“When should I get a belt?”
This question is definitely in my top 5 FAQs at Burley so I figured, in the interest of time management, I’d put all my thoughts and knowledge around powerlifting equipment into an epic blog series for y’all to read! My plan is to break down the what/why/when for each piece of equipment and leave you to make an informed decision about what you need and when to get it. Part 1’s going to be all an overarching view of equipment and then subsequent parts will break down individual pieces of equipment and their uses.
Ultimately, like almost every question I get in coaching, the answer is: it depends. None of the equipment I talk about in this blog post is necessary or compulsory. Plenty of people have gotten in-humanly strong without any of it and plenty of people have gotten strong with any combination of equipment. The choice of what you use and when you use it is a personal one that has many facets. My biggest piece of advice? Don’t listen to the haters. You’re likely to cop shit from arm chair coaches and lifters alike regardless of what you choose to use (or not use) and why. Use whatever equipment you like and tell the haters to shove it.
What’s all this ‘equipment’ you speak of?
For the purposes of this post I’m going to break the plethora of equipment into two, relatively broad, sub-categories: Supportive and Assistive equipment. I classify supportive equipment as any piece of equipment that provides support for a joint without adding extra weight to the amount you can lift. Included in this category are knee/elbow sleeves, wrist wraps, compression cuffs and olympic lifting shoes (though I won’t talk much about shoes as that’s a whole seperate article by itself).
Assistive equipment is any piece of equipment that, either directly or indirectly, allows a lifter to lift more weight than they could without the piece of equipment in question. This category includes knee wraps, squat/deadlift suits, bench shirts, lifting straps and slingshots. Some of this equipment is allowed in powerlifting competitions (depending on your chosen federation) and some is just for training purposes. Assistive equipment is often misused by inexperienced lifters looking to boost their ego and their Instagram following but we’ll talk more about that below.
Why do I need all this fancy equipment? I just want to lift weights bro!
Firstly – you don’t.
As I said above none of this equipment is necessary or compulsory. You can get plenty strong without using any of it. If you want to compete in the top tier of your chosen powerlifting federation you’re probably going to need at least some of it, the choice of which depends on what your federation allows. As far as I see it there are 3 main reasons you’d make the decision to use any piece of equipment. Below I’ll breakdown those reasons and my thoughts on each.
1) You want to lift more weight
Pretty self explanatory really. If your ultimate goal is to lift the largest amount of weight possible you’ll probably want to invest in some of the assistive gear I listed above. There’s a fairly militant faction of the arm chair coaches out there that will happily tell you that you’re not really lifting if you use *insert any piece of equipment you can think of*. Doesn’t matter what it is, there’s someone out there who’ll tell you it doesn’t count. That’s fine, everyone’s entitled to an opinion and, in the age of free speech and the internet providing a platform, it’s your right to tell them to get fucked. Most of the people that tell you your choice of equipment is cheating are small minded, weak and pathetic children. Don’t listen to them. You do you.
2) You want to prevent/manage an injury
Again a perfectly reasonable reason to use any piece of equipment. Personally I don’t think any single piece of equipment will prevent an injury. In my mind injury prevention starts with a solid technical foundation to your lifting. Things like knee/elbow sleeves and compression cuffs may help manage some of the niggles associated with lifting but generally they won’t improve the condition of the niggle however they might help you train with reduced or no pain.
If you’re dealing with ongoing pain and discomfort you should probably get it checked out by a knowledgable professional (not just the gym bro in a stringer who tells you to bench with a wider grip because your elbows hurt). Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Don’t rely on a bandaid solution. Find the source and fix the problem.
Belts are definitely the piece of equipment most commonly associated with injury prevention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I should be wearing a belt for anything over a given weight or that lifting without a belt is dangerous.
I’ve seen plenty of people injure themselves to varying degrees while wearing a belt. They’re not magic. They are a tool that, when used correctly, can potentially help reduce the risk of injury but there’s no guarantees on that front. We’ll go over how and when to use a belt in a seperate article down the track as there’s a lot of factors that go into it and they’re beyond the scope of this post.
3) You want to look cool on Instagram
This one’s pretty self explanatory and probably the only reason I think is a waste of time. The rise of the Instagram lifter has been epic over the last few years and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. Don’t be that person that has a million followers but relies on well rehearsed angles and a pair of knee wraps to make it look like you’ve got a huge squat.
Be honest with yourself.
Do you really need the validation of the 236 people that actually see your stuff on Instagram?
Ok, I’ve listened to your advice but when do I start using the equipment?
Once again we return to my favourite and most common answer to a question:
Ultimately I think it comes down to how much cash you’ve got to throw at your powerlifting endeavour. As I’ve said before you don’t NEED any of this equipment to be successful. If you had to pick one piece to spend your hard earned dollary-doos on I’d make sure you invest in a high quality belt. After that the rest of the equipment is on a as needed basis.
The biggest issue with getting all the equipment too early in your powerlifting career is that the equipment becomes a crutch. With a decent training program that includes periods of training without any of the gear you should find you’ll avoid developing a dependence.
When you’re looking into equipment make sure that you have access to a quality coach who can show you the best steps for getting the most out of your equipment. Just haphazardly slapping some gear on and hoping for the best won’t do you much good especially in the long term.
That’s about it for Part 1. Part 2 will look at the what, why and how of the fun world of belts
Until next time,