Ergogenic Aid: “A physical, mechanical, nutritional, psychological, or pharmacological substance or treatment that either directly improves physiological variables associated with exercise performance or removes subjective restraints which may limit physiological capacity” (Robert A. Robergs, Ph.D., FASEP, EPC).
In other words, an ergogenic aid is anything that can help your exercise performance. This can be anything from the type of shoes you wear, knee sleeves for squatting, caffeine for that extra boost of energy, music, and everything in between. Ergogenic aids has become a hot topic for athletes and regular gym goers that are looking for that extra assistance to help reach their goals. The questions of the day are “What ergogenic aids are the best?” and “How much is too much?”
As a powerlifter, the topic of ergogenic aids is actually a very big one and can lead to a lot of debate such as using a squat suit and knee wraps or just a singlet and knee sleeves; or whether athletes should be tested for steroid usage or not. Even what shoes are best to wear when it comes to squatting. Do you go with an Olympic lifting shoe (this will have a solid and elevated heal) or a flat shoe? I’m going to let you in on a little secret though; there is no right answer. There are a million variables to take into account such as: personal beliefs, body type, price, federation, etc. This goes for all sports, not just powerlifting. Many runners will swear buy a pair of trainers with extra cushion and support to ward off over pronation of the foot whereas some runners are all about minimalism. They want the thinnest soles with the most flexibility and as little material in the upper as possible. What you decide to go with will depend on personal preference, how you run, and your body’s mechanics. Some people like to take a simplistic approach, they don’t need or want a lot of ergogenic aids. Maybe this is because of personal reasons such as not wanting to worry about extra equipment getting in the way and taking up their time. Or maybe the sport that they compete in only allows for certain types of equipment or clothing.
In powerlifting for example, there are two main forms of competition: Geared Lifting, and Raw Lifting. In Geared Powerlifting, you are allowed special suites such as the squat suit, bench shirt, and deadlift suit as well as wraps for wrists and knees and a lifting belt. There are rules on aids within the different Raw Divisions and Federation. Some allow for knee wraps whereas some say knee sleeves instead for the squat, but you’re always allowed a lifting belt and wrist wraps. This is when knowing your federation comes into play. Be sure to look at the rulebook for your sport so that you can get an idea for what is and isn’t allowed to be worn.
Music is another form of an ergogenic aid. There are studies that talk about listening to classical music at a young age or when studying to aid in learning and retention of the knowledge. Before going for a big lift or starting a competition, many athletes will listen to a certain genre of music such as heavy metal, rap music, or even pop. This however needs to be watched and not overdone. Let’s say that every time you go into the gym and listen to that new Metallica album over the course of your 12 week training cycle to get ready for you competition; eventually by the end of the training cycle, it’s probably not going to get you fired up in the same way it did when you first started listening to it. This could potentially throw some people off come competition day. So it’s good to change it up and not always listen to the same songs every time. Save the really special songs for later in the cycle and competition day that way you can continue to get the desired stimulus from it.
These same principles are going to play a role when it comes to substances such as coffee, smelling ammonia, sugar, and other stimulants. Many people enjoy caffeinating before a workout which is fine, there are many studies to support caffeine and power output (Bloms, Lucas P., et al. “The effects of caffeine on vertical jump height and execution in collegiate athletes.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 30.7 (2016): 1855-1861.). However, the human body is great at adapting to stimulus so after a while, that small shot of espresso won’t be as effective as it once was. Same with using ammonia caps that many power and strength athletes use before a big lift. So just as with the music, you have to know the proper time for when you can go full force and use the ergogenic aids and when to back off a little.
The last topic of debate within the subject of ergogenic aids is supplement and drug usage. This, just as the other topics, will come down to sport rules and personal preference. Many people will categorize steroid usage as cheating, while others do not. Personally, if you are competing in a sport that prohibits the usage of anabolic steroids and an athlete continues to use them and compete in this sport that is when I would consider it cheating. Otherwise if you want to do them, then go ahead. Now I’m not advocating that everybody go out and do steroids because there are laws against them and there is still a lot more research that needs to be done on their safety. That’s why with this and anything else, it is a matter of preference. Is the possible increase in performance worth it to you? Same with any other supplement. I’m a big supporter of creatine usage when it comes to strength and power sports. There still is the matter of paying the price to buy it and knowing how much you are taking in. While there is very little data to show the negative effects of creatine usage, it does not mean that you pump as much of it as you can into your body. When it comes to the topic of supplements, I always tell my clients, athletes, or anybody else that may ask me, to first focus on nutrition. We eat food for a reason, it is the easiest way to get the most nutrients for your time and money. Supplements are solely meant to fill in the gaps that our diets may not fill. Do you need to take that pre-workout with a long list of ingredients or those multivitamins with 100-300% of various vitamins? Not at all, but there may be some benefits behind them.
Ergogenic aids can be very useful in helping you on your journey to being bigger, faster, and stronger. Just be sure to take the time to decide on which ones are going to be right for you. There are many that say they can help and they will increase performance but a lot actually don’t have any true legitimate data behind them. Everybody is different though, so figure out what it is that your goals are, what you have to do to get there, then finally if there are gaps and ways that you can improve it, then sprinkle in some Ergogenic Aids.
Edited By: Adriana Colon