Best Powerlifting Equipment to Increase Your PR

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Powerlifting might only focus on three exercises but there is an incredible amount of training that is required to set new personal records (PR) on a consistent basis. And if you want to make the most of your powerlifting workouts, you need the best powerlifting equipment to increase your PR.

Powerlifting equipment goes beyond the basics of the barbell (although that’s insanely important too!). From belts to wraps, we’ll review the exercise equipment that you’ll need to hit those target numbers.

Table of Contents

  • What is Powerlifting Equipment
  • Types of Powerlifting Equipment
  • Prong Powerlifting Belts vs. Lever Powerlifting Belts
  • Knee Sleeves vs. Knee Wraps
  • Elbow Sleeves vs. Elbow Wraps
  • Lifting Straps vs. Lifting Wraps
  • Benefits of Powerlifting Equipment
  • When to Use Powerlifting Equipment
  • How-to Put-on Powerlifting Equipment
  • What to Look for When Buying Powerlifting Equipment
  • Where Can I Buy Powerlifting Equipment?
  • FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Powerlifting Equipment

What is Powerlifting Equipment?

Powerlifting workouts primarily focus on three exercises: squat, deadlift, and bench press. The bare basics of powerlifting workouts require a barbell, bench, squat rack, and stack of weight plates.

But serious powerlifting equipment goes beyond the basics.

After all, the goal of using powerlifting equipment is to support your performance during your workout so that you are able to get stronger and achieve your personal record milestones. But not all powerlifting gear is created equal. What’s more, some equipment is downright useless.

Types of Powerlifting Equipment

Here are the types of powerlifting equipment that most elite-level powerlifters use during their workouts.

Barbells

Did you know there are several types of barbells? Even though they might be the same length, not all of the barbells you see in a commercial gym weigh the same.

If you’re planning on competing or if you just want to play by the book, you’ll want an Olympic-style barbell. A competition barbell is going to be 86.6 inches in length and weigh 20 kilograms (44.01 pounds). The weight limit of a proper competition barbell should be 1,500 pounds.

Weight Plates

Weight plates are the bread and butter of powerlifting. If you’re constantly trying to set higher goals for yourself, you’ll get quite the collection of weight plates.

Similar to barbells, if you want to do it right, invest in Olympic-style weight plates. These cast iron plates are heavy duty and built to last. The 45-pound plates will be your best friend, but we recommend getting a range of weight for when you’ve reached your limit and every pound counts.

Belts

There are a variety of weightlifting belts and not every belt is suited for powerlifting.

Powerlifting belts are going to be thicker and provide more padding. They also offer an advanced locking system to ensure the belt doesn’t open or slip off during exercise.

Sleeves

Sleeves are typically used around the knees and elbows. They are made from neoprene and this compression material helps to warm up the working muscles.

Sleeves are a popular powerlifting tool because they support performance while reducing the risk of injury. With that said, if you’re pushing serious weight around, you’ll want to upgrade to lifting wraps.

Lifting Wraps

Like sleeves, wraps are worn around the elbows and knees and they support your powerlifting performance. But that’s where their similarities end.

Lifting wraps are tied around your knees or elbows and that tightness creates a source of elastic power at the bottom of the movement. Think of it like putting a spring in your squat.

Wraps are typically worn when moving bigger numbers – usually within the one to three repetition range.

Lifting Straps

Not to be confused with lifting wraps, lifting straps are worn around the hand and wrist to ensure you’re able to push through those last few reps despite a failing grip.

Lifting straps can be purchased on their own or as a combination with wrist wraps. It’s important to point out that lifting straps are there just in case your grip gives out. You shouldn’t be relying on lifting straps every workout as you could lose your natural grip strength.

muscular man performing a deadlift

Prong Powerlifting Belts vs. Lever Powerlifting Belts

Powerlifting belts have two types of a locking mechanism: prong and lever.

A prong-based belt offers one or two metal rods that are insert into the belt to keep it in place.

A lever-based belt is more secure, offering something akin to a lock and key system.

Both types of belts are great, and you will probably find that a prong belt will work better for different exercises. For example, you might prefer a prong-based belt for squats but a lever belt for deadlifts. It’s worthwhile to purchase one of each for this reason.

Sleeves vs. Wraps

We touched on this above but it’s important to understand the difference between sleeves and wraps so that you can make the right choice for your workout.

Sleeves are an excellent warm-up tool; they warm up the working muscle and prepare you for the workload that follows.

For example, knee sleeves and elbow sleeves are fantastic for a traditional bodybuilding workout or CrossFit WOD.

However, sleeves are not ideal for when you are going after really heavy weight loads. That is when you’d want to switch to wraps.

Wraps help with performance while forcing you to focus on your form. They do restrict movement so limit the use of wraps to exercises that are performed in place. For example, knee wraps are great for squats and elbow wraps are best for bench presses.

Lifting Straps vs. Lifting Wraps

Although both straps and wraps are both used during a heavy lift, they serve two very different purposes.

Lifting straps are used as a last resort when your grip gives out during heavy lifting.

Lifting wraps, on the other hand, support performance during the entire exercise by creating stored energy at the bottom of the movement.

woman powerlifting squat

Benefits of Powerlifting Equipment

Did you know that there are two types of powerlifting? Raw and equipped.

As the names suggest, raw powerlifting uses minimal or no equipment. On the other hand, equipped powerlifting embraces wraps, belts, and sleeves. More often than not, equipped powerlifters are able to lift more weight because of the boost in performance from powerlifting equipment.

Here are some more of the proven benefits of powerlifting equipment.

Increased Strength

One of the primary reasons that powerlifters use gear is to lift more. Powerlifting equipment has been shown to increase the amount of weight you can lift.

Knee wraps, for example, tighten as you enter the eccentric or lowering portion of the squat. Once you are in the isometric or pause portion of the lift, you have a collection of elastic energy that helps you return to the starting position. This allows you to put a few more plates on each end of the barbell.

Another example is a powerlifting belt. One study found that these weightlifting belts can increase intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes your spine, improves your form, and helps you drive more force from your legs. As a result, you may see an significant increase in your one-repetition maximum. [1]

Improved Overall Performance

Continuing with the point above, powerlifting equipment does more than increase your strength, it can improve your overall powerlifting performance.

With better form, execution, and strength, you’ll see a dramatic improvement during your powerlifting meets. Even if you’re at a point where you’re only increasing your PR by a few pounds each week, that’s still progress. And potentially more progress than you’d see without the gear.

Several studies have shown how performance improves when powerlifting equipment is introduced. Knee and elbow sleeves, for example, have long been used during sporting events and the science shows that sports-specific skills are improved while wearing them. [2]

Reduced Risk of Injury

No sport or physical activity is one-hundred percent risk free but powerlifting equipment does decrease your odds of getting hurt.

Sleeves prepare the working muscle for the workout that follows. Wraps restrict movement preventing overextension. And belts stabilize the spine to avoid back injury. Using powerlifting equipment can benefit your safety as much as it can your strength. [3]

muscular man putting on a powerlifting belt

When to Use Powerlifting Equipment

Powerlifting is based on the big three: squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Naturally, these three movements are where you’ll want to focus your effort.

Some powerlifting equipment can be used in other types of workouts but there isn’t much crossover. Sleeves and belts, for example, tend to work great during bodybuilding workouts. But you wouldn’t want to use a wrap during a CrossFit WOD.

Bench Press

Having a strong raw bench press is impressive but at some point, you might realize that you’re not able to break past your plateau. This is when you’ll want to suit up with powerlifting equipment.

To be specific, you’ll want to invest in a solid pair of elbow sleeves for the warm-up and elbow wraps for the working sets.

Wrist wraps would also be helpful as these wraps can limit wrist flexion, decreasing your risk for overextension.

Deadlift

When Hafthor Bjornsson (The Mountain) set a new deadlifting record of 1,104 pounds, did you happen to notice what was sitting around his waist? It was a powerlifting belt. On his wrists and hands, he wore lifting straps.

Sure, you might not have intentions of smashing world records any time soon but The Mountain crushing that record illustrates the importance of powerlifting gear, especially for the deadlift.

Yes, it is important to build a strong and respectable raw deadlift but if you’re serious about really pushing yourself and setting new PRs, you’ll eventually want to get equipped to protect your body and push past your limitations. Powerlifting gear helps you do that.

For the deadlift, nothing beats a belt. Wrist wraps and lifting straps are also helpful. You can also wear knee sleeves to keep the knees warm but if you’re competing, wraps probably aren’t allowed.

Squat

Finally, we have the king of exercises: the squat. The gear that you’ll need for squats mimics that of deadlifting and for the same reasons.

The powerlifting belt for squats helps to increase intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes the spine and forces the power output into your legs.

Knee sleeves get your knees warm and ready. Knee wraps help you spring back up to the top of the movement, which allows you to put more weight on the barbell.

With that said, knee wraps can and should be used during training but remember that you’ll probably compete without them. So, it’s important to develop your natural and raw squat first.

powerlifter bench press

How-to Put-on Powerlifting Equipment

Suiting up in powerlifting equipment depends on the piece of gear you’re using. Here’s a quick checklist:

Sleeves: Simply slide the sleeve up your leg or arm until you get to the knee or elbow. Be sure that the sleeve is completely covering the connective tissue. Learn more about putting on sleeves in our article.

Wraps: Pinning one end to your arm or leg, you’ll create an “X” shape around the connective tissue. Continue this until there is a little bit of slack left. From here, tuck it into the wrap. Learn more about putting on wraps in our article.

Belts: Put the belt around your waist so that it’s sitting on your hips. Tighten the belt so that it’s snug but not cutting off circulation. You should be able to take a deep belly breath. Learn more about putting on belts in our article.

What to Look for When Buying Powerlifting Equipment

It will depend on what type of powerlifting equipment you buy but here are a few common things to consider:

Length

This applies to knee wraps and elbow wraps.

With knee wraps, you’ll want something between 72 to 82 inches in length. The longer the wrap, the more times you can wrap your knee but keep in mind that this also means more restriction in your movement. We think that 80 inches in knee wrap length is ideal.

For elbow wraps, 40 inches in length seems to be the sweet spot. Same as the knee wraps, the more you tighten, the more you restrict your movement, which is good up until a point.

The point is to experiment with different lengths to see which works best for you. Find that middle ground between tightness and flexibility.

User Friendliness

This applies to wraps and powerlifting belts

Knee and elbow wrapping can be tricky at first. If you’re going to a powerlifting meet, we highly recommend asking a partner to tie your wraps the first couple of times so you can learn.

If you’re a beginner to knee wrapping, the hook and loop type of knee wrap is your best bet. We recommend purchasing a pair of each because it’s always good to have a backup pair.

Durability

Depending on the equipment, you’ll want to opt for the highest quality material. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Knee wrap: heavy-duty elastic nylon with double stitching
  • Knee sleeves: neoprene
  • Elbow wrap: elastic nylon
  • Elbow sleeves: neoprene
  • Belts: leather

strongman bench press

Where Can I Buy Powerlifting Equipment?

Iron Bull Strength is your one-stop shop for all of your powerlifting needs. Check out our full collection of powerlifting equipment.

Barbells: We offer a variety of competition-style barbells that are durable and built to handle up to 1,500 pounds.

Weight Plates: No barbell is complete without a collection of weight plates to go with it. From change plates to training bumpers, you can find the weight you need to hit your next PR.

Powerlifting Belts: The importance of a powerlifting belt can’t be overstated. Whether you prefer prongs or levers, we have you covered. Make the investment in a prong and lever belt as you might find one works better for different exercises.

Sleeves: Made from elite-quality neoprene, our knee and elbow sleeves ensure that you are ready to own your next powerlifting workout.

Wraps: Our knee and elbow wraps are built tough with elastic nylon, which means they’ll last longer than you do after a tough workout. Durable yet comfortable, we have a wrap for every lifter.

Lifting Straps: Why thrown in the towel when your grip fails during a deadlift? Use a lifting strap to ensure you hit those target numbers and see better results. Our straps are durable but they also won’t scratch or mark your wrists.

woman wearing a powerlifting belt

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Powerlifting Equipment

On the fence about buying a belt or a wrap? Still have questions about powerlifting equipment? Here are the most commonly asked questions about powerlifting gear:

1. Do I Really Need Powerlifting Equipment?

Powerlifting equipment isn’t required to get started in the sport. With that said, if your goal is to set new personal records, compete, and attend meetups over the long-term, you’ll want to make the investment in powerlifting equipment.

There are too many benefits not to do so. From better performance to safer form and execution, adding powerlifting equipment to your collection is going help you achieve your fitness goals.

2. How Often Should I Wash My Powerlifting Equipment?

This is going to depend on what type of equipment you purchase but in general, if your workout leaves you covered in sweat and chalk dust, you’re going to need to wash them more frequently.

We would not recommend putting any powerlifting equipment in with your usual laundry. Instead, you should handwash your gear and let it air dry.

If you want to naturally kill the bacteria, you can use a diluted white vinegar solution in combination with the laundry soap. Just let it soak for a bit before rinsing.

Handwashing will significantly extend the life of your powerlifting equipment.

3. Should I Wear My Powerlifting Equipment for the Entire Workout?

No, there is no single piece of powerlifting equipment that we would recommend wearing for the entire workout.

The idea behind selectively wearing powerlifting equipment has to do with avoiding building a dependency on the gear.

You’ll wear some pieces of equipment for some of the workout. Here’s a quick checklist of when we would recommend wearing the powerlifting equipment throughout your workout:

  • Sleeves: Warm-up and cool-down
  • Wraps: Heavy working sets only
  • Belts: Heavy working sets only
  • Straps: Heavy working sets only

It’s important to remember that you want to improve your natural and raw lifting strength first then use equipment that can give you that extra edge during your workouts.

4. Can I Use Powerlifting Equipment if I Have Prior Injuries?

Definitely! In fact, powerlifting equipment is highly recommended for those who have prior issues especially with knees and elbows.

Knee and elbow sleeves, for example, help to warm up the working muscles and connective tissue. What’s more, the pressure they put on your elbows and knees helps to alleviate soreness and pain.

Belts help to stabilize your spine and strengthen your core, which decreases your risk of injury and alleviates soreness.

5. Will My Powerlifting Equipment Stretch Out and Become Too Loose?

Wraps and belts will not stretch out and become too loose. There is a chance that your sleeves will become loose over time but only if you don’t properly care for them.

As we mentioned above, you want to handwash and air dry your knee and elbow sleeves. Do not buy a size that’s too small as this will also contribute to the sleeve being stretched out sooner than it should.

Powerlifting Equipment: Better Performance, Safer Workouts

There’s a reason that powerlifting equipment is so popular: it’s proven to work.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the value of powerlifting equipment for improving performance and keeping you out of harm’s way.

While it’s important to progress your natural strength and lifting ability, you’ll eventually find yourself under a heavy barbell and you’ll need support. That’s where powerlifting equipment can help.

If you’re serious about making powerlifting a lifelong fitness career, then you’ll want to invest in elite-quality equipment. Check out the Iron Bull Strength powerlifting collection for all your equipment needs.

 

 

References

  1. Harman EA, Rosenstein RM, Frykman PN, Nigro GA. Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1989;21(2):186-190.
  2. Lake JP, Carden PJ, Shorter KA. Wearing knee wraps affects mechanical output and performance characteristics of back squat exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(10):2844-2849. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182429840.
  3. Hooper DR, Dulkis LL, Secola PJ, et al. Roles of an Upper-Body Compression Garment on Athletic Performances. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(9):2655-2660. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000909.

Source
Best Powerlifting Equipment to Increase Your PR is written by David Sautter for ironbullstrength.com

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