There are lots and lots of accessories that you can tote to the gym every day in the hopes of improving your athletic performance. Which are worth your time? The Poliquin Group has put together a handy list of Ten Training Accessories and How to Use Them (How to perform better and look good doing it) – read on to find out which are worth the effort and cost.
1. Weightlifting shoes
In addition to being very rigid to give you a solid platform for squatting, weightlifting shoes have an elevated heel, usually about 1 inch. This heel enables the shins to incline forward further so the back can maintain a more upright position during the squat. This effect is especially valuable for lifters with tight calves, as they would have to lean forward excessively when squatting to compensate. The rigid design of these shoes also helps align the bones of the ankle and foot so it is easier to keep the knees in the proper alignment when squatting.
The unique features of weightlifting shoes are a sturdy base and an elevated heel, and often a cross strap for increased stability. There are slight variations in the heel height and the design of the heel – some lifters maintain that a wooden heel is better for jerking.
Some shoes have a wider forefoot, but usually if you are paying more than $75 you are paying for style. As for shoes that are marketed as being more versatile, enabling you to lift and run, the drawback is that such shoes compromise the stability needed for heavy lifting.
2. Knee wraps
The main reason someone would use knee wraps is so they can lift more weight or perform more reps, but that doesn’t mean wraps will make you stronger. Knee wraps are worn because they increase the maximal weight that can be lifted by increasing the speed with which the lift is performed and by storing elastic energy in the wrap. That’s the good news.
Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter or strongman, a better alternative to knee wraps are neoprene knee sleeves. These sleeves keep the knee warm, which helps to lubricate the knee with synovial fluid, without altering movement mechanics.
3. Lifting straps
A lifting strap is made by sewing one end of a strip of cloth to itself to form a loop. The other end of the cloth is passed through the loop so it can attach around the wrist. By wrapping the free end of the cloth around a barbell or other apparatus, you reinforce the grip.
Lifting straps can be made from numerous types of materials, but for snatches a slick material such as nylon is best because you want to be able to release the barbell quickly. Straps should only be used in cases where limitations in the strength of your grip will prevent you from overloading the muscles you are focusing on in an exercise. This means straps are not necessary during warm-up sets, and for some exercises they should not be used at all.
If you’re a competitive Olympic lifer or powerlifter, consider that it’s easy to become dependent upon straps and that using them too close to a competition can make your hands not only weak but soft. Besides affecting your ability to lift maximal weights, wearing straps may result in the skin tearing on your palms before or during a competition.
Chalk absorbs moisture to ensure a sturdy grip. Do not use too much chalk, because this can compromise the grip as the chalk particles move across the hand. If your gym does not allow the use of conventional chalk, you might be able to use a chalk ball, which is not as messy. If that is still not an option, liquid grip is a good alternative.
One problem with using weightlifting gloves as an alternative to chalk is that they affect proprioception, which is important to safely perform exercises such as the Olympic lifts.[Editor's note: don't forget to wash the chalk off your hands post-WOD! Read How To Take Care of Your Hands]