Is the cost of powerlifting equipment really an issue?

One of the criticisms of equipped powerlifting nowadays is that it's too expensive.  I thought that too.  However, I just happened to have an copy of Powerlifting USA from May 1993 handy so I reviewed all of the ads for squat suits and bench shirts (there was only one, the Inzer Blast shirt) to see what it really cost to compete back in the day.
Marathon super suit ad
Marathon--the Super Suit.  $39.95

Titan gear ad
Titan--custom suits, 2 for $73.00

Inzer squat suit ad
Inzer Z-Suit and Champion Suit, 2 for $62.00

inzer blast shirt ad
Inzer Blast Shirt--2 for $66.00
Notice the discounts based on quantity purchases?  That's because those darn suits and shirts blew out all the time.  You needed one to train in and an unused suit for the competition.  Training suits were usually competition suits that survived the competition intact.  You almost never wore a training suit in a competition because they had a very finite number of repetitions in them before they blew out.  Not only were they fragile, you didn't get much out of them.  So, at least you didn't need to take very many training reps in them because they didn't require much in the way of a learning curve.  Nobody, I mean nobody ever bombed in the bench press because they couldn't touch in an original Inzer Blast shirt.

In fact, the steepest learning curve was in how to put on and take off those things.  Shirts didn't have stretchy backs so it was an epic wrestling match getting one on.  Suits weren't much better.  The material was thin so you had to be careful how you pulled it up.  You couldn't hang from a shoulder strap with careless abandon unless you wanted to risk tearing a seam.  Because both the seams and the fabric were much less durable, you had to be sure you had the thing seated.  If not, there was a good chance it would blow out on your first heavy warm up.  They just weren't strong enough to be force seated like the suits of today.

Using online inflation calculators, those prices (USD) would need to be multiplied by 1.59 to equate to 2012 version of the US dollar.  Assuming a lifter competed three times a year and needed three squat suits and three bench shirts to be properly outfitted for competition, that lifter would need to spend approximately $120 for suits and $120 for shirts plus maybe a little extra to account for shipping.  Converted to today's dollars, that would turn into a yearly equipment budget of approximately:  $381.00.   Wow.  Even giving the benefit of the doubt and a little bit of luck, a lifter needing two suits and two shirts a year would still be spending approximately $250 every year on gear.

Compare that to today's gear and while the initial purchase cost is higher,  $36 or $57 in 2012 USD versus $230 (Titan custom super centurion), that custom Super Centurion is going to last for years.  A lifter changes gear because they change size more often than they change gear because it is worn out.  In addition, because today's gear lasts so long, new lifters can often get used gear as hand-me-downs or if necessary, buying it at fractions of their original cost on powerlifting bulletin boards.

I'm at least the third owner of a Titan bench shirt that was originally made for USA Powerlifting great, James Benemerito.  The shirt has probably had hundreds of reps through it between the original owner and the owners that had it before I.   One of the great things about today's gear is that it can be handed down from lifter to lifter.  The lifter that gifted it to me, Hoi Leung, is a top Canadian lifter and perennial National team member.  His kindness towards me when I was just getting started in powerlifting competition has never been forgotten. He inspired me to give a lightly used squat suit to a junior lifter that had also gotten bitten by the powerlifting bug.  The passing down of gear to junior teammates and new lifters is something that the gear of 20 years ago didn't tolerate.

So, while it is true that an experienced lifter may need to spend $230 for a custom Super Centurion squat suit, $230 for a custom Super Katana, and $205 for a custom Velocity deadlift suit, that equipment will last potentially for years of competition.  A beginning lifter can get outfitted in all the gear he or she can handle for half that and they won't have to worry about replacing it every year due to equipment failure.

So in the end, is spending the equivalent of $250-380 (in today's USD) for disposable powerlifting gear really that much cheaper than spending the same amount for today's gear that lasts, in some cases, longer than the lifter's competitive career?



  


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