Wondering what sort of weight lifting gear and clothes you need for peak performance? Here's a complete list for all levels of strength training.
Big thanks to A7 International for sponsoring this article! If you're in the market for functional fitness clothing, internationally recognized competition gear, and more. Browse A7's latest collection of top notch gear at A7.co.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle starts with getting good sleep and eating well. When it comes to physical hardship, technology has removed the daily stressors that our ancestors were forced to endure for generations.
Today, it takes voluntary action get off the couch and play basketball, pump iron or run that 5k race. For those serious about their long term wellbeing, staying active is non-negotiable.
Over the years, the internet has become a complicated place where the average Joe is now inundated with competing fads when it comes to both eating and exercise.
Whether you are young and single with nothing but time on your hands or a seasoned professional with a growing family, weightlifting is still the most efficient and effective way to get in better shape and increase your quality of life.
Strength training is different than exercise because it requires tools such as a barbell along with a individualized program designed to help an individual reach a specific long-term goal.
Exercise is done for its own sake and merely satisfies the personal need of today. Strength is the basis for a human’s ability to perform tasks.
While getting strong will help you in all fitness activities such as running and cycling, its most powerful benefit is enabling you to do the regular things in life like picking up your kids, lifting a lawnmower into the truck or hoisting your luggage into the overhead bin.
This functional strength will only become more important as we age, which is why everyone should incorporate strength training into their fitness routine.
Do you need special lifting gear and clothing?
Don’t let the title of this article mislead you: not everything on this list is “essential” for lifting weights.
In fact, there’s no need to go out and spend a ton of money on name brand goods just to look the part, especially if you’re a beginner in the world of strength training.
Shoes with a flat sole, such as Chuck Taylors will get the job done just fine. Flat shoes with a harder heel keep you more balanced while performing various lifts, especially as the weight goes up and gets heavier. Leave your squishy running shoes at home!
A good old cotton t-shirt with a basic pair of shorts that are above your knee will work.
But after you’ve been lifting for a few months, it might be time for some upgrades.
Clothing for Serious Strength Training
If strength training becomes a lifestyle and permanent habit, you are going to stall out on the heavy weights at some point.
This is when it makes sense to invest in some higher quality, more targeted strength training gear, just like you'd invest in your work attire as you advance your career.
Tops with Grip
Because of the muscular nature of weight lifters, many companies make shirts out of stretch material to accommodate more body types.
The issue is those shirts are mostly polyester and very slick – the exact opposite of what you need when training with a barbell.
For the bench press, good form requires shoulders that are retracted and buried into the bench. A shirt with rough texture will help you use more leg drive to get that perfect back arch.
Personally, I love the Bar Grip Shirt by A7 International. The shirt literally locks the barbell into place on your back regardless of any sloppiness that may exist in your form. This is the end all be all of weightlifting shirts.
Bar Grip is a patent pending technology. It was the first product designed by the owner and inspired by an injury he received when a barbell rolled off his back.
The shirt is a cotton lycra blend but the upper back is covered with a tacky screen printed material composed of 12 different membranes.
Even after several washings, the bar grip compound hasn’t come off or lost any of its stickiness.
As a beginner, hopefully you’ve chosen shorts with a shorter inseam (think running shorts). Depending on your height and preferences, a 5 to 7 inch inseam is best.
While short fit isn’t a big deal on lifts like the standing press or bench press, they make all the world of difference on the squat.
Most shorts get tight at the bottom of the squat and cause us to come back up too quickly. I use the Center Stretch Squat Short by A7 which has stretch material in the crotch to allow for more depth.
These shorts are made from quick dry fabric, and they come with built in key clips and nice large side pockets.
Joggers for Lifting
If you’re from a place with colder temperatures, shorts might not be your thing year round, especially if you’ve ever had to jump in a freezing car to get to the gym.
Joggers are like the Swiss Army knives of fitness. They’re good for just about every exercise in or out of the gym, plus that trip to Whole Foods on the weekend.
Joggers tend to almost always be too long for shorter guys like me, but the Defy Joggers by A7 are just the right length. I also find the tapered legs to be modern enough without feeling like I have yoga pants on.
Compression Shorts & Pants
Compression clothing has been around for decades but has recently gained popularity among men outside of cycling. Such items like compression shorts and pants provide added support and protection against strains.
The OX Compression Line by A7 was designed with barbell lifting in mind, but I find them equally well suited for outdoor jogs and any activity where I want to feel light and fast.
The cell phone pocket and key clip are great add ons too!
With any barbell based strength training movement, it’s crucial to maintain a balanced center of gravity, particularly over the mid-foot as weight gets heavier.
Soft, squishy running shoes will buckle and throw you off balance, potentially causing injury.
Lifting shoes, on the other hand, have flat and hard bottoms that leave nothing to chance. They also have an elevated heel that allows you to go deeper on your squats.
I currently use the ADIDAS Powerlift 3.1, which is one of the best shoes on the market for the price. However, their new version (Powerlift 4) includes several updates, including a canvas outer construction, heel loop and higher quality sole.
I can’t stress this enough: once you get serious about weightlifting, invest in lifting shoes.
Gear for Serious Weightlifting
As the weight goes up on the bar, correct lifting form will become more important than ever to avoid injury.
Keeping joints such as your wrists straight will mean the difference between hitting new PRs or spending money at the doctor’s office.
Here’s the gear that will help keep you safe and injury-free as you get stronger.
After lifting shoes, a weight lifting belt is by far the second most important investment a barbell athlete should purchase to help strengthen their back on both the squat and deadlift.
A belt also provides stability during the overhead press.
Historically, lifting belts were seen as a crutch, but they actually help the user tighten their core which strengthens their back and abs.
If used properly, weightlifting belts protect against injury while strengthening your core and back.
I own a few belts, but you only need one. There are several good brands out there, but A7 has partnered with General Leather Craft to produce the 4 inch 13mm Pioneer Cut.
Given the thickness, it will take time to break in. The offset holes allow for 1/2″ adjustments, which is something no other belt company in the industry offers.
Wrist Wraps come in handy on both the press and bench press. Some lifters like to use them on the low-bar squat as well.
Many novices are not taught proper grip, so it’s important to first grab the bar in a way that places the weight on your palm, not the fingers.
Turning your hands about 45 degrees or making a diamond with your thumbs and index finger is a good way to remember this. From here, wraps will help keep your wrists straight and in a neutral position.
Wrist wraps come in various lengths and firmness. Their purpose isn’t to increase comfort, so pick a pair that is going to get the job done.
I own two sets by A7, the 77cm in Flex and 99cm in Stiff. I leave them off during warm ups, but when it's time for working sets, the added support gives me more confidence that my wrists are protected.
The A7 ONE wraps offer lots of versatility with a three loop system (right, left, universal).
Knee Sleeves are one of the essentials for those who squat heavy, and you’ll see them on everyone from novice competitors all the way up to professional powerlifters.
Sleeves keep your knees warm and offer support during your squat. Look to them for protection, not as an aid, and make sure they aren’t so tight to the point where they cut off circulation.
One thing that separates A7 knee sleeves from other options is their length. This is great because sleeves that barely cover the knee tend to move throughout the work set.
I like to pair these with A7 Ankle Socks, which are the perfect height to not interfere with my knee sleeves.
Good form on the deadlift is going to require you to drag that bar along your shins to maintain a nice vertical bar path. Not only will you endure some bruises; you may even break skin and bleed a bit without protection.
I have the A7 Deadlift Socks. They stay up close to my knees and allow the barbell to slide up with ease. This is definitely one of most affordable weightlifting gear investments you can make, and I guarantee it will pay off time and time again during your strength training journey.
When I first started lifting, I thought chalk was for optics because you never see it at most of the gyms around the country.
Once my deadlift started to stall because the bar was rolling out of my hands due to sweat, I decided to give it a try.
Total game changer.
If your gym doesn’t allow chalk then you need to find a new gym. It keeps your hands dry and protects them from tears and blisters.
A newer invention is liquid chalk which is basically chalk in a bottle with alcohol that evaporates when you squeeze it out.
While liquid chalk isn’t quite as effective, it’s far more discreet, easy to transport and quite clean too.
These are items that you should only buy if you plan to compete. Always look for brands with products that are approved by the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA) and International Powerlifting Association (IPF).
If a strength or powerlifting competition is in your future, a singlet is required. While it is rarely a flattering piece, understand that it is a minimalist approach to ensure the barbell isn't getting caught on your waistband, drawstring or anything else during a lift.
I will be competing in 2020, so I picked up the A7 singlet (slate version in Size M). It fit perfectly, which meant I couldn't actually put it on (over my shoulders) myself.
There are grippers on the ends of the legs which held everything in place. A singlet leaves a bit of the back and shoulders exposed, so I recommend wearing a good lifting shirt underneath.
You can also grab A7's meet shirt that's designed to match their singlet perfectly.
Regular lifting shoes have an elevated heel and make you taller. This actually increases the range of motion of the entire lift.
The A7 Soul Go Deadlift Slippers give you good grip on the floor, and the 3mm outsole is the second best thing to being barefoot during the deadlift.
In competition, you can’t go barefoot anyways, so slippers are the de facto option for competitors.
At the end of the day, strength training and lifting weights isn’t about being fashionable or following fads. It’s a physically and psychologically refining process that requires humility and lifelong learning.
Whether you want to train in your at-home gym, join a Crossfit club or prep for that upcoming powerlifting meet, it’s all about the consistency.
Treat weightlifting like a job, but one you don’t have to do everyday. Stress, recovery, adaptation.
Start small. Buy items as your budget allows, but don’t feel pressured to show up to the gym on day one donning all the apparel of the professional athletes.
The best weightlifting clothes and gear will never be able to replace a strong positive attitude, patience and a willingness to learn and perform the main barbell lifts properly.
About A7 International
A7 International is a family owned business that was started in December 2014 with their first products rolled out the following year.
The company name stands for “Approaching 7” which is seen as the complete number, with a concept of always bettering oneself and striving toward perfection.
A7 is known for their patented Bar Grip Shirt which was designed inspired after the owner injured himself once when a barbell rolled off his back.
The company seeks to solve problems in the industry while being an integral a part of the community.
That's why we endorse A7 International – not to mention the fact that we love their products!
To learn more about the owners, Jasen and Tatyana, and their mission, check out the interview on Barbell Logic Podcast #259.
You can shop A7’s entire collection by clicking here.