I remember when I started my career 22 years ago that it puzzled me why so many fitness enthusiasts felt the need to wear wrist wraps and straps and squat belts just to feed the ego. Back then, I knew that it did more harm than good, and with each passing day, I appreciate that fact even more as my understanding of this Human-machine deepens and continues to evolve.
Bracing any structure of the body is deleterious to functional performance. In the absence of a medical necessity, I don’t think there is a single exception to that rule.
The moment that we needlessly brace a joint in our body is the very moment we bankrupt its ability. It becomes anesthetized and deprived of achieving its maximum potential, limiting the functional abilities of all the systems that depend on it. Once braced, the signals from the environment are disordered and confused, just as are the signals that it, in turn, sends back to the brain. Imagine cueing a squat from over a telephone inside of a packed elevator – not only can’t you hear what the other person is saying, but the reception is so spotty that they can only hear a portion of every third word you speak.
Needlessly bracing structures of our body will inevitably disadvantage them as a result. Mechanically, the rich get richer while the poor become languid, destitute, and defective. Many people that are in the habit of wearing a back brace to deadlift or squat feel as though, without it, their back isn’t strong enough to lift the weight otherwise. That’s 100% correct.
The braced joints and the presumed protected structures suffer from needless charity. They’re weakening, becoming ever more incapable. Developing the muscles that are incapable of performing without a brace in a practical, contextual way is superior to bracing them from the outside.
I find it interesting that we’ll use a half-inch thick cowhide to keep our lower back from blowing out because our core isn’t strong enough to support the movement, then add two sets of thirty crunches and a handful on knee raises at the end of our workout to “train” our core. Shitcan the ego and the belt and let the core develop strength and function in the context of the movement. Sure, grip strength sucks and is often the weakest link in a deadlift but wouldn’t you want to work on that instead of pander to it?
When do we draw the line and say that we can’t perform an exercise because we’re not strong enough to do it without using a belt, straps, and suit of armour? Certainly, some competition rules allow for these things, but whatever we feel needs to be braced is functionally insufficient to perform an exercise if not for bracing. Functional training without support increases our abilities when support is justified, and arbitrarily relying on support is encouraging weakness.
Instead of pandering to the weak links in our Human machine, we need to contextualize them. We allow our abilities to erode rep after rep and force the entire body to adapt in unintended ways. Inhibiting a muscle’s performance will alter the entire lexicon of human movement in unforeseen and sometimes unpredictable ways. This causes local and global imbalances that we cannot mediate by including a few forearm curls and cable crunches in our routine.
Allowing our movement systems to adapt in the manner and context they were designed has no equivalent.