What Do I Need In My Gym Bag? (Part 1)
Lifting Support Gear
Depending on what stage you are in your lifting career, your gym bag contents have most likely grown with time. This is human nature, as we grow and get better, we are always looking for an edge. Let’s take a look at what can be typically found in a gym bag. But first its time for an interesting fact!
Did you know that exercise can improve how well your brain functions? During exercise, your bodies oxygen requirements increase, this increased flow of oxygen to the brain reduces free radicals. Damage is caused to the brain during a state of oxidation. A reduction in free radicals around the brain will be accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.
TAKE AWAY MESSAGE: Don’t ever miss a workout, with time you will notice a more focused and sharper you. Success will come to you in all areas of your life, for which you can thank your healthy brain.
Now back to our gym bag, this is a first in series of blogs that will give you the LOAD down on what you really need. We will also touch on what items are nice to have, and lastly, things that you really don’t need. Let’s begin with the essentials for a strength athlete, such as support gear.
YOUR LIFTING BELT
It does not matter what type of strength athlete you are, a weightlifter, powerlifter or strongman, you're going to need a good sturdy belt. This is a must-have, a good belt should last you a long time if you look after it. So, what should you look for when you’re looking for a new weightlifting belt or powerlifting belt? A good belt will enable you to get tighter and feel more secure, and therefore lift more, which is what we are all trying to do.
Olympic Weightlifting Belts
- Should be a single piece of leather, which makes up much of the belt. Its ok to have thin protective layers on the inside and outside of the belt, but that’s all they should be. The belt should be constructed with a heavy duty double stitch.
- The suede lining on the inside is a definite plus, as this will help to achieve a good grip on your body. This is especially important if you’re working out in a hot and humid climate, and if you don’t like the belt too tight.
- Strong and rugged outer layer is important. Your belt is going to go through a lot of stress and get thrown about the gym (if you’re like me), so it will take a beating over the years. A tough outer layer is must have.
- The buckle, prong, and roller should be made of a heavy grade of steel, preferably the roller should be seamless. This entire piece should be coated to protect the steel and obviously, it's more aesthetically pleasing. The prongs should not be too loose, as with time this may get worse.
- The belt should be constructed with durable steel rivets, ensuring that they will not come undone making the belt useless.
There are quite a few Olympic weightlifting belts that are padded on the inside. I have used them in the past but have never actually felt that it gave me any additional assistance or tightness. If you own a padded weightlifting belt and like it, I think that’s great, but have you compared your performance using a belt without this padding? Let me know I would love to read your comments.
Weightlifting belts also come in the nylon and velcro style, I have used one in the past. My own opinion is that I like the ruggedness, feel and tight support I can get from a leather belt over the nylon style belt. This is not to say these belts are no good, it's just not what I used to.
Much of what has been said about the weightlifting belts, also applies to the powerlifting belts. The additional qualities I think that are important are the following:
- 10 mm or 13 mm? This is truly a matter of preference. What you should expect with the thicker belt, is that it should be stiffer. If it’s not, then what is the reason for the added thickness?
- If you like the additional tightness that can be gained with a lever style, then make sure the lever is made of steel and not a cast iron knockoff. A lot of levers that I have seen crack over time, as the belt is put under stress. Cast iron is very brittle, so durability can be an issue.
Nowadays we are seeing a lot of belts with a broken-in feel. I think this is a great addition, along as the quality of belt does not deteriorate to the point that it becomes too soft to provide the support needed for heavy squats or deadlifts. For a new belt, I like for it to be a little broken in, but still, have that stiff quality that will help shape the belt to your body type over time. I don't think you can beat that!
A word of warning if you are wanting to compete in Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting, it's probably a good idea to make sure the belt is compliant with the lifting organization's specifications.
YOUR WRIST WRAPS
A good pair of wrists wraps is also a must, depending on how much you are lifting this can be just as important as the belt. One thing I would like to stress for younger or new lifters is to not get bogged down with all the equipment. You need to get used to lifting weights, certainly, it would be a good idea to get your joints used to holding weight, so that you don't become completely reliant on support equipment.
For lifters with a little more experience, there is a variety of wrist wraps that are available. Depending on what your lifting for, that should be enough for you to decide what type of wrap you need and length. As an example, a weightlifter will typically use a more flexible and stretchy wrist wrap possibly shorter than a powerlifter. A powerlifter will typically go with wrap longer than 24 inches, and one that offers more compression to prevent the wrist from bending during the bench press. The level of compression will be based on the amount of elastane that has been used to make the wrist wrap, how tightly the material is interwoven during production, and, also how tight you like put the wrap on. This leads us to how the wrap is applied.
Most wraps available today come with a Velcro strap, it's a great design and allows the lifter to easily put on and take off the wrist wraps. The important thing to ensure is that the wraps stay on by making sure the Velcro stays put. Press it tight!
YOUR KNEE WRAPS or KNEE SLEEVES
I would like to stress that if your lifting heavy weights this is a must-have. Knee sleeves or knee wraps is completely your choice. Personally, I am knee wrap guy, coming from a powerlifting background, I liked my wraps super tight, it’s an uncomfortable feeling but when your adrenaline is pumping it’s not something you think about. Again, just like with the wrist wraps, the level of tightness attained with knee wraps will be dependent on the amount of elastane, how tightly the material is interwoven during production, and, how much the wrap is pulled. If you are going for a max effort it’s a good idea to have somebody help you put on the wrap.
If you're a fan of knee sleeves, what do you look for? A neoprene knee sleeve is probably your go-to knee sleeve. The compression you can expect from a knee sleeve is comparable to a loose-fitting knee wrap. An important feature of knee sleeves is that when wearing the sleeve and squatting the sleeve on your shin or above your knee should not lift up. If the sleeve is not in full contact with you during the lift, then either it’s too big or the design is not quite right.
The quality of the neoprene is a major issue. All neoprene will degrade over time, just like a lot of other materials, due to the heat and the salt content of our sweat. However, the rate and extent at which the degradation occurs will depend largely on the quality offered by the knee sleeve.
Another tip to looking after your knee sleeves is to gently handwash the sleeves in a light detergent with room temperature water, then air drying.
YOUR ELBOW SLEEVES – Possibly?
I was not planning to mention elbow sleeves, but as I get older I have come to realize that with time the beating your elbows take over the years, it’s probably a good idea to explain their use. If you’re a young lifter, you most likely will not need these unless you have pain. However, if you have been lifting for years and have experienced elbow joint pain or even tendonitis, then I think a good pair of elbow sleeves will help you in your training.
The sleeve will keep your elbow warm and give a good amount of compression, hopefully alleviating any pain experienced when you’re pressing a weight. As mentioned with the knee sleeve, the elbow sleeve should remain in full contact with the arm throughout the exercise movement. The sleeve should feel somewhat tight and snug, and possible to be pulled up by your other hand.
If you are planning to compete, make sure the lifting organization allows elbow sleeves, otherwise do not get too dependent on these.
YOUR LIFTING STRAPS
SUPPORT GEAR - IN CLOSING
Support gear is a must-have for the serious strength athlete, otherwise, the road will get bumpy really quick. Quality lifting gear can potentially push your performance through the roof if all other aspects of your training are working out right also. Knowing that you are ready to commit to a maximum effort lift is partly based on how well you know your support gear performs, if you’re worried about the quality of your gear then how can you give 100%?
Watch out for the next blog where we will discuss other essential items that should be in your gym bag. Please feel free to leave your comments, I will be more than happy to reply to your questions. Till the next time friends…
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