Everyone has a gym bag - whether it's Under Armour, Nike, or Adidas, you've got to have a place to store all of your accumulating fitness gear. In our current day and age, everyone wants the newest gadget that’s going to increase their productivity, or in this case, enhance their gym experience.
So, what is the best footwear option if you’re deadlifting? What sort of belt should you look for? Are wrist wraps worth investing in? Keep reading my friend, all of the answers to life’s most pressing questions lie below…
1. Proper Footwear
Have you ever considered how your shoes influence your body? We know that all adaptations within the body are determined by the SAID principle: specific adaptations to imposed demands - whenever the body is placed under stress, it will adapt in order to make itself as efficient as possible.
Most shoes these days are built for comfort and style, not performance; the added heel lift (12mm or more on most shoes), extensive stabilization system, and cushioned heel support can wreck havoc on your ankle mobility and intrinsic foot musculature. When you wear an elevated heel throughout the day, your body’s center of gravity is shifted forward and the calves are in a state of constant, submaximal contraction in order to facilitate balance.
Ever wondered why your calves are incessantly tight despite the fact that you stretch them multiple times on a daily basis? 10-14 hours a day of low-grade tension is quite the stimulus for any muscle group within your body.
However, given what we know above, we must first consider what we’re actually trying to accomplish with a deadlift before recommending footwear. In any sort of hip hinge (deadlift, good morning, RDL, etc.) pattern we are looking to generate a posterior weight shift, meaning we are trying to shift our center of gravity backwards to balance out the forward load (aka the barbell) placed upon our bodies. But, as we’ve already discussed, if you elevate the heels of your training shoes, your center of gravity is shifted forward and it’ll be much tougher to ascertain a proper hinge pattern.
So, what do I recommend? Pick some sort of minimalist footwear if you’re going to be pulling some big weights off the floor. I’m personally a big fan of the New Balance Minimus cross trainers. They offer low levels of lateral stability, which is great for change of direction work if you’re an athlete, but they also provide a very minimal heel lift (4mm) to help promote better kinesthetic feedback during training sessions. I have 2 pairs and love them; I'd highly recommend them to anyone looking for a new pair of lifting shoes.
*SIDE NOTE: I’m sure many of you may be wondering about Olympic lifting shoes with a large raised heel. In some lifters, especially those who are taller with longer femurs, these shoes have their place. However, I see a number of lifters using squat shoes to compensate for poor ankle mobility. If you can’t bodyweight squat barefoot with solid technique, then we’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed. As I’ve said before, assess and correct the dysfunction, don’t just treat the symptoms.
Bottom Line: High heels may look good but they’re not helping your deadlift. Ditch the heel during training and stick to a flat-soled shoe whenever possible.
2. Chalk/Liquid Grip
This one is a game changer especially if you're going to be deadlifting or rowing heavy. Straps can play a role eventually but beginners and even intermediate lifters should try to get as strong as possible with little to no grip assistance.
Chalk is fairly dirt-cheap but you don't have to buy lifting chalk if you're on a college budget. Go to Walmart, pick up your favorite color of sidewalk chalk, and go hit some new PRs. Sure, sidewalk chalk (calcium carbonate) isn’t going to be exactly the same as lifting chalk (magnesium carbonate) but the two are similar enough that you can still deadlift a small house without any issues.
If you lift at a fairly hardcore gym, they might even provide chalk and they certainly won't care if you bring your own. However, if for some unfortunate reason you're forced to lift at a commercial gym that doesn't allow chalk, then look into Liquid Grip, which won't leave dust all over the place and comes with a convenient carabiner so you won't lose it.
Bottom Line: Chalk can make the difference between a missed pull and a new PR. Head to Walmart, hit up the craft isle, and then go pick up something heavy.
3. A Quality Belt
Belts can be tricky. Many use them too early or too often as a "crutch" to offset their lack of core strength and stability. If there’s a large difference between your belted and unbelted maxes, then it’s times to incorporate more beltless training and work on anterior core stability.
However, once you begin to reach intermediate levels of strength, they become very useful as the ability to brace during higher intensity sets helps to stabilize the spine. Studies have shown that belts can help to increase intra-abdominal pressure by up to 15% in the squat and 30-40% in the deadlift. 1,2
But, when should you use one? Once reach 85% of your 1RM or above, it'd probably be a good idea to belt up. Also, you don’t need a belt for direct arm work bro. I know you may think you look cool, but it’s not doing anything besides restricting your breathing and giving you a sweet rash on your abs. It may sound logical, but you'd be surprised what you see some people doing in the gym these days.
Like most things in weight lifting, there’s a learning curve when it comes to maximizing the use of a belt. Learn how to train without one if you’re just getting into weight training but after you’ve had a few months under the bar, begin to experiment with some belted sets and find what works best for you.
Bottom Line: Incorporate a belt on sets above 85% of your 1-RM but only once you've reached an intermediate level of strength and understand how to utilize an effective bracing strategy.
4. Athletic Tape/Band aids
This one might seem a bit strange and unorthodox to some lifters but anyone who has ever performed an Olympic lift or utilized a Texas deadlift bar will understand. Your hands and fingers will take a beating as the weight gets heavier and you lift more often.
Athletic tape can help to prevent calluses from tearing if your hands are in bad shape and band-aids also come in handy because you can put them over scabs or fresh battle wounds.
I've had to delay a few deadlift sessions after scrapping my shin on the bar and then spending the next 5 minutes trying to stop the bleeding. If band-aids aren't your style, you can wear long socks or sweat pants to prevent the issue altogether.
Bottom Line: Athletic tape and band-aids might seem dumb until you tear off a blister or your shin won't stop bleeding. Stock up now and you’ll thank me later.
5. A Log Book
You know that guy who has been squatting 135 for the past 5 years? Yeah, me too; he’s in need of a logbook and a simple lesson in the basics of strength and conditioning.
We know from the Repeated Bout Effect that, “subsequent bouts of the same exercise, repeated within several days to several months, do not produce as much damage as the first bout.”3 As I mentioned above, your body adapts to certain stimulus based upon their magnitude - a repeated stressor is no longer a stimulus if it does not change. Strength training is built on the laws of progressive overload, but how are you going to remember what you did a week ago, let alone a month ago?
Enter the logbook. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy but if you're not keeping track of your lifts, then your progress will stagnate. I started with a simple pen and paper but now I’ve built a number of excel templates, which I utilize with my athletes and myself, to make training even easier. If you’re pretty good with computers, experiment with building your own training log, it’s actually quite easy once you master the basics of program design.
Editor's note: The Muscle & Strength Forum has an area for Member Training Journals that makes it easy to keep track of your workouts, as well as get some tips and feedback from other seasoned members.
Bottom Line: What gets recorded gets remembered.
Bands will make her dance, but they’re also quite beneficial for joint mobilizations and activation circuits. If you’ve never tried adding mini bands to your warm-up, it can be a game changer. They’re light, portable, fairly cheap, and they’re quite handy if you’re looking to activate some of the intrinsic, stabilizing musculature within the hips.
As I mentioned in some of my past articles, bands can also be used to modify the strength curve by providing resistance or assistance at specific points within a lift. For a deadlift, you might add bands to increase the difficulty at lockout. But, in a squat, you could add bands from the top of the rack to assist the lifter out of the hole where they’re weakest.
Bottom Line: Incorporate full size and mini bands into your training to enhance your warm-up and overload techniques.
7. Wrist Wraps
I’m sure you’ve seen it before, many folks at commercial gyms "strap up" and throw on wrist wraps as soon as they walk in the door. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wrist wraps, as they can be beneficial for intermediate lifters with smaller bone structures who get pain with maximal weights. But, think of them like a belt for your hands - you don't wear a belt for every set (at least you shouldn't...), so it might be wise to do a bit more strapless rowing work to build up your forearms and improve your wrist strength.
Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying however, wrist wraps are quite beneficial and I use them within my own training to support maximal loads. There also may be certain instances (prior injuries, musculo-skeletal deformations, etc.) where the lifter needs wraps in order to perform the movement without pain. There’s a time and place for all this equipment, just don’t fall back on it as a crutch.
Bottom Line: If you have smaller wrists and struggle to keep them neutral on heavier sets of bench or squat, then consider adding some wrist wraps to you’re your gym arsenal which can prevent pain and provide neutrality.
8. Foam Roller
My foam roller is indispensable, I hate warming up without and I try to spend a good 5-10 minutes on it daily to help improve my recovery. I’ve seen some utilize PVC pipes, lacrosse balls, or ever car buffers to enhance their soft tissue work.
When you’re dealing with musculo-skeletal issues, you want to take a proactive approach and address the issue as soon as possible (aka you should be foam rolling). Those who take more of a reactive approach will find that their joints will experience quite a bit more wear and tear in the long run.
Bottom Line: Everybody wants to be supple, but nobody wants to foam roll. Don't neglect soft tissue work; it’ll catch up with you over time.
9. Wrist Straps
Straps can play a vital role in your weight lifting career. For example, snatch grip deadlifts, Kroc rows, heavy shrugs, and certain pulldown variations are just a few exercises where straps can be quite useful when implemented correctly. However, like some of the other lifting implements listed above, they are often overused and abused by some folks at the gym.
You will see many using straps for DB rows, farmers walks, lateral raises, deadlifts, or even to hold their protein shake after they're done training. Wait…you didn't know it was twice as anabolic if your protein shake was strapped to your hand? Well now you know, let the gains begin.
Bottom Line: Is forearm strength usually a limiting factor for you on deadlifts, rows, or other pulling movements? Use straps for a couple of heavy top sets but train your grip strength like a mad man. If you dislike something, odds are it's because you're not good at it - train it into the ground.
- High heels may look good but they’re not helping your deadlift. Ditch the heel during training and stick to a flat-soled shoe whenever possible.
- Chalk can make the difference between a missed pull and a new PR. Head to Walmart, hit up the craft isle, and then go pick up something heavy.
- Incorporate a belt on sets above 85% of your 1-RM but only once you've reached an intermediate level of strength and understand how to utilize an effective bracing strategy.
- Athletic tape and band-aids might seem dumb until you tear off a blister or your shin won't stop bleeding. Stock up now and you’ll thank me later.
- What gets recorded gets remembered.
- Incorporate full size and mini bands into your training to enhance your warm-up and overload techniques.
- If you have smaller wrists and struggle to keep them neutral on heavier sets of bench or squat, then consider adding some wrist wraps to you’re your gym arsenal which can prevent pain and provide neutrality.
- Everybody wants to be supple, but nobody wants to foam roll. Don't neglect soft tissue work; it’ll catch up with you over time.
- Is forearm strength usually a limiting factor for you on deadlifts, rows, or other pulling movements? Use straps for a couple of heavy top sets but train your grip strength like a mad man. If you dislike something, odds are it's because you're not good at it - train it into the ground.
So how many do you have in YOUR gym bag? Make some changes today and let me know how it goes.