CrossFitters are known for a lot of things. One thing they are known for is having a lot of gear. But what are the CrossFit essentials when it comes to gear? What do you actually need, and what is just extra? We break it down for you here, item by item.
Here’s how to know what the essential pieces of CrossFit gear are for and when they should be used.
A weightlifting belt essentially functions as a second set of abs to give you extra core stability in your heaviest lifts.
The key phrase there is “SECOND set of abs”. This means that you should not turn the belt into a crutch and use it every time you pick up a barbell.
If you want the strongest core possible, then you will want to save your belt for when you are doing those most challenging sets, say lifting 85% or more of your max, and spend time training your actual core without a belt whenever possible.
I would argue that this makes it less of a CrossFit essential, and more of a CrossFit some of the time/in certain scenarios. A weightlifting belt is not a replacement for a strong core, ever.
Bring the belt to your hips, exhale all of your air, suck in your abs, and then cinch down that belt nice and tight.
You should already feel a good amount of abdominal pressure helping your core stabilize. When you are ready to lift, take a big breath in to give yourself even more support, and then push your abs out into the belt to get as much pressure as possible.
Yes, this is essentially the opposite of what you should do with no belt.
Weightlifting belts come in both leather and fabric. Leather belts are more rigid, and it’s a personal preference as to which one is best for you.
I use the fabric weightlifting belt below by Harbinger. I have a smaller frame, and I like this one because it comes in smaller sizes and I can get it nice and tight, in a way I can’t with other belts.
A leather weightlifting belt like this option from RDX is also a great option. These are typically preferred by men, as they have larger torsos and lift heavier weights. You’ll also see women wearing these, though, and they are popular with powerlifters.
To stabilize the knee joint and help you rebound out of the bottom of your squat.
These are NOT to be used for fixing knee pain! This is the biggest misunderstanding that I see with knee sleeves.
If your knees give you pain in a squat, don’t slap a bandaid on it by using knee sleeves. Find out what is causing it and address the issue.
I would argue that on the list of CrossFit essentials, these are pretty close to the bottom. They’re not a quick fix and are not necessary for 80% of athletes in a CrossFit gym, in my opinion.
These should be used in situations involving a heavy, deep squat (Ex. squat clean, squat snatch, back squat), and are not for everyday wear.
Just like the weightlifting belt, they should be used for when you are performing heavy lifts to give you that little extra edge getting out of the bottom of your squat.
Wearing them is simple – simply pull them up to cover the knee, with the kneecap in the middle of the sleeve. They should fit snugly.
Knee sleeves come in a variety of options. Some will be a softer fabric, listed more as a “compression” sleeve than a lifting sleeve.
I’ve linked three options below that are good options if you are looking to put knee sleeves in place when doing heavy lifting.
To stabilize the wrist and assist it in staying straight.
This will vary a little depending on the type that you buy; however, they will generally have an anchor point, like a thumb hook that you can secure and then used to anchor the starting point of the wrap.
From there, the wrap should be placed at the base of the wrist and wound snugly, but not so tight as to restrict circulation.
Below are 3 different styles of wrist wraps. The Harbinger wrap is a shorter, thicker, wrist wrap. The loop goes around your thumb, and then the wrap velcroes down around your wrist snugly.
The second is a more flexible fabric style of wrap. These are my favorite for wrist stabilization during lifting, as you can easily loosen and tighten them with a quick twist.
For these, you will actually start with the end without the string – hold it on your wrist, and wrap the fabric around and around until you get to the end. You tuck the string under itself when you get to the end, and twist it on your wrist to tighten or loosen.
The third is a blend between a wrist wrap and a gymnastics grip, which we will dive into more below. These are called WODies, and they have an optional palm covering. They’re great if you’re doing a workout that has both lifting that requires a wrist wrap as well as gymnastics movements.
The other benefit of WODies is that you can eliminate the palm covering if you wish – it simply folds down onto your wrist and gets wrapped in when you put the wrist wrap on. Magic!
Gymnastics grips, in my opinion, are at the top of the CrossFit essentials list, regardless of your level of experience or expertise. They protect your palms and allow you to maintain a grip when doing a variety of gymnastics related movements.
When you first start out, you’ll be working on grip strength. This means hanging from the pull up bar, learning an active shoulder, scap pull ups, leg raises, and more.
It takes a toll on your hands, especially if you don’t have calluses built up. While some take pride in their hard-worked, callused hands, this is not for everyone. If you prefer a soft palm, gymnastics grip are a must from the start.
Once you get into more advanced movements like toes to bar and kipping pull ups in high volume numbers, gymnastics grips are necessary to keep you from slipping off the bar, and keep your hands from tearing.
While this will depend on your style of chosen grip, generally you will place your fingers in the appropriate finger holes, pull the fabric or leather across your palm, and secure the wrap around your wrist using the velcro strap.
There are MANY MANY options when it comes to gymnastics grips, and personal preference comes into play a lot. The two most important decisions you’ll need to make are material and number of finger holes.
Material: Gymnastics grips can come in a variety of materials. Many are leather, as this holds up to grip wear and tear better than most things. Keep in mind that you cannot wash leather grips. This means all the sweat and chalk just gets absorbed over time, which can get gross.
Some, like the WODies mentioned above in the wrist wrap category and also linked below, are fabric – they won’t give you quite the same level of protection, but can be easily tossed in the washing machine to get clean.
The best option, in my opinion, is a synthetic – it functions like leather, but can get thrown in the wash with everything else. They come out clean and uncompromised. Victory Grips are my recommendation for a synthetic version. They have various options and a great sizing guide here. I use a 3-hole Victory Grip synthetic.
Finger Holes: The best way to decide on number of finger holes is to look at your hands right after a workout. Which fingers do you have red areas or calluses below? Depending on how you grip things, this will be different for everyone.
Most grips have 2, 3, or 4 hole options. Some will have no holes – they are simply a strip of fabric that you place over your palm before gripping the bar.
The Element brand grips below are an example of this style.
Purpose: For use during metabolic conditioning workouts. Jumping rope is one of four monostructural movements that are used frequently in CrossFit.
Think of monostructural movements as something that is repetitive. We reference running, biking, rowing, and jumprope as our monostructural movements.
Once you’ve been doing it awhile, you’ll hear something called doubleunders referenced frequently. This refers to when the rope passes under your feet twice with a single jump. This is a skill that takes time to develop, and no one rope will magically make you have doubleunders. There are some that will make them easier for you, but ultimately it comes down to practice and coordination.
Directions: When jumping rope, you want to keep your hands close to your sides. Allowing them to “float up” will shorten the rope and cause you to trip.
Keep your shoulders relaxed and down and away from your ears. Turn from the wrist and jump just high enough to allow the rope to pass under your feet.
Options: Similar to gymnastics grips, there’s an entire world of jump ropes out there. A jump rope is one of the true CrossFit essentials, in my opinion. While a lot of gyms have jump ropes available, it’s always best to have your own. It’s a very personalized piece of equipment, based on your height and preferences.
While there are many expensive options out there, you need not spend $100+ on a jump rope to get an effective one. There are some basic requirements you should look for when purchasing a jump rope.
First, make sure it has a ball bearing that allows the rope to turn. This eliminates any curling up or tangling of the rope as it spins, allowing it to move smoothly and quickly.
Second, most speed ropes are made of cable. I recommend getting a covered cable if possible. It’s not uncommon to occasionally “whip” yourself with the rope. Yes, this will hurt every time, but it will hurt less if your cable is covered than if it is not.
I personally use an RxGear rope. The handles + cable are a small investment (<$50) but from there you can replace the cable for $12 each. They have different weights of cable, so as your skills increase, you can get a lighter weight cable and turn the rope faster.
There are many other rope brands and options out there; I’ve included a few of my other recommended options below.
Minimalist Sole (“CrossFit”) Shoes
To provide a general platform for multi-purpose use. These shoes typically have a sole with very little height difference or incline from toe to heel, or what is referred to as the “drop.” A zero drop is a completely flat shoe; any reference to mm drop is the height differential from heel to toe.
Not a CrossFit essential when you start, but once you’ve been at it for a few months, you’ll find yourself looking at other athlete’s shoes during class to see what they’re wearing.
Once you do switch up your shoes, you’ll be glad you did. Promise.
These are designed for use in all general functional training and workouts.
The Inov-8 Bare XF is an example of a thin-soled, zero drop shoe. The ones specifically designed for CrossFit, such as the NoBull, Reebok Nano, or Nike MetCon will also have features specific to CrossFit style workouts, such as roe climb tech in the arch, a stiff supporting heel, and a piece on the heel to help wall sliding during things like handstand push ups.
Olympic Lifting Shoes
To give you a stable platform when performing Olympic lifts such as the clean + jerk or snatch, as well as parts of those, such as front squats, back squats, and overhead squats.
These shoes reduce the amount of dorsi-flexion required in the squat.
Dorsi-flexion is the ability of your ankle to flex your toe closer to your shin. If your heel lifts at the bottom of your squat, these will help you. (So will working on your ankle mobility!)
As mentioned, these are for Olympic lifts, and it should also be noted that they are not for conventional or sumo deadlifts.
When completing things like deadlifts and overhead presses, you want to have as flat of a foot as possible. One of the minimalist shoes listed above is a better fit for these lifts – or even going barefoot!
Olympic lifting shoes are definitely an investment, so be sure to do your research, find a good fit, and take care of them. If you only wear them when lifting, they’ll last you many years.
Train Your Body
I’ll say it again for those of you in the cheap seats: none of these CrossFit essentials are intended to fix pain and injury.
The only true CrossFit essentials are your body and your mind. With the right mindset, determination, and willingness to work hard, you’ll see results.
No piece of gear will make you a better athlete. These items are meant to enhance your abilities, and not to be used as a crutch.
If you’re struggling with a movement, feeling pain, or feeling stuck in your progress and don’t know how to move forward, focus on getting help with your specific issue from a professional, whether that be a doctor, a coach, or someone else.
Train your body, not your gear!