Intro To Equipped Lifting
Are you a raw powerlifter looking to add a 100lbs or more to each of your lifts? Do you want to be able to say you squat 200lbs over your raw max? Are you looking for a way to “cheat” without technically cheating? Well geared lifting probably is not for you. I have been coaching powerlifters, both raw and equipped, for a few years and spent 12 years of my life as a competitive powerlifter. There always seems to be a stigma surrounding equipped lifting until an athlete actually tries putting a suit on. If the above statements were true, then why don't we see more people in equipped lifting? The fact is, using equipment is not that simple or easy. While yes these suits do assist the lifter, it's not what you would expect. Lifters don’t just make a casual decision to switch to equipped lifting. With reading this article hopefully you'll have a better understanding of the difference between raw and equipped lifting, how gear works and who knows, maybe you’ll consider giving it a try.
The Outlook On Equipped Lifting - A Little History Lesson
Equipped powerlifting was the only choice when I started lifting back in 2005. Raw was around but no one took it too seriously. It wasn't even an option for anyone who wanted to work up the ranks in the sport until 2008 when Raw Nationals was born. Raw Nationals was pretty small, only around 100 lifters. However, raw lifting continued to grow steadily over the years. In 2012 the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) had its first Raw Worlds. This was a huge step for raw powerlifting. Personally, the magnitude of growth didn’t strike me until 2014 when 1,100+ competitors lifted at Raw Nationals in Scranton, PA. This was unheard of in USA Powerlifting previously. At Raw Nationals in Denver,CO in 2013 there was less than half of that number competing.
You would think this is great news for the sport of powerlifting, which it is, but it also divided our sport into two halves. We now have raw powerlifters and equipped powerlifters. Due to the large number of people participating in Raw Powerlifting, not many understood equipment and due to a lack of knowledge, equipped powerlifting was viewed as cheating, that the competitors in gear weren't really lifting the weight. Which then created a wedge between the two sides of powerlifting. Equipped powerlifters didn’t mix with Raw powerlifters and vis versa, the two sides made jokes non-stop at the others expense. I personally stopped attending raw meets for a long while due to the rude comments made about lifting equipped, it's one thing to crack a few jokes but for a time it was more than that. I was told once I wasn’t a powerlifter because I only competed in equipment. This is ironic because powerlifting roots are from equipped lifting. However, it was different at Raw Nationals this year, 2017, in Orlando, FL, I had a great time watching some great lifters. Initially, I didn’t bring up that I compete equipped unless directly asked due to my previous experiences at raw meets. This year though, I found that many of the lifters knew me from my equipped lifting. They were supportive, asking all kind of questions, wanting coaching and expressing extreme interest in using equipment.
How Equipment Works
You're probably thinking how can raw and geared powerlifting be so different. It is literally the same movement in all the same positions, same commands, same depth, same bars and racks. I can explain this to you, but to truly understand you need to try a suit on for yourself. First, think about squatting without a belt on. Now think of how much different it feels once you put your belt on. In equipped lifting the suit and wraps affect your lift in a similar way. Let’s keep the example of squatting to get this concept across. For raw lifters, you lift without your belt until you hit a certain weight or percentage of your training max. This is generally the point where that weight makes it difficult to maintain back tension so you put on your belt to assist you.
For equipped lifters, the same is true. It gives you something to push/brace your abs against creating more intrathoracic pressure. This increase in pressure helps allow you to maintain your form as the weight gets heavier. Just like raw lifters, we lift beltless until a certain weight or percentage, except for us it doesn't just stop at the belt. For example’s sake, 50% of my equipped max is when I typically put on my belt. Once 65-75% is on the bar, that's when suit bottoms are used. Suit bottoms help to create more pressure through the hips and glutes. This is a way of adding another increase in intrathoracic pressure as the weight continues to go up. Once 75% is reached, knee wraps are needed, you will know to use them when the weight makes it difficult to hold your hips back and the knees want to shoot forward. The final stage of equipment is to then put your straps up, typically straps are used when 80% or higher. At this point, it is hard for you to stay upright and/or you notice your back starts to fold over. Keep in mind, for every pound the suit helps you lift, there's that much more internal pressure to deal with. The pressure experienced in equipment cannot be explained, it needs to be felt to be understood.
Laying out this progression with the gear, you can see more of the purpose of the suit. Yes, the suit assists in the lift but it also allows you to have and maintain the best form possible. When you lift raw there is only so much intrathoracic pressure and good form can do for you. With equipped lifting there are ways to build more intrathoracic pressure, assist in further stabilizing joints, and maintaining overall body tension throughout the lift. This creates greater force and leverage which makes you capable of handling heavier weights. This is the reason why I lift in equipment. I honestly wouldn’t be a powerlifter if the only option was to lift raw, this is just my preference, if equipment is not for you, that is perfectly fine. I am also by no means stating that people who lift raw have bad form.
One point to be noted is that gear does not automatically correct form either. You will find that once you put a suit on, you will need to control it. Equipment can accentuate bad form by putting more strain in certain areas, the difference is that that suit gives you something to push against, it helps you feel your body and give you more control. The equipment does this by creating more feedback loops. The equipment causes tension, which is what allows your body to acknowledge your positioning. In the squat, you can feel if your pushing your glutes back by the tension it causes, you can feel your shoulders are upright by how it pulls on your hips and you can feel where your knees are traveling by the constricting of the knee wraps. In the bench you can feel where your elbows travel by how the suit moves around your body, You can feel the bar path by how it pushes on the chest plate, and you can feel if the weight centered by how the suit constricts on your arms. In the deadlift, you can feel when all the tension is built before you start pulling and you can tell if your upright by how your shoulders pull on your hips.
Use The Force
We know the importance of good form but does proper form really add the significant amount of weight that equipment does? In raw lifting, you can be slightly out of your groove and still muscle the weight up. Everyone has experienced this at one point or another...the “ugly but I got it”. In equipped lifting if you’re out of your groove or missing a technical aspect, it can spell disaster.
In raw lifting your dealing with weight being pulled down by the force of gravity. In equipped lifting, it's very different. You have opposing forces in gear. Not only is gravity pulling you down but now you have the suit wanting to push you back up. Since you can’t control gravity that leaves you with making sure you have control over your suit and knee wraps. If you don’t have control or lose control, then the suit is going to control you by pushing/forcing your body to move wherever it can relieve the most pressure quickest. The pressure from the suit is created when you sit back into a squat “stretching” the suit. The suit WILL fight back; that is the whole point. It wants you to stand back up to relieve the pressure. This is a reason why a solid foundation is important before jumping into equipment. I would never suggest someone start lifting then jump in a suit right away.
Imagine you can squat about 500 lbs with good form and no suit. You put the suit on and after training and adapting you can squat 600lbs. Meaning that you can lift 500 of the 600lbs, and the equipment allows you to push 100lbs of the weight out of technical proficiency in equipment. That 100lbs of extra pressure and weight don’t just disappear until it’s convenient. You need to be able to control that pressure and force it to do what you need it to do. All while having 120% of your max on your back. However, you don’t just magically stand up. You again need to have control of the descent and ascent of the weight. This is why you see many equipped lifters bomb out or lose control of the weight. This is why stability and controlled power is so important in equipment. Possibly the best way to explain this is to think of a spring. That spring needs to be loaded just right for it to push directly into whatever object its pushing against. Load that spring wrong and it's going to pop to the side and possibly hurt someone.
The Real Purpose For Equipment
After hearing that last part of controlling the weight, you're probably thinking “Why would i want to get into gear if it's throwing my body around and making the lift so difficult”. Well, as i had also mentioned the equipment allows your body to stay tight and hold the best form. Speaking from personal experience after 12 years of powerlifting, i have had a few injuries, had to rehab plenty of times and even had a knee surgery. All that being said, i want to do what's best for my body, being injured sucks. In 2012, i had decided i was going to be a raw powerlifter, after a year i realized i was struggling with all sorts of aches and pains. Shoulders hurt, bi-weekly visits to the chiropractor, constantly searching for the next best stretching and prehab routine… etc. This was all because, my body hurt all the time. There was no serious injury stopping me from lifting but it was rough. Overtime i decided i wanted to give equipped lifting a try again (just for funsies). After a few weeks in the suit, i noticed my aches and pain started going away. My joints all felt better, my back needed less adjusting and i felt more power in all my lifts. I could focus more on lifting and less on not hurting myself. What started as a just-for-fun visit in equipment turned into the fuel of which ignited the flame and pushed me to be a better lifter. Even in Blaine Sumners Interview with JTSstrength.com he mentions that he struggled with shoulder and hip pain as a raw powerlifter, once the equipment was on, that pain went away. Gear won't simply fix any issues you have and i'm not saying that it doesn't beat the hell out of you, It just does it in a different way. After a heavy equipped squat, you don’t walk away with an achy back and crackling knees. You’ll walk away with sore quads, a few bruises, achy traps and a good night's sleep.
How much does equipment add to your lifts?
In equipped lifting you will notice there are more people lifting heavier weight. This leads one to believe that the suit allows you to lift more weight. This is true to a point, but the increase in weight comes from more than just “the suit lifting the weight for you.” An example of this is when a raw lifter asks an equipped lifter, “What's your raw max?” This a weird or difficult question for most equipped lifters. Most of the time equipped lifters don’t test their raw max. Typically an equipped lifter lifts raw in their training but rarely above an estimated 80% raw max or They will lift raw to appropriately warm up and prepare for getting into their suit. As a raw lifter, this would be like if I asked you, “What’s your max snatch?” You would be confused why I would be asking that. That’s not a lift a raw powerlifter typically performs to a max effort, most powerlifters would be unable to answer that question. This is also true for equipped lifting. Many equipped lifters do not focus on what their raw max is. They are instead focused on utilizing their raw squat to work on form, warm up for using equipment and other training purposes.
When people ask my raw max, I have to guess and explain that I haven't tested my raw max since 2014. For example, I have no need to know my raw squat max when my focus is to increase my equipped squat. Equipped lifting and raw lifting are very different. You cannot simply test a true equipped max one week, and then test your true raw max the next week. However, once a person unfamiliar with equipped lifting looks at the raw vs equipped numbers they usually assume that's how much they, or anyone, would get in equipment. Generally speaking, this is built from a stereotype that most equipped lifters “lift significantly less raw than they do in suits.” As previously mentioned, this is due to the fact that they don’t train to be good at lifting raw. I’ll admit, this is very much my situation.
My best equipped squat is 850lbs and the most i have ever done raw is 650lbs, if i had to guess my max is somewhere in the 700lb range. truth be told, i have no idea what my true raw max is and i really don't care to know. What most people fail to realize is that an equipped squat and a raw squat are completely different lifts. I have even seen lifters go from raw to equipment and not be able to hit their raw max.
Break out the yellow legal pad, its pros and cons time! As mentioned throughout this article there are many benefits to equipped lifting that are overlooked. A big one for the Pro list is more support. This leads to better form, less aches and pains, easier on your joints, longer career span, and allows you to focus more on lifting and less on recovery. Not only that but you get to lift bigger numbers which makes you feel like a beast! Due to the level of technique required to lift in equipment, it adds another level to lifting, which once mastered, is very fun.
As any good pros and cons list we need to look over the cons with a non-bias viewpoint. Equipment can be very difficult to work with especially if you're on your own at the gym, I did this for about 2 years. It's doable but not easy. Equipment can leave bruises and marks which may be a turn on to some people but to other can be a deal breaker. Workouts in equipment are also longer, which can be a turnoff to anyone who wants to get in/out of the gym in short amounts of time.
A Few Other Roadblocks To Consider
“It's Too Expensive” - One of the biggest issues I hear of when it comes to lifters trying gear is the price tag. It all comes from perspective. An example: You want top of the line raw gear. SBD charges $225 for a belt, $90 for a singlet, $50 for wrist wraps, $90 for knee sleeves and $20 for deadlift socks. That’s a $475 investment. You could purchase brand new, top of the line equipment from Inzer for a grand total of $485.85. That will get you an Inzer Forever Belt ($89.95), Rage-X Bench Shirt ($165), Inzer Singlet ($36.95), Gripper Knee Wraps ($34.95) and a TRX Squat Suit ($159). Another option for new (and seasoned) equipped lifters is to check out the USA Powerlifting Buy, Sell and Trade group on Facebooks. I know people who have acquired all their equipment for as low as $100. It may not be brand new or super top of the line but if you are just trying the gear out to see if you even like it, $100 isn’t a bad investment. You can always re-sell it in that buy, sell and trade group. Do you or have you also thought of competing in bodybuilding? One show in bodybuilding can cost you upwards of $1000. You could also equate it to football, or hockey equipment purchases. Ultimately it comes down to how much are you willing to invest into your hobby.
“I don’t have a consistent workout buddy to train with me” - Starting with equipment, it can be especially rough to train without a buddy. However, outside of a bench shirt it's very possible to train on your own. I have done this for most of my lifting career. Learning to wrap yourself is the biggest obstacle. It is easy to learn and practice makes perfect. As far as a bench shirt is concerned, you can use the Titan Ram, Mark Bell Slingshot, etc. in replacement until you can find someone to help. Typically it's not too hard to find someone once a week or so who can help get you in your shirt. If your buddy is inexperienced with gear you can learn together. With a looser fitting shirt to start out you will have time to learn and understand how the shirt works.
“I don't know how to use the equipment” - This is a legitimate road block. Using equipment is very difficult. There are all kinds of how to videos out there. In the near future I plan on also having a USA Limitless video guides for equipped lifting. However, as you start out in gear special attention is needed for most. This is where coaching becomes involved. If a person has a question or two and reaches out to me at a meet or online I am more than happy to help. If someone is looking for me to fully teach and guide them through their transfer over to equipped lifting then I charge my coaching fee. I coach because I love it, not because I'm trying to get rich.
Wrap it up
Raw and equipped powerlifting are still just powerlifting at the end of the day. If raw is what you’re really into and you don’t want to try gear? No problem, I wish you the greatest success with your lifting. Although, it is fun to try new things, like getting into a suit, maybe just wrap your knees, or even starting small and throwing a Titan Ram on. Regardless, I hope this article has helped you gain a better understanding of how equipped lifting works. If you have any questions, shoot us a message on Facebook or on our contact form at www.usalimitless.com. Find us on Instagram @USALimitless or myself @quintinmeyer.