Here are my personal recommendations for various products and equipment you might find useful for your strength training and bodybuilding needs. This page is not meant to review large pieces of gym equipment like squat racks or barbells but various accessories and supplements that I personally use and find essential.
Let’s start with my preworkout supplements.
Yes, I find a preworkout supplement useful. I understand that some of the more ‘scholarly’ of the strength training and bodybuilding world may state that they are necessary and even stupid. I, personally, find that a good preworkout formula enhances my performance and stamina in the gym a lot. As well, one of the biggest reasons to use a preworkout is not for pure energy and endurance, but to shorten the time between “I’m really not feeling this” and “I’m rarin to go.” In other words, preworkouts can get you going quicker and shorten the time needed to warm up and build up to a certain level of intensity or a certain pace. If you are like me, you go all out all the time, and some days, you want to be able to go all out sooner rather than later. A preworkout formula helps you do this.
Recommended Preworkout Supplement: Legion Pulse Pre Workout
I will tell you in simple terms why I use Legion Pulse Pre Workout. It contains no worthless bells and whistles put there to fill up the jug and make it seem like it’s got more going on.
There are no mega-doses of b-vitamins, which unless you have a deficiency, will not make an immediate difference in your performance or energy level. There are no foul-tasting herbals that just leave a bitter taste in your mouth, a queasy feeling in your stomach, and less room for the really useful ingredients.
Legion Pulse contains just the ingredients that are shown to be useful in a pre-workout in the proper large doses you need for them to work. L-Citrulline as citrulline malate, beta alanine, betaine anhydrous, caffeine, etc.
I’ve experimented to my heart’s content with a caffeine-free formula but after doing so I found that I really do like the additional caffeine boost. However, if you do not need or desire the big caffeine dose, Legion Pulse also comes in a caffeine-free formula. The taste is good and there are plenty of flavors to choose.
I remember the days when the only kind of powdered carbs you could get were maltodextrin or dextrose. Maltodextrin was meh for preworkout and dextrose would leave you bloated and crashing. Now, we have what dealers call cutting-edge carbs and I simply call fancy carbs and, well, what can I say, I love em. These are carbs that absorb very quickly, do not make you bloated, and will not ferment in the gut (all that much).
These carbs can provide sustainable energy for a long productive and intense workout and I have found, like others, that they enhance my recovery from hard workouts. They are especially useful for bodybuilding workouts but even strength trainees may find them useful, depending on their style of training. If you only do short workouts these may not be for you, or you may want to use less of them. Along with my Legion Pulse Pre Workout powder, above, I use one, two, or all three of the following fancy carbs.
Vitargo Carbohydrate is a fractionated barley amylopectin. Amylopectin is one of the two main starches found in grains and other vegetable foods: amylose and amylopectin. While amylose is a long-chain slowly absorbed starch with a low glycemic index, amylopectin is a highly branched polysaccharide that is more easily and quickly broken down. Starchy foods containing different ratios of these two polysaccharides.
While you wouldn’t want to consume amylopectin like your life depends on it, for a pre-workout supplement, it can provide a sustained source of glucose and thus help fuel a workout for extended periods of time. Vitargo is ‘fractionated’ meaning the starch has been broken down into more manageable units.
Vitargo describes it thus:
Vitargo is a high molecular weight carbohydrate that is designed to pass quickly through the system, Vitargo’s larger size minimizes its osmolality, which refers to how much water it attracts around itself, or pulls into your intestines. Less water means less sense of bloating. Vitargo®’s low osmolality allows it to move through the stomach 2.3 times faster than other carbohydrates, which tend to act more like a sponge in the stomach.
Let me warn you, just as Vitargo would, that this stuff is hard to mix. You need a shaker with an agitator ball or some other mixing implement, if not a blender. And you’ll want to keep mixing it periodically if you are drinking is slowly, such as during a workout. I will give you my recommendation for a shaker after the carb listings.
This ingredient may be best known by its presence in Gaspari Glycofuse. I used that product successfully many times, but the last jug I bought produced some of the worst gastrointestinal upset I’ve experienced in a long time. Bloating, cramps, and the d-word. Since I’ve used all the carbs present in the product separately, I can only surmise they’ve done something screwy with the formula since the company was sold, and I’m not the only one who experienced these issues. Therefore, I cannot recommend Glycofuse.
Instead I order my cyclic dextrin through Amazon from True Nutrition. Cyclic dextrin is made from amylopectin, like the Vitargo, before. It’s a type of dextrin that is produced from amylopectin, only this time via cyclization reaction of a branching enzyme. No, I don’t know what that means.
Unlike the Vitargo it is very soluble in water and mixes very easily. It’s also quite stable in solution. You may like it alone or in combination with the carb below. I use a combination of whatever of the three I have on hand. I like them all and I don’t experience any crashes, at least on a regular basis (sometimes, crashes happen). Again, it has low osmolarity and absorbs and digests quickly. This is a more popular ingredient than the first carb, showing up in a lot of products. The cyclic dextrin from True Nutrition is just the pure product, with no flavoring.
Another cutting-edge carbohydrate with similar properties to the above is Carb 10. This one is derived from pea starch. It boasts minimal blood-sugar and insulin response, fast gastric-emptying which reduces bloating, low osmolality, easy mixing, and a neutral taste.
For this one, I usually go with the Genius brand which is simply called Genius Carbohydrate Powder.
You can use one, two, or all three of these carbohydrates, mixing them in ratios you see fit to. Adjust the dosage depending on the length of your workout. All of them can be used for a pre-workout or for intra-workout mixes.
Training accessories are things you bring to the gym with you to help with your training or small pieces of training equipment that are used in conjunction with larger equipment. Here are some of my favorite accessories that I use constantly.
The ab sling is one of the most under-used training accessories. I keep searching YouTube bodybuilding videos and all I ever see is people using ab-slings for their main intended purpose, to do hanging leg raises. They are quite useful for other exercises!
The basic idea of ab slings or ab straps is to allow you to do hanging leg raises without having to hand from your hands. Instead, you place your elbows in the slings, just like the picture above. This way you can hang comfortably for much longer and perform more leg raises. It’s a great training tool and it works very well.
Some ‘premium’ ab slings come with extra padding in the slings. I have never felt the need for extra padding and it would probably just get in the way. I’d advise you to stick with basic ab slings without extra padding. When I first starting using them there was only one brand and the slings were not as wide. I used them comfortably for years and still do use them sometimes. Today’s slings are wider, making for more comfort. The extra padding is probably not necessary unless, perhaps, you want to use them for neck training (yep, they will work for neck training).
Here are some other exercises you can use ab slings for:
1. Ab pulldowns: ab pulldowns are pretty much my main ab exercise. I like the straight-forward nature of them. You can overload your abs with lots of reps and add weight for sensible progression.
But most folks use the old-fashioned ab pulldown handle for doing ab pulldowns and to me, this is uncomfortable, at best! Enter the ab sling. Instead of using an ab pulldown handle, just hang two ab slings from the top pulley and hook your elbows in them. Get down on your knees a few feet from the pulley machine, place your wrists beside your head, with elbows in the slings, and use the slings to pull down. It’s WAY more comfortable and natural. You’ll figure it out.
2. Ab sling pulley rows: This is a great exercise and lat developer. Hook two ab slings to the low pulley attachment on a pulley machine. Hook your elbows into the slings, stand up, and use the slings to do a hybrid row/scapula retraction. Here, you can pull back with your elbows, concentrating the effort in the lats, and really get a good lat contraction at the end of each rep. By also doing a retraction or backwards “shrug” you can add extra emphasis to the rhomboids and traps. You’ll find you can do many more reps and pull tons of weight when the hands and elbows are taken out. I LOVE these.
3. Ab sling pulldowns, standing or seated: The concept is the same as above but the ab slings are placed on an overhead pulley attachment. You can sit down facing away from the machine and hook your elbows in the sling to use them to perform a sort of pulldown. This allows the arms to come down in an arc and really works the lats (and the chest a little) in its natural way. It’s easy to concentrate the effort at the bottom of each reps for a very good lat contraction.
You can perform the ab sling pulldowns standing by facing the machine. Allow the elbows to come up as high as is comfortable, feeling a bit of stretch at the top, and pull down and back in an arc. Another great variation. For a finisher, you can bend forward and pull back in an arc movement, using a partial range of motion to do very high reps to exhaust the lats.
4. Ab sling for neck training: I use one ab sling to train my neck alone with my pulley machine. Attach the sling to the top pulley and place the ab sling around your head. For this exercise, my older less-wide ab slings work best. You can do lateral neck bends or rear neck bends. Be careful and don’t actually flex the neck as much as move it back and forth to make the muscles carry the tension of the load. If you do neck flexion (front neck bends), use very light weight and keep your head slightly forward. There are many small muscles in the throat that can be overloaded by loaded neck flexion and you may find yourself with unexplained throat pain and swallowing problems! If desired, you can use the ab slings to do isometric neck training, which is much safer and will still develop the neck muscles very well.