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When the world went into lockdown, what feels like 100 years ago in March, few fitness fanatics were ready. Sure, we may have had a set of kettlebells kicking around, a resistance band or two, maybe even a TRX or similar suspension training system. But I don’t know too many people who have a dedicated training space in their home, a space that contains all the essential tools and that actually functions as a gym should. By this, I mean the space doesn’t also double as your office, living room or bedroom; you can move freely, unencumbered by a low ceiling or lack of usable floor space.

Pre-COVID, those of us living in micro-condos could at least use their building’s gym as a respite from their cells. But safety protocols have left an awful lot of urbanites with nothing more than a yoga mat and whatever other makeshift pieces of equipment they have on hand. I may not be able to do anything about your particular real-estate situation, but I can offer some direction on specific pieces of non-traditional training equipment that will enhance any home workout experience. If you’ve had enough of making do with plastic water jugs as dumbbells, I’ve got you covered.

Wear your weight

I make no secret of my love for calisthenics. But like any form of resistance training, the results you get from body weight exercises depend entirely on the effort you exert. A golden rule of mine: Once you can do 20 reps of any exercise, it’s time to make it tougher. Enter the weighted vest.

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Whether you’re focusing on basic movement patterns like squats and push-ups or practising more complicated gymnastics-inspired routines, wearing a weighted vest is the easiest way to dial up the intensity. Weighted vests are also excellent for boosting the caloric burn of any cardio workout, be that hill sprints in the hot afternoon sun or power-walking the dog first thing in the morning.

My favourite weighted wearables come from Power Wearhouse, a Canadian company that, along with its flagship vests, makes weighted shorts and wrist/ankle weights. Their products are made with a breathable fabric that fits like a second skin. There’s no chafing, no musty post-workout smell. And unlike most weighted vests (or loaded backpacks, if you’re a DIYer), the Power Wearhouse vest doesn’t shift around when you move – it stays in place no matter what position you’re in. Best of all, the weighted inserts come in 4.5-ounce increments so you can adjust the loading with precision.

Sling some sand

Olympic lifts are a series of barbell-based exercises that train speed, strength, power, and co-ordination. They’re fantastic and definitely deliver the goods, but they’re tough to learn and you need a barbell with a set of rubber bumper plates, which isn’t ideal when training at home. The alternative? Get yourself a sandbag.

Versatility is essential for home exercise equipment. Pretty much anything you can do with a barbell – squats, deadlifts, cleans, presses – you can do with a sandbag. My favourite sandbag exercises are the Zercher Squat and Loaded Carries. The Zercher Squat is a front-loaded squat where you support the weight in the crooks of your elbows while fighting to maintain a relatively upright position as you drop your butt to the floor. Loaded carries can be performed in a number of ways – suitcase-style, over the shoulders like a fireman’s carry, or my favourite, front-loaded à la the Zercher Squat. Combining carries and squats into a superset with no rest between exercises is a surefire recipe for building serious core strength and mental toughness.

Stretch your limits

Wearbands, billed as “the world’s most versatile functional resistance system,” is one of the most unique pieces of training equipment I’ve used. The full system consists of a belt, socks, gloves and up to five different levels of resistance bands. The bands attach to the socks and gloves from anchor points on the belt, creating a constant stream of tension that turns every movement into a workout.

And I do mean every movement. Whether you’re running, jumping, squatting, lunging or crawling, once the Wearbands system is strapped on, your muscles become instantly engaged. Movements feel natural, making Wearbands the perfect tool for sport-specific training, or for sweating through a HIIT routine in your living room.

Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Toronto.

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