Pumping iron has become the norm in modern day society. Gyms surround us, and there’s this persistent pressure to get that “perfect” physique. Even the celebrities you probably admire are known for having pristine bodies, which grants them large followings.
I myself have been inspired by the likes of classic bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and have personal fitness goals of my own to chase. Pertaining to weight lifting, there’s still this misconception that lifting is “dangerous” and will somehow lead to an early retirement due to the stress placed on the joints.
I could go on for a century about this debate, but I’ll keep it simple for now: Lifting weights, when done safely, is a completely harmless practice. I’ll be discussing weight lifting equipment for safety purposes. With the following investments in mind, lifting can easily be made into a productive practice to further your longevity in the iron game.
I know you’ve seen a lifter getting ready to hit a world record on a squat or a deadlift, or maybe just another Instagram post of personal records. Almost 100% of the time, you see these athletes wearing belts. These aren’t just some flashy design meant to add some style to the lifts.
Weight lifting belts serve the sole purpose of being used for breathing and bracing the abdominal captivities. “Why? Can’t I just lift while breathing normally?” You could at the expense of putting your back in a compromised position. Known as the “valsalva maneuver”, this method of breathing is performed by forcefully exhaling against a closed airway.
By holding your breath, tightening your abdominals, and exhaling against your abdominals without losing your breath, you essentially create this powerful and rigid structure in your core. To add some science to it, just think of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The greater your ability to exhale against a closed airway, the greater your bracing will be.
Along with your abdominals, your back is responsible for keeping you upright. Bracing properly helps the abdominals protect the spine during any heavy lift, especially heavy compound lifts such as the squat or deadlift. The valsalva maneuver can be accomplished normally, but the use of a lifting belt is to forge an even stronger base with your core.
The tightening of a lifting belt around your core furthers the amount of intra-abdominal pressure that can be applied, which further stabilizes the spine. While the perks of the belt includes lifting heavier loads, the most important benefit is of course reducing the risks of injury to the spine, primarily the lumbar, as much as possible.
“Wow! The price of these protective belts must run pretty high!” you might say. Don’t fret. Belts like this one from Master of Muscle are available at Amazon.com for those who are on a narrow budget. Belts at this low of a price will suffice well for novices.
However, as a lifter becomes far more advanced, their belt will inevitably need an upgrade of its own. That’s why elite weight-lifting belts from companies such as SBD Apparel are superlative for lifters with the more extreme passion of becoming champions. These types of belts may run a bit higher, but they’re undoubtedly worth it on the odyssey towards the top where the elites play.
Tendonitis, the inflammation of tendon through repeated strain, occurs in a countless number of people nowadays. However, it of course occurs far more often in athletes than just sedentary people. There isn’t a single sport in which an athlete does not have to use their arms, where the elbows are located.
This is where we come to a creation sent from the heavens: elbow sleeves. They were designed with the task of compressing the elbow joint do relieve tendonitis. The pain is also likely to strike more often if the elbows are cold, and elbow sleeves help keep the elbows warm.
While I recommend elbow sleeves to any athlete, I strongly recommend them for weight lifters. Any form of pressing, like the bench press, involves the elbow constantly locking out after each rep. In fact, tendonitis is precisely one of the biggest reasons why some lifters favor partial reps when pressing just so that the elbow doesn’t lock out.
Regardless, elbow sleeves are invaluable once an athlete reaches maximal loading on their presses. Even on the barbell squat, particularly the low bar squat, elbow sleeves prove fruitful, as the lifter has to support the barbell with the arms as the bar position lowers on the back. Olympic weightlifting requires even more safety for the elbows, as the frequent aggressive locking of the elbow during the clean & jerk and the snatch is more likely to lead to tendonitis.
I don’t have to explain how precious our knees are to an overall way of life. Most of us have been using them to walk since childhood. To an even greater degree than the elbows, the knees are prone to tendonitis through excessive use. Every time you stand up and start walking or running, the knees are grinding just so you can go where you need to go.
Knee wraps work the same way as sleeves do for the elbows by compressing the knee joint as well as keeping it warm. For faced-paced sports involving a good amount of running, it would be wise to consider keeping the knee protected. For weight lifters, utilizing knee wraps in maximal-loaded barbell squats or heavy leg presses is a wise move considering that the knee must extend to varying degrees.
Whether lifting heavy weights, leaping to try to dunk, getting tackled, or constantly changing directions on the field, I strongly recommend knee wraps to lower the risk of injury caused by the various forces that can be applied to the knee.
Regardless of any new inventions designed to protect us in while lifting, one principle of any form of this practice that should not be overlooked is the concept of perfecting your form. Improper form will bring a lifter down faster due to moving the body in a sub-optimal manner.
Lifting heavy already challenges the body and the central nervous system enough. Before discussing any increases in loading, every lifter needs to take proper form and technique as the first initiative. Injuries due to poor execution of a lift are what create fables such as, “Squats are bad for your knees!”. It’s never the fault of the exercise.
It is rather the lack of awareness of what your body is doing during the movement or using too much that your body cannot handle in the first place. Always check your ego at the door by using weights that you can handle in a safe manner, and the results you desire will come through your integrity.
“Okay. As long as I perform the lifts flawlessly, I don’t need to drain my pockets with this lifting gear?” While I’m not saying that any of this gear must be worn at all cost, you can never be too safe.
The career of a lifter doesn’t have to be just a couple of months due to one bad squat attempt. I believe in longevity, and lifting gear is what will ultimately be what keeps you in the game for the longest. Go to any powerlifting federation, and you’ll see every competitor in their reliable gear helping them break records.
“It’s expensive though.” While I agree that this gear can be a little expensive, you have to think about how long these products lasts. For beginner lifters, there is absolutely nothing wrong with going a year or two without using any of this equipment so you can save up cash for it. Beginners’ joints will naturally adapt to lifting over time. This gear is primarily for advanced strength athletes, who need that furthered protection once they get closer to the elite level.