No sport is so purely focused on raw human strength as powerlifting. But hoisting hundreds of pounds isn’t something a body was naturally meant to do—at least not without the right training and equipment. Pros and amateurs alike rely on carefully tuned setups to ensure they don’t pull any muscles. Here’s the gear you need to get buff the right way.
1. Grab a bar
On its own, the 44-pound steel Ohio Bar is the right weight for beginners to start pressing. But with a tensile strength of 190,000 pounds per square inch, it can hold enough heft to make the Hulk’s pecs quiver. Diamond-shaped knurling—a texture common on weightlifting equipment—helps your hands keep their grip, as does a gritty polymer-ceramic coating.
Rehband RX 7mm Knee Sleeves Rehband
2. Preserve your joints
Compared with your big bones and muscles, knees are fragile pockets of ligaments and cartilage that need protection during heavy lifts. Quarter-inch-thick synthetic rubber Rehband RX 7mm Knee Sleeves put pressure on the joints, increasing blood flow and stability. The curvy seams match the contour of your leg so the material won’t bunch up and chafe when you bend.
Reebok Legacy Lifter Reebok
3. Wear high heels
A squat starts from a standing position with the weight across your shoulders—then you drop your butt below your knees, and rise back up. But executing that move, with your ankles angled just so, is tough. The sturdy plastic in the rear of the Reebok Legacy Lifter’s midsole jacks your heels three-quarters of an inch off the mat, the perfect amount to keep stable footing.
4. Protect your plates
Rusty weights give you cred with the Instagram pumping crowd, but it’s better to provide the steel with some protection. The cast-iron American Barbell Sport Bumper Plates make for safer lifts because they come wrapped in rubber that both softens the crash if you drop ’em on the floor (even from overhead) and stops them from bouncing around the gym too.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2018 Power issue of Popular Science.