Gym Equipment Guide
You may have noticed that a lot of your favorite lifters or people at your gym tend to use equipment while lifting. I remember when I started out lifting and I felt intrigued by a lot of the equipment I saw but I also wondered if it was something I needed to invest in. This guide will cover the basics of lifting equipment and help you decide whether it's something you need.
Today we'll talk about lifting belts, wrist wraps, knee/elbow sleeves, chalk, straps, and lifting shoes. This is a general guide that will help you decide what kind of equipment is useful and what you can do without.
1. Lifting Belts
I covered lifting belts extensively in its own post because it's one of those pieces of equipment that needs in-depth coverage. Overall, a lifting belt is a useful tool for lifters who have already built up a good base, are lifting heavy weights (i.e. can squat your bodyweight), and want some extra support to help maximize strength. Lifting belts are not a tool to help repair an injury or lift big around an injury. They are not meant for lifts like bench press or bicep curl. They are excellent for heavy days when you are doing squats, deadlifts, strict press, or Olympic lifts. For more in-depth coverage, check out our post on lifting belts!
2. Wrist Wraps
Your wrists are extremely important for lifting and nothing highlights that more than a wrist injury. It's very common to experience mild wrist pain and discomfort when you begin lifting or go hard into a high rep program which requires a lot of wrist heavy moves. You will definitely find that over time you build up wrist strength but proper implementation of wrist wraps can help protect your wrist health during times when you're putting a lot of stress on them. Do not use them during warm-up. Do not use them excessively. Instead, use wrist wraps when you are doing heavy overhead movements or on days when you are doing a lot of reps and your wrists are already tired/sore. If you overuse wrist wraps you'll miss out on optimizing wrist gains! Wrist gains is a thing, don't even @ me.
Types of wrist wraps: The most common types you'll see are thick elastic with velcro and cotton that you wrap and secure with a string (commonly used in CrossFit)
The biggest difference is the amount of support. The thick elastic type is more sturdy and offer more wrist support. They are great if you are doing heavy lifts that don't require a lot of wrist mobility, such as a strict press. Cotton wraps are a lot lighter and offer extra support without loss of mobility. These are ideal for moves like clean and jerk where you want some wrist freedom. You can find a lot of fun cotton wraps online, I got mine on Pinterest and they are great. Velcro ones are available at pretty much any supplement store for a bargain.
Tips: Make sure you don't wear the wraps too low to ensure adequate support. If you are having a lot of problems with your wrists you may need to work on mobility, particularly thoracic extension, shoulder flexion and external rotation, and wrist flexibility. Wraps can't fix poor flexibility.
3. Knee/Elbow Sleeves
You may notice a lot of lifters using knee or elbow sleeves. Some lifters also prefer wraps but that's mainly a powerlifting thing, we'll just talk sleeves right now. Sleeves offer a little extra support to joints and also do a good job of keeping them warm. People with nagging injuries or those rehabbing an injury often find this especially beneficial. Using knee or elbow sleeves won't add miraculous numbers to your PR but they will offer a bit of extra support, keep the joint warm, and even improve proprioception, for instance, you'll be more aware of knee placement during squats. This can help reduce injury. Overall, sleeves aren't essential but can be a useful tool. My personal favorite overall brand is Rehband but you'll find a lot of other great brands and types.
Chalk may be available in your gym, if not it's something you may want to look into buying. The purpose of chalk is to help with grip. It really shines for deadlifts, especially if you are doing high volume and lifting without straps. Chalk ensures you can grip the bar even though you're sweating like a maniac. You can get powdered or liquid. I like buying bottles of liquid because I can easily clip it to my gym bag and it's just always there for me.
Lifting straps are pretty much an essential piece of equipment in your toolbox if you want to increase your lifts. The purpose of them is to allow you to maintain your grip on the bar even if your forearms are tired or it's beyond what your grip strength can manage. The benefit is to be able to train beyond the limits of your grip. Do not use straps all the time, otherwise, you'll lose out on magnificent grip strength gains. It's also important to learn how to put them on. It takes practice and you'll fumble a bit at the beginning but eventually, it becomes second nature. People primarily use them for deadlifts and all pull portions of Olympic lifts (i.e. pulling from blocks). They tend to come in canvas or leather. You'll see some with padding (unnecessary but go for it if you want). A simple strap is ideal and something good and sturdy that will last a long time. In my opinion, straps are a piece of equipment every lifter should have because every lifter outta be deadlifting.
6. Lifting Shoes
Lifting shoes are a bit more complicated. You may or may not need them. There will always be a ton of debate over the best type of shoes to lift in, at the end of the day it all comes down to your comfort, preference, anatomy, goals, and previous injuries. One thing that's universal is that you should be doing heavy squats and deadlifts in something with a solid base. If you don't have that, do it in your socks. Lifting shoes have an elevated heel and very solid bottom. This allows increased mobility and a secure base from which to push and are great for squats and Olympic style lifts. An elevated heel is not going to help your deadlifts so just stick to the aforementioned lifts if you get a lifting shoe. Personally, I always squat in weightlifting shoes because I have broken and sprained my left ankle nearly half a dozen times. This has resulted in major mobility problems which get corrected with an elevated shoe. Overall, I see lifting shoes as a great tool to help increase mobility and improve lifts. They aren't essential for most people but if your budget fits they can be an excellent piece of equipment.