Unlike yachting or polo, powerlifting doesn't cost a fortune to undertake. All you need is a bar, some plates, and someone to show you the ropes, and you're good to go. You can train the main lifts (squat, bench, and deadlift) at any commercial gym or even in your garage—no membership to a "box" or powerlifting gym necessary, at least not at first.

As you grow more accomplished at powerlifting, and especially if you start thinking about competing, there are a few basic tools you need—and some information about those tools:

1. Lifting Shoes

Every person is different, and so are their shoe needs. Some prefer a lifted shoe, and when they do, they usually prefer a specific heel height. For these athletes, the lifted heal enables them to get in better position, especially if they have limited hip mobility. The heel also allows for increased range of ankle motion and a deeper position with the squat. Other people don't like any lift at all, arguing that increased height can lead to knee issues over time.

Whatever shoe you choose, make sure it has a solid, not squishy, sole. You need stability when powerlifting. You'll probably need to try several different kinds of shoes before finding the one that's just right for you.

Having said all that, there are two basic types of lifter shoes: flat-soled, low-drop shoes such as Inov-8s; and Olympic weight lifting shoes such as Nike Romaleos and Reebok Lifters. Squat shoes provide stabilization, support, comfort, angle, and drive. Their flat sole enables you to sit back farther into a squat and is especially good for wide-stance squatters. Olympic weight-lifting shoes lock your feet into the ground and create an extremely strong base from which to lift.

These shoes can get pricey. An affordable option and perennial powerlifting pick is the age-old Converse high-top sneaker, commonly known as a pair of Chuck's. Of note, many women can wear kids-sized shoes, which sometimes sell for as little as 30 percent of the cost of adult shoes.

2. Lifting Belt

The purpose of these wide belts is to stabilize the torso and to keep you upright during your lifts. A lifting belt can also help hold in your breath to help you generate pressure in your core and protect your lower back. The most important consideration when choosing a lifting belt is whether it fits you well.

The belts, which are usually made of leather, suede, or another non-stretch material, come in two different types: lever belts and prong belts. Each style has its pros and cons, and the choice often comes down to which one feels best when you're lifting. Check with other people in your gym or forums for advice on belts that might work best for your body type and preference.

Women with very short torsos may find that the tapered style of prong belt works well. In general, it can be harder to adjust lever belts for size. (You must use a screw driver to move the lever if you want it looser or tighter). An exception is the SBD lever belt.

3.Wrist Wraps

Your wrist wraps should be at least 12 inches long, though most competitive powerlifters prefer 24-30-inch wraps. The longer they are, the more there is to wrap around the wrist joints for a tighter compression, thus providing more support. My current wrist wraps are by Tuff Wraps. I also use SBD wraps for my one-rep-max lifts.

Note that powerlifting wrist wraps are made of canvas, unlike Olympic lifting wraps used for CrossFfit, which are made from a cotton/poly mix. If you like a little more movement in your wrists, choose a more flexible wrap.

4. Lifting Straps

These straps help you hold on to the bar or dumbbell when you're using very heavy weights, eliminating grip strength as the limiting factor during an exercise. The straps can be especially useful when you're doing double-overhand gripped work, and can help you target specific muscles.

For example, when you're performing heavy lat pull-downs, lifting straps enable you to hit your lats heavier without relying on momentum or over-recruiting from your grip and forearms. However, lifting straps are not permitted in powerlifting meets, so don't get addicted to them!      

5. Chalk

Chalk dries moisture on your hands and creates friction between your skin and the weight so you don't lose hold of the bar. The chalk also protects callouses from ripping and prevents blisters on your hands. The last thing you want to do is to pull heavy weights with torn and bleeding hands. I use chalk whenever I train heavy deadlifts and farmer's walks.

The chalk itself won't necessarily prevent callouses—it may even help them grow—so it's important to take good care of your hands. Having big callouses isn't exactly something to brag about, as you'll discover the first time one rips off and you can't grab the bar for a week. Keep your calluses small by filing them down as often as necessary.

6. Mouth Guard

The American Dental Association recommends the use of a mouthguard for 29 different sports, including weight lifting.[1] Mouth guards protect your teeth from the grinding and gritting that come with intense training.

They also provide something for your teeth to bear down on during heavy pulling, pushing, and squatting. I consider my mouth guard the most important piece of my lifting gear. Having a good guard in place makes an enormous difference in my heavy powerlifts.

7. Knee Sleeves

Knee sleeves keep your ligaments warm, protect your knee joints when squatting heavy, and help with the rebound out of the hole on the bottom of a squat.

(Don't confuse these with knee wraps. Those are for advanced lifters, not beginners.)

8. Deadlift Socks

Many lifters use deadlift socks on conventional-style deadlifts to prevent scraping and bruising of their shins.

9. Powerlifting Singlet

If you're going to compete, you'll need a singlet. Not only do they provide comfort and flexibility as you lift, but they also resist the tearing that can come from moving large weights against your body. Be sure that the singlet you choose meets the standards of the sport. Unlike benching shirts, the singlet should provide no additional support as you lift.

Know Your Federations!

The organizations that sponsor powerlifting competitions are called federations, and every one of them has its own unique set of rules and regulations about the gear they allow. Some federations are very particular and dictate even the brands of knee sleeves, belts, wrist wraps, and other gear they allow lifters to use.

If you see competitive powerlifting in your future, make sure you know what events you plan on competing in and what gear—and brands of gear—are allowed at each one. Don't spend hundreds of dollars on gear, train with it, and then show up to a meet just to find out you can't use any of it.

  1. The Importance of Wearing a Mouth Guard for Weight Lifting. (2018, March 13). Retrieved April 02, 2018, from https://sentinelmouthguards.com/wearing-a-mouth-guard-for-weight-lifting/

About the Author

Laura Hughes, MS

Hughes has worked in the fitness industry for more than eight years, training hundreds of clients from beginners to competitive athletes, post-cancer treatment survivors, and hospital...

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