Thursday, March 12, 2015

Shopping Trip!

Who doesn't like going shopping?

I don't.

But that's not the point. Normally, when I run a one-off training session with a group they ask me for a shopping list of the equipment I brought with me. I bring a lot of toys to these sorts of training sessions.

None of the equipment I'm about to list replaces having a basic weightlifting set-up and program. And some of the material I present is best used and safest when done in conjunction with a complete strength training plan - it's not all basic material.

Also, feel free to shop around but keep in mind the reasons for why I recommend the products that I do.


Medicine Balls - I recommend these particular medicine balls because they bounce and the bounce is helpful for a variety of drills. For HEMA I suggest 4 or 6 pound balls. For smallsword and later period fencing, including modern fencing, a 2 pound ball is best. Our objective is for the ball to be no more than double the weight of the sword - this allows us to train velocity of action.

Sandbells - No one else makes a version that is as durable, though you can usually get a better price on Amazon than on their website. Great for a wide variety of throwing drills. The appropriate weight is going to be around 30-70% of bench press max. This is quite a wide range and so you have to get a number of different sizes to work best.

Sandbells only go up to 50 pounds but there are good reason to keep going higher. To do that I put multiple sandbells into these sandbag trainers. Again, the product I pick is based on our durability needs, we are going to be throwing these as hard as we can at the wall and floor etc. However, you can usually get a better price on Amazon for these as well.

Everyone starts at 10 pounds so that they can get the form right before they go up in weight.

At beginner levels these can be replaced with Dynamax balls.

Hurdles - Adjustable hurdles and other variations exist and each is a trade-off between flexibility, durability and cost. Individual choices are going to depend in large part on expected use. But start small, big hurdles are hard on the joints.

Plyo boxes - I'm not going to recommend a specific product here, because their are so many facility specific factors that go into a purchasing decision here - mostly space concerns. Plyo boxes are an important tool though. They are much safer on the joints than doing other jumping exercises.

Everyone should have plyo boxes.


Agility Ladders - basic tool, so basic that a lot of folks already have them. There are spiffy versions that do niftier things and cost more, but those are really only going to matter for high-end athletes and even then only after they have mastered all the lower intensity stuff. Probably not worth spending extra money on fancy ones.

Rings - another basic level tool. The advantage of items like ladders and rings is that they force the athlete to pay attention to their footwork - you can't just put your foot anywhere with these drills. Which is why I recommend rings, even though you could do the associated drills without anything special.

Dots - These are a minor tool that are all about forcing accuracy in footwork. 

Reflex ball - aka Z-ball (which is the brand I originally got). These are for proving to your athletes that you wish to torture them. It's fun. But not a lot of tools actually allow you to create random stimuli for training reflexes, so these are pretty unique in their utility.

Core Training

Heavy Bar - Functionally similar to various sledgehammer workouts except safer. Safer than swinging a hammer head past your legs at speed. Not only are they safer for the user, they are also safer for the floor and walls. These are also similar to Indian clubs in terms of the workouts that you can do, but they are cheaper and more versatile. I start adults off at 6 pounds.

Mini-bands - Primarily for hip strengthening exercises. Color coded for resistance level. Adults can usually start with the green bands and work their way up. Adolescents and smaller folks should start with yellow.

Sandbags - these are useful for a variety of core training exercises as well, which makes them a nice multi-purpose tool. Plus it means that you don't need to buy conventional weights as well.


Everything I've shown here is usually also available at Perform Better, with minor variations existing. Check their before purchasing to see if they have a better deal or suit your needs better. Or it's available in a prettier color.

My  start-up level kit would include the following as a minimum:
  1. Medicine ball
  2. Agility ladder
  3. Mini-bands
  4. Z-ball
The next most important component is plyo boxes, but they are expensive, heavy and take up a lot of space. Which makes them not easy for a lot of clubs. They really can't be beat for utility though. And they are still safer than the alternatives.

I would love for all the useful things to be free. However, a well designed program will have overload and progression, both of which are hard to do without tools. 


  1. What would you think of battle ropes for HEMA?

    1. Battle ropes are fun. Never underestimate the value of fun, because it gets people training. And something is better than nothing.

      More to the point though, they are a reasonable conditioning tool.They focus on arm, forearm and grip, which is specifically useful for HEMA. And they will also provide a nice core stabilization challenge, again something useful.