Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reconsidering My Take on Powerlifting Gear

As many of you know, I have always had a pretty strong opinion about the use of gear in powerlifting. I felt that it was getting away from "support" gear and moving too far towards "assistance" gear. I was concerned about the integrity of powerlifting as a strength sport.

That was, until I read Chad Aichs recent article on Chad has helped me see things differently and provides a perspective that allows me to keep a hold on my philosophies and values while taking advantage of all the advancements in the sport. Enjoy.

Strength Sports, Gear, and Where is it going?
by Chad Aichs (

I consider strength sports as any sport were strength plays a major role. Sports like powerlifting, weightlifting, highland games, strongman, shot put, discus, hammer, javelin, and stone lifting. All of the athletes in these sports are very strong, but how much of a role does strength actually play in becoming the best. It seems people forget that these are all sports and sports involve a lot more than just strength. Sports involve a lot of physical skills like muscular control, speed, power, and balance. Then there is the mental part where athletes need intelligence, positive attitude, the ability to understand technique, and mental control. So although these athletes are seen as some of the strongest in the world how much of a role does it really play in their sport?

All of the throwing events such as highland games and field events have an enormous amount of skill involved. These events take a huge amount of technique, balance, and mental toughness that takes years to fully master. On top of all that, you also need to be very strong. So even if you do master all the technique of throwing but do not have the strength to back it, then you will go nowhere. On the other hand you can be one of the strongest guys around and still not be a good thrower if your technique is bad. So these sports take a balance of everything from strength to skill. I once read an article about the Crouser brothers who were all very good field event throwers. One of the brothers discussed how one season he was bench pressing well over 500lbs and could throw the shot put in the mid 50s (feet). The next season he was only benching in the mid 400lbs range, but threw over 60 foot. I do not remember the exact numbers, but you get the point. The second season he spent more time throwing and working on his technique, in contrast to the year before were he worked mostly on his strength. This leads me to the conclusion that strength is not he only factor in throwing events. Finding the right ratio of explosive strength, balance, technique, and mental attitude seems to be the key to throwing at a world class level.

Sports like strongman and stone lifting appear to be mostly based on strength. From personal experience I have learned this is not necessarily true. I have had the opportunity to train with a few top strongman and play with a lot of strongman implements. The first time I picked up an atlas stone I could not believe how hard it was. Then I tried again with a few pointers from some strongmen and it was instantly much easier the next time. I learned more and get better at handling the implement every time. I even analyses the techniques of the strongman on tv. I have noticed that when a new event is added, there will only be a couple of guys that do really well at it. By the next year they all do real well at it. This is because they duplicate the new apparatus so that they can train with it and learn the most efficient ways to do it. This leads me to the conclusion that strongman is not only about strength, but has much more involved. There are other major factors like your cardiovascular conditioning, your technique, and your mental state. So this sport; like throwing, has a balance of strength and skill.

Weightlifting is a sport of enormous power and explosion. This sport obviously involves a lot of strength, but there is also a lot of technique, balance, and flexibility as well. The strength in weightlifting is more explosive strength like in throwing, but heavier. Many of the strongest people in the world would have a hard time snatching or clean and jerking the weights that Olympic weightlifter can do. This is do to years of training on there balance, flexibility, and technique. Not just because they are strong.

Powerlifting is probably the most recognized sport for raw strength, but I would have to say that is far from the truth. Powerlifting is a sport performed by athletes. It is not just a about brut strength. There is an incredible amount of technique and mental aptitude involved. In order to lift the most weight a lifter needs to understand the proper technique, the muscles involved, have the mental fortitude to lift the massive weight, and the balance to execute the lift. I have seen many situations were a weaker guy beats a stronger guy in the meet. There is so much involved in hitting you best numbers at the meet. In my opinion the meet is usually won by the guy that prepares the best and has the best technique, often the strongest guy is not the winner. A good example of this would be a guy that can squat 800lbs with terrible technique. He is on the balls of his feet, his butt comes up first, and it looks more like a good morning. This guy could be beat by someone with perfect technique that squats 825lbs. The guy with bad technique is actually stronger than the person that squatted 825lbs, but he has not learned proper technique and loses 50 to 100lbs because of this. Therefore he loses to a weaker person. So, as with all the other strength sports; powerlifting is a mix of a lot of strength, technique, balance, intelligence, and mental attitude.

So even though these sports are all considered strength sports, none of them are solely about strength. In fact these sports were never even set up around the fact that the strongest athlete should win. In throwing you get three to six throws at each event. So most people hold back on there first attempt, just wanting to get a decent throw in. Then try to put one out on the second attempt and really go for it on the third. So most people will only have one attempt to really push themselves and that is very difficult considering all the other things involved in making that great throw. In strongman you usually only get one chance at each event and that leaves almost no room for error. In powerlifting and weightlifting you only get three shots like throwing. The first usually being a number that you are confident you can do easily, followed by an attempt that is some were near you best. Then on the third you go for a max. Again this only leaves one attempt to show your real strength and that is a difficult task considering all the possible things that can go wrong to make you miss the lift. How many times have you hear of a person doing his best lifts or throws in training? If testing strength was the main goal of these sports then they would not limit the attempts, you would go until you have done your best. You would not have the stress of only having three attempts and you would be able to reattempt throws or lifts if they were bad simple do to technical errors. These sports are not base on pure raw strength, they are more about competition and performance. In my opinion, this is the way it should be. This way there is more of a level playing field. A guy that is intelligent and works hard has a chance against the guy who is gifted with raw strength. You can not just be a big dumb ox and excel in any of these sports. Almost all the champions of these sports are intelligent hard working people.

Now this brings me to the real question of this article. If strength was never really the main factor of these sports, then what is wrong with the addition of better lifting gear or equipment? Special gear and equipment is used in most of these sports to help improve the results. In throwing there are different styles of implements. I have seen shot puts of many sizes, even shot puts with a smaller steel ball inside to help get more inersa for more distance. There are various discuses with most of the weight in the center or most of the weight on the outside ring, all to try and get more distance. There have even been advances in the shoes most throwers wear. In highland games thrower wear spikes in the front of there boots to help them lean back and stable there feet in the hammer. Some hammers now have pvc handles to give more whip and a longer throws. Strongmen has also had many advancements too. During the truck pulls a lot of strongmen wear climbing shoes to get great traction. They also wear modern powerlifting suits for squatting and deadlifting events. They wear straps for grip strength and us lots of tacky when doing the stones. Weightlifting is one of the sports that have not had too many changes to it. Powerlifting on the other hand, has probably had the most advancement through lifting gear. With the monolifts, better squat suits, better bench shirts, and even better bars. I do feel that most of these changes have made the sports safer, especially in powerlifting. I have had a few incidences were my powerlifting gear keep me from getting hurt worse than I did. The real question is if the advancements have changed the principles of the sport. I would say no they haven’t. They may have changed the way people train and the technique, but the basic principles are still the same. Out throw or out lift the other competitors to win. The playing field is still fair and everyone has the same accesses to the same stuff. I feel a sport has to keep progressing in order to keep growing and all these advancements help make that happen. If you think about it, the one sport that has changed the least is the one in the most danger of becoming extinct, weightlifting!

If the strength sports were to start limiting the new advancements, were would the line be drawn. New gear and equipment is not the only reason that athletes are doing better. There have been huge advancements in nutrition and supplements. The training technology and equipment is way better than even 10 years ago. Should today’s athletes not be allowed to use modern supplements and protein drinks? Should they only be allowed to use old lifting equipment and old programs. Were would it all stop? Should there be an asterisk next to a world record because the athlete used Muscle Milk.

I seems the biggest reasons that this subject is so commonly argued is based on the fact that people keep trying to compare athletes from the past with athletes from today and this seems to be most prevalent in powerlifting. I feel this is a big mistake. I give respect to any athlete that was one of the best in his day. It doesn’t matter if a guy from the 70s was stronger than a guy from the 90s. This is a question that will never be answered and I would have to guess that the guy from the 70s used the best available to him at the time. If he was in the 90’s he would probably still use the best available to him. There was also a time were steroids were legal and easier to obtain for some athletes. Things change and certain athletes of different eras had different advantages. As for the world records, if a guy had a world record in his day then he was awesome. World records are meant to be broken; it’s good for the sport. Anyone that really cares about the sport will understand that there are differences in the sport over the years. An athlete that was high ranked in his time or ever held a world record is very impressive. That is all that matters.

Powerlifting seems to be the main sport were this argument of using better equipment always comes up. I hardly ever hear of it in any of the other major sports or even the other strength sports, but almost ever one has had changes like this. The advancements in golf clubs and balls have been amazing. I have never heard anyone say that they should go back to wood shafts and old style balls. Maybe we should make basketball players go back to chuck tailors and if you don’t think that would make a difference, then go run up and down a court for an hour in them. There have even been changes in baseball, although I did hear some bitching about that. The batters wear more protection, the balls have changed, bats are more advanced, there have been changes in pitching mound heights, and the amount of games played. The advancements in football equipment have really changed over the years too. No more leather helmets and much better padding. If todays lineman played in old equipment than they would probably kill each other or at least knock each other out. Even tennis has been changed by new technology. Give the modern player the heavy old wood rackets and see how they do. I think the difference between strength sports and these others is that people see all these as sports, were people see the strength sports as just feats of strength. They are sports and like these others the advancements have not change the principles of the sport.

I would hope that people would learn that strength events are sports and that change is going to happen. There is much more involved than just being strong and that is a good thing. The sports used to be about technique, hard work, attitude, mental capacity, balance, flexibility, and it is still about all those things. All the new advancements just added to the skill of the sport, but strength still plays a major role like it always has. Maybe the solution to this problem; at least in powerlifting, would be to keep all types of lifting from raw, to single ply, and multiply ply. I believe the real fans would understand the difference and respect each type of lifter. It would be like drag racing with stock, pro stock, and top fuel. That way everyone gets to see the type of lifting they like. Lifting with no assistive gear to lifting with the best gear possible. Personally I don’t think it really matters what type of lifting someone chooses, we are all striving to lift the most we are capable of in our own chosen situation and to become the best we can be.

I tend to talk more about powerlifting because right now it is my main focus and it drives me nuts to see the direction the sport is going in. There are too many egos, too much bitching, and too much arguing. This is a great sport and should be in a way better place. The sport peaked in the 80’s and that’s crazy. This sport should be huge or at least the level of strongman. We should be lifting on television, we should be making some money, and we should be recognized for what we do. I think we need to stop all the complaining and organize together. The main bitch seems to be gear and judging. Simple, one federation with all three types of lifting. As for judging, get together and compromise on standard rules. One of the most important keys is to make powerlifting marketable to the general public. This can be done by making the shows as exciting as possible with lights, music, and the charisma of the lifter. Also the lifters need to be introduced to the public through television, newspaper, or radio interviews. This will give the fans more information about lifters and more of a reason to support a particular lifter, hence more of a reason to want to attend competitions. With a bigger draw of spectators to meets, this may make it easier to eventually get television coverage. The lifters themselves can be a tremendous boost to getting the word about powerlifting out. They can be getting interviews with local newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. This will start to get powerlifting some recognition and help lifters get local sponsors. This may not seem like much, but if all lifters started working on this, it would have a big impact. I know it is really not this easy, but maybe we can start working in a more positive direction.

I have always been a big fan of all the strength sports. I still remember being a young kid and wanting to grow up to be some sort of strength athlete. My first love was to be a shot putter like my father was in high school. I then found weight lifting and strongman. All my heroes were big massive strong guys. Weight training and my pursuit of more strength has had profound affects on my live. The things that I learned from strength training have made me who I am today. The friendships I have forged through strength training are some of the most important ones of my life. I was born to be a strength athlete, I live to be a strength athlete, and I will die a strength athlete. I think a lot of lifters feel the same and I hope that when they read this article they realize that we are all very similar. We can make it better.

Chad Aichs started competing in power lifting in 1997. In 1999 he competed in his first three lift meet and his total lifts equaled 1700 lbs.Since then, Chad has gone on to become one of the strongest power lifters in the sport. He writes for and has also been interviewed by other rpowerlifting sites such as You can learn more about Chad at

Hello Krista,

I would like to thank you for taking the time to send me your e-mail and for you nice comments on my article. I am glad that it helped you out and that you understood the points i was trying to make. Powerlifting and lifting in general has alway been a big part of my lift. I just want to do what i can to make it better and hopefully bring lifters together.

I have no problem with you printing the article in the Ontario powerlifting magazine.

Again, thank you for the excellent comments and I like your drive. I do believe you will own the gear and kick it. Please keep me up to date on your progress and feel free to write back anytime.
thanks again,

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