The Top 10 Rules Of Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a strength-based sport that involves the successful completion of three main lifts-the squat, the bench press, and deadlift. The origins of powerlifting are closely linked to acts of brute strength performed in ancient Greece and China; however, the modern version of the sport was not established until the 1950s, with the first official league (International Powerlifting Federation) being established in 1972. A variety of countries contributed to the popularity of powerlifting during its beginning years, most notably the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany.

What are the most important rules of powerlifting?

  1. Order, Timing, and Submission of Lifts
  2. Weight Class Distinctions
  3. Squat Procedure
  4. Squat Disqualifications
  5. Bench Press Procedure
  6. Bench Press Disqualifications
  7. Deadlift Procedure
  8. Deadlift Disqualifications
  9. Scoring
  10. Equipment Permitted

1. Order, Timing, and Submission of Lifts

Powerlifting competitions are generally completed in a very specific manner, however they can differ slightly based on the specific event you are competing in. Most commonly, the lifts are completed in the order of squat, bench press, then deadlift. Some events may change the order for any number of reasons, or possibly exclude a lift entirely, but those events are fairly rare. In either case, lifters must submit the weight they are attempting to lift before each round of competition. From there, the person that submitted the least amount of weight will go first, the next lowest submission will go second and so on and so forth until all lifters have completed their first lifts. The same process will continue for each additional attempt in all rounds until all lifts are complete. Each lifter is given three attempts on each lift, the heaviest of which will count toward that lifter’s total. All in all, a powerlifting meet can last anywhere from one hour to four hours, depending on the amount of participants and the amount of allotted warm up time.

2. Weight Class Distinctions

Like many strength sports, powerlifting incorporates strict weight classes at each event. These weigh-ins take place at the check-in area before the lifts take place. Usually, these weight classes remain quite consistent; however, the International Powerlifting Federation instituted a slight revision to their weight classes in 2011. Some federations have followed in their footsteps, but most have stuck to the old guidelines. Both the current and former IPF classes are listed below.

Pre-2011 IPF weight classes distinctions

Men (kg)52566067.57582.590100110125140140+
Women (kg)444852566067.57582.59090+

Post-2011 IPF weight class distinctions

Men (Kg)535966748393105120120+

If you are registered for an IPF event, you are likely to have the latter weight classes, but if you are in any other competition, then the former will likely be applied. Also, in order to qualify for a weight class, you must be at or less than the weight listed on the chart. For example, a man in an event that uses post 2011 IPF standards who weighs 59.5 kg will be in the 66 kg weight class, not the 59 kg weight class.

3. Squat Procedure

  1. The lifter picks up the barbell off of the rack and stands upright with the weight loaded across their shoulders horizontally.
  2. After standing for a brief period of time, the referee will give some sort of signal (usually a downward hand signal) along with the verbal command “squat” or “down,” both of which permit the lifter to begin their descent into the squat
  3. Upon receiving this signal, the lifter must squat down until his or her hips are lower than his or her knees.
  4. Once the lifter feels that his or her hips are low enough, they must push up until they are standing up straight once again
  5. At this point, the lifter must hold the weight until the referee gives the verbal command “rack,” at which point the lifter can place the bar back on the rack. (The lifter must have complete control of the weight even after the main part of the lift is completed)
  6. After the weight is racked, the judges will give one of two signals- a red card meaning an unsuccessful lift occurred or a green card, meaning a successful lift has occurred. Some events will have an electronic system to show the success or failure of a lift, but all will have some sort of system to display the result.

4. Squat Disqualifications

  • Bar begins to dip
  • Not squatting low enough
  • Losing balance at the end of the lift

Bar begins to dip

If at any time the bar begins to drop back down once the lifter begins to push up after hitting the required squat depth, the lift will not count. If this occurs, spotters that are on each side of the lifter will grab the bar and help the lifter re rack the weight.

Not squatting low enough

If a lifter goes down into the squat but does not bend his or her hips below his or her knees, then the lift will not count. This type of mistake is extremely common on the second or third attempt because the weight is heavier (Other terms for squatting low enough during the squat include “hitting depth” or “reaching parallel”) Whether or not the lifter hits depth is up to the judges and will be communication to the lifter within seconds of completion

Losing balance at the end of the lift

If the lifter pushes through the lift so much that he or she is off balance upon standing up, then the lift will not count.

5. Bench Press Procedure

  1. Lifter will lay down on the horizontal bench, with his or her buttocks and shoulders firmly on the surface/bench.  
  2. Lifter will assume a grip on the bar while the weight is still racked
  3. With the help of a spotter or by himself, the lifter will pick up the bar and await the referee’s signal
  4. The referee will give a hand signal, allowing the descent of the bar to begin (Referee may give some sort of verbal command as well, but it is not required)
  5. Lifter will slowly lower the bar until it reaches his or her chest
  6. Seconds after the bar reaches the lifter’s chest, the referee will give the verbal “press” command, at which point the lifter will attempt to press the bar up and straighten his or her arms.
  7. Lifter must completely straighten one's arms at the top of the lift, in a process called “locking out”
  8. Judges will then show the success or failure of the lift in the same ways described in the “Squat Procedure” section

6. Bench Press Disqualifications

  • Bouncing bar off chest
  • Raising buttocks off the bench
  • Not locking out the arms/Bar beings to dip

Bouncing bar off chest

If the lifter attempts to gain bar momentum on the way up by dropping the bar firmly onto his or her chest, then the lift will not count.

Raising buttocks off the bench

If at any point, the lifter tries to gain a slight advantage on the lift by raising his or her buttocks off the bench, then the lift will not count.

Not locking out the arms/Bar begins to dip

Similar to the squat, if the bar begins to fall back towards the lifter’s chest causing a failure of a lockout, then the lift will not count.

7. Deadlift Procedure

  1. The lifter approaches the bar, which is resting directly on the ground
  2. The lifter will stand slightly behind the bar on a platform facing the judges.
  3. The lifter will prepare for the lift by bending down and putting his or her hands on the bar. Most of the time, the lifter’s hands are approximately shoulder’s width apart.
  4. The lifter will then attempt to pick up the bar in one motion, until he or she is standing completely straight up
  5. Once standing straight up, the judge will wait a few seconds to ensure complete control of the bar.
  6. Referees will then give a signal that allows the lifter to place the bar back on the ground, at which point the lift is complete
  7. Referees will then give a verdict in the same way described in the squat section

8. Deadlift Disqualifications

Failure to complete lift/lockout: Because the deadlift is a relatively simple lift, the only action that would disqualify a certain lift would be the failure to fully lift the bar to the upright position. For this reason, it is usually very obvious whether or not the lifter has completed the lift.

9. Scoring

There are two basic ways of determining a winner in a powerlifting competition. The first version involves a simple total of the highest successful lift in each category. It is important to note that the second and thirds highest successful weights do not count toward the lifter’s total weight.

Squat (lbs)Bench (lbs)Deadlift (lbs)Total (lbs)
Lifter 1500, 600, 700300, 400, 500550, 625, 7001900 (2nd)
Lifter 2375, US, 500350, 425, 450500, 550, 6001550(3rd)
Lifter 3600, 650, NS425, US, 500650, 725, NS1925(1st)

Lifter 3 outlifted lifter 1 by a total of 1925 to 1900 with lifter 2 falling behind at 1500. Because of this, the order from first to third in this competition goes: lifter 3, lifter 1, lifter 2.   As shown in the chart, the lifter did this despite having an unsuccessful attempt in one of each of his three lifting categories because only the single heaviest lift in each category counts toward the total.

Another way of scoring powerlifting competitions is called the Wilks Method, or the Wilks Coefficient. The Wilks method provides a way of standardizing lifts by accounting for a lifters weight in determining the relative strength of an individual. For example, a woman who weighs 100 pounds and lifts a total of 1000 pounds would be deemed the winner over a male who weighs 200 pounds and lifts a total of 1200 pounds. This method is more used as an interesting comparison tool across weight classes and is rarely used in professional competition.

10. Equipment Permitted

The amount of equipment allowed in a given powerlifting competition depends on the type of competition you are in. Some competitions, labeled “equipped,” allow many pieces of equipment to aid the lifter in his or her lifts. These items include, but are not limited to-wrist wraps, lifting belts, and knee sleeves. On the other hand, some competitions, called “raw” or “unequipped,” strictly prohibit the use of such equipment during all lifts.