Coach’s Corner

On the Effectiveness of Weightlifting Shoes, Belts, and Other Equipment in Training for the Zombie Apocalypse

Jacob Tsypkin

It plagues me.

Quite regularly, when I suggest to someone (often loudly) that they need to get a pair of weightlifting shoes, I’m met with the response “I won’t have weightlifting shoes at work/in the real world/in the field.”  The thought process seems to be that it is “cheating,” that if one uses shoes or a belt or wrist wraps, they’re not training in a manner which will allow them to implement their fitness during the Zombie Apocalypse (if the Zombie Apocalypse is not your main concern, we have MUCH more serious problems to address.)  The purpose of this article is to explain why the use of the proper equipment in training is NOT cheating, and how it can actually improve your capacity “in the field.”

Of utmost importance is understanding Coach Dan John’s words:  “All training is complementary.”  As a weightlifter, everything one does in training is there to improve his best snatch and clean & jerk.  Thus, everything but the contested lifts themselves, everything is a complement to those lifts.  Everything a 400m sprinter does, other than max effort 400m sprints, is done to make his 400m sprint faster.  As a CrossFit athlete, or someone looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, this is a bit trickier, as one never knows what they will encounter.  But since this is the case, one cannot train perfectly for it anyway.  Training should not, in fact, cannot mimic the demands of competition/life/Z-Day. Instead, ones goal should be to train in a manner that has the greatest carryover to their chosen sport; in CrossFit/Zombie Warfare the end product is the broadest range of physical capabilities.  If we can accept this as true, we then have two questions to answer: 1) how is this best accomplished, and 2) how can the use of training equipment help accomplish it?

To answer the first question, all we really need to do is refer to CrossFit’s definition of fitness, and training methodology: lift heavy with basic compound movements, run fast, achieve base competency in novice gymnastics movements, and perform relatively short, high intensity conditioning circuits made up of the aforementioned elements.  In order to ensure the greatest scope of events possible, occasionally mix in more obscure training methods: odd objects, running with additional load, competing in various sporting events (triathlons, weightlifting meets, etc.), having your unsuspecting, non-CrossFitting friends dress up as Zombies and chasing them with a flaming battleaxe.  Simple enough.  Now on to the second question.

If we accept that the vast majority of our training is complementary, then we can focus on improving the quality and effectiveness of that training for its own sake, and thus improving it’s carryover to the Zombie Apocalypse.  Proper equipment helps us do this by allowing us to move in a safer, more stable, and more organized manner.  If weightlifting shoes improve the squat, snatch, and clean & jerk, that’s going to mean an improved ability to explosively extend the hip, whether one is wearing the shoes or not.  Since “powerful, controlled hip extension is necessary and nearly sufficient for elite athleticism” (“Why Squat?,” Greg Glassman, CrossFit Journal December 2002,) we can see how weightlifting shoes would improve ones performance on Z-Day.  If a belt helps an athlete lift more weight in the deadlift, it has allowed the athlete to undergo a greater stressor, which will lead to a greater adaptation, and thus greater capacity.  Incidentally, if one adds 100lbs to their deadlift wearing a belt, rest assured that their unbelted deadlift will also improve.  If wrist wraps allow an athlete to get through “Fran” without wrist pain slowing them down, that athlete has trained more effectively than they would have otherwise.  Additionally, if equipment allows us to move in a safer manner (as is often the case with weightlifting shoes and belts) it is then reducing the risk of injury, and an uninjured athlete is far more capable of annihilating Zombie Hordes.

Is there a line?  Of course.  I will never advocate the use of a squat suit for an athlete preparing for Z-Day.  The trick is balance: use the shoes when squatting, snatching, and cleaning.  Use a belt when deadlifting heavy.  Use only your wits and whatever you are wearing when your friends call you and say “Zombie Apocalypse Training Drill, right now.”

If you have read this and still completely disagree about the usefulness of training equipment, I suggest you keep the following in mind:  a barbell has an infinitely greater effect on your ability to move a load than shoes, a belt, or any other piece of training equipment ever will.  It is an item specifically designed to be lifted.  Therefore, I suggest that you immediately cease using barbells in your training, as well as squat racks, dumbbells, kettlebells, gymnastics rings, pullup bars, running shoes, weight vests, athletic clothing or an indoor facility designed for training.  Essentially, anything that was created specifically for the purpose of improving ones fitness, is useless to you, since you are unlikely to encounter it “In The Field.”  If, however, the idea of all training being complementary makes sense to you, strap on your shoes, squat heavy, run fast, and make sure you keep your battleaxe close at hand.  You never know when they’re coming.

Jacob Tsypkin


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