Raw vs. gear a different angle.

Raw vs. gear a different angle.

Jul 21, 2013

In the kaleidoscope of powerlifting there are many things in the sport that have different opinions or ideologies from training to nutrition to steroids and to the never ending gear versus raw. We all know the big argument in powerlifting is raw versus gear, equipped.  In this article I will talk about both but in a whole different spectrum . This will be about a different perspective of either using or not using gear. It is NOT to splinter people but to generate thought on maybe ,just maybe some raw advocates, will waver slightly by the end of this article and say, “Ok maybe in this case I agree for being equipped.”

What is this “different” view? It is simple, does gear promote longevity?  I never thought I had a counter to my thinking until I talked to someone who did. This actually got the ball rolling on this article. Forget about how you feel about gear or raw but put your thought energy into this, clean the slate. This is not about what is right or wrong, cheating or non-cheating. The question is, does it let an athlete compete longer at what he/she loves?

When I suggest athletes over 40 or athletes that are broken down due to lifting or hereditary reasons using gear, I don’t necessarily mean gear, where you can’t get 800 pounds down to your chest, but more like a “pop” off the chest. Since most bench problems are shoulder related this could help the lifter continue his love. For example, knee wraps, that help someone out of the hole that over the course of time has now become difficult to get up from a chair let alone with weight on their back. Of course a simple solution is just stop. Ok maybe you can do that but for some maybe this is what they enjoy, no not the lifting so much, but the competition.

                                                                                                                                   My View

Before I delve into this I will point out that I compete equipped.(I enjoy it) Notice I did not say train equipped. If you pay attention to my logs lots of my training for a meet is raw. I do use gear 4-5 workouts out from a meet. In each workout I go gear for 3-4 sets (squat is 4 sets gear while the rest is raw) while the rest of the bench workout is raw training which is 4-7 sets. So in my bench training maximum training in a shirt is 40%. I consider that percent not enough to say I am a gear whore where I can’t train without it. My entire off season is raw.

I do compete raw in bench meets and have held state title on the bench raw.  I won Nationals raw 3 years ago. I haven’t done a raw meet in 2 years because I compete as a master lifter in both 3 lift nationals and in bench nationals, so I didn’t have time to think about a raw meet.  I made both world teams in the last year so time has been was dedicated towards those 4 meets.

I like both so I don’t get into the argument.  (To me it is not an argument you do what you want, period. I don’t need to answer to you and you don’t need to answer to me). I understand it is looked at as cheating by some and others hold no ill will it is just not for them for various reasons.( Gear is expensive so not everyone can afford it. Another reason it takes multiple people to help you in training while raw you can train alone since the weights are not , in a sense ,super imposed).

I will not risk my knees by squatting without wraps. (I popped something in my knee 11 years ago squatting 405 raw) If USAPL had raw with wraps I would do it and not use a suit. We can’t live off the iron game like bodybuilders, so why risk it when my livelihood requires walking and climbing? Some carry a tough guy attitude but that attitude will do nothing for you if your ignorance breaks you down.

Common Sense?

I automatically thought if you are lifting in gear then you will have a longer life span in the sport. Everyone agrees, right? Well ,no not everyone. I was talking to a guy (yes you Sam) in the gym who had a converse view. After listening to his opinion I could actually entertain the idea. Well I did entertain it and investigated the theories by doing this article.

I can see where my point is the knee wraps, shirt, suit, etc. can give you support. You can counter with but you are not doing the same weight with the equipment you are increasing it which counters the equipment. Hmmm ,true.  If I was squatting 405 raw and added wraps/suit with the same weight then yes I am benefiting the body. Add an extra 150-200 pounds to the bar with the gear does this do the same damage to the body as 405 raw? I say no he says yes . He said his body felt worse with gear.

Say you can bench 440 for 1 raw. No support at the bottom when the weight is on your chest. Now you put a shirt on and it takes 470 to touch anything lighter and it hovers. Your max is 550. At the bottom you are getting about 425 pounds if not more assistance right off the chest which means your shoulders and tie ins are handling  100ish pounds right off the chest for an inch or two? That is 300 pounds less than your raw. Of course some of the numbers will be off because of different shirts and the person themselves BUT it is not 440 on the joints. Yes technically it is but realistically it is not. No one could budge their shirted bench weight off their chest, better have 911 on tap if you want to try.

Perhaps the reason why gear can or does promote longevity is because you do considerably less reps and have assistance. When training for a meet, gear lifters do not do the rep scheme or even the range as raw lifters. A gear lifter’s focus is on the shirt and the groove. In five workouts before a meet the most FULL reps with a shirt done is half dozen or so. Otherwise it is all board work of some type. Yes some raw may use boards but nearly ALL gear lifters use boards which is less range. When I train I find my joints feel best , believe it or not, when I am using gear with heavier weight and not when I am training raw. It could be because of my volume difference between the two and also because the shirt helps keep the shoulders in their cavities. At the bottom of the movement the separation is limited with the shirt. The tie ins are not stressed as much as raw.

 

The Numbers

In a post, on the USAPL Facebook page, I asked how many meets does a person do a year and the average answer was 3. Why is it so low?  Does it have any correlation to the numbers from the meets? (chart below)

 

I went back 6 years and included Master’s Nationals, Raw Nationals, Open Nationals and Women’s Nationals meets. I tallied only lifters 40 and over from these 4 meets. I grouped the masters into 2 age groups 40s, and 50+ as another group.

Take a look:

 

Raw men

40-49

Gear men

40-49

Raw women

40-49

Gear women

40-49

Raw men

50+

Gear men

50+

Raw women 50+

Gear Women

50+

2008

33

60

3

9

23

75

2

23

2009

26

53

10

17

20

76

6

19

2010

15

31

7

16

26

54

5

20

2011

42

55

10

15

36

73

11

19

2012

23

20

10

19

21

73

7

13

2013

27

27

16

16

27

73

13

19

 

Gear

Raw

men

670

319

women

205

100

 

Anything jump out?  This is what I take from this:

  • Gear has a 2:1 ratio for the men and ladies to the fellow raw lifters.
  • Male lifters 40-49 1.4:1 ratio. The last 3 years, however, they are almost equal.
  • The ladies 40-49, exception of this year, are averaged out a 2:1.
  • The 50+ male and female, the ratio is 2.7:1 gear to raw.

What this chart doesn’t tell me:

  • How many lifters gear were raw previous.
  • How many compete both ways. I bet fewer than 10% because of time and costs due to travel, gear etc.
  • Chart does not reflect state or local. Could it be safe to assume that the ratios woud be close in the grand scope?

(The open class there is no comparison raw 3:1 ratio to gear competitors in last couple of years. Maybe the numbers for gear masters is supported for longevity by the contrast in ratios.)

  Food for thought

  If raw lifters above 40 stopped lifting because of the breakdown of their joints could they have kept lifting by switching to gear? Maybe some have. Would it be too late or was the damage already done? Or if they were raw lifters who supplemented gear sometimes would they still be competing?

Since the body only starts breaking down, declining in many different ways( joints, testosterone and metabolism decreasing) due to aging,  how is a person expected to compete into their 40’s ,50’s or even later in their lives? (God bless those who can and do). We see those, who don’t compete, who have ailments due to everyday living move slower or move in a way with what is the most comfortable for their bodies.

How about professional athletes?  We see professional athletes retiring in their 30’s due to the stress their sport puts on them and they can’t keep up with the demand of their sport and to the younger athletes coming in. There are not many sports that have athletes in their late 30’s going into the  40’s competing to a high level. Yes you will have your Jerry Rice, Bernard Hopkins, John Stockton  but they are more the exception then the rule.

If you approach an athlete, who stopped competing in their sport outside of maybe some casual play, and said what if you can play your sport for 10-20 additional years and you just have to wear supportive or supplemental equipment?  You think they would say no? Majority would say sign me up. You think they care about the gear? Of course a few would.  if you play tennis casually because you are 44 and because you can’t move as fast or cut without tweaking an ankle then you find out you can wear something, that allows to play without discomfort or fear, and make it competitive would you not be at all interested? What are you compromising? Cheating? How if everyone else you are competing against is using it. If some people who when they were younger  loved traveling  across the country by vehicle, but over time they start traveling by plane due to the discomfort of sitting in a vehicle for hours upon hours does this make the traveling anything less to them since they are STILL doing what they desire? No. Same thinking if a raw lifter went to gear. He can still compete and do what he loved doing raw. They can still be around fellow competitors and fulfill that competitive nature.There may be some mental adjusting. However maybe after using the gear for a little they may conquer that feeling when they enter their first gear meet. They may realize they may not have even been competing if it wasn’t for the shirt or knee wraps that helped assist the hindered area.

Conclusion

                They say everything starts declining when you hit your forties. I feel that when it comes down to it, gear will keep someone who trains raw or who may have physical ailments, as range, in the sport. Instead of maybe quitting the sport or the movement they can keep training and that is better than staying at home taking up crochet or bingo. If they are still competing is it not at some point the only opponent is themselves? At this point amidst of all life throws at you with aging then add living life to the equation isn’t it justified to add something to balance the scales?

Is not some of the loudest applause at a meet for the fifty and older person competing? It is not about the weight they are attempting but about the effort, the will power and fortitude of making to the event and say,” Yes I am older but so what?” If wearing equipment helped them make to this point then BRAVO!! You have done something you love for a lifetime that most athletes would love to say the same.

We all respect raw but let us not overlook a hidden benefit gear can offer much more invaluable then bigger numbers.

I am sure there are things that could be pointed out to counter my views or pointed to show something that may have been over looked. If so GREAT!!! You are thinking about what you are reading.

Focus First.

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4 comments

  1. jose perez /

    raw or geared, its a choice- my choice was geared over 35 years, and to this day – it has aloud me to do what i love- with less stress and injuries, while handling heavy weights- ive been squat for 35+years, and a squat has aloud me to stay in the game – and helped prevent injuries- same goes with a benchshirt.

  2. Francesca Mangaoang /

    Thought provoking article. Personally I am a raw lifter. I originally started out geared. I think your total equation is skewed by only gathering data from national meets. Here in WA most lifters at local competitions are raw with gear being the exception. Not sure about age groups though. To me, in order to be competitive nationally, I felt i had to wear gear for my #s. Comments about wearing gear for support I agree with, but I see so many who are wearing the gear to boost their #s and wearing in such a way that would negate the supportive effects (i.e. too tight/small).

  3. Francesca ,Yes it is skewed but national meets from one fed was the only info I could grab that was consistent.However I would have done the same with other meets ,local or state and I believe the info may have been somewhat similar just a larger number of participants(master lifter only). I agree there ARE more reasons why some wear gear.I think the masters use it to keep competing BUT not all. Wisdom is what keeps us healthy and injury free as we age.I like your views and others will have other views. Thats fine with me. Thanks for reading!!!

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