With the release of “Westside vs the World,” a lot of newer powerlifters were not only introduced to Westside Barbell gym but equipped powerlifting in general. Most of you who started powerlifting in the last 5 years or so may only know about the current state of the sport as is, with the Raw category being the overwhelming majority. Unbeknownst to you, there was a time where that wasn’t the case, and Equipped powerlifting ruled the platform.
What is equipped powerlifting?
So what is Equipped powerlifting and why is it a different subcategory in powerlifting? Well, equipped powerlifting as the name implies relies a lot more on the equipment and the proficiency of the lifter with it. Now, besides the use of a belt, the crossover between Raw and Equipped powerlifting is nonexistent. They’re almost two different sports.
Let’s take a look at the squat for starters. In Raw powerlifting, you are only allowed the use of knee sleeves, which do offer some assistance to the lifter but oftentimes that is minimal. In comparison, Equipped powerlifting uses knee wraps, squat suits, and depending on the category, squat briefs. Some of you may be familiar with the knee wraps and understand that the compression on the knee joint itself can greatly assist the lifter as it artificially extends the knee joint, but that isn’t exactly what defines equipped powerlifting. After all, knee wraps are allowed in the Classic Raw category. But rather, it’s the use of the squat suit and squat briefs that sets Equipped Powerlifting apart.
The squat suit is a thick canvas suit that adds compression to the lifter to keep them erect. The squat briefs, meanwhile, add even more compression around the hips, pushing them forwards as the lifter rebounds out of the bottom of the squat. As you can see, all this equipment creates a much different squat pattern that allows the lifter to artificially handle more weight than they could without it.
Equipped Bench Press
Moving on to the bench press. The Raw category allows for wrist wraps and a belt (if you use one for bench), whereas the Equipped category allows for either a single or multi-ply bench shirt (depending on the category) which not only adds up to hundreds of pounds to a lifters bench but also changes the bench pattern when compared to a raw bench press.
The bench shirt is so restrictive that lifters can’t put their arms down when walking around, and oftentimes, they need a certain amount of weight on the bar for it to even touch their body. The bench shirt pins the arms together which forces the lifter to treat the bench as row as they struggle to pull the bench shirt apart to force the bar to touch their body. Think about it as a super strong slingshot (which originated from bench shirts, obviously) that goes around the whole body.
Lastly, the deadlift is the lift least affected by equipment as although deadlift suits do aid in the lift itself, the magnitude of it is not nearly as much compared to squat and bench.
The deadlift suit works in a similar way as the squat suit to add compression promoting the lifter to be erect. This usually has a bigger carryover to conventional deadlifts as the suit can help maintain a more neutral back position at the bottom placing the lifter in a better position to lockout.
The deadlift suit is the least supportive of the three, with some equipped lifters choosing to not wear it and deadlift raw (belt and non supportive singlet only).
But what’s the point?
This may seem like a lot more extra work to just powerlift (and it is), so why did lifters choose to use this equipment almost exclusively in the past? Well it’s rather simple.
It was the only way to be competitive.
Think about it, if all your competition were using these suits and there was no way you could even place without them, you probably would use them too.
But eventually, the advancement of equipped powerlifting got to a point where squats were egregiously high with minimal range of motion, bench presses were 300-400lbs higher than what the lifter could handle raw, and the sport became more about manipulation of the equipment rather than a true test of strength. This is where the Raw revolution started around the early 2010’s, as lifters shifted away from the very technical aspect of equipment into the more user-friendly raw division.
The lower barrier of entry of Raw powerlifting attracted the attention of new powerlifters looking to compete, and over the last decade or so, the sport has almost exclusively shifted into the Raw side.
Although impressive in its own right, equipped powerlifting is its own sport that requires a much higher barrier of entry with all sorts of equipment that does not interest me in the slightest bit. I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t be interested in it (that is just personal preference), but rather that the barrier to entry both technique and equipment wise is much higher than Raw powerlifting.