A Gearwhore's Guide to the Galaxy

TAGS: using pain, Marshall Johnson, depth, A Gearwhore's Guide to the Galaxy, multi-ply, dedication, training partners, technique, gear, squat

I take pride in hitting deep, no-questions-about-it squats. I take even more pride in those squats if they are in multi-ply gear. For quite a while, I have wanted to write an article in order to share with elitefts™ readers how I break in a new squat suit and hit depth with lighter weights.

To be honest, it seems that “depth” in multi-ply gear is rarely achieved. The combination of big egos, impatience, and federations that enable high squatters has taken multi-ply squatting back a few pegs. There are few lifters, in my opinion, who take the time and pride to build a deep, beautiful squat. Why is this? Because it takes patience, pain, and persistence. Everyone wants a good squat now, now, or five minutes ago — but that’s not how it works.

Because of this, I have come up with several pointers to help break in multi-ply squat gear.

1. Volume

The most important part of breaking in any new piece of gear is volume. It does not matter if you’re breaking in briefs, a suit, or both — you need volume. Time under the bar is what it takes. Saying, “I need more weight to get down,” is your first mistake. From now on, consider this phrase a powerlifting sin.

gear whore marshall johnson shane church squat 032414

Let’s look at how most people attack a geared training session:

  1. You work up to a decent raw number and then put on gear.
  2. The first set is slow because the weight is still light and won’t do all the work of getting the bar down. This creates a lot of physical pressure, so you compensate by going down an inch or two and them coming back up because it’s uncomfortable or hurts.
  3. You add more weight because, duh, that will get you down.
  4. At this point there is more physical weight and still a lot of pressure. You go down a few inches, realize it feels horrible, and get back up. Then you say, “I need more weight to get it down.” It’s so much weight that you have to throw your straps up to be able to hold it.
  5. Now your straps are up and you are even more restricted. The pressure of the weight is unbearable, and you end up half-squatting another rep.
  6. You’re now at the end of your workout and have successfully done four or five reps — but none of them were near depth.

Most lifters will repeat this for a few weeks and complete around 20 total reps in full gear. Then they assume that they will pull it together on meet day. Well, meet day comes, and what happens? The lifter bombs.

Training in gear like this creates false confidence and horrible training patterns. Most lifters do the whole process over again after they bomb. They will buy new gear because “the setup sucked” and train the same way they did for the previous meet. Nothing changes.  Pretty soon, there are four pairs of suits and briefs that “didn’t work.”

There is one cure: volume. You need reps, reps, and more reps in gear to make it work. You need to learn your weapon.

When I help lifters break in new gear, I always make them put it on early in the training session and do multiple sets of three.


I had a training partner, Brian Carley, who was training for a multi-ply meet and had never been in gear before. Brian is an over 600-pound raw squatter and put on his briefs at 405 pounds. He did triples, and we made him go down as far as he could before we called him up. On each rep of the set he would go lower and lower. The second rep was lower than the first and the third was the lowest.

On each rep, we held him until he was purple and until he got lower than the previous rep. On the next set we took the weight to 455 pounds and continued the same pattern: three reps, each rep lower than the last. There was an exaggerated reinforcement on form and on not cutting corners to hit depth. By two more sets, at 555 pounds, he was hitting depth in his briefs by the third rep (this is till less weight than what he is capable of raw).

Next, we put his suit on with straps down and continued the triples with small weight jumps to near depth. Once he hit depth there, we went straps up and repeated the process. His final weight was 850 pounds to competition depth with straps up. In just one training session, Brian did no fewer than 20 reps in his gear. This is more than what most lifters get in a whole training cycle! Brian went on to squat 945 pounds in a meet after just two months of training in gear.

2. There Will Be Pain

The reason lifters avoid depth or are unable to hit it in multi-ply gear is because they are not conditioned to do so. There is an extreme amount of pain, discomfort, and pressure when training in multi-ply gear. Most people do as little as they have to during a training session in order to not feel the discomfort. If you want to lift in multi-ply gear, you have to accept that it’s going to suck. If it were easy, every lifter would squat a grand. Nothing worthwhile comes without pain or sacrifice.

You need to learn to use the pain and pressure to your advantage. I think of the descent as the pulling back of a slingshot — building and building pressure, preparing yourself for the release. Once you hit depth, it is time to get the hell up as fast as you can to get away from that discomfort. Once you come to grips with the fact that it’s going to suck, you will be better prepared.

gear whore squat ladewski marshall johnson 032414

3. Surround Yourself with Honest People (no nut swingers)

You really have to check your ego at the door and avoid “it’s all you, bro” training partners. If I ask someone for an up call and then watch the video to see that I am high, I no longer listen to that person. I only ask people who are honest. Brutally honest is preferred. Even when I have these people in my corner making me bury my squats, I still take the bar down for another second or two after I get the up call. I want to leave no question about my squat. You need to practice how you play, and if you squat high in training you are going to squat high in a meet.

The lifters who say, “I’ll put it together on meet day” are usually the ones who fail. My friend Derek Wade was so proud of his first 1,000-pound squat. He trained in an environment that bred high squats, and he knew no better. When he came to a meet in Minnesota he had to face reality and bombed on depth. I could tell that it was a huge blow to his confidence.

As the weeks went by, he started to realize that his environment was to blame for the false sense he had of “depth.” What did he do? He changed his environment and his programming. He started training with like-minded lifers and contacted Brian Carroll for programming. He recently hit his first legitimate 1,000-pound squat at the XPC Finals in March. The process to fix his depth problem took Derek a year. Most people would have given up, because this shit takes time.

The take-home point: change your environment when your environment holds you back.

squat depth gear whore brian carroll marshall johnson 032414

4. Choose Your Weapons

Here is something all lifters must learn: it’s never the gear’s fault — it’s your fault. Lifters that juggle gear and blame suits instead of their terrible training habits need to pick one set of gear for a training cycle and stick with it. You don’t just throw on a squat suit and learn it the first day.

I have had the same pair of briefs for over a year, and I am still learning how to tweak and get more out of them. The belief that gear “wears out” is a load of shit! Too many people use a suit once or twice and dump it because it has no “pop.” At least to some extent, they do not lose effectiveness. It’s just a way to direct blame away from one’s self. I have used the same Jack Pro Squat Suit for a year and a half, and I am still hitting PRs in it. I also still use the same pair of briefs that are years old. It just comes down to how much work you are willing to put in.

So, there you have it! This is my quick guide to breaking in new squat gear. It’s all about volume, pain, environment, and consistency. You have to take responsibility for yourself and your training, and you must take pride in a beautifully finished product. This is all my opinion and my battle plan. Doing something the right way is usually the longer, more painful, and more exhausting road.

Deny immediate gratification and be patient. Work for that perfect end product.

Marshall Johnson’s Training Log


Loading Comments... Loading Comments...