The 3 Common Pieces of Weightlifting Gear
By Derek McDermott
With the newly formed Viking Barbell Club (yes, that’s us!), our weightlifting team is getting ready for another sanctioned meet on June 11th in Wilton, CT. Like many sports, weightlifting has its own specific equipment. Let’s chat about the most important and widely used gear; 1) Shoes, 2) Belts, and 3) Wrist Wraps.
- Olympic Weightlifting Shoes: As for the shoes, you have likely seen folks wear them in the gym; a raised heel, usually a strap across the mid-foot and a stiff sole. In short, these three descriptors above are what separate an “Oly Shoe” from a traditional CrossFit shoe like the Reebok Nano/Nike MetCon/NoBull Trainer. Also, each of those descriptors have a very specific purpose.
HEEL: Any type of squatting requires a certain amount of hip and ankle mobility. Specifically, proper ankle mobility will help our torso to get into a better (more vertical) positon, making receiving the bar overhead (in the snatch) or in the front rack (in the clean) easier, more comfortable, and allowing us to be more stable. The raised heel in an Olympic Weightlifting shoe “opens” our ankles more (think high heels versus sneakers), thus giving us ankle mobility that our joints may not normally have when we are barefoot. If you do not own weightlifting shoes and would like to see what this feels like, go grab a 10lb plate and place one under each heel, then air squat a few times.
SOLE: The soles of weightlifting shoes are very stiff in order to promote stability when lifting heavy loads overhead. The last thing any athlete wants is to have a significant amount of weight overhead/in the front rack/on their back and have the ground underneath them be moving. This is precisely why we recommend a CrossFit specific shoe (Reebok Nano/Nike MetCon/NoBull Trainer) over traditional running shoes, which have too much cushion for lifting weights.
STRAP: The strap(s) that are across the mid foot are simply meant to keep the foot firmly in contact with the sole of the shoe at all times. The stiffness of the sole, in conjunction with the straps, create a single unit (foot + shoe) that function as a single unit during quick and explosive movements, such as the snatch and clean and jerk. During each lift, it’s common to see full extension of the ankle (getting up on the toes) followed by a moment where the feet are off the ground, followed by a very distinct and aggressive return to the floor. Straps help keep the shoe, and your feet, in place.
- Weightlifting Belt: As for the belt, you will likely see them being worn during deadlifts and squatting variations. However, they’re often misunderstood. Belts are typically anywhere from 3-6 inches wide and made of either nylon or leather, and have a buckle or a Velcro closure. Belts are created with the intention of assisting with intra-abdominal pressure, which helps us protect our spine. They are not meant to protect your back! This is an added benefit, but relying on a belt can do more harm than good.
What I specifically mean is that our abdominal muscles need to learn to work together (with our low back muscles) to create pressure inside our core when we lift. Wearing a belt too much can decrease the ability for our muscles to learn and get stronger. Therefore, we advocate not using a belt unless the load is heavy (85%+). Performing repetitions without a belt forces the muscles to learn how to be the primary stabilizers, where as a belt is meant to compliment a sturdy core, not provide one. When it comes to Olympic weightlifting, the population is split. Some lifters like to use belts, some do not, while some only wear them during the clean and jerk.
- Wrist Wraps: Our wrists are a relatively small and delicate joint, compared to other joints. With that, Olympic weightlifters often find themselves in wrist extension (SEE PIC) when finishing the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. This wrist extension helps the bar be “locked in” and can stop the weight from falling forward. With repeated extension of the wrists, discomfort can follow. Wrist wraps are mean to provide some added stability while not being too restrictive. Bulky wrist wraps may be supportive but may not be flexible enough for Olympic weightlifting purposes. Wrist wraps, like belts, are a personal choice. Some folks never use them, while some swear by them. As for myself, I use them since I broke one of my wrists (at the growth plate) when I was a teenager; but many of our folks do not use them. Even though I use wrist wraps, I try to use them like belts, putting them on when lifts get heavy.
There are certainly other pieces of gear that Olympic weightlifters use such as pulling straps, knee sleeves, knee wraps, and singlets, however the most common pieces are listed above. If you have any questions about specific pieces of equipment, please let us know. Next week’s article will go into more detail about specific Olympic weightlifting shoes. If you find yourself looking for new gear, we recommend www.roguefitness.com for their selection of shoes, belts and straps.
See you in the gym.