Cheaters Sometimes Prosper
Posted on April 08 2018
There is debate in the fitness community about the use of cheats to lift more, move faster, etc… These cheats include wraps (knee and elbow), belt, squat suits, deadlift straps, types of shoes (Olympic lifting or squatting), and more. But to many, there’s acceptable cheating and unacceptable cheating. Some find it acceptable to use a belt when lifting. Others argue that it’s doing your core a disservice, the argument being that the belt stabilizes one’s core. If your core, without assistance, doesn’t support the weight placed elsewhere, then what business do you have lifting that weight? Yet the same ones that DO justify a belt might never justify a squat suit. And the use of both at one time? Ludicrous. These are the same people that are snorting pre-workout powders and wearing five-fingers to “strengthen their arches.” (Side note: Vibram settled a lawsuit for false health claims for $3.75 million dollars).
In regards to the more traditional cheats: In competitive lifting, there are different classes to account for the use of aids or accessories. The “purest” is in Raw Lifting. Straight from the USA Powerlifting site (http://www.usapowerlifting.com/lifters-corner/raw-lifting):
Raw/Unequipped lifting is defined in USAPL competition as using only the following gear and accessories:
(a) Non-supportive singlet
(g) Wrist wraps
(h) Single-ply neoprene knee sleeves without attaching and/or tightening mechanisms like Velcro, clips, or straps
There’s at least two objects here that make some diehards start twitching. How can “raw” lifting include knee sleeves and a belt?
The majority of my lifting life I’ve been a purist, completely shunning all types of aids. That is until the bigger muscle groups started to outpace the smaller ones. Specifically for me, this became apparent when deadlifting. I knew that I could lift more, for more reps, if only my grip strength didn’t give out. I experimented with hook-grips and worked specific accessories around hand strength, trying to get my grip up to pace with the strength of my hamstrings and back. All along, my deadlift continued to remain stagnant. Finally, I gave in to lifting straps and my deadlift began to sky-rocket. Then I decided to try a belt for my squat and it too increased substantially. And while I have yet to try knee and elbow wraps, I am no longer opposed.
Why the shift? My justification, and mine alone, is that major lifts engage major muscles. Your quads, hamstrings, back, and chest muscles are not minor muscles (unless you fit into skinny jeans. Then I can only say that they are supposed to be major muscles). They are the muscle groups that collectively constitute a strong person. This is why the squat, deadlift, and bench are considered the most important of exercises to build one’s overall strength. But each of these lifts is limited in progression by what I call minor muscle groups. These include muscles such as those in your hands, the ligament around your knees, etc… These muscles in your hands will never assume the strength capacity one has in the hamstrings or upper back. If so, there’d be a lot more people lookin' like Popeye walking around. There’s not. Yet there does remain the justification to bring up your body’s strength equally and bring balance to your system.
The way I mitigate leaving supporting musculature behind is simply to lift as much as I can until I hit the point where my “minor muscles” can’t keep up. Only then do I use lifting aids. In doing this, I am able to continue development of smaller muscle systems yet continue to develop larger muscle groups.
For deadlifting, lift as heavy as you can go without straps. But when you feel the bar freeing itself from your grip, though you know you have more in the tank, it’s time to strap up. In the squat, save the belt for when you start to lose form and begin to feel concerned that you’re about to “get stapled.” And if pressing or squatting and your elbows or knees begin to buckle and wobble, it’s time to put on wraps and knock out another set. There’s no reason to limit your strength to what your knees or other small muscle groups can handle. In doing this, I’ve actually continued to increase my grip and core strength yet continue to build the major lifts. If I go back in my lifting journal, at one point I had to start putting a belt on around 360lbs. But because I keep pushing the limits, I am now able to do reps at 360lbs with no belt. If I had always used a belt, I can assume that my core would have indeed weakened, but I continue to work on it. And of course, I also work on these areas in my accessories. This is why they are called accessories. Accessories are work on minor muscle groups with the intent to bring up the bigger lifts. Is your squat limited by your lower back strength? Do Good Mornings or Straight-leg Deadlifts and so forth.
Ultimately, if you’re still a purist, then I ask you to look at your own fitness efforts. Do you drink protein shakes after a workout? Why? To help you recover quicker? Build more muscle? Cheater. Do you put headphones on and blast loud, upbeat music when you lift? Why? To help you focus? To get you amp’d up for big lifts? Cheater. Shouldn’t you just be able to summon that effort on your own? Or perhaps think about it this way. In MMA, have you ever looked at the bloody, crumpled man on the mat and thought to yourself, “well, at least he doesn’t use a belt when he squats?” My guess is, if the loser was simply overpowered, that crumpled mess is going to come back from the hospital with a belt (a lifting belt that is).
Founder / Sheepdog Strong