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Wraps, Belts, and Supports! Oh, my!

10
Mar

Wraps, Belts, and Supports! Oh, my!

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Hello Pack!  This week’s question comes from Stephanie:
 
Stephanie:  Why do some athletes use lifting straps and weight lifting belts? Does it help with form or help prevent injuries?
 
Thanks Stephanie.  To answer your question up front, no they do not necessarily help with form or prevent injuries by themselves.  They can aid in doing so, but won’t fix a form issue or inherently prevent injury.
 
People use wrist wraps, knee wraps, belts and straps for various reasons.  I approach all of these items as tools.  Perhaps you heard your parents says something like “Use the right tool for the job.”  This is exactly the way I approach these things.  If I always use knee wraps and don’t have a reason to do so, I run the risk of actually destabilizing the joint because the surrounding musculature will start to rely upon the support the knee instead of allowing me to use the inherent strength or developing said strength.  The same can be said of lifting belts or wrist wraps.  If every time I do a push up, I’m putting on wrist wraps I’ll start to destabilize the wrist and then I WILL experience discomfort or pain if I try to do a pushup without them or “raw” as the cool kids say.
 
Let’s look at each tool individually.
 
Belts:  I use a belt when I lift very heavy in the deadlift and squat.  In my opinion, it gets in the way of the Clean and the Snatch.  When I lift under about 85% of my one rep max, which is the majority of my lifting, I don’t use a belt in any lift.  That’s a personal choice, not a rule for everyone.  We need to lift without the belt to develop a strong healthy core, so I do most of my lifting without a belt and concentrate on organizing the spine and keeping the core tight.  The most important thing about using a belt however is using it correctly.  It isn’t there to keep your shorts up.  A weightlifting belt is used to increase internal abdominal pressure and help stabilize the spine.  The belt has to be tight and you have to learn to essentially “push” against the inside of the belt or it’s just a cool looking piece of gear.  Also, I no longer use a velcro belt.  In time they start to weaken and can pop open in the middle of a lift.  That’s at best an uncomfortable experience.  I paid the extra money to have a custom, leather buckling belt made.  The problem with buckling belts is a CrossFit one.  If you’re using a belt during a CrossFit type workout, it can be time consuming at best or detrimental in a competition to try and loosen or tighten a belt with a buckle.  This is where a velcro latching belt can come in handy, but I suggest inspecting the velcro frequently to make sure it’s not losing it’s gripping power.  If you have a belt or want to get one, please come talk to one of the coaches and let us help you make a good decision about what to purchase and how to use it correctly.
 
Wrist Wraps:  I have used a variety of wrist wraps.  I prefer the cloth style over the stretch velcro type, but that’s just personal comfort.  I approach wrist wraps in a similar manner to the belts.  I only use them if I’m lifting really heavy (for me) or if my wrists start to hurt a little bit but I make the decision to continue lifting that day.  I never use them when my wrists feel good or if I’m lifting light weights.  I do this so that I can strengthen and mobilize the soft tissue that supports the wrist.  Often times, if your wrists are hurting during a workout, it’s most likely a form issue and not a wrist strength/mobility issue.  Again, if you have any questions about this piece of gear, come ask the coaches and we can show you a variety of styles and discuss what we like or don’t like about each one.
 
Knee Wraps or Sleeves:  Let me start by saying I’ve never used them.  I played football my entire childhood and my first year of college.  I had numerous non-severe knee injuries (I was lucky).  Sometimes on cold days or other days that end in “y” my knees or at least one of them will hurt.  I don’t wrap them because I can deal with the kind of pain I experience in the knees.  It’s different for each of us.  If you don’t have knee pain, I suggest NOT wrapping them or wearing sleeves.  Why would you?  Keep lifting and making the joint stronger without introducing an outside stimulus.  Some people who have used them, specifically the knee sleeves give a variety of reasons.  It reduces some pain they may have or they simply like the way it compresses the tissue and “feels” better.  If this is your situation, then so be it.  Wear them, I would just caution against wearing them all day everyday at the mall, office or whatever you do during the day.  Not only would this look funny, but it would start to smell and that kind of prolonged support would most likely start to weaken the surrounding tissue.  Nine times out of ten, when someone tells me their knee hurts during squats or lunges it’s because of “how” they’re moving.  That’s one of the reasons the coaches are constantly on you about where your knees, spine, eyes, cranium etc.,  are at CrossFit Lobo.  We care about your knees and they can be affected by things upstream and downstream from the actual joint.  We’re not just on you about form because we’re sadists (we are but in a good way).  I’m not dismissing past injuries.  We have a number of recovering endurance athletes here and most of them have a plethora of earned injuries, just like our basketball players, football players and any other person with a sports background.  If the sleeves relieve pain from one of these old injuries, then wear them.
 
With all this  in mind, when appropriate I’ll use wrist wraps or a lifting belt when it’s appropriate for me.  If I’m doing a lot of work on the Jerk lets say, my wrists will begin to fatigue from use or perhaps I moved incorrectly on a few reps and I’ll start to get sore.  In that case, I’ll make the decision to either stop the exercise to prevent injury or if I think the wrist wraps will alleviate the pain, I’ll put them on and keep going.  The important thing to remember is not make the conscious decision on what path to take based on knowing my body.  If I’ve sprained my wrist it might make more sense to alter the exercise and remove the wrist from the equation rather than trying to brace it and “work through the pain.”  If there is no pain, I try not to use a support tool.  Pain is there to tell us something.  Pay attention.

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