Those tight-fitting suits that power lifters wear for competitions and for training may well have a performance-enhancing effect. At least, the squat suit looks like it's going to be added to the WADA list of forbidden substances and techniques if a recent study by sports scientists is anything to go by. [Just kidding - ed.] The researchers, based at Louisiana State University, will soon publish their results in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Just like cyclists can cycle increasingly fast due to their feather-light, super-strong bikes, and athletes can clock up better times with better shoes, so power lifters can lift more kilograms at competitions by wearing a squat suit, a bench press shirt, a deadlift suit or knee wraps.
The researchers wanted to know whether the Kaatsu effect was the reason behind this. They got eight power lifters to train for ten weeks with gear, and another ten lifters to train without. All test subjects, who were members of the Louisiana State University Powerlifting Club, followed an identical scheme, and were preparing for a competition.
During their competition preparation, the subjects that used the special 'compressive gear' [CG] did more reps and trained with heavier weights that the subjects who didn't use these aids [Non]. In the CG group the training volume [reps times kg] was higher for squats and deadlifts, but not for bench presses.
At the end of the ten weeks, the power lifters in the gear group had made more progress than the lifters in the control group. The difference was not really significant, however. A p of 0.15 is at most 'borderline significant'. This is probably because there were large differences between the test subjects, the researchers think.
The gear group's performance was noticeably better than that of the control group when it came to the squats. The researchers suspect that this was because with the squats – in combination with aids – there was a Kaatsu effect, which was not present with the bench press and deadlifts.
"At baseline, blood flow velocity averaged 3.43 cm/sec through the popliteal artery", the Americans write. "With the addition of a competition squat suit, blood flow velocity dropped to 1.84 cm/sec, suggesting a significant reduction in popliteal flow. With addition of competition knee wraps the blood flow velocity decreased to 0 cm/sec, suggesting full occlusion."
"The ergogenic aid of the powerlifting gear may be important for other athletic populations, recreational trainers, and clinical populations alike", the researchers conclude. "The fact that the biggest performance increase in this study involved the compressive gear squat lift is a topic worthy of further investigation by the strength and conditioning community."
The researchers were not paid by a powerlift suit manufacturer. They don't mention any brands either.
J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May;26(5):1274-80.