Functional Training Gear in 2021
CrossFit and functional training in general continue to boom. Particularly in the off-season, many triathletes, runners, OCR athletes and other multi-sport athletes want to try out this style of training to see if it improves their race performance. And to do that, they need access to the right gear.
My coaching business is based in Switzerland, where I train athletes to perform in the mountains, deserts, and other harsh environments. I have an extensive endurance sports background and for the past decade have used CrossFit gear and functional training extensively to prepare for life, play and performance in the Alps, deserts and other adventurous places. I also ran Hillseeker CrossFit for 5 years and have coached for SEALFIT, SEALGrinderPT, and at military events in several countries. This is a domain I know well, which I why I’m selective about what gear and training is the most useful for multi-sport athletes and what is a waste of time and money.
If you’re an endurance athlete and have access to a high quality CrossFit or functional training gym, you’re in good hands when it comes to equipment. If you would like to use CrossFit as a supplement to your training and train at home, then here are my gear recommendations for you.
First, please see this comprehensive article on home gym equipment. This includes barbells and some other excellent equipment that takes up more space, but is well worth it.
Next, make sure the following are on your gear shopping list:
Gear Shopping List for Endurance Athletes
1. Kettlebell: you can build strength and power with kettlebell training. It takes up minimal space and is the best bang-for-buck for endurance athletes when it comes to strength training equipment. Plus, it’s fun as hell to use! For triathletes and endurance athletes, it’s particularly useful in building core strength, which will be your friend late in the Ironman bike leg or in an ultra marathon. It also works very well with Goblet Squats, Tactical Lunges, and Weighted Step-ups. I’ve used kettlebell training extensively with the multi-sport athletes I’ve coached over the years, including SOF candidates, swimmers, and kart racers.
I also incorporate kettlebell training into swim workouts. One of my favorites, which I’m lucky enough to get to do with Lake Zurich as my pool, is 10 rounds: 100m swim sprints + 10 Kettlebell Swings + 5 Kettlebell Snatches each arm + 4 Turkish Get-ups. I recommend starting light, in the 12kg/25lb range and then working your way up. My go-to kettlebell is a 53lb/24KG Rogue Competition model. My advice is to buy a high quality kettlebell. These are heavy devices and not easy to get rid of. My first few kettlebells have terrible handles and I regret buying them.
In honor of my buddy John, who was a beast on the kettlebell and a damn good man. #fuckcancer
2. TRX Suspension Trainer: portable, great for business trips and hotel room workouts, lots of cool workouts online, including endurance athlete workouts. You can target every weakness with a TRX. Tip: Bring it to the track and incorporate it into or immediately following a speed session. It makes core training much more interesting than trying to knock out 100 sit-ups after a run session. You may want to check out the similar JungleGym as well.
3. Sandbag: Endless training opportunities with sandbags. Plus you can substitute them in for barbells in a lot of CrossFit WODs, which I think is even more functional. You can pick up a durable GORUCK sandbag, Rogue Tactical bag or read this guide on how to make you own for a lot less.
4. Jump Rope: Simple, portable, great for metabolic conditioning (try 5 rounds of 90sec rope skipping + 10 burpees + 10 sit-ups for a great little workout). I have a collection of ropes for different workout types, including a custom RX, a Rogue SR-3, and a Rogue Heavy Rope.
Once you get good at Double Unders, try OPT’s Flight Simulator WOD. It’s tough!
5. Bands & Pull-up Bar: for developing upper body strength as well as core strength. Use bands to scale the movement so that you can perform it with proper form while building strength. You can mount a pull-up bar on the wall or ceiling, use a portable system that you can hang from various things or go with a doorway option.
6. Slam Ball: Training with slam balls cover the full body. It also makes a great stress reliever. You can slam them and also use them for Russian Twists, Wall Balls and many other exercises. I find slam balls more versatile and durable than medicine balls.
7. Plyo Box: weighted box step-ups, box jumps and more. You can accomplish a lot with a plyo box, or if you’ve got one handy, a nice big rock to jump up on! For endurance athletes, plyo boxes work well in combination with sandbags and kettlebells for workouts involving step-ups and climbing simulation. I use them a lot in our cycling focused training with bike sprints, weighted step-ups and a core movement like knees-to-elbows on the pull-up bar. During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, a few of my clients purchased Rogue Resin Plyo boxes for their new home gyms, primarily because they are stackable and work well in small training spaces.
Here’s my pal Coach Moritz showing us what true jumping prowess looks like:
8. Weight vest or weighted ruck: I started my journey with weighted running in preparation for racing the Marathon des Sables, where runners must carry survival gear and food for a week. Actually, I started with weighted running when I was 70lbs overweight back in the 90s and decided to sign up for an Ironman triathlon to lose weight!
Training with a weight vest adds intensity, adversity and resistance. You can use a weight vest for running, jumping and nearly all bodyweight exercises. I don’t recommend trying to swim with it, although I have! I wrote book and designed a cool training program just for running with extra weight. It’s called Running Heavy and is worth checking out if you want to train more with weight on your back, or while pushing or dragging it behind you.
There has been some great innovation in weight vests the past few years, and here in 2019, we have a great collection to select from. I’ve tested the Hyper Vest Pro and like how it moves with me, but doesn’t bounce and rub.
Some others to consider:
GORUCK’s Plate Carrier 2.0 offers a different approach from nearly all other weight vests and training plate carriers. It’s a blend between a weight vest and a rucksack, offering the plate holder only on the back.
Rogue’s Plate Carrier is one of my favorites at the moment, as it’s design is very well thought out for burpees, push-ups and other functional training movements.
MiR makes a great short vest, which I like for core-intensive session. MiR also has a rockin’ Women’s Weight Vest, as does Box. Recently, 5.11 released a Tactical Plate Carrier for training. I’m happy to see Rogue selling weight inserts. My heavy weight vest is similar to this, but with a homemade lead insert. This is the vest I used in a Hill Training video I filmed for SEALFIT a few years ago.
MiR Pro weighted vest, solid, durable design that scales to a massive load.
Condor Sentry Plate Carrier, very good option at a budget price. I’ve trained with this vest for several years, with a homemade lead plate, because that’s all that was available back then!
You could also go with a ruck/backpack and fill it with a sandbag or water weight. When I was training for an expedition on Aconcagua in the Andes, I used to do hill repeats (fast hiking) with a 70lb pack filled with water containers. I’d dump the water at the top of the climb and refill the containers from a stream at the bottom. This was great training for carrying loads up a mountain.
And don’t forget to check out GORUCK: they’ve been a leader for years in creating functional, durable rucks and they offer a kit that includes a weight plate, which makes it easier to just grab your weighted ruck and go.
The 5.11 Tactical RUSH72 works very well as a large training ruck and is my main travel bag for up to 3-day trips. For shorter trips and lighter, more compact loads, the 5.11 Tactical RUSH24 is a great ruck. I used a Blackhawk ruck in 2018 as I trained for a heavy ruck in Normandy for the Epic Charity Challenge on D-Day 2018. Here’s an update from my preparations back then.
9. Foam Roller: You break it, you fix it. You’ve broken your body down with a combination CrossFit and endurance sport training program (although with smart programming, you should be TOO broken down). Now it’s time to heal it and build it back up. Get a foam roller, the super cool Supernova, and Voodoo X Bands and get busy with some active recovery.
Any more and you’re looking at a home gym setup. If you’ve got space, get all of it! That’s what I did before eventually opening up my own gym. And after I sold my gym, this is exactly what I went back to!
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Ultimate Guide. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. He is also a Co-Founder of BridgeX Teams LLC, a global virtual team building company. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.