Training | POSTED May 2, 2022

The Only Lifting Equipment You Need in Your Gym Bag

Introduction

If you were to spend any time on social media watching fitness related content you would quickly come across some incredibly strong people lifting heavy weights while wearing all sorts of personal lifting equipment including a belt, strange looking shoes, wraps or straps around their wrists and wraps or sleeves around their knees.

In fact, Rachael and I often use this equipment in our own training. In this article I’d like to explain the purposes of this equipment and perhaps answer some of the questions or address common misconceptions around the use of this equipment. This will include the following:

  • Is using lifting equipment necessary?
  • Does using lifting equipment help with injury prevention?
  • Isn’t lifting equipment expensive?
  • What piece of lifting equipment should I buy first?

Who can benefit from using lifting equipment?

So, who can benefit from using personal lifting equipment?

Simply put, everyone. This isn’t some kind of exclusive club where only once you’ve “earned” the right to use equipment once you’re lifting an arbitrary amount of weight. As you’ll see in the following sections, lifting equipment simply improves the return on investment into your time training. Everyone can benefit from using it. No one bats an eye when you suggest buying running shoes if you’d like to run more frequently and seriously. Think about using personal lifting equipment in the same way.

What, where and why?

What follows is a breakdown of the basic pieces of personal lifting equipment that you will most commonly come across and find recommended, listed in what we at Ivy Training believe are the order of priorities.

Shoes

Lifting shoes or weightlifting shoes are speciality-made shoes designed usually to have an elevated stiff heel, 1-2 shoe straps around mid-foot, a wider toe box (not always) and a higher boot around the ankle to provide the necessary stability, stiff contact with the floor and facilitate the range of motion someone would need to get more out of the very least, their squats and olympic lifts. They can often be used for other lifts based on the individual’s personal preference. Very often this is the first piece of equipment we recommend someone to purchase. For weightlifting shoes both Rachael and I have had experience with the Nike Romaleo series of shoes and recommend those.

For those who aren’t looking to purchase a more specialised shoe, Rachael and I also recommend the Nike Metcons. Although they lack some of the more specialised features of a weightlifting shoe, they have a relatively stiff sole and are stable but still have enough freedom of movement to be relatively comfortable for a variety of movements and conditioning modalities you might perform in a gym environment.

Belt

There are a variety of lifting belts available to buy but the most useful for our purposes of general strength training include belts made between 2” – 4” in width and 10-13mm thick and uniform in dimension all the way around. They will either be fastened with a single or double prong, or a lever mechanism. Belts facilitate a more powerful isometric contraction of the trunk musculature by way of proprioception. This occurs due to the physical feedback from the stiff belt secured tightly around your waist which in turn creates resistance for your abs, obliques and spinal erectors to contract against.

Despite popular belief, they are not for supporting your back directly for the purposes of mitigating pain. They will however facilitate the process of continually getting a stronger back which may influence tolerance to pain. Lastly, research shows belts seem to increase power output, reduce bar velocity and rating of perceived exertion in trainees [1], [2].

For lifting belts, we recommend anything from Pioneer, SBD or more easily acquired, Rogue.

Straps

Lifting straps are a useful lifting accessory made often from either nylon, leather or canvas. They wrap around the wrist and then onto the target implement such as a barbell, dumbbell or machine handle/cable attachment. They are used often in scenarios where a tension force is applied to the hand such as during pulling movements like deadlifts, rows, pulldowns and chin-ups. Lifting straps are most commonly single straps with a loop on the end or, figure 8 straps. There are also specialty olympic weightlifting straps. We recommend the basic strap variant. They prevent grip being a limiting factor and allow other muscle groups to continue to complete a movement for the desired load and volume. For lifting straps, brands are less of a concern but I’ve personally had good experience with Rogue straps.

Sleeves

Knee sleeves provide compression and support for the knee and should be relatively snug in their fit. They shouldn’t however limit movement in any way. Knee sleeves by way of proprioception might help a lifter feel more stable, and additionally, ascertain a more consistent depth by way of the material in contact with the knee and the back of the upper-thigh and calf and at the bottom of a squat. There is some evidence for reduced pain ratings in those with knee pain, especially from osteoarthritis [3]. Moreover, even though some of the benefits of the knee sleeves are placebo, it’s still beneficial nonetheless. At the very least your knees will feel more warm between sets of squats. There really aren’t any other options here we’d feel comfortable recommending other than SBD knee sleeves.

Wrist Wraps

Wrist wraps can come in stiff and soft varieties and at different lengths. Wraps are securely wrapped around the wrist joint and not set below the hand itself which would make them simply a fashion statement. Wrist wraps limit the amount of flexion and extension (or movement) that can occur at the wrist under load. Although there are a variety of wraps available the most commonly useful wraps will be soft wraps where you can usually get between 2 to 3 loops around the wrist joint up onto the base of the palm (these are somewhere between 12”-24” in length). Longer wraps means the ability to wrap tighter and create a stiffer hold. Some wraps themselves can be made out of incredibly stiff material. This does take some trial and error to figure out which kind is right for you.

They are not designed to prevent wrist pain but similar to the belt will increase stability under load. They therefore might influence someone’s perception of pain, at times. For wrist wraps, similar to the straps, Rogue and SBD are safe choices here – in particular flexible, non-stiff wraps.

When should I start using lifting equipment?

We’d suggest utilising lifting equipment as soon as you’re able and would like to. Regarding the particular details of training itself, here are some basic recommendations. Using them on your primary lifts which constitute the exercises that are most important to your goals can provide benefit. For many this includes wearing shoes, belt and sleeves during squats, a belt and maybe straps during deadlifts, wrist wraps and maybe a belt during bench press and shoes, a belt and wrist wraps during overhead presses. Regarding other exercises, that may depend on how your program is designed. It’s important to consider the particular goal of each exercise and how they factor into your week of training. Moreover, there are certain items like wrist straps that are always useful (such as not letting your grip become a limiting factor during Romanian deadlifts).

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that by at least your last warm-up set, before your first working set, you have put your equipment on, so that you aren’t introducing any changes before starting your heaviest set/s of the day.

Is it going to break the bank?

One last note on cost. Buy expensive and most likely you’ll buy once. It’s very rare that you’ll wear your equipment down to dust. Most people are lifting inside in climate controlled conditions outside of the elements and most likely are not running, jumping or anything else in the shoes or other pieces of equipment (besides maybe the olympic lifts), so they should last the test of time.

Conclusion

So that wraps up our strapping post on using equipment while strength training. We hope you’re armed with the knowledge required to get the most out of your strength training sessions. If you’d like to know more about using equipment during sessions, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.

Resources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11710410/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35363215/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19467901/