Weight training; the whole kit and caboodle
Resistance training, lifting weights, pumping iron – however you choose to label it, weight training is increasingly recognised as essential for better long-term health, with it becoming even more important the older you get as it becomes one of the best defences against sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass as we age, and osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass.
Age-related loss of muscle mass and strength robs us of the ability to perform even the most basic tasks of daily life as we get older. And while it is most often evident in the physically inactive, it can also affect those who remain physically active throughout their life.
Sarcopenia and osteoporosis are related conditions resulting from, amongst other factors, inadequate dietary protein and nutritional imbalances, but resistance training is critically important in preventing and managing sarcopenia, as it stimulates the release of hormones that promote healthy muscle mass. In fact, it’s essential for those seeking to preserve or increase muscle mass. Muscles generate the mechanical stress required to keep our bones healthy, thus when muscle activity is reduced it increases our susceptibility to mass of bone loss. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention resistance training in addition to building muscle mass can promote mobility, improve health related fitness and improve bone health.
So what weightlifting kit might you consider as you embark on an training regime that at the highest level demands mental and physical strength as well as mobility, flexibility, confidence and endurance?
- Weight training weight belts.
An increasingly common sight in the gym, some use them to swagger, others buy them alongside other accoutrements as part of their gym equipment for safety or style, but the numbers using them correctly tends to be in the minority.
When is wearing a weight belt recommended?
There are times when it is essential and other times when it is unnecessary. What is prevalent is a general lack of knowledge about what a weight belt should do.
The purpose of a weight belt
The main function a weight belt is to create a fixed container around the body’s core, allowing the wearer to breathe in as much air into their diaphragm as possible, pushing their midsection hard against the weight belt. This results in a huge amount of pressure in the core, keeping the spine in a fixed position when performing a heavy lift, for example a deadlift or squat. As with any pressurized container, it must be able to hold in the air to increase the internal pressure, in this case keeping the core stabilized.
Where should the weight belt be positioned?
This can vary slightly for each individual, but it should be placed at the point in the midsection where you can push out against the belt with the maximum force. This may be slightly higher up towards the diaphragm for some individuals or lower towards the navel for others. Play around with the positioning to see which is best for you.
The belt will be in the wrong place if the stomach or mid-section hangs over it. Don’t assume that by just wrapping a belt around the back this will support it. This can lead to problems and injury. For example, when performing deadlifts, this can turn the lower back into the pivot point for a hip based movement. This is completely wrong for both a squat and deadlift, and can lead to long lasting damage of the spine. In this case the weight belt is hiding a serious mechanical fault in form: the main pivot point for either a squat or deadlift are the hips. The irony is wearing a weight belt incorrectly will facilitate back injuries rather than prevent them.
Never use a weight belt to compensate for bad technique
A weight belt is a piece of kit to help those with established form and technique to maximise their performance, being most appropriate for the heaviest sets of workouts. It must not become an accident waiting to happen by providing a false sense of security. Stay safe; improve the mechanics of each lift, honing technique, and then use the weight belt to help improve peak strength performance.
- Weight training shoes
Designed for those performing classic Olympic weight lifts such as the snatch and the clean and jerk, weightlifting shoes have a high wedge heel with a flat sole. This allows the sole of the shoe to remain flat on the ground, with the heel higher than the palm of the foot. The main reason for the higher heel is to allow for greater dorsiflexion of the ankle, as a means of getting deeper in a squat. This places you in a better position for either the snatch or clean and jerk.
Not just for Olympic weightlifting
Much like a weight belt, Olympic lifting shoes should be a means of helping improve performance, rather than to cover up a mechanical fault with technique. Resist the urge to use the shoes to just make it easier to reach depth in a squat, as it’s important to continue to work on improving your hip mobility, heel cord length and ankle mobility. If you do, the shoes can help as a simple method of improving performance in the long term.
- Weight training lifting straps
A key question: are lifting straps necessary to maximise gains in pulling strength and back development?
Some fervently believe this to be the case, while others contend they are more likely to be counterproductive by hiding a potential weakness: your grip strength. As might be expected, the answer most likely depends upon how this useful aid is utilised.
Lifting straps: help or hazard?
Lifting straps are simply another accessory. Used correctly, they can help add extra overload onto the muscles and your body towards the end of your workout. They should never be used at the commencement of a workout, because your grip strength will never improve while potentially concealing potential weakness, leading to over reliance on the straps for any pulling exercise.
However, if you are interested in serious muscle development training it is a mistake to finish a pull workout as soon as your grip starts to go, when your back muscles could be further stimulated. This is where lifting straps can help maximise muscle development, especially for bodybuilders, enabling the workout to continue until your back muscles reach ‘muscle failure’.
Get a grip
The fundamental importance of grip strength can’t be underestimated, so if you do have problems with grip strength – in the deadlift or any pulling exercise – how the barbell is being held may need attention. Make sure it is in the palm of your hand, with your fingers and thumb wrapped firmly around it, rather than just pulling the barbell with your fingertips. Once this is addressed prioritise building your grip strength and forearm size, if necessary. This is especially important for the sport of powerlifting, where lifting straps for the deadlift are forbidden, and usefully providing another good reason not to make your lack of grip a limiting factor in maximising your deadlift.
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