Through the years that I have been involved with Crossfit I have seen quite the evolution in the amount of gear available, as well as the styles of gear that is now available. Some of the obvious styles changes is in the shoes that everyone is now wearing, but then there is also an abundance of specialized gear that has become more prevalent on the market. I think that some of it has been for the better, but at the same time not all of it has.
Crossfit has seen a dramatic change in the shoes available. Years ago it seemed like the best shoes to have were a pair of Converse All Stars. People were realizing that with their large amounts of soft cushioning, normal running shoes did not work for lifting. Before people were talking about Zero-drop and minimalist, there was the classic and simple Chucks. They were great for lifting but they did have some drawbacks especially when it came to running or box jumps. They did not offer much in the form of impact protection. So if you were a heel-striker when your run, then you were in for a bad time.
Then there was the Vibram and Five Finger Toe Shoes. The thought was that you were more true to being barefoot and could strengthen the muscles in your feet. Since then there has been further review into this and this would end up fairing badly for Vibram. As for Crossfit, people were seeing crossfitters running the roads, jumping, climbing in these shoes and it only added to the cult-like image of crossfit. Most of this was not because people were wearing them to work out or run, but because people were still wearing them when they went shopping and running errands. Regardless of how much they were supposed to help they still looked a little weird. From my experience, I never did wear them. The few times that I did try to wear them for workouts I only had problems. Trying to do double unders and catching the rope between my toes was one issue. My main issue was protection for my feet. The handful of times that I would go run, I did not have an issue with the impact but with the thins that I would step on. Rocks, Gravel, and anything else that was under foot. It would be about my third time wearing them that I would step on a screw and have it go through my foot that I swore them off forever.
One of my favorite shoes from this time was actually the first version of the Nike Free. I actually did a few half marathons in these shoes. They worked well for me, but the later styles that they would put up had a softer sole and I destroyed a pair after a WOD with a good bit of rope climbs. Quickly learned that these were not the shoes for Crossfit.
A partnership with Reebok would bring about the first standard pair of shoes for Crossfit. This has progressed through the years and we are now on the Nano 7, as well as several other Reebok creations. Many, like myself, still have a love affair with the Nano 2. I have had several of the newer Nano styles but I have literally worn my Nano 2’s until they were falling apart.
The first time I tried on a pair of weightlifting shoes was sometime in 2010. Before Reebok and other companies would begin manufacturing them for the masses. Before then you had to special order them, and they cost quite a bit more. I remember putting them on and thinking that I had just strapped a solid wooden wedge under my foot. They weren’t particularly comfortable but it was easy to tell how much more stable you could be in them. Just coming into Crossfit, I wasn’t about to drop that much money on something that I would basically only be using to squat, snatch and clean and jerk. Anything more than a couple of box jumps or double-unders and the impact would stick with you for a while. Attempting to run in them sounded like a Clydesdale coming down the road.
After I had gotten better at my lifts and was actually moving a little bit of weight I would eventually buy a pair of my own. The good news is that one pair will almost last you a lifetime. I know guys that refuse to buy a new pair, they wrap some tape on them and keep lifting. “My best lifts are in these shoes, I can’t afford to lose all that good mojo”. The issue that I have had with them is not in the shoe itself but in the people that wear them. I truly think that if you are only in your first 6 months of lifting then the last thing you need to really worry about is weightlifting shoes. Why? At that point your issue is not simply stability and an elevated heel. People need to learn to squat properly and develop good position on flat ground, because that’s where we are going to spend most of our time moving.
Somewhere along the way crossfitters began wearing something that resembled more of Board Short. Occasionally you will see someone in a pair of running shorts, or basketball shorts. Now they even are made of more stretchy material so that you can run, jump, climb, and most importantly, hit the bottom of a squat without fear of blowing out the seams. For me, another realization was that after you get to a certain point you can’t wear regular underwear anymore. I have ruined a few pair of boxers on squat days, and somewhere along the way I discovered that if I didn’t wear compression shorts that my thighs would rub together and chafe. So going commando or even wearing briefs, and working out in a pair of board shorts becomes a distant reality somewhere about the point that you can squat twice your body weight.
They are everywhere. High Socks, in all sorts of colors, with just about every slogan that you can think of. If you are doing rope climbs then socks or long pants are a necessity. It can also be argued that they come in handy doing deadlifts so that your shins don’t look like a 5 years old boys, but that mostly sounds like a technique issue. The rest of the time, they are just a fashion statement.
Wrist Straps and Wraps
I’ll be honest, I wore wrist straps for a while. But somewhere I realized that if my wrist were sore it was because i was doing something wrong. I worked and developed a better rack position and learned to take the strain off my wrists. If you do have issues with tight or sore wrists then the answer is not to wear wrist straps every time you do anything over head or from the rack position; work on a better position and then if you really need straps then limit to when you will be doing heavy weight or very high volume. Give your body a chance to get stronger.
Along the same lines of wrist straps, are gloves and grips and gloves. I definitely understand wanting to save your hands from rips and tears, as they can put you out of training for a week if they are bad enough. There are different types, from traditional leather weightlifting gloves to gymnastic gloves. Weightlifting gloves, while adding protection for your hand it can add a bulk of material between your hand and the bar. This may protect your hand but can make it hard to hold onto the bar. The key is that we don’t want to hide or compensate from a weakness. If your grip strength is what is keeping you from doing more pullups or deadlifts, then the answer may be a matter of more grip work. Gymnastic grips are great because they are simple, fairly cheap and come in several varieties. The most basic is a velcro strap with leather and two finger holes. This adds protection for the fingers and palm with minimal impact to grip. More advanced gymnastic grips have a dowel or cylinder at the finger tips that provide a better grip for gymnasts for when they do bar or ring work. If you have ever watched the gymnasts in the Olympics doing these great big swings on the uneven bars and wondered why they don’t just fly off into space, this is why. Because of this added grip ability, most competitions will not let you wear them the grips with the extra grip in the fingers. I have had the same gymnastics grips for years now and they hold up pretty well. and they are very easy to slip on and off you fingers when moving between bar movements and lifting.
In this same talk we can throw in the application of knee wraps and compression sleeves. For most of us we need to work on developing good movement and then working up in weight. Once we get to a pretty sizeable amount of weight and volume our Knee Wraps and Sleeves can be there to add some additional support and help provide some structure to prevent injuries. Just any power lifter about the value of compression. But if we are knocking out a few sets of air squats then maybe we don’t need to put on the 7mm knee sleeves. We want to train our bodies to adapt but if we are always supplementing them with artificial support then they are never given a reason for those ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues to strengthen along with our muscles.
And then things got weird
And then there is everything else. there are scores and scores of other accessories. It seems like every time I turn around someone is creating or marketing a new product for people. Some of them seem pretty cool, and then there are some that leave you wandering what type of person would actually buy them. Over the years I have bought and tried different things, but as I go along I have found that the best pieces are the simple pieces. We can easily get caught up in all this new equipment in the hoped that it helps us move a little bit more weight or move faster or better. The truth is that the more that we allow our body to do the work the better that we are going to be. If you suck at double unders and buy an expensive new jump rope, you are now just going to bad with less money in your pocket. You are still going to have to practice to get good. Maybe dropping a load of money on something will motivate you to practice more but you still have to put in the work.
Gear does not make the Crossfitter. There are some things that you will need, but there comes a point where your gear is either compensating for your own deficiencies or only making you marginally better. To put this in perspective, you could go to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame and grab one of many instruments from one of many great performers, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and even with their equipment never be able to perform at the same quality and standard that they could. But you take those same musicians and and then give them any guitar off the street and they can still perform better than any of us ever could. And Rich Froning will still beat most of us regardless of what bar he picks up.