Why I Support Raw Powerlifting Training For Optimal Gains
February 10th 2020
When discussing powerlifting, it’s important to recognize that there are many different federations and subcategories of powerlifting.
One of the most popular subcategories of powerlifting is whether the competition is held equipped or raw.
Equipped simply means with equipment, while raw means without equipment.
As you may already know, there is a lot of equipment out there that can assist you to lift as much weight as possible.
Some people find this fascinating while others may see it as a way of “cheating.”
The type of equipment can range from basic items such as belts, knee sleeves, and wrist wraps, to the more advanced ones like elbow sleeves, singlets, knee wraps, and many more.
The first step if you want to compete in powerlifting is to decide on whether you want to compete in an equipped division or a raw division.
You want to select whatever division you plan on competing as early as possible. That way, you can schedule your training based on your division.
In this article, we will talk primarily about ways to train for the raw powerlifting division.
Before we begin, let’s get into the pros and cons of raw powerlifting and why someone would choose to compete raw rather than equipped.
What is raw powerlifting?
The official regulations on what is considered “raw” depend on what powerlifting organization you are competing in.
Generally, raw powerlifting only allows belts, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves while performing the squat, bench press and deadlift.
In equipped, however, you are allowed to use any suit, wrap, or shirt to lift as much weight as possible.
Within equipped lifting, you can wear a squat suit, bench suit, deadlift suit, knee wraps, and elbow wraps to help you lift as much weight as possible.
This may be attractive for those who want to be able to lift as much weight as possible, no matter what.
But with all this equipment, powerlifting eventually becomes a competition of who has the most money to be able to afford the best equipment for a competitive edge.
Whereas in raw powerlifting, you have less equipment, so your results will depend more on your body.
Raw powerlifting may be right for you if you want your competition to feel more like a typical gym session (without tons of equipment, swapping between suits, etc.), or for those who prefer lifting with a side of minimalism.
How is a competitive raw powerlifter scheduled?
If you plan on competing as a raw powerlifter, your training should be scheduled so that by the time your meet arrives, you are at the top of your game.
There are many different programs and suggestions you can follow in order to plan for your competition and here is our suggestion of what you should follow.
This plan is based on the principles of Dr. Mike Israetel, which lasts for 5 months until your competition. Here is the link to the full article:
In order to peak, there are three different stages of training.
- You have an off-season hypertrophy phase which is to build more muscle.
- A strength phase which is to make the new muscle stronger.
- And a peaking phase which is to use your strength maximally.
The off-season, hypertrophy phase lasts for 2 months and is designed for you to build as much muscle as possible.
Size and strength are proportional.
The bigger your muscle (more specifically, the greater the cross-sectional area), the more force it can generate.
How many people have you seen that can squat 500 lbs. with small legs? Most likely not many.
Therefore, this part of the training phase involves training the big three exercises squat, bench and deadlift, and also adding a ton of accessory movements to resolve any imbalances or weaknesses.
This part of the training phase is performing a lot of sets and reps (5-10).
After the 2 months is up, we move to our next phase.
In the strength phase, we are training our body to get used to lifting heavier and heavier weights.
In doing so, we will train with the same amount of sets but in lower rep ranges (3-6).
The main exercises we will be performing at this stage are our competition lifts.
We will also be narrowing our accessory exercises to exercises that are more similar to our competition lifts.
For example, the proper accessory for the bench press in this cycle would be a close-grip bench press rather than a triceps pushdown.
Both exercises target the same muscle group, but the close-grip bench press is much more similar to the competition bench and therefore has more carryover.
You will do the same for the squat and deadlift.
This part of the training will last for 2 months.
With a month away from our competition, the main goal during this phase is to train our 1 Rep Max.
Our second goal is to make sure we are not getting injured, as well as to make sure we are not fatigued before the competition.
In this phase, you will not be performing many accessory exercises because of how intense this phase of training is.
You will be lifting heavy and as close to your max every session.
You will do this for 2 weeks.
Then, the week before the meet you can choose to either rest completely, or train VERY lightly at the beginning of the week.
This is because we want to reduce the amount of fatigue in our body so we can be fresh during the competition.
Whether you choose to rest completely or do some extra work depends on your body and how ready you feel for the competition.
At this point, you should be ready for your competition.
Once you have finished the competition, or are not planning on competing anytime soon, you are in your off-season.
During your off-season, you can focus more on different exercises that you find enjoyable, as well as a mix of accessory work to increase size or strength, whichever you prefer.
During your off-season, you should still include the squat, bench, and deadlift so that you are still able to retain the muscle memory in order to perform them when you decide to compete again.
This phase can last as long as you want.
How can you get started with raw powerlifting?
You can get started with raw powerlifting by first finding an organization near you that does raw powerlifting.
The most popular powerlifting federation that includes a raw division is the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) or USAPL (USA Powerlifting).
The IPF/USAPL are drug tested organizations that allow the lifter to use belts and knee sleeves.
Here is a link to their organization.
Another powerlifting federation that only focuses on raw lifting is 100%RAW which only allows belts and wrist wraps. Knee sleeves are not allowed.
100%RAW was found in 1999 so it is relatively new and has a small competitor base, but it is growing rapidly.
Here is a link to their organization: https://rawpowerlifting.com/
There are many more organizations out there such as the (IPL, GPC, WRPF, SPF) which have different rules, equipment requirements, and supplement restrictions.
Whether you wish to compete in the suggested organizations or one of these organizations is up to you.
But keep in mind that each organization has different standards of judging whether a lift is valid or not.
The IPL/USAPL is by far the most popular powerlifting federation and has the most consistent judging among competitors.
After you’ve found the federation you want to compete in, purchase all the gear you plan on using during your competition.
Here is a link to an article we wrote earlier about our review of the best shoes you could wear for training.
After that, sign up for the meet, choose a lifting program, and get to it.
Plan to follow a similar training plan to the one we listed here with the same phases for the most optimal results.
What is the best program for beginners who are interested in raw powerlifting?
The best program for beginners who are interested in raw powerlifting is any program that includes the squat, bench, and deadlift.
I know this isn’t the answer you were looking for, but for beginners, it will take more time and experience for you to be able to identify what program is right for you.
Weightlifting is not black and white.
What works best for me may not work the best for you.
That is why you need to follow a program with a solid foundation so that you may learn how to perform the lifts with proper form in order to get stronger safely.
Programs I recommend for beginners are Starting Strength or Jonnie Candito’s 6 week strength program.
So pick up one of these programs, read the entire manual, and your competition journey begins!
My Experience with Raw Powerlifting Training
When I first was drawn into the realm of resistance training, I was doing it to be better at basketball.
At the time, my gameplan was to get stronger so I could play better defense and be more physical with bigger players (I am only 5’7”).
I initially started out with a bodybuilding split, 3 times a week - MWF split.
Then, after doing my own research, I was very curious about how to get stronger faster and I wanted to figure out if it was possible.
That question led me to strength training, Elliot Hulse’s channel and how I should be focusing on compound movements like the squat and deadlift.
So, I drastically tweaked my buddy’s program and made sure I did more squats and deadlifts.
This led me down to wondering if there was a program that actually focused on gaining strength through compound movements - that is how I found Starting Strength.
Here is a personal review of the program, including all my training numbers, how long I ran the program, flaws of the program, what I did wrong and what I wished the program did.
It is a very good program and you will not regret using it if you do decide to pick up a copy.
Of course, I wanted to gain strength and power the natural way, and I never once thought about using equipment or gear in order to lift more - why would I depend on something other than my brute strength.
So, I stuck with that mindset until this day. Though I picked up some gadgets like straps, flat shoes (Reebok discontinued the design to my current shoes), and forearm sleeves (for atlas stones), I still believe that your training should be 100% raw.
It’s the natural way and in the case of any emergency, you will not be able to depend on any gear to save you. So, why practice with it?
Of course, there is the opposite point of view of breaking records and doing what no other human can possible do (which is fine but not for me).
So, cheers to another year of longevity to raw powerlifting training!