Powerlifting is a unique sport in many ways, one of those ways being the wide variety of equipment that you can use in training and competition. Hell, if you are really strapped for cash, the only things you need to be able to compete in a sanctioned powerlifting meet are a singlet, a pair of knee-high socks and a pair of shoes. But assuming you want to get into powerlifting you are probably willing to spend some dough on equipment that will last you years, if not decades.
I will be splitting this article into two different sections: MUST HAVES and NICE TO HAVE. The must have section will consist of things that I personally think are essential to have if you want to get extra pounds on the platform while the nice to have section will be things that are definitely helpful but are not essential to getting stronger.
#1 LIFTING BELT
The number one most important piece of equipment for a powerlifter is a lifting belt. Powerlifting belts generally come in three variations, Single Prong, Double Prong and Lever
I put a lifting belt as the number one most important piece of equipment for one reason; a lifting belt will undoubtedly add weight to your lifts. The belt gives you something to brace against when lifting, creating a stronger and more rigid trunk and the ability to brace your core much harder than you would be able to without a belt.
As far as the difference between a the three types or which one is the “best”, it really comes up to personal preference, I have trained with both a single prong belt and a lever belt and I much prefer the lever belt because I feel like I can get it on much tighter than the prong belt.
The next must have is actually two things, a pair of flat soled shoes and a pair of squat shoes. While some people are fine with squatting in flat soled shoes, many people have lots of benefits from using a pair of shoes with a heel on them, especially people who have difficulty hitting proper depth on the squat. The reason I recommend one pair of each type is because for the squat and the bench press, wearing a pair of squat shoes is perfectly acceptable but for the deadlift, you want to be as close to the ground as possible, something that a squat shoes simply cannot do.
If you do chose to go with the classic Chuck Taylor All Star shoes, make sure that you pull out the insert, as newer versions of the shoe come with a rather thick insole to make the shoe more comfortable for walking but are detrimental for deadlifts.
#3 KNEE SLEEVES / KNEE WRAPS
Number three on the list of must haves is a pair of knee sleeves or knee wraps, depending on what your federation allows and what division you are competing in. As a USAPL raw lifter, I am only allowed to use knee sleeves in competition.
Without a doubt sleeves and or wraps are vital for the squat, they add a significant amount of weight to how much you can squat. While the evidence is clearly there for knee sleeves adding weight to how much you can squat, some people argue that knee sleeves do not provide anything more than support and keep your knees warm. Personally I think that people severely underestimate how much a pair of PROPERLY fitting knee sleeves add.
As far as what knee sleeves / wraps you chose to use, it is a mix up between preference and what your federation will allow you to use. Personally, the only pair of knee sleeves I have used are the SBD Knee Sleeves and I absolutely love them, they provide good support and a nice rebound out of the hole. I have also heard good things about the A7 Cone Knee Sleeves but have not personally used them. As far as knee wraps, I have only ever used a pair once or twice in the gym so I cannot give feedback as far as what is a good pair to purchase.
#4 WRIST WRAPS
Coming in at number four of the must haves is a quality pair of wrist wraps. Wrist wraps provide support and stabilization for your wrist on not only the bench press but also the squat, a quality pair of wrist wraps will lock your wrists straight and allow you to be more efficient in the transfer of force on bench and support your wrists during heavy squats. Some people prefer to bench and squat without wrist wraps on but personally I have to have my wrist wraps on for both of those movements.
Wrist wraps come in many different lengths and stiffness, but I would recommend getting the longest pair allowed by the powerlifting federation you are competing in. For most federations this is 36 inches. When it comes to stiffness, it is really up to preference, I like mine stiff because I feel like they give me a lot more support but some people like wrist wraps that are not as stiff. My personal recommendation is the Strength Shop USA super stiff black and yellow wrist wraps.
NICE TO HAVE
#1 WRIST STRAPS
The first nice to have item are wrist straps. They are probably one of the most common pieces of equipment that you will find in a lifter’s gym bag. The purpose of wrist straps is so that you do not have to worry about your grip failing on deadlifts, barbell rows and other exercises. Wrist wraps are also not allowed in competition which is one of the factors as to why they are in the nice to have rather than must have.
I believe that many people overuse them, to the point that they become reliant on them, however they are nice to have on days where your grip is fatigued or you have a torn open callous. I personally rarely use wrist straps and instead prefer to train my forearms and grip strength.
#2 A7 BAR GRIP SHIRT
Coming in second place on the nice to have list are the Bar Grip Shirts made by A7. I run the risk of sounding like an A7 fanboy by putting their shirts on the nice to have list, especially because you can’t even use the shirts in competition but to put it simply, they make training the squat and the bench much more convenient.
The difference between squatting with one of these shirts vs a regular ole gym shirt is unreal, the rubber grip on the back of the shirt makes it so that the bar does not roll mid set. I used to chalk up my shirts on the days I was training squats in an attempt to lessen the amount that the bar rolls but it cannot even compare how much more effective the bar grip shirt is.
I also enjoy wearing a bar grip shirt on the days I am benching, especially if I am using a cheap, slippery, commercial gym bench, I am sure all of you reading this know what I am talking about. The rubber on the back of the shirt grabs the bench nicely and lets me keep a tight arch and upper back, rather than just sliding around the bench.
#3 SMELLING SALTS
Last but not least on the nice to have list is a bottle of smelling salts. The purpose of smelling salts is to kick your body into the fight or flight response and get you hyped up to lift weights. They are perfect for those days in the gym where you are feeling lethargic and need to wake up.
For me personally, smelling salts are in the must have category, I have a very hard time performing at my best if I do not have them. However, I am somewhat of an outlier in that sense because many powerlifters do not use smelling salts at all or if they do, they use them very sparingly.
That’s all for my list of MUST HAVES and NICE TO HAVES, leave a comment of what you think should be changed up or what you would have on your lists!