Whether you're an avid CrossFitter, have a lot of WOD-loving friends on Instagram or enjoy tuning into The CrossFit Games, you've probably noticed something: Not only are most CrossFit athletes impressively muscle-bound, but they also all have their "can't work out without it" gear.
That's because the right equipment can support you during as you lift, grunt and sweat it out. "There is certain gear that can be beneficial to your lifts and performance in CrossFit," says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company for athletes like CrossFitters.
But, he says, "When you're incorporating gear, the question should always be: When should you should be using this?" Should you be using it for all rep schemes? All weights? All movements?
According to Wickham, most gear isn't meant to be used during every single exercise or workout. Still, he says, when used correctly, proper gear can help support you as you work your way through a WOD.
Expert Recommendations for the Best CrossFit Gear
So what CrossFit gear is effective and when? Below, CrossFit trainers and fitness pros break down the tools — including weight belts, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, CrossFit shoes and grips — that'll help you stay on top of your workout (and climb the leaderboard).
Between front squats, pull-ups, Olympic lifts, push-ups and burpees, many of the staple movements in CrossFit put a lot of strain on your wrists. That's where wrist wraps come in.
"Wrist wraps give your wrists some extra support and security during these movements, and can help keep you from putting too much pressure on the somewhat delicate joint," says Tony Milgram, Level 1 CrossFit trainer with ICE NYC in New York City, NY.
But they're not for everyone. "I don't recommend them for beginners, because if you use them too early on in your training, it can limit your wrist muscles from getting stronger, which can cause injury of the wrist later on," Wickham says.
The market is pretty saturated with wrist wraps made of all types of materials and held together with different clasps. Milgram recommends (and uses) Rogue's simple nylon wraps ($24.95, Rogue.com)."They're easy to use and adjust mid-workout, supportive and relatively inexpensive," he says.
Some athletes prefer a thicker, cotton/poly wrist wrap with Velcro closure, like those from Tuff Wraps ($29.99, Amazon.com). When deciding on a pair that works best for you, Wickham says to make sure you can still flex the wrist (which you'll need to be able to do for most of the Olympic lifts and other exercises you're doing). And you shouldn't have to drop more than $30 on a pair.
Usually made of neoprene, knee sleeves are basically bear hugs for your knee. How do they work? Sarah Ray, Level 3 CrossFit trainer and program development manager at Volt Athletics, says they provide compression to the joint, which increase blood flow. Because blood transports nutrients, the sleeves can actually help quell the inflammation that happens naturally after exercise, she says.
Additionally, wearing knee sleeves can also improve something called kinesthetic awareness, says Wickham. "That's when having a stimulus or compression on the area helps you become more aware of it." So if, for example, your knees cave in as you squat (which is bad!), wearing knee sleeves may help you tune into that error and remind you to press your knees out as you squat, he says.
But (and this is important), Ray says: "If you have pain in your knee, wearing sleeves will not fix that." Only seeing a movement specialist and getting to the root cause of the pain will.
When picking out a pair, go for a Goldilocks fit — tight but not too tight. "They shouldn't be so snug that they restrict your ability to complete a full squat, but you shouldn't be able to fit more than one or two fingers between the material and your skin," Milgram says.
Lifting some really heavy weights? Grab a weight belt. "Their purpose is to encourage athletes to press against an external object, to get them to brace their core and spine and create intra-abdominal pressure," Ray says. But she and Wickham agree these should only be used by athletes lifting at least 75 percent of their one-rep max.
"The belt takes over some of the work your core is doing, so if you start relying on the belt every time you lift, your core muscles could become less strong or less stable," says Wickham. "Over time this can create an imbalance between your leg muscles and core muscles, which can lead to injury."
That's the same reason he suggests newbies hold off on investing in and wearing a belt until they're learned how to brace their core when they lift and developed the requisite core strength.
Because there's such a variety of movements in CrossFit, Wickham says investing in a cross-training shoe is a must. "Cross-training shoes are flexible enough to allow your foot to move well during dynamic movements like double-unders, box jumps and running, but also stable enough for weighted exercises like squats, kettlebell swings, snatches, cleans and deadlifts."
Spoiler alert: If you do CrossFit, you're going to have to use your hands. While some athletes wear their callouses proudly, others don't love rocking the thickened skin outside of the box.
Lifting gloves are one solution. They add a layer of material between your hand and the pull-up bar, barbell, dumbbells, etc., says Ray, which reduces the friction of the equipment against your hand and therefore reduces the risk of calluses.
Keep in mind, though, that gloves may make certain movements harder, says Ray. Because they add an extra layer of material, gloves increase the diameter of whatever you're gripping, forcing your forearms to work harder in order to maintain your grip, she says.
Another option for hand protection? Grips! Most athletes use these to reduce the risk of ripping calluses, says Wickham. That's a huge advantage, as ripping can take a long time to heal, which can take you out of the gym.
Plus, they don't cover your fingers, so they're less likely to get in the way during other exercises. For instance, you wouldn't want to have your fingers covered for a movement like a wall ball where you need to have a good grip on the medicine ball.
Wickham says which you choose comes down to personal preference. "Some athletes say the fingerless grips are easier to get on and off during a workout with a gymnastics and non-gymnastics movement," he says. Experiment and see what works best for you.