It doesn’t take long for people new to resistance training to ask the question: Do I need special weightlifting gear?
There are a bunch of different lifting accessories that a person new to resistance training can buy. I think it’s important for you to know if and when you need them, and how the various accessories can benefit your training.
First, let’s talk about the common pros of weightlifting accessories. The biggest pro is that weight lifting accessories can help you move heavier sets of weight while maintaining your rate of perceived exertion (RPE.) That means that if squatting 225 lbs for 6 repetitions without a weightlifting belt feels like an RPE 8, adding a belt may assist you with squatting 6 repetitions of 250 lbs at the same RPE. Weightlifting gear also has the ability to help you train around body parts that may be lagging.
For instance, wrist straps can be very useful when performing high volume deadlifts. It’s common for people’s hands (with fewer and smaller muscles) to fatigue sooner than their legs and back while performing high volume deadlifts. Straps allow you to work around this limit so you can still get in the training volume necessary to benefit from the exercise.
Weightlifting accessories can also add a lot of exercise variety to your training program. This helps to keep things interesting, while also allowing you to better manage your overall training loads and fatigue. The equipment you have available is one of the factors we take into consideration while writing your program at Watchdog Strength.
For example, if a client owns a good quality weightlifting belt, we’ll adjust the exercise selection to maximize its usefulness. You may have back squats with a belt programmed on Monday, then on Tuesday, paused squats with no belt. On Friday, you’ll be performing highbar squats with or without a belt. Since you are not wearing a belt every session, you’ll naturally have less weight on the bar (assuming you’re properly gauging the RPE.) The belt lets us program the same or similar movement multiple times a week without accumulating so much fatigue that the athlete has trouble recovering. The same is true of wrist straps. Maybe you are preparing for a competition, so it is important for you to start adapting to moving near maximal loads. So, on Wednesday you have deadlifts with a belt programmed. Then on Friday, you perform 1” deficit deadlifts with straps. The straps will increase the amount of weight you can pull, but combining it with the 1” deficit will ensure that the exercise is difficult enough to not overdo it.
We’ve covered some pros, but what about the cons? There are some cons. First, weightlifting gear can cost money. Belts can run from $100-$300 dollars without customization. Wrist wraps can cost as much as $50. Weightlifting shoes can run upwards of $250! The stuff can get expensive! However, if you shop around, and buy a little at a time it’s not too bad. Just don’t go cheap. Avoid the Valeo belts… people will laugh at you… I’ll probably laugh at you (jk lol.)
Another con is it is easy to make yourself believe you NEED your gear. I’ve met lifters who think they can’t deadlift without a belt or else they’ll be “wrecked.” Other lifters will skip their squat session because they forgot their knee sleeves. Worse yet, some people will give too much credit to the equipment, and trick themselves into thinking they can’t move anything over 60% of their 1RM without it. These are easy mental traps to fall into. Personally, I challenge myself to train without knee sleeves, or with different shoes, or I’ll forego a belt for a week just to remind myself that my strength belongs to me, not my equipment.
In my opinion, the benefits of good weightlifting gear far outweigh the cons. However, it is important to properly incorporate that equipment into your training program so you can maximize the benefits they provide.