Are you really "Raw" or does it just describe your lifting conditions?

Whenever people start getting competitive about lifting stuff, the "yeah but's" come out.

"Yeah, but they're on steroids"
"Yeah, but they don't have to work for a living"
"Yeah, but they're built to lift/genetically gifted"
"Yeah, but they don't have to walk out their squats/break parallel"
"Yeah, but they wear those squat suits and bench shirts"
"Yeah, but they were using weight belts and knee sleeves"

Usually if a person is throwing out a "yeah but" it's because that person is really just a bit butt hurt that someone else is lifting more.  Rather than accept and appreciate a feat of strength for what it is, the "yeah butters" feel like they need to validate their own achievements by knocking down someone else's.

With the growth in popularity of "raw" or "classic" lifting, there's a new, rabid group of "yeah butters" that seem to believe in an ideology that somehow places "raw" lifting as superior to any other form.  You've seen them on internet forums, they're the ones that are more than proud to proclaim they lift without belts, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, sometimes even chalk.

They evangelize the benefits of lifting weights with only the God given sinews and bones they were born with.  To them, the purity of the lifting experience precludes actually doing some things necessary to get stronger.  They are happily content to insufficiently work their posterior chain because their grip endurance fails long before their hamstrings, glutes, or spinal erectors--all because they refuse to use chalk or wrist straps.  That is perfectly fine if they are content to exercise for the sake of exercise or if, by chance, their competitive arena tests grip endurance instead of 1 RM.  However, this mis-guided ideology pervades those who also seek to test themselves in powerlifting competition.

Powerlifting or olympic weightlifting competitions are beautifully objective.  Either you succeed in lifting the weight according to the rules or you don't.  There are no style points given for form or for how spartan your training regime is.  Nor is there any quarter given if you choose to ignore resources available to you that are proven to add pounds to your total.  This is where the "yeah buts" come in.  The "yeah butters" rationalize their performance with any number of "yeah buts".  Save it.  No one wants to hear it.

Here's the thing.  Raw lifting is more convenient, far less expensive, and it's an easily understood context by which to compare lifts.  It's not more difficult, it's not the "truest measure of strength", nor does it require more skill than powerlifting using bench shirts, squat suits, and deadlift suits.  Geared single-ply powerlifting is unbelievably difficult and requires a determination and willingness to hurt above and beyond anything that a raw powerlifting routine would ever demand.  Multi-ply geared powerlifting pretty much requires one to sell their soul to the Devil.  It's that hard.

Most of us that have experience in gear circled back to raw lifting for one reason.  To get away from the gear.  I've heard and read things from ignorant lifters that have only ever lifted raw that astound me.  Things like, "the gear lifts the weight for you" or "I want to know that when I lift, it's me lifting the weight not my clothing."   Really?  Really?

If anyone making such statements had ever lifted in gear, they would instantly know that the gear wants to kill you.  The squat suit wants to cut off your legs and blow your head up.  The bench shirt either wants to dump the bar on your face or belly when it's not trying to break your ribs or cut your arms off from the armpits.  The deadlift suit just plain fights you and won't let you get down to the bar and when it does, if you're male, tries to trade a successful lift in return for a lifetime as a eunuch.  The lifters that stick with the gear and learn the intricacies of using it effectively are true adrenaline junkies.  The fine line between a successful lift with bone snapping weights and a 911 call is slim at the top levels.  Each successful lift is like surviving a rush by a rabid grizzly bear.

But back to raw, there isn't even a standard for "raw".  I guess that's where the ideologues come in. There's raw with belt and knee wraps, raw with belt and knee sleeves, raw with belt only, and then there are those, the Opus Dei of raw that lift with nothing but shoes and clothes.  The strange thing is, for all their adherence to not wanting to use anything that could possibly augment their God given ability, they are often the same people asking on internet forums about legal supplements or the best type of whey protein or creatine.

I'm not sure why they don't see the disconnect.  What is the difference between using a belt or knee sleeves and supplementing with whey protein, casein, Jack3d, or whatever else they're suckered into buying by the eternally slick supplement marketing companies?  Sure, no human has yet been born with a 13mm thick 4" wide weight belt attached to their midsection but at the same time, there is no food on earth except maybe egg whites that you can buy that mimics the zero-fat, nearly zero carbohydrate, protein density of highly processed whey protein.  As for creatine, there is no way to get a similar amount of dietary creatine without also ingesting large quantities of protein and fat. If you really wanted to "keep it real" wouldn't you also want to eat food instead of processed astro-foods?

I'm not immune to throwing out a "yeah but" myself but I've come to realize that none of what I do identifies me so I have no desire to validate myself or discredit any one else's strength enterprises.  For those that will trumpet that they are "raw",  hopefully they don't wear "raw" like a badge of honor or worse a quasi-religion (see Crossfit, "paleo", or barefoot runners) but just as a description (and not a precise one at that) of the conditions under which they test their strength.


  1. This is one of the best run downs on raw lifting and geared lifting in the history of ever! Needs to be read by anybody who has ever talked trash about gear without putting it on.

  2. Jason HansenFebruary 25, 2012

    Great read as usual Craig. I seen the guys you speak of on the internet, they're usually stuck around 275 on the squat and like you said trying to figure out their supplement plan.

  3. Admit it, geared lifting with elastic, energy storing clothing is as ridiculous as attaching hydraulics to your body and letting the hydraulics do the lifting.

    1. only someone who has never trained in gear would make such a ridiculous and incorrect analogy. I was tempted to delete your comment as it smacked of pure trolling but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you're just ignorant.

    2. "The deadlift suit just plain fights you and won't let you get down to the bar"

      The admission is right there. Not quite as descriptive in describing the squat and the bench suit even though the same is true of them. The deadlift suit won't let you get down to the bar because it is applying force in the direction in which you are about to lift the weight...

      Everyone can lift however they want, but the reason the raw bench press record is 300lbs less than the equiped record is because the equipment is applying force that your body is not...

    3. Why don't you actually try it rather than reading about lifting weights or chatting on internet forums about it? I drove a forklift once and I can tell you that I didn't feel like I was lifting a thing, again, if you had ever tried lifting in gear, you would know. It would make for a more substantive discussion if you actually spoke from some level of experience.

      Your comments are the exact type of butt-hurt excuses my post is talking about. I'm not sure why you feel the need to belittle anyone else's lifting by trying to de-legitimize it, other than you feel as if you aren't getting enough recognition for your own.

      Here's a secret, nobody in the general non-lifting population cares how or what any one is lifting. The curl-bros at the globo gyms don't care either. They all think a squat is supposed to only go halfway down. The only people that constantly whine about others or crow about their own superiority are those that have massive insecurity complexes about their own lifting.

      Inevitably these same lifters are the ones that post about not wanting to enter a competition until they can post a winning total or use rationalizations that while they strive to improve the core powerlifts, they don't want to compete because they're only interested in competing against themselves (and posting form check videos on internet forums to get the adulation of their internet friends).

  4. very timely post craig!

    reminded me a lot of this video by Jay Nera and Willie Albert:

    completely agree with you here. equipment looks f-in intense and i can't imagine the pain/dagger's edge grooves etc..

    but I can't imagine it because it's impossible to relate to - and it's not the public's fault for holding such ignorant opinions on equipped lifting. how can they understand?

    the whole world lifts weights to be more athletic and/or improve aesthetics whereas equipped powerlifting doesn't really pursue either of these. That isn't to say that more strength and improved composition aren't byproducts, but those can be pursued without equipment and so it's clearly something else.

    And I think you nailed what that 'something else' is when you said that those who have stuck with gear are adrenaline junkies. Something about throwing the fear of dying into a sport that really get the blood pumping!

    1. excellent points Frank! But I think one can be ignorant without being dismissive or derogatory. For whatever reason, someone linked this post to a thread at starting strength, it's turned into what seems like a bunch of lifters that have never competed or used gear all throwing unfounded aspersions towards lifters that compete in gear.

      I've never followed soccer and there's zero point zero chance I'd wade into a soccer forum and cast baseless aspersions towards the game but for some reason, give a beginner a copy of Starting Strength, a barbell, and internet access and all of a sudden they're all experts.

    2. of course there will always be haters! hahaha. cheers bud

  5. I think the easy way to settle the debate is to ask yourself this:

    Two lifters: Lifter A can bench press 650 raw but only 800 with a bench shirt. Lifter B can bench press 600 raw but 850 with a bench shirt. Who is stronger?

    The proponents of raw lifting will say the guy who lifted more with nothing but his bones, tendons, and muscles was stronger. The proponents of geared lifting will say the guy who lifted more with gear was stronger because he was able to "coax" more help out of his gear.

    1. Why does there need to be a debate? Both are strong. In competition there is only one winner. The guy who benched 850 wins if they're in competition together.

      I'm assuming you have never lifted in gear either based on your use of the word "coax". No geared lifter feels like they "coax" anything out of it. Using gear is an active process not a passive one.

      Typically raw lifters are the ones trying to make a "who's stronger" debate out of hypotheticals like the one you described. Geared lifters would simply say lifter B is better at lifting in gear.

  6. Graig, you should charge per session. Reading your replies is like listening to a psychologist and a personal trainer at the same time.

  7. Thanks Matt! I did work as a personal trainer and fitness manager at a globo gym for a couple of years after I got desk job burnout and really enjoyed it but the hours required eventually led me to leave and go back to a desk job. At least now I have additional wisdom gained from both my own experiences and the experiences of my former clients and employees.

    The events of the past 5 yrs or so have led me to a point where it feels like my life has more balance (as tenuous as that condition is) and that seems to make everything alot easier.

  8. Craig ... have really enjoyed following this post and the comments.
    Being new to the sport I've never been in a position to have the debate of raw vs. gear.
    What I do know is that I train with someone who uses it. He uses it for very specific reasons ... training for a competition and the competition itself. That's it.
    Kinda' like deciding to play a football game without a helmet because it's more pure. This only makes sense if the other players on the field are doing the same. At that point it's only something different than the other football where they wear helmets.
    How great it would be to find a suit that would "lift the weight" for me. I would buy one ... let it get up in the morning ... go to the gym ... do my workout ... and if it was a good suit it would come home, wake me up, make me coffee and tell me how well I did.
    Hope it's ok to say that I use ... at times ... a belt, wrist wraps and knee wraps. I'm old ... what do you expect?
    Great read. Thanks.
    Big T

    1. Thanks Big T! We'll see how all these newbie rawdogs feel in 20-30 years when they're our age!

  9. The only time any lifter should come down hard on how other people lift is when that other lifter is doing something patently and immediately dangerous. Super shallow squats or trying to use a Swiss ball while front squatting.

    Other than that, people need to remember: It's not your body. Shut up and lift.

  10. There is one lifter that provides us with the ultimate "yeah but", however- Marcus Schick. Triple-ply benches with 6" arms...

    For my contributions to the phenomenon you've identified here, my apologies. I prefer competing with no gear at all because I'm an asshole and like to rub it in peoples' faces that I can outlift them in street clothes.

    1. true about Schick but he and others like him are usually equalized by their inability to deadlift much more than about 300 lbs.

      No need for you to apologize, your lifting exploits speak for themselves. You've earned the right to talk as much smack as you can. The "yeah butters" usually haven't earned jack sh*t. They're just butt hurt and looking for reasons why someone is stronger than they are when what they need to do is sack up, get off internet forums, train with some strong people, and spend some years under the bar.

      I love that you smack the collective in the face, too many are afraid to get hurt so they never get stronger.

  11. "Here's a secret, nobody in the general non-lifting population cares how or what any one is lifting. The curl-bros at the globo gyms don't care either. They all think a squat is supposed to only go halfway down. The only people that constantly whine about others or crow about their own superiority are those that have massive insecurity complexes about their own lifting."

    Very true. I only lift raw, but the amount of whining one hears from the RAWISWAR brigade is appalling.

    "Pure raw" guys also lift exclusively in backyard meets, so one could argue that raw lifting is every bit as "ego stroking" as geared lifting is. Many of them even start their own "federations". It's pretty pathetic. Not to mention that the "rawdawgs" who do "compete" will happily take anabolics.

    IPF lifting (a.k.a. "lifting in the only legitimate federation in the world") is done in single-ply, I believe, and that's where the world's best powerlifters compete.

    1. the IPF now has raw, they call it "classic". Last year was the first IPF Classic World Cup,this year it now includes jr and sub jr. Hopefully soon they'll include masters age groups as well.

    2. also, thanks for reading and commenting! I added your blog to my google reader list and look forward to following your lifting.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

SBD Lever belt review -- TL DR; it's good, very good.

New shoes reviewed, Adidas Drehkraft to replace my Adidas Power Perfect 2's

Indochino suit review, Part I: Chronic iron overload presents a challenge for online made to measure suits.