Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Overbuilt. Overpriced, Junk. Equipment. Build your own!... and Kettlebells too!

Liberal or Conservative? I noticed that some people who are politically liberal (I'm not) perceive the need for some sort of oversight to watch over business because they believe that if they're not regulated, said business will proceed to plunder the common people for all that they're worth. I'm not here to discuss whether that perception is correct or not but I know that a lot of the people who are into strength training are a bit more liberal than they are conservative. I've always wondered why that was.

If we take a good look at the way some of the strength industry operate, it's a small wonder why some people want the oversight!

Randy Roach appropriate entitled his last book about the history of Physical Culture, "Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors" because so much of the industry operates in a manner that Mark Twain once noted about the Gilded Age Robber Barons: "Get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it dishonestly, if you can, honestly if you must." That attitude is alive and well in the equipment end of the strength training business.

My blog has always had a focus on minimalistic strength training. FACT: You can get very strong using almost no equipment at all. I admit that there comes a time when we need some stuff, no matter how basic or crude, to continue getting stronger. Some of it's simple. Some of it can be built. Often times, we have to buy it, and that's where things get murky. So much of the fitness equipment is overpriced, overbuilt, just flat-out junk, and frequently over-hyped into suspicion. So, I'd like to take some time to discuss buying equipment, as I eagerly await the arrival of my new Ironmaster Kettlebell...

I swear if toothpicks became strength training tools, someone would find a way to jack up the price of them by 300%. It doesn't matter how lowly and/or simple the piece of equipment is, if it's for exercise, the price goes way up. A few months ago, I thought about buying some chain for my training. Chain is popular with Powerlifting too. Many add it onto barbells so that as they lift the barbell, they lift more chain off the ground, making them stronger at the top of the lift and improving their lifting velocity (or so I'm told). This is a prime example of price gauging just because it's marketed as exercise equipment:

1/2" chain (two-5' lengths, 28 lbs) sold for powerlifting: $79.95 ($7.99/foot)
1/2" chain,36' length (88 lbs)sold for pulling & towing: $125.13 ($3.47/foot)

Amazing. When it's this simple, you're probably better off to look around, outside of the fitness box. You'll save quite a bit of money by doing so.

The gym is the blacksmith shop where human durability is forged. That's why we describe strong people with metallic adjectives, usually iron. Naturally, a body like that has to be made out of iron. So goes the love affair with stuff made out of massive amounts of iron and steel. Stuff like that lasts a long time and instills pride and confidence but how often do you need something that could survive a carbombing and still get you into shape? What you need to keep in mind is some of this stuff built for commercial gyms that see dozens of people use it, and abuse it, on a daily basis. You don't need that kind of durability if you're the only one that will use it for a couple of time every week. Sure, it may be nice to have but it might not be needed.

If it's for toning, sculpting, or firming a specific body part, then it's probably junk. Humans rose above all other animals because of our ability to make tools. Many of these items aren't a good testament to our proud, tool-making tradition. You're better off lifting a stone than buying these sad, stupid little toys.

Bodyweight guys also have the distinction of being among the last of the DIY strength training equipment guys. That makes sense since budgetary concerns drive a lot of us to BW. So, we're less inclined to buy it when we can build it at a fraction of the cost. This isn't always a bad thing, contrary to what the equipment merchants will tell you. Making your own gear is as old as strength training itself. Improvisation and building stuff was once a proud tradition amongst strong men.

That doesn't mean that it's also something that everyone should do. If you're a good and reasonably talented DIY person in all other aspects of your life, then you're probably a natural to build your own stuff. If you're not a naturally handy person, then you're probably better off buying it. Some stuff is easy enough to improvise. Some of it takes a little more insight. One, vivid example that sticks out in my mind was someone who asked me if they could improvise Push-up T-handles by driving a nail through a piece of wood dowel.

If I have to explain why this is a terrible idea, then you need to buy your gear!

I have to hand it to Pavel and nearly every other person who has peddled kettlebells. This might be the best-run promotion of a piece of fitness equipment ever! Try as I may, I can't think of anyone who has, so successfully, linked a training protocol to a piece of equipment so unnecessarily. Yes, whatever you can do with a kettlebell, you can probably do with a dumbbell. There is no KB training! There are exercises people are hypnotized into believing that can only be done with KB's. Wake up, people!

That doesn't mean that Kettlebells are worthless and over hyped (well, one out of two isn't bad). I own some KB's and I like training with them. I like that they're more awkward and imbalanced than dumbbells. My home gym space has a 6'7" ceiling and I can't put a dumbbell overhead. I can do this with a Kettlebell. Plus, a KB fits very nicely behind the seat of my pick-up truck, making it nice to travel with. It also takes up slightly less space than a similar-weighted DB.

I have practical reasons for owning them. You might have some practical reasons too. On the other hand, if you have dumbbells then you probably don't need kettlebells. Anyone who has ever looked into KB's quickly realizes that one KB (pick a weight) costs the same as two dumbbells of that same weight. Is it price-gauging? That's possible. I have another, possible reason: I remember reading somewhere (unrelated to KB's) that forging or casting a large hole in any piece of iron is kind of difficult to pull off. Whenever such an object has to have a large hole in the finished product, the foundry or blacksmith will often leave some stock metal in the hole and grind it out of the finished product to enlarge the hole. So, KB's may be more expensive because they're a bit more more complicated to make.


Buying fitness equipment is always going to be a jungle where the inhabitants of the bush are looking out more for their bottom line than your physical needs. We all need to keep this in mind less we buy things we don't need. We can actually learn from watching and following the crowd. There are many different gospels and religions in strength training, praying to different fitness Gods. Yet, if you look at the gear that they all use, you'll see certain pieces frequently popping up. That is the stuff you'll probably need. Anything beyond those usual suspects, well, be suspicious...

...and hold onto your wallet.


John Cintron said...


I bought 3/8 link chain 2 5feet long links for 40 dollars the weight is 15lbs total. I add this to my twenty pound vest. It give a whole diffrent feel to certain movements.

Jeff Stevenson said...

I am an "ethical capitalist" I suppose. I believe one should produce goods and services that make people's lives better, and that are a good value. Thus, I could never operate a tobacco store, as I consider it unethical to sell a product which is well known to cause cancer.

Nor could I ever sell useless supplements, even though there's lots of money in it.

I also agree with your minimalist approach to training. Not only does a bunch of fancy equipment fail to generate better results, it'll probably give you WORSE results than a basic program of bodyweight exercises and free weights.

Anyway...I've enjoyed your blog for sometime now. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Justin, I always enjoy your blogs. Keep up the good work.
Mike Beasley

Jeremy said...

I too have noticed that there are considerably more liberals than conservatives in the world of fitness. As a matter of fact you might be the only significant person I consistently read that isn't liberal or undeclared.


I live in russia and kettlebells here cost less than dumbbells - a 35 lbs kettlebell for 1700 rubles, a 35 lbs dumbbell for 2900 rubles - saw in a sporting goods store the other day. American kettlebells are better quality though, they have a smoother finish. 1 dollar is 30 rubles. pavel is a rip-off.