You've definitely seen them... these strange people who rock up to the gym, bulging duffle bag in hand, and you watch as they unpack, Mary Poppins-style, a collection of random gadgets and accessories. How can one person need so many gizmos and what do they do? Do they make any difference to their training sessions?
Well hi, I'm one of these people.. and I'm an advocate of quite a few of these gadgets. If I think something may be of benefit to me I see no harm in trying it out. Worst case scenario - it's not for me, I've spent a few quid and I can pass it on to a friend. Best case - it's a gamechanger and enables me to lift more weight, with better technique or, with it, I simply enjoy the gym more. It's not like you need to go and drop a few hundred quid today - these are things that you can acquire over time, update as you go or simply retire as you outgrow them or evolve your training.
So what have I tried and what do I like? Let's start from the bottom...
I love the gym. I spend a lot of time there and so I don't mind spending money on it. When it comes to lifting weights, often times it's your shoes, and shoes alone, that come into contact with the ground and serve as the base of your power, support & balance. I'm a fan of specific shoes for specific movements or exercies...
Squatting & Olympic Lifting - I use Nike Romaleo2s and I bloody love them. These have a 3/4 inch heel built in to them which allows you to squat into a deeper position through an increased range of motion in your ankles. I also find myself far more sturdy in my squat movement as they encourage a stronger, more upright position. The shoes have a flat, solid base. This is key as it ensure you have 100% contact with the floor and a strong base from where to generate power.. Consider your average runners. These will likely have a spongey or padded sole and will "cave" inward which impacts your entire movement through ankles, knees and hips. Romaleos have a double strap, locking you into position and preventing your foot from wiggling.
Deadlifting and general gym - I wear Converse Chuck Taylor. As with the "Ugg" effect above, you want a steady, solid base when using resistance machines. Using Chucks, or any solid, flat soled shoe, will allow you to become "planted" to the ground. Often times you drive through your heels, Chucks (or similar) don't have a padded heel cup so you can exert your energy straight into the ground, helping you lift heavier weight. I do try to deadlift in my socks where possible, but recently my gym have told me off (2 days later I dropped a 2.5kg weight on my foot and was thankful I was wearing shoes to be fair...).
Cardio - I'm a fan of Nike Flyknits. They're expensive, but incredibly comfortable. If you're a fan of running distances I'd recommend getting your gait anaylsed - most large sports shops or retailers will offer this service and will recommend the best shoe for your particluar shape and form. I tend to use the stairmaster, statiorary bike or box jumps for my cardio and so don't feel the need to get bespoke or specialist shoes.
If you squat and deadlift, I recommend getting yourself a decent weightlifting belt. The benefits are numerous - belts allow you to create greater intra-abdomial pressure which in turn will support and stabilise your spine. Those familiar with squatting heavy will know the Valsalva effect - "the forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway, usually done by closing one's mouth & nasal airways, while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon". Well pushing your gut against the belt increases the effectiveness of this technique. This creates more internal pressure, keeps your core engaged and, as you're "tight" throughout the movement, prevents injury. Personally, my belt is a constant reminder to me to keep good form and consciously consider my lumbar spine. A weird little benefit to me is an Indication of how well my bulk or cut is going. Your belt, whether you like it or not, will measure your girth on a daily basis. You may not notice changes but the belt doesn't lie and, when the screwdriver comes out, you know there's been changes to your circumference.
Chalk & Grips
Absolute gamechanger! The former, that is. Granted, grips helped me break through from a 130kg deadlift to 150kg, as I found my grip would simply fail above 130kg. However, pulling began to feel somewhat unnatural and I found the lack of contact with the bar off-putting. My gym has a "no chalk" rule and so I bought liquid chalk from myprotein - of all the gadgets and gizmos, this enabled me to take my lifting to the next level the most. A small squirt on the palms, 30 seconds to dry and boom - the bar is stuck to your hands. Immediately I was pulling for reps without any loss of grip - for the first time since I started deadlifting, my strength waa giving way before my grip was. Chalk is also extremely useful for other lifts where your grip might fail you - dumbbell shrugs, barbell/dumbbell/cable rows, pullups etc.
Recently I've started using neophrene compression sleeves when squatting and deadlifting. There are several reported benefits to them, the most obvious being that they physically "warm-up" your knee joints before you train. However, they should not be used in place of a proper warm-up session. The real magic of the sleeves is in the compression effect, which causes more blood to flow to the area - in this case, the knees - which not only brings in more oxygen but also carries away any lactic acid that may be present. This will not only benefit during performance, but also aid recovery. Recently I've been squatting and deadlifting 3-4 times a week and haven't had any issues with soreness or fatigue (despite operating at 70-95% 1RM). This is purely anecdotal and personal to me, but I'm inclined to attribute at least some of this recovery to the sleeves. I wear mine 20-30 mins before and 30-40 mins after lifting.
Do you have a specific goal in mind? Are you training the right way in order to hit this goal? Read...
Fact is, if you look at yourself in the mirror and feel good, you're likely to feel more confident. A lot of performance is mental and so feeling confident is key. Standing there in an oversized, stained t-shirt may not inspire you to go beast-mode, but if you're rocking a well fitted t-shirt or leggings that make your quads bulge, it'll make you feel good about yourself. It will motivate you and, I've found, empower you to grind out that last rep. Exercise should be about feeling good - mentally and physically. Do youself a favour - kit yourself out in clothes you feel good wearing; clothes that make you feel confident. You'll feel, and likely perform, all the better for it.
I have tiny, bird-like wrists, and so felt that I'd benefit hugely from some additional support. First I tried soft, elastic wraps. They cost less than a tenner and were comfortable, but didn't notice any real difference with how my bench press felt. After a few months I moved on and bought "the stiffest, most supportive wraps" available. I found them uncomfortable and, personally, didn't feel they offered much support. This is entirely subjective though - you'd struggle to find a professional powerlifter who doesn't use wrist straps or wraps, so there is value in them - at the moment they're just not for me.
Do you need any of these accessories? Absolutely not. Could they help you? Absolutely. For me, chalk, my belt and my Romaleos have been game-changers. When training using lower weights I still squat in my bare feet or Chucks from time to time and a do lift occasionally without my belt - for no other reason than it feels good to mix it up a bit! Are you going to invest in some of these gizmos? It can't hurt to try... whatever it is might not be for you but you at least explore your options, do your research and try something new. Let me know if you have any questions or recommendations.
If you're looking to break through a plateau, get stronger, lose or gain weight then get in touch. I'm more effective than wrist straps...