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Commentary: Gear Up! (Part 1)

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Belts. Singlets. Knee sleeves. Wrist wraps. There are so many powerlifting gears out there, what should you get first? Worry nay, we are here to provide emotional support and information for your Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS).

This article is written based on brands available in Singapore. We have also arranged the sections based on priority. If you have tried out brands and equipment not covered here, tell everyone about them in the forum!

Gear #1 – Shoes (Flat soles)

gears - shoes

Function: Improves stability while lifting.

Price Range: ~$15 – 100+

Types: Warrior shoes, Vans, Converse, Wrestling/boxing shoes, Powerlifting specific shoes (SABO deadlift shoes, Deadlift slippers)

Shoes form the literal foundations for the powerlifts, which is why it ranks first on our list. A good, incompressible pair grounds the feet and reduces instability while lifting.

Warrior shoes: Less than $20 a pair with decent build quality and comfort. The soles are thin and grippy. They are a great choice for all the powerlifts.

Vans (or other skateboarding shoes): Priced higher compared to the Warriors. They usually have a very thick and not-so-grippy sole. While they are still a popular choice of footwear for the squat, many people steer clear of it for the deadlift as the thick sole adds extra range of motion. Not much, but some say every inch matters.

Converse: High price point and low build quality when it comes to lifting. Most lifters who own them had to replace them pretty often. They also have thick and slippery soles, and an upwards-pointing toe box, which makes it hard to ground your whole foot.

Wrestling/Boxing shoes: Hard to find in local stores and often, they must be sourced online. These shoes are relatively expensive, not accounting for shipping fees. They have very thin, grippy soles, which makes them popular for sumo deadlifters. They are great for the squat and bench press as well.

Powerlifting specific shoes (SABO deadlift shoes, Deadlift slippers): SABO deadlift shoes are similar to wrestling and boxing shoes with their thin and grippy sole. However, nothing can be thinner than a good pair of deadlift slippers, which is akin to lifting in a pair of socks. However, that would also mean they often lack lateral support in the soles, and lifters may find their feet rolling over the soles during a squat or sumo deadlift. Also, they are relatively expensive and have to be shipped from overseas.

Gear #2 – Powerlifting Belt

gears - belt

Function: Help lifters brace while lifting.

Price Range: ~$130 – 300+

Types: Prong belt, Quick-release belt, Lever belt, SBD belt

You know you’re on your way to becoming a powerlifter when you put on the belt for the first time. Once you’ve gotten familiar with the powerlifts, it’s good to invest in a sturdy belt. In a nutshell, a sturdy and solid belt provides a “wall” for you to brace against, increasing intra-abdominal pressure as you breathe and brace. This helps in keeping your torso more rigid during your powerlifts.

Among the IPF-approved brands, you can’t go wrong with Titan, Inzer, Iron Tanks, A7, and SBD, though the latter three have a higher price tag. There are other IPF-approved brands that have lower price tags, such as Stoic and Strength Shop. However, we observe that they are not as popular among competitive powerlifters.

There are 2 main categories that lifting belts fall into, namely prong belts and lever belts. A good lifting belt has a consistent width (usually 4mm) and thickness (10mm or 13mm) throughout, and they are made of quality leather that is sturdy and durable, but the leather will break in with use. The first few times wearing the belt will cause bruises and abrasions. That is normal with the hard leather, and you can break in the leather faster if you curl up the leather and stuff it under your mattress. Roll the leather up both ways to get it softer whenever you’re watching YouTube. In general, unless you are hella thiccc and above 100kg in bodyweight, go for the 10mm.

Prong belt: Prong belts can come in a single or double prong; go for the single prong. Prong belts are easily adjustable, and great for lifters who need to adjust their belt on the fly.

Quick-release belt: A precursor to the lever, the quick-release is exactly what it says on the label. Locally, a common brand would be Wahlanders/Eleiko, which carries with it a high price tag and a tasteful design. Take extra care of the belt to lengthen its lifespan, as the quick-release mechanism can scratch the belt. Based on brand experience, you may look into Titan if you wish to get a quick-release belt. Note that we have limited hands-on experience with this specific brand and belt.

Lever belt: Lever belts are popular among powerlifters for its convenience and cool factor. Simply clasp the lever shut to tighten the belt. However, changing the belt notch requires a screwdriver or a coin in order to unscrew the lever. Beware, you will get stuck the first time you put it on – push the two ends of the belt together to get the catch unhooked.

SBD belt: One day, the prong belt and lever belt got married and had a beautiful baby: the SBD belt. The SBD belt is unique as it has both the feature of a lever belt, and the adjustability of a prong belt. With its unique design, you do not need to unscrew the lever to adjust the setting on the belt. However, its price runs over $300. The SBD belt only comes in 13mm thickness as well, unlike most belts which offer both the 10mm and 13mm thickness options.

Except for SBD, other brands must be shipped in from overseas. The weight and dimensions of the belt will break your bank shipping it. One option is get your friends to chip in and make use of third-party shipping services. If not, then Carousell is your best friend. Generally, well-built belts last a long time so in some cases, it is a better choice to get a pre-loved belt compared to getting a first-hand low quality belt. How to clean: wipe the leather and metal parts with a slightly damp rag. The belt dye might run off a little. You can also go the extra mile with a leather conditioner.

Not sure if or why you should wear a belt? Give this a read.

Gear #3 – Knee Sleeves

gears - knee sleeves

Function: Provide support for the knees.

Price: ~$80 – 130

Knee sleeves are made of neoprene, and run up to 7mm in thickness (maximum legal thickness in competition). A good pair of knee sleeves provides support in the bottom of the squat, translating to slightly increased competitiveness. That being said, it is a good idea to develop the squat without relying on sleeves. They can add some kilos onto your squat, but they are not a panacea.

The gold standard is still SBD, and stands as the most popular choice for powerlifters. There are other brands that sell quality knee sleeves, such as A7, Mark Bell’s SlingShot, Stoic, and Titan. Not only are they competitive in terms of build quality, some brands such as A7 and Stoic have a lower price point. Also, SBD only offers 1 colorway for its knee sleeves (excluding the occasional limited-edition release). Brands such as A7 and Mark Bell’s SlingShot offer a variety of colorways for powerlifters who love to match and complete their lifting outfit.

However, only the SBD and A7 knee sleeves can be sourced locally. This is an important consideration because sizing your knee sleeves can be a real challenge, especially for people with bigger calves. We recommend trying your friends’ sleeves (if your friend is hygienic) or at the local SBD and A7 retailer. They allow you to make an appointment to try on knee sleeves to get the right fit. The worst that can happen if you get knee sleeves too small is that you get a pair of calf compression sleeves instead. For A7, you can either run the same size as your SBDs or 1 size down.

As a rule of thumb, getting pre-loved sleeves depends on how well you know the seller and their hygiene habits. Wash your sleeves, guys! Turn the sleeves inside out and hand wash it under warm, soapy water. Make sure that you don’t scrub the decals off. Hang it up to air-dry afterwards. A good time to wash your sleeves is during your deload.

Further questions? Feel free to contact us at enso.powerlifting@gmail.com.

This article and commentary first appeared on ENSO Powerlifting, on May 11, 2020.

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