When the average lifter hears the term “powerlifting gear” he usually creates a mental picture of a super-heavyweight waddling out to the platform in eight plies of gear and squatting six inches high. This image, along with many misconceptions, causes raw lifters to take an all-or-nothing approach to gear out of fear that even momentary contact with a piece of supportive equipment will cause irreversible raw strength loss. This could not be further from the truth. Supportive equipment (when used correctly) can be a great tool for the raw powerlifter.

This series of articles will cover the role of gear in a raw lifter’s training. It will start with things as simple as a belt and shoes and move all the way up to single and multi-ply supportive equipment. This first installment will cover the equipment that you, as a raw lifter, can use in competition. Although it may be easy to discount the role of things like a belt, shoes, singlet, wrist wraps, and even knee wraps, knowing how to get the most out of these things can add serious pounds to your total.

Exactly What Kind of RAW Are We Talking About Here?

The definition of raw lifting seems to change depending on who you talk to. Classic Raw, Modern Raw, 100% Raw, beltless, shoeless, wrapless...the list goes on and on. Bottom line is, know the rules of whatever federation you choose to compete in. Try to avoid being too zealous about your raw definition. Most lifters’ use of equipment changes as they gain more competitive experience, so be careful about demonizing any particular style. Pick what you believe you will enjoy and fits your strength and experience levels. Then prepare accordingly. Make sure to read through the rulebook carefully before you begin training for a meet. There are few things worse than training with a piece of equipment, and then getting to the meet and finding out you can’t use it.

joe schillero wrist wraps knee sleeves belt LTT8 060214

It’s Gotta be the Shoes

Until I started getting involved in the powerlifting community online, I never would have imagined so many big strong guys would be infatuated with footwear. Although some people take their shoes a little too seriously, they are still an important piece of raw equipment. There are many different types of shoes used by powerlifters, but the two most common that I’ve seen are Chuck Taylors and Olympic weightlifting shoes.

Because of their flat sole and affordable price, Chuck Taylors have been a powerlifting favorite for years. Olympic weightlifting shoes have gained popularity in recent years because of their stable design and elevated heel. In general, Chuck Taylors compliment squatters with a wider stance and strong posterior chain. They also help with deadlifting (both sumo and conventional). This is because the flat design allows the lifter to keep the weight evenly distributed across the whole foot and push into the sides of the shoes (spreading the floor) as they perform the squat.

Olympic shoes generally compliment quad-dominant squatters with a closer stance, as well as those with flexibility issues. The elevated heel allows many lifters with poor ankle flexibility to hit depth easier in the squat. Some lifters also wear these shoes for bench pressing, but rarely are they used for deadlifting. Olympic shoes can be a great tool for raw squatting, but they can also be pricey. These shoes can be a temporary bandage for weaknesses that will have to be addressed in order to take your squat to the next level. In general, I would recommend getting some lifting under your belt before immediately purchasing these types of shoes, and to make sure that they fit your particular squatting style.

Best Use of the Belt

A good powerlifting belt is an important tool for the raw lifter. It can enhance performance and also keep the back stable during heavy lifts. Going beltless in training has also grown popular recently for raw lifters. The concept behind this is similar to that of abstaining from knee wraps until closer to competition. Gaining strength without supportive equipment can help eliminate weaknesses and build confidence in training.

belt joe schillero raw lifter molly edwards jennifer petrosino 060214

It is important to note, however, that when choosing to ditch this piece of equipment you must drop your training weights accordingly. Belts do play an important role in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure (and, in turn, protecting the back), so don’t try to take it off and match your regular weights right off the bat. Doing things like training sans belt are best done further out from a meet, and you should get accustomed to your equipment as you get closer to the competition.

Belt styles vary, but single-prong or lever belts are the most popular with powerlifters. Single-prong belts are easily adjusted and simple to use. Lever belts are very convenient because they are easily taken on and off, but also need adjusted with a screwdriver for size changes.

Also make sure that you are utilizing the belt correctly when lifting. Belts are best used when intra-abdominal pressure is created against it. This means leaving some room for your belly so you can push your abs hard into the belt, creating pressure that supports your back and a big squat.

Wraps, Sleeves, and Singlet

Many raw federations allow knee sleeves or knee wraps for squatting, and this can be an important aspect of your performance. If your federation allows neoprene knee sleeves, these can be helpful in creating warmth and light support for the knee joints, both in training and competition. Although they are not designed to necessarily increase performance, getting a pair tight enough can create just enough support to give you the edge needed for a few extra pounds on the squat. Shane Church has mentioned to me that he has seen European lifters actually use a new pair of sleeves for each squat attempt.

If your federation allows knee wraps, these can really make a marked difference in your performance if used correctly. Like with the belt, training further out from a meet can benefit from going sans wraps. However as you get closer to the meet, you will want to make sure you’re accustomed to wraps and your technique in them. Dave Tate mentioned in the recent elitefts™ Twitter Chat that raw lifters who descend quickly in the squat will benefit more from a knee wrap with more rebound (like the Metal All Black Wraps or EliteFTS Normal Wrap). Squatters that descend more slowly will benefit from a wrap with more stopping power (like the EliteFTS Krait Wrap). No matter what type of wrap you use, you’ll want to make sure, as a raw lifter. that you get as much wrap behind the knee joint as possible. This will provide support in the hole.

knee wrap kirschen joe schillero raw lifter 060214

Wrist wraps are also an important piece of equipment in providing safety and support. Many lifters wear them during squats for extra wrist support, but most raw lifters utilize them for the bench press. Make sure that you don’t haphazardly put on your wrist wraps. Much like a knee wrap, they should be put on carefully in a way that completely supports the wrist joint. Preferences may vary but many lifters like casting the wrist wrap from right below the wrist joint to half-way up the hand.

The singlet may seem like a no-brainer, but there are even tips and tricks that you can use to get the most out of this piece of competition gear. Dave Tate recommends using a tight singlet for the squat and deadlift, so that the judges can easily see depth and whether or not the hips are locked out. While on the flipside, during the bench press a slightly loose singlet can help hide if your butt comes up off the bench. Just like with all equipment, make sure each of these items are approved by your federation so you don’t get hit with any surprises on meet day.

There are little tips and tricks to getting the most of your gear as a raw lifter. Even though some may be small, when they all add up it can mean pounds on your total. Make sure you get accustomed to your gear in training, and that you pack it all up the night before a meet. Make sure your handler knows how you like your knees wrapped. If possible, have backups of all your equipment on meet day just in case.

The next article of this series will cover how to utilize more supportive gear like briefs and single-ply suits, as well as assistive bench equipment like the Metal Catapult and Slingshot.