The Fab Fitness Gear I Can't Live Without

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As a long-time exerciser and fitness instructor, I've tried my fair share of fitness gear over the years. But only a few items have withstood the sweat test! My workouts consist of a combination of running, walking, Pilates, Spinning, and general fitness training (weights, aerobics, etc.), and today I'm sharing some of my top picks for apparel, gadgets and gear in all of those categories!

Aeromat 36" Foam Roller ($49.99)
I love a good foam roller, but a good foam roller will cost you. You can find smaller and less expensive versions, but they will not last. Cheaper models become lumpy, bumpy and worn down after just a few uses, but a high-quality foam roller like this one is worth the extra cost because it really lasts. I use the foam roller to roll out my sore muscles, especially my back, hamstrings and calves. It's super easy to do but makes a major difference in how you feel and your ability to recover after a tough workout. To learn how to use a foam roller, check out this video I made. You can also perform core and strengthening exercises on a foam roller: Here are some to try!

GoFit 20-Pound Kettlebell ($49.99)
After I tried kettlebell training with the help of a certified kettlebell instructor, I was hooked! Unless you've tried it, it's hard to explain just how different kettlebells are from traditional hand weights, and how they challenge your body in completely new ways. I invested in my own kettlebell from GoFit a couple years ago so I could do more training at home. I keep it in my living room and incorporate it into my strength workouts every now and then to keep things fresh—and it does not disappoint. I'm happy with the quality of this kettlebell by GoFit, and it also comes with its own DVD that teaches you some of the basics. You can find these kettlebells at Target, Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods and more.

Garmin Forerunner 405 ($349.99)
The Garmin Forerunner has forever changed the way I run, and really made me a better, more dedicated runner. It was a pricey investment, but I feel that it was worth every penny. It tracks my distance, elevation changes, heart rate, time, pace, and even provides me with a virtual partner to keep pace with as I run. I can upload my runs to Garmin's website and see detailed maps, videos, and so much more. Really, this short shout out can't do it justice. I plan to do a more thorough review of this little gadget soon. But if you walk or run, this may be just the ticket you need to stay motivated and improve over time!

SmartWool PhD Running Ultra Light Micro Socks ($12.95) and SmartWool Athletic Light Crew Socks ($14.95)
I first bought SmartWool socks for my weeklong Grand Canyon hiking trip. Wool is insulating, yet breathable, doesn't hold onto moisture (and can therefore help prevent blisters), and also resistant to stinky smells. I pretty much live in my SmartWool socks all the time now, which means that I also walk, hike, and run in them. Cotton socks will no longer have a place in my wardrobe—wool is where it's at! They may be expensive, but they last a lot longer and can be worn multiple times between washes without ill effects (seriously, no smell!). Learn more about working out in wool.

Franklin Air Ball ($9.70)
I call this a "mini ball," and it is by far my most favorite fitness prop. I use it all the time in Pilates class. I incorporate it into regular strength training too. This tiny ball is so versatile, and it's inexpensive to boot! You may remember me raving about the mini ball when I reviewed both the Bender Ball and the Quick Sculpt Pilates set. If I had to choose just one piece of exercise equipment to last me the rest of my life, this would be it. So unassuming, yet so challenging! You can hold it, squeeze it, lie on it, use it in almost any way that you would a larger stability ball, and more. I am excited to report that I'll be shooting some new workout videos with the mini ball for the SparkPeople website soon, too!

C9 by Champion Seamless Cami Sports Bras ($16.99)
These sports bras from Target are my favorites by far. I love the variety of colors. I think the support level is just perfect, and you can't beat the price either. I am always recommending them to my friends. No matter what kind of workout I'm doing, these sports bras do the job and keep me comfortable.

Sigg 1-Liter Water Bottle ($24.99) with Sport Top ($6.99)
All that exercise requires a lot of water. Since I try to do my part to cut down on waste, I never ever use single-use plastic bottles of water. I invested in a good, sturdy, reusable Sigg bottle a few years ago, and it's still the one I use today. This is my companion to every Spinning class! It's easy to clean, too, and helps me meet my daily quota without adding to the landfills.

Gaiam Premium Sticky Yoga Mat ($23.98)
For Pilates, I use a "premium" yoga mat, which is twice as thick as a standard yoga mat. This gives me extra cushioning on my spine and my hips during certain exercises, making my whole workout a lot more comfortable. I like having my own mat because it seems more sanitary than using a mat from the gym—it's all mine! My premium mat is from Gaiam, but it's actually an "eco" (PVC-free) mat that they seem to no longer sell. It's lasted me for several years and still works great! Oh and since we're on the topic, here's my best tip for keeping germs off of your yoga mat.

iPod Nano ($139)
I currently use a fifth generation iPod nano, but the newest model (pictured here) is smaller. I am always downloading new songs for my iPod to keep my workouts fresh and exciting. I can't imagine exercising—or teaching classes—without it.

ALO headbands ($3.81/each) and Goody Secure Fit Headbands
If you've seen any of my videos, then you know that I love my headbands! I've tried so many different styles and brands, but these two are my top picks. I like the Goody headbands (find them at almost about big box store or drug store) because they're small, but they stay put thanks to a no-slip grip on the inside. The ALO headbands are harder to find (try Dick's Sporting Goods). They're the perfect width for me, plus they are sweat-wicking and tend to really stay in place while keeping my hair out of my face. No one wants stray hairs in their face or eyes when working out (that's just gross and distracting), so a good headband is a must!

Nike Pro Thermal Women's Running Tights ($50)
I can't tell you how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE these tights. I bought my first pair last year and practically lived in them all winter long. Just scored another pair with a little holiday cash a few weeks ago. Yes, these are expensive, but if exercising outdoors in the winter is a reality for you, this is money well spent. These tights fit perfectly, but do you really want to know the best part? They are fleece lined. That means seriously cozy and instantly warm the second you step into them. On warmer winter days, I'll wear just these tights. On colder days (30s and below), I layer another pair of pants on top. And I won't lie. Sometimes I just like to wear them to bed or underneath my jeans in the winter, even if I'm not working out. TIP: Look for these on sale now! My most recent pair was $20 off the SRP at Dick's Sporting Goods.

SparkPeople Bamboo Tank Tops ($21.99)
This is by far my new favorite top! I love that it's made of 57% Bamboo, which is eco-friendly, super soft, and naturally wicks moisture away. It's a little stretchy, too, thanks to a bit of spandex, and it comes in 3 pretty colors: green, aqua and blue (I have all three!), with a SparkPeople logo on one side of the chest. This top has a great fit. It's flattering, form-fitting (but not skintight) and—my favorite—long! It comes down past my hips, which is stylish and comfortable. I tested this little baby on a Saturday morning run a couple weeks ago and was dry and cool when it was over. The racerback style is great for working out—gives you freedom to move but doesn't make you feel too exposed.

Those are just a few of my favorite fitness things. What are some of yours?

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I might try some kettebells later on. Report
Great tips! Wish I could save this blog for future reference. Report
Yay, love this question! My fitness gear essentials are:
yoga mat
timex ironman watch
sports bra Report
Love my 180's (ear muff that snug the back of your head/neck instead of going over it) from Dicks Sporting Goods - they keep my ears toasty warm when I exercise outdoors during the winter and are incredibly comfortable. I also scored a top at REI (don't remember the brand) that has thumbholes and a cuff that can be flipped over your hands to keep them warm - the shirt wicks moisture away and is a wonderful second (of three) layers. Report
I had a Garmin 305, I LOVED it and I lost the watch part. Very sad!!!

I am saving this in my favorites to refer to, thanks for the great suggestions. Report
Splurged on some tights w/a Christmas Gift Card this weekend, but got the Under Armour brand (still $50). OMG I absolutely LOVE them!
Went to Target after that - bought 2 of the bras in different styles. Love them too!
Thank you so much!
June :) Report
Thank you for the list! Report
Thank you for the list! It showed up at just the right time. I've recently bought some inexpensive headbands and they're not staying in place. I'm going to look for the ALO ones next time I'm near a Dick's Sporting Store.

I have an older Garmin GPS (205) watch and I love it. I don't always use it, but I am so glad I have it when I do use it. For those commenters who complained about the price, try looking at the older models (205, 305) or the lower models (110, 210). The older models are a little bigger, but they have very similar functions. They also don't have the bezels, which some people have trouble with. Report
I love my yoga mat, sneakers, and dumbbells. When it's warm out, I bike, so my helmet and gloves become regulars. List like this occasionally make me wish that I had boobs small enough to wear the cute little sports bras that you can buy in regular stores, but alas I'm around a DD or so. My water bottle has a built in straw, which makes it easier to use while working out (no lids to unscrew). I also have an iPod, which is my exercise and commuting friend. The rest of the list seems unnecessary to me. I'm not a runner, so none of the running gear is useful. I've lost weight and lived without most of this list, but I'm also a broke college student, so that could explain that. Report
LOVE the mini ball and can't wait to for the SP workout videos. Report
I have the Garmin 305 which is larger but I love the large face so I can see lots of info all at once. I also love my Gymboss interval timer since I do a walk/ beeps at the intervals I set to let me know when to walk and when to run. Inexpensive dumbells from Target in 3 lb and 5 lb sizes are also some of my favorites. Report
The Champion toning shoes from PayLess Shoe Source, most comfy shoe I've ever owned, bought myself 2 more pair in fact, so I have different colors to choose from. Report
Tanks for the tips. We can't possibly review all that is out there with the knowledge base you have. I can make some rewards for family gifting.
One thing I love is the spark socks. They are terrific. And as an old lady movin it around I find the exercise ball from Spark Store a must. Makes doing things so much easier. And I like my kayak and my water weights for activities in the lake. Report
I enjoy hearing about your favorites!
I have to say, I'm happy to see Champion get some recognition. I've been a fan of their sports bras for years now. They last, and fit me better than the more expensive competitors! Report
lost a few points with me on the Garmin. I purchased a Garmin 405CX and took it back within a week. Very difficult to work with to get set up. Have read several reviews with problems, esp with the touch bezel being to sensitive or locking up. Great price though at Costco for $219.99. Not all review were bad but the ones who liked the watch did indicate difficulties in getting it set up and were willing to live with the flaws. I will stick with my $59 "The Sharper Image" came with a chest strap for continuous readings, that has multi-functions and gives me what I want, HRM and Calorie burn. Report
My faves are simple

Dumbells ( 5lb and 3lb)
2 sets of resistance bands (1 for legs 1 for arms)
Stability ball
Pedometor that tracks calories, miles, and steps
music (from radio, ipod, or pandora)
Good shoes

I really want to get a kettle ball and some of those super cute bamboo tops that are sold att the sp store. 22 bucks is actually pretty cheap for a good workout top. Go to the nike store about 40 bucks for one top. Try walmart and you will be wishing you didnt spend 15 dollars for their lame workout tops. Report
I'm going to try the bamboo shirts. Saw some bamboo fabric nightgowns today and they really were super soft, but sticker shock! SP tops are reasonably priced, and I bet I will end up wearing these often!
FYI- I use the Garmin Edge 305, which downloads to my computer and can be used for triathlon - it has a bike mount, cadence settings, water resistant to use swimming, etc. I love this gadget. Report
I love Kettlebells, so the money for them is something that last which makes them great. Report
Great info and tips. Report
I have some must haves too. I love my Easy Shaper by Tony Little. It's a one pound pole with stretch bands attached. It gives you a real good strength training workout. It can go up to 60 pounds of resistance. I love my biggest loser water bottle. It has a big spout to drink out of. I also love my mp3 player I got from Wal*mart. Report
Awesome list of resources, thank you so much. Report
Oh, please! Report
Wow, some pricey stuff! And you are promoting a Spark product (yet again). 22$ is way too much for a tank top. My cheaper model foam roller has lasted for over 4 years - it still looks new. Report
You should get discounts at your favorite fitness stores for promoting these items! Report
A thicker yoga mat would be a great reward for me when I meet my next goal. Thanks for the suggestion! Report
I use hand weights a lot for my workouts, but I think i might get into the kettel ball routine. I have never tried, but since you made it sound so entertaining i think ill try it out! thanks! I also love my ipod nano it makes my workouts a lot more motivating with the pedometer and the fact that you can instantly make a play list without plugging into a computer! Report
The biggest fitness gear I couldn't live without is a really good sports bra...I wear a DD, so without that support I couldn't make it through a whole workout! My resistance bands and stability ball, my cardio DVDs and yoga DVDs help me mix up my workouts and keep me on track on those really cold days when I don't want to leave my apartment. And my bicycle -- usually starting in April, I ditch my car and ride my bike to work and the store. I live at the top of a pretty good-sized hill, so it's always a great workout! Report
like shopping with Coach Nicole....thanks for the tips! Report
I have to second the shout out for the iPod Nano - I believe mine is the 5th generation too, and the best thing (that you forgot to mention) is that it has a built in pedometer! I use it constantly for that alone. Report
The Garmin watch sounds awesome and I was considering getting one about a year ago - but the price point was a little steep. As I already had an iPod nano, I instead got the "Nike + iPod" set (accelerometer/transmitter chip for the shoe and receiver that plugs into the power port on the iPod). After calibrating to your typical pace, I found this to be pretty accurate (I would estimate within 5% of the actual distance I ran). It served me well through about 500 miles of marathon training, and is about $30 if I recall correctly. While it does not give the benefit of elevation changes or heart rate, it is a good, inexpensive alternative for those who might have the iPod nano (or iPhone or iPod touch) already. Report
I love my stretchy resistance bands....they don't have handles so they fold up easily and can be tucked into a tote bag & brought to work (yes, I have done this during break) and brought on vacation with using minimal space. I keep one tucked into the side table in the den too! Report
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