- 4 Jul 2011
Powerlifting Equipment 101
By Roger Broeg
What is with the suits, shirts, and wraps? Isn't using all that equipment cheating? In this article I will endeavor to answer the above questions. First there is the RAW vs. Equipped debates. Among those outside the powerlifting world there is the misconception that RAW is the old way of powerlifting. I can tell you, as someone who has been around the sport of powerlifting since 1978, that this simply is not true. There has always been some kind of performance enhancing equipment involved in the sport. Anything from tight jeans for squatting, to elbow wraps for benching, to wrapping tennis balls to the backs of the knees.
RAW is a term that was coined in 1995. This was the first time in 35 years of powerlifting history that the rules only allowed a belt to be used as equipment.
As powerlifting became more refined the equipment improved. Along with improved equipment came suppliers. The Suppliers have been the number 1 sponsors of the sport. Those who would seek to abolish equipment are simply biting the hand that feeds them.
Is equipment cheating? Why is this asked of powerlifters yet not asked of athletes in any other sport? Let me draw an analogy. I raced bicycles for a few years. I started out on an old used Schwinn Traveler (low end 10 speed). I had a hard time keeping up with the team I trained with. They all started selling me their old parts as they upgraded their machines. Guess what, with a pair of clipless pedals, and a good set of racing wheels, I was staying right with those guys. As I progressed in the sport I got an aerodynamic helmet and skin suit for time trialing. I also upgraded to a decent racing bike with specially shaped wheels to cheat the wind. All made me a little faster with the same physical abilities.
As a racing official, I was often asked questions by spectators, about the equipment the riders were using. They would be in awe and amazement as I explained the advances in bicycle technology. And how it made the races faster. Nobody EVER asked me "but isn't that cheating?" Now imagine a bicycle race, where all the riders were forced to ride old heavy single speed fat tired bicycles. The riders would be working just as hard, not harder, than they do right now. But the race would be very slow, dangerous (cornering would be cumbersome), and certainly boring. When I say they would not be working any harder than racers do now, here is an explanation; I put forth just as much effort riding my racing bike 30mph as I do riding my mountain bike 22mph.
Now lets compare this analogy to powerlifting. Powerlifting is safer with equipment, because a byproduct if the equipment is a reduced risk of injury. Powerlifting is more fun to watch with equipment because larger loads are moved. Equipped lifters have to work just as hard as RAW lifters do. They just move more weight doing it.
Is the sport still all about strength? Let me put it this way. I can bench about 15lbs more with my shirt than without it. If I am benching 260 with my shirt, I must still get stronger to bench 265 with it do I not? So yes, the sport is still all about strength.
OK so equipment has improved the sport, by generating sponsors, and by making it more spectator friendly. So would you please explain this equipment to me, what it is, and how it works? I thought I would never ask. The following is a list of items and a short explanation of them.
A shirt made of heavy material so tight it takes at least one helper to get it on. Generally leaves bruises around the pec and armpit area. The shirt makes it very difficult to bring your arms back. With a properly fitting shirt you will find it impossible to get low enough to do a pushup.
The shirt makes it difficult to get the bar to touch the chest, but makes it very easy to launch the bar off of the chest. It enables you to launch the bar hard enough for momentum to aid you through any sticking points you may have. In addition the shirt relieves your shoulders and pecs from the stress of maximum attempts.
Squat and Deadlift suits
Again, very heavy material, very tight. Will generally leave bruises around the hips and tops of the quads where the leg seems ride.
The suit holds everything tight, makes it difficult to get into the hole, much easier to launch out of the hole. Some federations allow groove briefs under the suit. These exaggerate the workings of the suit.
A very heavy set of wraps with a certain amount of elasticity. These make it very hard to bend the leg. But again give a rebound effect out of the hole. The knee wraps help keep the muscle above the knee from tearing off it's insertion during single Max rep attempts.
There are of course different degrees of equipment. And debates on just how much equipment is too much. But that is for another article. For now support your local powerlifting meet. You will be doing yourself a favor. If you are reading this article you are already interested in weight training. What could be more exciting than seeing people move extraordinary amounts of weight? Lets make powerlifting so popular you can sit back and watch the best on television on a rainy Saturday afternoon.