As strength training continues to rise in popularity, so too does powerlifting. It’s no longer seen as a sport which is dominated by men and over the past few years more of the younger generation and females are entering the sport whether competitively or just to reap the benefits to the body from bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting.
If you plan on competing in powerlifting there are many items you can use to help advance you in the sport and help to prevent injuries. It’s important to remember that powerlifting federations will have their own rules in relation to what can and cannot be used.
Even if you don’t want to become a competitive powerlifter, certain items are definitely worth adding to your training arsenal to maximise your workouts.
WHAT EQUIPMENT IS NEEDED FOR POWERLIFTING
Aside from having access to equipment that will enable you to accomplish the three main lifts of squat, bench press and deadlift there are many accessory items that you may be able to take advantage of. Below we provide a breakdown of powerlifting gear; what these items are and why you may want to consider using them.
1. GYM CHALK
Gym Chalk is used to absorb moisture from a person’s palms, which helps to improve grip and reduce friction. Favoured by weightlifters, climbers, and other strength athletes, it’s made from magnesium carbonate and available in liquid, powder or block form.
If you suffer from sweaty hands, using chalk when undertaking your lifts will help hugely with ensuring you can better grip the barbell, it does not improve grip strength nor does it lessen grip fatigue. However, it’s not especially common in gyms due to it being quite messy, especially the powder variety, so do check that your gym has not banned chalk from their premises before making use of it.
Liquid chalk tends to be favoured more when compared to powder chalk. This is because it’s more portable, making it easy to throw in your gym bag. It’s also much less messy and won’t leave a dusty residue everywhere. Liquid chalk generally offers better adherence to a person’s hands so, when compared to powder or block chalk, it lasts much longer.
Weightlifting chalk is very easy to use. Simply apply to the palms of your hands, rub together and you’re ready to lift!
2. KNEE WRAPS
Knee wraps are long strips of elastic which are wound tightly around the knees of a weightlifter or powerlifter. Their primary purpose is as a compression aid to help protect the knee joints when squatting and also to help with lifting more weight.
When wrapped tightly enough, knee wraps can also provide assistance to a lifter when squatting as they provide some momentum when powering back up from the bottom of the squat. They are not particularly comfortable and only designed to be worn for short periods of time.
Powerlifters typically wrap them tight enough so they can no longer freely bend at the knee. A heavy weight load then helps to push the lifter down to a squat position, with the knee wrap essentially acting like a coiled spring.
Learning how to wrap the knees is incredibly important as if done incorrectly, they could come apart during your squat which can lead to a potential injury. You would start with your leg outstretched and begin by wrapping from just under the knee and continue upwards, pulling the wrap as tight as possible as you go along. The end is tucked under to ensure it cannot come loose and the wrap should be tight enough that you cannot bend your knee.
Wrapping the knees can be a workout in itself, which is why it’s common to see someone doing it for a lifter, especially in a competitive environment.
3. KNEE SLEEVES
Knee sleeves are neoprene tubes which are designed to be pulled up and over the knee and are a compression aid helping to prevent injury during exercises such as the squat. The material helps to warm the muscles and joints of the knee, which keeps inflammation at bay.
Whilst they look somewhat similar to knee wraps, they are very different. Knee sleeves are not to be used to help a squatter lift more and do not offer the same supportive benefits as knee wraps.
When compared to wraps, knee sleeves can be worn for longer periods and remain comfortable during use. The difference in material also means sleeves are much more pliable allowing you to freely bend at the knee.
4. BENCH SHIRT
A bench shirt is designed to be worn by competitive powerlifters during the bench press exercise. Made from thick, stiff material (such as canvas) it allows the wearer to bench press more weight by storing kinetic energy as the lifter lowers the bar. This energy is then used to push the weight back up, off the chest.
Bench shirts are worn by powerlifters in equipped competitions and would not be permitted for use in raw or classic powerlifting meets. There are different styles available depending on how the user executes the bench press. For example, a straight sleeve bench shirt is better suited to those who don’t arch their their back when pressing.
They are also available in different thickness of material. This is known as single ply or multi ply. Essentially, a single ply shirt is just one layer of fabric, with multi ply being more than one layer. As a general rule, the more layers the shirt has, the more weight you can bench press.
If your goal is to bench press as much as possible in an equipped, competitive environment, then a bench shirt is a worthwhile investment. That being said, it’s only typically worn by those who can already bench press a fairly significant amount of weight and the gains seen are more notable.
5. DEADLIFT SUIT
A deadlift suit is an item of clothing made from thick, stiff material such as canvas and is worn by powerlifters during a deadlift exercise. Designed to be tight fitting, it provides support and compression to the hips, allowing the wearer to deadlift more weight whilst helping to prevent injury.
They’re not known for being particularly comfortable to wear, nor are they easy to get on, especially when new. Once you’re in your deadlift suit, you may notice it’s a little difficult to hinge forward at the hips. However, that is the purpose of the suit. As you proceed to grab the barbell, the suit will act as a kind of coiled spring. When you are holding the bar and ready to lift, the stiffness of the suit will act as a support, keeping your hips aligned and assist you on the way back up until you have locked out at the hips.
As with the bench shirt and squat suit, deadlift suits are available in single ply and multi ply with some being adjustable. Before investing in one, it’s worth doing your research on materials and brands as they can differ quite a bit. Some suits are also better for sumo deadlifts compared to the conventional deadlift, so bear in mind how you execute the exercise too.
In a competitive environment, a deadlift suit may only be worn by equipped lifters and would not be permitted for use at raw or classic powerlifting competitions.
6. SQUAT SUIT
A squat suit is an item of clothing worn by a powerlifter during the squat exercise. Its purpose is as a supportive aid, helping the lifter to squat more whilst helping to prevent injury. It may seem visually similar to a deadlift suit, but it does have a different cut designed specifically for a squat movement.
Typically made from canvas, denim or other such stiff materials it provides the most support at the bottom of the squat exercise where kinetic energy stored on the way down helps to push the lifter back up to a standing position.
As with the deadlift suit and bench shirt, the squat suit is more for lifters who can already move large amounts weight for their size but are looking to go that extra mile and add more weight to their personal best. As it allows the lifters to squat more, it is only allowed at competitions where equipment is permitted.
7. DEADLIFT SOCKS
Deadlift socks are designed to prevent injury to the lower leg when performing a deadlift exercise. As a barbell is held closely to the leg when bringing the weight up, knurling on the bar can scrape the shins. The thickness of deadlift socks offers protection from the knurling against the skin.
They are not the same as regular knee length socks and typically will be thicker at the front, this is to protect the shins. You’ll notice that the material is usually a much tighter knit fabric when compared to normal socks, this helps to minimise any catching on the barbells.
Deadlift socks can be worn by anyone who have a tendency to keep the bar extremely close to the lower legs when deadlifting. As they are a form of skin protection and don’t offer any benefit by way of lifting more, they can be worn by both equipped and raw powerlifters.
8. WEIGHTLIFTING SHOES
Weightlifting shoes are worn by strength athletes with the purpose of providing suitable support during a specific exercise. Deadlift shoes are typically flat with support around the ankles whilst squat shoes are more rigid with a slightly elevated heel of between 0.75 to 1.5 inches.
Deadlift shoes are flat as this provides the lifter with stability during a deadlift exercise and help them maintain contact with the floor. This additional floor contact improves friction and also helps with balance. Often a powerlifter may opt to deadlift bare foot if they do not have deadlift shoes.
Squat shoes have an elevated heel with firm support. The raised heel reduces ankle mobility, this makes them ideal if you have poor ankle flexibility. They are also much firmer than typical gym shoes, this is to prevent any foot movement during the squat as they provide a solid base from which to execute the exercise.
In competition, whether raw or equipped, foot wear must be worn and should be flat so whilst you could wear deadlift shoes, squat shoes would not be permitted.
9. WRIST WRAPS
Wrist wraps are elastic strips which are to be wound tightly around the wrist with the aim of reducing movement. They are used by weightlifters for the purpose of preventing the wrists from overextending during exercises such as the bench press or squat. They keep joints stable whilst preventing injury.
When worn correctly, wrist wraps will keep the wrist straight by offering stability and limiting the range of motion. This is particularly beneficial during a heavy bench press when significant pressure can be applied to the wrist joints.
As with most powerlifting gear, they are not designed to be comfortable nor should they be worn for long periods of time. They should be worn tight enough to keep any wrist movement to a minimum.
There are different wrapping techniques suggested with some helping to improve grip strength. If you want to use wrist wraps with the sole aim of improving grip, then start with a clenched fist. Once you have wrapped your wrist, it will be difficult for you to uncurl the fingers making this a better position for an improved grip.
Wrist wraps are allowed to be worn during both raw and equipped competitions.
10. ELBOW SLEEVES
Elbow sleeves are a compression aid manufactured from neoprene. They are designed to support the elbow during heavy lifting exercises, such as a bench press. They can also help to improve blood flow to the area and reduce inflammation.
When in use, elbow sleeves offer a similar benefit to knee wraps in that they can help you to move more weight during a bench press. Made from rigid and thick material, they offer significant support to the elbow joint so that when you un-rack your bar, your elbows feel much more stable allowing you to complete the movement in a more controlled way.
During the downward portion of a bench press, energy is stored within the sleeves. This is the same principle as squatting with knee wraps. This stored energy rebounds and will help you to press the weight back up.
When it comes to powerlifting competitions, elbow sleeves can be used. However, due to their ability to assist during a bench press they would not be permitted for use in raw events.
11. WEIGHTLIFTING BELT
A weightlifting belt is a rigid belt used during the bench press and squat exercise and enables the wearer to brace their core whilst giving stability to the lower back.
Commonly made from leather with a lever mechanism, they are wider than a standard belt which will provide you with support around the torso. Bracing as much as possible before a squat is important if you want to squat heavy and keep pressure away from your spine.
The belt allows you to expand the core muscles against it making it easier to maintain rigidity during the squat. When it comes to use in a competition, a powerlifting belt can be used in both raw and equipped meets.
12. SINGLET / LEOTARD
A singlet, sometimes referred to as a leotard, is a one-piece, form-fitted suit worn in powerlifting competitions. They offer no muscular or joint support and are worn in order that a referee may determine the success of a lift, such as the depth of a squat.
Whilst a singlet is not likely to be worn as regular gym attire, they are a necessary requirement in the vast majority of powerlifting competitions. As well as assisting the judging of lifts, they also ensure each powerlifter has a level playing field in terms of clothing not providing any additional support. This is especially important in raw lifting.
The rules surrounding a singlet do tend to vary by federation but in most cases the singlet is to be single ply, a one piece with no fastenings such as zips and they should be a fairly tight fit (but not tight that they offer support to joints such as the hips).
13. LIFTING STRAPS
Lifting straps are strips of durable fabric which loop over a person’s wrists and are then wrapped around a barbell during a heavy pulling movement such as a deadlift. Their purpose is to allow the lifter to pull the weight where their forearm and grip strength may be a weakness.
If you have a strong back and posterior chain but are working on improving grip strength, making use of lifting straps will allow you to continue to overload the muscles that can lift the weight even when your grip is letting you down.
They are sometimes viewed as controversial as many people consider that if you cannot grip the weight then you shouldn’t be lifting it. In which case, the aim would be to focus on improving forearm and grip strength in order that you don’t need to use straps.
Lifting straps cannot be used in any competitive powerlifting environment.
14. KNEE WRAP ROLLERS
A knee wrap roller is a device used to build tension in wraps before wrapping them around the knees. Wrapping the knees is quite energy consuming but by making use of a knee wrap roller, this saves both energy and time.
The device is usually mounted to something such as a power rack with the knee wraps then clamped into place. A rotating arm is then used to simultaneously tighten and wind the wrap around a central pin leaving you with a ready rolled, pre-tensioned knee wrap.
If you make use of knee wraps during your training but find wrapping really burns up a lot of your energy you may want to consider investing in one of the useful gadgets.
15. GUM SHIELDS / MOUTH GUARD
A mouth guard is often used by powerlifters when they are lifting excessive amounts of weight. The mouth guard helps to protect the teeth if the lifter has a habit of clenching their jaw during heavy lifting.
Clenching of the jaw can result in pain to the neck, head and shoulders but wearing a mouth guard creates a barrier between the teeth thus taking the brunt of much of the pressure created during jaw clenching.
There are numerous studies which purport that the wearing of a mouth guard during heavy lifting can improve balance, flexibility and strength. However, much of this evidence remains inconclusive.
That being said, if you are one to clench your jaw and want to avoid the associated aches and pains, getting your hands on a suitable mouth guard is definitely worthwhile.
16. SMELLING SALTS
Smelling salts are commonly made from the inorganic compound ammonia. Historically used as a resuscitation aid, they are sometimes used by athletes as a stimulant to provide a short but intense burst of adrenaline which can improve performance.
Head on to our related article to learn more about smelling salts.
The above list of powerlifting aids may not necessarily suit everyone but consider each individually and whether or not they could offer benefits to your training.