Gear or No Gear?!
Okay so you’ve been doing CrossFit for a while now, completely drank the kool aid and officially have a new hobby of collecting fitness footwear. The only next logical step in this relationship is more equipment right? Well the answer is yes and no.
Okay let’s break down the main pieces of gear you may see people wear: Weightlifting shoes, knee sleeves, wrist wraps and a lifting belt. Here is a 101 level explanation of each piece and why you may or may not want to use them.
The first step is to know your “why”. Your goals and training history will have a big impact on whether these are needed. Ultimately if your goals are just overall health, longevity and staying in shape these aren’t necessary. Now if you want to maximize performance you may want to keep reading.
Improve range of motion (specifically in the squat → don’t wear these to deadlift) and give more stability. To simplify things, wearing these shoes give you greater mobility which ultimately can help you get in better positions. This can enhance technique which in turn leads to lifting more weight.
The key is we don’t want this to be a crutch. You should not need weightlifting shoes for everything, however when it comes to lifting maximal loads (especially in olympic lifts) they can make a big difference.
These keep your knees warm while lifting and provide compression around the joint. For some with previous injuries this can be beneficial. Additionally the compression will help you get out of the bottom of your squat improving your ability to lift more weight or additional reps.
These provide stability and compression of the joint. This creates security when lifting heavier loads and for those with limited range of motion it will allow you to go through more complex movements pain free when you don’t have the flexibility.
There are many movements in CrossFit such as Overhead Squats and Handstand Holds or Handstand push ups they require great range of motion while under heavy loads. Our bodies aren’t used to that so if you are performing an exercise and all you can think about is your wrist pain then it’s a good idea to put on wrist wraps.
That being said you want to continue to work on wrist flexibility for long term health. The beginning progression is also to try not to use wrist wraps as long as you can (when warming up), then put them on as loads get heavier.
This may be the most controversial tool. People are usually in one camp or the other when it comes to a belt. First and foremost you need to realize this is not a back brace and if you have back pain this will not fix your issue! In fact it will likely make things worse because you will be unaware of lifting with bad form.
The belt will create intra-abdominal pressure within your core. It also gives you feedback to help improve your bracing because you want to push your core out towards the belt when bracing properly. Many times the core is the limiting factor in several lifts which is why this can help you increase loading. You can create this effect on your own by holding your breath while lifting, but the use of a belt will be that much more effective.
While this does improve core bracing, it will also allow you to stay in better positions if your core stays tight allowing you to hold technique. When wearing a belt it enhances your ability to lift heavier loads which will create a greater stress response in training. This will then lead to further adaptations in strength if done properly.
For example when lifting for strength, attempt to not use the equipment for as long as possible and then add it in when specifically necessary. With a belt it is recommended not to use one below 80% of your 1 rep max so that you can improve bracing techniques and strengthen your core.
So at the end of the day should you add in these pieces of equipment? Well it depends! First and foremost this shouldn’t be a crutch. If you rely on any of these to do all exercise then you are too reliant.