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Geared Up for Lifting: Is Strength Training Gear Worth It?

It has long been said that to do the job right you need the proper tools. Weight training is no exception, with exercise equipment being the tools needed to add muscle, lose body fat, increase strength and improve overall fitness.

While most required equipment, such as dumbbells, barbells, weight benches, and free weights can be found at your local gym or training center, there are others that are generally regarded as optional. Examples include weightlifting belts, wrist wraps, weightlifting gloves, and shoes are referred to as weightlifting gear.

To be sure, there are weightlifters who wouldn’t think of going through a workout without a weight belt or a knee sleeve, convinced that performance and safety would be negatively affected without them. Some will even say that their performance is affected by the type of shirt they wear while lifting.

But there are others who are just fine sticking with “the basics,” having never worn a pair of weightlifting-specific shoes or used wrist wraps and have found no reason to proceed otherwise.

With that in mind, here is a look at the most popular weightlifting gear, with a focus on the role each plays and circumstances where they could prove beneficial.

Most people think that weightlifting belts act like a brace to support your torso so your core muscles don't have to, which is a false claim. Lifting belts can actually help you increase the use of the abs and lower-back muscles. Research has shown that wearing a belt while lifting either has little effect on the use of the erector spinae muscles or actually increases their use by up to 25 percent. Studies on weightlifting belts also show a solid increase in the muscle activity of the rectus abdominis.

The data suggest that wearing a belt might increase core development, not hinder it. When you are squatting or deadlifting several hundred pounds, I highly suggest you try any means possible to increase the stability of your spine and reduce the compressive forces on it. Here are three key reasons you should consider belting up before you lift.
1. Belts Stabilize And Reduce Stress On The Spine
2. Belts Create Better Body Biomechanics
3. Better Performance

Weightlifting Shoes

The first thing to take to heart is that it is important to wear the correct type of shoe for all fitness activities. Weightlifting shoes differ from running shoes in that they have an elevated heel, which promotes proper posture while lifting. They also feature a hard sole, which maximizes force during the lift and helps keep the body stable.

Those two factors can be especially important while doing Olympic-style lifts, the snatch, and the clean and jerk, or heavy lifts such as the deadlift and the squat. The cushion found in a running shoe makes rolling an ankle more likely due to movement that can occur when pushing the foot against a soft sole during heavy lifting.

Most weightlifting shoes also have a strap that can be tightened to keep the foot in place, which also reduces the possibility of ankle or knee injuries.

For the most part, weightlifting shoes are for the powerlifting crowd, but they certainly can be beneficial for anyone looking to maximize their safety and lifts.

Knee Sleeves/Wraps

Knee sleeves and wraps provide support or protection for a previous injury. By compressing on the knee, they limit patella movement, which promotes stability. They also increase blood flow and help reduce pain and swelling.

Sleeves and wraps are not a substitute for a knee brace, so they should not be used if the knee is unstable. The benefits can sometimes be more psychological than anything else for someone who has had minor knee issues. Sometimes that is enough to give the individual the confidence to “get after it” in the weight room.

Wraps and straps are two different things. Wrist wraps are similar to knee wraps in that their primary purpose to provide added support for someone who has had a wrist injury in the past.

Wrist straps are used to be able to lift more weight than can be controlled and lifted with just your hands. One end of the wrap goes around the wrist, with the other end wrapped around the barbell. This allows secure contact that prevents the hands from slipping off the bar during heavy lifting.

Some fitness experts are against the use of wrist straps because of the negative effect it has on improving one’s grip. A strong grip is a key element to lifting heavier weights, and the best way to improve one’s grip is to keep asking it to handle more pressure and weight.