In 21 Days to a Fitter You – Gym Gear over at Abandon Nest, there are a half dozen items that will make going to the gym a much more pleasant experience for a new weight lifter. I agree that having a duffel bag, combination lock, and exercise log are important, and that having a stop watch can make the difference between getting results and wasting your time. However, I disagree with the assertion that weight lifting gloves and a weight belt should be purchased, especially for inexperienced weight lifters. I believe that weight gloves, wrist straps and weight belts are bad for you and that they should be avoided except in limited circumstances.

Here is why Nick at Abandon Nest believes that you should purchase these two items:

Weightlifter�s Gloves – If you have soft hands or just don�t want to be constantly scratching yourself every time you run your hand against your skin, weightlifter�s gloves are essential. Even for those with rough hands, they can be a lifesaver. Some gloves have extra wrist support to prevent damage in that area. They also make it easier to grip heavy weights for longer periods of time. The gloves are a sound investment to be sure.
Weight Belt – Doing squats and deadlifts without a weight belt is a very bad idea. Your back demands the extra support that the weight belt provides, and for good reason. You risk severe damage to your back if lifting heavy weights without one. This is a must have for both serious and recreational weightlifters.

I am going to add wrist straps into this discussion as a related tool, even though they aren’t specifically mentioned. First, what are they?

  • Weight lifting gloves are padded gloves that usually have the fingers cut off, much like bicycling gloves.
  • Wrist straps are pieces of rope or leather that you wrap around your wrists and then wrap around a bar to help support heavy weights and to make it so that you do not have to rely upon your grip to keep from dropping the bar.
  • Weight belts are belts that you wear around your stomach and lower back. They are not used to hold your shorts up; instead, they are used to support your back so that you are less likely to contort it into a potentially dangerous position.

All three items should be used when you are lifting heavy weights at or near your maximum where there is a good possibility of not being able to maintain your grip or keep your back straight. In fact, in some cases it would be foolish not to use them.

However, for the recreational weight lifter or for the serious athlete that is not a power lifter, they should not be necessary. Recreational weight lifters should concentrate more on building a base and lifting weights that they can handle, and serious athletes will rarely be involved in a sport where they need to build to a base where they can lift weights that are heavier than they can handle. Power lifters and professional athletes such as football players may very well need to do that kind of work. Runners, triathletes, and most soccer, basketball, baseball or tennis players would probably find that sort of lifting detrimental to their main focused activity.

I do not like to use gloves, straps or belts and especially believe that beginners should avoid them for the following reasons:

  1. They discourage good form. By relying on a foreign implement, you are not learning how to support your own back or wrists. In most situations outside of a gym, you will not have gloves, straps, or a weight belt available (or you will not think to use them if you do) and can easily hurt yourself if you are used to having extra support that is not there. Moving a heavy box, or playing outside with your kids can be a lot less pleasurable after throwing your back out.
  2. They make exercises easier. By helping to support the weight, you are not getting the same benefits. You will not develop a better grip by supporting the bar with straps or with gloves. Your back will not get as strong if it doesn’t have to do all the work of keeping a bar from moving.
  3. They can encourage lifting too much weight. Since exercises are made easier, it can be tempting to lift more weight than you are ready for. This is especially dangerous for inexperienced weight lifters who are not really sure what they are capable of and are not ready to push their limits yet.
  4. I only have two hands. I think that carrying a water bottle around with me at the gym is much more important, and I usually carry my memo pad where I record my workout around as well. I do not want to have to keep track of a few extra items. Granted, I could wear them from exercise to exercise, but there is no reason to wear them for exercises where they would do no good under any circumstances.
  5. Deadlifts and squats can be safely done without a weight belt. Despite Nick’s assertion that your back requires the extra support, people were picking things up off of the floor long before weight belts were invented. The trick is to learn good form, and to remember to use that good form while exercising. It also doesn’t hurt to lift manageable and realistic weights. For near maximum weight lifts, then you would want to use a weight belt.

Every tool has its place, but for a recreational weight lifter I do not see the need for gloves, straps, or belts. I would add to the above list that gloves prevent your hands from getting callussed, but some people would consider that a good thing. For somebody just getting into weight lifting, learn the proper form and method for each exercise and try to do it without extra support. In fact, you may even want to try some exercises in your socks to help strengthen your feet. Your muscles are meant to be used in unison, not in isolation.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can do five or more repititions in an exercise, then you probably do not need to use gloves, straps or a weight belt. For recreational or novice weight lifters, and for most athletes, there is often little reason to need to lift weights heavy enough that you can not lift them a half dozen times per set, and so little reason to run out to purchase something you don’t need before you go to the gym for the first time.