Article written by Marshall White for LiftBigEatBig.com
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.