Atlas Stones are basically just big, heavy balls of concrete—and that’s why these staples of strongman training are so effective for building raw brute strength. Unlike barbells and dumbbells, stones and other awkward objects like kegs or barrels are difficult just to get your arms around, let alone manhandle around a gym. And if solid concrete isn’t really your style, you can always spring for an ultra-heavy medicine ball like the Dynamax Atlas or the Rage Fitness Soft Stone, which come in weights up to 250 lbs.
If you were to travel back in time to a “gym” in the late 19th century, it wouldn’t look all that different from a modern gymnastics training center—and that means a bunch of seriously ripped dudes training on rings. For such a deceptively simple piece of equipment, rings are brutally effective at amping up the difficulty on simple bodyweight exercises like dips, rows, pushups, and pullups. And if you don’t have any rings handy, you can certainly get close with suspension trainers (aka TRX), which are portable and similarly challenge your leverage and stability when doing those bodyweight moves.
Most guys see these things and think “pushup grips,” but parallettes are far more versatile more than that. By simulating parallel bars, these classic gymnastics training tools are perfect for bodyweight moves like isometric straight-leg holds, V-sits, and even handstand pushups.
Essentially a weighted rubber tube with a few handles spaced throughout, the ViPR (viprfit.com) was created by Michol Dalcourt to simulate the lifting, loading, and moving that farmers do in a day’s work. You can lift it, drag it, throw it, flip it, press it, chop with it, run with it, jump with it… you get the idea.
Often called “Dynamax balls” after the brand that popularized them, these vinyl-wrapped 14” medicine balls are about as versatile as it gets. [Dynamax also makes a "mini," which is 10".] Durable, easy to handle, and relatively soft so they absorb impact well, they're great tools for explosive plyometric work like throws, slams, and wall tosses, as well as a good way to introduce instability into common exercises like pushups or planks—set your feet on one and be ready to feel the burn in your abs. And because they have far less bounce than hard rubberized medicine balls, they're easier to toss around and against the wall without worrying about it punching a hole in the sheetrock.
Unlike Dynamax balls, which have a little bounce, slam balls like the Rogue Echo and the Rage Fitness Slam Ball are specifically made to be slammed into the gym floor for conditioning (or, you know, stress relief). They look and feel a little like kickballs that have been filled with sand, and they have virtually no bounce at all.
Speaking of sand, few pieces of gym gear are as versatile as the everyday sandbag. Because their shifting weight makes for cumbersome handling, sandbags force athletes to constantly adjust, which means using whole swathes of muscles that don’t normally have to work together—and that translates to new and improved strength. If you want something slightly fancier, try the PowerWave by Power Systems, which comes in three weights and has multiple handles and straps for added versatility.
It doesn’t get much manlier than this. As anyone who’s ever split firewood knows, swinging an axe or a hammer overhead is surprisingly sweaty work. A quick way to simulate that in the gym is by taking a traditional sledgehammer to a tire tractor. You could even pick up a weighted sledgehammer like this one from Rogue, which can be filled with heavy lead shot so it’s up to 28 lbs. (On the other hand, you could just split firewood like your old man used to do.)
If dumbbells are starting to feel a little tame, try using resistance bands. Because they create more tensile force as they get stretched out, resistance bands are especially ideal for building strength at the extremes of your range of motion, which is exactly where most people are often weakest. Just be careful that each end is secure—the last thing you want is a plastic handle flying at your face because you didn’t lock it down tight.
You’d be surprised just how much muscle you can build with a little sliding around. Pick up a set of discs like these from Power Systems, and you can add new variations and isometric holds to otherwise pedestrian bodyweight exercises like pushups and lunges. (Alternatively, you can just grab some rags or towels—if you’re on a smooth surface like your gym’s workout studio or a basketball court—or even some paper plates if you’re on a surface like carpet.)
Yes, this is what you call those “half-balls” stashed in the corner of the gym. BOSU balls are ideal for introducing some instability into your workouts. Try placing a foot on the round side for lunges, standing on the flat side for unweighted squats, or holding onto the sides with the round side down while doing pushups (as shown). Fun fact: the name was originally an acronym for “Both Sides Up,” although nowadays the company prefers “Both Sides Utilized.”
That old wheel-and-axle doohickey your dad has been keeping in the garage since '97 is a highly effective way to get a shredded six-pack, even if it does look a little silly. If you can’t borrow your old man's, simply use a short barbell with round plates on the sides, and roll out with that instead.
Okay: Technically not “workout equipment” so much as “vital weight-bearing part of the gym.” But since so many bodybuilding-inspired gyms have mirrors all over the place, people often forget that some simple bodyweight moves are best done against the wall. Try isometric wall sits for a serious quad burn, Dynamax ball throws against a 10’ target, or simple handstand holds. Just make sure your gym owner is cool with your sneakers on the wall before you try it.
Don’t call it a baseball bat. Originally used to whip soldiers and wrestlers into shape in ancient Persia, these weighted exercise clubs—like this all-steel model from Onnit or the “original” model popularized by coach Scott Sonnon—range from about 5–45 lbs., and make for a brutally fun way to hit your muscles from new angles. Here’s the clubbell workout routine that actor Chris Pine used to build muscle for Star Trek: Beyond.
Essentially a weight sled with two vertical handles, the prowler is one of the most versatile pieces of workout equipment around. You can pull it or drag it like a traditional weight sled, hitch it to a set of battle ropes, or push it around like a tackling sled from your high school football days. Find one at a gym near you, and put it to work with these five total-body exercises.