The gap between squatting raw and trying out a squat suit isn’t so big after all – this article is the ultimate squat suit guide to bridging that gap.
So, what is a squat suit? A squat suit is designed to help powerlifters lift more weight, support the hips, and provide progressively more support as the lifter descends into the bottom of the squat where the lift becomes most mechanically difficult.
Equipped squatting entices many with the thrill of handling heavier weights, the technical mastery it rewards, and the new challenges it presents…but where do we start?
This article will break things down in a practical way and answer your questions of:
- What does a squat suit do?
- Why lift in a squat suit?
- What type of squat suit should I use?
- How do I size a squat suit?
- How do I break in a squat suit and get started?
- What are the technique differences from raw lifting?
Let’s crack the door open into the world of equipped lifting and get started.
What Is A Squat Suit?
You’ve likely seen how powerlifting singlets have progressed over the last 10 years and have become a bit thicker, a bit more elastic, and a bit tighter – squat suits are the end result of this natural evolution process.
A few decades back, what started as a “more supportive singlet” has developed into its own powerlifting division where athletes compete on a level playing field wearing supportive squat suits.
The original intent behind a squat suit was to provide the lifter with a bit of support in the most compromising position of the squat – in the bottom.
Today we have the equipped lifting division of powerlifting where athletes use suits made of a single layer of durable, thick polyester material and maximize the support given in order to lift more weight in competition. There are reasons to wear a squat suit beyond just the thrill of lifting more weight though!
Why Lift In A Squat Suit?
There are 4 reasons to lift in a squat suit:
- Increasing longevity in the sport
- Technical master being rewarded
- A greater adrenaline rush
- It can level the playing field
1. Increasing longevity in the sport
Many seasoned lifters attribute their longevity in the sport to wearing supportive equipment like squat suits in order to take some stress off the body. This is especially true for a lift as physically taxing as the squat!
2. Technical mastery being rewarded
The process of dialing in your technique in the squat suit to fit your specific squat groove is one that is very rewarding for lifters who consider themselves “technicians” in the sport. If you’re someone who loves to break things down and optimize every aspect of your lifts then learning to squat in a suit will be right up your alley.
3. A greater adrenaline rush
The thrill of squatting heavier loads can give an unparalleled adrenaline rush. While the margin of error maybe tighter, the reward of nailing a perfect rep when it counts is incredible.
4. Leveling the playing field
Lifting in the equipped category can be a more fulfilling experience than raw lifting for athletes who are especially relentless in their pursuit of technical mastery.
Where a lifter may lack in pure raw squatting strength, they can make up for it by spending serious time honing in their technique in the squat suit to get more kg’s on the bar. If you spend loads of time in your squat suit mastering your technique you can end up “leveling the playing field” with your level of skill so to speak.
How Does A Squat Suit Work?
If you’ve watched any form of equipped lifting you’ve probably heard the cue calling for a lifter to “sit back” in their squat suit on the way down in the descent of a squat. While this cue isn’t usually an appropriate one for a raw squat – it really encapsulates the mechanics of how a squat suit works.
As the lifter descends into the bottom of a squat, they are loading up the tight and stiff nature of the polyester material that makes up a squat suit. The hips push “back” into the seat of the suit where the stiff material begins to be loaded and stretched.
The tighter your suit is (especially through the hips and legs) the earlier that material gets loaded. The earlier that suit material gets loaded as you sit into it, the harder it will be to control the groove or pattern of the squat.
Combine precise body positioning with the right amount of support from the suit and then you’re hitting competition standard reps with more weight than ever.
What about the straps?
The straps of a squat suit can help pull the shoulders and upper body more upright, but watch out – if the straps are too tight the opposite effect will happen and the upper back can get rounded over.
If it’s starting to sound like there are a few more variables involved in a squat suit than you thought, bear with me. Starting off in a squat suit isn’t so complicated as you might think. Keep reading for a breakdown on the different types of suits you can use, how to pick the right size, and how to get started in the gym.
Sometimes squat suits can cause nosebleeds when powerlifting. Learn more in my article discussing Powerlifting Nosebleeds.
Types of Squat Suits: Choosing Your First Squat Suit
While there are a few different options out there for squat suits, if we’re going to just get right down to it there is only one suit that remains a tried and true favorite across all levels of competition: The Titan Super Centurion.
This is the suit you’ll see 99% of lifters wearing at IPF Worlds and it’s for good reason.
Titan super centurion
In 1989 Titan submitted its patent application for The Centurion Squat Suit.
This version is still available today and is a great option for beginner lifters to start off with. Since that time Titan has come out with the evolved version that we see being used predominately today: The Super Centurion.
Reinforced seams were added to the regular Centurion to provide more support in the lift and it remains the most popular suit of choice.
You may be thinking “I’m not competing at IPF Worlds…maybe that’s not a good suit for me”. It’s not so much that those top lifters are wearing a more extreme piece of equipment as it is the manner in which they’re wearing it. Those lifters have taken an already great suit and tweaked the fit to be extra tight in the right areas to help them extract the most kilos possible out of it.
That’s part of what makes this category of lifting so interesting – the top lifters are all wearing the same equipment but have made small adjustments to better suit (no pun intended) their individual lifting styles. When we’re looking at what level of suit is appropriate for you it’s less about what suit you’re wearing and more about how the suit fits on you.
The best place to get started would be to get your hands on a loose used Titan Centurion or Super Centurion squat suit.
A looser fit will be more forgiving and let you get a feel for the different equipped squat groove with a greater margin for error. Ask around your local powerlifting community, it’s likely that there’s an equipped lifter out there with an old suit who would be more than happy to help you get a taste for equipped squatting.
Wide stance vs regular stance squat suit
In your search for a Centurion or Super Centurion to try out you’ll come across two versions of the suit: Wide Stance and Regular Stance (WS and RS).
The main difference in structure of the suits is the length of the legs with the Regular Stance version being a few inches longer and extending further down the outside of the leg.
Regular Stance suits can be a bit less forgiving with more material tension on the front of the hips as you descend so the general recommendation is to start with the Wide Stance version.
Most lifters use the WS version as it is. If you are an exceptionally long lifter with long limbs the RS may be a better option for you as it is a longer suit.
Go for the Wide Stance Super Centurion (click for today’s price on LiftingLarge.com).
How To Size A Suit
For a Titan suit, the sizing is usually very true to the measurement around the largest part of your hips. So if your hips measure at 44” around then a size 44 suit would be appropriate for you.
Hip size is the best starting point as straps can always be taken in with needle and thread.
When in doubt, start with a looser size. Check out the sizing chart below from Titan Support Systems:
You’ll notice there are three different types of fits listed: Competition Fit, Meet Fit, and Regular Fit.
Practically speaking, most lifters opt for a Competition Fit or Meet Fit as the Regular Fit is usually just a bit too loose to work with. If it’s your first time using a squat suit, I would recommend the “Meet Fit”.
How To Break In A Squat Suit
Let’s start with putting the suit on. Depending on how tight your suit is through the legs and hips, suit slippers are a great asset to help make sliding a suit on far easier.
The glossy material of the slippers acts as a layer between your skin and the suit material to make sliding the suit up your legs a simple progress. Slide the suit up to where the leg cuffs are roughly halfway up your quads then just pull the slippers down and out from under the suit and you’re set.
My two major pieces of advice for breaking in a suit or getting used to a squat suit are:
- Get the suit on early in your squat session
- Do rep work
Get the suit on early in your squat session
A common mistake that lifters make when they’re getting into a squat suit is to wait until there is a pretty sizable load on the bar before putting the suit on.
The load on the bar doesn’t need to exceed your raw squat max in order to warrant putting a suit on!
There needs to be an understanding that warm up sets with lighter loads can provide us with a lot of useful feedback and also don’t have as great of a cost to the body.
The depth of the warm up reps may be high but they will help you get a feel for the groove of the movement with less risk and more manageable loads.
There’s also something to be said about the value of learning to handle lighter loads in the suit with precision.
For a 495lb raw squatter a beginner squat suit workout may look something like this:
- Raw: 135/225/275/315/365lbs
- Suit with Straps Down: 405×5
- Suit with Straps Down: 435×3
- Suit with Straps up: 465×3/495×2/525×1
- Suit with Straps up: 475×5
You can see just how many practice reps we’re missing out on the suit if we were to do a typical squat workout like the following in comparison:
- Raw: 135/225/275/315/365/405/455lbsx1
- Suit with Straps Down: 475×3
- Suit with Straps Up: 495×1/525×1
Do rep work
Another common misconception is that only singles are done in the squat suit. From a skill acquisition perspective we can see how this is problematic.
While yes, the specific skill is performing one rep in the squat suit to competition standards, but if we only ever do singles in training we’re not getting much for skill practice volume in. We’re going to need more practice reps given the technical demands that come with squatting in a suit.
I’ve found that lifters who are learning how to use a squat suit do very well with some sets of 3-5 reps providing it’s with a manageable suit that isn’t extremely tight. We often see that depth improves with each rep throughout the set as the lifter learns the groove and gains confidence.
If we’re breaking in a new suit those extra reps go a long way towards getting the material broken in as well.
Squat Suit Technique differences: Equipped vs Raw
I like to think of a squat with a suit on and a raw squat as two entirely different movements.
While it’s true that some lifters have only slight differences in technique between their raw and equipped squat styles, I think it’s important to approach the equipped squat with a fresh slate. Don’t be afraid to try out a few different technique tweaks than what you’re used to with your raw squat to optimize your leverages in the squat suit.
The primary mechanical difference in squatting with a suit on versus squatting raw would be the demand it places on hip extension strength. As discussed earlier, sitting “back” into the seat of the squat suit is what utilizes the support of a suit the most. Here are a few technique tweaks to help optimize your positioning in the suit and to get more hip extension strength in your squat:
Break at the hips first
One cue to help with learning the different squat pattern that comes with lifting in a suit would be breaking at the hips first instead of breaking at the knees first on the way down like you might with a raw squat.
If we break at the hips first and sit back, we load the material of the seat of the suit sooner. Think of it as sitting back into a harness. If we load that harness up sooner we’re going to take full advantage of the support the suit gives. Sit back!
Widen your stance
More often than not lifters opt to go a bit wider than their raw squat stance when squatting in a suit.
Part of this comes back to the greater demand on hip extension strength that comes with squatting in a suit. In general, a wider stance means more glute activation.
Squatting a bit wider can also help with maintaining a more upright torso. Since we’re dealing with the super maximal loads that come with equipped lifting, a more upright torso has really positive implications for reducing lower back stress compared to a squat with a more forward lean of the torso with more spinal shear stress. Preserve your spinal health!
We all know that generic cue that gets thrown out when someone isn’t quite sure what to say to be helpful during your set of squats…“Get tight!”.
While it might seem a bit redundant, getting tight is all the more important with a squat suit on. Make sure you’re bracing correctly against your belt, there’s no room for complacency when you’re squatting with heavier loads than your raw squat!
Tips and Tricks When Using Your Squat Suit
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you get started with squatting with a suit on:
Connect with experienced equipped squatters
More often then not there are some long standing equipped powerlifters in the area who are hiding out and would jump at the opportunity to help a new lifter learn the ins and outs of squatting with a suit on. Having in person help with equipment would be your number one asset.
Check out USA Powerlifting Gear Swap and Sell on Facebook
This is a community run marketplace page where used suits are often put up for reasonable prices. A great place to find a first suit.
Be mindful of fatigue
You’ll likely be handling heavier loads than normal on your back with a squat suit on and the head pressure and fatigue that comes with it can take a bit to get used to. Start slow with frequency and focus on getting quality squat sessions in.
Train your top end strength
The strength curve changes with an equipped squat if your positioning is on point. Since the squat suit provides the most amount of support in the bottom of the squat, the lift can get more challenging in the top half on the way up.
Dead stop pin squats, block deadlifts, and specific glute exercises are all great options to work on the different strength curve that comes with equipped squatting. Check out this article on squat lockout strength
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some FAQs that I receive about squat suits:
How much does a squat suit add?
A squat suit can add between 22-30% load compared with a raw powerlifting squat. This is not to say that a novice powerlifter can automatically add more weight if they put on a squat suit because they still need to learn the proper technique on how to use the suit effectively. However, once sufficient practice is obtained, this is the average amount a lifter can expect to lift beyond their raw squat. Experienced equipped powerlifters can see gains beyond this percentage range too.
How to wash a squat suit?
While some lifters say you can machine wash squat suits, I would recommend hand washing only. You can use a mild detergent, but do not use a fabric softener. Hang your squat suit to dry.
Why Wear A Squat Suit Backwards?
Wearing a squat suit backwards while squatting is not recommended. However, some lifters like to wear a squat suit backwards while sumo deadlift. This would be used as a substitute for wearing a deadlift suit. It’s not a common practice, but some lifters anecdotally say they can lift more weight wearing a squat suit backward compared with a deadlift suit. I suggest trying it out if you’re curious.
Squat suits can provide lifters with longevity in the sport, a rewarding fresh set of challenges, and an opportunity to take things to “the next level”. The gap between squatting raw and squatting with a suit on isn’t so great when we break things down. Finding the right suit that fits, understanding the mechanics behind squatting in a suit, and making appropriate technique changes are all key to getting started. You might just find after your first session in a squat suit that a whole new realm of lifting opens up for you.
About The Author
John Wesley Cummings is a strength coach who has been working with athletes and powerlifters through both in person and remote coaching services since 2010. He received his BHKin with a specialization in Strength and Conditioning from Trinity Western University. He enjoys the mix of working with powerlifters and his role as a Strength Coach for four college volleyball and basketball teams. As an athlete John Wesley has been competing in equipped powerlifting since 2011. He is the current Canadian National Champion in the 105kg equipped category and has represented Canada competing at IPF Worlds. John Wesley’s coaching services operate out of Cummings Strength Training