Be Raw, Get Raw
This is an easy way to increase your gains in just about any avenue of resistance training with the barest minimum of fuss. Whether or not you follow the sport of Powerlifting, the competitions themselves are divided into two camps – Raw, and Equipped. Put simply the equipped guys (and gals) make use of support equipment like squat and bench suits, belts, knee wraps, wrist straps and supports, etc etc whereas the raw lifters aren’t allowed to use support equipment (usually they’re allowed a belt, sometimes straps and knee wraps but not always).
Perhaps unsurprisingly the equipped lifters almost always lift more weight. A good squat suit can add up to 100kg (220lbs) to a 1RM squat, maybe more! A good bench suit isn’t too dissimilar either, with the world records in Squat, Bench, and Deadlift all being around 1000lbs. Obviously for the raw lifters not only are the numbers lower across the board but there’s also a lot more disparity between lifts (generally your squat and deadlift will be more than your bench).
So what does all this have to do with general gym shenanigans for the weight lifter and athlete?
Even though support equipment is incredibly useful in competition to get that edge and confidence to perform better, when you’re training using too much support equipment is just going to hold you back and create weak links. Abused too much and those weak links might even lead to injury.
Lifting Belt –
Worn around the waist to support the lower back and core and provide something for the midsection to brace against. In competition this provides another layer of support and strength to what should be an already strong back and abs, and since you’re maxing out in competition the safety element is big confidence booster. Using a belt too much in training will take a lot of the stress off the lower back muscles while taking no stress off the rest of the body, the net result is that your lower back and core get undertrained are weaker in comparison with the rest of you. What usually happens is that you’ll try to lift something one day and while you’re perfectly capable of lifting it, without a belt your core can’t do it’s job in supporting the spine and you get an injury. Eventually if you get strong enough not even the belt will be enough to help your core support the weights you’re trying to lift.
Worn on the wrists and wrapped around the bar to anchor the lifter to the bar. This effectively takes the hands almost completely out of the equation, and makes it nigh on impossible to drop the weight. In competition this is great because the last thing you want is to fail an attempt because your hands slipped. In training using straps all the time leads to vastly under-developed forearms, hands, and grip strength, all of which are absolutely critical for athletes of any sport and for being able to continually progress in the gym. Not only that, but in using straps you have no need to grip the bar as tightly which decreases your overall muscular tightness through the arms and shoulders, a situation that could possibly lead to a pull or tear.
Wrist Wraps –
These are worn around the wrists to provide support much like a lifting belt does for the torso. They are wrapped tight to compress and limit movement in the wrists and hands. When dealing with maximal weights in competition one slip of the wrist and you could land yourself with an injury or drop the weight, especially in things like bench press or overhead press you want the wrists and hands to be as stable as possible. In training however using wraps as a crutch leaves your wrists weakened and undertrained, again just opening yourself up for an injury later on.
Knee Wraps –
Knee wraps aren’t used just as support but for assistance as well. Wrapped around your knees tight enough to make your ears bleed, when you get to the bottom of a squat the elasticity of the material springs you back up again. They also stop your knees from buckling when walking a heavy weight out of the rack. In competition the benefits should be obvious here, you’ll be able to lift more weight. In training the main thing i dislike them for is giving people a false sense of how strong they are when the wraps are lifting that extra 20-30kg, not you.
There’s a time and a place for support equipment and that place is the competition platform. If you can do it without equipment it’s going to be that much easier when you do use it, and you may get that edge you’ve been looking for. Get raw and get strong and be confident in the knowledge that you can walk into any gym anywhere at any time in your street clothes and do something awesome.