What is Powerlifting?


Powerlifting is one type of weightlifting in which the competition is based around three types of lifts, which are the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift. Each athlete does three attempts at doing the maximal weight they can for each lift, and the overall competition winner is the one that has the most overall weight lifted by combining their weights lifted successfully to get their total overall weight lifted.


Powerlifting History

Powerlifting history starts with the Olympic weight lifting competition that involved the three traditional lifts of the snatch, the clean and press, and the clean and jerk. Powerlifting developed though as many strong men either didn't like the Olympic lifts or were unable to do those lifts. Thus the idea of powerlifting began to develop as many strong men in the 1950s and 60s started to focus on three of the exercises used in training the Deadlift, the Squat, and the Bench Press.

People like Paul Anderson and Bob Peoples were some of the pioneers of the sport setting the early benchmarks for the lifts. Eventually in 1972 the International Weightlifting Federation (IPF) was born and held their first IPF World Championship in Harrison Pennsylvania. Now, powerlifting has international appeal and support with World Championships being held around the world with dozens of countries participating in it.

Playing Surface

Powerlifting Playing Surface

The specific stage that the powerlifters do their lifts on has specific specifications that are in accordance with IPF requirements. All platforms firstly have to have dimensions between 2.5 by 2.5 meter minimum and a 4.0 by 4.0 meter maximum. The platform's height also must not be greater than 10cm off the ground of the surrounding stage or floor where the event is being held. Furthermore, the surface of the platform has to be flat, firm, and level while being covered with a non slip smooth carpet. However, rubber matting and similar sheeting materials are not permitted to be used in place of a non slip carpet.


Powerlifting Equipment List

The equipment that is required for powerlifting has specific specifications and requirements in order to be eligible for official competition use. Firstly the scales that are used to weigh people in at competition for the weight classes have to be digital scales that can weigh up to 180kg. As for the bars and discs themselves, only disc barbells officially approved by the IPF are used in the competition with specifications for the length not exceeding 2.2m, diameter of the bar to be between 29mm and 28mm, and the weight of the bar and collar shouldn't be greater than 25kg. Additionally, collars must always be used and weigh 2.5kg each, and the Squat Racks and Bench Racks used are only ones approved by the Technical Committee.


Powerlifting Gameplay

As far as the competition is concerned, powerlifting involves completing the three lifts of the Deadlift, Squat, and Bench Press by doing the highest weight possible for each lift in three attempts for each. Then, the person with the highest weight total from the three lifts being added up wins the competition. A bench press is when the person is lying flat on their back and lifting a barbell horizontally from their chest back to the rack while their feet remain on the floor. For a successful squat, you need to successfully lift a barbell that rests on your shoulders down to the ground until your knees are bent and then stand back up with that weight. Finally, for a deadlift, a competitor needs to successfully lift a barbell that is on the ground up to above their knees for a successful lift.

Positions and Roles

Powerlifting Positions

Powerlifting doesn't really have separate positions like a lot of team sports as each individual athlete is on their own as far as the competition. So the only real separation between different lifters is their body weight and what weight class they compete in. As the smaller weightlifters compete against each other while the heavier weightlifters have their own competition. Of course typically the larger weightlifters almost always do heavier lifts and hold all of the world records, but the smaller lifters still do manage to lift incredible weights.

Rules and Regulations

Powerlifting Rules and Regulations

As far as rules are concerned most have to do with making sure the lifter does a lift successfully. For bench press some of the main things that referees look for is that the lifter has their back and butt on the bench surface, that their hands are a correct distance apart from one another, and that the bar is successfully moved down to the chest and abdominal area on the referees signal and then moved back up on the referees signal.

For deadlift, the bar is placed horizontally in front of you and you can lift it with different types of grips, the lift is complete when the lifter is standing straight up with shoulders back and knees locked. Then for a squat a lifter must first get the bar off the rack and get into a ready position, once the lifter is in position the referee will say squat and the lifter needs to go down until the hips are slightly below parallel position, once the referee determines that it is low enough the lifter has to stand back up and then the ref will call to rack the bar to complete the lift.

Referees and Officials

Powerlifting Referees and Officials

Referees are an important part of powerlifting as sometimes the determination between a clean lift and one that doesn't count can be very close. So referees are people that have a good knowledge of the sport and successfully pass the tests that are required to become a referee. For the US Powerlifting competitions, National referees have to meet a few requirements on top of passing some tests. They need to be at least 20 years of age, have been involved in powerlifting for three plus years, worked as a state referee for powerlifting, and then pass a written and practical test. So while a referee's job may not seem that hard in powerlifting a lot of time goes into becoming one to make sure that they can determine if a lift is successful and that the lifter is in compliance with all rules.

Lingo and Terminology

Powerlifting Lingo and Terminology

There is surprisingly a lot of lingo that you would commonly use in powerlifting.

ATG: Refers to a lifter getting their squat to the depth that their hamstrings are touching their calves.

Bomb: Failing at every single attempt at one of the three lifts.

Chalk: The chalk powder lifters put on their hands to help them lift.

Chuck: Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers which have a flat sole that makes it popular for deadlift.

Lock out: The last few inches in the completion of one of the three lifts. Lock out is often heard from the lifter's coach or spotter who will say it at the end of the lift repeatedly.


Powerlifting Coaching

Coaching, while maybe not quite as obvious as some of the team sports, still is a very important part of powerlifting and finding the right coach can make a difference in how well you lift. Powerlifting coaches need to have a specialized knowledge of sports science principles such as anatomy, biomechanics, programming, and physiology, which can then be applied to increasing max strength for the squat, bench press, and deadlift for the lifters that they train. Additionally, you want to find a coach that has coaching philosophy and values that are similar to yours and that work for you as that will help you get a better training experience.

Skills and Techniques

Powerlifting Skills and Techniques

Technique is one of the most essential parts of powerlifting as good technique not only is the difference between lifting more weight successfully, but also is the difference between putting yourself at injury risk or not. This is one of the reasons coaching is so important as they can make sure to teach proper technique and prevent athletes from hurting themselves who are lifting with bad technique. Technique itself for powerlifting really is just the range of motion for each of the three lifts with emphasis on the deadlift and squat as these are the ones in which you can really hurt your backs or legs without proper form.


Powerlifting Strategy

Powerlifting strategy is something that is different then other sports because it really doesn't have to do with the lifts themselves, but more so how to approach the meets. One important rule of thumb is always knowing what your 1 rep max is and knowing that you completed it at competition standards in the gym. Knowing that helps you pick what your opening weight should be in the meet, when picking an opening weight make sure it's a weight that you know you can successfully do three times so that you don't bomb out.

The goal for new lifters should be to go nine for nine on their lifts (three lifts three attempts each) as not only does that prevent bombing out and not getting a total for the competition, but also it helps build confidence. For your second lift you want to go heavier but not for your PR as you still don't want to gas yourself out and have a lift you believe you can succeed on. Finally, on your third attempt you should go for your PR but make sure not to have a bigger jump in weight than you had from your first to second attempt.


Powerlifting Drills

Drills for powerlifting are very important as serious competitors don't only train on the main three lifts but do many other exercises to help build the strength in their body. For your upper body on top of bench press exercises like the military press, pull ups, bent over rows, curls, and farmers walks (walking while holding heavy dumbbells) are all great. Then for your lower body you obviously have your squats and deadlifts that you practice, but then there are also lunges, leg press, leg curls, and leg extensions. All of which further strengthens your legs allowing you to be able to do better on the squat and deadlift.

Powerlifting Brands

Powerlifting Brands

There are many powerlifting brands that sell different types of equipment that is used in not only competitions but also by many athletes who train at home or at gyms with the equipment. These can be anything from big pieces of equipment like the squat rack to smaller things like the plates themselves and dumbells.

  • Rogue
  • Titan Fitness
  • Rep Fitness
  • Sorinex Exercise Equipment

Powerlifting Youth Organizations

Powerlifting Youth Organizations

Powerlifting is not just for adults but there are also many youth organizations and competitions held for younger athletes that want to compete. Kids as young as eight or nine compete in these competitions and training. The main youth organizations are:

Powerlifting Coaches

Powerlifting Coaches

As previously talked about, powerlifting coaches can be very important in helping an athlete take that next leap in competitions by teaching them proper form, setting up training exercises, and giving them the extra tips and tricks needed to succeed while supporting them in competitions. Now, lots of coaching is also done online allowing coaches to train people across the country.

Louie Simmons Strength Coach and former powerlifter
Boris Sheiko Powerlifting Coach for the Russian National Team
Ed Coan Former Powerlifter and coach

Famous Powerlifters

Over the course of powerlifting there have been many impressive athletes who have redefined the feats of strength thought possible by people by lifting weights that are out of the realm of possibility for most people.

  • Ed Coan: American Powerlifter considered best pound for pound lifter ever
  • Zydrunas Savickas: Lithuanian powerlifter who won the Arnold strongman 8 times
  • Eddie Hall: British Powerlifter who has the record for the heaviest deadlift ever

Powerlifting Leagues

Powerlifting Leagues

There are a few major powerlifting associations/leagues and many across the world as many different regions and parts of the world have their own individual leagues also.

International Powerlifting Federation: Global Powerlifting Federation that is the most popular in the world

100% Raw: Powerlifting League popular in Western Canada and US

International Powerlifting League: Allows the use of multi-ply equipment and not as strict of enforcement on things like drug testing new league

Powerlifting Teams

Powerlifting Teams

Powerlifting isn't a team sport so the only time that you really see any mention of a team is in the worldwide competition by IPF which has 86 countries in its membership around the world.

USA Powerlifting Team Pro
Russian Powerlifting Team Pro
Ukraine Powerlifting Team Pro

Powerlifting Events

Powerlifting Events

There are many types of powerlifting events held across the world as there are so many leagues that exist, and individual competitions held.

Arnold Classic Powerlifting Columbus, Ohio
IPF World Open Powerlifting Championship Varies
Asian Classic Powerlifting ChampionshipVaries

Powerlifting Books

Powerlifting Books

There are tons of books about lifting weights and even specifically powerlifting, but depending on where you are in your training to be a powerlifter different books may be better for you.

Starting StrengthMark Rippetoe
All About Powerlifting Tim Henriques
PowerliftingDan Austin
Westside Barbell Book of MethodsLouie Simmons

Powerlifting Websites

Powerlifting Websites

Another great place to get tips and tricks for good technique and to get more information overall is powerlifting websites which can range from the IPF's website to blogs from professional lifters/retired professionals.

IPFPowerlifting Federation
Coach UKInformational Website
Bar BendInformational Website

Powerlifting FAQ

What is Powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a sport where you compete by doing three different weight lifting exercises: the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. The person that can lift the most weight total in these three lifts is the winner of the competition.

What is the difference between powerlifting and weightlifting?

The difference between powerlifting and weightlifting is that powerlifting focuses on the three lifts: the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press. While in weightlifting which is an olympic sport they do the three different lifts: the snatch, the clean and press, and then the clean and jerk.

Powerlifting is a sport that is popular worldwide though a lot of the greatest powerlifters are either from North America or Europe like Louie Simmions and Eddie Hall.