What is powerlifting?

July 21, 2017

Powerlifting is the big 3, otherwise known as squat, bench and deadlift. Normally when people think of powerlifting they often think of huge men with big bellies and long beards grunting in dark gyms using chains, wraps and suits. To me, powerlifting is none of those things.


Powerlifting is getting stronger, it’s pushing myself everyday during training to get just a little bit better, and it’s encouraging others to do the same. My training isn’t typical. I do everything from box jumps to mobility work and even conditioning (GASP!). I consider myself an athlete before a powerlifter and I want to be able to hike 10 miles on the weekend, jump high, pick up a soccer ball and swim laps if that’s what sounds good that day all while lifting twice (hopefully 3x's soon) my body weight off the ground.


The practice of powerlifting can just be trying to get stronger at the three lifts but the sport of powerlifting is testing the 3 lifts in competition. There are many different federations of powerlifting and many different rules. There’s raw, equipped, multi-ply, single-ply, drug-free, etc. Choosing what federation to lift in is based off personal preference, what/how you’re used to lifting, and what federation you want to associate with. I lift in the USAPL (USA Powerlifting) as a raw lifter meaning in competition the equipment I use is the following: non-supportive singlet, t-shirt, knee-high socks (for deadlift), 13mm thick belt, squat shoes, wrist wraps and single-ply neoprene knee sleeves. USAPL is also a drug-free federation.


During a meet the lifts are judged based on USAPL guidelines as well. The head judge calls out commands for each lift and if the lift is not completed to the right standards the lift is not good. There are three judges who judge a lift and they either give the lifter a white light (good) or red light (bad) and the lift is called based on the majority outcome.


During the squat there are two commands. The lifter must walk the bar out from the rack and show control of the bar (i.e. motionless), the head judge will call SQUAT and the lifter will descend and ascend at his or her own will. After the lift the lifter must show control of the bar again before the judge calls RACK and at that time the bar is placed back in the rack by the lifter. For a squat to be good the lifters hips must be below the top of the knees at the bottom of the lift. Another point that is vital to keep in mind is that during the squat if you fail to lift the bar do not leave the bar. I tried to dump the bar at my first meet and was almost disqualified. Not only is that very dangerous for everyone on the platform but it can damage the plates and the platform. Stay with the bar the entire time, there are three spotters on every side of you and they will get the bar off of you.  


The bench press is arguably the most technical of all three lifts. During the bench press the lifters head, shoulders and butt must remain in contact with the bench at all times with feet flat on the ground and the hands cannot be outside the outermost rings on the bar. Arching is allowed in the bench press as long as head, shoulders and butt remain on the bench. Arching, if done properly, minimizes distance traveled of the bar and can allow some lifters to lift heavier weights as it turns your body into a sort of dome shape (think about a dome and how strong the top of that dome is). Arching is very sport specific but is not required by any means. For more on this READ HERE .


There are three commands for the bench press. The lifter will un-rack the bar and once they exhibit control and are motionless the head judge says START or DOWN. The lifter will lower the bar to their chest and pause at the chest to wait for the second command PRESS and return the bar straight up. At that point the lifter must wait for the third command, RACK. During my first meet I forgot to wait for that last command. Stay patient and in control of that bar, don’t miss lifts for failure to listen to commands.


The deadlift has only one command. The lifter approaches the bar and lifts it when they are ready. At the top of the deadlift hips must be through, shoulders back and there can be no downward motion of the bar during the ascent, at that point the head judge will say DOWN. When they say down, the lifter must hold onto the bar the entire way back down to the platform, the lifter does not have to exhibit control but their hands must follow the bar down. I didn’t do this at my first meet on my first deadlift attempt and I was crushed.  


CLICK HERE for the USAPL handbook to read more about the rules and regulations


I can’t recommend it enough to read and re-read the rules, practice the commands during training and make sure all of your equipment is allowed in the federation you are competing in. This is where having a great coach is very helpful to show you the ropes and make sure you’re prepared because it can get confusing. Nerves get the best of you on meet day and it sucks to train so hard and miss lifts for stupid reasons like not following commands or not having the appropriate equipment.


If you’ve ever been interested in powerlifting I urge you to give it a try. It’s a great way to not only get stronger physically but also mentally and the strength gains can be carried over to a multitude of other sports. There’s always going to be someone stronger than you so don’t let that deter you from giving it a shot or even competing because at the end of the day it’s you vs. you and about becoming better than who you were yesterday, last week and last month.


Interested in powerlifting? Shoot me an email and join Coach Derek and I at Force Fitness and Performance in our powerlifting club. Both Derek and I are Nationally qualified lifters and certified coaches. Derek is a USAPL certified coach and I can't say enough good things about his programming and the way he coaches (as he is my coach as well). In September I will have been powerlifting for only a year and have seen more progress, increase in strength and success in not only the sport but other areas of my life and I wholeheartedly owe it all to his coaching.   


Come get strong with us! 

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