Quick question. What’s in your gym bag? ?
If you’re still listing the items in your bag after a solid 5 minutes – foam roller, compression garments, knee sleeves, resistance bands, gymnastic rings, etc. – then you have way too many gym accessories that you likely don't even need.
And if you were done in sub-60 seconds (or less)? You’re probably missing out on a few essential workout accessories that’ll help you get the most out of your sessions.
But… How do you know what these are?
Well, that’s what this article is for. Here, we cover the 3 can’t-miss weightlifting gear (spoiler alert: waist trainers don’t make the list) that’ll truly take your workouts to the next level.
#1 – Lifting straps
If you’ve been lifting for long enough, you’ve probably come to a point in your training where you’ve attempted a rep (e.g. during the deadlift) – and found that while the targeted muscle groups had the strength to pull it off, you just couldn’t hold onto the bar.
In other words, your grip strength becomes a limiting factor.
And when this happens, there are several immediate solutions: an alternate grip or the trusty chalk. But while helpful, these ‘grip hacks’ still rely primarily on your grip strength; the heavy dumbbell or bar is going to slip out of your hands once you fatigue (again).
Enter, lifting straps.
These are precisely what they sound like. Sewn pieces of cloth or leather that loop around your wrist and the bar that make it easier to hold onto a heavy weight.
This, therefore, enables you to maximally overload major muscle groups – including the hamstrings and back – without being limited by your grip strength.
Is using lifting straps a form of ‘cheating’?
Just a warning: you should be aware that there will be a group of 'training purists' that'll argue against the usage of lifting straps. They'll laugh at you and say that the use of lifting straps is detrimental to increasing your grip and forearm strength.
Also, it's a form of cheating. Don't listen to them. No, really (even Eddie Hall uses them).
Think about it: what happens if you're unable to hold onto your dumbbell/barbell?
Chances are, you’re going to reach for lighter weights. That spells trouble for your training volume – which, as we know, is the primary determinant of muscle hypertrophy. But here’s an important disclaimer.
You should only be using lifting straps for heavy sets.
And you should also be continuously looking for ways to improve your grip strength; adding exercises like the farmer’s walk and dead hangs into your routine is always a good idea.
#2 – Lifting belt
A common misconception people have about wearing a lifting belt is that it's a 'crutch'; that it acts as external support to help an individual lift heavier weights.
Another misconception is that the lifting belt acts as a ‘brace’ for the lower back – protecting it and decreasing the risks of a herniated/ruptured disc. Well, these beliefs couldn’t be further from the truth.
A lifting belt itself doesn’t provide any support to your back.
What it does do, however, is provide a proprioceptive cue to your torso to squeeze and tighten your core muscles (i.e. brace against the belt) when you're lifting a hefty weight.
This tightening of your core is known as the Valsalva maneuver, and it helps stabilize your spine by creating intra-abdominal pressure to keep your form locked in. This action helps you lift heavier weight – and keeps you safe.
It’s not the belt. The belt just serves as an external cue for your body to stay rigid.
So… The next time someone accuses you of cheating just because you have a lifting belt on, you can tell him/her what’s what.
When should you use a lifting belt?
As with the lifting straps, there’s no need to keep the belt on when you’re performing accessory work, like triceps extensions or bicep curls.
Consider putting a lifting belt on when you’re performing big compound movements. These are your deadlifts, squats, and cleans.
That’s because these are ultimately the 3 heaviest movements that you can perform with the body – and have the highest risk of injury if performed often at maximal load or incorrectly (i.e. without sufficient bracing).
#3 – Weightlifting shoes
If you’re like most people, chances are, you probably thought weightlifting shoes only belonged to the feet of Olympic weightlifters or powerlifters.
Unfortunately… You’re mistaken.
The truth is that weightlifting shoes can be helpful – even if you aren’t stacking plates upon plates to the barbell. This is particularly the case if you struggle with limited ankle mobility. As weightlifting shoes come with elevated heels, they help reduce the Achilles tendon's tension, which enables the ankle joint to bend further.
And this, in turn, promotes proper form for most barbell movements, including the squat, front squat, and clean.
Studies have shown that a heel lift (as provided by weightlifting shoes) allows for proper form and leads to higher activation of the quadriceps, which can then lead to a heavier squat. You know what that means: gains!
Just don’t use weightlifting shoes for deadlifting
FYI: weightlifting shoes and deadlifting are a no-no. Never deadlift with your lifting shoes!
Because these shoes raise your heels, you’d have to pull the barbell a further distance from the ground – and that makes it harder for you to stay stacked with the weight, which makes the entire exercise unnecessarily challenging.
You still need to put in the work
At the end of the day, these weight lifting accessories are just that: accessories.
They can help you lift heavier weights in the gym – but you need to be willing to put in the work and effort (in the first place) to reap their benefits. So… These accessories are great, but there is an additional accessory that’ll utterly change how you approach your workouts.
The GymStreak app, which enables you to log your workouts and continuously challenge yourself, week after week. Experience the AI-powered personal trainer app you can bring along in your pocket today.Get GymStreak
Conradsson, D., Fridén, C., Nilsson-Wikmar, L., & Ang, B. O. (2010). Ankle-joint mobility and standing squat posture in elite junior cross-country skiers. A pilot study. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 50(2), 132–138.
Harman, E. A., Rosenstein, R. M., Frykman, P. N., & Nigro, G. A. (1989). Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 21(2), 186–190.
Legg, H. S., Glaister, M., Cleather, D. J., & Goodwin, J. E. (2017). The effect of weightlifting shoes on the kinetics and kinematics of the back squat. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(5), 508–515. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1175652
Srivastav, S., Jamil, R. T., & Zeltser, R. (2020). Valsalva Maneuver. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537248/