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Intro to Powerlifting

by Jared Malvin


Whether you are new to the gym or a seasoned pro you may not be aware there are different training styles and what they entail. Many people enjoy just going to the gym and doing some cardio or workouts for overall health without following a specific training style protocol. One of those specific lifting styles is powerlifting which has been growing in popularity quite a bit over the past few years.


Just like any type of lifting style, the growing interest in powerlifting is for varied reasons but largely many people who flock to this method are looking to get stronger. Going to the gym and lifting weights will generally put you in better physical health and increase your muscle mass, but that doesn’t necessarily mean strong. And that’s where powerlifting comes in.


Powerlifting focuses on three main lifts: Barbell Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. The training involved focuses mostly upon these three compound movements, but the daily training will still include many common gym exercises used for accessory work. The overall goal though is to be as strong as possible to complete each of the three (3) exercises with as much weight as can be completed for one (1) rep.



For many, just following this training method and feeling the positive effects of being strong, not to mention the admiring glances of fellow gym-goers for lifting impressive amounts of weight, is enough. There are many others, however, that compete in powerlifting events. That is another draw to the increase in popularity is that there are many and frequent powerlifting competitions all throughout the country that anyone can register for and test their strength against similar competitors.


The two most popular powerlifting organizations in the U.S. are the USPA (United States Powerlifting Association) and USAPL (United States Association of Powerlifting). Both organizations offer local, state, regional and national events. To keep everything fair and balanced there are drug tested and non-drug tested events and everyone belongs to a specific weight class for whom the lifter will compete against. There is also a list of approved equipment, so no one gets an unfair edge.



There are a few common pieces of equipment used by powerlifters like knee sleeves or wraps, which help support the knee and prevent injury on the squat. Wrist wraps which help support the wrist and may be used for all three lifts. A lifting belt which helps support the back and may also be used for all three lifts. For competitions a singlet must also be worn by all lifters. Other components you may see a powerlifter use are chalk on their hands and back to help their grip and baby powder on their legs. The baby powder is used for the deadlift so the bar doesn’t end up sticking on the way up. All of this equipment is checked and verified before a competition.


In a competition men and women only compete against each other and within their gender there are usually seven different weight classes. Before the competition everyone must weigh in to verify their weight and each lifter will fall into one of those weight classes. Each gender and weight class will compete against each other for first, second or third place and the competition will also award a best male and female lifter across all weight classes.



Since heavier lifters will generally lift more overall weight the organizations use a formula with the lifter’s bodyweight and weight lifted to determine an overall score which is used to determine the best overall lifters. Otherwise, for the lifter’s specific weight class all they need to do is lift the most overall weight to win. As previously mentioned, powerlifting is defined as the Squat, Bench and Deadlift. In a competition each lifter gets three attempts on each lift. Their total is comprised of their heaviest weight successfully lifted for each one.


There are successful and unsuccessful lifts beyond just completing the movement. Each lift has specific rules and guidelines that must be followed for the lift to count. There are also three referees that will watch the lift from the sides and front to ensure all guidelines are met. After the completion of a lift attempt each referee will issue a white light for a successful attempt or a red light for an unsuccessful one. Since the judges may not all agree as they are watching for different things, a successful lift is one that has at least 2 out of 3 white lights.


So, what are some of those guidelines the referees are looking for? Each lift has different criteria, but all of them share the fact that the referees give commands on when to start and continue throughout the lift. If any of the commands are missed, the attempt won’t count. In terms of the actual movements for the squat the lifter needs to squat to a depth that their hip crease is below their knee. For the bench press the bar needs to come to a pause on the lifter’s chest before being pressed back up. And finally, for the deadlift the lifter cannot use their legs to support the weight on the way up, use a bouncing motion to keep the weight moving or go back down and then back up at all. Once lifted, the lifter also needs to completely lockout their hips/arms/back at the top of the lift. As long as those criteria and the commands are met the lift should be good and contribute to their overall lifting total.


Powerlifting can be a pretty straightforward way of lifting and provides the opportunity to keep testing yourself to get stronger. It also offers the convenience and fun of competing in a local meet to see how you fair amongst your peers and really test your hard work in the gym. See you on the platform.

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