The above photo shows the kit I employed at my first powerlifting meeting (most of which I also use during regular training) and in this blog I will explain what I use, why I use it and how I chose it. For those of you who may be looking to purchase powerlifting kit, I would urge you to consider the following adages, all of which were instilled in me at a young age by my father: A fool and his money are easily parted. Make sure you have the right tools for the job. You get what you pay for. Act in haste, repent at leisure.
The kit includes: wrist wraps, knee sleves, long socks, shoes, lifting belt, chalk, remaining attire.
These wrist wraps provide support for the wrist, but also when wrapped over the back of the hand, they maintain a straight forearm-hand alignment by preventing the hand from bending backwards. This is important when setting up for both the squat and the bench press. In the squat, a straight alignment reduces strain on the elbow and in the bench press the straight alignment means you are more likely to have a much better support of the weight on the bar, rather than having the weight bend your wrists backwards and downwards, putting a lot of potential strain where it shouldn't be and also significantly limiting the amount of weight you are able to support.
The purpose of knee sleeves is to stabilize the knee joint and to provide light compression and warmth to promote blood flow and reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions such as tendonitis. Over the longer term, they can also slow the onset of more serious and chronic knee ailments. They feel good during heavy squats and their elasticity gives the feeling of helping me out of the hole, but to what extent they really do this is difficult to quantify. I also wear them when doing my deadlifts, again for the support they provide, but they also have the added bonus of protecting the shins from being scraped by the bar, and they also protect the top of the knee from being accidentally bashed when lowering the bar with a heavy load on it, and they have saved me a couple of times in this respect. After a lot of online research and watching videos on Youtube comparing different brands I opted for Sling Shot STrong sleeves ... and obviously selected the FCPC blue colour! They are made of 7mm thick neoprene and are 30cm long with a seamless design, so conform to competition standard regulations.
I must admit, there was a considerable degree of trepidation when it came to trying them on for the first time. There are two size guides when ordering them: 1. regular/comfortable fit, 2. tight/competition fit. The fit is based on the measurement around the centre of the knee and my measurement was only 0.5 cm below the upper limit for the tight fit, so I was expecting them to be very tight indeed. I had watched videoclips of people having great difficulty getting them on and also read accounts of it taking several minutes to position them correctly. Fortunately I had no such problems and they went on with relative ease using the following technique:
Identify the correct (left vs right) sleeve from the label inside. Roll down the top of the sleeve and roll up the bottom of the sleeve then slip it over the foot.
Using two hands pull the sleeve upwards. This needs to be done rather firmly. If you stop midway then it is a bit awkward (but not impossible) to get it moving again.
Once in place, roll back the top and roll down the bottom ... sorted!
They do feel very strange at first, especially when you try to walk in them but you soon get used to it. Overall, I am extremely happy with these.
The belt I use conforms to the maximum dimensions allowed in competitions: 10 cm wide and 13 mm thick. This heavy duty (1.4kg) leather powerlifting belt has a lever buckle mechanism rather than the traditional prong and hole design. This allows for super quick opening and closing, which is great for competitions, as the last thing you want to be doing is wasting time and effort struggling to fasten your belt tight enough when you should be focusing on the lift you are about to make. I got a great deal on this belt (40% discount) because the supplier had been having problems with around 1 in 10 of the levers breaking as a result of being made of cast metal. If the lever does break it will be easy enough to get a non-cast replacement .... but so far it has been OK.
My powerlifting belt (photo by Ben Lavery)
I wore the belt throughout the competition, but during regular training I use it only when I am using weights equal to or greater than 90% my 1RM, as it is important to develop 'unassisted' core body strength and stability. The purpose of wearing a belt is not to support your lower back as most people assume ... as did I before I researched the topic. Rather, it functions to provide an unyielding surface against which you can brace your abdominal muscles in order to generate core body stability and rigidity. Hence, powerlifting belts require a broad surface area all the way around (not just at the back as seen in traditional weightlifting belts) and function better if worn higher up around the abdomen, where you can generate greater force with your abs (see also the photo of Adam Mack below).
The shoes I am using were selected primarily on the structure of their sole. They have a low, flat sole that is hard and without any internal cushioning. Most training shoes have a distinctly raised heel. Even if the heel is only slightly raised this will offset your balance as a result of tilting you forwards slightly and obviously the higher the sole then the greater this effect. Similarly, any degree of internal cushioning will provide an unstable surface when trying to brace/stabilize yourself for the lift. The last thing you want is to be bouncing around on raised and cushioned soles whilst trying to remain stable with a heavy weight on your back or during the set up for a heavy deadlift. To take this idea to the extreme just imaging trying to unrack and squat your 1RM on a bouncy castle! I am not 100% happy with the shoes I am using as I cannot seem to tighten them enough, so will be considering replacing them for a better fit.
The purpose of the long socks is protect your shins from being scraped by the bar during deadlifts. The rough surface of the bar can lead to nasty scratching and bleeding of the shins. The last thing you want to do is pick up a bar covered in blood, so it is not just about your own protection, it is also for the consideration of others who may be following you in the lifting order.
For a formal competition a one-piece singlet is usually required, such as the one being used below by Adam Mack. The purpose of the tight attire is to allow the judges to easily see if you have made a legal lift, squat or press. Obviously if you are wearing baggy shorts or tracksuits then it can be very difficult to determine if a squat has gone deep enough to count or whether your have raised your bum off the bench whilst pressing.
My 3.5 year-old daughter Amelia loves Adam's socks and keeps asking for some yellow lifting socks
Weightlifter's chalk can be purchased in powder, block or even liquid form. I use magnesium carbonate chalk blocks, but they can crumble easily so I need to take special care not to make a right mess all over the gym. The chalk is applied to the hands for the purpose of soaking up moisture from sweat and to enhance grip strength. I have read that it can be worth an extra 70 to 90kg of grip and it certainly makes the connection between the skin and bar feel much more secure. I tend to use it only when moving heavier loads.
Block of chalk (photo by Ben Lavery)
If you turn up a powerlifting competition and do not have the correct competition standard kit, you can be prevented from using it or even from participating, so it is VERY IMPORTANT to take note of the particular requirements! Of course, one of the most important things to arm yourself with before embarking on any new journey is knowledge! This reminds me of another adage from my dad: knowledge is power!
The next thing on my list to obtain is a set of resistance bands to use for assisted squats in the power rack and also to help train my bench presses. These will be needed for a later training cycle, so I am currently looking into the various options available.
Whatever it is you are looking for, from wrist wraps to kitting out a full gym with top of the range equipment, a great place to start is the Freedom Strength website which you can access by clicking their logo below.