Style And Substance

Why Fitness Equipment Should Be More Than Just Functional

Do you want to know one of the things I like best about kettlebells? What I like is that you’re far more likely to find kettlebells that don’t look the same as everyone else’s.

You see, kettlebell makers–especially smaller operations–are willing to look at the kettlebell a little differently. They’re willing to take a look at the implement and think, “How can I make this bad boy even cooler.”

This weekend, the Arnold Fitness Festival is taking place in Columbus, Ohio, and earlier today the strongman competition athletes went toe-to-toe with a piece of equipment that is both style and substance, and it made me wonder why we don’t see more of that kind of thing.

What I’m talking about is the Wheel of Pain that Rogue built for the Arnold. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here:

The thing is massive, it’s terrifying, and it’s cool as hell.

The inspiration is the Wheel of Pain from Conan the Barbarian. As a fan of the Conan character, it was kind of hard not to get stoked about watching this one.

But what I liked most was that they didn’t just build a wheel that would suck to push in a circle. No, they gave it style.

They added carvings that do almost nothing at all except to just look badass. It’s a piece of intimidating engineering that tested the athletes beyond their limits. It sent Halfthor Bjornsson crashing to the ground after his minute on the wheel so severely that medics had to check him out.

So style and substance can co-exist.

This is especially true in the kettlebell world, where we have companies like Onnit that will not just make kettlebells with various apes on them, but they’ll also license Marvel or Star Wars characters to use as well. There’s also Iron Skull Fitness that makes skull and animal kettlebells. There are the BoomBells at MaxWOD, too.

There are vintage kettlebells floating around that are steeped in history. There are also, of course, the plain kettlebells.

What’s really fun, though, is that the kettlebells don’t have to stay looking the same. They lend themselves well toward creativity. I can’t paint, so when I painted these, I just used some spray paint:

(Photo by Tom Knighton)

They’ve since been repainted, but as you can see, they’re not the straight black kettlebells most people have.

Something about kettlebells seems to give people permission to monkey with them to some degree.

But why can’t all fitness equipment be like that?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no one telling you that you can’t paint your iron plates. Some schools will get plates in their school colors or whatever, but for most folks, it’s just not done.

It’s not just weight plates, though.

Take a look at a power rack. Just take a single look. Don’t worry about the brand, just look at one.

Congratulations. You’ve pretty much seen them all.

Oh, I know. Rogue, for example, will let you pick whatever color you want for your rack. They’re not necessarily alone on that, either, but so what? It’s still a power rack.

Now, imagine someone built a power rack that looked like it was made of giant bones. The powder coating was used to highlight this and then a coating was placed on top so the coating could be damaged without the decorative pieces being marred. Make that coating something the owner could touch up themselves from time to time.

Suddenly, you’ve turned a basic power rack into something off of a heavy metal album.

In our lives, we have so many different options and styles of various things. If you describe someone’s home, the words “coffee table” may conjure an image in the other person’s mind, but unless you’re more specific, that image won’t necessarily be accurate.

Why can’t we have that kind of style in our equipment?

“Dude, it’s gym equipment. I don’t care if it looks cool or not,” some might say, and they wouldn’t be wrong.

As long as it’s functional, gym equipment doesn’t necessarily need to look like anything.

But because there’s no need, why don’t we get to pick? Why not ask for a little flash with our substance?

Muhammad Ali is still considered the greatest boxer of all time, but how many of us only know his name because there was enough flash to make him interesting, even if we didn’t care about the substance.

However, there’s also a practical reason to value a little style to go with functionality.

You see, getting fit requires a mindset. You have to, at some point, want to train despite not feeling like it. You’ve got to pull yourself away from Facebook and Twitter and the TV and start moving some weight.

Now, ask yourself one thing: How much easier would it be if you knew you’d be around equipment that would evoke passion in you?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that motivation should come from within and all that, but guess what? Sometimes, it doesn’t. You can complain about it all you want, but that won’t change reality.

So with that in mind, why not stack the deck in your favor? Why not grab equipment that you legitimately want to be around because it amuses you or it pumps you up just looking at it?

If it doesn’t matter if your kettlebell looks like a ball with a handle on it, then why should it matter if someone wants their 24 kg kettlebell to be a freaking lion?

But to the guy who has that? To the guy who gets stoked thinking about warriors and crap as he slings around a kettlebell shaped like an orangutan? To the guy who painted his weight plates to look like Viking or Roman shields?

To that guy, it means a lot.

Look, I’m not saying you’re doing it wrong. If you like the equipment you have and the way it looks and wouldn’t change a damn thing, cool. I don’t want anyone to stop making equipment like that. Not by a long shot.

But I do wish we could see more workout equipment that had the flare of that Wheel of Pain in Columbus, Ohio. I think it would help me. I’m sure it would help others.

And even if it didn’t really help, it would give me a thrill.

That said, I’m also the guy who ordered a fairly plain kettlebell a couple of days ago. Granted, I’ll probably end up painting it before too much longer so it’s more “me,” but I didn’t get one of those amusing kettlebells.

It won’t necessarily always be so, though.

To be honest, I’m just not stoked about the offerings right now, to be honest. If someone can figure out how to barbarian-ify a kettlebell or two, then I’m down. Especially if they can keep them in the standard weights.

When that happens, I’ll start saving my pennies. In the meantime, though, I’ll be working on getting this puppy.

My question is, in a world where we’re used to infinite style choices, why are we so ready to accept the plain and boring when it comes to our fitness equipment?

Rogue, especially, deserves to be called out. After all, they built that Wheel of Pain. Where’s the creativity in the rest of their offerings?

I swear, if I had the money, I’d start making this stuff. Unfortunately, though, I don’t.

And I think we’re all poorer for it, this time.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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