The Evolution of the Squat Suit Over the Past Twenty Years

TAGS: Tony Garland, squat suits, canvas suits, single ply, briefs, multi-ply

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Over the past twenty years in powerlifting, the squat suit has changed in many ways. There are new types of materials, single-ply and multi-ply are being used more for completely different sports, and the gear for both has evolved into a new level of durable. In all, these modifications have changed the way that lifters approach the game today.

First, let us look at the suits that were around when I first started powerlifting in 1990. In those days, there were single-ply poly suits. Some materials were more durable than others, but most were a lot alike. None of them had Velcro straps so you weren't able to adjust them, and they had little stopping power and didn't hinder your depth. In those days, if you wanted more pop out of the suit, you had to stuff yourself into the smallest size you could without blowing the suit. At that time, briefs were single-ply and were nothing more than a pair of underwear briefs made of a stretchy material that gave minimal support. In all, these types of suits didn't allow for much during meet attempts. If you got 75–100 pounds from your first to your third attempt, you had had a good day.

Then came the canvas suit, which was multi-ply in nature. It was very durable and had great stopping power in the hole. It came with Velcro straps and allowed the lifter, his handler, or his coach to make the proper adjustments needed according to the weight being attempted. I found that this sometimes could be an issue. If you adjusted the suit too tightly for the weight, it could hinder your depth. Therefore, you and your handler had to learn the suit and know what adjustments you needed according to the weight being attempted. The canvas suit really changed the game. Now you could have greater stopping power as the weights got heavier but not a lot of pop out of the hole.

So as time went by and through a lot of trial and error, many lifters, including myself, added multi-ply poly briefs under the canvas suit. This combination allowed you to have the stopping power from the suit and the pop from the briefs. Briefs were different now. They were now longer in the legs and made of a more durable material, which gave you support as well. Overall, this combination gave me and other lifters much more support and adjustment options during competition and training. This resulted in not only better training but also bigger numbers on the platform in competition over several years. After taking the time to learn the groove of the suit, I put 50 pounds on my squat almost immediately.

After a while, the canvas suit was modified by adding poly material to it to help with the depth issues that some lifters were experiencing from so much stopping power. This even allowed you to get a little more pop out of the hole, but it gave the lifter and his coach something else to adjust and learn.

Following the canvas suit came the multi-ply poly suit. These poly suits were made of a material that was just as thick, durable, and supportive as the canvas, and they came with just as much stopping power. They delivered the pop that the canvas was missing. Using briefs made of the same material under the multi-ply poly suit and Velcro suit straps resulted in even bigger numbers. Now lifters could make multiple adjustments between attempts, reach higher goals/numbers, and break records that had stood for years. This material is so supportive to the lifter that when you sit back in the suit with proper form and technique, it's as if it takes some of the weight off you. I feel that this helps with the lifter's endurance during training and competition. This support helps so that your body isn't taking the direct pounding of the weight as it did back in the old single-ply days.

Even today, the new single-ply material is much more durable and supportive than it was in 1990. It's so supportive that lifters have used these suits as training suits so that they don't become too reliant on the support of the multi-ply suit. The newer single-ply suits even come with Velcro straps so that you can make adjustments. This gives you more support, which you might need to handle more weight during your training. I've used these suits with beginning lifters who I've coached and handled to ease the transition to the multi-ply gear. The new single-ply suits do forgive a little, but nowhere near as much as the old single-ply suits, so you keep good form and technique.

However, don't read this and get fooled into thinking that multi-ply’s evolution is completely dependent on the suit. Even though the gear is one hundred times more durable and a million times stronger than before, lifters still have to make adjustments to make these suits work because no lifter is the same. In addition, you still have to put in the training time to build your raw strength so that your numbers continue to go up. These suits aren't some miracle suit that you just put on, and boom! You can lift 500 pounds more than before. This is the biggest misconception I've heard in my twenty years in the sport. People outside the sport and even lifters in the sport think that if I put one of those multi-ply suits on, I'll immediately see improvements in my lifts. This isn't the case. I've seen lifters try it and everyone has failed. Instead, the lifter only has success after he's learned the proper form and technique to allow him to stay in the grove of the suit. In order to get the best performance out of gear, you have to spend time in it and learn it. Remember, with every upside there is a downside. These new suits aren't as forgiving as the old single-ply suits that let you get away with poor form if you made up for it in brute strength. In my opinion, using good technique and form is a small price to pay for the big PRs that a multi-ply suit can offer.

I've been powerlifting, coaching, and handling lifters for over twenty years. Like I said before, when I first got in this game, if you could get 75–100 pounds out of your suit from your opener to your third attempt, you had had a good day. Now with the years of experience in designing and making the modifications to these suits, I see lifters getting 150–200 pounds from their opener to their third attempts. Some even get more.

Overall, this multi-ply evolution is an ongoing process, similar to the evolution that you see in many other sports. Swimmers constantly have better suits, which shorten race times, and cyclists have better and lighter bikes that allow for faster times. Just like in these other sports, powerlifting gear will continually improve to allow for its further growth and evolution. At the end of the day, as long as you have powerlifting competitions and lifters competing to be the best, powerlifting gear will continue to improve to give the lifter the best performance possible.

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