Avoid helpers! Or how to make the most out of your natural strength
Only a few weeks ago I participated in a triathlon. Simply to see what this kind of challenge feels like. I have to make clear at this point that is was a triathlon in the so-called sprint version, which is 500 m swimming, 20 km biking, and 5 km running. Absolutely doable for me. Especially since I didn’t have any target time I wanted to achieve [there are still vivid memories of you claiming that you would win the triathlon in our office, Fabi]. Many of my fellow competitors, however, did. There were situations where I felt completely out of place because I didn’t have a triathlon suit (a onepiece suit that can be worn throughout all three disciplines), compression socks, or a bike that cost at least 6000 €.
My co-worker Flo, an experienced endurance sports enthusiast, told me that real triathletes wouldn’t even leave their bed for such an amateur sprint event. Boy, was he wrong! And boy, was I unprofessional…
And when I saw two competitors with time trial helmets checking in their carbon bikes to the transition zone I was completely blown away. Are you serious? For two rounds on a 10 km long circular race track on open roads?
Well, I didn’t let that keep me from having fun with the challenge. I am also pretty sure that it wasn’t my last triathlon.
But now to the real topic:
Not only in triathlons do people rely on various little helpers. Compression underwear, myofascial taping, and bandages are very popular right now. But are they really necessary? Do you need all these things for optimal performance or is it all just a placebo or even a fashion accessory?
If we look at our eternal love, strength training, we can think of the following six helpers:
- Weightlifting belt
- Weightlifting shoes
- Knee bandages
- Wrist wraps
- Smelling salts
And then there are such special utilities like the bench press shirt or the weightlifting suit from the powerlifting competitions but we won’t discuss them here. In general, these helpers do have their place in the market and can support or prevent.
- The weightlifting belt helps to build up more tension in the core by giving the abdominals something to press against.
- Weightlifting shoes stabilize you and support your feet. This will give you more stability and control in the short jumping and landing phases during olympic lifts. Additonally, your heel is elevated and your ankles don’t need to be so flexible. It is easier to push the pelvis and the knees forward and, thus, keep the upper body straight.
- Chalk improves your grip on bars, gym rings or the barbell. It binds the sweat in your palms to keep them dry and make it easier to maintain a firm grip for a longer time.
- Knee bandages have a supporting function. They are designed in a way that promotes the natural extension of the knees. There is always a certain drive towards extension that should help you to better and faster exit the squat position. Additionally, knee bandages support the knees in the frontal pane, working against lateral movements that could result in unwanted shear forces.
- Wrist wraps have the same function as knee bandages, only for the wrists. In many pressing exercises or supporting positions the wrist are in a dorsal flexion. The wraps are supposed to stabilize your wrists in these positions.
- Smelling salts are supposed to have an activating effect and improve air supply. In the past, when women used to wear tight corsets on a rgular basis, it was used against syncopal attacks and vertigo. Nowadays, you don’t see it very often. It is mostly made of hartshorn which contains ammonium bicarbonate. Usage is controversial because a real effect could never be proven.
Now, the company aerobis stands for functional training. That’s why we ask ourselves: if I use these helpers in my training can I achieve the same performance in daily life or competitions without the helpers?
It could very well be that our muscles, ligaments, tendons get used to this kind of support. Or maybe it is all in our head: if it manifests in my mindset that I can do certain movements only with the help of some belts, special shoes, and so on, I could be held back without them.
And your goal should be a complete and wholesome health and fitness. It is simply not practical to pull up your jeans and tighten your belt before lifting a sack of flower soil (well, you could do it but it would look pretty weird). Your core should always be strong enough, no matter what weight. It would be silly to change into shoes with a higher drop and a harder sole every time before you go down into the deep squat.
Remember your roots! Look at your body and its anatomical abilities and you will see that you actually don’t need any helpers. Nature generally has you well equipped with everything you need. Of course, it could be that you have pain in your knees and that you can’t fully stretch and bend it without bandages. As I have already said, helpers do have some justification. But they should never be taken as essential! Find out why your knee hurts, fight the cause, work on your mobility and strength bit by bit! Since the goal should always be to keep the target movement as natural as possible. Without helpers!
Concretely, this has the following effects on your training:
- Only use as much weight as you can lift without belts, bandages or special shoes. Unless you are a professional athlete competing in powerlifting or weightlifting competitions.
- Chalk surely is acceptable. But work on your grip strength because you can’t carry a bag of chalk with you everywhere you go.
- Strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints of your feet, knees, hip, shoulders, elbows, and hands. Thus, your body will have a natural support and won’t need any additional support.
- Motivate yourself autonomously and without dubious substances.