Powerlifters typically fall squarely (and fairly adamantly) into one of two camps: Raw or equipped. Yes, we know, they sound like PornHub categories—but the designation is a serious one in the powerlifting world, and the subject of heated debate in both online and real-world forums.
The difference between the two classifications boils down to this: Raw lifters shun the use of some or all supportive equipment such as weightlifting belts, knee wraps, bench press shirts, and squat suits. Equipped lifters don’t.
Here’s why it matters: Equipped lifters can typically lift more weight. Part of that comes from the stability and support provided by such equipment, but a growing body of evidence suggests that powerlifting gear can also directly assist the athlete in lifting the load. The elastic energy that builds up in a squat suit during the lowering phase of the lift can help you drive out of the bottom position, allowing you to handle more weight than you could without the suit, for example. So the questions is: Can true strength really be expressed when using such equipment?
We’re not going to answer that question, because the answer is subjective and ultimately comes down to personal philosophy. If you’re a powerlifter, do what you feel is right for you. Use supportive equipment, or don’t—we won’t judge you either way. But what we will weigh in on is whether non-powerlifters should use supportive gear in their regular workouts.
Your move: If you’re not a competitive powerlifter, and your goal is to build strength and gain muscle, you’re likely better off skipping the supportive gear. Sure, knee wraps, squat suits, and weightlifting belts can help you lift more weight—but generally only while wearing them.
What’s more, studies show that using such gear regularly can negatively affect your form and increase your risk of injury when you lift “unequipped.” That’s why even equipped powerlifters often use supportive gear only during competitions and in the training sessions leading up to them.
Instead, focus on mastering proper form and progressively lifting more weight as you build real-world strength that translates beyond the gym.