Weight Training Accessories

Weight Training Belts

Next time you are in the weight room look around and see how many people are wearing belts.

The Purpose of Weight Belts

During weight training the forces acting on the spine can exceed 10 000 N (approximately 2200 lbs), forces this high have the ability to seriously damage the spine. The compressive loads on the spine during exercises such as the squat can be as high as 10 times body weight. In order to prevent injury during lifting the body increases Intra-abdominal pressure, which helps stabilize the lumbar spine during heavy lifting tasks.

When the diaphragm and other abdominal muscles contract they press against the fluids within the abdomen. The fluids, and tissue that surround them, are pressed against the spine and aid in supporting the spine during lifting activities. Lifting belts help to increase intra-abdominal pressure. This means that weight belts have the potential to decrease the compressive forces acting upon the spine during lifting, potentially making it safer.

Proper Use of Lifting Belts

Many people wear a belt for all exercises. This is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. When a belt is worn, the activity of the erector spinae (lower back muscles) and the various abdominal muscles is decreased.

If these muscles are not allowed to play a supportive role during strength training they will not be able to play a supportive role if a situation arises outside the gym, where lifting has to be done and a belt is not available. This could increase the possibility of lower back injury.

If the belt is used properly the lower back and abdominal muscles can receive adequate stimulation. Belts should not be worn during exercises where the back is not directly stressed. Exercises like bench press, pulldowns, arm curls, chin ups etc. create very little compressive force on the spine. When belts are worn during these exercises it is more of a fashion statement than a protective tool.

The belt should only be worn when the load used exceeds 70-80% of the maximum amount of weight that you can lift. Even then it is not necessary to wear a belt. Competitive weightlifters train and compete with maximal weights without wearing a belt and have very low rates of back injury.

There are two types of belt that are commonly used. (1) The thin belt, which is wide at the back and tapers in the front. (2) The thick belt, which is common among powerlifters, is four inches wide all the way around. The wider surface that your stomach can press against provided by the thick belt makes it more effective for increasing intra-abdominal pressure and the belt of choice for most lifting. However, the thin belt may be better for people with very short torsos or those involved in Olympic style lifts, where a thick belt may catch the lower ribs and cause pain

Belts can be a useful tool during strength training if used properly. However, overdependance on the belts may increase the risk of injury in non-training situations. As a final thought competitive powerlifters use a weight belt not only because it acts as an injury prevention tool but it also enhances performance, some lifters report that a belt, when tight enough, can increase the weight they lift by 15-35 lbs.

Knee Wraps

In many commercial gyms it is common to see people wrapping their knees with a neoprene bandage before squatting. The belief is that the support from the bandage will protect their knees from injury. The truth of the matter is that they may be putting their knees at greater risk.

Knee wraps are used by competitive as a performance aid, They are generally not considered an injury prevention tool. The wraps are wrapped around the leg and knee in a specific pattern and are so tight that the leg cannot be bent until a heavy weight is used in the squat. Some lifters report increasing their squat by as much as 35 lbs as a result of using knee wraps. Most competitive powerlifters will only use the wraps when they get to heavier weights, 85% of the maximum or more and will only perform 2-3 reps per set when wearing knee wraps.

Wrapping the knees for every set and performing lots of reps with wrapped knees can lead to knee injury. The wrap squeezes the knee cap against the other bones of the leg and causes them to rub on the back of the knee cap causing pain and inflammation.  If you like the feeling of warmth knee wraps provide consider using a loose fitting knee warmer instead of wraps, it will provide the warmth you seek without compressing your knee cap.

Lifting Straps

Lifting straps are pieces of woven fabric or leather that wrap around your wrist and the bar essentially tying you to the bar. Lifting straps help you lift weights that you cannot hold onto normally. They are a good tool for competitive lifters who are doing partial repetitions with extremely heavy weights. The downside of lifting straps is that over use of them prevents you from developing good grip strength, creating further reliance on the straps and incomplete strength development.


Gloves are a popular weight training accessory. They are not a necessary piece of equipment but more of a personal choice. They will prevent the build up of calluses on the hands and can improve grip if your palms get sweaty and you are not allowed to use chalk. If you are involved in a sport where your grip is important you may not want to use gloves. The buildup of calluses on your hands will improve your gripping of other sport implements.

|If you do decide to use gloves be sure to purchase gloves that are made for weight training. Bicycle gloves look  similar to weight training gloves but have a padded hand, which is important for shock absorption in cycling, but which will make it more difficult to squeeze and hold onto the bar.

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