If you’re new to CrossFit you’ve probably noticed that there are a ton of accessory items that are worn at the gym. If you’ve been doing CrossFit as your main workout source for awhile, you probably own a few accessories! This write-up will tell you about some of the common items you’ll see, what they’re for, and if they are effective. Here we go, from the floor up.
Olympic Weightlifting Shoes. These are the larger, high top style shoes you see with a big heel wedge. Usually we put these on when we’re either hitting the Olympic lifts, Clean & Jerk and Snatch, and/or squatting. These shoes give your foot a larger heel to toe drop along with a firm base of support to push your foot down into. The heel elevation can be very helpful for those who lack adequate range of motion in their ankle as it reduces the amount of ankle flexion necessary in order to keep the torso tall in the squat as the hips get lower and lower. Even if you have adequate range of motion, the shoe can help you with this same concept as it is common to catch top end lifts in the deepest squats we will ever be exposed to. These are very effective, however I wouldn’t make habit of only squatting in them and not in regular shoes. The elevated heel leads to your body recruiting a little more quadricep and little less posterior chain in the squat. In the spirit of using our back side, if you are capable of squatting in your flatter shoes, you should do so often.
Knee Sleeves. Man I love mine. This item serves a couple of purposes. Mainly, it is a great warmup tool. Neoprene is the same material that wetsuits are made from. Just like a wetsuit, the knee sleeve keeps heat in, giving you a better warmup, important for deep squats. Secondly, the added tightness around your knee joint helps keep things stable, especially your patella so that the joint can hinge properly. This is not an injury solution although many who are injured may use them. There is no substitute for muscular development and proper movement patterning to prevent or cure injury, however the warmth of the sleeve will definitely help things feel better immediately.
Lifting Belts. These are a great tool when used properly and can hinder you dearly when used improperly. When we are lifting heavy, we stabilize our lumbar (lower) spine by creating intra-abdominal pressure(IAP). You’ll hear our coaches telling you to breathe deep into your tight belly. Air pressure creates stability. The lifting belt acts as a feedback source to tell you that you are creating the proper pressure to stabilize your spine. As you breathe into the belly, your belly presses into the belt, letting you know that you are doing it properly. I mentioned a hinderance, many believe that the belt creates the stability. I see a lot of athletes strap on the belt and then suck their belly in, breathing into their shoulders. This is not what you want to do as you are removing the air pressure from around the lower spine in turn reducing stability. The belt is a tool and needs to be used properly. It also should not be used in place of creating proper IAP. Light to medium weight lifts and workouts do not call for a belt. We need to learn to stabilize ourselves in those scenarios. The belt shouldn’t be a crutch. Strap it on when you’re going above 80% of your max on lifts, hitting higher rep sets (10+), also trying to hit the 80-90% range without a belt sometimes too.
Wrist wraps. You may see us strap these on when there are overhead movements on the agenda. The wrist wrap is known for helping increase stability in the wrists. The primary function of this accessory is to keep the two key wrist bones, the ulna and the radius, close together. As we put heavy weights overhead, the pressure of the weight can press down on those two bones driving them apart slightly. The wrist wrap keeps them tight and the distance between them minimal helping you feel more stable overhead. Often, just like the knee sleeve, the wrist wrap is used to decrease pain. Keep in mind, this is not a fix, it is a bandaid. If you have something going on muscularly, or lack proper wrist extension, throwing on a wrist wrap will do two things, one, mask your injury kind of like taking an Advil, and two, it can actually limit proper wrist range of motion in turn exposing you to additional injury risk and/or tightness.
Headbands. These look cool and keep sweat out of your eyes. They are also proven to increase WOD performance by 15%. 🙂
These are just a few of the popular accessories you may see at the gym. Are they necessary? No. Are they helpful? They can be. What’s important to know is that they are tools. All tools are helpful when used properly. All tools can be used improperly as well causing harm or limiting progress. It’s important to understand your tool so you can do the right thing with it. If you don’t know, now you know. And knowing is half of the battle.