Adding weight training to your regimen — or taking what you’re already doing to a higher intensity — may require a few essential pieces of gear to help make training a little easier and safer. With benefits like keeping your hands from callousing, improving your grip and dialing in your core, the following lifting accessories are great additions to your gym bag.
When you’re lifting weights, it’s rarely your back, biceps or legs that fatigue first; it’s your hands. Grip strength can be trained, but no amount of training will protect your palms from the abrasive surface of barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. One of the most essential pieces of lifting gear is a good set of gloves.
Look for those with cut-out fingertips, light grip material (like suede) and gel padding on the palms. These will help you keep better control of the weights with each rep and protect your hands from chafing and bruising.
Keep in mind, the occasional training without gloves is a good thing to toughen your hands and build thicker skin for the long haul.
For those who want to start powerlifting, you can consider investing in lifting straps, which have an even greater mechanical advantage than gloves for hoisting weight. These straps come in a variety of shapes and materials, but generally, part of the strap wraps around the wrist, and the other part is hooked around the barbell. Some variations use actual hooks, and others use a flat piece of nylon rope or leather. The only drawback is that these straps require a bit more experience and coordination to use, but good technique is fairly easy to master.
Core support is crucial when you’re lifting. This means some extra support around your waist in the form of a rigid nylon or leather belt can really help maximize super heavy lifts. Squats, push presses and anything with a barbell — even bench presses — will benefit from a belt, especially if you’re going for a personal record, or a one-rep maximum.
“Weightlifting belts are handy to have for when you’re lifting 90 percent of your one-rep max or higher. Because they help increase intra-abdominal pressure when you press outward against them with your guts, they help to stabilize your spine, helping you lift even more weight than you could without one,” says Jen Sinkler, personal trainer, certified RKC 2 kettlebell instructor and powerlifting coach.
However, weightlifting belts, like other weight-lifting assistance accessories, shouldn’t be used all the time. “In general, you want to lift without a belt so that you build the musculature to support your endeavors without help.”
Check with your personal trainer to see if using a weightlifting belt is right for you.
You shouldn’t be wearing the same shoes for every single workout, because your feet and body need different support depending on the exercise of the day.
In fact, the elements that make cushioned running shoes and other sneakers so great to wear while jogging or doing your errands are the exact reasons you don’t want to wear them while lifting.
Lifting requires you to direct every ounce of strength and control toward your push or pull, and a ton of cushioning makes you lose important stability.
The shoe you need depends on your lift: “When you’re performing lower-body pulls such as deadlifts, it’s imperative that you use a flat-soled shoe so that your body position isn’t pitched forward due to an elevated heel. Minimalist shoes are perfect for these activities,” Sinkler explains.
Weightlifting shoes come in a variety of styles — and you should decide on style based on how serious you are about lifting.
A basic weightlifting shoe allows you to have as much contact with the ground as possible. Toe-separated shoes (where each toe is housed separately for individual grip) are ideal. Another is a shoe with very little cushioning, flat soles, wide toe-boxes and very little heel “drop” (the height difference between heel and forefoot).
Most running shoes have a lot of cushioning and have a heel drop of about 11mm, which is significant, and too much for weightlifting. For weightlifting, you want something that allows you to have a flatter foot. Wide toe-boxes mean your feet can spread more naturally. These features allow the muscles in your feet and lower body to grow stronger, enabling you to initiate control more effectively.
The next step in weightlifting shoes are hard-bottomed heeled ones. Sinkler says, “Heeled shoes come in handy for lower-body push movements such as squats.” The small amount of heel lift “can help overcome any limitations in mobility and prevent the rounding of the spine that occurs when people squat more deeply than their current mobility allows,” she explains.
No matter your weightlifting goals, there are a few simple accessories that can help you greatly improve your fitness. Get out there and lift.