african american woman jogging

Be it in the gym or out, no matter how you train, there are simply some tools that make your training session that much more valuable, meaningful, and effective. In other words, you’re going to get your bang for your buck.

Now, I’m a believer in bare-bones fitness. There’s a lot that a focused mind and committed body can do with nothing more than body weight exercises and a slip-resistant floor. That doesn’t change the fact that a few minor additions (and, in some cases, adjustments) to your training routine can make a world of difference.

But Erika, what additions? Of course, your girl’s got you covered:

1) A good pair of training shoes will go a long way. Quality training shoes, designed to cater to your specific sport, will not only support your feet and joints the way you need to be supported, but will provide the proper amount of both cushioning and shock absorption. High-impact sports require more cushion than low-impact, sure, but the more your weigh, the more likely you’ll need more cushioning regardless of the sport. Test out different shoes to guarantee that you get what you need, but my personal favorite for a high-impact training shoe was a tie between the Gel-Kinsei 4s from Asics, and the Cortanas from Saucony. The shoes both offer shock absorption and cushioning all over the entire foot – not just the heel – and give the wearer ventilation while also not leaving them susceptible to water damage if they find themselves caught outside in the rain.

2) A heart rate monitor will help you keep track of how intense your training is, and whether or not you could stand to pick up the pace. It’s one thing to train, but are you going full beast mode, or are you merely going through the regular rigamarole, and not getting your heart rate up there? A heart rate monitor will give you instant readouts of what your heart rate looks like during your workouts, and will give you feedback on whether you need to push it, or you need to pat yourself on the back for grinding so hard. My favorite beginner’s monitor would have to be the Polar FT4. As an ambassador for Polar, I constantly tell people that they might choose to venture out into other brands once they get the hang of using heart rate monitors, but as a beginner watch? Nothing beats the FT4.

3) A pair of compression pants will help with blood flow during training, and will make post-workout recovery far less painful. Compression wear isn’t exactly what the hype would lead you to believe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Compression gear works as a source of body control during workouts – it’ll help control anything that might jiggle and flap while you’re working hard – but it also serves as blood flow support, helping your body transfer oxygen and other necessary resources to the muscles that need them most. Believe it or not, this aids in recovery – getting your muscles what they need quicker aids in them being able to heal quicker. Check out both Nike and CW2’s compression gear, for any gender. While compression shirts are helpful, too, it’s much harder to avoid aggravating sore lower-body muscles than it is upper-body.

4) A foam roller will make your work-out warm-ups more effective, and your training more rewarding. Ahh, the foam roller. Known as “self myofascial release,” foam rolling helps prepare the muscles for war – err, workout, while also helping them align properly post-workout so that they can heal without knotting. Not only that, but the way that foam rolling works the connective tissue also allows for added flexibility, which can only make life better. This foam roller, from Gaiam, is the one I own and use daily. Yes, daily.

Adding these four tos to your training resources will make a world of difference in how you perform, how you prepare, and how you recover. Add these little pieces to your game plan, and – as I always say – your body will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.