unconventional training tools

Top 7 Unconventional Training Tools For Boosting Sports Performance

July 06, 2020 3 Comments

The fitness world has confirmed, unconventional training is where it’s at and it’s here to stay. In fact, unconventional training is really no longer than "unconventional"...

What Is Unconventional Training?

Unconventional training is essentially functional (athletic-type) training. It purposely demands balance and body awareness through the use of unilateral exercises and offset, unbalanced loads, as well as resistance training based on multi-joint, multi-planar compound exercises for muscle endurance and raw 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.

Related: 45-Minute Full Body Unconventional Workout


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).

***This article may contain affiliate links where we will make a small commission from any purchase made.***

Top 7 unconventional training tools for boosting sports (and daily life) performance:

Here are the 7 of the best unconventional/functional training equipment you can use...

1. Steel Mace

steel mace

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.

Buy Steel Maces from SET FOR SET

Related: Steel Mace Training Results - Real People, Real Results

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 84-page mace training e-guide to learn the in’s and out’s of steel mace training.

2. Kettlebell


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.

ancient kettlebell

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.

Related: Dumbbells vs Kettlebells, Which are Better?

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).

Buy Cast Iron Kettlebells from SET FOR SET

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.

Kettlebell Resources:

3. Battle Ropes

battle ropes

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.

Related: 11 Inimitable Benefits of 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.

Related: 20 Best Battle Rope Exercises (& Workouts)

Related: What size battle rope should I get?

4. Slam ball

slam ball

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.

Related: Medicine Ball vs Slam Ball, Which is Better?

Related: What Weight Exercise Ball Should I Get?

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.

5. Tires

tire training

    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.

    Related: Steel Mace vs Sledgehammer for Tire Slams

    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.

    6. Sandbags

    sandbag training

      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.

      Related: 6 Distinctive Benefits of Sandbag Training 

      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.

      7. Tornado Ball

      tornado ball

      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.

      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:

      1. Standing slamming the ground.
      2. Standing slamming the walls (back to wall)
      3. From a seated position, slamming the ground

      We highly recommend implementing a tornado ball into your training, especially if you are an athlete that needs rotational power.

      Pro unconventional tip:

      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.

      We’ve also seen the barbell being used from the landmine position in a really cool fashion from LEO SAVAGE. Peep this barbell landmine flow and this barbell free flow.

      Related: 11 Best Landmine Exercises and Workouts


      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.

      Top 9 Benefits of Unconventional Training

      Now, it’s up to you which ones you choose to start. Have fun!

      Related: 7 Quick But Tough Unconventional At-Home Maintenance Workouts

      Use Unconventional Training Tools to Start Working Out At Home Effectively

      3 Responses


      June 12, 2018

      I would also add clubs (both Indian clubs and clubbells) to this list as well.


      July 10, 2018

      battleropes are over-rated. any trainer worth his credentials will tell you that to increase strength, mass and/or endurance, you have to be able to make progressions with the piece of equipment you’re using. with all the other equipment mentioned in this article, you can do that by increasing the weight or the length (of handle for the mace or the rope for the tornado ball by repositioning your grip). the only way to progress with battleropes is to increase duration. but how many people want to slam the ropes for an hour. granted, the ropes are great for cardio workouts.


      August 21, 2019

      I would also add the cable bar – weighted yoga and tai chi

      Leave a comment

      Comments will be approved before showing up.