If you’ve spent any time looking at lifting gear, you know there’s a lot to choose from. It can be hard to know what’s actually worth buying.
In this article, I will examine common lifting gear and explain its use and benefit. You will learn what equipment you should use based on your goals and experience level. If you’re looking to increase performance in the gym and reduce your chance of injury, this guide is for you.
Layne prefers Iron Tanks powerlifting gear. Click here to check that out.
Let’s get started!
1. Lifting Chalk
Lifting chalk is made from magnesium carbonate (MgCO3). This inorganic salt is insoluble in water, which makes it different than other forms of chalk.
Since lifting chalk is insoluble in water, it doesn’t run off with sweat and helps keep your hands dry. If you’ve ever tried to grip a barbell with sweaty hands, you know how difficult it is. Lifting chalk helps grip the barbell harder and allows you to hold more weight.
If you don’t want the mess of powder or your gym doesn’t allow it, you can buy liquid lifting chalk. This is magnesium carbonate that is applied like lotion to your hands. The only downside is you can’t put it on as thick, and it doesn’t last long.
Lifting chalk isn’t just for your hands. It can be used on your upper back to help with the squat and bench press. By chalking your upper back for squats, it helps keep the bar in position and stops it from rolling. This tends to be more important if you’re a low bar squatter. While benching, it helps you keep an arch even when the pad is slippery. Maintaining an arch and staying in position on the bench may give you a stronger base to press from.
Who Should Use Chalk?
Anyone looking to improve their grip, maintain an arch on the bench press, or keep the bar from rolling during squats should use chalk.
2. Weightlifting Belt
The most common piece of lifting gear is the weightlifting belt. It’s used for both protection and performance. Generally, the thicker and more uncomfortable it is, the better it works. For most people, I recommend going with a 10mm or 13mm thick leather belt that is 4″ wide.
Benefits of a Weightlifting Belt:
- Gives you something to press your stomach against
- Protects the lower back by helping you maintain a neutral spine
- Increases intra-abdominal pressure 
- Increases rep speed in the squat 
- Helps you lift more weight
To reap the benefits of a lifting belt, you must use it correctly. Most people wear a lifting belt too low. It should be worn in the center of your abdominal wall to allow you to press out against it. This increase intra-abdominal pressure, which protects your spine and helps keep it neutral. A belt may be uncomfortable at first but becomes less painful as you break it in.
How you breath during an exercise also dictates how much a belt will help you. You should use what is called the Valsalva Maneuver to get the most out of a belt. This is done by taking a deep breath and forcefully trying to exhale against a closed glottis. Do this during the rep to maintain intra-abdominal pressure. Once you pass the sticking point of the exercise, you can exhale.
It’s hard to tell how much more a belt will help you lift, but people usually see around a 10% increase in strength. You will have to experiment with using one and see how much it helps you.
A lifting belt doesn’t need to be used for every exercise, only ones that load the spine like squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, and the overhead press. I wouldn’t put the belt on until you’re using more than 80% of your one rep max.
Does a Belt Make Your Core Weak?
Some people say a lifting belt makes your core weak. This isn’t true. Increased intra-abdominal pressure seen with a belt increases core activation. A belt also helps you to lift more weight, which increases core activation further. More activation can lead to more strength and growth over time.
Who Shouldn’t Use a Weightlifting Belt?
A weightlifting belt is not for everyone. If you’re a beginner, you should learn how to engage your core without a belt first. You also shouldn’t use a belt if you have blood pressure problems or an issue with increased intra-abdominal pressure (like a hernia).
Who Should Use a Weightlifting Belt?
An intermediate and advanced trainee that wants to be stronger at squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, and the overhead press should use a belt. I would reserve its use for lifts more than 80% of your one rep max.
3. Weightlifting Shoes
Weightlifting shoes are built for one purpose – lifting weights. They have a specific design based on helping you lift more efficiently. Many powerlifters and bodybuilders use weightlifting shoes for squat and bench press.
Benefits of Weightlifting Shoes:
- Increases stability
- Increases force transfer
- Helps you maintain a more upright torso while squatting 
- Increases quad activation during the squat 
- Decreases dorsiflexion in the squat (easier to hit depth if ankle mobility is a problem) 
When first looking at a weightlifting shoe, you will notice the raised heel. This helps maintain a more upright torso, increases quad activation, and makes it easier to hit depth on squats. The heel size will determine the amount of hip, knee, and ankle flexion during the exercise.
Weightlifting shoes have a hard flat sole to increase stability, support, and force transfer during the squat. When you push down on the ground, an equal amount of force pushes back up. That’s because of Newton’s Third Law, which states: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you have a soft-soled shoe, like a running shoe, you will lose some of that force transfer from the ground.
Weightlifting shoes can also give you more stability on the bench press because of the hard flat sole. The raised heel will allow you to place your feet further under you while keeping them flat. Both of which help you stay tight and give a good base to press from.
Despite the benefits of weightlifting shoes, they aren’t for everyone. You need to experiment with them to see if they work with your biomechanics. To get an idea of how it might feel, place 10-pound weights under your heels while you squat. This won’t increase stability, but you can at least experience what a raised heel feels like. If you prefer flat shoes, make sure they have a hard flat sole. Just don’t squat in running shoes.
Who Should Use Weightlifting Shoes?
Try weightlifting shoes if it’s hard to hit depth in the squat because of poor ankle mobility. They tend to place you in a better position to squat and increase your stability. If you’ve ever worn them before, you will know that you feel glued to the ground. They can also increase your stability in the bench press and allow you to put your feet further under you while staying flat.
4. Knee Sleeves
Knee sleeves have become increasing popular due to the growth of raw powerlifting. Typically, both powerlifters and bodybuilders wear them during squats. They are made of neoprene and provide extra support during exercises that load the knees.
Knee sleeves provide compression around the knee joint. This helps increase blood flow to the area, keeps it nice and warm, and can give a little spring out of the bottom of a squat. You won’t lift a lot more weight (maybe 5 pounds) but will feel much safer while performing the exercise.
Another benefit of knee sleeves is they increase knee proprioception.  This means your central nervous system is better able to predict where the knee joint is at in space. This can enhance the efficiency at which you perform the squat and reduce the chance of injury.
Who Should Use Knee Sleeves?
A beginner shouldn’t use knee sleeves because they are still learning how to squat. Intermediate and advanced trainees that squat heavy should at least give them a try. They will help you feel more comfortable and safe while performing heavy squats.
5. Knee Wraps
Knee wraps are different from knee sleeves because they are much tighter. Instead of pulling them over your knees (like sleeves) you wrap them around. They aren’t considered raw in most powerlifting federations because of the elasticity, which assists in the lift. I have heard of people getting 50-75 pounds out of a tight pair of wraps!
The elasticity of knee wraps helps you lift more weight but alters your squat technique, which can lead to increased stress on the knee.  If you think there’s a weakness in your knee, you should get it treated instead of using wraps because they may jeopardize knee health. Because of this, I don’t recommend their use unless you’re an equipped powerlifter or advanced athlete.
Who Should Use Knee Wraps?
Only equipped powerlifters or advanced athletes looking for an overload effect should use knee wraps. If you don’t fall in one of those two categories, you shouldn’t use knee wraps because of the increased stress on the knee.
6. Wrist Wraps
If wrapped tight, wrist wraps decrease movement and immobilize the joint. This can reduce pain and strains while performing certain exercises. You should wrap them above and below the wrist joint and make sure it covers completely. I recommend buying wraps anywhere from 12-36″ to reap all benefits.
During the bench press, wrist wraps keep the joint straight and the bar directly over your elbows. This is where it should be while pressing because you will be the strongest.
If you’re a low bar squatter, you know that creating a shelf with your back is important. You need a slightly narrow grip to do this, but it can cause wrist pain. Wrist wraps ease the pain by immobilizing the joint and not allowing it to flex or extend.
Who Should Use Wrist Wraps?
Beginners don’t need to worry about wrist wraps because the weight they are able to lift isn’t hard on the joints. Intermediate and advanced trainees can benefit with the extra protection during bench press and low bar squats.
7. Wrist Straps
Wrist straps attach to your wrist and wrap around the bar to make it easy holding heavy weights. Some think they are a crutch and you should never use them. They say you should just work on grip strength. I never understood this reasoning. Why would you let grip strength hinder non-grip training?
I’m not saying you should use wrist straps on every set, but you can use them intelligently in your training. Let me explain.
Bodybuilders tend to use wrist straps for their heaviest pulling exercises. This allows them to use more weight and not let grip dictate the outcome of the set. Their goal is to train the back muscles, not grip. By using straps, they can focus on training the intended muscle. Unless there’s some reason a bodybuilder needs to work on grip (I’m having a hard time thinking of one), it just makes sense to use straps for heavy work.
Things are different for the powerlifter. They can’t use straps in competition, so they need enough grip strength to hold their one rep max. Powerlifters should save straps for the end of the workout when their grip has already been trained or use them for accessory work. If they still have issues with grip strength, they can throw in some direct grip work.
What makes the most sense is to start training without straps and only use them when your grip starts giving out and hindering performance. This way, you will still improve grip strength over time.
Who Should Use Wrist Straps?
Beginners likely don’t need straps because their grip shouldn’t be an issue. It only starts to become a problem when you get more advanced. Intermediate and advanced trainees can benefit with wrist straps because they allow you to focus on working the intended muscle.
Most of the lifting gear on this list isn’t intended for beginners. They don’t need it until they learn how to perform the basic movements safe and correctly. Once they master the lifts, they can start experimenting with equipment on this list to increase performance and safety.
This list doesn’t include every piece of lifting gear out there but is what’s most commonly used. Deciding which to use depends on your goals and experience level, but I hope this guide helped you understand when you might want to use each.
- Lander JE, Simonton RL, Giacobbe JK. The effectiveness of weight-belts during the squat exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990;22(1):117-26.
- Harman EA, Rosenstein RM, Frykman PN, Nigro GA. Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1989;21(2):186-90.
- Lander JE, Hundley JR, Simonton RL. The effectiveness of weight-belts during multiple repetitions of the squat exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1992;24(5):603-9.
- Zink AJ, Whiting WC, Vincent WJ, Mclaine AJ. The effects of a weight belt on trunk and leg muscle activity and joint kinematics during the squat exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2001;15(2):235-40.
- Sato K, Fortenbaugh D, Hydock DS. Kinematic changes using weightlifting shoes on barbell back squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(1):28-33.
- Whitting JW, Meir RA, Crowley-mchattan ZJ, Holding RC. Influence of Footwear Type on Barbell Back Squat Using 50, 70, and 90% of One Repetition Maximum: A Biomechanical Analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(4):1085-92.
- Herrington L, Simmonds C, Hatcher J. The effect of a neoprene sleeve on knee joint position sense. Res Sports Med. 2005;13(1):37-46.
- Lake JP, Carden PJC, Shorter KA. Wearing knee wraps affects mechanical output and performance characteristics of back squat exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012;26(10):2844–2849.