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Powerlifting Gear, Federation, and
Contest Struggles and Decisions

By Gary F. Zeolla

The article on Introduction to Powerlifting Competition mentioned about the mess that powerlifting is in, with there being about 20 different federations, each with slightly different rules. See the page Powerlifting Federations for links to the sites for these federations.

One of the main areas of rules difference is in regards to supportive, powerlifting gear. Such gear can consist of a power belt, wrist wraps, knee wraps, squat suit, deadlift suit, briefs to be worn under the suits, and a bench shirt. The knee wraps can be 2.0, 2.5, or 3.5 meters in length; the wrist wraps can range from 12-36", while the suits and shirt can be single-ply, double-ply, or triple-ply and made of polyester, denim, or canvas. See the page Powerlifting Gear and Equipment for links to companies that sell powerlifting gear.

Each federation will have its own rules as to what length of wraps and how many layers and what kind of material can be used for the suits and shirt. But the biggest difference is between "equipped" lifting that allows all of this gear to some degree and "raw" lifting that only allows a belt, and maybe wraps.

Every powerlifter and anyone thinking of competing will have to make a decision as to what federation to compete in, and this decision can determine what gear is used; or conversely, what gear one wants to use can determine what federation to compete in. But either way, every powerlifter has to make a decision as to whether to compete equipped or raw, and if competing equipped, what kind of gear to use.

One source of controversy about gear is the ranking lists published by Powerlifting USA magazine. Each month, this magazine publishes a "Top 100" chart for a different weight class. This chart lists the top 100 squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and total for that weight class performed in an official contest within the past year. The weight classes are rotated through each month so that once a year each weight class is presented. Also once a year, Powerlifting USA publishes Top 20 charts for each weight class for female, teenage, and master (over 40 years old) lifters.

But the problem is, the charts do not distinguish between raw and equipped lifters and whether single or multi-ply gear is used. As such, multi-ply lifters have a better chance of placing higher in the rankings, while raw lifters are at a distinct disadvantage.

For this article, I am going to do something a little different. I am going to present a series of messages I posted in the Weight Trainers United forum. These all concern struggles I have had over what contests and federation to compete in and what if any gear to use. Hopefully, by relating my struggles in this regard it will help other powerlifters to make decisions on these difficult subjects.

IPA Worlds and Nationals Dates

The Web site for the IPA [International Powerlifting Association] had not been updated from last year, so I emailed Ellen Chaillet (wife of IPA president Mark Chaillet) about the dates for IPA Worlds. It is set for June 23,24, 2007 in York, PA.

IPA Nationals will then be November 17,18, also in York, PA. So tentatively, IPA Worlds will be my next contest. And with the two meets almost five months apart, also tentatively, I could also enter Nationals. So that could be my two contests this year. But it all depends on getting my gear problems figured out.

As for the IPA Web site, Ellen said they are looking for a new Webmaster to take care of it.


IPA Worlds Application

In anyone is interested, the application for IPA World's is now on their Web site. Click on the "Events" tab.

As I've posted, this will probably be my next contest. If I do enter it, I will probably go raw. But I'm waiting to send in my application to see how my training goes over the next few weeks and to be sure I will have the money. Between the application fee, IPA registration, hotel, gas, and other costs, it will probably end up costing $400-500, and I'm not sure if it will be worth it if I am not really ready to compete raw.


Raw Classification Chart/ Raw Goals

I remembered seeing the new "Raw Classification Chart" in Powerlifting USA magazine a while back. I couldn't find the back issue, but I found it on the Web at Raw Classifications.

The classification chart presents six different levels based a total made in an official contest. The rankings are (from lowest to highest): Class IV, Class III, Class II, Class I, Master, and Elite. Don't be confused by the term "Master" here. It refers to the ranking level. I say this as "Master" can also refer to a lifter that is over 40 years old.

The "Elite" total for 123s is 984. Last year, when I went raw in the WNPF [World Natural Powerlifting Federation] at 123s, I totaled 975. But that was with knee wraps while this chart assumes no wraps. But still, I think 985 without wraps would be doable, if not at IPA worlds in June then maybe at IPA Nationals in November if I enter that.

The "Master" total for 123s is 904. That would definitely be doable. If I cut to 114s, 904 is also the Elite total, while the Master total is only 850. But cutting to 114s is a big "if" since I'm weighing 124 now.

In any case, if I do go raw, getting at least Master if not Elite status would be my main goal.

Other than the IPA contests, another option would be the ADAU [Anti-Drug Athletes United], a drug-free, raw federation. They're having a contest about two hours from my home in October. In a way that would be interesting. It is hosted by Al Siegel in Clearfield, PA. I entered a couple of his contest in Clearfield back in my college lifting days. It would be strange going back there and seeing him again 25 years later! I wonder if he'd remember me?


Other Classification Charts

Yesterday I posted a link to the "Raw Classifications" chart on 100% Raw Powerlifting's site. For comparison, I tracked down some other charts.

The chart for the USPF.

The values here are the same as on the site for the USAPL [USA Powerlifting], except the USPF's is in pounds while the USAPL's chart is in kilos.

Both of these feds only allow single-ply, polyester gear.

The APF [American Powerlifting Federation] has its own classifications.

The APF allows multi-ply gear that can be made of polyester, denim, or canvas.

Comparing these different charts, the Master and Elite totals for my weight classes are:

Master: 850
Elite: 904

Master: 981
Elite: 1064

Master: 1030
Elite: 1085

Master: 904
Elite: 984

Master: 1064
Elite: 1157

Master: 1104
Elite: 1210

Doing the math, the differences between the various raw and the single-ply totals average out to 156 pounds. In other words, it is assumed single-ply gear will add 156 pounds to one's total for someone of my size and caliber. The difference for those heavier than me would probably be proportionally greater.

The difference between the raw and the multi-ply charts is an average of 197 pounds. So it is assumed multi-ply gear will add about 200 pounds. Meanwhile, the difference between single and double-ply is 41 pounds.

Now I can see clearly why I am getting so frustrated over gear. Not only is there the hassle of the gear itself, but I am not getting anywhere near this from my gear. My best estimate is that I am getting about 100 pounds out of my double-ply gear. But again, the charts assume multi-ply gear will add almost 200 pounds as compared to raw. So I am getting only half of what is expected. No wonder I am so frustrated.

To look at it another way, I could easily make raw Master and Elite at 114s. I already made double-ply Master at 114s, but getting Elite would be pushing it. While at 123s, I could easily make raw Master and have a good shot at raw Elite. Double-ply Master would be possible but pushing it, while Elite would be out of reach.

So of course I'd be better off at 114s if I can make weight, but more to the point, going by these classifications, I am much better off competing raw than with gear.

I'm not sure if that's because the gear I've been using is not that good, the gear does not fit right, or I simply am not that skilled at using gear. Or it could be that putting on the gear tires me out so much that it adversely affects my training. I suspect it is a combination of these, but mostly the last point.

Most of all, I think this all shows that raw powerlifting versus equipped powerlifting really are two different sports. Some might excel at both, but I would guess that many are like me and would fare much better at one than the other.


I shouldn't be here …

… at home, near Pittsburgh, PA. I should be in Newark, Ohio or Erie, PA competing in a contest. But once again, I had to cancel my hotel reservations and miss out on entering a contest because of gear problems.

Back in November, I was debating back and forth if I should get new gear or plan on competing raw. If I had decided on the latter, I would have had plenty of time to prepare to compete raw. And if I had, I could have entered the IPA's raw division at the contest in Ohio or an ADAU contest in Erie.

However, as I posted back in the fall, I was very disappointed when I went raw last year and the Top 100 chart came out. Needless to say, my placement was not near as good as when I competed with gear. So I decided to order a new squat suit and bench shirt back on November 13. I thought 4-1/2 months would be more than enough time to get the new gear and get used to it in training.

But after a couple of tries, the suit simply did not fit right. So I had to send it back. The shirt was a size too large when I got it, so I returned it for another size. And I'm still waiting for a replacement. My old gear is too worn, so there was no way I could enter a contest with that gear. And by the time I realized I wouldn't have new gear, it was too late to prepare to compete raw. I had already made hotel reservations for the Ohio contest, so I had to cancel them. This is the third time in the last couple of years I've had to cancel hotel reservations for a planned contest.

To say I am getting frustrated is to put it mildly. Now I have very tentative plans to enter IPA Worlds in June. But since I don't have any gear to use, I will have no choice but to go raw. I have time to prepare to do so, but I'm not sure if it will be worth the money.

My struggle is, with competing raw, I really won't have anything to compete for. Every contest I have entered since I started competing again I have been the only person in my weight class, so "winning" is meaningless. So my main goal at contests has been to total as much as possible for my placement on the Top 100 and Top 20 Masters charts in Powerlifting USA. But again, going raw would seriously hinder my placement.

The other thing I have competed against is the federation's records. But the IPA's raw division is rather new, so there are currently no records for my weight class and division. So I would automatically get eight records (for the open and masters divisions), but again, it would be meaningless.

There will be no best raw lifter award to shoot for, and with lifting raw, I wouldn't have a shot at the best master lifter award.

But there is the raw classification chart I posted about previously, so attaining "Master" or even "Elite" level would at least be something to shoot.

My next option would be to wait until October to enter an ADAU contest. With the ADAU being a dedicated raw federation, I would have a shot for the best lifter award. And the records are such that I might be able to break one or more ADAU records, depending on what weight class I enter. But October's a long way off.

Of course, I could still get some new gear. But I'm not about to order a squat suit until I get the shirt I have on order and see if it fits and work for me. And I have no idea when that will be, definitely not in time for IPA Worlds. So I'm in limbo as far as gear is concerned.

I guess as I've posted before, I really long for my college lifting days when there was one federation with one set of rules, for gear and otherwise. Back then, I never was the only person in my weight class, so winning meant something. And if I didn't win, it gave me an incentive to train harder for next time.

Also, back then there was no decision about what gear to use or federation to enter. I just used what gear was allowed by the one set of rules and entered the only fed around (the USPF).

I also very much enjoyed powerlifting back then. That is why I decided to start competing again four years ago. But rather than being a joy, it's been one hassle after another, mainly gym and gear problems. So I'm really beginning to wonder if it is even worth the effort and money any more to compete.


Flu / RE: I shouldn't be here …

Right after I posted my "I shouldn't be here …" message, I went for a walk. When I got back, I felt terrible. Initially, I thought it was due to my allergies flaring up with pollen being at record high levels. But as it turned out, I was coming down with the flu. I was very sick for several days. I missed a couple of workouts and didn't even have my PC on for several days. But I'm starting to feel better now and am trying to get caught up on things. I even put in a light workout yesterday.

All that said, I wanted to respond to those who responded to my initial post. So I will do so below.

[The first comment was that I should just shoot for PRs (personal records) at contests.]

Of course, I always shoot for PRs at a contest. But if that is all I am shooting for, there's no reason to travel hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to do so. I could just do some max lifts in my home gym for free.

And besides, I like competition. That is what sports are supposed to be about, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. You cannot have that just competing against yourself.

[Someone commented that his gear is not that good, being 1-2 sizes too big.]

If I'm going to use gear, then I want to use the best and best-fitting that I can. I would not be satisfied with what you are describing. I don't see the point of messing around with gear if it's not really doing that much. And that has been my struggle since what I have been using hasn't been working very well. So I feel at a great disadvantage to those with better gear.

[The next poster asked if I train alone and commented that his training partner is a great aid to his training and in helping him get used to using gear.]

Yes, I train alone. And that makes using the gear that much more difficult. Getting in and out of a squat suit on my own is extremely tiring. It also is getting a little dangerous trying to walk out and re-rack the weight on squats. In fact, I dumped the weight once. So I had to move the hooks on my power rack down a hole. This makes it easier to re-rack the weight, but now I'm doing a squat to get the weight out of the rack.

[Someone commented to give the new gear a chance to see how it works].

That's the problem. Right now, I do not have any gear worth using. The new suit I ordered did not work out, and I'm still waiting on the shirt. I thought I'd have it months ago, but all of the delays forced me to miss the contest I planned on entering last weekend, and now, even if I get the shirt and it works out, I still do not have a suit. And I wouldn't have time to get one before IPA Worlds, which was to be my next contest. But now with getting sick, that contest will probably not work anyway as I doubt I will be ready.

[Someone commented that I need to make a decision on what gear to use and federation to enter and just stick with those.]

That is the point I am trying to get to, decide on a federation and what gear if any to use. But everything keeps going wrong.

[Someone commented that winning a national contest is beyond him, so he just focuses on getting PRs.]

Trying to be as modest as possible, this is where we differ. I do think that if I could just get all of my problems worked out, I would be a national caliber lifter. But one problem after another keeps holding me back, so that is why I am getting so frustrated. Also, with the mess that powerlifting is in, how do you even determine who is "national caliber" and who is not?

When I first started powerlifting again, my main goals were to be #1 on the Top 20 Masters chart and in the top 5 on the Top 100 chart. I hit both of those goals in 2005. But then in 2006, my placements were considerably lower due to competing raw. So I feel that no matter how well I do if I go raw, there'd be no way to determine what level I am at. But gear is causing so many problems I don't feel it's worth it anymore. So that's my struggle.

[Another person posted about getting some gear I like and sticking with it.]

I tend to agree with you that you need to find some gear and stick with it. But I know the gear I have now is not that worthwhile. So I've been trying to get gear that is and then stick with it. But nothing's going right in that regard. So that is why I am getting fed up and am thinking of just going raw.


Contest Decision

I finally made a decision as to what contest to enter. Actually, it was a rather easy decision. IPA PA States are moving to western PA this year. They had always been held in eastern PA. But last year, they had to be canceled due to lack of interest. But this was probably because States are always in September while IPA Worlds are in June/ July and IPA Nationals in November, both also in eastern PA. So that was three contest in the same federation in the same area within a few months. So I assume that is why they are trying western PA this year for States. And that is good news for me!

The contest will be September 22, in New Castle. This is only an hour from my home. So just like my two contests last year, this will not require a hotel stay. If anyone is interested, details are posted on Gene Rychlak's Web site. Incidentally, Gene is the first lifter to bench press over a 1,000 pounds.

The timing is good. September will give me plenty of time to prepare, but it is not too far away. But now I need to decide whether to go raw or equipped.


Gear and Federation Decisions/ Goals

To end my long gear struggle and all of my posts in this regard, this will be a lengthy post. But please bear with me as this will be my last post on this subject.

After waiting five months for the shirt I ordered, I canceled the order and got my money refunded. So now I need to make a decision.

If I want to use gear for my next contest, I need to order it now. And my thought is that if I order new gear, I should shell out the extra money and get the best gear possible and hopefully gear that would be long-lasting. Then I would stick with that gear for an extended period of time.

I already have a couple of pairs each of APT Black Mamba 2.5 meter knee wraps and 24" wrist wraps that I really like. But to get the suit, briefs, and shirt I would want, with shipping, would cost about $600. That is a lot of money. Specifically, what I would probably get would be a Ginny canvas suit, Inzer Predator or Titan Boss briefs, and an Inzer Double-Phenom shirt.

Meanwhile, going raw would not only be cheaper but much easier and probably better for me health-wise. Some others my age (I'm 46) have posted here that they have to use gear as their aging bodies require it. I can understand that. If you have say shoulder problems, then wearing a shirt is essential. But thankfully, I do not have any chronic injuries that require the wearing of gear, with one possible exception to be noted later.

But what I do have is fibromyalgia. If you do not know what this is, basically it is chronic pain with chronic fatigue. I have mostly gotten the pain mostly under control, but the fatigue is an ever constant problem, making lifting or most anything else difficult. In fact, the best exercise most people with fibromyalgia can manage is light stretching and casual walking. Most would not even think of weightlifting let alone powerlifting. But personally, I think lifting is beneficial to my condition, and my doctors concur. So that is why I continue with it, and competing gives me an extra incentive to do so.

However, workouts are difficult, and I am always very tired afterwards; but when I use gear, I am absolutely exhausted. At times, by the time I squeeze into my squat suit, wrap my knees, tighten my wrist wraps, put up the suit straps, and tighten my belt, I am already exhausted, before even doing a rep. But by going raw, I can avoid most of this. The only question will be if my body can handle going raw, injury-wise. But God-willing, by being smart about my training, I can avoid injury.

So all things considered, I will be going raw for my next contest, IPA PA States, September 22. My initial thought was I would go raw for this contest, and then re-think getting new gear afterwards. But I think the best long-term plan will be to plan on going raw for at least the next couple of years. With entering two contest a year, that would be for my next 4-5 contests.

My training has stagnated, and I really think it has been due to gym and gear problems, just too many things constantly changing. Specifically, my first two years powerlifting again, I changed gyms four times and then set up my home gym, running into all kinds of problems when doing so. Then for the last couple of years, I've been trying different gear and going back and forth between lifting raw and with gear. But now that I got my home gym set-up, and if I stick with going raw, hopefully, I can make some steady progress.

Maybe a couple of years or so from now if my progress stalls I'll revisit the gear issue. If my health has improved by then, maybe I would get the new gear then. That way, I'd get an immediate boost to my lifts and then hopefully make some steady progress for a while thereafter as I get used to the gear. So if I look at it that way, this would be a long-term plan for progress over the next few years. The only thing that might change this plan is if I sustain an injury in an area that would have been supported by gear. If I do, then I might have to re-think things.

As for what federation to enter, as many know, I competed raw once last year, but that was in the WNPF which allows knee wraps in their raw division. But it now seems to me that no knee wraps is the more common definition of raw. And besides, just wrapping my knees can be exhausting, so it would be best to avoid doing so.

The federations that hold contests in my area with raw rules of no knee wraps are the IPA and the ADAU. So contests in either of these feds would be possibilities. But one difference between these two is the IPA allows wrist wraps while the ADAU does not (both allow a belt). But frankly, I always found the no wrist wraps rule to be kind of silly. By no stretch of the imagination can wrist wraps add to one's lift. But in my case, I have found that my wrists bother me if I do heavy squats and benches without wraps. So the IPA seems to be the best option. But I might try going without wrist wraps so that an ADAU contest would be a possibility.

As for goals, the first would be to total a Master or Elite total according to the Raw Classification Chart I posted about before. Next would be to better my lifts and total from the WNPF contest. Again, that was with knee wraps, but with as well as squats have been going I think I could better it. But even more long-term would be to better my best lifts and total done with gear. That might seem like asking a lot, but given that I have not been getting that much out of my gear (as I have been complaining) and without putting on the gear tiring me out for my workouts, it might be possible.

Specifically, at the WNPF contest, I went 385 – 190 – 400 – 975, while my best lifts with gear are 415 – 215 – 410 – 1030. So bettering some or all of these would be primary goals.

As for the Top 100 and Top 20 Masters charts, if I go 114s, for the Top 100 chart, a reasonable goal would be the top 10 for squats, deadlifts, and total, and maybe the top 30 for benches. If I go 123s, the top 20 for squats, deadlifts, and total, while just the top 50 for benches would be good for me.

As for the masters chart, maybe the top 3 for 114s or the top 5 for 123s for squats, deadlifts, and total, and the top 5 and top 10 for benches, respectively.

There are currently no records in either weight class in the IPA's raw division, but if I enter an ADAU contest, there would be a few records to go after.

These goals will give me something to shoot for.

So that is the finale for my struggles. Only time will tell how things work out. But I needed to make these decisions, and barring injury, now I need to stick with them.

For the routine I am now using, see Training Routine Format - Basic Cycle. For my first workout logs with this routine, see Full Workout Logs: Starting 4/8/07: Cycle One; Weeks 1-5.



The above posts discuss my frustrations with getting powerlifting gear that worked well for me. So I planned on lifting raw. Unfortunately, I ended up hurting my right knee pulling a heavy deadlift. And this was at the stage of my cycle that I would have added knee wraps if I was planning on lifting with gear.

It wasn't that serious, but it caused me to re-think lifting raw. The last time I tried competing raw I sustained three minor injuries. As with this time, none were serious, but still cause for concern. And with getting a minor injury once again, I felt I had no choice but to go back to lifting with gear.

To support my knee on DLs, I ordered a pair of APT knee sleeves. Wearing these supported my knee enough that I was able to finish my cycle out on DLs without problems. I also went back to using gear on squats and benches.

On the APT knee sleeves, they definitely support better than the drug store knee sleeves I was using before. For my first DL workout after the injury, my right knee bothered me some on my warm-ups without the wraps, but once I added the knee sleeves, it felt fine. So I was right about needing to go back to using gear.

One thing about the knee sleeves though, they are rather long, 22.5 cm, and that's for the small size. My next contest is IPA PA States September 22, in New Castle, PA. There is no mention in the IPA rulebook about the length of knee sleeves, but it does mention that knee wraps cannot touch your socks. So I'll have to fold the top of my socks down. I remember I always had to do that in college since I usually wore knee-high socks. Also, the APF rulebook specifies that knee sleeves can only be 20 cm long. So if I ever enter another APF contest, I will have to have them cut down.

But despite those caveats, they are good wraps. If anyone is interested, they can be purchased at: APT Inc. For a video of me deadlifting with the knee sleeves, click here.


Powerlifting Gear, Federation, and Contest Struggles and Decisions. Copyright 2007 By Gary F. Zeolla.

Overcoming Back Pain:
Mind-Body Solution

Second Edition

Booklet and eBooklet By Gary F. Zeolla

The above series of messages was first published in the free FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site on April 24. 2007.
The update was added June 21, 2007.

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting Training: Newsgroup and Discussion Board Posts

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