Welcome to the Dark Side

TAGS: Single-Ply Gear, raw vs equipped, raw lifting, multi-ply gear, Metal IPF King Squatter, Joe Schillero, IPF King Presser, geared lifting, metal, powerlifting

In parts one and two of this article series, we covered the role of gear in the raw powerlifter’s training arsenal. After dispelling common misconceptions and outlining proper strategy, it’s clear that supportive equipment can be a beneficial tool for the raw lifter. After building a strong raw base, gaining competitive experience, and learning how to properly implement basic gear in your training, you may decide that you want to try your hand at equipped competition. Don’t worry—despite what the Internet says, you can actually enjoy both raw and equipped lifting!

Some of the most complete lifters and coaches I've met in this sport have experience in both areas of competition. If you decide to try your hand at the “dark side,” here are some basic tips and principles to get you started on the right foot.

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What raw lifters can learn from being equipped

When I began competing, I was under the impression that equipped and raw competitors were all at odds and that I couldn’t take anything from my gear-using counterparts. After spending some time training with equipped lifters, I actually found that this was far from the truth. Below are a few things that I think training and competing in gear can teach you as a raw lifter.

Air-tight technique

As a beginning or even intermediate raw lifter, I was able to get away with poor technique and grind out some lifts that I really shouldn’t have completed. A good example of this is the "dive bomb get loose at the bottom" 300- to 400-pound squat. Now this isn’t to say that all dive bombed squats are bad. Some lifters optimize this technique and it works well for them. However, many beginning raw lifters use lightning quick squats as an excuse to neglect weaknesses and ignore problems with confidence under the bar. With equipped lifting, rushing or being even an inch out of the groove can result in a failed lift or, worse, injury. The focus on technique and confidence under heavy weights taught me lessons that I can translate back to my raw lifting.

Utilization of special exercises

Another important aspect of equipped lifting that I learned a lot from is the emphasis on special exercises and supplemental work to improve weaknesses. When I only competed raw, I made my assistance work an afterthought, but when training in gear, I was forced to diagnose my weaknesses and program assistance work accordingly. The exact exercises may vary between raw and equipped training, but the principles remain the same. Learning this attention to detail has made me a more complete lifter.

Patient programming

When handling heavier weights as an equipped lifter, it's much easier to get burned out or injured if you don’t program properly. If you think that you’re going to go in and hit heavy singles for your competition movement in full gear every week, I’ll make sure that I say some prayers for you. Wise programming and knowing when to push and when to back off are necessary skills for equipped powerlifting. Just like with technique and addressing weaknesses, these problem solving skills will translate back to your raw lifting.

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Can I ever go back?

Another common misconception is that once you go geared, you can’t go back. While you may fall in love with equipped competing, most equipped lifters take periods of training to focus on raw lifting. A strong raw base will always carry over well to equipped lifting, so taking periods of time to train both raw and equipped can and will be beneficial to you as a lifter. Setting goals raw and equipped will not only keep you progressing but allow you to enjoy the sport of powerlifting to its full potential.

Where do I start?

In the previous installment of this series, I covered ways to implement briefs into your squat training as a raw lifter. This is a great place to start in acclimating yourself to supportive equipment. Depending on your goals and what path you think you’d like to take as a powerlifter, your choice in gear may differ.

There’s no one better to ask about these choices than elitefts™ team member and resident gear expert Jo Jordan. He normally suggests that lifters start off in single-ply gear rather than jump into multi-ply right away so that they can learn how supportive equipment works. Single-ply gear will allow you to learn the groove of gear as well as build up strength to handle the heavier loads that come with more equipment.

Jo normally starts people off with the Metal IPF King Squatter for both squatting and deadlifting and the IPF King Presser for bench pressing. These pieces of equipment are easy to learn and offer plenty of support and carryover, but they aren't so tight that you have a panic attack with them on. For multi-ply gear, Jo suggests Pro Briefs and the Pro Squatter for squats, the King Deadlifter for pulling, and the Bash Pro Bencher for the bench press. Jo points out that these all provide excellent support, rebound, and carryover and break in easily as well. The groove in these pieces of gear is easy to find and less likely to toss you around as you learn technique.

Once you’ve chosen your weapons, it’s time to start implementing them in training. One of the first things I suggest is getting with a good training crew if you haven’t already. With equipped lifting comes bigger weights and you must have plenty of good spotters. Along with safety, other lifters with experience in gear will make a world of difference in your training. There are plenty of nuances involved in learning supportive equipment. Having training partners to help you along the way will be a huge help.

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Many equipped lifters train in a conjugate system because of the ability to attack weaknesses and customize training to the geared strength curve. However, you can train equipped in all different kinds of systems as long as you and your training partners program appropriately. If you’re able to find a good training crew, this is great news because you can focus on listening to them as you learn your new equipment. If you do have to take the reins of your own training, below are a couple tips that should save you headaches as you get accustomed to your new gear:

Start small

As tempting as it may be to throw on several layers of gear and start pushing the biggest weights possible, this isn’t always the best long-term plan. Start by squatting in briefs or your single-ply suit with the straps down. Deadlift with your straps down to start, and bench with your shirt loose (not jacked down) and even wet if it's brand new. Hitting too big of weights too fast will just lead to poor technique, injury, and plateaus. Take your time and get acclimated to your gear so that you can push big weights come meet time.

Reps and depth are your friends

Along with the temptation to use as much gear as possible, the temptation to try and hit new one-rep maxes each workout will be something that you'll have to resist. Not only will hitting triples and sets of five in your gear teach you the groove, but they will build strength and confidence. Taking your time to get depth with reps on squats and work down to lower boards on the bench with lighter weights will also break in your gear and prepare your body for heavier weights.

Don’t forget your raw roots

To learn powerlifting gear, you need to spend a lot of time and reps lifting in it. However, that doesn’t mean you should completely ditch raw training. Most successful equipped lifters will tell you that periods of training will still focus on building raw strength. Remember that if in doubt, you can’t go wrong with being strong. Learn your gear and focus on your goals, but never forget the value of a good, strong, raw base.

These are just a few things to think about when trying equipped lifting for the first time. There are plenty more topics that could go way beyond the span of this article, but this is a good starting point. Training and competing in gear can be a great experience and can build you into a more complete lifter as long as you go about it the right way. Seek out more experienced lifters to help you, be patient, and most of all enjoy the ride.

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