The purpose of this article is to address the differences between RAW, single-ply, and multi-ply powerlifting.
I will first start by stating the equipment standard that is generally recognized, is an approval by the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). The IPF is the largest and most legitimatized lifting federation in the world. If powerlifting were to ever become an Olympic sport, the IPF would head it and lifters would be selected from the IPF. So, if your equipment is “IPF” approved, that means it is approved by the most widely accepted powerlifting federation in the world and should be acceptable at any powerlifting meet. If is important to check if your equipment is IPF approved especially when you plan on competing RAW. Becoming an IPF approved piece of gear also comes with a hefty price tag, so just because something is not IPF approved doesn’t automatically make it illegal. It depends on the contest and federation. Typically knee wraps are only checked for length/ non- velcro. Wrist wraps and belts are usually just quickly glanced at. As long as you’re belt doesn’t have a velcro lever, you should be good. But always check the rule book to be sure.
There are two main categories of powerlifting: “RAW” and “geared.” Within each of those broad categories are further sub categories. I will start with RAW lifting.
“RAW” means that lifts are performed in a regular (IPF approved) singlet. By “regular,” I mean a singlet which offers no additional support to the lifter during the squat/bench/deadlift. Singlets are always required in powerlifting meets (besides maybe your local backyard meet) because they allow judges to effectively view depth on the squat, butt position on the bench, and hitch/lockout on the deadlift.
In the raw class, equipment allowed: – Singlet – Belt (lever or pronged, not Velcro) – Wrist wraps – Knee sleeves (only IPF approved, no Velcro, no multi-ply)
RAW with Wraps
Some raw classes have a “raw with wraps” section where wraps are allowed, as opposed to knee sleeves. Sleeves are a single tube of material which give only a little support while squatting. Generally, the thicker the knee sleeve, the greater the support given. Velcro strapped knee sleeves tend to give the most support but, they are not legal in powerlifting. Wraps however, are literally long wraps that you wrap your knees in. Wraps offer much more support and rebound or “bounce,” at the bottom of the squat. Wraps can be ordered either 2.0 or 2.5 meters in length. The longer the length, the more support you’re likely to achieve. But, in many federations, wraps are only allowed to be 2.0 meters long. The material of the wrap also matters. While Dan Green may choose one type of material, I choose another. The reason is that he squats twice as much as me. So, a different material may work better for him.
If done correctly it should be quite uncomfortable to have your knees wrapped. The lifter should put his knee wraps on only directly before a squat and will take them off immediately after the lift.
GEARED: Single-ply (with wraps)
Single-ply powerlifting is a whole different animal than raw powerlifting. Instead of just wearing a singlet for the squat, lifters are allowed to wear a singly-ply (meaning one layer of fabric) suit. During the bench press, lifters may wear a single-ply “shirt” under their singlet, and during the deadlift, lifters are also allowed to wear a single-ply deadlift suit.
The purpose of a suit is to enable to lifter to lift more weight than when lifting RAW. Geared lifting does not make it “easier” for the lifter and does not mean the lifter is a “cheater.” It simply means that that lifter is a geared powerlifter; that is all. Lifting geared come with its own set of challenges. For one, it is more expensive. Two, it usually requires at least one other person to help the lifter get into the gear. Three, individual session are usually more time consuming.
The suits/shirts are designed so that as the lifter is executing the “negative” part of the motion, the fabric of the suit is being forcibly stretched. Because the suit/shirt has to be stretched, it makes it hard to hit depth in the squat, touch the bar to chest in bench press, and challenging to get down to initially grasp the bar/set up for the deadlift.
Suits and shirts must fit the lifter exactly to be most effective (hence why all of my Titan Support Systems suits/shirts) are custom ordered. If the suit/shirt fits the lifter properly, it should be a challenge to get into. Typically, I have to hang by the straps (one at a time) on a power rack and bounce up and down to get into my squat or deadlift suit. I am not able to get into my shirt by myself. I need someone else there to pull the sleeves up as high as possible and pull the shirt down in order to “set” it properly.
While technique is important in both raw and geared lifting, it becomes even more vital in geared lifting. While the gear may enable the lifter to move more weight, if the lifter comes out of his groove, even just slightly, that could be enough to completely tip him forward on squat or completely loose control of the weight on bench. An attentive spotter becomes even more important for geared lifting.
Some people argue that because geared lifting involves such technique, it’s important for a lifter to develop a certain base RAW strength before he crosses over into geared lifting. Others argue that because wraps/suits/and shirts protect muscle tendons and ligaments, it’s actually safer than RAW lifting. “Safer” meaning the lifters may be less likely to tear something. I believe that a little bit of both is true.
When competing single ply, 2.0 meter knee wraps are almost always allowed. Depending on the federation, 2.5 meter wraps may be allowed. Wrist wraps are always allowed. Non-Velcro elbow sleeves are typically allowed on the squat but, not on bench press or deadlift.
Note: while suits and shirts are allowed in geared lifting, they are not required. So, you could enter into a single-ply meet and squat in a suit, bench in a shirt but, deadlift in simply a singlet. Many lifters decide to do that because they don’t like deadlifting in a suit or they simply cannot afford to have both a squat and deadlift suit. A lifter can also decide to deadlift in his squat suit if he doesn’t have a deadlift suit. While a squat suit won’t be as beneficial as a deadlift suit, for a conventional squatter, it still may help some what.
In the single-ply class, equipment allowed: – Single-ply OR singlet for squat/deadlift – Single-ply bench shirt – Belt (lever or pronged, not Velcro) – Wrist wraps
– Knee wraps (2.0 or 2.5 m depending on the federation)
GEARED: Multi-Ply (with wraps)
Multi-ply lifting is similar to single-ply lifting but, the material of the suits/shirts are allowed to be multi-ply or multiple layers thick. This means that the material of the suit and shirt are more stiff and harder to stretch. Hitting depth on squat is even harder, touching the bar to chest is even harder, and initial set up on deadlift is even more challenging.
The goal of multi-ply powerlifting is to move as much weight as humanly possible. “Multi-ply” also means that briefs are allowed to be worn under the suit. Briefs add resistance to the negative in the squat/deadlift. These specially designed “briefs,” add additional negative, or reverse resistance, to the lifter when squatting or deadlifting, though not a lot.
Multi-ply gear is even more challenging to get into and almost always leaves marks and bruises on the lifter afterwards (as is common for single-ply as well). The marks left on the lifters arms from the bench shirt are called, “bite marks.”
Multi-ply is yet another version of powerlifting, not better or worse than any others. Form becomes even more important. One minor slip in concentration means that 300-900lbs could be instantly dumped on a lifter in a way he wasn’t expecting.
For squat and bench press, I don’t recommend you train multi-ply or single-ply without direct guidance or supervision of geared lifters. Deadlifting geared isn’t so dangerous and really just takes some getting used to. Do keep in mind that deadlift suits are made specifically for the conventional puller OR the sumo puller. If you are a sumo lifter trying to lift sumo in a suit that’s made for a conventional deadlifter, you may get frustrated. Similarly, squat suits are made for narrow or wide stanced squatters.
In the multi-ply class, equipment allowed: – Multi-ply OR singlet for squat/deadlift – Multi-ply briefs are allowed under the suit
– Multi-ply bench shirt – Belt (lever or pronged, not Velcro) – Wrist wraps – Knee wraps (2.0 or 2.5 m depending on the federation)
Once again, elbow sleeves are almost never allowed during bench press but, are sometimes allowed during squat. Generally, elbow sleeves are just used as a training tool.
DEADLIFT: Straps VS No Straps
Strictly speaking, within the sport of powerlifting, straps are never allowed on the deadlift. This is because the deadlift is considered a measurement of grip strength as well as full body strength.
Straps are typically used only as a training tool for powerlifters when they are overload training. “Overloading,” is a modification of an exercise that allows the lifter to move more weight then they can otherwise “legally” lift. In the case of the deadlift that may mean heavy rack pulls. Straps are also a good training tool for other assistance exercises, like heavy dumbbell shrug. Additionally, straps are more commonly allowed during strongman where the deadlift goal is max reps or to appease a visual demand of “more weight.”
SQUAT: Monolift Vs Walking Out
Another powerlifting variable is the use of a monolift. The monolift allows the lifter to set up for the squat, minimally lift the weight vertically out of the rack (an inch or less) and then, immediately squat without having to step back first. This is because the monolift is designed to enable just that. The weight sits on a moveable rack. After the lifter lifts the weight up, the monolift operator swings the monolift rack out of the way. The monolift’s other benefit is that is very easy to adjust. It can easily be manipulated to fit the lifter’s exact height requirement. Plus, there are no power rack side bars that get in the way of the squatters who place their hands out very wide.
Because the lifter does not have to step back with the weight to unrack it, many people within the lifting community say that a squat that is out of a monlift is, “not legit, because they didn’t walk it out.” While the walk out phase of the squat does require more energy, I personally wouldn’t knock someone’s monolifted squat if they are competing in a federation that allows use of the monolift. If everyone you’re competing against is going to use it, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use it.
I hope this article clears up some of the confusion you may have had regarding RAW vs geared lifting. My personal preference is RAW or single-ply. However, I support all my fellow lifters in whatever type of powerlifting he or she decides to compete in. Just realize that when you compare numbers, you’re talking oranges and apples if you try to compare two different types of powerlifting. You cannot directly compare someone’s 100% RAW numbers to another lifter’s RAW with wraps, numbers. Just like you cannot directly compare a lifter’s single-ply numbers to his multi-ply numbers. Such direct comparisons are unsound.
The most important thing for any lifter to do is make sure he understands the rules of the federation he chooses to compete in. There are many federations within the sport of powerlifting and each federation may allow slightly different gear.
Many lifters compete in multiple subdivisions of powerlifting and that’s alright too! A benefit of powerlifting is that if a lifter gets bored with one type of competing, he can switch over to another. It’s totally up to the lifter!