Sport360's Alex Rea took part in a physique challenge earlier this summer and now embarks on a new challenge with Desert Barbell.
Sport360°’s Alex Rea has teamed up with the guys at Desert Barbell to embark on a six-week powerlifting challenge, working alongside industry experts ahead of his first ever competition – Powermeet 5.0. In week three, he gets to grips with using new equipment from knee sleeves to weightlifting belts.
Hands up if you thought powerlifting was simply a case of walking up to the barbell – utilising good form, of course – and moving it in a straight path?
This author is currently typing with one hand…
Yes, aside from the biomechanical element as discussed in last week’s column, there is another essential part of powerlifting which I didn’t really take into consideration before embarking on this challenge – the equipment.
Indeed, have you ever wondered why the guy in the squat rack is sporting sleeves over his knees, or cast an odd glance at a lifter wearing a rather thick-heeled pair of trainers which sound like tap-dancing shoes across the gym floor?
Admittedly, I initially thought all that gear was completely unnecessary and coming from the school of ‘bro lifters’ figured it was an amusing show from people trying to give off an ‘athlete’ vibe.
But it’s only when you delve deeper into powerlifting do you discover their function. Now I’m left scrolling through desertbarbell.co to construct my Christmas wish list.
Fortunately, DB co-founder Patrik Hedqvist has loaned me some of the necessary equipment and it’s taken a little adjustment in training to see how it all should come together.
Powermeet 5.0 is a ‘classic’ competition which essentially means athletes are only allowed to use approved lifting belts, singlet (don’t laugh at the pictures), wrist wraps, knee sleeves, special footwear and chalk.
We’ll break down what’s required for the three individual lifts.
For the squat, I’m using a weightlifting belt with a lever buckle, Nike Romaleos 2 powerlifting shoes, and knee sleeves, all of which are basically new for this challenge.
The belt needs to be pretty tight so it does initially dig into your hip bone, leaving a bit of bruising for the first few uses, but it has helped immensely with stabilising my spine, and crucially by allowing me to contract my stomach against it for maximal support.
The shoe, with its raised heel, enables a deeper squat while keeping the body upright, and the advantage of the knee sleeves I’ve found is more mental than anything as it gives extra support to a joint that can feel pretty susceptible to injury when put under pressure.
For bench, I’ve actually began using the belt for this as well, purely because I find it improves the quality of my brace and breathing. The shoes have stayed on too, as the high-heel assists with my arch, while wraps obviously support my wrists.
Finally, with the deadlift, flat-soled shoes like Chuck Taylor All-Stars have allowed my feet to be as close to the ground as possible, thereby reducing the bar’s total range of motion, and improving my foot stability.
The belt, worn slightly higher up for this movement, has made it possible to harden my trunk and give me a correct lumbar position at the start of the rep, while chalk keeps my the skin on my hands and the bar from slipping.
That last point is no joke by the way, my hands have been torn apart by the countless reps throughout this process.
It’s been an education getting to grips with all these accessories but at least I look like a powerlifter… hopefully I can move weight like one, too.
COACH CORNER WITH PATRIK HEDQVIST (@borjetheswede)
Training with focus on barbell sports can be very simple, you only need a bar and some weights but there are also a few things that can come in handy to improve your chances to successful lifting. Let’s start from the bottom:
The choice of shoes depends on your squat technique. A traditional weightlifting shoe, with elevated heel, is made for lifting and is often a good choice. But for wide standing style a flat shoe is often more comfortable. All major brands sell good lifting shoes nowadays so it´s mostly about finding the model that fits your feet and feel stable.
This can be tricky. Knee sleeves are NOT an absolute must. But, they often bring a sense of security and comfort around the knee joint. The modern sleeves are made of 6 mm neoprene and are very durable. A tip is to not buy too tight a fit. The compression is important but since it’s just neoprene the elastic recoil is very limited and to struggle with getting the sleeves on is just counter-productive.
After good shoes the most important item is a quality belt. There are several models on the market, but leather is absolutely the way to go. Velcro ones are cheaper, but not appropriate for serious lifting. On the leather belts you have the choice between pronged belts or lever belts. It all comes down to feeling here. I personally like the prong ones because it makes it easier to adjust and more “organic”. However, there is no denying the level of tightness a lever belt can provide.