Posted on March 15, 2022 by Kate Halsall
When people start consistently going to the gym and begin taking their health and fitness more seriously, it is not uncommon to start exploring the plethora of gym accessories available. From protein shake bottles to specialist trainers, from fancy gloves to complicated contraptions, the amount of supplementary gym goods you can buy is nearly endless and can easily be overwhelming. In this article we have compiled the most common or most well-known gym accessories with a brief explanation of what they are, how they work and whether they are worth your hard earned dosh!
Weight belts are a common sight at gyms, worn by everyone from the hulking powerlifter lifting hundreds of kilos with ease as well as the gym bro who will herniate a disc to hit a new PB. So what are gym belts for? Do they work? The short answer is yes, they do, but only as long as you use them properly. A weightlifting belt is designed to act as a brace, a physical block for your core muscles to frame against while you are performing heavy lifts. The increased intra-abdominal pressure allows you to generate more force as your core muscles maximally support the other muscles engaged during the lift. Performing such core bracing requires practice, and belts are a very useful tool in learning how to do this properly, whether you intend to brace with a belt or not as you move forward on your fitness journey. There is a slight misconception that weight belts bulletproof your lower back. While they do provide some support by having material in the lumbar region, the main thing they do is encourage you to maintain a neutral spine, the optimal position for your spinal health and for physical activity. Unfortunately, a weight belt cannot turn bad form into good form. Instead it is a tool to support your learning as an exerciser and to help you generate that extra bit of power on a heavy set. Weight belts are not a miracle device or snake oil, but should be used appropriately and in the proper context. Unsure whether weight belts are for you – experiment! Find what suits you and don’t be afraid to try new things or ask for help.
Another commonly sighted gym accessory are lifting straps. As with belts, there is a division in the exercise community as to whether they are a money-grabbing fad for fitness companies or an essential for any serious gym goer. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Lifting straps are a tool for lifters who, when performing heavy reps of an exercise, find that while their muscles feel capable of completing the lift, their weak grip strength makes completing the lift impossible. Lifting straps remove grip strength as a limiting factor, essentially strapping your hands to the bar so that the onus is entirely on the targeted muscles to complete the exercise. If your primary focus is muscle gain and body composition, straps can be very helpful to get the most out of your workouts and push the muscles as hard as possible without being limited by your grip. However, if you are interested in overall strength and maximising the benefits from your exercise to your day-to-day life, straps may not be ideal as they can cause you to neglect your grip strength which is essential in our lives (especially as we get older) and many sports. You could have the biggest muscles in the world, but if your grip is chronically weak they won’t be of much use to you in most scenarios. There is a balance that can be struck where you use straps on some of your heavy lifts and then work on your grip strength separately but, as with belts, find what works for you and what aligns best with your goals.
Lifting shoes are specially designed shoes for weightlifters with an elevated heel and a hard sole. This increases the mobility of the ankle which in turn increases the range of motion for movements like squats, cleans and snatches. Additionally, the hard sole offers a more stable base from which to generate power. As with lifting belts, this is a tool that will provide more benefits to high level exercisers and competitors. For most regular gym goers, you will only experience a marginal benefit from lifting shoes, if you notice any difference at all. Indeed, for some exercises like deadlifts it is actually beneficial to have completely flat-soled shoes or even be barefoot, so it is important to use lifting shoes in the proper context if you do have them. Overall, of the accessories on this list, lifting shoes are probably the least applicable for the average person. However, as always be open-minded and try lots of things out. If a new pair of lifting shoes give you the confidence to smash new goals, you won’t hear any of us complaining!
A bar pad is a foam tube that can be placed onto a barbell to provide cushioning between the bar and the exerciser. For exercises like zercher squats and hip thrusts it can act as a beneficial lever (or cushion!) to maximise your power output. However, in general the benefit of a bar pad is the additional comfort it provides during your workout by reducing the amount of callouses or scratches you get. While it may be the butt of jokes among some people, the comfort provided by a bar pad is a perfectly legitimate reason to modify your workouts and ultimately, if it means the difference between working out or not, bar pads can be an incredibly useful tool. As with all the accessories in this list, see what suits you in the never ending process of fitness trial and error. Everyone’s different and what enables you to perform at your best will be unique to you!
Weightlifting gloves are the simplest member of this list. Designed to increase your grip while protecting you from callouses, lifting gloves are entirely a matter of personal preference. They will not provide any substantial benefit to your power output but they can boost confidence and will absolutely protect your hands from any sort of abrasion or scratch from lifting weights or hanging onto bars. This section is short but sweet, give them a try and see if you like them. Gloved up or gloveless, a motivated and engaged exerciser is better than an inactive Netflix marathoner!
To accessorise or not to accessorise?
With your knowledge of the main gym accessories boosted you may now be wondering whether these are for you. As we stressed with each of the items, personal preference and individuality will determine whether a given product is the right fit for you. Some people find that they need all the gear, others have no difficulty using no accessories at all. There are other items that we didn’t include on this list as well as a limitless array of nutritional supplements, protein powders and merch that we didn’t cover. As with all the tools we covered, their applicability for you will largely depend on what your goals are and the specificity of your training. Your goals and needs can change and you should always be prepared to develop your strategies and training methods to accommodate that progress. But if you’re really not sure, just ask one of the friendly faces here at motive8, we’re more than happy to give you our two cents and support you on your fitness journey!