The month was July, the day after competing in Bill Carpenter's Iron Battle on the Mississippi. I was spending the morning, like most days after a meet, evaluating why I keep doing meets. I don't think I have enjoyed a meet since I started competing multi-ply. I hated the whole process of getting into my gear and spending eight to ten hours feeling completely miserable. I hated spending the whole day in a constant state of panic: my legs are numb, I can't feel my toes, walking from the bench to the monolift completely drained all of my energy, my hammies are cramping so hard, my head is swelling from all the pressure, I can't get my suit up high enough, did I bloat up too much? Did I not bloat enough? If I can't get my suit up any higher I won't be able to get my knees out when I squat... etc. It wasn't fun anymore. I knew I wasn't done powerlifting, not by a long shot, but something needed to change.

The following weekend there was a meet in my hometown and I decided to do deadlift-only, completely raw, no belt. My list of worries that I usually had on meet day were cut to almost none. All I needed was a singlet, shoes, and socks. I had no discomfort, or overwhelming pressure, just the usual anxiety, but that's a different monster. I pulled conventional, even though I am a sumo deadlifter. With no training for it, I pulled a smooth 700 pounds:

This was like a breathe of fresh air for me. I was able to enjoy a meet for the first time in a very long time. So I sat down and tried to think of a way to relive this experience, but I did not want to compete raw, and I did not want to abandon gear. I thought back to how much I liked Metal single-ply gear and how strong I was in the squat gear. Since I am so fortunate to be sponsored by elitefts™ I decided what could it hurt? 

Fast forward four months to Relentless Detroit, and my chance to enjoy a meet while still lifting heavy. I was able to hit my goal on the squat, which was 900 pounds:

Now, how did training single-ply benefit my multi-ply?

1) Physical Strength

It annoys me when people say, “There’s no difference between plies. Gear is gear, and it’s all cheating.” Well, you’re wrong, there’s a huge difference, and that is support. I guarantee if you take any multi-ply lifter and put them in single-ply, they will tell you that 900 pounds feels way different between plies. It’s simple. When you take layers and support out of your gear, that support falls on something else — you! It’s science, bro! I was still training almost as heavy as I was in multi-ply, so in turn I got stronger because I had to do more work. That rebound gives out a lot faster when you have less ply, so you have to be faster and stronger to get that weight to finish. If you lift heavier weight with less support, you in turn get stronger!

2) Mental Strength

I don’t care who you are, whether you’re Dave Hoff or JoeBlow GymRat you have an “oh shit” weight. Everyone has it. It is that weight in which the sensible part of your mind says, “Holy shit this is getting heavy, I really have to focus and be prepared or I won’t get this.” This weight is doable on any given day, but it’s the start of those weights that can mess you up if you don’t have your head in the right place. My “oh shit” weight on squats for many years has been 900 pounds. I have squatted a grand many, many times… 1052 pounds at my best… but 900 pounds is always that poundage in which my nerves kick in.

At Relentless, I was able to stand up with, descend, and ascend with my “oh shit” weight 900 pounds in single-ply gear. Aside from a little sway at the top, I squatted it pretty easily. This was amazing. This was like getting bullied for three years and finally standing up to the bully and realizing that he would have backed down at any moment, if you just would have called his bluff! This was a huge mental barrier broken down, and I wasn’t even expecting that.

Okay, so what is the point to this story? I am rolling right into USPA Squat Nationals with only three weeks to prepare. I will be squatting multi-ply. My plan is to load up the gear, load up the bar, and just get used to the pressure and the weight again. My goal that night was to squat 900 (my “oh shit” weight) with straight weight, and 1000 pounds with reverse bands. 700, 800, 900, boom, boom, boom… all smooth, all easy. And then came time for a grand. I stood up strong, and squatted it no problem. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I didn’t go “oh shit” when I hit 900, I just strapped up and squatted it. It was just another rung on the ladder that I was climbing. I honestly sat there with the biggest smile realizing what had happened. Because I had the confidence that I could squat that weight in just single-ply gear, it gave me the confidence that I could hit it with no problem in multi-ply. My mental strength had increased exponentially.

On a side note, I thought people’s reactions to me dropping from multi- to single-ply was very funny. The shock that people displayed was as if I just swore at them, it was as if I just said, “Eat shit, you asshole!” A comment about their mother working the street would have gotten a similar reaction.

Raw, gear, and levels of gear are almost religious in this sport. It’s kind of ridiculous. I mean you’d think I told people I was gonna start dating dudes and launch a sheep farm. People, its just lifting weights. There’s no superiority to one category or the other. Each presents different obstacles and can be equally impressive. Yes, I am a multi-ply lifter. Just because I have tried single-ply doesn’t mean I am going to start walking squats out, and piss test lifters during non-lifting related events. I want to get as strong as humanly possible, and my mind is open to trying new things to break through physical and mental barriers.

Being an ultra raw lifter is “in” right now. Yeah, I am cool with that. I think it can be impressive as hell, but don’t be sheep, don’t follow the herd. Don’t let people or crowds persuade you to follow a route you don’t want to. If you want to squat multi-ply, then do it. If you want to bench single-ply, then do that. If you want to deadlift raw with no belt, do it. Have the courage to be yourself, regardless of who disagrees with you. Go out and do epic shit!