| | | Fashion Vs Function

Author / John

The ever popular game of inappropriateness, “Cards Against Humanity”, recently raised their prices on Black Friday.


A couple of reasons.  One, it’s fucking hilarious and the leadership knew it would draw a lot of attention to their site.  They were also poking fun at the fact, we are complete and utter consumers.  And to prove this fact, the card company increased their sales by 400% compared to last year.  Aside from this genius sales tactic, the CEO of CAH has done his part in illuminating our innate consumerism.  Not only do we see it during Black Friday but in virtually every niche community you’ll find people who want to buy to belong.  In the world of strength and conditioning, there are no shortage of folks who identify themselves with a training program, athletes, or gym simply by buying the respective gear.  I must admit to a certain extent, I am one of those people.  What is more painful is that the nature of our sport dictates that we utilize “gear” to make us “stronger”, more “mobile”, or just has us rocking apparel with questionable benefits merely because we can’t resist…stuff.

zubaz_marino_warriorsI consider myself a training purist.  But to be honest, it’s just a misleading way of saying I’m cheap.  I’m essentially the George Costanza of weight training.  I do not own lifting shoes, a belt, wrist wraps, gloves, or knee sleeves.  Some may say that’s just dumb – and honestly, they are probably right.  Why wouldn’t one want to take advantage of every possible edge on a competitor?  I feel it’s worth noting my frugal mindset, coupled with years of coaching experience, have shaped my thoughts on the following topic.  With this in mind, I am fully prepared for the “Froning-band” enthusiasts and “belt-wearing-while-performing-seated-exercises” backlash.

I place no judgement when it comes to the tools people use to improve their ability to lift or perform.  What I often question is the validity of the marketing tactics and consumer misuse of said items.

If you are a moving, functioning, healthy animal why give yourself every advantage in your training?

I believe there is inherent value to be found in less than optimal training conditions.  I remember overhearing a conversation about cycling with an old coach and teacher of mine, Tim Henriques.  A student was complaining about having to use a mountain bike for their cycling “cardio” work.  Tim’s swift response was “So it’s harder.  Isn’t that the point?”.  Part of the everything and anything preparedness that training systems like CrossFit profess is awkward and unusual movements and implements.  If you follow the trend of training aids to the extreme end of the spectrum, you might eventually see a post-apocalyptic scenario where folks are strapping up for KB swings. The vision keeps me up at night.

With a sport that appears to be taking over the world like Starbucks (which I don’t hate because at any given time my body is 40% redeye), people want to look and feel like the real deal.  But how much is too much?  Are we just consumers wearing colored tape, spandex, and the latest shoes because that’s what the “ELITE” are sporting?  How about the numerous other implements guaranteed to improve grip strength, prevent tearing, or support?  Does this stuff actually work or are we simply consuming because we want to belong or could it be a combination of the two?  I believe there are two reasons to be skeptical when discerning the appropriateness of a given tool for the sport of fitness: cost and application.


The cost of fashion – everyone wants to look the part.  I love the phrase “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”.  Listen, if I could afford to dress like a crew member of Apollo 13, I would.  Instead I have to fall back on my second and more practical fake career, female Indiana Jones.  Corporations are not missing the opportunity to capitalize on our desire to be like the best.  It’s interesting to watch the evolution of small-to-big businesses like Lululemon, Rogue, Innov8, and countless others.  Now that exercising has become a sport we have any number of athletic brands to indulge in with the hopes that dressing like a competitor will somehow translate to better performance…and maybe there is some psychological merit to that.

As with any supply-demand scenario, you can expect to pay a corresponding premium to dress like the Fittest on Earth.  Reebok women’s shorts were $60 at The CrossFit Games and you know what?  There was a line of chicks clamoring with cash in hand more than willing to embrace the mark-up.  How did I know they were $60?  Because I’m a living breathing organism with two X chromosomes – it’s in my blood to shop.  What makes those fashion frenzied women different from the guy in the Invictus promo video working out in pajama pants?  Is he immune to the buy-in side of cultural belonging or is it only a matter of time before he’s paying $100 for long johns that guarantee optimal recovery?


Now, before anyone gets their kinesio tape in a bunch, there are other items that are finding a place in nearly every lifter’s gym bag- wrist wraps, knee sleeves, and belts- whose benefits are impossible to refute.  If you’ve ever trained with one or all of the above you have certainly experienced the support that each provide.  What’s amazing is that there are a lot of novice lifters jumping in head first with this gear and not really understanding it’s intended use.  Assuming you are injury free, you should not be doing the majority of your lifting with things that are arguably crutches.  I have personally seen some of the most absurd use of belts- not only used in all warm up sets but also donned for workouts with wall balls.  I mean, honestly.  Wall balls?  If you find you need trunk support for a 20# press, I think we’ve found the hole in your training.  Similarly, the use of wrist wraps and knee sleeves have become commonplace for even the healthiest of lifters.  If you use them in virtually all of your training, are you really giving yourself the opportunity to address your weaknesses?  Injured folks aside, inappropriate implementation of these items is largely due to the mindset that a training day is equivalent to a testing day, but that’s a whole separate blog post on it’s own.

There is a lot of amazing equipment out there that serve a purpose and have incredible physical benefits but make sure that the benefits extend beyond just the aesthetic of looking strong.  As a person who makes part of their living on selling apparel, I wholly subscribe to the idea of belonging to something and identifying with an entity that you feel best exemplifies your ethos.  However, no amount of neon, spandex, or even chalk for that matter, can turn a “show” athlete into a “go” athlete.  That is unless your answer to the question “What Are You Training For?” is “fashion”.  Shop wisely and purchase training aids that will get you closer to your goals without masking your weaknesses.  Oh and if you are going shop– shop here.

Agree?  Disagree?  What are your training aid essentials and how do you determine what is correct use and what is abuse?

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Steven Platek on February 18, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    great post cali!

  2. Ingo B on February 19, 2014 at 6:48 am

    I’m a little surprised you don’t have weightlifting shoes.

    • CALI on February 19, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Why is that? Maybe it’s just coincidental, but Luke doesn’t either. Both of us move pretty well and for me personally, shoes have never been a make or break factor.

  3. Dobbs on February 19, 2014 at 9:53 am

    great article Cali. xo

  4. Adam C on February 19, 2014 at 10:24 am

    Since dawning my “Iron Sharpens Iron” tee not only do I PR on the daily, I get more ass than an Astronaut. Truth.

    • CALI on February 19, 2014 at 10:46 am

      That amount of ass is … out of this world.

  5. Nate on February 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Why lie? We all know they don’t make lifting shoes in hoove.

    • CALI on February 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

      ever heard of a blacksmith?

  6. ccmastin on February 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    love your stance on this Cali, good read.

    • CALI on February 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

      Thanks! It’s definitely an opinion based article but as in most cases, my opinion is always right.

  7. Kainoa on February 20, 2014 at 2:31 am

    What footwear do you (or Luke for that matter) use when lifting? Barefoot? I find it tough to create torque without some sort of grippy footwear.

    • Luke Summers on February 20, 2014 at 8:13 am

      I train primarily in vans. I’ve tried nanos, inov8s, running shoes, pumas, and chucks and none of them are conducive to the training that we do. The problem with the nanos, inov8s and other minimalist running shoes is that the sole, toebox, and toebox outseam are NOT conducive for any sort of change of direction sprinting. The whole sole “rolls” or “twists” so the sole of the shoe is on top of your FOOT!

      Chucks and Pumas are MUCH better, but i find after about 3 or 4 weeks they can develop a slight “heel groove” from squatting in them with heavy weight… which makes me think they are just a bit too malleable for an “all around” shoe.

      The classic canvas vans, low top works best for me, and most of our crew wear them too. If you have a wider foot, or a prominent outer little toe mound (a rounded protrusion on the outside of your foot where your worthless pinky toe connects to your foot), you will wear a hole in the out step after 60-90 days of heavy training AND wearing the shoe as a “daily driver.” Once that little hole starts to appear, it’s game over as a training shoe, and they get thrown into the hipster collection

      I’m trying the chukka low top for the first time right now, because there is a seam right along the typical “tear” point. I’m curious to see if they last a bit longer. I’ll keep you posted on that.

      IF I wear lifting shoes, I wear the Do-win Zhu Zais. They tote a larger, more rigid toe pocket and wooden heel. I really like them, but I don’t like that I like them. You picking up what I’m putting down?

      I haven’t been training at the same time as Cali lately, but if I recall, she wears these:

      • CALI on February 20, 2014 at 11:20 am

        Do-Wins for squat 1-3rms and heavy jerks. — They are a pair that the gym somehow acquired. And yes, they are a little big on me. Otherwise, I alternate my shoes almost everyday. I like squatting in chucks or vans but don’t do it exclusively. I also think that changing out shoes for running, bounding, double unders, and dynamic movement is a great idea. I’ve managed to avoid issues with plantar fasciitis and I’d like to think it’s related doing these movements using various levels of support and cushion.

        Luke- speaking of horses…you sure know how to beat a dead one. God, look how long my hair is in that photo…jealous?

  8. Sunny on February 20, 2014 at 9:53 am

    ahahaha! Love this. I am trying to get into old-foggies track and field was just thinking about all the chalk and tape I used as a pole vaulter. Maybe vaulting with a weight belt is what I really needed.

    • CALI on February 20, 2014 at 11:11 am

      Better yet- just use a trampoline.

  9. Ingo B on February 20, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    In response to your response to my response:

    don’t you chicks normally find the flimsiest of excuses to add to your shoe collection? You’re not fitting into my narrow-minded stereotype. This is becoming inconvenient.

    No, but seriously, I could have sworn you mentioned competing in powerlifting, so I just assumed you used lifting shoes.

    • CALI on February 21, 2014 at 10:35 am

      I have a lot of shoes. The stereotype is absolutely true- and as we know, stereotypes are based on reality. But, they are almost all sneakers.

      I have only competed in chucks, as do most of my powerlifting cohorts.

  10. Taylor on February 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Love my chucks, wear them for everything. I don’t even touch my lifting shoes anymore.

  11. Drew on February 20, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    I still don’t own a belt, despite knowing it does help. But I’m not competing in power lifting so why do I need an advantage. I struggle with footwear on the daily though. My all around kicks are my innov8s but I have a pair of pendlay dowins for squats and such. Lately I have been questioning the true “need” for them. I wonder if the elevated heel and over reliance on the squat shoe would negatively impact power transfer on the pitch (or not and I’m an idiot). Since my innov8s are wearing out exactly where Luke describes above, I’m trying to get to the one stop shop footwear so I don’t have to bring a thousand things to the gym. But those new Reebok shoes mark bell put out look pretty interesting if I keep a two shoe rotation.

  12. Dennis Dolan on February 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    I used to wear skate shoes for the low heel to toe ratio and the bombproof outer, but since my cert 2 years ago I am a vans convert. Pretty much all the time.
    I use the era because it has a padded collar w a little more heel hold than the authentic. The old school have the durable suede toe. Luke, let me know how the 106/chukka lows do. I love the padded tongue in those.

  13. Tommy on February 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    In CrossFit the more ridiculous your outfit, the higher your street cred.

    • CALI on February 21, 2014 at 10:40 am

      I hope so. I’m building a small collection of zubaz because when shit goes down, I want everyone to know I’m a very serious exerciser.

  14. Ricardo on February 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I have the reebok crossfit shoes because I have really wide feet, and its the first shoe that I’ve worn in a while that doesn’t hurt my knee or my ankles after long periods of standing or walking. They’re also pretty good to train in too.

    In my weight lifting class, there is some tiny dude who wears a bodybuilding belt all the time for any exercise. Today he was squating when I noticed that the wider part of his belt around his hip. I felt like correcting the guy but I’ve never warn a belt so who am I to talk.

    • CALI on February 21, 2014 at 10:31 am

      The Nanos aren’t too shabby provided you’re not doing any change of direction. Because of their wider foot pocket, we find most athletes are really inefficient in shuttle runs or other lateral work. Besides, they aren’t cheap and it’s a quick way to blow out the side.

      I love it. I have also seen belts worn off to the side but what are you going to do? I just tell people that if they gear up improperly or prematurely…the terrorists win.

  15. Brian on February 21, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Excellent post! Nicely done. Regarding shoes, has anyone else tried the Adidas Samba? I’ve worn them for the past 18 months of CFFB training and love them.

  16. Clint on February 21, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Cali/Luke, in the podcast, you talked about knee wraps. I wear the knee sleeves (neoprene leg warmers) to keep my knees warm – I don’t really see any support in them actually, just helps with some of the cobwebs and strains that often exist in my old legs (usually only felt on the decent too). I don’t wear them for support nor do I wear those compression wraps.
    In the podcast, when y’all talked about knee wraps, were you also including the sleeves in that discussion ? When I think of wraps I’m thinking of those compressive straps that people wind themselves up in.
    I don’t understand why some of the 20 years olds always wear the sleeves (also to wall ball with lifting shoes and belt?????), but as someone just shy of 40, these do help me warm up are the only reason I wear them – and only during heavy squats. I think they make me look like a d-bag anyway.
    The main thing I do worry about was the comment that I think John made about pressure on the knee cap. Is there concern over prolonged use of leg warmers too? I see some specific advantage/use in comfort for me in using the sleeves, but if there’s something I should be concerned about, I’ll ditch them and just suck it up – maybe look into a better warm up (or just use some bengay).
    Historically, I had also worn similar sleeves on thigh/hamstring for whenever I pulled/tweaked those too (in sports, often in conjunction with something like bengay).

    Regarding shoes. I wear do-wins primarily for full clean/snatch and heavy squats (FS, BS, OHS). I like the stable base and it also helps take out some of the cobwebs and strains that will exist and any point in time on my legs. Almost everything else, especially “wods”, I wear my normal “minimal” shoes. Including deadlift and power cleans. I really don’t understand why people, especially someone in their 20’s, would wear lifting shoes to do wall balls, air squats, lunges, 135# FS, 95# OHS, rowing or anything that isn’t “max strength” related.

  17. Matt S on February 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Sometimes my head gets cold in the gym so I wear a hat. I’m a little bit concerned that the slight compression on my head might be damaging my brain and causing me to post more and more on the internet. What do you think? I could possibly grow my hair longer to try and keep my head warm. Could grow a beard too? All input appreciated.

  18. Clint on February 24, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Matt S, looks like your concerns are valid. Perhaps turn your hat inside out so it compresses outwards,

  19. Matt S on February 24, 2014 at 9:44 pm


    YOU ARE A GENIUS! You’ve not only answered my question but your own as well. Thank goodness for the internet and neoprene leg warmers.

  20. Marat on February 25, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Good article, and the comments are even better. I’m a workout shoe whore. Everyone around me knows it. Oh well. I also lift more than all of them. So that begs to question: is it the shoes?!?

  21. freddy camacho on February 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    I crushed my 15# curl sets that day. Just sayin’….

  22. Clint on February 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    Matt S, Being a dick in real life also shows clear and true on the Internet too. I think my question is still valid and so are asking it. Either contribute or GFY.
    Here is an article advising us that the gear is unnecessary and references knee sleeves too. There was a podcast giving information that knee wraps can and do compress the knee cap. So, I am asking for clarification on whether or not the knee sleeves are included as being problematic. Often these two pieces of gear gets lumped into the same category.

  23. Matt S on February 26, 2014 at 12:32 am


    Here is my contribution:

    You were SO CLOSE but you’ve missed the point of what is a very good article. As a result you have asked the wrong question. The question that you should be asking is “do I really need these badass neoprene leg warmers or are they a training crutch” and not “y’all talked about knee wraps, I have knees…. blah, blah, blah”.

    Now i’m off to GFM and RTFM again…. in case I missed the point the first time.

  24. Brian on February 26, 2014 at 5:06 am


    I believe the article only discourages the use of knee sleeves for the general population athlete who is injury-free. If you are approaching 40, suffer from “cobwebs and strains,” and the use of knee sleeves allow you to train without pain or risk of injury then you were not the target audience for these suggestions.

  25. Clint on February 26, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    This article prompted someone else to ask, on the podcast, about the use of knee wraps for when their knees get wobbly. Without going into too many details, the net result was that John said the pressure on the knee cap can cause damage.
    I simply want to know if this damaging pressure from knee wraps is also considered damaging by the pressure that exists in knee sleeves – albeit it lower.

    I can see this article is about discouraging the use of pieces of clothing as crutches. I am 50:50 on the knee sleeves anyway. However, if sleeves are also considered problematic based on the pressure that can be exerted on the knee cap, I’d like to know – because there’s where the risk exists.
    Maybe I’ll just go and play in the street instead.

  26. will on February 28, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Thanks for the article. At 46, I have experienced 32 years observing the ‘gym kit’ and ‘fitness fashion’ over the years. However, the hard-working and hard-training construction workers at my Long Island gym in early 80’s were classic minimalists; drop the flannel or sweat-shift, lift in your day’s work clothes; jeans, boots and tank-top t-shirt; no knee wraps, belt only for near max squats/deads. Agree with the minimalist approach, keep up the entertaining writing.

    • CALI on February 28, 2014 at 9:50 am

      This sounds amazing. There are a few gyms like that still out there. Upon driving across country I came across a few gems like the one you describe but they are certainly unicorns in a sea of… other things that aren’t unicorns.

  27. will on February 28, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Cali- the gym did not survive after mid-90’s, owners were great coaches & mentors but did not attract large enough population from business stand-point. What they had were a bunch of hard trainers (and often depending on ‘credit’ for the gym fees) and great for a teenage athlete to learn about squats, deads, bench. One summer night when I returned from college, there were 6 Div I football players training there at same time, coupled with a half-dozen ‘construction’ lifters and a few competitive power-lifters, the planned 1.5 hr would turn into 3 hour ‘sessions’- similar in spirit to the crossfit culture I have experienced.

  28. WORKOUT-03/05/14 | CrossFit TakeOver on March 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm


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