It’s spoken about a lot in the powerlifting world that you should train on the equipment you compete on. It’s standard for competitions to use thin steel plates, bars and racks which differ quite a bit to those thick bumper plates and racks you find in regular gyms, or even well equipped strength and conditioning gyms. Here I am going to go over a couple of reasons why training on this equipment makes a difference, not only to competitive powerlifters, but for anyone who wants to build some respectable strength.
Firstly and probably the most important reason is that competition plates are calibrated. Meaning if it says 25kgs, they are actually 25kgs. I’ve trained in facilities where the 20kg plates are actually 18kg due to wear and tear overtime. So that 220kg deadlift you're posting is actually closer to 200, which is clearly a massive difference. Training on lighter plates serve no purpose but to boost your ego and potentially make you worse on comp day. If you’re hitting massive weights in training and bombing when it comes to the meet, it may not be your failed peak but perhaps the equipment you're training on.
The bars are stiffer (or floppier or fatter or sharper) which, even though it may be minor, makes a difference to the way your lifting feels. This is more apparent on a deadlift than a squat, but even if you're squatting on weightlifting bars a max squat on a stiff bar will feel worlds different. Where it sits and how it feels changes the lift enough to cut kilos off your total. A stiffer bar (or whippier) bar on a deadlift change the point in which the bar leaves the ground and the speed/position in which the pull is initiated. Sometimes all it takes is a foreign feeling in your hands to ruin everything. The only way you’re going to learn how to pull on these bars is by practice, a mistake I’ve made in the past.
The thinner plates in competitions also makes a difference. The further out the weight sits on the collar with thicker plates changes the whip and feeling on the bar. In a squat this means the bar whips on your back harder in the bottom and in a deadlift the last plate leaves the ground later in the pull, making it harder. This is the biggest problem with training on bumpers. It gives a normal bar the whip of a deadlift bar. Couple that with some 18kg plates and you’re in for a surprise come comp day.
This also has implications with those who don’t compete but want to be strong. Training on equipment which make the lift a little more challenging can only help you in the long run. In the last 6 months I’ve found myself travelling all across town to deadlift on some good equipment and I’ve found it makes a noticeable difference even when fooling around on different equipment.
I’m a firm believer that you get better at what you practice, so it would make sense to practice on the equipment you need to perform on. If you’re training as hard as you can you don’t want to be let down by the equipment you train with or to find out you’re really squatting 20kg less. If you can’t train at a gym with comp equipment all the time, make sure before you compete you at least take a couple of training sessions to practice. It’s worth the drive.
- Tom Schwartz