I’m sure you’ve seen someone wearing some sort of brace or belt and thought to yourself, “I wonder why they’re wearing that.” Don’t worry; you’re not alone. The wonderful world of consumer products has provided us with enough compression and “safety” gear to make us indestructible…or so they say. Do we really need all of this gear, or are they just coming up with new ways to move product? Let’s look at the different products, toe to head, review the pros and cons, to help you figure out if they should be on your next equipment order.
One of the top accessories for a CrossFit athlete is the knee sleeves, or “knee wraps” if you’re a Russian Powerlifter. Knee sleeves are very beneficial because they add a nice pop of color to your outfit when pulled up, and when down around your shoes make you look like you belong in the movie Flashdance. All kidding aside, knee sleeves provide legitimate benefits when used properly. The the neoprene variety provides compression support and warmth while being very light and flexible. Ideal for knee joint-intensive movements (squats, lunges, box jumps, pistols…), knee sleeves are a huge plus when you have to move heavy weight or just need a little extra support. The warm compression has been found to improve blood flow and reduce pain. As much as knee sleeves help, beware that you do not become dependent on them. Wearing sleeves for every workout may result in a perceived dependence on the sleeves, particularly when they might not be necessary. Still not sure if you need some sleeves? Try this: if you’re lifting heavy, working your knees hard, or experiencing some knee discomfort… sleeves might be worth a go.
Next up is the always popular weight belt. Weightlifting belts provide many benefits on the road to your next PR, the first being spinal stabilization. The belt is not squeezing your spine and allowing you to feel stronger; it is actually giving your abs something to push against which then creates anterior pressure to help stabilize your spine. That anterior pressure helps tighten your torso which helps keep your chest up and allows you to stand up that weight on your back, off the ground or over your head. When wearing a belt properly, you should exhale and feel it snug around your core. The belt should be tight, but not restrict breathing. Personally, I wear a weightlifting belt when I’m going for one-rep maxes (1RM) and hitting percentages above 90% of my 1RM, but otherwise try to avoid them. Wearing a belt too often sometimes gives a false sense of security, and may be more dangerous to you overall progress than a help. Listen to your body; when your back feels good, the weight belt could help you maximize your core stabilization, but if your back is hurting, the belt is only going to be a smoke shield. One more advantage of the belt is the mental edge. Like I said, I only like to wear it when I’m over 90% of max, so when I put it on, my body knows it’s time to do work. I like to think of it like Lincoln Hawk turning his hat backwards before an arm wrestling match in Over The Top.
Wrist and Gymnastic Wraps
It all wraps up with the hands. In CrossFit, you can make the argument that things aren’t always ‘ground up’, rather everything starts with your hands. First, we’ll touch on the wrist wraps…they’re great and there’s not much else to say about them. They provide compression and wrist support while staying out of the way and still giving your wrist full strength and range of motion. Gymnastics wraps are more about grip, and are purely for protecting your hands from tearing. Don’t let the name fool you, though, gymnastic wraps can be worn for more than just the pull-up bar. Kettlebell swings, barbell movements, and farmer’s carries can eat up your grip as well, where wraps can help support those movements as well. Both the wrist and the gymnastic wraps come in multiple styles, and each style has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not sure what’s the right fit for you, don’t be afraid to ask other athletes what they think. As far as disadvantages go, you can treat them just like all other wraps or sleeves; wear them but don’t become dependent on them.
In the end, there’s a time and place for all these accessories. Some days we just don’t have it; you might be sore and beat up or just need that little extra help to get through the reps. We’re CrossFitters, every day can’t be a PR day. I like to keep the belts and sleeves for the heavy stuff, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t use them on light days when I need the extra help. When you need them, use them… just use your head as well. Listen to and know how your body works. Trust me, it will tell you what it needs. Now go set some PRs!
-Dave Wehmeier Coach at CrossFit Eastern Ridge