WHAT IS A CRUTCH?
I use the word “crutch” to define any object that does one of the following:
•Gives support to a body part during training or movements.
•Provides a false sense of security during training or movements.
•Or simply allows you to delude yourself into thinking you have achieved something that you really haven’t.
You see it all the time in the gym.
People walking into the gym with enough gadgets and gizmos to make Batman jealous.
Scientifically engineered shoes for arch support? Check.
Wrist and ankle braces for extra stability during movements? Check.
Weightlifting belt to support abdominal region during squats and deadlifts? Check.
The only thing you need now is a lasso of truth to ask yourself if you really need all these crutches, and if you have earned yourself a place in the Justice League.
It sounds funny, but this is exactly what some people look like when going to move or train. Why? Well let’s take a look.
STORY TIME: The Ugly Crutchling
Take a weightlifting belt for example. These are used to increase stabilization of the abdominal and back region during lifts like squats and deadlifts. A friend once told me a story about how him and a training partner would go to the gym for a year. My friend and his training partner would both squat. My friend of course, squatted less weight but did it with no belt, unlike the training partner. The training partner used a belt for every set of his squats.
Well one day, during a routine warm up to the working weight, the training partner’s belt came undone. What happened? He was pinned under his warm up weight and unable to get out until my friend and another gym member saved him!
It’s a crazy story, yet this is exactly how crutches are similar to legal contracts with very fine print. They will make you (feel) strong. But only while the crutch is engaged.
WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO USE ONE?
So why would anyone use such a thing? There are a few reasons:
Previous injury. Use it or lose it.
This is a big reason for the sale of braces, wraps, belts, and all sorts of various crutches, yet not a good one. If you are injured? Applying a crutch is like applying a band-aid to a severed limb. You are still losing blood with a bandaid over a limb and still losing strength with a crutch.
Have you heard the phrase “Use it or lose it”?
Losing it is exactly what happens when you teach your body to always expect to be braced by the crutch. Instead of developing your own defenses and resilience to injury, your body downregulates that, expecting the crutch to save you. It was seen in a study that manual workers wearing a belt had a higher instance of injury after discontinuing use of the belt. It makes sense, right?
A sense of security.
You see this one more often with belts. When going for a large max during something like an olympic lift such as a snatch or clean, lifters will wear belts to be safe during the lift. Personally, I am a big believer in the thought that if you cannot get the weight up without a crutch, do you really have any business touching it? Perhaps this would be “ok” if you are training for a sport, but that is a very big perhaps. Being a generalist, I know I won’t be wearing a belt during everyday life, so I had better be used to operating without one.
BE SUPERMAN INSTEAD OF BATMAN. DON’T USE CRUTCHES
What should we do instead? I believe we should strive to be more like Superman whose strength comes from his own abilities rather than gadgets.
If you use a crutch for a previous injury, you aren’t fully rehabbed and would most likely be able to utilize your time better by finishing said rehab. I don’t just mean your therapist clears you to return to activity. I mean you make that injured body part stronger and better than it was before. Rehab should be a second full time job for you. You injured your ankle and need a brace? No. You injured your ankle and need to strengthen it in all directions including eversion and inversion. Researching how to improve its condition should be a part of your rehab as well. It is your job to make sure it is much harder to injure yourself again.
What about if you use the crutches for security? Personally, as a generalist, I don’t, and I don’t think others should. Instead I will increase reps, strengthen weak links in my bodies chain, and prepare it to go further WITHOUT a crutch. The need of a belt lets me know I have yet another weak link to strengthen and reinforce before I can move forward in my goals.
Say perhaps, that the lower back gives out during squats. I may use snatch grip deadlifts, good mornings, and isometric squats to strengthen the lower back so that it continues to improve and doesn’t require a crutch.
Give it a try. Drop your crutches and see what your body can do.
An evaluation of a weightlifting belt and back injury prevention training class for airline baggage handlers.
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