Like anything else mainstream, as CrossFit grows, so do the various products marketed to make CrossFit even better. The amount of ‘must have’ items and personal gear being marketed toward us is expanding at a high rate. The list is endless, from weight belts, to shoes, to wrist wraps, it seems another company is trying to sell us something every day. With all the flashy new products out there, it is easy to lose site of CrossFit’s purpose, to make you generally physically prepared. In other words, at a moment’s notice, are you able to do Fran (21, 15, 9 for time: Thrusters and Pullups). Not if you first need to put on your oly shoes, knee sleeves, weight belt, and gymnastics grips.
There was a rumor years ago that Greg Glassman (CrossFit’s founder) would program running Fran on day 1 of the L1 CrossFit Training Program if anyone started to pull out oly shoes before working out. He was trying to prove a point.
So, what do we really need for a WOD? Are you using the “supplements” correctly? What can help us may actually be what hurts us if we become too reliant upon it? Below is a breakdown of when to use it and when you should go without.
Let’s start with some general principles:
1. If a medical professional says you need supportive gear, then by all means, use it. We aren’t doctors.
2. Supportive gear and specialized gear should be viewed as supplements, just like dietary supplements. We should use supplementary gear to gain an extra edge, not perform every day workouts.
3. Relying on extra gear may lead to weakness and actually lead to injury. Just like our muscles need time to adjust to the stress, so do our joints. Eventually this stress helps them grow stronger and more flexible.
So what should we be using and when? Below is a list of the most popular extra gear and how to use it:
Wrist wraps are great for supporting our wrists in pressing and overhead movements. Wraps should be used for heavy lifts when reps do not exceed 5-7 reps and one rep maxes. If you have to grab your wrist wraps for high rep front squats, handstand push-ups, and overhead movements, it might be time to look at strengthening your wrists and working some mobility. Stretching your wrists, forearms, lats, and triceps will help those elbows stay high and help alleviate some of the wrist pain.
Olympic Lifting Shoes
Olympic weightlifting shoes feature a hard, flat sole, an elevated heel, straps, and a snug fit around your foot. Olympic shoes increases your hip and ankle flexibility, and can help with stability, which helps you get lower in a squat. Oly shoes should be used for heavy lifting and one rep maxes. They should not be used for air squats or every time wallballs are programmed. If oly shoes are always needed, flexibility and mobility issues should be addressed before trying to add more weight to a movement.
After that first hand tear, most people run out and buy gymnastics/hand grips. No one wants those ugly and painful tears. These grips are great when hands are sore or to protect against hand tears during high rep pullups, toes to bar, and/or muscle ups. While grips can help until your hands get stronger, they can actually start to hinder grip strength if used all the time. Forearms will never get stronger if grip assistance is always used. Calluses are actually necessary but need to be taken care of properly. Instead of running for grips every time we are on the pullup bar, talk to a coach about how to strengthen your grip and prevent hand tears.
If there is a prior injury, knee instability, or per doctors orders knee sleeves should be used. Heavy squats, one rep max lifts, and high volume competitions are great times to use knee sleeves. Knee sleeves help create warmth around the knee and surrounding tissue helping the knee to move better. However, you should be able to squat without needing them. Instead of constantly putting on your knee sleeves, think about working on massaging and stretching the surrounding tissue to help improve knee mobility.
Weight belts increase intra-abdominal pressure which helps create tension in the core. They are great to provide a little extra assistance when you are lifting weights at 80% of your 1 rep max or above. Weight belts have to be used correctly in order to work. When you breath all the way in the belt should feel tight. Weight belts should not be used during every lift or when moving light or moderate weight. This may actually lead to an underdeveloped core. A strong core is important in CrossFit as we use it to support almost everything we do. A strong core will help your spine stay neutral while lifting and its importance should not be overlooked.
Similar to gymnastics/hand grips, chalk should be used to assist your grip. With chalk, it isn’t a matter of using it or not. It is more about using too much or too often. Chalk is not an excuse to rest and too much can actually cause your hands to tear more often. Anyone who has completed our Fundamentals Program knows the proper way to chalk hands. If you create a cloud around the chalk bucket, if you leave handprints on the floor, or if you leave caked chalk on the pullup bar, you are using too much. Chalk should be used simply to dry out your hands.
The next time you’re at the box think about what you really need to perform a workout well. Talk to a coach about some extra mobility or core work to help eliminate some of this supplemental gear over time.