Transition Back to Raw from Multi-ply: Stripping the Gear Off and Lessons Learned

By Lisa Guggisberg

In about a week, or so, I will start my transition back into raw lifting.  For the last year, I have been training in multi-ply gear and decided it’s time to go back and do a raw meet. Hopefully, I can reach some long standing goals I’ve had for some time.

There was definitely a learning curve when I first jumped into the gear. At times, it was frustrating and trying.  You can read about more about my transition from raw to gear.  I knew once went the equipped route that my weak points would change, therefore, my training would too (especially my assistance work).  What I wasn’t sure about was if multi-ply lifting would help my raw lifting and provide carryover. I am happy to say that during this offseason, I have already seen some great carryover and benefits from all the multi-ply work I’ve done that has facilitated my raw lifting.

Here are a few things I have learned in my transition back to raw lifting:

Raw training sessions go much quicker:

This may be pretty obvious to some, but if you have never been in gear, or been around lifters that train in gear, you may not have any idea how much longer a training session can be when you throw gear into the mix.  Warm-ups are much longer as you are handling heavier weight. It also takes you longer to work up to your top set for the day.  Putting the gear on is in itself a workout and can take about 30 minutes all together.  I was quickly reminded of this when I did my first raw squat and deadlift session as I was done with everything in under an hour.  What normally would have taken me 2 hours in gear took me less than half the time.  The benefit of all the longer training sessions I did in gear is that I learned to pace myself and fuel myself properly nutrition-wise, so that I could survive the longer sessions.  The longer sessions also helped condition me for those longer meets where you tend to sit around all day waiting for your lifting flight to start.

Comfortable with heavier weights:

One thing I battle with from time to time is an unhealthy fear of the weight.  Brian Carroll talks about this in the 1st and 2nd Editions of 10/20/Life.  Prior to jumping into gear, I was closing in on a 400lb squat at 114lb body weight.  I was fully capable of doing so, but there was always a little voice of fear in the back of my mind each time the bar was loaded with a relatively heavy amount of weight.  One specific thing working in the gear has taught me is that I am not going to die under the weight. My body can handle over a triple body weight squat, with or without the gear on.  Holding a double body weight bench over my face isn’t so scary anymore, or un-racking that elusive 400lb squat doesn’t bother me knowing my body has felt heavier weight and successfully executed heavier weight.

Changing leverages:

 A benefit of equipped lifting is that the added support allows you to improve your leverages.  A good example of this is with a squat suit and briefs you can widen your squat stance, which changes the mechanics of the squat.  For me, the wider squat stance in a suit and briefs has allowed me to widen my raw stance a tad and given me a solid stance with better leverage.  Another benefit I saw was in my deadlift.  I had the most difficult time learning how to pull in a deadlift suit. I still have not completely figured it out.  I was having such a difficult time pulling in my suit that I actually didn’t pull in a suit in my first multi-ply meet. I actually pulled raw and hit a huge PR by pulling 405lb.  I think that all of the work in the suit (trying to learn how to wedge myself in and lock in tight) assisted me to better understand and really feel the lifter’s wedge on my set-up.  Now, when I set up for the deadlift, I treat it like I would in a suit. I’m tight, locked in, driving the heels down and ready to spring the bar off the floor.

Shifting of weak points:

My weak points haven’t change too much, but I am keeping this in mind as I started my raw offseason work. This is possibly because I haven’t been in gear for years like some lifters. I have noticed that I am slower out of the hole in my squat and off the chest on my bench.  If you have ever squatted in a suit, or pressed in a bench shirt, you know it’s easier to turn the squat around out of the hole as well as drive the bar off the chest during an equipped bench.  For raw bench, I usually miss the lift somewhere in the transition phase before lockout, which is where the work in a shirt benefited me.  During my shirted bench work, I did a lot of heavy 2 board presses.  I needed to be able to push the top, or lockout of the lift in order to be able to handle heavier weights in the shirt.  I have a feeling that the heavy board work will help my raw weak point at lockout.

Bar speed:

Before putting gear on, I was a very slow squatter. (In fact, I think this probably helped my transition into a squat suit).  While in gear, things go a little slower, so that you can keep proper form, load the suit, to ensure ‘pop’ out of the hole.  Since stripping the suit off, I have noticed that I have actually increased my raw bar speed.  Maybe it’s a little reverse psychologically, or because the weight feels much lighter than I’ve been working with. Either way, the bar is moving faster. In addition to the increased bar speed, I am able to stay tighter and more locked in.  Perhaps this is from all the slow squatting I did in the suit, which taught me to be patient and stay tight while doing so.

I anticipate some changes and new weak points popping up as I transition back into raw in this upcoming meet prep.  The results are still yet to be determined.  The only other thing I haven’t determined and may not ever figure out is which I like more; multi-ply, or raw lifting. Quite honestly, I love them both, as they are so different, yet still so similar.  For now, let’s just say I love lifting.


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A self-proclaimed former high school band nerd turned meathead nerd, Lisa has been coached and mentored by Brian Carroll using 10/20/Life principals for 3 years. She started CrossFiting in 2006 but gave that up after realizing all she wanted to do was squat, bench and deadlift heavy. She now competes as a raw and multi-ply powerlifter in the 114 and 123 weight classes. Lisa has All-Time top 10 totals in both raw and multi-ply in her respective weight classes with a raw pro total of 936 lbs at 114 and a pro 1118 lb multi-ply pro total at 123 and 1090 lb multi-ply total at 114. She is currently ranked the #1 female multi-ply lifter at 123, #2 at 114 multi-ply female and #3 raw with wraps. Lisa has a B.A. in Political Science and a Masters in Public Administration, but hates politics and political debates. She is a mom of two, a firefighter wife and has worked as a full time litigation paralegal for almost 20 years.
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