Raw Powerlifting vs. Geared Powerlifting: Which Is Best For You?

This is a guestpost from Dave Yarnell

Dave is a record holding powerlifter in the WNPF, has 30 years plus training experience, is a certified personal trainer, a published outdoor writer and a drug free strength training advocate

Find out more at http://www.christianiron.com

Raw Powerlifting vs Geared powerliftingRaw vs. “geared” powerlifting. These may be confusing terms for novices to the game or those not involved in it. It gets even more confusing when we have different rules defining these terms in various lifting federations.

In the early days of powerlifting, there were not any real supportive items to have rules about, unless you consider ace bandages supportive (they are to a mild degree). Early bench shirts and squat suits offered noticeable support, but pale in comparison to the technology we have these days, even with the present day “single ply” stuff. 


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As is the normal course of things, manufacturers continued to make the suits more efficient and help one lift more, until double- ply and the multi-ply gear came along eventually. We now have shirts & suits that can add hundreds of pounds to ones lifts and even the single-ply stuff offers a lot more boost than the original versions. 

These days, there is a certain amount of polarization between fans of “unlimited gear”  at one end, and “raw” lifting at the other, although there are many that find themselves somewhere in the middle ground.  

Groups like the new Westside barbell club, Metal Militia and others take the attitude that anything goes in terms of supportive gear. And if unbelievable totals are the goal, this type of gear is a must.

Folks at the other end would say that the extreme gear is adding so much to the lifts that it is no longer a true test of power. When bench shirts are so strong that touching the chest with the loaded bar is more difficult than making the lift, or squat suits so tough that getting to parallel without 1000 pounds on your back is almost impossible… maybe things have gotten a bit out of hand.

One of the reactions to the extremes mentioned has been a swinging of the pendulum in the opposite direction, with a new popularity craze of raw lifting. The purists in this realm will not allow knee wraps, or even sleeves; only a belt, singlet and wrist wraps. Some organizations allow knee wraps in their raw divisions, but supportive shirts or suits of any kind are off limits in all raw divisions.

Most federations these days offer choices; raw, single or multi-ply, but some are raw only or offer just raw or single ply, so you can find a federation that fits your philosophy. 

So where do I stand on the issue? 

I think all rookie powerlifters need to start out training raw to build a strong base and get the proper techniques down-pat.  I have seen very young lifters at meets wearing unlimited gear that in my opinion had no business doing so. Putting on a $300 bench shirt when you can’t even raw bench your own bodyweight is just plain silly, even if the expense won’t put a hurt on your budget.

Raw Powerlifting vs Geared powerlifting

On the other hand, I have used single ply gear and I have no problems with people using any level of gear that they prefer, as long as there is a level playing field.  I happen to feel raw lifting is the way to go for newbies, but seasoned lifters may find they can extend their careers and take some stress off of the joints by stepping into some supportive gear. 

To tell the truth, I would love to see what I might be able to lift with some of the modern gear, as the stuff I use is very outdated. If I ultimately choose to go that route, it would likely be in the USAPL, which allows single ply gear. 

I would suggest that even if you think you want to go the full bore route eventually, that you work up to it gradually, starting with single ply first, learning how to get the most out of that, before stepping up to the next level.  There is a learning curve to using even single- ply gear; you don’t just pop a shirt on & suddenly lift 100 pounds more and some people get more out of gear than others. 

The other factor I alluded to already is the expense of gear.  Even to outfit yourself with single ply suit, shirt & knee wraps will run you several hundred smackers, and the prices go up with the number of plys in the gear. This factor alone is probably why most rookies and younger lifters opt for the raw lifting route.

 Of course, there is another thing I have to mention. You typically need some help getting into your gear, so having training partners that are willing to help out with this is an added requirement.

This brings us to the subject of another article to come, that will be about finding a good club to train with, so please stay tuned for that one, coming soon.

Raw Powerlifting vs Geared powerlifting

Let’s be honest about sponsorship in powerlifting here, too. 

The gear manufacturers and sales people are one of the few areas that support & promote lifting, and without this, there would be a serious gap in funding for a lot of things we hold dear. It is one of the few things that enable some elite level lifters to make a profession of it, and none of them are cashing checks like the athletes in the more popular sports like baseball, hockey, football & basketball.

 I think unlimited gear is entrenched in the sport and not going anywhere anytime soon, even if it may never be fully embraced by the masses.  Most would say that diversity in our sport, like elsewhere in life, is a desirable thing.  You can choose to use enhancement or opt out. You can go raw or equipped at the level you prefer. Make your choices and have at it.

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