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Weight Lifting Equipment

One of the neat things about strength training is that you can do it in a sophisticated gym with high-tech equipment or in a bare-bones basement with a bench, a few hand-held weights, and plenty of desire. In either setting, however, you can bring nothing more than what you're wearing or an assortment of goodies that may (or may not) help you get stronger.

We're talking about weight belts, wrist and knee wraps, and gloves. Is this stuff necessary? Not really. Can the mere sight of this equipment get you psyched to go to the gym? Could be. Let's talk a bit about each one, and you can decide for yourself.

Buckle Up!
To belt or not to belt, that's a question that has generated a fair bit of debate among fitness devotees. The good news is that wearing a weight belt reminds you to maintain erect posture while you lift. The bad news is twofold. The belt offers support to the muscles in your lower back and abdomen that you're trying to strengthen. Secondly, wearing one can give you a false sense of security that may have you trying to lift more weight than is safe or necessary. Of course, if you have a weak lower back, a belt may be necessary to work out pain-free until we can help strengthen your abdominal and lower back muscles.

In many ways, wearing a belt offers more psychological comfort than actual aid. If you suffer from low-level chronic back pain, wearing one can be comforting – it's like a heating pad without the heat, if you will. Furthermore, it's like an athlete who rubs the head of the trusty old trainer before taking the field. As they approach an imposing bar loaded with weight, many lifters cinch the buckle one notch tighter, a gesture that gets them psyched for the challenge more than anything else.

During her powerlifting days, Deidre wore a belt. But remember, her sport was about demonstrating strength; your goal in the gym is to gain strength. In other words, her goal was to lift the heaviest weight she possibly could, so wearing a belt while she squatted or deadlifted helped to up her totals. Again, we're concerned about what your muscles can do, not what your gear can do. Unless you feel you need to wear a belt, we recommend you don't.

For a belt to offer any significant support, it has to be pulled so tight you'd barely be able to whistle. By comparison, the corsets worn by female French nobility were as comfy as housedresses. In fact, before Deidre would approach a squat or deadlift it would take two strong people to yank on her belt to get it tight enough to give her sufficient support. Hauling a marlin into a fishing boat wasn't as much of a struggle.

It's a Wrap
There are two kinds of wraps that you can use in the gym: wrist wraps and knee wraps. Wrist wraps are shorter and affixed with Velcro, while the longer knee wraps are cinched by tucking the wrap under itself and pulling.

Remember, for wraps to be effective they have to be pulled pretty tight. There are only a few good reasons to wear wrist wraps. Here they are:

  • If you've recently suffered a wrist injury and need the support.

  • If you have a tendency to hyperextend your wrists while you perform a bench press, it's a good idea to wrap. Otherwise you could drop the bar.

Knee wraps? We're generally against them. These mummifying wraps are usually worn to support you when you're performing squats or using the leg press or leg extension machine. We don't like knee wraps for the same reason we're generally against weight belts. Unless you're squatting or pressing a ton of weight, a person with healthy knees who wears them is wasting his or her time. Or worse.

The reason one does these exercises in the first place is to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint. When you wrap your knees, you remove a significant amount of the workload from the muscles and transfer it to the wraps. Simply put, wearing knee wraps defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Here's where people get confused. Wearing wraps will help you lift more weight, which should be good, right? Wrong! Being able to lift more weight is only good if it comes as the result of your muscles getting stronger, not because you've fortified yourself with wraps.

This "might makes right" logic highlights an important point: Your lifting should be about getting strong, not seeming strong. This move-as-much-weight-as-possible syndrome, which afflicts men far more than it does women, is counterproductive to health and is as misguided as erecting an ornate roof before you've built a sound foundation.

We can hear the dissenters saying, "If I lift more with the wraps, my leg muscles won't get injured, and I'll get stronger faster." Nice try. Just because your securely wrapped knees can handle an increased load doesn't mean that your back or other body parts can. So ironically, wrapping your knees to protect this complex and vulnerable joint may actually end up jeopardizing your safety rather than ensuring it.

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Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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