Gym clothes? Check! Running shoes? Check! Weight belt? Check? Assistive devices have become all of the rage in the gym world and in some cases, a fashion statement. Apparently you aren’t cool or serious about your workout unless you are using a weight belt, wrist straps or gloves. I am here to tell you that these tools could be hindering your progress more than they are helping. Now I am not going to poo poo on these tools but you must be aware of when and when not to apply them to your workouts.
Lets start with one of the most popular assistive devices in the fitness industry, the weight belt. You may see someone at the gym using these when technical movements such as dead lifts or squats, but sometime they may be worn for simple exercises. Sure, if you are pulling a lot of weight for singles and doubles, a weight belt would great to use to add EXTRA support to your spine. When a belt is used, the stomach pushes out against it to create support. The problem with using a weight belt all of the time is that when you take the belt off you no longer have that spine support. This is why someone could dead lift 400 lbs and then throw their back out picking up a 60 lb bag of dog food.
The thing is, what you are seeking to get from your weight belt, you can achieve with proper core engagement. The transverse abdominis (TVA) is a deep lying core muscle that when contracted squeezes the spine to give it stability. I recommend ditching the weight belt and working on your TVA strength. This can be done by performing movements such as planks and pelvic tilts or simply pulling your belly button to your spine while performing your lifts.
The next of the list are wrist straps. These are used to give extra stability to the wrist and even helps give you more grip strength when wearing them. Just like the weight belt, once they come off, you no longer have the same support for your wrist and strength in your grip. While you build all this strength in your arms, back, chest and shoulders, your wrists will lack stability and will now be more susceptible to injury. It is important to remember that your lifts are only as strong as your weakest link. In most cases this will be in our grip. I recommend that you lower the weight in your lifts to the abilities of your grip strength. If you are wanting to use wrist straps, they are great tools when you are working on forced negatives of lifts. These are slow lowering portions of the exercise and wrist straps can help support your grip when your focus in on this part of the lift.
Finally, we look at the use of lifting gloves. I don’t really know of any applications for gloves. Yes when you lift weights, your hands will begin to callus. This is a natural adaptation your body makes in order to handle the insult of rough surfaces. Gloves, like wrist straps, will take away from your grip strength when you take them off. We as humans have become weaker in our hands than generations in the past due us not needing to use them in the ways that we use to. This makes even more imperative to not wearing grip enhancing tools in ore to counter our weaker hands.
While it may make sense to wear supportive tools, it is important to remember that if you want to have the same support that they give you, they must be worn all of time. My biggest recommendation is to cut your weights in half and really try to connect to your core and move with control. Progress your lifts with keeping your weakest links in mind.