Is Powerlifting Gear Right for You?

TAGS: polyester, canvas, deadlift suit, squat briefs, single ply, squat suit, multi-ply, Shane Church, powerlifting gear, bench shirt

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Is gear right for you? Powerlifting gear, I mean. With the recent insurgence of raw powerlifting, I often get asked by people, “What is powerlifting gear?” and “Should I be lifting in that stuff?”

The quick answer is, “It’s awesome” and “Yes,” respectively.

First off, powerlifting gear is what powerlifting is. When I started over ten years ago, there was only lifting in gear. It was only single-ply and multi-ply. There were two federations — one for single-ply and one for multi-ply. It was a simpler time back then.

The single-ply federation was the holier-than-thou federation whose lifters believed they were better than everyone else because they drug tested some people. The multi-ply federation was a heavy metal, head-banging party. It was not nearly as organized as the single-ply federation, and it was fast and loose with the rules. That federation was more open to new members and welcomed new people to the sport.


WATCH: Table Talk — Can Single-Ply Gear Supplement A Raw Lifter's Training?


Those rants serve a purpose. The two mentalities were what you used to make your decision of where to compete. If you were clean (or knew how to beat the drug tests) and were a fan of lifting in a library, you chose single-ply. If you liked meets starting three hours late and a bunch of sweaty bald dudes yelling “fuck!” for no real reason, you chose multi-ply. You also chose multi-ply if you wanted to lift the most weight your body could lift. I went multi-ply for that reason.

I will lay out who should compete in each type of gear and why. I will also break down the types of construction on a macro level. Different gear companies use different types of techniques and stitching patterns to achieve a perceived competitive advantage. However, I won’t be touching on those in this article.

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Multi-Ply

It’s not where I started, but where I flourished. For multi-ply, you will need a squat suit, squat briefs, bench shirt, deadlift suit (optional), knee wraps, and wrist wraps.

Squat Suit

Material: Two most common materials are polyester and canvas.

Here at elitefts, we have both styles. Your squat stance and style should be the deciding factors in which type of material you use. If you are a fast squatter who gets down fast and hopefully up fast, polyester is the fabric for you. If you are a wider, slower squatter, canvas is the material you want.

Polyester suits get their power or rebound from the “V” sling created from the legs/crotch of the suit and the suit straps. Multi-ply allows velcro straps, so the suits are easier to get into and out of. It also allows you to get into a very tight suit and have the straps to get the suit even tighter. The straps rules apply to both polyester and canvas suits.

Canvas is a much thicker material, and you feel bulletproof inside it! Canvas is the opposite of polyester in the sense that it stops you from going and you must push hard to get down, then that pressure throws you back up. “Throws” is an appropriate word, as many people get tossed around in canvas. Be prepared to use lots of spotters the first couple times you lift in canvas.

Briefs

Material: Polyester.

That’s it. There are different styles and constructions, but for the briefs that are the best for you, you will need to try some different ones out.

Bench Shirt

Material: Polyester.

Again, all shirts now are made of polyester. Back in the day, there were denim shirts. They were awesome. They made you look like a mash-up of Kris Kross and the 1980’s

Deadlift Suit

Material: Same as the squat suits.

Most people use their squat suits. That’s a handy piece of advice. Save a little bit of money; use your squat suit.

Knee Wraps

elitefts has a great video explaining all the different options. Check it out here.

Wrist Wraps

Check out all the light, medium, and heavy choices you have.

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Single-Ply

Single-ply refers to the construction of the material of the suit. Currently, the only material used for single-ply is polyester. Depending on the weave of the fabric, it can be stretchy or stiff. The rebound created from the suit is used to shoot the lifter up in the squat. To reach your maximum level, you must be prepared to squeeze your ass into the smallest suit that it can fit into. The tightness of the material around your legs, as well as the “V” sling created by the straps and the crotch of the suit, play the biggest roles in getting the most out of the suit.

This is where sizing comes into play majorly. One thing that all the gear companies have in common is that their sizing charts suck and don’t work for most people. Try to get your hands on someone’s gear about the same size as you. See what works and what doesn’t for you and buy the size you feel is best.

Squat Suit

Two things are key with the single-ply squat suit. One is that it’s tight, and the second is that it’s as tight as you can handle. The tighter the suit, the more painful it is, and the more rebound you will get. Getting the correct size suit is the biggest step to success you will have in single-ply gear.

Briefs

Some federations that have single-ply divisions allow single-ply briefs. They are squat suits without straps. Check the rules of the federation that you are planning to compete in.

Bench Shirt

Again, the single-ply material must be very tight. The groove of the high-end single-ply bench shirts is razor thin. What this means is that the area where you can successfully bring the bar down and press it back to lock out is very small. I would suggest having three to five spotters the first time you use a bench shirt. You might need that many people to get in the shirt if it’s as tight as it should be.

Deadlift Suit

The biggest, and maybe only, difference between a deadlift suit and a squat suit is the cut of the fabric. Most single-ply lifters use squat suits to pull in. Pulling conventional does not get as much of a carryover out of a suit as pulling sumo does.

Wraps

Check with your federation for rules on wrist and knee wraps. There are different length and construction requirements for each federation.

raw

RAWWW

I’m not sure what to write in this section. Since I started writing the article a couple days ago, they added more twists to raw. Raw is young and confused. It has no idea what it is or what it wants to be.

We have wraps. We don’t have wraps. We can have wrist wraps! No knee sleeves. Knee sleeves are allowed, but they will go against the guys in wraps, who are not raw. But they're kind of raw? Oh. Now you can use straps to deadlift. And Slingshots, or Rams, or Catapults.

It was so simple back in the day.

Now that you have that info, you are thinking, “Which one is for me?”

Well, let me take you through the thought process. Personally, I don’t think anyone should start with raw powerlifting. Raw powerlifting is for people who don’t really want to compete in powerlifting, but want to do SOMETHING competitive.

Single-ply is where I would suggest most people start in powerlifting for a couple reasons.

  1. It is widely accepted. Being from Canada, there are not a lot of meets to compete in. But, every federation has a single-ply division. All their rules differ, so check those before signing up for a meet.
  2. You will be able to test the gear and see if you like it. If you like the pain that suits and shirts cause you in single-ply, you will love the pain multi-ply causes! If you do not like it, you can regress to the lowest level of powerlifting and compete raw.

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