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June 2012

What’s in a Top Trainer’s Toolkit? Six Elite Fitness Pros Share Their Favorite Equipment and Exercises

By Amanda Vogel, M.A.

You probably have your favorite pieces of equipment—ones you use almost daily and can’t imagine living without. Have you ever wondered what some of the industry’s top trainers have in their toolkits? It might be similar to what you’re already using, or perhaps you’ll find inspiration to try something new or return to an old favorite. Either way, read on for exclusive insight into what six top trainers stock in their professional toolkits. Plus, see photos, videos and descriptions of exercises you can try with your clients or for yourself. 

Doug Balzarini’s Toolkit

Doug Balzarini has an undergraduate degree in exercise physiology and 14 years of experience in the fitness industry. He worked for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) for five years before starting his career at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer and strength coach, where he worked with clients of all ages and abilities. He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at San Diego State University and has earned multiple certifications, including MMA Conditioning Coach, ACE Personal Trainer and N.S.C.A.-C.S.C.S.  

Equipment: Bodyweight **DOUG’S TOP TOOL**

“Bodyweight has always been my favorite ‘equipment’ because it’s convenient and eliminates so many overused excuses, such as, ‘I don’t want to drive to the gym’ or ‘It’s too expensive.’ With your own bodyweight and a couple of feet of space around you, you have no excuse.”

Equipment: TRX

“I love the versatility of the Suspension Trainer. You can use it at the gym, in your home, at the local park…the list goes on. I train a number of clients outside and I always include the TRX. It’s lightweight, portable and easily attaches to a tree or piece of playground equipment.”

Equipment: Kettlebells

“Using just a couple of movements, you can develop strength, endurance, flexibility and power with kettlebells. You can really test your cardio by incorporating kettlebells into your routine because many of the exercises require continuous movement. Some of the traditional kettlebell exercises do require some coaching though, so be sure to get the proper education needed to use this equipment.” [For more information on how to create an elite kettlebell training program, click here.]

Equipment: Sliders

“I find myself using sliders more and more. There are many models out there: Valslides, purple Gliders, Havyk Sliders, etc. Incorporating sliders into the workout makes some basic movements much more challenging. One example is reverse lunges with your feet on the sliders. This requires a lot of body awareness and core control. Sliders are a great way to challenge your clients in new ways.”

Equipment: Superbands

“Simple by design, superbands are extremely versatile. I like to use bands for a number of different goals, such as for resistance, corrective technique (for example, to ensure proper knee tracking) and assistance during difficult bodyweight exercises like pull-ups.” [See video below for an example.] 


Hill Sprints: Use interval-training sprints to increase heart rate, going up a hill as fast as you can for about 30 seconds, then taking 45-60 seconds to go back down the hill; repeat. Watch this video clip to see this drill and other bodyweight training in action. 


Keli Robert’s Toolkit

Keli Roberts is a personal trainer, media spokesperson for ACE, 2003 IDEA Instructor of the Year and 2007 inductee into the Fitness Hall of Fame. Her industry qualifications include ACE Gold-certified Personal Trainer, ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor, ACSM HFS and  Precision Nutrition certified.

Equipment: BOSU Balance Trainer **KELI’S TOP TOOL**

“The BOSU Balance Trainer can be used for many different functions: balance, plyometrics, strength and conditioning, and more. It combines well with other equipment, and with the dome side up, it’s comfortable to sit or kneel on. The dome also creates a pliable, cushioned surface for jumping and offers instability that promotes individual foot placement. The platform side up is great for core and shoulder stabilization exercises.”

Equipment: Dumbbells

“Dumbbells are versatile. They allow for upright total-body functional training and maximally flexible movements for a wide variety of exercises. You can choose different loads to accommodate different strength levels.”

Equipment: BOSU Ballast Ball

“The Ballast Ball provides an unstable surface that can also be used as an unstable load when you pick up the ball. The ballast in the ball shifts, and when it is used aggressively, the shifting load creates a unique effect of instability where the body needs to eccentrically decelerate twice—once when the body stops the movement and again when the load stops moving. It's a quality stability ball.”

Equipment: ViPR

“The ViPR is great piece of functional equipment. It allows for interesting loading options, whether tilting or holding in a wide variety of positions, and its unique shape creates an awkward object to manipulate, which has good carryover into activities of daily life.”

Equipment: Medicine Ball 

“Fantastic for explosive training, ballistic training and plyometrics, a medicine ball can also be used to simply load in multiple planes of motion. I love that medicine balls can involve throwing, catching and bouncing, which allows the client to work on skill-based parameters.”


Jumping Plank to Pushup: Stand behind a BOSU Balance Trainer with the platform side up. Place the hands on top of Balance Trainer, shoulder-width apart, as you do a deep squat while maintaining a lengthened, neutral spine. Jump your legs up and back, aiming to make a straight line for the torso and legs before the feet touch the floor. As your feet hit the floor, drop into a push-up. As you push up from the low position, simultaneously jump your feet back into a squat so your hands are off the Balance Trainer as your feet hit the floor. Stand up and do eight to 12 repetitions. 


Jonathan Ross' Toolkit

Jonathan’s “800 pounds of parents” directly inspired his prolific fitness career, where he is a two-time Personal Trainer of the Year Award-Winner (ACE and IDEA) and a senior fitness consultant to ACE. His book, Abs Revealed, is a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. A former astronomer, Jonathan used to study stellar bodies—now he builds them! 


“Like a hollowed-out medicine ball stretched into a tube, the ViPR offers so many interesting exercise options that it might be the most versatile piece of equipment available today.”

Equipment: Step360

“The Step360 is a terrific tool for stabilization training becaus it provides a flat platform to maintain proper (flat) foot positioning when doing exercises that incorporate balance.” 

Equipment: Core Transformer

"The Core Transformer is great for loading the limbs of the body when moving outward from the trunk. It’s kind of the evolution of training with tubes—it loads movements in rotational patterns, just as in real life.”

Equipment: Suspension Trainers

“Uses body weight to provide a full-body resistance-training experience with options to suit all users.”

Equipment: Sliders (i.e., Gliding discs, Valslides)

“Sliders are low-budget, fun and challenging, and can be used by almost anyone. I prefer the Valslides or furniture sliders (which are significantly cheaper since they aren’t officially ‘fitness equipment’), as they have foam on top and can be comfortably used with fists and knees.” 


Sliding Plank: Start in a plank position and choose one of the three options below. View all versions of the Sliding Plank in the video clip below.

  • Option 1: Tuck the opposite arm and leg toward each other.
  • Option 2: Perform a push-up, tucking the opposite arm and leg toward each other at the top.
  • Option 3: With a slider under each hand and foot perform a pushup, tucking all arms and legs in toward the center of the body at the top.

Shana Martin’s Toolkit

Shana is a TRX Master Instructor, a five-time world champion lumberjack athlete and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. She holds records as a collegiate pole-vaulter and is a nationally ranked fitness competitor and has a degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Equipment: TRX Rip Trainer **SHANA’S TOP TOOL**

“The TRX Rip Trainer is my new favorite training tool, not only because of its high-intensity metabolic and weight-loss benefits, but because of its functionality in sport and life. There is little we do in sports (or life) that doesn’t involve control or production of rotation. But I haven’t used it only for my athletes. I work with folks who, due to injury or weight, cannot get down to the ground for core strengthening; yet, these are the folks who need it the most. With the TRX Rip Trainer, we are able to work on core bracing, rotational resistance and safe rotation production while standing up, which is how we lead most of our lives. Based on how it is used, the Rip Trainer can train strength, power, endurance, mobility and accuracy—and leave you gasping for air.”

Equipment: TRX Suspension Trainer

“By moving your center of gravity outside of your base of support from a single anchor point, you can train for any goal, anywhere, with constant core activation. Suspension training is all about moving correctly first: quality before quantity. It is the ultimate in functional training. I use this tool with every single client, every single day.”

Equipment: Trigger Point The Grid Foam Roller

“The benefits of foam rolling are well known and researched, but until the Trigger Point Roller came around, foam rollers were virtually impossible to travel with, and not very durable. This is the perfect tool to increase recovery and mobility.”

Equipment: Agility Ladder

“I love bringing agility ladders outside with me. They are portable and the perfect tool to improve, well, agility! Any client can benefit from improvements in balance, coordination and metabolic conditioning from performing agility ladder drills.”

Equipment: Jump Rope

“Calorie burning, bone-density improvement, agility, balance, coordination—it’s all there in this very cost-effective and portable tool.” 


TRX Rip Overhead Axe Chop: 

1. For Rip Overhead Axe Chops on the right side, grasp the bar with the right hand, palm up, and closer to the power cord (what we call zone 4). Place the left hand palm down at the far end of the bar (zone 1).  

2. Stand facing away from the anchor point and begin the exercise at the end range of motion, with the right arm straight and the left hand near the heart.

3. Bend the right elbow and extend the left arm so that the right hand lowers to the right shoulder.

4. Pivot off of the right foot to obtain power from the legs, explode back to the starting position.

5. Switch the grip around for the left side. 

Todd Durkin’s Toolkit

Todd Durkin, M.A., C.S.C.S., is an internationally recognized performance-enhancement coach, personal trainer, massage therapist, author and speaker who motivates, educates and inspires people worldwide. He is the founder and creator of Fitness Quest 10 & Todd Durkin Enterprises in San Diego, Calif., where his team focuses on personal training, massage therapy, Pilates, yoga, sports-performance training, nutrition, physical therapy and chiropractic to help transform the bodies, minds and spirits of a broad clientele. He has been awarded Personal Trainer of the Year by both ACE and IDEA.

Equipment: TRX Suspension Trainer **TODD’S TOP TOOL**

“If I was stuck on a remote island, I can’t think of one piece of equipment that I would choose over this one. It is one of the staples of my training toolkit because it’s a “simple” tool that is extremely effective. I love the diversity of exercises that it offers, and you can easily ramp up the intensity of any exercise by changing your body position. It’s as applicable for the pros as it is the Joes. I often travel with a TRX and love all that you can do with it.” 

Equipment: Total Gym 

“I have used Total Gym since 2001 and love the hundreds of different exercises you can do with it. Additionally, there are a lot of unique moves that, frankly, you just can’t do with any other system. The Total Gym is easy on the joints, you can adjust the intensity and you can get in a great total-body workout in less than 30 minutes. This has been a staple with my pros and Joes since the early times of my business.”

Equipment: Kettlebells

“I love kettlebells. They are rugged and have a “cool” factor. You can work total-body strength, power and balance with kettlebells. That function makes them different from other types of free weights.”

Equipment: Superbands

“It’s amazing how an oversized rubber band can actually work your entire body as much as one of these does. You can use it to build total-body strength, as well as speed and agility. Plus, they assist nicely with all facilitated stretching at the end of a session. Superbands also travel easily.”

Equipment: Concept2 Rower

“This is an awesome machine for blasting out metabolic conditioning. I often put the Rower in as part of a circuit—it does wonders for overall conditioning. Try making it part of a competition for small-group training and you will have people push boundaries they never knew they had!”  


TRX Power Pulls: This unilateral exercise works both the core and upper body while challenging balance. Start with both arms in line with the straps, holding the straps with one hand. Open up your chest and rotate the torso, reaching back toward the floor with one hand. Engage your core and focus on balance to control your movement as you slowly row up and rotate back up to the starting position. The narrower your base is, the more challenging this exercise will be. Complete the set and switch sides. 


Cari Shoemate’s Toolkit

Cari Shoemate is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. Based in Houston, she is the trainer for the Houston Rockets Power Dancers (NBA Cheerleaders), runs Bombshell Bootcamp, and has starred in two fitness DVDs. 

Equipment: Jump Rope **CARI’S TOP TOOL**

“I love the jump rope because you can take it anywhere—it’s lightweight and easy to pack. It's a great form of cardio and also challenges your coordination. Whenever I'm training for races, jumping rope is my preferred form of cross-training because I can get my heart rate up almost as high as when I do sprints. I find it's also easier on my knees because it causes less impact than people think.”

Equipment: Kettlebells

“I like the kettlebell because it has a unique shape and you can use it for both strength training and cardio. It's also a great tool for interval training—I have my clients do fast swings for one minute, followed by weighted squats or upright rows.”

Equipment: Resistance Band

“A resistance band is easy to travel with and you can use it to strengthen the upper and lower body and even the core. It also challenges your muscles differently than weights because you don't have as much gravity to help you (on the eccentric phase).”

Equipment: Dumbbells

“You have so many options with a set of dumbbells, and you can choose exactly how much (measurable) weight you want to add to your exercises.”

Equipment: Step or Bench

“Almost everyone has access to a bench or step, whether it's a park bench, set of stairs or a bench at the gym. A step is one of the best tools for lower body—especially the glutes and quads. And you can use it for cardio (e.g., plyometric jumps, fast step-ups) and upper-body exercises (e.g., triceps dips, decline/incline push-ups).”  


Heel Taps: Begin with a basic skip jump, alternating feet. Then, instead of landing on the balls of your feet, extend each leg out in front of you from the knee, trying to tap your heel on the ground in front of you. If you can't make contact with the floor, just practice the movement of extending each leg to get used to the coordination and timing. For a visual of Heel Taps and other jump rope exercises, check out this video clip from Cari.


Common Qualities for Top Equipment Choices

The top trainers we spoke to shared what qualities they look for when finding go-to equipment to use with clients or for their own workouts. Here are some of the characteristics they cited. 

√ versatile 

√ allows for regressions/progressions

√ safe

√ effective

√ fun

√ low-tech

√ easily portable

√ reasonably priced for the average user

√ enhances movement quality

√ functional

√ durable

√ innovative

√ favors whole-body movement



Amanda Vogel, M.A., holds a master’s degree in human kinetics and is a certified fitness professional in Vancouver, B.C. In addition to being an online marketing consultant for BOSU, Amanda owns Active Voice, a writing, editing and consulting service for the fitness industry. Her articles have appeared in Women’s Health, SELF and Prevention. You can reach her at, or

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