Why I Chose & Choose To Stay Equipped For My Powerlifting Career

By: Brian Carroll

I did my first bench press competition in 1999. I was a senior in HS and lifted raw on a whim. I didn’t own a bench shirt, so I had no choice. I was helping a friend bench (equipped) in Brandon, FL on the beautiful beach of the Gulf of Mexico. I just came off a heavy bench session the day before, but the iron bug bit me and I was ready to compete. I jumped into the competition the morning of and never looked back. I was absolutely scared out of my mind. I grew up competing in everything I did – sandlot football, organized sports – you name it, but this was something very new to me – competing against myself and there being no defense or anyone stopping me from being successful…except myself.

How It Went

I benched pretty well with a 325lb. bench at about 190 pounds and won second place overall in the teen division. I was only 17 at the time and got my head kicked in by a monster 19 year old who nailed an easy 365lb. bench. Little did I know that getting beat would be the norm…for a while. The three teens competing were the only ones who were not at least in a blast shirt and many had Velcro back double denim Inzer and Frantz shirts.

Keep in mind that this was during the start of the WPO, when the APF was huge and was the feeder to the WPO where all the top guys were competing: Frank, Kellum, Blue, Coan, Goggins, Schwab, Hooper, Conyers, Caprari, Mehan and so on.

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If you don’t know who most of these legends are, please flog yourself repeatedly for me. Canvas & Denim lifting gear was very popular from both Inzer (Inzer rolled his first canvas out in 2004 and Frantz had one for years prior). Frantz was a very popular canvas squat suit as well, but to me it was not strange or weird at all; just part of Powerlifting and these guys were wearing whatever they could to lift the most weight. I didn’t think anything of it, to me it was Powerlifting. You lifted heavy weight in the gym if you’re a gym rat, and then you wore the gear if you were a powerlifter. End of story. If you had trouble with a bench you opened raw then went in your shirt. If you couldn’t pull in a DL suit, you would pull raw. Some pulled better this way, although most were in marathon suits since they were known as being the BEST suit to pull in. I was no exception as I loved mine.

I ended up doing a few bench meets from 1999-2000 and lifted in a Blast Inzer shirt and bench pressed around 400lbs. I lost interest for a bit because the competition as a teenager was not very thick and I was not “strong enough” (or so I thought) to compete with the men in the open. I also didn’t have a powerlifting crew to really train with. After losing touch with the guy who I trained with previously, I kind of lost interest and went full gym rat.

I took a couple of years off from competing in the bench and became a full-time gym rat and competed in a couple of bodybuilding shows. My lack of squatting and pulling was very apparent. After not placing so well, I decided that I needed to go to work. A solid beach body is not conducive to look peeled on stage and neither is being big jointed/boned. So I went to work in a rage, pissed and angry at the world. As a side effect, I got strong. I went on to squat 405×12, 500×10 – in a belt and 600×3 with knee wraps only. I was also pulling around 600lbs. on a good day and benching 425lbs. raw with a pause.

I was getting big and strong, but I really had no direction. One of my mentors, Skip Sylvester, and another good friend of mine, Mike Hobbs, told me – not asked me – that I was doing a meet and I said OK. They told me what to do for my training leading into the meet. Keep in mind that it was 2002 so you had pretty much 2 choices to go with: USPF or the APF. There was no raw division. It was either the single-ply or multi-ply divisions to lift in and people went with it. The APF had a huge presence in FL so it was an easy choice for me; lift in the APF. It didn’t hurt that the WPO was all over PLUSA with many of the WPO champs on the cover. There happened to be an APF meet about 5 months away. I was told what to order and called in my order to Inzer and Frantz. I got my canvas suit from Frantz and my belt, shirt and wraps from Inzer.

I stumbled through training and actually had a pretty good cycle. I ended up making a 440lb. bench in training, a 675lbs.x2 squat, and a 605lb. deadlift. I didn’t go heavy every week nor was I in gear every week. What I didn’t know was I was doing 10/20/Life, it just didn’t have a name yet. I understood building confidence and momentum going into each training session and after missing a couple of lifts badly, I realized that this was a hindrance and not a help. Principle 1 of 10/20/Life: build positive momentum by not going to failure/missing in training.

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2003 APF Jacksonville Open

My first full meet was a success. I went 622/672/705, 402/424/435(miss), 584/622/644(miss) for a mid 1700 total and 3rd place in the 220 class. Yes, I got -10lbs. out of my bench shirt, about 17lbs. out of my deadlift suit and maybe 50lbs. out of my canvas suit. I placed 3rd overall and actually lost to my now training partner of 12 years, Adam Driggers!

Powerlifting back in the early 2000’s was pretty simple (it still is actually but people make it not so simple at times). When I first started powerlifting, I would train raw in the off-season, with my reps higher and bodybuilding-type training for assistance movements to bring up weak points. After you picked out a meet you ‘powered up’ and put on the gear to acclimate the CNS & get used to the heavier weights. As you approached the meet you would then transition to using less volume and more intensity as you peaked your training.

You have to remember one thing: internet controversy didn’t exist, there were no purists crying all the time (yes, there were issues and riffs) but bad lifts were passed back then and there was cheating in powerlifting just like there is today. Back then, you didn’t have cameras everywhere to record every bad lift and the social media to share the ‘crimes’.  Also, this might surprise you but not every BRO who pulled in the 500’s and benched in the high 200’s called themselves an online coach, a good or strong powerlifter or even a powerlifter. This definitely didn’t happen until we did something significant in a competition, saw how we stacked up, beat some people, lifted in big meets and had been competing at a high level for a period of time. I knew my role and I knew that I was low on the totem pole.

Now, every day on social media you see the second coming of Ed Coan, Steve Goggins or the next Dan Green is on deck with a self-glossed nickname and you can’t tell them anything! We knew our place a little more back then and shut the fuck up; especially when we knew where we stood in the big picture. Now every fucking day you see a new kid on Instagram, FB etc saying: 550lb. deadlift PR next up 700lbs.! I want it bad and I will get it! Fuck you and your narcissistic-entitled prick ass. In what world, planet or in what sport does progress work like this? What the fuck are people thinking? You know what? When I was a snot nosed kid and popped off at mouth, people put me in my place and reminded me that I hadn’t done anything, that I was very weak compared to most and reminded me to do something worth a crap before I ran my pie eater. They still straighten me out to this day.

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Present Day Powerlifting

Powerlifting now is awesome. SO MANY WAYS TO APPROACH IT, COMPETE AND HAVE FUN. To be honest; I like the variety of raw (belt and knee sleeves), equipped with all but a suit and shirt (raw with belt and wraps), single-ply and multi-ply. I really do like that there are so many choices. With that being said, people wear the ‘raw’ with a badge of honor and I get it, actually. It’s badass to be hitting these numbers without a suit or shirt. Some of these guys are incredible! Would I like to see some of these monsters wear a suit or shirt? Hell yes, but I don’t expect them to nor should I shame them into it. For me to curtain call ANY of these well accomplished lifters to wear gear is ridiculous. Let them lift how they want and let their accomplishments stand on their own. End of story. If you don’t want to lift a certain way, don’t. There is no need to bash it because you don’t like it, don’t admire or agree with it, don’t support it or maybe you think it’s stupid, cheating, a farce etc. One thing you must remember is that things constantly evolve and change. Hell, look at the belts, knee and wrist wraps, shoes, bars, racks, benches, monolifts, etc. that ‘raw’ guys are using now. Do you really think that is truly raw or just lifting without full assistance gear? I really do not care one bit, honestly, but I think we should call assisted-assisted and raw with no gear or wraps. Maybe you see my point, maybe you don’t – either way, it’s my opinion.

I tell all lifters the same thing and I encourage them to make their own choice. Raw is much more simple, can be done alone without a large crew and training sessions are much more direct, short, and to the point. At the end of the day, it’s all powerlifting and one should make his or her own choices.

It really is apples and oranges!

All too often you hear, “He should lift raw to prove himself.” To who?? YOU?? Who are you? Should he marry someone else too? Get a different car? SHIT, you’re right…my powerlifting pension will now suffer since I didn’t do as you asked and my retirement will suck. What??

SIDE NOTE: I know there are issues with judging in equipped but lately, the controversy has been following RAW squats, benches and deadlifts as well. So, lets stay on topic here and tackle one issue at a time.

OK, then the raw guys should feel pressure to lift in gear since every lifter must go for the Triple Crown: raw, single-ply, multi-ply to prove themselves as a lifter (this is actually cool).

But you never hear the latter. Why is this?

This is truly hypocrisy at its finest. The truth is, there have been quite a few solid, and even dare I say GREAT, equipped lifters who have competed raw and hit some nice numbers. Some examples would be: Shawn Frankl, Greg Panora, Matt Wenning, Jesse Kellum comes to mind so does Sam Byrd, Chris Duffin, Malanchiev, Brandon Lilly, Clint Smith, Brian Hopper, Dondell Blue and the list goes on.

Now, I’d like you to name a few top raw lifters who have never lifted equipped in competition previously and then have come over to “equipped” and dominated the cheaters division? You will be hard pressed to find the same degree of success and crossover. That’s because it hasn’t happened.

The truth is also some (not all) of these newly converted raw lifters have struggled in gear, especially bench shirts and at times squat suits. I know I’ve talked personally to Matt Wenning, Dondell Blue, Brandon Lilly and Sam Byrd about struggles in gear and their thoughts on it. I don’t think for a second that they are or were afraid of equipment. Over the years, the most of what I hear is ‘I don’t have the time for a 3-4hr.squat session’.

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I remember clearly lifting at the 2010 pro-am where Brandon Lilly was screaming at the top of his lungs “get this fucking suit off me, I can’t feel my legs”. He had just bombed with a 900lb-something squat and had blood pooled in his legs to the point of severe pain. I then followed him in the bomb quest and decided that I wasn’t going to touch a bench on this day and looked like a complete idiot trying to touch and press 800lbs. A couple of pounds of bodyweight too heavy for both Brandon and I and next thing you know, we are in trouble. This to me, is what makes equipped lifting exciting. It’s not as simple as getting under a bar and lifting it. It’s much more than that.

With all of this said: WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I BE PRESSURED (REQUIRED) TO LIFT OUTSIDE MY SPECIALTY AND CHOSEN PATH JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE THINK I SHOULD? Yes, it works both ways my friends and haters: if raw lifters aren’t guilted and pressed into throwing gear on and harassed, then neither should a person who chooses to lift equipped. I have made the choice to lift equipped and I don’t see that ever changing. Who cares, really? It’s lifting weights, right?

Have I Ever Considered Lifting Raw?

First thing you will learn about me is that I am not ever a victim of peer pressure or letting people change my mind easily. I never just ‘go with the flow’ in any facet of my life and the way I lift is no exception. Right now, by far, raw is big in the USA and has really become popular.

I have considered lifting ‘less equipped’ at times but a few things come to mind. Regardless of how difficult and advanced the new gear becomes it doesn’t change the fact that my pecs, shoulders, hips and knees have been protected and I like the idea of trying to lift as long as possible at a high level. Keep in mind some gear has not changed in the last ten years such as the super duper phenom, the Leviathan and Metal Ace gear, all very popular gear used widely to this day. I don’t know that staying in one piece while lifting raw is much of an option at this point at almost 34 years old and an even older lifting age with many miles on it.

I also don’t want to be jack of all trades and a master of none, as Rick Hussey would say. Yes, I’ve sacrificed raw strength, certain athletes ‘respect’ over the years for staying with multi-ply no matter who’s pressured me to change or ‘prove’ myself. I’d like to say that I’ve been one of the most consistent lifters (especially equipped) over the last 12 years regardless of ‘style’ of lifting in multiple classes (220, 242, 275, 308). In addition, I have had top rankings in each, as well as consistently beating the best of the best at one time or another with the exception of 2 that I never got: Frankl (tied him in 2006) and that elusive Mr. Greg Panora. Name any other equipped lifter of this era in the USA and I promise you I’ve beat them head to head, straight up or by formula. Yes, even David Hoff, Donnie Thompson, Brandon Lilly, AJ Roberts, Mark Bell, Matt Wenning, Dondell Blue, Chris Duffin, Chris Janek, Al Mehan, Jeremy Frey, Sam Byrd, Clint Smith, Chad Aichs, Chuck Vogelpohl, Jake Anderson, Adam Driggers, Joe Norman, Ano, Yarmybash, Chuck Fought, Chris Della Fave, Chris Mason, Chad Walker, Andy Bolton, Charles Bailey, Larry Hook, Jim Grandick, Matt Minuth, Gene Bell and so on. No need to go on, you get the point.

You should, in my opinion, only compare yourself to your peers and how great you are vs. your competition in the way you chose to compete. If you’re an equipped lifter, you should go to the meets that have the most direct competition. The same goes for raw with knee wraps, belt and sleeves and so on. Who you have or have not beaten over the years will tell the tale of your legacy, not just your numbers…but numbers are very nice.

At the end of the day, all you can do is compare people who lift the way you do and compete against them to see where you truly stand. There are plenty of people to beat in each division with probably the exception of single-ply which is now the thinnest and most watered down division (in my opinion) in the USA (Besides the USAPL and IPF). Don’t get your panties in a bunch! I know the IPF has some of the best athletes in the world.

Whether you lift raw, raw with a belt, raw with wraps, out of a squat stand, out of a monolift, single-ply, multi-ply and anywhere in between…compare yourself to the best in YOUR division and see where you stand!

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I DO Lift Raw & Often…

With all that said; I train raw in the off-season. All of my assistance is raw during pre-contest (mostly) and I love training raw. Could I do a raw meet with only slight modifications to my training? Which raw? Raw with knee wraps and a belt? Or real raw with just a belt? Raw is a huge part of my training, programming and 10/20/Life. 10/20 is actually a RAW program, believe it or not! Doubt me? Ask JP Price 2240 total in wraps, Ben Moore 2100 in wraps, Casey Williams with multiple 2000+ totals when he was working with me, Daniel Dalenberg multiple 2000+ totals, Jordan Wong all-time world record squat 785lbs. at 220 in a belt only, walked out. Lisa Guggisberg 840lb. total at 114, you get the idea! It’s created for raw, but not limited to with Clint Smith going over 2500 at 242 and many 800lb benches, my multiple dozen 1100+ squats, 800lb benches, 800lb deadlifts, dozens of totals of 2500, 2600 and 2700 and Chad Walker’s mid 2700lb totals, 1100lb squats, 850lb deadlifts and more.

Actually, you can just read my site PowerRackStrength.com and look at the logs to see who I’ve coached over the years. I have coached all the PRS athletes in some capacity. Many are raw lifters as we have a very deep and diverse team and I love helping them all.

The bottom line is that 10/20/Life must be adjusted to fit an equipped lifters needs because let’s face it: equipped lifting is more complicated and difficult. You need multiple training partners to keep you safe, spot you and help you get in and out of the crap. There are many variables that can go wrong when involving a suit or shirt. In addition, form must be perfect and ideal to make your lifts good. It is NOT an easy path to take.

I let people decide for themselves which path they choose to take. I always encourage people to build a strong base as I did being a gym rat for years before even putting on gear. At that point, they can then decide how to proceed ahead.

At the end of the day, follow your passion and lift how YOU want to lift and leave others alone. We are all in this together and tearing each other apart, although it can make you feel better about yourself, does NOBODY, especially the sport ANY GOOD.

 

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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