While it definitely isn’t required, gym equipment will improve your results. On top of that, the first four items on the list are absolutely non-negotiable. They are not expensive and will contribute to your lasting flexibility, mobility, joint health, tendon health, and functional strength.
The remaining items not in the first four will allow you to train more effectively and safely. While some of the items on the list can be relatively pricey, you need to get all of them as soon as you can.
- Foam Roller. This item is used for myofascial release. I will talk about this later in the guide (see Avoiding Injuries), but a brief description is that you will be able to use it to keep your muscles loose and pliable so that you remain strong and injury free.
- Lacrosse Ball. This item goes hand and hand with the foam roller. You need to get this item as soon as possible. It’s only a few bucks anyways so there is really no excuse.
- This item is an amazing tool to use for warming up your entire upper body. You can use it to complete the Shoulder Protocol that I talk about later in this book.
- Tiger Tail. This tool is great to have at your disposal. Using it you can reach different areas much better than a traditional foam roller or lacrosse ball.
- Without a doubt this is the most important thing for you to invest money on. So many people do this one wrong. When I say spend money on shoes, I don’t mean run to the nearest sports shop and pick up the coolest new sneakers from Nike. That is a terrible idea. There are two things that you want in a shoe when it comes to lifting weights: lots of stability and as little sole compression as possible. This means that you want a shoe that firmly grips your entire foot. However, you don’t want anything that has excessive compression. This is because you want maximum power output. The higher the level of compression, the less direct force will be translated into the ground from your muscles and bones. High stability will ensure that you are locked in and can execute exercises efficiently and safely.
A classic shoe that a lot of people lean towards includes anything from the Converse lineup. They have flat soles, which compress very little. Additionally, all of their mid-top and high-top models have enough material to tightly conform to your feet and ankles.
Another type of shoe to consider is an Olympic weightlifting shoe. These are absolutely amazing for benching and squatting, but for deadlifting you should still go with a pair of converse. These shoes have a flat sole with absolutely no compression at all. On top of that, the shoe is designed to “cup” and mold around your foot so that it is as snug as possible. Adidas Adipowers (what I use and recommend if you have narrower feet; if you have wider feet, go with Nike Romaleos) are something that you should definitely check out.
The last option for shoes is a bit of a hybrid. Powerlifting shoes are also an option. These shoes generally have a slightly raised heal and provide slightly more compression than Olympic weightlifting shoes. The heel is also much less severe as the goal is not to rely on the bounce reflex from one’s patellar tendon at the bottom of a squat. The best option for these is the Adidas Powerlift.
- Once you have a solid pair of shoes, the next thing you need to get a hold of is a quality belt. Belts come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. You can also get one from a multitude of different vendors and sites. However, beware that not every belt is built alike. You really do get what you pay for when it comes to belts. If you pick one up at a local Sports Authority store and only paid $20 for it, chances are it is made out of a cloth material and relies on Velcro to tighten. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money on this purchase. A little bit extra can go a long ways. The top belts really won’t cost you too much anyways. For $100 or so you can pick up something that is made of durable leather with awesome stitching. I personally decided to go with an Inzer belt (inzernet.com—yeah it’s a weird website name, I know) because they offer belts of solid colors and I wanted to get one that is all purple. Your other option is to go with Titan belts. These are also very high quality and you can probably find one a bit cheaper than an Inzer if you look on Amazon. The only downside for me was that every belt as a bull head on it. If that
doesn’t bother you (or you’re from Texas), go for it!
- Lifting Wraps. There is a huge difference between lifting wraps, and lifting straps. Lifting straps help you to hold on to weight. Lifting wraps provide stability and compression to your joints. I highly recommend that you pick up a pair of wrist wraps if you are in this for the long haul. While I definitely think there is a benefit to avoiding wraps to help build up your natural tendon strength, I don’t see anything wrong with providing support on heavier sets. Just because I want to improve my tendon strength doesn’t mean that I am going to bench 315 with no wrist wraps and put my wrists under stress that they can’t handle. Your muscles will grow much faster than your tendons anyways. Do the first few lighter sets without any wraps to keep your wrists healthy. However, once you start slapping some plates on the bar, go ahead and throw on your wrist wraps. You are just using a little bit of insurance to ensure that you can be in it for the long term. I do not recommend that you use knee wraps if you are a beginner. The only time knee wraps are applicable is for competitive powerlifters who compete in gear, and they will know how to handle this for themselves.
- Knee Sleeves. These will keep your knees healthy and happy. They help by keeping your knees warm. Additionally, they add compression that helps to stabilize the entire joint.
- There is a reason that I am putting chalk before wrist straps. For the majority of my lifting career I never used wraps for any reason. Because of this, I developed a very strong grip; my progress has never been stalled because I couldn’t hold on to a weight or barbell. I strongly recommend that you stay away from wrist wraps unless you make the conscious decision that grip strength isn’t that big of a deal for you. If you aren’t involved in any powerlifting and you just want to build a good body, I would say go for it, but only if you have to. However, for me personally, I want to build strength in every possible area and know that I could perform on the athletic field. Because of this I never used straps (until just recently; my current gym has some of the worst equipment that I have ever seen and the barbells are incredibly slippery causing me to purchase wraps to even complete my workout).
Chalk, on the other hand, can be used and should be used for any deadlifting, squatting, or benching that you are doing. Additionally, I like to use chalk for rows and pull-ups. In reality, you can use chalk for any exercise that you like. It will allow you to establish a firm grip and will help negate any clamminess that your hands have. If you have a training partner with you and you are looking to go heavier on squat, it can also help to put chalk along your back. I like to do this as it makes sure that the bar rests firmly across my traps and rear deltoids.
- For all of the negative talk that I spit above, I do think that straps can be useful in some situations. One example would be my gym issue. I don’t have access to the same level of equipment that I had while I was powerlifting for Army. Back then, we had very nice bars with great knurling. My grip was never an issue and it never held me back. However, my current gym has terrible barbells with virtually no knurling. Because of this, just using chalk isn’t cutting it. I recently bought a pair of lifting straps from Amazon and I have introduced them into my training to help me complete my deadlifts.
Once you have the injury prevention items and the lifting gear above, all that is really left is a nice pair of headphones. If you have those too then you are all set and won’t have to spend another dollar on lifting equipment as long as you purchased high-quality items.