“Should I be using a lifting belt or straps? Some people call that cheating.” Lawrence J., Paris, TX
Hold off on the use of a belt until you really need it–when you’re working with weights so heavy they allow you only five reps or fewer. Relying on a belt every workout won’t allow your core to strengthen optimally, and that will slow your overall gains. The use of straps has the same effect on grip strength and won’t let you get the big, meaty forearms you likely want.
As to whether these accessories are “cheating,” that’s really in the eye of the beholder. Belts are allowed in lifting competitions, but straps aren’t. Using a belt will allow you to lift slightly heavier, but not using one could put you at risk for injury should anything go wrong during a heavy set. Straps aren’t really cheating if you use them on a rowing exercise and your goal is to keep your grip strength from limiting the reps you do.
In short, be judicious about your use of accessories and why you’re using them. Don’t use them just to save your ego and add a few more pounds to the bar. That’s just cheating yourself.