Weight Belts, Wrist Wraps and Knee Sleeves Oh My

Sep 07, 2019

Recreational lifters often use external support/equipment for multiple purposes. Some use it for injuries, some use it for performance benefits, and others use it because they were taught they need to wear them at all times.

This article will go over how and when to use the equipment to maximize your health and performance.

Injuries

When you walk into a gym, you can get a pretty good idea of who is dealing with an injury/pain based on the equipment they are wearing.

Are you wearing knee sleeves with light activity? Hmm..

Are you wearing wrist wraps for every upper body exercise? Hmm..

Are you wearing a belt with squats and deadlifts under 85%? Hmm..

The same goes for ankle braces, elbow support, etc. 

Let's set this straight... We should NOT be relying on this equipment to exercise!! Our body is meant to be strong and stable without the use of external support! PERIOD.

With all that being said, wearing external support can provide healthy sensory input to that joint/body part which can decrease your perception of pain or discomfort. This is POWERFUL. It can be used in times when we are pushing our limits in training and want to train through minor aches and pains. 

But.. If you are experiencing pain and discomfort that has not gone away for weeks and you are trying to mask your pain and discomfort by wearing equipment, you are doing yourself a HUGE disservice. 

If you have "bad knees" and you want to wear knee sleeves to get you through a hard training session, go for it. But DON'T rely on them for every session. You should be working on your knees and the patterns that cause them discomfort WITHOUT equipment. 

Often by having longer warm-ups with multiple sets and reps your joints/body parts will be feeling WAY better and you won't need as much equipment during your working sets. Spend extra time for your body in your warm-ups! 

At the VERY least, I would recommend warming up with your lighter sets WITHOUT the use of equipment. Then as the weight gets heavier, you can begin to use your equipment. The best rehab is practicing the exercises/movement patterns that cause you to discomfort in a tolerable/pain-free zone and progressing that. 

P.S. You don't have bad knees, you don't need to be fixed... Your knees are strong and resilient. 

Performance 

There is no doubt, that using equipment can improve your performance.

If you are lacking ankle dorsiflexion, a heeled weightlifting shoe can put you into a better position to allow you to utilize your legs better in a squatting pattern. 

By wearing a belt, you can increase your intra-abdominal pressure which can allow you to stabilize your trunk better so you can lift more with your legs or arms.

 
 
 
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You’ve likely used a weight belt at some point in time in your lifting career. You’ve also probably heard differing thoughts and opinions on using them. .. “Using a belt will make your core muscles weak,” or “using a belt is a crutch that will allow you to lift more than you are actually able to,” are common things that are said when talking about belts. .. But, what does the research say? @gregnuckols put together an awesome resource (The Belt Bible) that took a look at just that. .. These are some of the big takeaways that we had from that article. .. What are your thoughts on using a weight belt? Use it all the time? Never? Just during your heavy sets? Let us know what you think below! .. #strength #strengthtraining #sportsperformance #weightlifting #powerlifting #crossfit #weightbelt #muscle #gym #workout #physio #injury

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Wearing tight knee sleeves or wraps will increase the elasticity of the knees in the bottom of the squat and allow you to come out of the hole with less effort. 

These are all HUGE performance increases that will allow you to lift more weight.

If your goal is to lift the most amount of weight as humanly possible, equipment will help you do that.

The problem is that you become reliant on that equipment to be strong. The moment things start coming off, the more unstable and unsafe you feel. Every time you squat you want your heeled shoes, knee wraps, and belt. Without it you feel "off".

Remember, a part of the reason that we are training is to be more effective in life! The more you wear equipment, the less transfer you will get to everyday life.

But... We all like lifting heavy!!! So I'm going to go over how I set up my training to allow me to use equipment to lift the most amount of weight and still get the most carry over to my life outside of the gym.

If you care more about lifting for life and don't care about chasing numbers, don't use equipment... But if you like lifting heavy stuff like me, keep reading! 

Equipment Periodization

Daily

Before I get into the week to week programming, I want to make it a point to ALWAYS WARM UP WITHOUT EQUIPMENT. Don't put the equipment on until you use it. 

Don't put on a belt until you are at your working set!! You really don't need it... You should be able to brace without it! They can be helpful to use once you are past 85% of your 1MR.

We will use one of my squatting workouts as an example for how to progressively add equipment as needed:

Warm-up:  No shoes, no belt, no knee sleeves 30-50 squats with different feet positions or lunges/step-ups

Warm-up set 1: Empty Barbell with no shoes

Warm-up set 2: Empty barbell with heeled shoes (I wear these because I am a weightlifting athlete, and enjoy how they make me feel)

Warm-up set 3: 135lbs for 5 with heeled shoes

Warm-up set 4: 185lbs for 3 with heeled shoes

Warm-up set 5: 225lbs for 3 with heeled shoes and loose knee sleeves

Warm-up set 6: 275lbs for 3 with heeled shoes and loose knee sleeves

Working set: 315 for 5 with heeled shoes, (loose or tight) knee sleeves, and potentially belt on week - (look below)

Notice that I don't require knee sleeves until I get to a certain weight. The same goes for a belt if I choose to wear it.

Monthly

Most of my programs are done in 4-week blocks. Week 1 is an introduction week to a new set and rep range. Week 2 is a progression with heavier weights. Week 3 is a progression to heavier weeks. And week 4 is either another progression or a deload based off how I'm feeling. 

I pair the amount of weight I'm using with the equipment that I use.

Here is an example of how I use equipment for my squatting workouts over a month: 

Week 1 is an introduction week so I keep the weight lighter. For this, I won't use a belt. Just by wearing a belt I will limit my performance and how much weight I can use. 

Week 2 is a progression week. So here I will add a belt but not wear it tight and then progress the weight.

Week 3 is a progression week again so I will add tightness to the belt.

Week 4 if it is a deload, I go back to not wearing a belt. If I am really hungry for the weight I will go heavier than I did on week 3 with the same equipment with potentially increased tightness/support. Notice in this video I am wearing knee wraps instead of knee sleeves. 

If I do push it on week 4, I will always follow that up with lighter lifts the following week with no belt or tight knee sleeves. 

The key here is that I am not ALWAYS using the equipment for my workouts. When I want to push the performance, I will use it. But then I follow that up with time without using it. I want the body to feel good and be STRONG without the equipment too! 

Give this a try and let me know what you think!

-Dr. Matt Shiver

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