Gym folklore says that wearing a wide leather belt while lifting will support your back, prevent injury, and allow you to lift heavier. And we've all seen the ripped guys strutting around in weight belts at the gym, so they must work, right? Unfortunately science says the exact opposite.
Research done by Stuart McGill, author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, shows that while wearing a belt may temporarily decrease pain and allow for heavier lifts, it can ultimately cause more frequent and more severe injuries. Why? The belts don't teach you how to stabilize your core when you lift and encourage improper form.
Do you need it? No. If you need a weight belt to perform a lift, then you either need to reduce your load or check your form.
Fancy "sports towels" come in all shapes, colors, and sizes, but do they really work better than the ones you buy in a 10-pack from Target? When it comes to mopping up sweat, there's nothing fancy about them. For other sports, especially those that involve a lot of water like swimming, they can be a great tool. But despite drying quickly, they have a slightly different, almost sticky texture that can feel a little strange on your face.
Do you need it? Maybe. They're convenient if you're a swimmer or if you just like packing light, but if you just want something to wipe the sweat off your face or put between you and a weight bench, save your money and stick to cotton.
First there were sports drinks, then came sport-specific drinks, and now we have drinks "specially formulated" for different times in our workouts with pre-, during-, and post-workout beverages filling shelves. But do you really need these? Researcher shows that while eating some protein and carbs after you finish an intense workout can help build muscle and speed recovery, a cold glass of chocolate milk works just as well as the pricier fitness-specific fare. Plus, people tend to overestimate the calories they burned during a sweat session and underestimate how many calories are in one of those fancy bottles, making it easy to erase all the work you just did.
Do you need it? If you are a high-level athlete and/or train for very long periods of time, paying more attention to your workout nutrition makes sense, but it's overkill for most of us.
If there was ever a piece of equipment that screams "fitness junkie" it's the venerable knee strap (that piece of fabric and velcro that people wind tightly around their leg, just under their knee cap). Do they actually work? According to research done by Dr. Michael Lavagnino, it all depends on what you want them to do. People who do a lot of running and jumping are particularly susceptible to patellar tendinopathy, otherwise known as "runner's knee," and it seems the knee straps do help lessen their pain in the short term. Unfortunately the straps do nothing to heal the inflammation and injury causing the pain in the first place nor do they prevent joint injury in healthy people.
Do you need it? As long as you are using it as a short-term pain reliever while you get help for the underlying problem then they are fine, but they're not meant for long-term use.
Gyms can be a hotbed of funky smells, unidentifiable liquids, and icky germs, so it's understandable that you think you need an extra-strength soap for your post-workout shower. While showering is definitely a good idea, it turns out that it doesn't really matter what you use while you're in there. There's no particular ingredient in most "fitness" body washes that you won't find in regular ones—just a higher price tag. Plus, many gym soaps are anti-microbial, and while killing germs sounds like a good idea, overuse of these soaps can lead to even worse infections.
Rob Dunn, of Scientific American, explains, "Most people who use antibiotic soap are no healthier than those who use normal soap. And those individuals who are chronically sick and use antibiotic soap appear to get sicker [than those who use normal soap]."
Do you need it? No, not only do these soaps not get you any cleaner than regular soaps, if you are using the anti-microbial varieties (look for "triclosan" in the ingredients), you could be doing yourself more harm than good.
One of the (nastiest) rights of passage at a gym is seeing someone spit into the water fountain. It's enough to make you rethink hydrating at all until you get home. And now there are a slew of water bottles on the market with built-in filters that promise to keep your water pristine. But do the bottles really clean the water? In short, the carbon filters used in most bottles are "designed to reduce specific aesthetic or non-health-related contaminants (chlorine, taste and odor, and particulates) that may be present in public or private drinking water." In other words, the filters may make your water taste better but they can't remove germs or make unclean water clean.
Do you need them? If you prefer the taste of filtered water then by all means use one, but from a health standpoint they're not necessary.
All the rage a few years ago, even some pro athletes were seen sporting candy-colored bands around their wrists. Manufacturers claim that the magnets (or stones or minerals) exert a powerful "life force" that helps improve everything from general well-being to balance to athletic prowess to even curing cancer. Research done on the bracelets, however, does not support any of these claims.
Do you need it? No. Most scientists agree that any improvement seen while wearing these is more likely due to the placebo effect than the magnets. But if you think they help you or just think they're cute, there's no harm in wearing them. Plus, they're easier to wash than a lucky sports bra!