When to Accessorize and When to Lift Naked

I get a lot of questions about what gear CrossFitters should use. Belts, shoes, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, thumb nubs, headbands, chestee-dos, sling shots, voodoo dolls, nanos, hipster socks you name it, Crossfitters buy it. And let’s be honest it’s FUN to accessorize. But before you got goat taping yourself to a wall let’s talk some useful tips for the common items in a gear bag.

Most athletes just beginning CrossFit honestly don’t need much except more reps and some some good dedicated recovery time. The general idea is this: if you NEED weightlifting shoes, knee sleeves, belts or wrist wraps in order to feel capable to perform squats, and deadlifts and presses then you really don’t know the movements yet. Once you know HOW to do the lifts you may find there is some gear that can help you express your best technique. But the toys won’t really help you if you don’t know the technique in the first place.

BELTS for example will only really help if you know how and where to breath and how to brace your midline. A belt can help to prompt the right musculature to brace your midline more effectively. A good guideline for CrossFit athletes with sound mechanics, is to use a belt at 90% or above of your 1RM lifts. It is also a good practice to get multiple data points; like one max lift with a belt and one max lift without.

LIFTING SHOES are fun! I was so excited when I got my first pair I slept in them. They are great for the snatch and the clean and jerk where the demand for an upright position is high. If you struggle with a squat position that is pitched forward these shoes can help you pick your torso up off your thighs. They are a must if you want to seriously pursue the olympic lifts. However, when learning and working on your squat, lifting in flat shoes or even barefoot means your ankles and feet have nowhere to hide. This allows you to work towards the full function of balance on your feet and flexion of your ankles to create happy, healthy knees, hips and back for squatting and deadlifting. Olympic lifting shoes should not be worn for conventional deadlifts or sumo lifts, (sumo squat or pull). A weightlifting shoe’s purpose it to give more ankle flexion and a more upright torso which is the exact opposite of what you want for a good deadlift position. I actually encourage you to bust out your rad hipster socks and leave the shoes of;f or rock the old school Chuck Taylors for your conventional and sumo pulls. Expose yourself to squatting barefoot, in flats and in lifters. Don’t let your lucky shoes dictate whether you PR or not. If you left your lifters at home squat anyways.

WRIST WRAPS can help support the smaller bones of the wrist but if relied on too heavily they can also become more of the problem than the solution. When lifting weights overhead you need some extension of the wrist. If you use a wrist wrap to fix it into a neutral position and then load a bunch of weight on top of that, you are actually putting more pressure on the metacarpals (hand bones). Tighter more aggressive wraps are better suited for benching where the wrist stays stacked in a more neutral position in the execution of the lift.
If your wrist is bothering you badly you may need to fix the problem rather than put the bandaid of a wrist wrap on top of it. This usually means addressing the technique of your lift or your position. You can however, use some tape to support the wrist without impeding extension or use a more pliable wrist wrap not piled high on the wrist and into the hand. If you “have bad wrists” you are an athlete that should consider utilizing a dumbbell more often in your training.

The best advice I can give you on accessories, tchotchkes and gear is to go ahead and experiment for yourself…. but learn the lifts first! Just like babies pop out naked and have to learn everything from scratch, baby lifters should also learn naked. Do not expect the gear to teach you the movement if you are still learning it. Once you gain proficiency, have some fun and use gear to learn more about the lift; not to mask what techniques or positions or strength you may still need to work for.