Equipped Powerlifting Is Cheating?
Since 1987, when I began competing in powerlifting, I have heard this comment hundreds of times from lifters and spectators alike. It is assumed by these “experts” that once you put on this supportive lifting equipment that you will set world powerlifting records each time you step on the platform. They also believe that the powerlifting gear is doing the lifting for you so therefore you are cheating and not really lifting the weight.
When I started competing you had a choice of squatting in a Marathon suit, Inzer suit, and a wrestling singlet. All three of those suits followed the lifting organizations rules. The rules stated you could wear a supportive polyester suit.
The Inzer and Marathon suits hurt like hell. The Inzer would tear up your legs and well the Marathon suit was called the “gender changer”, You can figure it out. The wrestling singlet, while having super short legs, was comfortable. The point of getting on that platform was and always will be to lift the most weight you can and get at least 2 white lights. Well, if you and I each stepped onto the platform and you had a Marathon squat suit and I have a singlet, would it be fair? An even playing field? Sure it would, as we both had the decision to follow the rules of the powerlifting federation and wear whatever is legal to get lifts passed and in the books.
In those early days, if a squat suit actually added 30-40 pounds that was fantastic. Myself, I think that 50% of that gain was just mental, feeling tighter and more compact. Did you cheat wearing a suit? No. Did I suffer wearing a singlet? No, but I may have been able to lift more than you with that squat suit edge.
Squat suits and bench shirts were originally brought around to keep people safe and keep them tight. As technology improved and powerlifting gear evolved it became more supportive but always stayed within the rules of the federation. So again, there was no cheating. You could still lift “raw” in a singlet but when your competitor is using squat suits, bench press shirts and deadlift suits you have a tougher time keeping up with the leaders. A lifter cannot just put on the top-of-the-line Titan bench press shirt and bench press 150 more pounds. It just does not work like that. This powerlifting gear is a tool, and you must learn how to use the tool and become skilled at it like a craftsman. It takes time. We get calls all the time at Lifting Large from people that want a bench shirt right away because they have a meet in two weeks. They have never used a shirt and heard it will add 100 pounds to their bench press. We will do our best to talk them out of it for their own good and because it will not happen like that. I would love to sell the shirt but I don’t want anybody hurt, and I know from 30+ years of lifting that you cannot learn single-ply or double-ply equipment that fast.
Consider these points as well: Is a powerlifting belt cheating? You don’t ever hear that, do you? You won’t, because most people and beginning lifters think it is a safety item to keep your back safe, when it really does nothing for your back. It just makes up (to some extent) for a weak core and allows you to lift more weight.
I will turn the tables now. We get customers weekly requesting singlets 2 sizes smaller than the size chart states. They always ask how much will the singlet add to my lift? The same happens with powerlifting knee sleeves. Lifters are using suit slip ons and trash bags to get into several size smaller knee sleeves that size charts show. Why are they doing this? They want the equipment to help them lift more weight, which is the same mentality that equipped lifters have, isn’t it? Since they are lifting in raw powerlifting competitions with rules emphasizing non-supportive equipment, are they considered to be cheating?
We all compete in this sport to challenge ourselves under strict standards, in front of qualified judges, to see how much weight we can handle. We all want the same thing and have the same goals of lifting more weight in competition and getting it in the books. As long as you are following the rules of your powerlifting federation, you are not cheating. Are raw lifters stronger than equipped lifters? No, they are equally strong in their own environment on the platform under the given rules.
I think every lifter should give raw and equipped lifting a shot in competition. Why not experience both, as it will only make you stronger and understand our incredible sport even more.