Coach

A stopwatch.

Stopwatch

Most people are very distracted in not only their daily lives, but also their training sessions. We try to convince ourselves that we're really good at multi-tasking and that the texts, tweets, and emails we send between sets doesn't impact our performance. Unfortunately, even if the quality of work is high, a lot of people fail to realize that the 60 seconds between sets has actually been six minutes.

There are some remarkable benefits to simply increasing the amount of volume you can do... and actually doing it. But the only way to make this happen without spending all day at the gym is to make your workouts more dense: do more work in the same amount of time.

A stopwatch keeps you honest. It's like a training partner that tells you to quit dragging your heels.

Any time my training slips, it's because I find myself doing "other stuff" between sets when I should be getting in some filler mobility work, doing an antagonist pairing, or getting my mind right for the next set. A stopwatch prevents you from drifting into "screwing around" mode, and that's why it's a five dollar game changer for your training. – Eric Cressey

TC Luoma – T Nation Editor

PowerBlocks.

PowerBlocks

You know those old Russian "nesting dolls" your granny used to keep on display in the china cabinet, right next to her commemorative 1964 World's Fair plate?

You know what I'm talking about. They're those grotesque wooden dolls of decreasing size that are placed one inside the other. The outer doll that houses all the others is a big honkin' Russian babushka. Take her apart and you find another one that's slightly smaller. Take that one apart, and so on and so forth, and you're left with an itty-bitty babushka that you'd best take care not to sit on because it's about the size and shape of a butt plug.

That's the concept behind PowerBlocks (not the butt plug thing, but the many-within-one concept). They're adjustable dumbbells that you can change from 5 to 120 pounds in seconds.

I know they've been around for a while, but these things are still indispensable to me. I use them when I don't have time to go to the gym or those rare occasions when the gym is closed. I also use them to get a little exercise in when I've been sitting on my can for hours in front of the computer.

And you know all those "go out and do two workouts a day" articles that used to annoy the hell out of me because what normal human with a job and family who occasionally needs to know the love of a woman has time to go to the gym twice a day? Well, PowerBlocks allow you to actually do two-a-day workouts because you can do one of them at home.

They're fairly pricey, though, but they last forever. The smallest one replaces 8 pairs of dumbbells from 3 to 24 pounds while the biggest one replaces 34 pairs of dumbbells from 5 to 125 pounds. – TC Luoma

Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO

Short leather lifting straps.

Lifting Straps

In recent years lifting straps have fallen out of favor. Why? Mainly because a lot of training advice these days is written by sports performance coaches, not bodybuilding coaches. And they don't want you to "lose" grip strength by using straps as a crutch.

Well, for most of us, that's a crap sandwich you don't have to eat.

First, not everyone cares that much about gripping a football or competing in powerlifting. (And even powerlifters use straps at certain times for overload work.) Second, the use of straps doesn't have to be a crutch used for every set of every exercise. Your grip strength will be fine and way above average even if you use straps for a set or two.

For building muscle, straps allow you to:

  1. Get more reps with the same weight. You can do 6 reps of 410 on the deadlift without straps? Good, now get some straps and you'll probably add a couple more reps. What's more important for overall strength and growth? Those extra reps are, silly.
  2. Use more weight for the same number of reps. Same example: you can deadlift 410 for 6 reps. Add straps and maybe you can do 6 reps of 420. That's huge. And you're not a competitive powerlifter, so who gives a shit if you used straps?
  3. Increase training volume by being able to knock out another complete set when your grip gives out before your muscles do on pulling movements. Do a few sets of pull-ups, pulldowns, or RDLs without straps, then do a bonus set with straps.
  4. Increase training volume on certain lifts like the deadlift. As Christian Thibaudeau has written, using straps when deadlifting decreases the neural demand and allows you to do more volume or ramp up frequency. Basically, straps give your fried CNS a break because grip-centric exercises are harder on the central nervous system.

All four of those contribute to that thing most people are after anyway: muscle growth. Seriously, are you training for bigger muscles or to enter one of those fat-guy grip strength competitions?

And here's a little anecdotal evidence: just about every bodybuilder uses straps. I've trained in Vegas around the time of the Olympia and at Gold's Gym Venice. The gyms were brimming with every top bodybuilder, pro wrestler, and figure competitor you could name.

All of them used straps. And all of them have better physique development than you. And none of them gave a rat's ass that some little functional training dude said that straps were bad.

As for the straps, get the shorter ones. You don't need to wrap the bar or handle five times, and short straps are faster and easier to get on and off. Leather adheres better to the bar and lasts longer. It also pisses off vegans. I like the 17.5-inch double-stitched straps made by Rogue. – Chris Shugart

Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Weight releasers, also called strength hooks.

Weight Releasers

This is a device that you hang on the barbell and add extra weight to. When you reach the bottom position of the lift, they will "unhook" from the bar, releasing the extra weight. The releasers allow you to do accentuated eccentrics by yourself. I use them three ways:

1 – Eccentric Overload

I'll use a bar weight of around 80% and will add an extra 30%, putting the weight during the eccentric (negative) at 110%. I'll do a single rep going down under control (4-6 seconds down).

I normally do 3 such sets after the "regular" work sets. This is great to desensitize the GTO (Golgi tendon organs), which are the overly sensitive protective mechanisms that protects you against muscles producing too much force. In as little as three weeks the weight releasers will give you a significant increase in strength.

2 – Overshooting Speed Work

Here you use a barbell weight of 60-70% (depending on your capacity to accelerate weights; more explosive people will use a higher percentage) and an extra 20-30% on the bar.

You do a normal, not slow, eccentric phase and as soon as the releasers unhook from the bar you lift the bar as explosively as possible. You then complete two more explosive reps without the releasers. This works by potentiating the nervous system via the higher force production during the eccentric, and by increasing fast twitch fiber recruitment (more FT fibers are quickly recruited during heavy eccentrics). Those fibers will stay activated when you lift the bar up which, along with the potentiated nervous system, should lead to more acceleration.

3 – Heavy Clusters

This method is a regular cluster, but with an accentuated eccentric. Use a barbell weight of around 85% and add an extra 10-15% on the releasers. About 4-6 reps are done cluster style – resting around 20 seconds between reps. Do the eccentric normally. Control the weight, but don't go super slow on purpose. This is a fantastic method to stimulate strength and size gains in advanced individuals. – Christian Thibaudeau

Michael Warren – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Fat Gripz or any implement with a thicker grip.

Thick Grip

These days there are more gyms than ever with thick bar variations and fat dumbbells, but many gyms still don't have them. The great thing about Fat Gripz is the simplicity and adaptability, instantly converting barbells, dumbbells, chin-up bars and machines into thick bars. You can also take these on vacation and drastically improve any sub-standard hotel gym with limited equipment available.

Not convinced? Here's a closer look:

  • Increased Muscle Activation: Thicker handles stimulate much more muscle activation in the hands, forearms, and whole upper body. More muscle activation means much bigger muscle and strength gains.
  • Complete Training: Thick bar training automatically trains your hands, fingers and forearms at all angles. If you're bench pressing, the thick bar will train your hands and forearms in a completely different way than if you're doing chin-ups on a thick bar.
  • Natural Movement: Thick bars perfectly replicate the natural function of the human hand – lifting heavy, awkward objects.
  • Automatic Training: Using a thick bar means you're training your grip the whole time and you don't even need to do any extra exercises.
  • Fewer Imbalances and Injuries: Thick bars shift the stress off the joints and onto the muscles because a thick bar spreads the weight over a larger area.
  • Use Transfers Well to Sports: Improving your grip strength in many sports can be beneficial, especially in combat sports.

Admittedly, there's not a lot of research on thick grips, but the general consensus among lifters is that they help correct imbalances between limbs. I believe that future research will back this up.

Brooks Kubik, author of Dinosaur Training, says, "Using a thick-handled bar is one of the very best things you can do to develop maximum muscular size and strength. The thick bar work allowed them (old time strongmen) to develop levels of upper body power virtually incomprehensible to those who train only with regular bars."

Whether you're a bodybuilder, strength athlete, or combat athlete, thick handle exercises will help you achieve training goals faster. – Michael Warren

Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach

A log or landscaping pot.

Sometimes the best implements are in your backyard. When a tree-trimming company came out do some work in my yard years ago, I had them cut a large section of a tree (about 6 feet) and leave it for me instead of hauling it off. I'd do lunges with that thing in the backyard all the time.

Or if you want to do strongman type movements, get a large pot that's used for landscaping and fill it full of soil and water. It mimics something similar to the stones in strongman. Pick it up and put it down, or do loaded carries with it.

Walking with it was brutally hard, and I do believe the pot weighed at least one million pounds. That's what I tell myself anyway as I lift and walk around with it. – Paul Carter

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