Everyone at the box is sporting some CrossFit accessories…....we’ve got straps, knee sleeves, compression socks, gymnastics grips, gloves, weightlifting belts, weightlifting shoes and the list goes on. Have you ever asked yourself why you are wearing them, or did you just buy it because everyone else was? Are you overusing your accessories, misusing them or maybe addicted or dependent on them?

I am certainly no expert on accessories, but I do have some questions about them! Along with some research I thought it would be a good idea to also get the opinion of a Physiotherapist: one who also understands and does CrossFit themselves, so I asked one of our members, Lory De Cillia to give her opinion. Allot of the information that we get about accessories are from the companies who make the products and obviously have an ulterior motive for us buying them.

Wrist Straps/Wraps

If your wrist hurts during overhead squats is it because you need wrist straps or because you have poor mobility in your wrist and shoulder?

Research suggests the purpose of a wrist wrap/strap is to provide support to the wrist joint during heavy or max effort lifts. “During these movements the wrist can be pulled into excessive extension under load and result in compromised mechanics, possible injury and failed lifts” (Sun). According to some sources you don’t need wrist straps to move 60% of your 1RM in movements such as push press or during gymnastics movements. If you wear wrist straps all the time it tends to “limit strength development in your wrist flexors and extensors” (Sun).

Lory: “The wrist straps help to give you more stability in your wrist and definitely gives you more support, therefore I support the above statement and believe you should not use them all the time and for every movement. Movements like overhead squats are unusual movements which are not comparable to movements in our daily life. This is a stressful situation for our wrists and therefore you can support your wrists by wearing the straps while moving heavy weight, but not for an overhead squat with an empty barbell”.

People usually wear wrist straps because they can feel pain in their wrists, but the pain could actually be a result from poor mobility particularly in the front rack position. Wrist straps aren’t going to make you more flexible, mobility exercises and pre workout preparation will. There are different types of wraps/straps; do you know the difference and when you should wear which?

Knee Sleeves

If your knees hurt after squatting is it because you have done a strenuous workout or because you have bad form and your knees are caving in? Do you need to wear them when you do air squats?

Research suggests that knee sleeves protect the knee from future injury or risk of damage. It is believed that this type of protection is especially important when you place the knees under continued pressure each day. Providing valuable compression, knee sleeves “increase blood flow and reduce pain” (Chasey). Compression is vitally important as it facilitates blood flow through the knee aiding better recovery. “Your knees are warmer quickly, and with this blood flow it assists to reduce pain and swelling during and after your workout” (WODlife). However, Lory believes this is incorrect, “even if you buy the thickest knee sleeves they don't have the same effect like a compression sock”.

“Knee sleeves also assist the mechanics of your body, with knee sleeves assisting in the support of your patella positioning throughout training. Knee sleeves also ensure your joints and central nervous system are supported throughout your vigorous movement. Joints and muscles need oxygen to recover, which means that blood flow has to be efficient” (WODlife). This is a common statement I have seen on many of the websites selling knee sleeves, however, I can't help but think that our bodies were made with ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscles which support the positioning of the patella, and that with knee sleeves we are just saying it is okay to not be in a 'good position' all the time. 

What I was interested in was; are there any disadvantages to wearing them? A couple of sources have said that if you are new to CF then you should avoid wearing knee sleeves, this way you can become accustomed to the movements without an aid. YOU need to be in control of the positioning of your own joints, not your knee sleeves. There are many cases where the pain comes from poor posture and execution.

Lory: “Often people think because they wear knee sleeves that the position of their knee (patella) is correct because they feel supported but this is not good. You should learn squatting without sleeves, also with heavy weight to see how the knees react. After practicing a lot it is recommended to put on sleeves by doing, for example a 1RM back squat to give your knees additionally support”.

The knee sleeves that people are wearing around the box are made out of neoprene. Knee sleeves come in different sizes, you can get 7mm, 3.5mm and 5mm, different materials, lengths and widths, do you know the difference? If you don’t it may be worth doing some research before you buy a pair.

Weight Belt

If your back is hurting from heavy squats or deadlifts is it because you need a weight lifting belt for support or have you not been keeping your back in the right position?

According to the National Strength and Conditioning association, the best reason to use a weightlifting belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure, or pressure in your abdomen, during heavy or strenuous weight lifting. This pressure creates a rigid core, stabilizing your spine and helping increase your maximum power. This pressure also keeps your spine from collapsing under heavy weight. A weight belt gives your stomach something to push against, increasing your pressure.

Lory: “Pressure on the spine is always good, because if you feel tired, loose the pressure, what happens…? You get injured…..a weight belt really supports your vertebral column and HELPS to avoid the intervertebral disc from slipping out. People take a deep breath while doing heavy movements….. so why do they do this, to create extra pressure in their abdominals which support them to get a tight core, this in addition to the weight belt gives you maximum pressure and support for your spine”.

Is it beneficial to not use a weight belt if you don’t need it? You can create your own intra-abdominal pressure by breathing in, holding your breath, and pushing out your stomach muscles. If you use a weight belt too often or improperly, you discourage the use of your own core and abdominal muscles, muscles that are necessary to build and help protect your spine. “When they are used as a ‘crutch’, they can actually weaken your abdominal muscles” (Livestrong). What do you think?

So, when and why should you use them? From different sources it seems agreed upon that you should only use a weight belt during heavy lifting at or above 80% of your 1RM. As your strength improves, discontinue use of the belt unless you are lifting over 80% of your 1RM, movements to use them in would be squats, cleans (and jerks), or shoulder to overhead.

If you would like some further reading on this have a look at this article by Stuart McGill, a professor in Spine Biomechanics 'On the use weight belts', he made the statement "I do not recommend them (weight belts) for healthy individuals in exercise participation", my interpretation of his findings were that if you have poor form and technique then you will also have poor form and technique while wearing a belt, and if you have good form and technique then you don't need a belt (it would just be a precautionary measure if you become fatigued during the lift and as a consequence had poor form). 

Weightlifting Shoes

Do you need weightlifting shoes for pistol squats and wallballs; or do you need to do some ankle mobility?

Research suggests the reason why weightlifting shoes are used is because they increase hip and ankle flexibility which help you get lower in a squat. The hard flat sole is to allow as much force off the ground as you can; for example when you do squats, snatch, clean and jerk. The elevated heel allows you to get deeper in your squat, for the knees to stay out, and to increase ankle flexibility. People who have tight ankles and hips will see an improvement in their ability to squat. Weightlifting shoes also have a strap which help give the snug fit which means the foot won’t be slipping inside the shoes, and this allows a stable position.

If you can’t comfortably get into a squat position then this is a cry from your hips and ankles to do some mobility work. You can hide some of that immobility with weightlifting shoes, however, the underlying issue will always be there. For example; if you have a WOD which has running and pistols, you shouldn't be asking yourself the question 'can I run in my lifters?'

There are hundreds of weightlifting shoes available, however all of them serve the same purpose, it is just about finding a pair that is comfortable for you, or a colour that you like ;)

So in summary.............

1. Have good mobility

2. Make sure we are doing the correct movement patterns and mechanics

3. Use accessories for max lifts (80% 1RM +) or when form may be compromised due to fatigue. 

Did you get the same impression, or are you still going to wear your knee sleeves for air squats? 

Tianna Monea

Knee sleeve sceptic


Lory De Cillia studied Physiotherapy in Germany and graduated in 2013. She has worked since in the industry and now owns her own practice in Steinsel Luxembourg. She has been doing CrossFit since Jan 2013, attending 3-4 classes a week. Her philosophy; “if I see or feel that I force too much on my spine, wrist or back then I reduce the weight and/or try to break down what the problem may be and change my technique”.

Invictus Blog: 5 Tips for Using Wrist Wraps

Breaking Muscle: The Advantages of Knee Sleeves: What they are and when to wear them.

The WodLife: The Down Low on Knee Sleeves

Livestrong: Advantages and Disadvantages of a weightlifting belt