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The Benefits Of Assistance Gear

Article written by Marshall White for
Lately Brandon has been posting quite a few videos of the LBEB team smashing some huge lifts.  The fun thing is that myself in particular has been catching some shit for my use of assistance gear while training.  By assistance gear I mean straps, knee wraps, oly shoes, belts,  etc etc.  While I truly appreciate a purist mentality and using absolutely no assistance gear while training is badass the FACT is all of the things we use for assistance serve one purpose and one purpose only: to make us OVERALL stronger.

So many people say “using straps while deadlifting is cheating” and all that crap.  This may be true if you’re a competitive powerlifter or olympic lifter but for a strongman that is not the case.  They are allowed in most competitions.  Them being allowed in competition is beside the point, we are talking TRAINING here.  More importantly we are talking training tools.  Using straps while deadlifting in training allows you to overload every other muscle in your body because the weak link is taken out of the equation.  Be honest with yourself and think this through logically:  if you are pulling 600lbs with straps do you honestly believe holding onto 550lbs without straps is going to be a problem?  You will be so much more explosive with the 550 that it will be in the hands less time and it will seem overall lighter on your body.  Not to mention as you approach 550 your confidence will be sky high since it is so far below what you know you are actually capable of.

I’ve noticed that the crossfit community loves to take pride in their lack of assistance gear and I applaud you guys and gals for that, but are you trying to take pride in something or are you trying to become the best athlete you can be.  How many times have Vibrams been defended on LBEB?  Again, I appreciate this, I’ve even done some shoeless yoking in my day.  The fact is though I was smashing 1000lb with the proper footwear before my feet were strong enough to go 800lb shoeless.  Putting on some oly shoes to take your overhead up a notch is not cheating, it’s simply utilizing a tool to overload your body and prepare your cns for big weight.  Example?  Let’s say your current overhead max is 200lb in a pair of vibrams, and just by adding oly shoes to the equation you start putting the bar in a better position, etc and now you’re hitting 250lb.  If you decide to take those oly shoes off the day of the competition I think we can agree that a 225-235 overhead should be an easy accomplishment, again, because it is so sub-maximal.  A lift that far below your max doesn’t necessarily even need to be positioned correctly because you can “muscle” it into position if you have to.

In my training I try to utilize everything I can to “eek” out every little pound from my lifts that I can.  When I use knee wraps it is so I can go heavier on the squat, thereby conditioning my cns for heavy loads, but also go heavy on yokes or farmers later in the week without messing up my knees too bad.  In my opinion being able to go heavier more times during the week seems nothing but beneficial.  I use tacky when loading stones to reduce stress on biceps, thereby shortening my recovery time between bicep heavy events like, log cleans, tire flips, etc.  If I can recover faster between events, I can do more events during the week.  How can this not be helpful?

Let’s talk powerlifting gear for a second because I don’t want to get too crazy with the gear.  There are certain squat suits and bench press shirts that can add as much as 3-400lbs to these lifts!  I do not advocate the use of these on a regular basis because in my opinion people become reliant on this type of gear in order to stroke their egos and make them feel like they are strong when in fact they are not.  That being said, even these types of suits and shirts have their place in training.  Let me explain.  Most people do not have a problem with coming out of the hole on a squat, it’s usually the top end where the squat slows down and sometimes fails.  A squat suit works by basically making the squat lighter in the hole and as you ascend the lift becomes more and more your body doing the work.  See where I’m going with this?  If you are using a squat suit you are overloading the top end of your squat while still getting the feel of ridiculously heavy weights on your back and practicing full squat form.  When used sparingly and intelligently this can be a very easy way to add massive amounts of pounds to your raw squat.

There you have it, a nice explanation of how assistance gear can be used to increase your performance when you’re not using it.  Before I get crucified for this article really think about what I am saying and maybe even try out these things before you dismiss them.  Sure I am belted up when I take an 1100lb yoke for a stroll but because of this I can yoke 1000lb without a belt and yes I slather myself in tacky when loading a 500lb stone but because of this I can load 400+ without tacky, so I would say I’m pretty dam strong with or without gear.  These things are simply TOOLS to increase performance.  Lifting big is not about being proud you squatted 300 without a belt and being happy with that.  It’s about taking that 300lb squat to the next level, and a really efficient way of doing that is by adding in some assistance gear.  Hopefully you’ll try some of these out and put aside your pride as well in order to get bigger lifts.  If not I hope you enjoy your lifting plateaus because you’re going to be hanging out there for a while.

13 thoughts on “The Benefits Of Assistance Gear

  1. Could not agree more. Great article.

  2. Hey Marshall, great post. I just experienced this myself with my squat. I don’t own a belt and generally don’t use any assistance gear except for straps on deads or snatches. My 1RM jumped 45# this week because I used a belt on that set. Even just below my max, I struggled without a belt. Some of that is training, but a lot of that gain is because of the belt. So a belt is on my list of things to buy, for myself and my wife, who wants one as well. Any recommendations on belts? I like the looks of those lever ones and they look like they are easier to use than the standard prong belts.



  3. Well thought out and articulated to the point. Hope people find it useful.

  4. Check out the 2pood MetCon belt. Multi-functional and comes in pink for the wife.

  5. Good article. Thanks.

    There’s this idea floating around that lifting with suits and shirts is cheating, and somehow just a cakewalk that makes everything easier. I can assure anyone who thinks like that that they are dead wrong.

    I never feel timid when I lift raw, but when I put on the gear I have to fight my impulses to bail. Yes, the squat suit makes the squat lighter at the bottom, but it still feels just as heavy as the raw squat, simply because the load is heavier. It doesn’t feel lighter at the bottom at all. It feels heavy in all phases of the lift, and there is also the pressure to contend with, which is really hard to describe adequately to someone who hasn’t experienced it first hand.

    Everything around your hips feel like it’s about catch fire and you may also find yourself worrying that your neck and head is about to explode. I got a nose bleed on my second try in a suit. That was with a fairly light weight and I didn’t even reach IPF approved depth, (which is somewhat deeper than what american powerlifters get away with). I’ve also seen people rupture blood wessels in their eyes when attempting record lifts.

    Lifting with gear isn’t a pussyfication of training. It doesn’t in any way make things easier apart from the fact that heavier loads are lifted. As long as we all have access to the same equipment it can hardly be seen as cheating either. It’s just a very different technical and mental challenge than raw lifting. I have the utmost respect for both types of athletes, but I’m getting tired of having people believe that a suit makes everything effortless as if it was a crane or something.


  6. Thanks for the suggestion! I don’t think that will support my needs while training to get a 500# (and further) deadlift. I was thinking more along the lines of a USAPL approved belt. It can only be 10cm wide and 9mm thick. There are other restrictions, but I think that these are the main requirements. I’m not a USAPL lifter nor have I ever competed in a lifting/strength event. But I do like to lift big and want to lift bigger, so I need a belt to help me get there.

  7. Solid article, self debated this issue forever but couldn’t agree more! “Safely breaking plateaus!”

  8. I find myself agreeing with this article almost entirely. It’s very interesting, though, because I agree with it for many of the same reasons I disagree with a few things I’ve found in other articles on this website.

    As a naturally skinny, bony teenager, when I began lifting, I would use the “tampon bar” during squats to keep the pressure off of my vertebrae, which is where the bar was sitting. There was a pain threshold on my spine that was limiting my squatting weight. Now that I’ve built more muscle, and the bar rests more comfortably on my traps instead, I don’t use it anymore.

    My point is that this blog quickly dismisses the use of the “tampon bar”, yet has just published an article encouraging the use of assistance equipment to safely break through barriers and focus more on the action of the muscles to counter joint stress and encourage safe, injury-free heavy lifting.

    I’m not someone who would be angered if LBEB suddenly embraced, or even accepted the “tampon bar”, nor would I truly call them hypocritical, I would merely just like some insight as to what the difference is between that type of assistance equipment and the equipment discussed in this article.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love LBEB.

    Thank you

  9. The tampon bar is not in the same realm as other assistance gear, in fact I don’t even consider it assistance gear. IF your back hurts, take weight off the bar and use the bar until you have built more strength. The tampon bar changes the whole dynamic of the squat, and sets the bar higher on your back than it should be.

  10. I’m a CrossFit affiliate owner who could not agree more… I recommend belts and oly shoes, primarily, to everyone to help with squats, deads and O-lifts. Too many folks in CF are so oblivious to the vast realm of knowledge outside of the Kool Aid drinking community…

  11. I don’t really have a problem if someone wants to use gear, what I have a problem with are the ones that seem to think those of us not using it, or, if I just choose to use straps and a belt, we are somehow “pussies”. If you are using it to push yourself to the next level, I can respect that, but when it seems all they are doing is relying on that “super suit” to just push big numbers to enlarge their egos, while not doing it with full ROM, that respect just went out the door. Use it to push yourself, not to impress your other ego stroking buddies at your home gym….

  12. With your accomplishments, you don’t need to justify why you do anything brother!!! People lift different things in different styles with different gear in different settings, and judging others and saying they’re doing it wrong, is weak. Judge not lest ye be judged yourself. I’m willing to bet half of those people that say it’s weak to use straps, belts, suits, etc are the ones doing upside down front lateral swinging backwards raise curls because it’s the new exercise they saw in Flex magazine to give you a sweet pump on your biceps and front delts. Keep on keeping on Marshall, you’re an inspiration for a lot of us wanting to get to you level and the level of the rest of the LBEB crew!!

  13. If you are looking for a great belt check out best belts. Hand made lifting belts get a single prong I made the mistake and got two prong.

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