And now, moving on! Free weights and machine weights are pretty much all you'll ever need when it comes to strength training. But just as with The OOPS Method of cooking, it's not necessarily all you'll want. Below, we discuss the remaining types of strength-training equipment you’ll find in most commercial gyms.
If you can believe it, resistance bands come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs (shocking, right?). Though some have functions beyond exercise (joint distraction, blood-flow restriction, etc.), we’re going to discuss what you’ll typically find in a gym and how they work.
A resistance band works like a regular rubber band: you pull on it and it provides resistance. What makes them unique as compared to other types of strength training equipment is that the resistance they provide is not a function of their weight but rather of how far you stretch them (and also how they’re constructed).
Typical resistance bands will come in two varieties: either with handles or without. Those without handles are usually a closed loop (a la your typical rubber band), and those with handles are typically long, rubber tubes. There are all sorts of varieties, but they mostly function the same: wrap it around something sturdy (a beam, a heavy piece of equipment, another body part…) and pull. Resistance bands are also great for traveling: they're lightweight and don't take up very much room. If you travel a lot, it wouldn't be a bad idea to grab some.
Medicine balls are balls that are weighted. They could have been called "heavy balls" or "weighted balls" or anything else more indicative of their purpose, but alas, they went with "medicine." Interesting. Anyway... Some medicine balls are meant to be slammed on the ground, some are meant to be bounced, some are meant to be thrown and caught, some are just meant to be held.
They vary quite a bit in size, weight, and hardness. These variations will, in large part, determine how you use them, but rather than try to tell you which ones can be used for what purpose, I think it would be preferable for you to simply ask someone who works at your gym. Due to the risk involved with throwing or slamming them (both to the equipment, to yourself, and to other members), each gym’s policies on using the balls might not align with that ball’s typical use. So...check first.
This isn’t technically a piece of “gym equipment,” but it’s certainly worth discussing. Strength training with bodyweight exercises is a great way to give yourself a rest from lifting heavy weights and to introduce a new, different stimulus to your muscles. Depending on your goal (or just how you’re feeling that day), bodyweight exercises can be manipulated in different ways to provide both variety and one heck of a workout.
Want a rest from heavy bench press? Try doing push-ups where you slowly lower yourself down and then explode up. Or maybe do double (triple, quadruple…) the number of repetitions. Perhaps you can do push-ups for time rather than a number of reps. Try working push-ups into a circuit of exercises rather than doing them in isolation. You could even do a lighter bench press and then immediately drop into doing push-ups to failure.
You can do push-ups with your hands on a bench rather than the floor. You can do them on a Smith machine and “tree” your way up and down. You can vary your hand position to focus more on different muscles. You can add movements like a knee raise. You can hold different positions in the ROM for time. So long as what you’re doing supports good, stable, healthy movement patterns and positions, the possibilities with bodyweight exercises are pretty endless. And bonus - also good for travel.
So There You Have It
Commercial gyms across the vary only slightly in how they're set up. Even a lot of smaller, neighborhood gyms follow the same formula. Your gym may be lacking in some types of equipment and have the other in spades.
Either way, being comfortable with what's in front of you at the gym will make you much more likely to get on what's in front of you at the gym, and that's a step in the right direction.
The more folks we can get off the treadmills and into the weight room, the better.