‘Tis the season for holiday wish lists and checks from relatives you didn’t know had your new address. Since I know you’ve been reading my columns (*cough cough*) in your quest for strength, weight loss, or overall fitness, I’m sure you’ve also been thinking about your gym accessories. You know, those fun things you bring along to the gym to improve your workout, or maybe just look cool? Either way, I’m here to help you navigate the best, and the worst, of the gym accessories that you want to see under the menorah or Christmas tree.

The Good

Lifting belts

Quality lifting belts are popular among lifters who want to get a little bit more out of their barbell exercises. Belts work by tightening against your abdominal muscles. When your abs contract during a lift, they push against the belt, which pushes back. The increased force produced in your core helps to a) increase core activation b) stabilize your torso, which is crucial to maintaining good form and c) recruiting more of the small muscles in your back, the most likely culprits of back pain[1]. Personally, I love my EliteFTS 2-prong lever belt, but a generic leather belt (none of that polyester bullshit) found at any Sports Authority would do the trick. Here’s a quick tutorial.

Straps

You’ve definitely seen these abused by high schoolers struggling to eke out reps on the lat pulldown machine. Straps are a highly versatile tool; use them for farmer’s walks, front squats, or heavy deadlifts. If you have issues with your grip strength, straps are a blessing and a curse. While they augment your natural grip by helping you hold onto the bar or dumbbell, straps will only give you the illusion of a stronger grip. My suggestion is to use them only when you really need them. Straps should be thick, almost rope-like in construction. Keep them in your gym bag for those difficult sets. Watch this man with shit deadlift form teach you to use straps

Yoga mat

Okay, so this is more of a home gym accessory, but you can bring a yoga mat anywhere if you really want. First of all, if you’re not doing yoga, start doing yoga because it will make you feel amazing. Second, a yoga mat is an excellent resource to have at home for your basic stretching needs. You won’t get all dusty from your un-vacuumed carpet, and you never have an excuse to not stretch if you’re living in post-grad luxury (a.k.a an apartment with hardwood floors). Too tired to hit the gym after work? Throw down the yoga mat and strike some poses. Sore as hell from yesterday’s workout? You know the drill, take it to the mat. The possibilities are endless.

The Bad

Headphones

I want to make an important distinction here between headphones and earbuds. Earbuds are small stereophonic devices inserted directly into the ear canal. Headphones, meanwhile, are obtrusive, often heavy, listening wear designed for casual music listeners or in-studio rappers to fidget with while they go about their non-exercising lives.

Headphones are a bad gym accessory because they are effectively noise-cancelling, making you oblivious to your surroundings (e.g. some idiot dropping his dumbbells, as well as being likely to slip and slide all over your sweaty face.

Your cell phone

That’s right, I said it. Put your phone away. Think about how much time you spend everyday staring at your phone, what could possibly happen if you spent an hour apart? Your time at the gym ought to be cathartic, this is your opportunity to focus on your workout and your body, not to be distracted by another text you’ll wait to answer anyway. To quote a friend of mine, “maybe if you didn’t spend your workout on Instagram, you wouldn’t look the same as you did last year.”

The Ugly

Gloves

Oh, I’m sorry, are you worried about ruining your delicate hand model hands? Don’t waste your time or money on gloves; just buy some hypoallergenic hand lotion for your sensitive skin. Your land tilling, dirt-under-the-fingernails, manual laboring, peasant ancestors would be ashamed of you.

It’s time to pull up your big boy/girl pants and handle weight like God intended you to, calluses and all. Invented by weaklings, for weaklings, gloves create a mirage of protection for those that have never worked a day in their lives. If you own a pair of gloves, do yourself a favor and toss them into a fucking bonfire.

[1] http://www.strengtheory.com/the-belt-bible/

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