Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Best Exercise Equipment - By Jim Duggan

     “One can get exceptionally strong using basic exercises, limited facilities, minimal equipment if the work was of very high intensity and remained progressive.”

     The above quote is from the May 1986 edition of The Steel Tip.  I always enjoy reading quality training material, and it doesn’t get much better than Dr. Ken’s The Steel Tip.  If you ever get the opportunity to obtain back-issues of this great magazine, I encourage you to do so.

     I was even more fortunate to have had the opportunity to train at Iron Island Gym from the time it opened in 1992 until 2008.  I’ve often mentioned that Iron Island was the finest training facility I’ve ever seen.  Naturally, the equipment was first-rate, but the atmosphere and training environment also contributed to an incredible lifting experience.  An experience that I’ll always cherish.

     I mentioned the excellent equipment that Iron Island offered.  Tons of free weights, heavy-duty squat racks, power racks, dumbbells up to 200 Lbs, and an incredible assortment of bars.  Olympic bars, power bars, thick bars, specialty bars, you name it.

     There was also a large array of machines.  Now I realize that there are many die-hard free weight enthusiasts who shudder at the mere mention of machines.  As someone who competed in powerlifting for many years, I used to feel the same way.  That is, until I joined Iron Island.

     The machines that Dr. Ken had were all solidly built and designed to be efficient, safe, and effective.  Hammer Strength, Nautilus, Kell, Southern Exercise were just a few of the better known brands that could be found on the gym floor.  And as I gradually began using these training modalities, my opinions about machines changed.

     The free weights vs machines debate has been around forever.  But the main thing I learned from guys like Dr. Ken and Drew Israel was that there are advantages and disadvantages to every training tool.  Also, and this is very important, your muscles do not know the difference.  This is where intensity and progression fit into the equation.  

     You can be doing traditional Deadlifts with a barbell, or you can be using a machine like the Hammer Deadlift machine.  If you are training hard, your lower back, legs, and hips will not know the difference.  If you train hard enough, you will get stronger.  GET STRONGER.  In other words, it’s not the tool you use, but rather it’s  how you use what you have.  If all you have is a barbell, weights and a power rack, there is no excuse to not train hard.  After all, we all know you can make amazing gains in both size and strength using only those three items.  On the other hand, you can have access to the most advanced, most well equipped facility in the world, but if you’re not willing to train hard and heavy, then you will simply not make gains.

     The pandemic, and the subsequent closing of many gyms, has forced many people to become more imaginative and creative when it comes to their workouts.  Training at home, with minimal equipment, will challenge even the most dedicated lifters.  But if you are really determined to get stronger, then you will find a way to do it.  There are countless stories of lifters who have had to adapt their workouts to the changing times.  

     Even as the global pandemic has, hopefully, begun to subside, there are other current events taking place that have caught the attention of people everywhere.  The current situation in Ukraine has dominated the news for the last six weeks.  Interestingly, events in that area of the world have reminded me of something I read about several years ago.  It certainly reminds me of the qualities of determination, imagination, creativity, and good old persistence.  It also reminded me of the debate about the efficacy of various training modalities.

     Kachalka outdoor gym is located on Dolobeskyi Island in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.  While the news from Kyiv has not been good lately, I am reminded of an old video that showcased a legendary outdoor training facility that has been around for over fifty years.

     The “gym” itself is located on an area of about six square miles on an island in Kyiv.  There are about 200 pieces of makeshift exercise equipment, constructed almost wholly of scrap metal and machine parts.  Some of the scrap iron was left over from the second world war.  Benches, racks, crude machines and other exercise equipment are outside for the use of anyone wishing to train.  As you can imagine, there is no juice bar, sauna, or tanning center.  The equipment is outside, exposed to the elements, as are the lifters who train there.  

     The people who train there are a strong and dedicated bunch.  I doubt if you will see any spandex or lululemon gear anywhere. What you will find are men and women with a fierce desire to lift weights.  There are numerous videos available to see how popular this outdoor gym is, and I would say that it would be difficult not to be motivated by seeing people using equipment which we may consider to be crude.  However, these very people are making gains that would make any lifter proud.

     I’ve seen articles where Kachalka is described as Ukraine’s version of “Muscle Beach.”  I’m not so sure about that.  Personally, if given the choice between the pumpers and toners in Venice, California and the hardcore trainees at Kachalka, I’ll take the outdoor gym in Kyiv.  Before the war, the fierceness and determination of the Ukrainian people was exemplified by the people who worked out at Kachalka.  Hopefully, the war will end soon and the only grit and determination we see from that part of the world will be confined to the various machines found in the outdoor training area.  May they be hoisting the steel again soon.

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