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Should Knee Sleeves and a Belt Be Allowed in Raw Powerlifting?

Powerlifting, a strength sport that tests competitors' one-repetition maximum in three lifts—squat, bench press, and deadlift—has evolved over the years. While the sport traditionally categorized lifters as either equipped or raw based on the use of supportive gear, debates persist over whether knee sleeves and a belt should be considered as equipment in the equipped powerlifting category. In this blog post, we'll explore the arguments on both sides of this ongoing discussion.

The Role of Knee Sleeves:

Knee sleeves, made of neoprene or similar materials, are designed to provide compression and support to the knee joint. Advocates for considering knee sleeves as equipment argue that they offer a mechanical advantage, aiding lifters by providing additional stability and warmth to the knees. The compression from knee sleeves may also contribute to improved proprioception, enhancing the lifter's awareness of their joint positioning during the lift.

Opponents of categorizing knee sleeves as equipment assert that the benefits they provide are minimal compared to other supportive gear like squat suits or knee wraps. Knee sleeves primarily offer compression and warmth without significantly enhancing the lifter's ability to move more weight through mechanical assistance.

The Controversy Surrounding Belts:

Belts are another piece of supportive gear that has become a staple in powerlifting. Designed to provide a more supportive core brace, lifting belts are often worn during squats and deadlifts. Those in favor of considering belts as equipment argue that they enhance intra-abdominal pressure, providing a stable platform for the lifter to push against. This increased stability can contribute to better biomechanics and potentially higher lifting performance.

Conversely, opponents argue that lifting belts merely help to maintain proper form and do not contribute significantly to the lifter's ability to lift more weight. They contend that belts primarily serve a protective role by reducing the risk of lower back injuries, rather than conferring a direct advantage in terms of lifting capacity.

The Equipped vs. Raw Divide:

Traditionally, powerlifting competitions have been divided into two categories: equipped and raw. Equipped powerlifting allows the use of supportive gear such as squat suits, bench shirts, and knee wraps, whereas raw powerlifting restricts lifters to minimal gear, typically only allowing a singlet, wrist wraps, and a belt. The question arises: do knee sleeves and a belt fit into the equipped or raw category?


The debate over whether knee sleeves and a belt should be considered equipped powerlifting remains a contentious issue in the powerlifting community. As the sport continues to evolve, it is essential to strike a balance between providing lifters with the support they need to perform at their best and ensuring fair competition. Ultimately, the decision may depend on how much of a performance-enhancing advantage these pieces of equipment truly offer. As the powerlifting landscape evolves, ongoing discussions and perhaps rule adjustments will shape the future of the sport.

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