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Build a Better Club or Studio

Use our A-to-Z fitness equipment guide to refresh your current offerings or to draft a list of must-have tools from scratch.

Whether you’re the owner of a large gym, a small-studio entrepreneur, a mobile personal trainer, or a yoga or Pilates specialist, a basic tenet of keeping your edge sharp with clients is to shake things up frequently enough that they (and you!) don’t get bored. Certainly, that means changing your programming regularly, but it also means looking at your equipment with fresh eyes and considering some new tools for experimentation—all while being judicious about your budget.

Thinking of investing in a “workhorse” staple like an upright cycle or a new balance tool you know will be perfect for challenging boomer clients who crave functional longevity? Get a running start here with our take on the tried-and-true favorites as well as emerging stars. With all the innovation in our vibrant industry, it’s impossible to give an exhaustive list of what’s available to you today, but we hope this starter revs up your imagination and inspires you—and your clients—to try something new this year.

A is for Assessment

BMI Calipers and Measuring Tape for Fitness Assessment

The foundation of your client relationships and of the accurate measure of progress over time is a thorough initial assessment. Carefully measuring baseline numbers for several health and fitness markers will give both you and your clients a means to track and evaluate your programs. How else can you really know they are working? Metrics are magic! Done right, assessment can serve as your best retention tool. After all, who doesn’t love to see progress, and who wouldn’t come back for more success?

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: skinfold calipers, tape measure, scale, food diaries/food tracking apps, camera, sit-and-reach testers, postural assessment grid, heart rate monitor, training timer, pedometer, jump testers

NOTE: All of the major certifications have courses devoted to detailed training in this area.

B is for Balance, Body Weight, Bars

Body Weights and Balance

Quality movement is born of balance. Without a stable core and keen proprioception, movement becomes inefficient and can be plagued by compensations that evolve into injuries. There are countless balance tools to enhance clients’ overall fitness as well as their joint stability, proprioception, strength, neuromuscular coordination, agility and quality of life over the long haul.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: BOSU® Balance Trainers, stability balls, stability disks/pads, rockers, wobble boards, balance boards

For another “B,” don’t forget to use body weight for balance training (and pretty much everything else, too). Body-weight training in the presence of a sharp, creative coach means little to no equipment is necessary.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: TRX® Suspension Trainer, Lebert Equalizer®, Halo® Trainer

The third “B”: Bars—not the kind you belly up to, but the type you “chin-up” and “pull-up” to—should be a staple in every club and studio. Old school rules!

C is for Core

Core Exercises

If we believed what consumer fitness magazine covers seem to be telling us, core would be 100% about six-pack training. But true pros know this barely scratches the surface. Yes, you can do abdominals-specific work as part of your core regimen, but don’t forget the many other muscles in the lumbo-hip complex whose combined function gives our total bodies power, strength, spinal stabilization and postural control. Core training is full-body movement.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: ab roller, stability balls, bands, tubing, medicine balls, slam balls, Core-Tex®, ViPR weights

D is for Deceleration

Deceleration and Speed

Speed is the factor that separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff when it comes to elite versus average athletes. But sports don’t happen in a straight line. Cutting, faking, quick starts, stops and pivots—they all come before reacceleration. To help your athletes slow down with control, the key is to challenge them with an array of deceleration props and tools.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: agility ladder, cones, hurdles, rings, bungie assemblies, stopwatch/timer, matrix-drill mats, chutes, weighted vests, reflex balls

E is for Explosive Training

Explosive Power, Training and Exercises

We usually associate development of explosive power with training athletes, but daily life demands quick bursts of power as well. Common explosive exercises—plyometrics, vertical jumps, power cleans, squats, weighted/dynamic step-ups, overhead walking lunges, uphill sprints—train large muscle groups with progressive load. Match specific training protocols to clients’ goals and get people moving in the patterns for which they will ultimately harness the power.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: plyo boxes, bungie cord and belt combos, weighted vests, power sled, vertical jump trainers, chutes, resistance harnesses, slide boards, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags

F is for Functional Longevity, Flooring, Floor Mats

Functional Longevity and Aging

Trends associated with the boomer generation in the world at large always happen in a big way, and it’s unfolding like this in fitness, too. Older adults want to be fit and enjoy their next chapter with gusto—and they are actively seeking guidance on how to do that. The opportunity to specialize as a functional longevity specialist is massive; are you ready?

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: low-impact resistance equipment, flexibility and mobility tools, hand/grip strength, balance (see B), resistance training, agility and reaction training, water-fitness equipment

NOTE: Look to the major certification organizations for courses on specialty training of older adults.

Flooring. It’s probably not something you think too much about; yet, once it’s installed, you have to live with it for a long time, so you’d better like it. Whether you opt for interlocking mats, custom turf, cushioned roll-style flooring or a combination, do your homework before you get it installed.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: interlocking rubber flooring mats, conditioning flooring rolls, rubber floor rolls, custom turf

G is for Group Training

Group Fitness and Training

Small-group training has become the new normal for studios, and group exercise is still the backbone of most large facilities’ programming. In both cases, the group model demands creative use of equipment and space. Since your space can hold only so much, you have to be choosy and task each piece of equip­ment with multiple uses.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: steps, weighted bars, cardio barbells, weight plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, BOSU Balance Trainers, mats, tubing, bands, rollers, yoga blocks, stability balls, medicine balls, slam balls, indoor cycles, rowing machines

H is for Hydration

Hydration and Water

Good hydration is vital to clients’ athletic performance. To help your clients perform at their best, give them an occasional primer about pre-, during- and postworkout hydration, and remind them to take sips between demanding sets. While it’s not mandatory to provide a filtered water source, it certainly separates a great gym experience from a mediocre one.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: water dispenser and paper cups, drinking fountain, filtered water source

I is for Instagram

Group Fitness and Training Social Media

Social media can be a powerful yet inexpensive marketing tool that can help your club or studio stand out from the local competition. If you’re not yet using Instagram or Instagram Stories, it may be time to get some help from a friend (or a teenager) who is a whiz at it. You may have killer programming and amazing training insights, but if you’re not sharing them consistently on your feed, you’re missing the low-hanging fruit.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Instagram app, smartphone camera, photo-editing app, content engagement and editing apps like Sprout Social, Canva, PicMonkey, Piktochart, Framatic, SquareSized and Layout (from Instagram), to name a few

J is for Jumping!

Jump Rope

When was the last time you busted out a jump rope station on a circuit? The jump rope is among the most overlooked yet most readily available and affordable pieces of fitness equipment. It provides superior cardiovascular conditioning, burns calories, enhances coordination and promotes bone density with low impact. Plus, a jump rope is a lot of fun to use!

K is for Kickboxing


There are multiple levels and styles of kickboxing, but the common thread is that they’re all excellent cardiorespiratory workouts and can improve speed, agility, quickness, balance, flexibility, stability and coordination. This mind-body discipline combines fluid movement with mindful focus on form.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: gloves, bag, combat focus pad, combat body shield, grappling bag, strike pad, jump rope, speed bag

L is for Loaded Movement Training . . . and Listening

Loaded Movement Training

Farm chores, anyone? Just as rural kids learn to bale hay and haul feed in buckets, loaded movement training prompts users to move their entire bodies in multiple planes while under load. As a result, clients learn to move more fluidly and dynamically as they gain strength and agility. It challenges the body globally while conditioning muscle, fascia, nerves, skin and other body systems.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: ViPR weights, sandbags, medicine balls, weighted bags, Surge® fitness trainers, slosh pipe

Shhhhh. Listen. Do you hear that? That’s you being mostly silent while your client starts owning her process because you’ve asked the right questions using motivational interviewing techniques. Where to learn these? Look to the major certications for health coaching specialty training. Behavior change via health coaching is the next exciting wave in the industry.

M is for Music, Myofascial Release

Music for Fitness

Is there anything worse than training without music? Okay, maybe training with bad music is worse! A good playlist can motivate clients to shift into higher gear and find that last bit of energy that makes change happen. There are many choices for playing music in your gym, but just a few companies customize music for fitness and cater to our many different formats and tempos.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Power Music®, YES! Fitness Music®, Dynamix, portable sound system

Nothing can bring tears faster than releasing fascial tension with a roller, a ball or bodywork, but nothing can bring relief faster, either. If your clients haven’t been educated on the benefits of myofascial release, well, tsk-tsk on you. Consider adding a 30-minute class to the schedule or, at the very least, adding some rolling to your warmups and cooldowns.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: rollers, TriggerPoint release balls, self-massage sticks, peanuts, foot rollers, Thera Cane®, portable massage table

N is for Nutrition


If you aren’t discussing nutrition with your one-on-one clients, you are doing them a disservice. If you haven’t yet pursued additional nutrition training with continuing education, you are probably doing your business a disservice. Grasping nutrition means more than discussing food and meal plans; it means understanding human behavior and how to coach clients through change. If you’re not interested in pursuing a nutrition specialty certification, at least align yourself with a certified dietary pro for consults and referrals.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: nutrition tracking apps and programs, meal-planning software, nutrition training certification

O is for Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle Course Training

You’ve undoubtedly trained clients for a Tough Mudder® or a Spartan® race by now (you’ve probably even done one). Obstacle course racing is growing in popularity and is a no-brainer as add-on programming for coaches inclined to this style of training. While there are specific gyms geared to OCR, all you really need is a basic knowledge of how the races are structured and some equipment to simulate the on-course demands your clients will face.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: vault box, hurdles, plyo boxes, tools for grip strength, trampoline, battle ropes, pullup/chinup bar, vertical leap trainer, long jump trainer

P is for Pilates


Pilates is the classic “quality over quantity” exercise. Whether on mats or apparatus, exercisers who practice this mind-body format are working from top to bottom and from inside out to develop strength, balance, function and flexibility. Emphasis on the breath, combined with optimum spinal and pelvic alignment, puts users in tune with their bodies and in control of the sensitive machine that ports them through life.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: reformer, chair, barrel, props, mats, trapeze, tower, cadillac, Pilates ring, ball, Halo Trainer, blocks

Q is for Quantified Self

Self-Tracking Technology

Huh? Quantified self? This is a fancy way of saying self-tracking technology. Think activity monitors, step counters, food and activity logs, heart rate trackers and so on. Whether you’re training athletes for a race or coaching newbies who are just getting into the swing of tracking their daily behavior, these devices can make your life easier by giving you a window on your clients’ compliance (or noncompliance).

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: step counters, HR monitors, smartwatches, smartphones, food logs, stopwatch/timer, various apps

R is for Racks, Ropes

Battle ropes

Racks: You can rack almost anything on a wall or shelf for easy access, safety and neatness—balls, BOSU Balance Trainers, rollers, ViPR weights, kettlebells, weight disks, balance pads, mats and much more.

Ropes: Battle ropes are fun, and clients love the challenge. The ropes don’t have to take up a lot of space and can be coiled away when not in use.

S is for Speed, Agility, Quickness (SAQ)

Speed and agility

SAQ is the holy trinity of athletic training, but it’s not just for athletes. Your everyday Janes and Joes have daily life encounters that demand fast reaction, and you should be training them for these situations. For instance: dodging the unpredictable movements of kids at a public event; getting tangled in the leash because their dog saw a cat and bolted; running to catch the subway or make a tight connection at an airport. We all need reactive skills.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: agility ladder, roll-out ladder, hurdles, bungie chutes, speed harness, slide board, agility rings, drill matrix mat, cones, reflex ball, rebounder

T is for Tubing

Resistance Tubing

If you want the best bang for your investment buck, look no further than resistance tubing. This affordable, compact and portable equipment essential should be on every facility’s equipment list. Clients find tubing approachable, and educated trainers can quickly adapt moves performed on more expensive equipment to this simple alternative. The range of what you can do with tubing—including giving homework to clients who travel a lot—is endless.

U is for Upright Cycle

Upright Cycling

This—and the ubiquitous treadmill—are the warmup workhorses of the fitness world. Because the upright cycle is a popular piece of in-home exercise equipment, it’s the quintessential gym ice breaker for new exercisers. They can sit. They usually know how to use it. For larger facilities, cycles are must-haves, and it can be argued that every small studio needs at least one. If it starts feeling like a piece of furniture you should never have bought, you can always ramp up the resistance and use the bike as a cardio challenge in a small-group training circuit!

V is for Vibration Technology

Vibration Exercise Technology

Do you remember the first time you stepped on a vibrating platform? You either loved it or were disturbed by the weird feeling it sent up your spine to your rattling brain. It’s all in how you position yourself, you probably found with experimentation. As the machine vibrates, it transmits energy through your body, stimulating the nervous system and forcing muscles to contract and relax at a rapid pace. This is said to speed up the training process and the recovery process. Vibration technology has expanded into portable, handheld recovery tools in recent years.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: whole-body vibration platform, handheld vibration tools, vibrating myofascial release tools

W is for Wipes! & Water Fitness

Water Fitness

If you don’t have a consistent and abundant supply of equipment wipes in your gym to clean everything after your clients have sweated all over it, your stuff is filthy and you need to cleanse it, stat. In some gyms, it’s standard that clients do a quick “team clean and stow” of the equipment after each session. Such a simple sanitizing measure will let clients know you care about their well-being, and they will feel good about working out at your gym.

After years of ebbing, the tides of water fitness are flowing again. If your facility has a pool, you’ve likely seen interest in water fitness pick up. The anti-gravity properties of water make it a good recovery choice for weary joints, while the resistive properties build meaningful strength and provide a challenging cardio workout.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: kickboards, water cuffs, water dumbbells, weighted bars, neoprene gloves, pull buoys, jogging belts, flotation belts, water shoes, aqua steps, hand paddles

X is for X Factor (the special sauce that brings a smile)

Exercise Games

Add a fun game. When did you last blow up a simple balloon as a prop and dare your small-group clients—as a multitasking team—to keep it from hitting the ground as they completed other drills? Nothing is surer to elicit laughter than a basic game that lets clients leave the stress of the day behind and connect with each other to achieve success.

Train for a common goal or event. Whether the event is an obstacle race, a long walk for a cause, or a triathlon, the ties that bind us are magical when we work toward that goal together. Begin the training program far enough out that it’s meaningful, and coach your group to success. You will be the hero!

Launch a step challenge. A lot of people are secretly competitive. Have you tried launching a contest for who can get the most steps in a month? Drive it through online reporting of progress. This will bond your clients and help you engage them in a communal activity.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: 89-cent pack of balloons, paddle ball set, NERF ball and basketball hoop

Y is for Yoga

Yoga Equipment

Every client has movement limitations. Fitness pros do their best to identify these and guide improvement. Have you considered integrating yoga into your training sessions as a way to help clients release tension and find freedom of movement?

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: mats, straps, blocks, blankets, bands, music

Z is for Zone Training

Zone Training

Your advanced clients may be more interested in training than in just working out. Pushing them into their optimum intensity zones is one way to help them track their progress intelligently. A heart rate monitor can help you—and your clients—to understand their intensity with data that translates to maximum thresholds.

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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November-December 2020 IDEA Fitness Journal

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