by Robert Maxwell
Hi Robert, I'm 58 and training to compete in masters IPF raw powerlifting for the first time next fall. I know how to squat, bench, and deadlift and am quite strong, but new to the sport. My question is what equipment do I need to compete, and how will it help me? I see guys at my gym lifting with various wraps, belts and rubber suits...I've always lifted with nothing but my workout clothes. Do I really need all that other stuff, and if so, why and which brands would you recommend? Also, aren't their certain rules in powerlifting about what equipment is allowed?
First off, congratulations on deciding to compete! I always get very excited when I see guys training for their first (or 100th) meet, and I wish you all the best. Your question is a good one, and opens up a wider philosophical discussion about equipment use in powerlifting. Before I get into that, though, I'll answer your last question first. I'm glad you mentioned that you're competing in an IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) meet, because there are many different powerlifting federations, and they all have different rules about what equipment is allowed in competition. Even within the IPF, there are different categories, as you're probably already aware. "Equipped" lifting involves wearing a special suit or shirt to make the lifts easier. You're competing raw, which means you're allowed certain equipment, but no specialized suits. Raw lifters in the IPF may wear a lifting belt, knee sleeves (as opposed to knee wraps, which are not allowed), and wrist wraps. Besides your lifting shoes (I assume you own a pair), this is the only equipment you can use in competition as a raw lifter. You can't wear just any brand of equipment, either. The IPF has a list of approved brands and styles on their website. You can see the list here. But back to your original question regarding why you need equipment in the first place.
The short answer is that you don't. The equipment mentioned above is allowed, but not required in competition. The only things that are required are some sort of shoes, a lifting singlet, and a t-shirt. Everything else is optional. So why would you want to use things like a belt, knee sleeves, and wrist wraps? A few reasons, but mostly because they make the lifts easier and a bit safer. A proper lifting belt, for example, gives you something to push your abdominal muscles against, allowing you to brace harder and more strongly during the squat and deadlift (and for some lifters, the bench press, too). Knee sleeves (usually just simple tubes of neoprene) give a bit of support to your knees during heavy squats, while keeping the joint warm and mobile, which improves the safety of maximal effort lifts. Wrist wraps allow you to brace your wrists very strongly (depending on how tightly you do them up), which is a big help for some lifters whose wrists hurt during squats or bench press because of the angle and pressure placed on them.
Bottom line is you don't need any of this equipment to train or compete, but it can be quite helpful. Some lifters are against all equipment, believing the only thing you should lift with is your own body. These purists are rare, though. Most serious lifters understand the proper equipment makes the lifts safer and somewhat easier on the body, which means they'll be able to keep doing what they love for longer. Whether or not you use equipment is a matter of personal preference. My advice is to borrow a lifting belt, knee sleeves, and wrists wraps, and use them for a couple sessions. See how they feel. If you find them helpful, consider investing in your own equipment. If not, just keep doing what you're doing.