Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Is your Gear doing more Harm than Good?

I take a look around the gym and I see more and more “safety” accessories on the bodies of weight lifters and while I’m a firm believer in preventing injury while in the gym, I question whether much of this gear is really necessary. It’s much easier to be safe by learning how to properly perform a lift than by the addition of more and more equipment to do the job that proper technique should be doing.

If you are a competitive power lifter or a strongman competitor, it makes plenty of sense to strap on the equipment in training that you’ll be using during competition. Things like bench shirts, deadlift suits and compression shorts do add pounds to lifts and they require a certain amount of technique to perfect, so if you are going to be using this gear during competition, training with it would be wise so you are fully prepared when you jump up on the platform.

If you are a recreational lifter, with no plans of participating in strength competitions where gear is allowed or required, you might be doing yourself a terrible disservice by regularly training with a bunch of excess and possibly unnecessary gear.

Weightlifting belts, straps, gloves, wraps and sleeves can serve a purpose, if you have the end of a six week cycle coming up and you are planning a max effort squat or deadlift to gauge your progress, by all means strap on your lifting belt through your heavy work sets and your max attempts. If you are planning an extra heavy bench session and feel more comfortable doing so with compression sleeves and wrist wraps you shouldn’t hesitate to wear them, but if you are someone who goes to the gym with the prime objective of getting stronger and building a better body, you might be better off without all of the accessories.

Even the most basic and common safety equipment can negatively affect your training by eliminating some parts of your body from the equation. Lifting straps allow you to do deadlifts, bent over rows, lat pull downs and pull ups without having to worry about your grip strength bringing your numbers down – while this may look good on paper it can seriously inhibit your functional strength. You can’t develop “real world” or usable strength by completely neglecting your grip – how many times will you come across a situation outside of the gym where you have to move something and there are straps available to assist you in the lift? That’s not to say that you need to spend extra time focusing solely on grip training, but tossing away the straps and performing the movements mentioned above without the extra assistance will help you to develop a powerful grip and make you an all around stronger person – even if your numbers do drop off a bit without the help.

The same goes for a weightlifting belt – a lot of proponents claim that they can’t do certain movements at all without one do to nagging injuries or pain, but what many people fail to realize is that performing movements like the squat and deadlift without the aid of a belt is one of the best things that you can do to strengthen your entire core and ultimately eliminate those nagging injuries, aches and pains. Properly performed squats and deadlifts give all of the stabilizing muscles in your core an incredible workout – if you constantly wear a weight belt while performing these movements you are removing nearly all of this added benefit. During exceedingly heavy sets, the addition of a belt can be a benefit, but for all warm up and regular work sets you should be reaping the full benefits of these movements by forgoing the use of gear.

Don’t let yourself become a slave to the numbers and get fooled into thinking that just because you can move a few extra pounds while you are all suited up in a variety of gear that you are actually getting a better workout. Lifting big weights is an incredible feeling, but to be a completely and functionally strong athlete, you can’t neglect any area of your body and doing most or all of your sets with equipment will force you to neglect very important pieces of the overall fitness puzzle.

If you’ve been doing all of your training with gear up to this point, dropping it and doing your lifting “raw” might feel like a pretty large slap to your ego, but you’ve just got to understand that you’ll be doing a lot more for your overall strength by adopting this new methodology – and if you are experienced with strength training and use proper form and follow a sound training protocol, the gains should come quickly as the previously neglected areas of your body get up to speed.

You should begin to notice almost immediately how the switch to gear free lifting translates to tasks in your everyday life and you’ll feel good aches in areas where you may not even had known that you had muscles previously. You’ll develop an iron grip and a bullet proof core without adding additional exercises or time to your workout and when you do strap on the gear for your max effort attempts you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the noticeable jump due to the fact that you have become equally strong in areas of your body that were previously major areas of weakness due to unintentional neglect.

People are always looking for ways to make the most out of the time that they spend in the gym and this is one of the best possible ways to do that – all of your stabilizing muscles will be called into play every time you perform a lift “raw” that you had previously performed using some kind of supportive or protective gear. Start out and progress slowly and train intelligently and in no time you’ll be thankful that your protective gear is no longer holding back your results or your functional strength.

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