Lifting Apparel Accessories

The 5 Ws of the Basic Essentials

by Niki Sims, SSC | May 25, 2016

In barbell training there are certain tangibles that are essential to the pursuit of becoming stronger. These include a barbell, squat rack, weights, chalk and a solid, flat floor. Beyond that, we delve into a world of accessories and props; some of which are totally necessary to assist in your pursuit while others can be quite frivolous, especially for a novice.

The intent of this post is to help you prioritize what to invest in as you make the transition from “total noob” to “dedicated novice” and Intermediate. Not on this list are intangibles, including coaching, reading the books Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd Edition and Practical Programming for Strength Training, 3rd Edition, reading the books again, dedication to no longer be a weenie and the fortitude to say “No” to your friends when they ask you for help moving because you’ve got deadlifts, bro.

These items are listed in order of priority, in my very humble opinion, and include basic specifications and justifications.


Who: Everyone. Even your mom.

What: ½"-¾" rigid heel, metatarsal strap, rigid material. Produced by brands including, but not limited to: Nike, Adidas, Risto, Rogue Fitness, Asics, and Do-Win.

When: All of your reps for each of your lifts starting with your very first warm-up set.

Where: On your feet. Only in the gym; don’t put extra miles on these.

Why: Arguably the most important investment right off the bat is a pair of lifting shoes. These shoes should have a raised, hard heel, be made of rigid uppers and have a velcro strap across the arch of the foot.

Lifting in these shoes is infinitely better than doing so in running shoes, which is like lifting on pillows, or barefoot and I’ll tell you why. In addition to making you taller (another benefit to barbell training, albeit localized to training sessions) they provide a rigid base from which you can stay balanced in your midfoot putting you in a better position to transfer force into the barbell on your back or in your hands.

Luckily, these shoes are easily available on the internets and even in some stores. They come in many hideous cool colors to highlight your Instagram talent.

lifting shoes

Don’t run in these. Really, don’t run at all. Ever.

You’ll benefit from the structure of these shoes in each of your lifts. Think of your objective during a Squat, Deadlift or Press - to move the weight up, against gravity. And to do that you must push against the floor from your area of base, a.k.a. your feet. Running shoes are squishy and are built to put you into your toes. Lifting shoes have a rigid sole and are built to keep you in your midfoot. Which would you rather have your feet in? It’s the same reason you are better off lifting on a hard floor versus a squishy floor, or heaven forbid a bosu ball, you are more likely to stay balanced and will not lose much, if any, force into something other than the bar.

The raised heel causes the knees to track forward slightly in the squat, increasing the angle of the shin and involving the quadriceps a little more. Stick to a heel height of ½" - ¾". Anything greater than that is more applicable to the sport of Weightlifting or for a person with severe ankle mobility issues that have not been resolved by adjusting the width of the squat stance or knee position.

The rigid plastic or leather body and strap across the metatarsal are meant to keep your foot from sliding around in your shoe and provide lateral support, which is important since your job is to keep your KNEES OUT while you’re squatting. If it comes down to it, choose the size that fits a little more snug.

Most range from $60-$200. You don’t need to spend $200 to get what you need out of your lifting shoes and since you won’t be wearing them for anything else but lifting, they’ll last you a while.


Who: Anyone who’s been lifting for a few months and knows how to brace their abs. That said, some choose to never wear one and it is indeed possible to lift heavy without it.

What: Leather with consistent width across the entire length of the belt. Produced by brands including, but not limited to: Best Belts, Titan and Inzer. Prices range from $40-$Lots.

weightlifting belt

When: For your last warm-up and all work sets of the Squat, Press and Deadlift and maybe the Bench if you’re into it.

Where: The center of the belt should fit tightly across or slightly above your natural waist. If it’s moving around during reps, it’s either not tight enough or in the wrong spot.

Why: A close second in priority to shoes is a lifting belt. The purpose of a belt is discussed at length in Starting Strength, but here’s the short version: a belt protects the spine by increasing the pressure of the abdomen with a harder abdominal contraction provided by the tactile feedback of the belt to the abs.

A belt is NOT something that allows your abs a break, in fact, it is quite the opposite. The myth that using a belt will make your “core” (forgive me for using that word) weaker is only true when the wearer fails to create an abdominal contraction under load.

When you do wear a belt, wear it tight enough to be slightly uncomfortable, but not so tight that you must stretch and elongate your waist to buckle it. Once buckled, use your abs the same as you would without it, squeeze them hard! Do not push against the belt with your abs as this can lead to flexion of the spine, which is what the belt is used to limit in the first place.

Unless you have an existing back injury, you won’t wear one for the first few months of your training. But, the manufacturers I recommend make custom belts and require up to 12 weeks to do so. I advise buying one towards the end your first month of training and you may be ready for it by the time you receive it.

For all people, I recommend a leather single-prong belt. You get a lot more out of leather than velcro and I’ve seen the suckers pop off of lifters during heavy squats. Not a great position to be in.

Most people will do well with 10mm thickness that is 3" across the entire length of the belt, not tapered. Those with shorter torsos may prefer a 2.5" belt like the one Best Belts makes. Some people prefer a thinner belt for Deadlifitng and Benching than they do for Squatting or Pressing; it gives a little more room to set the lumbar. Taller people will do well with 4" belts.

Anything thicker than 10mm or a double prong is tough to buckle and unnecessary for anyone under 350lbs squatting less than 600lbs. Lever belts are fine, too. But they’re not so easy to adjust for fluctuating body weight or the day after my-cat-and-I-ate-an-entire-pizza-last-night bloats.   

Note: Beyond shoes and a belt, the rest of this equipment is typically only necessary when dealing with a past or current injury or for competitive reasons.

Knee Wraps or Sleeves

Who: A knee that has suffered a ligament injury or is subject to chronic inflammation. Anyone who wants their knees to feel warm while training.


  • Wraps: light to moderate elastic ~72" long, ~3" wide, similar to a thick Ace Bandage. Can be found at most sporting goods stores.
  • Sleeves: Neoprene or cloth. 7mm thick. Produced by brands including, but not limited to: Rehband and Hookgrip. ~$80/pair. If you get a rash with Neoprene sleeves, congratulations, you are allergic to it.

When: Varies. Typically for all squat reps.

Where: I’ll let you figure this one out. Or watch this video.

Why: Wraps and sleeves provide compression, stability, warmth and proprioceptive input at the joint. This can be very helpful and important for a lifter who has diminished knee stability due to a ligament injury.

Anyone who has been seriously lifting for more than a year knows that inflammation can happen. The extra support and warmth from wraps or sleeves can indeed be enough to keep the inflammation at bay to maintain training volume.

There is an important difference between accessories that are used to facilitate your training to get stronger and those that move weight for you. When tight and thick enough, wraps or sleeves can act as aids by effectively moving weight for you. If you need help to put on your equipment or have to take them off between sets because they cut off circulation, your equipment is doing the work and you are no longer a raw lifter, you are equipped and equipped lifting is a different ball game entirely.  

Wrist Wraps

Who: Anyone with a wrist injury that requires support against excessive extension. Anyone who must (due to injury or lack of flexibility) squat with wrapped thumbs. Competitive lifters who find them beneficial for maintaining the proper amount of wrist extension during a heavy Bench Press or Press.

What: Elastic wraps with velcro closure and thumb loop, ~3" wide with varying lengths. Go with a brand that makes anatomically correct straps for the Left and Right side, like SBD. ~$50/pair.

When: Benching, pressing or squatting to limit wrist extension under load. Use across sets depends on the needs of the lifter.

wrist wraps

Where: Around the wrist joint, not up around the hand, not down around the forearm. Seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised.

Why: When it comes to Pressing and Benching, the wrist should be only slightly extended, about 10-15°. For more on this, read Gripping Matters. Any more than that produces a moment arm which, you’d know if you’ve read the book, limits the amount of force you can produce on a barbell.

Certain injuries and pathologies can limit a person’s ability to maintain the correct amount of extension. In these cases, a wrist wrap functions as an external skeleton to provide adequate stability.

When it comes to squatting, bent wrists lead to wrist, elbow and shoulder pain as some of the weight of the bar is transferred to the arms rather than the back and posterior deltoids, a.k.a. the “meat shelf.” If one must squat with bent wrists, I’d highly recommend wraps as they lessen the degree of extension by absorbing some of the weight.

Beyond this, it’s a matter personal preference. I do not bench or press with them as I feel it limits how well I can squeeze the bar, but I know quite a few people who prefer them.    

Wrist Straps 

Who: Anyone whose grip is compromised due to an injury or pathology or an Intermediate to Advanced lifter training with Deadlift variants.

What: Cloth or leather strips with a loop around one end to thread itself into or to place the wrist through. Produced by brands including, but not limited to: Risto, Harbinger and Rogue Fitness.

When: For Deadlifts and certain Deadlift variants like a Rack Pull, RDL or Snatch Grip Deadlift.

Where: The strap is looped around the wrist and then wrapped tightly into place around the barbell with a couple ½-¼ rotations of the hand.

Why: With regards to pulling movements, grip can become a limiting factor. Your back is not going to want to pick up what your hands cannot squeeze. Depending on the situation, the grip will either need to be strengthened, like the rest of the body does, modified or given assistance.

In the absence of injuries or pathologies that severely limit a person’s ability to squeeze their hands and fingers around a bar, a new lifter will begin deadlifting with chalk and a double-overhand grip, for which the thumb is placed over the wrapped fingers - this is how you likely naturally grabbed the barbell to begin with.

Grip strength will progressively increase with the deadlift until the double-overhand grip is not strong enough. At this point a hook grip, for which the thumbnail is placed under the middle finger, will be employed. The weight of the bar essentially locks the thumb into place and allows much heavier weights to be pulled. Do not grab below the knuckle of the thumb. Do not expect it to be comfortable and please don’t be a martyr about it.

For some, there may be a point when the hook grip is no longer strong enough to progress with the rest of the deadlift. At this time a mixed grip, for which one hand is supinated while other other remains pronated, or straps may be used.

A mixed grip puts more distance between the hands, places the shoulders in asymmetry and increases the likelihood of a biceps strain or tear on the side of the supinated hand. Thus, it is not ideal for every deadlift rep; it should be saved for the last couple of warm-ups and work sets or for the competitive lifter who cannot use straps in a meet.

Straps almost entirely eliminate weak grip problems. They may be necessary early on in training due to an injury or for someone with small hands or short fingers. However, do not abuse the use of straps. Keep pulling without them as heavy as possible during warm-ups to progress grip strength. After all, what good is a lifter who cannot open a jar of pickles or squeeze the juice from a lemon without first slicing it? (Please upload and tag videos with #FunctionalFruitStrong.)

For Deadlift variations, the primary objective may be volume or weight overload and straps should be used to facilitate the focus.  

lifting straps

Rough cloth straps can dig painfully into the skin across reps, leather is much more pleasant. We thank you, dear cow.

In closing, keep in mind that you can greatly increase your strength without the use of props. However, some are basic and essential for doing so safely, namely shoes and a belt. Beyond that, the use of extra equipment will be dictated by injuries, personal preference, and training goals. If you have ambitions of competing in the near future, be sure to check the “costume rules” of the federation you’ll be competing to make sure your equipment is approved. 

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