A Guide to Gear (Part 1.)
I remember in the early days of CrossFit, wearing any sort of gear was taboo (at least where I was). It was about getting back to the basics and being somewhat of a “naturalist”. Many people used the minimalist style shoe, or just a good ole pair of Chuck Taylors. Knee sleeves were seen every now and then, as well as wrist wraps, but belts were out of the question. Nowadays, people have belts, knee sleeves, compression pants, KT Tape, wrist wraps, elbow wraps, etc. Some people look like it’s Christmas (and not Christmas Abbott…)!
I’m not bashing gear, by any means. If I didn’t wear knee sleeves, my poor Marine veteran knees would have probably exploded by now. I personally use knee sleeves, wrist wraps, straps, and a lifting belt. It’s important to know the when, how, and why behind the gear you use. So, I’m going to cover just a couple in this article that I see the most often.
Olympic Lifting Shoes
“Don’t have $100 shoes and a 10 Cent squat”- Louie Simmons. This is probably one of my favorite quotes, and really you could sub in any piece of gear/exercise and apply it. Weightlifting shoes are a great piece of gear, but they are often used incorrectly. Also, if you are just starting out, it really won’t benefit you much by getting them. Focus on technique, skills, and drills before shopping for an expensive shoe. However, if you already have some or simply can’t resist the urge to use them, make sure you use them only for the Olympic Lifts (Snatch, Clean & Jerk) and/or Squats. This doesn’t apply for everyone. Personally, I have never done much better in Olympic Lifting shoes, but most people do benefit from them when used properly. Some of this is due to my incredibly jacked up feet with super high arches (I broke my heels as a kid and my feet got pretty messed up from it). But, that doesn’t mean someone else couldn’t benefit from them. Weightlifting shoes give you a solid platform with an elevated heel, which puts more of the lift on your quads and allows it to be easier to hit a deeper squat without having to worry as much about ankle mobility. But, if you struggle with hitting depth in your squat due to weak hamstrings, you don’t want to put on shoes that will be detrimental to getting your hamstrings stronger.
One of the most common mistakes I see when it comes to lifting shoes is using it for your deadlift. As I said before, the elevated heel in a weightlifting shoe puts more of the lift on your quads. When deadlifting, the goal is to get heavy weight from Point A, the ground, to Point B, the finish position with hips extended. Your posterior chain is responsible for the majority of this lift, which includes the hamstrings. Your hamstrings are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion, so you want a flat-soled shoe to be able to properly engage it, or just go barefoot.
There are many different types of belts out there. If you’re in the market for a belt, check out this video from Lift Big Eat Big athlete, Alanna Casey, to help make the proper selection
Now, the more important concern is should you even be wearing a belt? It is pretty common to see belts being worn by guys at the “Y” for every single exercise they do. You do not need it for bicep curls, and it is not a back brace. A belt can benefit you in the squat, deadlift, press, and the Olympic lifts, but you should not constantly rely on it. Certain belts are made for certain lifts too, so you want to be sure you use the correct one. If you’re not sure, ask a coach and we can help guide you to the right belt (or check out the videos). Most of the belts you see at sports stores are garbage. If you’re serious about lifting, you will want to get a good quality belt. There are some soft style belts that are pretty flexible, and these are usually good for the Olympic lifts, since it won’t get in the way of your pull. The other is the more rigid powerlifting style belt, usually with a snap. These are great for deadlifting, squats, and pressing. Sometimes in Strongman, guys will even use a combination of the two.
However, you will not strengthen your core as much by wearing a belt. So, if you have a bad back or weak abs, you’re often doing yourself more harm the good if you wear it all the time. I usually won’t throw on a belt until I get to about 90-95% of my max. DON’T WEAR A BELT WHEN WARMING UP! The belt basically gives support for your abs and lower back, and something to push against. Kind of like how you can leg press a lot more than you can squat, because you have a solid surface on your back. Here is another great video on how to use a belt:
When I first started using a belt, it took me a little while to get used to it and figure out where I would want it to be positioned for the different lifts. It was very beneficial though, and I was able to pull more weight with it and not be as sore. If you wear it mainly because your back hurts, then you should probably be doing more to strengthen your back and be stretching more. Good mornings, GHD Back Extensions, planks, and doing yoga are all some great ways to help strengthen your core.
So, to wrap it all up, make sure you are focusing on yourself first. You are the most important piece of gear to utilize, so make sure you’re in good shape and ready to utilize gear as it was intended in order to really help you. The right gear can be incredibly beneficial. I don’t consider it “cheating” like many YouTube commenters. If you think it is, go tell that to Eddie Hall after he deadlifted 1,026 lbs with a belt… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39nvYNMyLwk
That being said, just be sure you are not cheating yourself by relying on your gear too much when you could be getting stronger without it.