What is with the suits, shirts, and wraps? Isn't using all that equipment
cheating? In this article I will endeavor to answer the above questions.
First there is the RAW vs. Equipped debates. Among those outside the
powerlifting world there is the misconception that RAW is the old way of
powerlifting. I can tell you, as someone who has been around the sport of
powerlifting since 1978, that this simply is not true. There has always been
some kind of performance enhancing equipment involved in the sport. Anything
from tight jeans for squatting, to elbow wraps for benching, to wrapping
tennis balls to the backs of the knees.
RAW is a term that was coined in 1995. This was the first time in 35 years
of powerlifting history that the rules only allowed a belt to be used as
As powerlifting became more refined the equipment improved. Along with
improved equipment came suppliers. The Suppliers have been the number 1
sponsors of the sport. Those who would seek to abolish equipment are simply
biting the hand that feeds them.
Is equipment cheating? Why is this asked of powerlifters yet not asked of
athletes in any other sport? Let me draw an analogy. I raced bicycles for a
few years. I started out on an old used Schwinn Traveler (low end 10 speed).
I had a hard time keeping up with the team I trained with. They all started
selling me their old parts as they upgraded their machines. Guess what, with
a pair of clipless pedals, and a good set of racing wheels, I was staying
right with those guys. As I progressed in the sport I got an aerodynamic
helmet and skin suit for time trialing. I also upgraded to a decent racing
bike with specially shaped wheels to cheat the wind. All made me a little
faster with the same physical abilities.
As a racing official, I was often asked questions by spectators, about the
equipment the riders were using. They would be in awe and amazement as I
explained the advances in bicycle technology. And how it made the races
faster. Nobody EVER asked me "but isn't that cheating?"
Now imagine a bicycle race, where all the riders were forced to ride old
heavy single speed fat tired bicycles. The riders would be working just as
hard, not harder, than they do right now. But the race would be very slow,
dangerous (cornering would be cumbersome), and certainly boring. When I say
they would not be working any harder than racers do now, here is an
explanation; I put forth just as much effort riding my racing bike 30mph as
I do riding my mountain bike 22mph.
Now lets compare this analogy to powerlifting. Powerlifting is safer with
equipment, because a byproduct if the equipment is a reduced risk of injury.
Powerlifting is more fun to watch with equipment because larger loads are
moved. Equipped lifters have to work just as hard as RAW lifters do. They
just move more weight doing it.
Is the sport still all about strength? Let me put it this way. I can bench
about 15lbs more with my shirt than without it. If I am benching 260 with my
shirt, I must still get stronger to bench 265 with it do I not? So yes, the
sport is still all about strength.
OK so equipment has improved the sport, by generating sponsors, and by
making it more spectator friendly. So would you please explain this
equipment to me, what it is, and how it works? I thought I would never ask.
The following is a list of items and a short explanation of them.
Shirts. A shirt made of heavy material so tight it takes at least one
helper to get it on. Generally leaves bruises around the pec and armpit
area. The shirt makes it very difficult to bring your arms back. With a
properly fitting shirt you will find it impossible to get low enough to do a
The shirt makes it difficult to get the bar to touch the chest, but makes
it very easy to launch the bar off of the chest. It enables you to launch
the bar hard enough for momentum to aid you through any sticking points you
In addition the shirt relieves your shoulders and pecs from the stress of
Squat and Deadlift suits. Again, very heavy material, very tight. Will
generally leave bruises around the hips and tops of the quads where the leg
The suit holds everything tight, makes it difficult to get into the hole,
much easier to launch out of the hole. Some federations allow groove briefs
under the suit. These exaggerate the workings of the suit.
Knee Wraps. A very heavy set of wraps with a certain amount of elasticity.
These make it very hard to bend the leg. But again give a rebound effect out
of the hole. The knee wraps help keep the muscle above the knee from tearing
off it's insertion during single Max rep attempts.
There are of course different degrees of equipment. And debates on just
how much equipment is too much. But that is for another article. For now
support your local powerlifting meet. You will be doing yourself a favor. If
you are reading this article you are already interested in weight training.
What could be more exciting than seeing people move extraordinary amounts of
weight? Lets make powerlifting so popular you can sit back and watch the
best on television on a rainy Saturday afternoon.