The fitness world has confirmed, functional training is where it’s at and it’s here to stay. Functional (aka athletic) training purposely demands balance and body awareness during training through the use of unilateral exercises that focus on stability and coordination, muscle endurance and functional strength, all of which enhance sports performance.
With any good functional training plan comes unconventional equipment and training tools. Unconventional training tools and functional fitness go hand in hand.
As humans, we are meant to be athletic, and for thousands of years we have used weapons and have implemented random objects into our training to great success. People were using rocks and logs and wooden weapons to train their bodies many centuries (and thousands of years) ago. Of course, the world gets better day by day (IMO) and with that so do our tools.
Being athletic requires a certain kind of training that many people are (or were) lacking nowadays (more and more people are on this movement, as awareness of the benefits of functional training is growing).
You’ve probably seen more “sports facilities” and “training centers” popping up, and more people are going to these kinds of gyms rather than big box gyms. You’ve also probably noticed commercial gyms starting to have more functional training tools as well.
Most people want to be athletic now, rather than big and bulky. Trends come and go, but the goal should always be longevity, and functional training does just that.
Athleticism and Longevity:
To be athletic, you must train in multiple planes of motion. You must train unilaterally. And, you must run, sprint and do other primal, natural human activities (bodyweight exercises!).
At SET FOR SET, we aren’t against conventional-style training. We believe that it most certainly has its place and it should be done, BUT functional training and unconventional training tools provide performance results that you can’t get from just doing squats, deadlifts, and presses.
Our philosophy is, lift heavy, train with free weights, and focus on athleticism. It’s the best way to have optimum functionality and longevity, which is what we all should strive for. Being big and bulky with no mobility or coordination is a recipe for disaster later in life.
If you want to take your overall performance to the next level, you need to work on your weaknesses… i.e. if you are strong as hell in the gym but can’t run a mile with ease, you need to work on running.
Unconventional training tools:
We truly believe in unconventional training equipment and we make a place for them in our training modalities.
Unconventional training tools are effective, efficient and they are fun. They require you to work your metabolic system, your coordination, balance and stability, they test your core strength and ability to move.
In regards to affordability, a lot of people can’t afford a rack and barbell with many plates for their home, and gym memberships can be a hefty fee over time. So, if money is an issue, unconventional training tools are very ideal. But this article isn’t about affordability, because that’s not why we use these tools. We use them for their functionality.
We are minimalist when it comes to staying fit and healthy so these tools fit the bill in so many ways.
We also love that we can take our fitness tools with us on the road, and can work out in unconventional places as well (beach, parks, mountains, etc).
The Steel Mace was originally used as a deadly weapon in warfare by Hindu and Persian warriors in the 13th century. The Romans, Vikings, and probably every ancient civilization had a variation of the mace (it makes sense that they would have, it’s basically a stick with a ball on the end, it’s perfect for bashing in heads) Due to its functionality and ease of use, Pelwhani wrestlers started using the Mace for physical training.
In our opinion, the steel mace is the ultimate full body conditioning tool. The mace holds almost the entirety of its weight in the ball head which results in uneven weight distribution, thus engaging smaller stabilizing muscles around our joints. If you want a strong grip, wrists, elbows and shoulders, this is without a doubt the best tool for that. Try 100 mace 360s in a row and we are sure you’d agree (if you have, tell us your thoughts in the comments below).
What other benefits does the macebell provide?
It is the perfect training tool to improve shoulder mobility, rotational strength (especially overhead - throwing people over your shoulders like in wrestling), core strength and stability, and balance and coordination.
Perform a steel mace flow for 10 minutes without putting the mace down and you will be testing your muscle endurance like never before.
Like I mentioned above in the intro, athletic/functional training is essentially unilateral training, which is the same way the mace works due to the offset weight, it forces you to counterbalance the weight.
With all that being said, Steel Mace workouts are the EPITOME of functional training.
Use the steel mace to enhance your sports performance, you’ll thank us later. It does have a bit of a learning curve, use our 77-page mace training e-guide to learn the in’s and out’s of steel mace training.
The kettlebell has been around for decades and it has become very popular. Pavel Tsatsouline paved the way, in part, thanks to “his books and through a series of instructional videos, delivered with his trademark comedic intent, comically exploiting Russian stereotypes with a thick accent, a dungeon-esque setting, and rampant use of the word "comrade" - wiki.
You could argue that kettlebells have been around for centuries - People made something like a kettlebell from rocks and stones in ancient history.
The Kettlebell is an unconventional tool that has been accepted in the conventional world of commercial gyms. They are EVERYWHERE now, including every commercial gym that I’ve been to.
However, you probably don’t see that many people at big box gyms working out with them, yet. Maybe it’s because they are intimidating, in that they don’t know how to use them, or maybe it’s because they don’t think they are as effective as barbells and dumbbells, however, have a look at Primal Swoledier for proof that it works at not only a sports performance level, but crafting your body to have a perfect physique as well.
Anyone who knows fitness would agree that compound, whole body movements are far greater than machines that isolate muscles for developing body composition, muscle tone and strength. In terms of unconventional training tools, kettlebells accomplish that amazingly.
They are a great tool for full body movements, and they are great for strengthening tendons and ligaments, which make your joints tougher and more resilient to injury (much needed in high impact sports).
Kettlebells have numerous benefits beyond that. They develop power, stabilization and agility. They are perfect for metabolic conditioning, as lifting and controlling the kettlebell (like a Kettlebell Swing) forces you to use your entire body. Do this a few times a week and watch the fat melt off, and it won’t require as much time as long cardio sessions to produce the same or better results.
Kettlebell training can be one of the most intense workouts you will ever do and it will increase your functional strength tremendously.
Another unconventional tool that you’ll likely see in every commercial gym now, and with good reason.
Battle ropes are as badass of a workout as they sound. They are incredible for improving your overall conditioning, speed, and explosiveness. Battle ropes provide a complete whole body, metabolic workout. In terms of aerobic and anaerobic exercises, battle ropes provide both and are one of the best tools for that. If you need to work on conditioning, get yourself some battle ropes.
You’ve probably seen these used in the gym in the same way with little variation, but here is an awesome video showing how versatile and fun the workouts can be. There are many ways to utilize this unconventional tool.
Battle ropes, kettlebells and steel maces compliment each other perfectly as they challenge you in completely different ways while all of them will boost your overall fitness and sports performance. This is why we’ve made these the top 3.
Squat down, pick it up, lift it high above your head, slam it down.
Pick it up, slam it against the wall with a powerful rotation. Catch that sh*t.
Toss it to your workout buddy while doing core. Pick it up, run with it as fast as you can.
Drop it and fall to the floor.
This is full body conditioning at it’s "funnest" and toughest.
This is an incredibly primal tool that will make you feel powerful and tough. And if you don’t think of yourself that way, in time, with this type of workout, you surely will.
Slam balls are great for generating explosiveness, power, rotational strength, and stability. Slamball workouts are great for metabolic conditioning as well (like most unconventional fitness tools as you’ve likely gathered by now, or already knew).
How does it differ from a med-ball? The most prominent difference between a slam ball and medicine ball is that a slam ball has a more resilient shell typically made of a tough rubber so it can handle a high-velocity impact against a hard surface. With that being said, it can also be used like a med ball, so it’s a more versatile tool. We’d go with a slam ball any day of the week…Albeit, you can slam a med ball, just expect it to wear quicker.
This is one of the best tools for improving athletic performance. Here is a great workout to do just that.
This is an unconventional tool that simply…works.
This is as unconventional as it gets, yet at the same time, it has been around for decades. This is strongman shit, so you know it’s fun and effective. If it works for building strength for them, it’ll work for you.
Tires are great for building functional strength and explosive power.
Functional strength - Next time you need to deadlift a car off of someone, you will have a much easier time.
Tires can be used in many ways, so you will not only build strength and power. You can also improve your conditioning, build muscle mass, and attain quickness and speed.
Flip them, pull them, drag them, throw them, push them, jump on them, smash a mace or sledgehammer on them. These are just a few ways to implement tires into your training.
Not only are they diverse in how you can use them, but tires also come in a variety of sizes and shapes. If you can have different sizes, you will be in a world of beastliness. Huge tires for flipping and smashing maces into, smaller tires for throwing as far as you can. Medium-sized tires to tie a rope (battle rope) or chain to and drag. You get the point.
The best part is that tires can be FREE, you just need to know where to look for used tires. I saw one laying on the side of the street the other day.
Sandbags are one of the best unconventional training tools for overall functional strength. Sandbags are great for full body workouts, and you really only need a few exercises to accomplish it.
A sandbag is the barbell of unconventional training. You can perform compound lifts like the squat and deadlift. What makes it super unconventional (and tough as hell) is that the dynamics of it are awkward comparing to a barbell. The sand shifts and it's harder to grip/manage. This makes it very functional as the awkward weight forces you to move and adjust the bag in a way that causes your muscles to expend greater energy.
You can make the bag heavier or lighter depending on how much you load it.
It’s definitely the most cost-effective and just plain old effective, efficient training tool you can buy.
Here are a number of sandbag exercises to give you the gist.
Like any unconventional training tool, you can get creative and there are tons of benefits rotationally if you know how to use it.
We absolutely love this tool as it is really fun to use and we put a lot of emphasis into rotational training here at SET FOR SET.
What is a tornado ball? Basically, it’s a slam ball attached to a rope. The Tornado Ball is a piece of exercise equipment developed by Paul Chek. ... It’s designed to be swung in a series of exercises that can improve rotational strength and flexibility, core strength and upper body strength, coordination, balance and agility. All super important assets for athletes. This is sports performance at it’s finest, and not many people are doing it.
Not to mention, those who are doing it are using it wrong. It’s made for explosive work rather than conditioning. It’s a power exercise.
Improve rotational strength and power with these types of exercises:
This will assist any implement-swinging athlete such as golfers, baseball players and hockey players in developing a strong and more powerful, coordinated swing.
The power from the core will also produce rock hard abs.
Exercises can be done:
We highly recommend implementing a tornado ball into your training, especially if you are an athlete that needs rotational power.
A barbell is definitely not unconventional, although we are an unconventional training company, we still use this on a weekly basis. You can’t go wrong with proven equipment like a barbell with plates that produces incredible strength and muscle mass through compound exercises. A barbell is proven to improve body composition and who doesn’t like to look good. But, as we said in the introduction, we want to improve other areas of our lives besides just looking good.
Anyway, we still always like to think how we can make the conventional unconventional.
So, can a barbell be used unconventionally? Hell yes, it can.
For example, try putting weight on only one side and doing squats or shoulder presses or bench press. It truly changes the game - serious stability is required.
Remember, don’t stop training in a way that is effective for you just because these unconventional training tools are cool and many people are hopping on this movement. You can always do both. These tools can supplement your current training or they can be used to build a cost-effective, physically effective, sweet home gym that works you in ways you’ve never imagined.
Now, it’s up to you which ones you choose to start. Have fun!
Use Unconventional Training Tools to Start Working Out At Home Effectively
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