Clothing and Footwear
Most gyms have dress codes, and while some are extreme (such as no hats, or no two-piece clothing), most certainly require a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Few gyms allow guys to go topless – it’s pretty disgusting having to wipe a large pool of sweat off a bench or machine before you use it.
Besides, no one really wants to see your naked upper body, beautiful though it may be. At times the gym temperature will be cool enough to wear a sweatshirt and track pants. Warmer clothing helps keep the muscles warm, soaks up more sweat and keeps the other competitors from knowing what shape you’re in! During the summer months, or if your gym is already warm, throw on a tank top and pair of shorts.
Even in the best air-conditioned gyms, you’ll be sweating. Nothing is as irritating as sweat running into your eyes while you’re trying to work out. The best solution is to wear ahead band, do-rag, or bandana. You can spend $10 to $20 for a store-bought one, or go to a fabric store and buy enough material to make five or ten. Always check with your gym first to make sure they allow headbands. Most do, but a few of the larger fitness chains have a rule against them.
One of the first things those not used to manual labor or weightlifting will notice after a few workouts is blisters. After a short time the blisters will turn into dead skin that will start building up in layers, leading to the formation of calluses. Calluses, while not the nicest thing to look at, are a preventative tool given to you by your body. The skin is the body’s first line of defense against invading germs, and therefore the body makes darn sure that any damage to the skin is quickly repaired.
Calluses prevent the skin from breaking in frequently chafed areas. If you have sensitive skin, need soft hands for your profession or just hate the look of calluses, for $15 to $20 you can buy a pair of gloves that protect your hands from chafing and callusing. Some have the fingers cut out to allow a better grip. Some bodybuilders use golf gloves instead. While thinner and not providing the same degree of protection as weightlifting gloves, they are a decent alternative.
If gloves are not your style, then try holding a piece of sponge or rubber between your hands and the barbell. Just remember that once you start wearing gloves, you’re committed to them. My advice is to tough out the first few weeks and let the skin on your hands thicken. Not only will you have a better grip on the bar, you’ll also be prepared for any odd job around the house that requires rough hands.
It won’t take many workouts before you’ll notice some bodybuilders wrapped up like Egyptian mummies! For some bodybuilders, it’s preventative medicine, while for others it’s to protect an injured joint. As you progress in your workouts, you may experience the occasional joint problem. In most cases you can train around the irritation, but you may need to go the wrap route on occasion.
Wraps are thin (two to three inches wide) pieces of cloth that are wrapped around the injured area to provide extra support and to keep the area warm. Most drugstores sell them for a few dollars. Unfortunately, some bodybuilders abuse the procedure. Instead of wrapping only the injured or weak area, they wrap just about every joint.
This not only restricts their range of movement (one of the negative aspects of wearing wraps), but also causes the joints to become dependent on the wraps. As you progressively increase the weights you use, your ligaments and tendons increase in strength alongside your muscles.
If you wear wraps too much, your ligaments will not feel the need to strengthen. Unless you have a serious injury, you shouldn’t need to wear wraps this early in your training career. As your intensity increases, wrapping a joint may become necessary on heavy compound exercises such as squats and bench presses (the knees and elbows tend to be the most frequent joints that require wrapping), but do use wraps judiciously.
The weightlifting belt is another piece of equipment that has come to symbolize power and strength. Just think how many times you have seen some cartoon character wrap a belt around his waist, and then hoist a car or some other inhuman object. This symbolism has led to many a bodybuilder strapping on a belt before leaving the locker room and not taking it off until the end of the workout. In the “old” days, belts were used only on squats, deadlifts, rows and overhead presses. These days bodybuilders think they have to have one on constantly to be more powerful.
The purpose of a weightlifting belt is to provide additional support to the lower back when performing exercises that place extra stress on this region. The muscles and ligaments of the lower spine were not designed to endure the excessive stress from squats, deadlifts and rows.These movements place a tremendous amount of strain on the lower back, spinal erector muscles, ligaments and vertebrae.
The spine is also held upright by another force: intra-abdominal pressure, located below the diaphragm, and intrathoracic pressure (ITP), located above the diaphragm. Both pressures are created by forceful contraction of the abdominals against the body’s internal organs. Some physiologists estimate that these pressures can increase by a factor of 10 when lifting without a belt. A sturdy belt gives the abdominals something to push against. As you might guess, wearing a belt continuously throughout every workout will keep your core muscles weak. It’s best to wear a belt only on squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, row sand shrugs.
Robert Kennedy: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, The Complete A-Z Book On Muscle Building. 2008
Nick Evans: Bodybuilding Anatomy. 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, 2013