Hitting the gym isn't just about free weights, kettle bells, plyo boxes, cables and elliptical machines. What about the lesser known equipment that supplements your routines? What are they, what do they do and how effective are they? To clear the air, we asked Men's Fitness/Muscle & Fitness advisory board member and owner of Total Performance Sports, C.J., Murphy MFS, C-ISSN, for his take on the most useful—and useless—alternative sports equipment.
Old school philosophy dictates that weight belts support the back during a squat or deadlift, but this premise isn't accurate. In reality, weight belts weaken the back and actually serve more as a fashion accessory than functional fitness equipment. However, Murphy does believe there is a place for weight belts, which is when you are doing your heaviest set to allow for a safer lift. How to use them properly: Cinch the belt tightly for your heaviest set. Inhale as much as possible into your belly and push your abs into the belt, hold your breath and do one to two repetitions. After completing your lifts, exhale and reset the belt. Don't forget to take the belt off between sets. Usefulness Ranking (1-10) 10, when used properly on heavy sets; 1, if used as a fashion accessory.
Wrist straps are used to help you hold more weight than you can by yourself. Many lifters use such straps for deadlifts, pull-ups or any other exercise in which the lifter's grip may fail before the primary muscle being trained does. Murphy believes, in most instances, that straps are another "crutch" used by lifters. They're OK if used sparingly and only for the heaviest sets, but overuse of wrist straps can result in a lack of grip and forearm strength. How to use them properly: Put your hand in each with the strap running between your thumb and index finger. Wrap the strap around the bar once and pull tightly. Using them on your heaviest set only will allow you to perform more repetitions or muster a super-heavy lift. Usefulness Ranking (1-10) 8, when used properly; 1, when used constantly.
Resistance bands are used to either add to the total load or to assist with it. Typically used for squats, deadlifts and presses to increase speed and power, Murphy says resistance bands place a high demand on the neurological system and must be set up properly. How to use them properly: For squats, try looping the bands around a dumbbell on the floor and the ends of the barbell. You will feel the load increase as you go through the motion. Usefulness Ranking (1-10) 10, when used properly. Beware of burn out if used incorrectly.
Chains have the same effect as bands when used as accommodating resistance, but are much easier on the nervous system. Chains will provide a level of instability, recruiting more stabilizers to support the primary muscle being worked. How to use them properly: Try doing curls with dumbbells, then attempt a few sets with chains attached to the ends of a barbell. When the chains on the barbell are lying on the floor, you are lifting less weight, but the resistance will increase as you progress through the range of your lift. Usefulness Ranking (1-10) 9. You'll observe a noticeable difference in resistance and stability when using chains versus when you are not.
Gloves are used to aid in gripping a barbell, but can actually interfere with proper grip. When your hands get sweaty, you can expect to feel your fingers sliding around in them, which is not an ideal situation. How to use them properly: You can't. Ditch the gloves and opt for chalk to assist with slippery hands. Usefulness Ranking (1-10) 1, unless you want to be on an episode of What Not to Wear.
You can follow Mike on Twitter: @Mike_Simone_MF