Gym equipment is fantastic, but damn can it be expensive. With the world hopping from one lockdown to the next, it seems like a good time to invest in a basic training kit. While you can get a totally killer workout with just bodyweight exercises, equipment amps up the resistance and gives you more bang for your buck (less reps means less time warming up which means more time climbing). We’ve put together a list of the essential components of a skeleton training kit, along with some non-essential items that are just great to have in your arsenal. Unfortunately, even at-home exercise equipment can be on the pricey side… that’s why we’ve included some DIY options that you can sub in if you want to save some change!
The Bare Necessities
You may not see a yoga mat as an essential, but a lot of exercises involve lying down… and it’s nice to lie on the squishy goodness. Plus, a yoga mat is great for yoga (duh), picnics, and insulation whether you’re sleeping on the ground or in a hammock.
There are dozens upon dozens of yoga mats out there with fancy features and pretty designs, but at the end of the day… a yoga mat is a yoga mat is a yoga mat. HOWEVER, we don’t recommend settling for a cheap mat from a sporting goods store. You are going to be pulling and stretching on that mat in the same places and it is going to wear down very fast with a shoddy mat. Plus, higher quality mats will have better grip and nicer materials, plus they are likely to be manufactured under better conditions and with a lower environmental impact. Check out two of Asoka’s best mats if you’re looking to grab yourself a good investment. The Eco Mat is, naturally, ultra-environmentally friendly; it’s 100% recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. The Performa Alignment Mat is designed with beginners in mind, offering printed alignment lines to aid in form and positioning. Plus, it’s made from earth-friendly natural tree rubber!
There is no prefect mat substitute, but there are a lot of easy ones. A towel, a carpet, a lawn, a duvet, a sleeping mat… really, anything that will offer some cushioning and grip, really. You can even go 5-Minute Crafts on that sucker and add grip with lines or dots of hot glue (proceed with caution).
There is seemingly no limit to the amount of exercises that can be done with a Theraband. PLUS, the best part, they’re dirt cheap, starting at R30 per metre from the CityROCK Gear Shop / Mountain Mail Order. We don’t even need to do a “Buy vs DIY” for this one… because (a) once again, the real thing is dirt cheap and (b) we’re kind of at a loss as to what DIY replacement to suggest. You can probably find off-brand Therabands for cheaper, or you can even try your luck at a hardware-handy-gardening-type store.
Stress balls not only help to strengthen your fingers, they’re also really, really fun to squish. Great for anger management… which is quite sorely needed nowadays.
Luckily, stress balls are easy to find and pretty cheap. You can pick one up from any toy / variety store – you don’t need a good quality one, but do try to opt for a product manufactured ethically and ecologically. If you want a climbing-focused stress ball, check out the Metolius GripSaver Plus, which comes equipped with rubber loops attached for isolated finger training; this helps to stabilise and strengthen even further by working different muscles in the hand.
There are soooo many ways to DIY this. You can fill a balloon (or a more eco substitute) with flour, polystyrene balls, slime (once again, see 5-Minute Crafts…), or any other squishy substance your little heart desires (within reason). To simulate the GripSaver, simply loop an elastic band / hair tie around your fingers and flex those babies.
Not going to lie… you can do without this one, but dumbbells are so useful and offer so many versatile exercises that we had to list them as a necessity. Adding that extra pinch of spice to your set really helps to kick things into gear; plus, there are some exercises (such as rows, shoulder presses, etc.) that simply aren’t that effective without some added weight.
You can pick up some fairly priced dumbbells from your favourite local sporting gear store. When it comes to weight, it’s up to personal preference. If you’re not sure, we’d recommend going for a dumbbell on the lighter side, because you can always do more reps… and more reps is better than not being able to lift the thing. For a safe bet, choose one with which you can comfortably perform 12 reps (you should be just getting to your limit by the end).
Once again, this is a super easy DIY item. Anything heavyish will work just fine – water bottles, books, boxes of rocks, bags of cat food, cats full of cat food (just kidding don’t do that).
A hangboard may be the single greatest piece of training equipment for climbing performance. The variety of grips allows for multiple levels of difficulty, plus it helps to holistically develop the strength of all those niggle muscles, tendons and ligaments. With just a coffee-break-length session a few times a week, you can massively improve your finger strength and endurance. For proof, check out the stellar results of this hangboard routine from Emil Abrahamsson.
Note: Don’t perform hangboard training until you have developed sufficient finger strength (otherwise ouchies).
Any good climbing gear store should have a nice selection of hangboards to choose from – you can check out MMO’s offering here. Factors to consider include material (plastic and wood offer different friction), grip variety and installation set-up. If a traditional hangboard is too much for your space, you can always opt for a portable option like the Metolius Rock Rings, Scallywags Big Squeeze or Bonez Climbing Dogbone (local is lekker – support our adventure artisans!).
Ye olde reliable hangboard / pull-up bar substitute is a door frame with a decent edge – security gates also work. Do be careful, because things can go wrong and if they do it may be quite expensive. If you’re handy, you can make your own with some wood and a few nails, but, again, proceed with caution.
There’s nothing like a foam roller to give you a casual S&M massage after a tough workout. Rolling out your muscles doesn’t just feel damn good (despite the pain), it also helps to relieve tightness, soothe inflammation and/or increase your joints’ range of motion.
Grab a foam roller at your favourite yoga or sporting goods store! You might also want to check out fascia balls, which can help to target stubborn knots.
You can easily replace a fascia ball with a tennis ball, and if you happen to have some sort of suitable cylinder around you’ve got yourself a roller. Legend says wine bottles have been used, but we don’t recommend that AT ALL.
And now we’re on to the stuff you were probably expecting this blog would talk about… shiny toys! These are by no means necessities, but they do make it way easier to train the muscles central to climbing. Plus, they’re fun and colourful – and who doesn’t love that?
There are tons of gadgets on the market, many of which perform very specific functions. Some options include the DigiFlex, which trains the fingers in isolation, the Theraband Flex Bar which is great for warming up the wrists, and Therapy Putty.
Go nuts! Your imagination is the limit here – if you can lift, press, pull or hang from it, you’re pretty much sorted. Let us know if you’ve conjured up any majestic DIY gadgets and, once again, do not use cats as dumbbells.