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.
I 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?
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.
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