How Much Stronger Are Equipped Powerlifters? The Analysis to End All Speculation
One of the most controversial topics in powerlifting has always been the battle of classic versus equipped lifting. In the last couple of years, the powerlifting community experienced a dynamic shift in popularity on the classic side of the sport. Five years ago, there was rarely an opportunity to compete in a classic division for most federations. Today, most lifters compete raw. There are several factors that have played a major part in the growing popularity of classic powerlifting. One of the most obvious factors is the ease of access to the sport. Equipped powerlifting can be time consuming and almost always requires some sort of referral or mentor to newcomers. These barriers are reduced in the classic division and all that a competitor requires to compete is a singlet, belt, and pair of shoes. The internet also has an unlimited amount of resources for a new lifter to pick up the sport without ever having professional training to begin.
The purpose of this article is to analyze the two divisions: Classic and Equipped. We will compare the results from the 2016 IPF Open World Championships for both Classic and Equipped. Readers should take note that this article is written without bias as I am a competitor in both the equipped and classic divisions. Furthermore, when reading this article the Classic competition results are based on the International Powerlifting Federation’s (IPF) definition of classic - being a belt, singlet, wrist wraps and knee sleeves. The Equipped division is also based on IPF rules, which allow only approved single-ply polyester equipment, along with only two-meter knee wraps .
The article will focus on analysis from several different aspects of a competition, which are:
• Competition Statistics: a brief overview on various statistics of the competition
• Attempt Selections: a comparative analysis of attempt ratios between equipped and classic lifters
• National Teams Results: an analysis of the strengths of the top National teams that attended the Championships
• Championship Results: a comparison of the results of each genders’ division against each other
• Composition of a Lifter's Total: an analysis of how the three lifts contribute differently to an equipped versus classic lifter
• Wilks Scores: a calculation of the average incremental Wilks scores achieved by equipped over classic lifters
Interestingly, the Equipped World Championships had more competitors than the classic division – almost 10% more. Although the equipped division has never lacked in terms of the total number of competitors, this year was a qualifier year for the World Games which most definitely brought the best of the best out to fight for an invitation . (The World Games take place every four years in the year following the Olympic Games. The event showcases more 25 sports – Wroclaw, Poland 2017)
For me, when competing equipped, one of the biggest stressors I experienced was how your equipment felt that day and managing to get successful opening attempts. In cases where you either had to cut or gain weight to make a weight class, your gear could fit completely different than it did in training. This could cause many lifters to compensate their regular movement patters or restrict range of motion to a point where the lift was not passed based on technicalities. When we look at the No Lift ratio (Total # of no lifts / Total # of lifts) we can clearly see how this impacts lifters between each division. In the equipped division, lifters are missing 1 out of every 3 lifts while in the classic division lifters are making 7% more attempts and only missing 1 out of every 4 lifts. With more missed attempts in the equipped division over the classic division, we can only expect more bomb outs – and this is exactly what happened. We saw almost double the amount of bomb outs in the equipped division, of which 74% of these were caused during their squat attempts. On the classic side, most of the bomb outs were caused from their deadlifts attempts. We had several lifters in both divisions bomb out on more than one lift, therefore the sum of the percentages for the disqualified (Dsq.) Squat, Bench and Deadlift will add up to more than 100%. The graphs below display a more detailed analysis on attempt selection that highlight these statistics.
The first analysis we will look at when comparing equipped versus classic is the percentage of lifters that made various successful attempts out of 9. This graph displays an almost perfect bell curve of the number of successful attempt that a lifter has made. The majority distribution for equipped lifters (green bars) is between 5-8 successful lifts, while the classic lifters’ majority distribution is between 6-9 successful lifts. From this graph, you can also see that only 1% of equipped lifters went 9 for 9, while 10% of Classic lifters went 9 for 9.
The purpose of the next analysis is to gain a better understanding of which attempts are being missed by lifters and the comparison between equipped and classic lifters. The bars on the graph below represent the percentage of total lifters that missed each attempt and the color of the bars differentiate the type of lifter – green being equipped and orange being classic. As mentioned earlier, the biggest difference for me when competing equipped was the stress factor related to making successful opening attempts. We can see in this graph, that the equipped lifters on squat and bench press have a significantly higher percentage of missing their opening attempts over the classic division. The percentage of missed attempts on the deadlift are relatively invariable; the reason for this will be more clear when we compare the deadlift results later in this article.
The following shows which countries brought the strongest teams to the Championships (Referenced in IOC country codes).
The analysis above displays the average Wilks score of the top 10 Nations for each division. I excluded any disqualified lifters from the analysis to eliminate skews in the averages. In simple terms this analysis allows us to look at the quality of the lifters on each team and not their performance as a team at the Championships. Alternatively, we look at the IPF point system rankings or medal count to determine the performance of a National team, but with countries that do not have a full team, their probability of winning a medal is much lower, putting them at a disadvantage.
The results of this analysis puts Russia at the top of the average Wilks leader board for almost every division apart from the Women’s Classic team. Although Russia only sent two lifters on the Men’s classic and equipped team, their average Wilks was 557.1 and 646.2 points respectively. When we compare this to the IPF Point system rankings we can see that the USA National team in 2016 lead the way on team performance. This disconnect between the two different systems comes from the USA having sent full teams in all four divisions and claiming a top placing in most of the weight classes. Although their team Wilks average was around the middle of the pack for each division, their breadth of performance was enough to crown them as the overall National Team winners.
See below for the winning Top 3 Nations for each division, based on the IPF points system.
Since we are on the topic of National teams, it would be interesting to look at the various demographics of each country in terms of the number of lifters they had in each division. Below is a table of all the National teams that attended the IPF World Championships in 2016 which lists the number of lifters on each team. Attendance of National teams could deviate from their normal levels year to year for several reasons such as the location or timing of the Championships.
As we discovered in the first analysis, some National teams performed better in certain divisions than others. Below are some various statistics that show how some National teams favor equipped or raw lifting, or are dominated by only one gender. For simplicity, I only reference the 5 top countries for each statistic (where applicable).
• Classic lifters only, no equipped: AUS, IRL, NZL, ALG, GEO
• Equipped lifters only, no classic: VEN, ITA, INA, BEL, SRI
• Male lifters only, no women: KAZ, ALG, GEO, LBA, ARM
• Female lifters only, no men: INA, PHI, HUN
Remember, that the above statistics are only a representation of the 2016 Open World Teams and don't represent what happens at the National level.
Men's Result Summary
Women's Results Summary