My name is Mike Spagnola. I’m a strength and conditioning coach/owner at Edge Strength & Conditioning in Cary, IL. To put it simply, I’m addicted to finding ways to make people better—be it stronger, leaner, bigger, or faster. I am committed to helping athletes and serious trainees crush their competition and goals. In addition to walking the walk, I’m pursuing a BS in movement science for the more technical side of things. What most people don’t know (until now) is that I’m doing all this at 20 years old. Just a number, right?
That being said, here are the top ten gifts for your 20 year-old meathead this holiday season.
Best stocking stuffer
Straps are a useful tool for anyone moving around heavy weights. Whether it’s a set of rack pulls or high-rep shrugs, taxing your CNS any more than necessary is just dumb. For those of you [training] athletes, keep in mind that anything barbell-related is NOT their sport, so limiting stress where possible is encouraged. Let the damage be from more productive sources like loaded sprints and heavy squats.
Best “You’re a pencil-neck. Fix this” gift
Everyone from Jim Wendler to Jason Ferruggia uses/has used a neck harness in their training, or while training others. The fact is, not only does having a small, weak neck make you look funny, it can also be dangerous on the field. You are only as strong as your weakest point; it’s best to make sure that point isn’t one that could leave you on the sidelines. It will also improve cervical mobility if used correctly.
Best recovery tool
I think most of us have been there with aches, pains, and injuries. Admittedly, this is sometimes part of being an athlete, whether you’re a soccer player or power lifter. I’m lucky enough to, at an early age, have guys like Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey constantly raving about tissue quality and mobility, but most meatheads don’t realize that there is a time and place to lift heavy things. Sure, you’re more useful to society, but remember this: heavy weights tax the body, and often push tissue to its limits. Make sure you’re intelligent enough to add in the “grunt work” when necessary. Not everything that boosts your numbers has to be big and nasty.
Best abs in the gym!
No, I’m not talking about the scrawny abs the 124lb “ripped” guy is sporting in the mirror in between bicep curl sets. I mean real, supportive, and powerful abs. Ask just about any of my athletes what tool their abs hate the most, and I guarantee this will be your answer. That’s because when used properly, it not only trains the abs in a realistic (think bracing/pushing out) manner, but it also teaches proper breathing technique for the best mechanical advantage your abs can provide. Speaking of which…
Best buy for big lifts
Prior to writing this, I was unsure if I should include a belt on the list. Belts are great for power lifters, but are they really useful for athletes as well? Damn straight. I don’t think anyone should ever become belt dependent, but neither do I see the need to prove anything while going for a max effort lift. The fact that they don’t wear a belt on the field is irrelevant—they don’t have 500lbs on their back either!
Best bang for your buck
You can do virtually everything with these, and they fit in any gym bag. If you’re stuck in a commercial gym, home gym, or hotel room, you can make a pretty complete routine with just a pair of blast straps. Beyond that, they are extremely useful for developing shoulder stability and strength, and I believe they are the number one way to teach a new athlete/client proper dip form. You can’t “shrug” through the motion on blast straps, so proper motor programming is developed.
Best “I do Westside method” gift
While most people simply throw in speed work and consider their program Westside, they probably aren’t truly doing Westside. I would suggest that either way, band work is going to help. Not only do most trainees claiming Westside do high sets, low reps, and low percentages, but bands are generally unforgiving to bad form—basically, if your form sucks, you’re going to know it REAL fast. Get bands, get faster, get stronger, and solidify your form.
Best way to stay lean
Though the econo prowler is the little brother of the Prowler 2, it works great for good ol’ fashioned meathead conditioning. When it comes to athletics specifically, the prowler helps with proper sprinting mechanics for increased speed and acceleration. For everyone else, it’s simply a great tool for GPP (‘conditioning’), blasting body fat, and having a genuinely good (read-miserable) time. And let’s be real; nothing is more rewarding than surviving a brutal session with the beloved prowler.
Best bet to get strong(er)
If there’s one thing I take home from Edge S&C each day, it’s that nobody can have a strong enough posterior chain, and that’s exactly where everyone seems to be weakest. I’m not sure if it’s because we haven’t designed mirrors to easily view your backside yet, or if it’s because most people are so overly anterior (pecs, biceps, quads anyone?) dominant in everyday living (or sitting) that our PC gets neglected; but in any case, the SS yoke bar quickly rectifies this situation. Every meathead will benefit tremendously from a stronger upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. From a faster 40 to a bigger squat, the SS Yoke bar never lets you down. Kinda like your trusty left….never mind.
Best “this is for your birthday, Christmas, and it’s from ALL of us” gift
Let’s face it—Commercial gyms suck. Guys hogging the squat rack to curl, girls stick to the treadmill, and people hate hard workers. Most people don’t have access to gyms like Edge S&C, so why not have your own? Never again do you have to worry about hiding your chalk, or getting evil looks when you set a PR. You’ll never need to fear getting caught sneaking DBs out the back door for farmer’s walks, or getting caught up in garbage gym chatter. This is YOUR gym, and you set the rules, you choose who trains, and you guys break the PRs. Not a bad deal, huh?
Next time you’re stuck at Walmart trying to figure out what your 20 year-old meathead wants for the holiday, here’s the plan. Get in your car, reread this article, and go over to the EFS store to get them what they really want. These are the tools I use in my gym, and many before me have been using them for years.