Compression Wear and Powerlifting

Lifting and compression equipment has been used in powerlifting for years to increase strength and provide support.

Powerlifting was originally related to the circus, where strong men and women lifted heavy weights. People found it fascinating that someone could be so strong. In the 1940’s, powerlifting became loosely identified as a competitive sport in the United States. Then, in 1964, Bob Hoffman from York Barbell sanctioned a national powerlifting meet for lifters throughout the USA. In 1965, the American Amateur Union officially sanctioned the first powerlifting meet in the USA where there were 47 lifters. In the early days, there was very little lifting equipment; lifters primarily used belts or wrestling singlets (one-piece tight-fitting suits) or loafers.

Within three years of the first official powerlifting meet, lifters were pushing the envelope to find an advantage and lift more weight. In 1968, lifters were cutting tennis balls in half and placing them behind their knees during the squat to help bounce them back to the upright position and push more weight. The tennis balls were hidden and covered with Ace bandages, which were one the few pieces of equipment allowed. The bandages essentially served as compression to provide stability and support! Even the boundary of bandages was pushed as only one bandage was allowed per leg without a specified length limit. To get around this rule, lifters would sew two bands together to make longer wraps.

One of the wildest ideas came in 1968 when Tom Overholzer, from California, wrapped his torso with bedsheets, covered the sheets with a layer of Ace bandages, then put on his singlet prior to his first squat attempt. This was known as the first powerlifting suit. They say the bed sheets were so tight he could hardly walk around the platform. 

Many other lifters were pushing the rules and would take a tight pair of jeans and cut them into jean shorts and wear them underneath their singlet. Some would use two or more pairs, all very tight, to increase their squatting weight.

Between 1973 and 1974, powerlifter Larry Pacifico began to think about designing a more sophisticated powerlifting suit and contacted Spanjian Sportswear, a company known for its wrestling singlets. He asked them if they could create a suit made of a heavier fabric that would be cut high on the legs. Pacifico tried different prototypes and discovered he could add 30 to 40 pounds on his squats with the suits. 

In addition to squat suits, there are bench press suits equally as popular. In 1983, John Inzer, whose company still produces bench suits, designed and marketed what is believed to be the first suit designed for the bench press. Inzer knew he was onto a winner when his prototypes added several pounds to his one rep max weight. It is said the bench suit can increase bench weight from 20 to 200 pounds.

Although powerlifting is relatively simple in design, execution is not simple, and the history of powerlifting gear demonstrates the lengths that people will go to in order to increase the weight they can lift. While some use the equipment to protect or guard against old injuries, the majority use it as a way of lifting more weight.

Powerlifting equipment has allowed lifters of both sexes to push the boundaries of what was thought to be possible. However, not everyone has been happy with using this equipment in competitive powerlifting. In 1996, the first Raw Powerlifting (no equipment) meet was held in the US.

How compression helped me

I started out as a raw powerlifter, and I struggled with all kinds of aches and pains. My body hurt all the time. Thankfully, there has never been a long-term serious injury that stopped me from lifting. I have known people who moved to equipped lifting. After a few weeks, they notice their aches and pain start going away. Their joints all felt better, their back needed less adjusting, and they felt more power in their lifts.

As I aged and continued as a raw lifter, I had to reduce my lifting weight in order to reduce the stress on my joints and relieve pain. That’s when I learned about compression sleeves for my elbows and knees and compression shirts for my back and upper body. I found that by wearing compression clothing, I could start lifting more without excess pain, my recovery was better, and I could still enjoy my powerlifting routine. 

Compression wear may not replace squat and bench suits for increasing the amount of weight you can lift, but I find compression wear does the job. It relieved the pain, and I can keep pushing heavy weight. It allowed me to BE ACTIVE AND STAY ACTIVE.