Ask A Gear Guru: What’s The Best Safer-At-Home Training Gear?
As restrictions begin to tighten around the world, our guide to the best products to help get you through it all—safely and injury-free.
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Even though there aren’t any races on the horizon right now, triathletes around the world are rediscovering their love for swimming (maybe), biking, and running, just for sheer enjoyment, to stay in shape, and to keep a tenuous grip on their sanity. For some, this could mean less focused workouts, for others it could mean an opportunity to actually focus on neglected areas of their training. Regardless of why you’re working out or what you’re doing, the reality of the situation is that no one has been here before. Studies everywhere are saying that exercise is not only good for improving your mental health, but also for keeping up your immunity which, right now is our number one job as humans.
So while training is decidedly good—unless you overdo it and/or don’t take recovery deadly seriously—we are in uncharted territory when it comes to working out. In most areas, you can’t train in groups, in most areas there are no public pools, in some areas, public areas like trails and beaches are even closed off. The rules that you should absolutely be following are new and ever-changing, so to get some level of control for your training, it’s important to have some specialized “safer-at-home” training gear to make sure you’re being smart while you sweat.
Before we dive into the gear itself, there are a few huge points we’ve learned over the last few weeks when it comes to training in this brave new world we live in:
If You Train, Recover
This weekend, we’ll be posting a very special Dispatch from Dr. Tamsin Lewis, a former pro triathlete who is currently recovering from a severe case of COVID-19. In the story, she speaks frankly about how important it is for triathletes to recover from whatever workouts they do right now. Specifically, she reminds us that the “golden hour” of nutritional intake is absolutely vital to bolstering your immune system (here are some real-food go-tos). Dr. Lewis goes as far to say that she feels some of her susceptibility to the coronavirus was in part due to her past tendencies to undereat and underfuel. In other words, if you feel comfortable enough to risk training, you need to be medically serious about your recovery—both in nutrition and in time spent resting. No joke.
Follow Local Guidelines
More than being safe and smart, this is just a matter of common courtesy. First, many places are requiring cloth masks as recommended by the CDC. Know this: Even if you’re the healthiest most illness-resistant person in the world, that still means you could be a carrier and you could “shed” that virus onto someone else. Even more so if you’re breathing heavy like on a run in a busy area. The point of the cloth mask is NOT to prevent you from catching COVID-19 (more advanced masks that should only be used by medical professionals are the only things that can do that), it’s to prevent OTHERS from catching it from you—even if you’re not showing symptoms or maybe never will. It’s like smoking in a crowded room—ok, you might be fine with the risk of smoking cigarettes, but it’s unfair to assume others are as well. Same thing goes for the “training outside or staying inside” debate—stick to what your local/regional/national guidelines say; it’s not just about you.
Take Care of Yourself, Things Might Get Weird
This may sound redundant, but our biggest job as healthy triathletes is to stay healthy (and positive) for us and those who depend on us. While it’s important to recover properly like we said above, we’re also putting our bodies in some unusual positions—literally—right now. For many people who are either working from home or who are unemployed/underemployed/furloughed, you may find yourself sitting for longer periods of time than you’re used to OR—more likely—sitting in a home chair/desk as opposed to the nice fancy ones your employer has for you at your workplace. The result of this slight environmental change has already shown huge cases of hip imbalances and other weird resultant injuries that people have never had before. Also, some athletes have a propensity to overtrain to relieve stress—or to train only in ways that are safe, like indoor cycling/running or doing more running than usual with no swimming (which can often help to loosen tight muscles). When this happens, injuries can pop up, and when you’re injured, you can’t train, and when some of us can’t train, some of us get tough to deal with. Just sayin’.
Challenge Or Opportunity?
While there’s no doubt that we are in a very challenging time right now, there are opportunities for triathletes to come out on the other end with something positive. While we need to first and foremost take care of those who need help and our families, it’s good to focus on goals as well. Whether your goal is to work on strength training to bulletproof yourself for when the season restarts or your goal is to PR on a stretch of road near your home, take this opportunity to challenge yourself in ways that give you something to work towards. Particularly during times of stress (and this definitely qualifies, big time), experts say that setting some kind of process-oriented goal to work towards can be incredibly positive. While no one is saying that things are great, if you can turn your own personal challenge into an opportunity to improve and be better when we can return to some level of normalcy, you’ll not only be helping Future You, but also You Today.
Now that we’ve laid out the basic groundwork for “safer-at-home” training gear, let’s take a look at our guide:
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Training Smartwatch
Fitbit Charge 4
While we posted a full review of this new budget smartwatch just yesterday, the TL;DR version is that for under $200, you’ll get a smartwatch with GPS and that can be used for Strava (see: goals), for basic biking, running, and pool swimming (no open water). So why is this the best “safer-at-home” smartwatch? Well, it’s MUCH cheaper than any other GPS watch for things like Strava, it has contactless payment—which is kind of a big deal right now—and it has a host of really cool COVID-19-specific guidance like access to virtual docs, washing hands reminders, at-home workouts, and real-time info from the WHO. Not only that, but the GPS and heart-rate monitor functions (essential if you’re trying to measure intensity and recovery right now) are actually pretty decent. Get one for yourself or for someone you love.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Outdoor Running Pack
FuelBelt Uno Belt
So with the disclaimer that you should be smart about your and your area’s tolerance for risk, if you’re going to run outside, there are going to be a few things you might need. First, it’s a good idea to carry a cell phone right now, just in case; second, you probably need to carry hand sanitizer (remember, it’s not just you protecting yourself, it’s about protecting others from your sweaty mess); and third, you need to stay hydrated now more than ever. Having hand sanitizer is also a good idea if you’re wearing a cloth mask—remember to sanitize before you touch your face. This pack carries a standard smartphone with space for a small container of han-san, and boasts 16 ounces of hydration in the included bottle.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Outdoor Running Mask
Starting at $20, Rei.com
Ok, before I start, please read this carefully: Due to the stretchy nature of this garment, professionals are recommending that you supplement this by doubling it up AND inserting or sewing another piece of non-stretchy cloth into the part that will cover your mouth and nose. By itself a Buff is NOT ENOUGH to follow CDC guidelines for a cloth face covering. That said, one of the biggest issues with cloth masks is people messing with them (and touching their faces) because they’re uncomfortable or ill fitting. This is the best solution for athletes, as we’re more used to wearing something like this, it travels well, and you can easily pull it up and down (after sanitizing) while running near others. But remember, this is only a starting spot—you’ll need to modify it if you want to do right by those around you.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Trail Running Shoes
Saucony Xodus 10
Again, this is assuming you can run outside and/or have access to trails. But if you do, trails are a great place to be sure you don’t create any funky imbalances and get some time out in the restorative scenery of nature. The big draw behind this specific pair of trail shoes is that they work just as well on pavement as they do on trails—thanks to the thick layer of Saucony’s unique “PWRRUN+” cushioning. While many of today’s trail shoes focus on either an incredibly rigid platform or on “ground feel,” this is a versatile pair of trail shoes with BEEFY lugs that works equally well on all surfaces. And remember: Adaptability is the new name of the game.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Training Bands
Sklz Resistance Cable Set
Since very few people are able to get to a pool or gym, standard equipment for living the athletic life “safer-at-home” is at least one good set of resistance bands. We like this model because it has big burly handles that work for either swim pulling, can be adjusted for leg work, or can be adapted with different levels of resistance tubing on the fly. We also like that it comes with a door anchor so you don’t have to wrap it around something. Our advice here: Get them before they sell out.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Foam Roller
TriggerPoint CHARGE Foam Roller
Remember how we were talking about those weird injuries one can develop from sitting on the couch or some inadequate chair/desk situation? The best way to remedy those imbalances and tightnesses (aside from a good physical therapist) is via a foam roller. And since so many of these imbalances are specifically caused by hip issues—no swimming, lots of running, riding indoors on the trainer in one position, and the desk/chair thing—you need a hardcore foam roller that helps specifically with hips and alignment. TriggerPoints CHARGE foam roller is a little more on the “advanced” side when it comes to foam rolling, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The unique deep grooves in the roller help “stretch and squeeze” muscles that are likely not getting a lot of varied movement at home.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Indoor Trainer
Saris M2 Smart Trainer
Since there’s a good chance we’ll be riding inside for a while, now’s a good time to finally pull the trigger on a smart trainer so you can join all of your friends (virtually) for group rides again. Using a magnetically controlled wheel-on design that not only reads power within +/-5%, it also uses Bluetooth or ANT+ FE-C to give virtual ride feedback from platforms like Zwift or Rouvy. We like that this trainer is easy to move around, folds down almost flat, and doesn’t require external sensors to measure cadence—set up and go. Want to take it a step further (or already own a smart trainer?), check out Saris’ MP1 Nfinity trainer platform: For $1,200, you can strap your existing trainer down and get side-to-side/forward-backward motion that does a great job simulating road feel for a more effective (and WAY more comfortable) indoor experience.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Immunity Booster
$7 for 10 serving tube, Amazon.com
While there’s no evidence that this product will prevent you from getting coronavirus, Nuun has been a trusted name in the tri nutrition world for years. With a unique (and non-GMO/Vegan/Gluten free/Informed Sport) formula that includes botanicals and a decent dose of vitamin C to help boost immunity, this product certainly can’t hurt. Particularly given the fact that each serving only has 15 calories and only 2 grams of sugar, these tabs could help keep you topped off even if you’re not exercising right now.
The Best “Safer-At-Home” Recovery Drink
Infinit Custom Recovery Protein
Starting at $23/5-serving bag; $43/12-serving bag; $63/25-serving bag, Infinitnutrition.us
Ok, as we mentioned early in the guide, recovery could be just about the most important thing in your life right now, literally. If you want to keep training—which you should, safely—then you need to be sure you’re getting the right fuel in your body when you’re done. While my only gripe with Infinit’s incredible custom protein product might be the price, if ever there was a time to spend a few extra bucks on keeping yourself properly fed and recovered, it’s now. Using their really cool, award-winning custom protein-builder site, you can assemble something that will boost your immunity as well as keep you from missing that golden window of refueling. With the help of a free phone consultation, you can go over your nutrition goals with a living, breathing expert and fine-tune your blend for this crucial time in recovery.