How To Become A Powerlifter (Part 1)

What Comes To Your Mind When You Hear The Word “Powerlifter”?

Well, most of you will get a striking image of a big bulging strong man with a blood rush on his face, struggling through the rep of a lift on a barbell full of plates with a mad look on his face as if he wants that one single rep more than his last breath. Some people find it ugly or stupid whereas others experience a sense of thrill rushing through their bones & they love it. If you fall into the second category, then there are chances you might also want to enter the powerlifting world with which this article can help you out.

What Is Powerlifting?

Most people cannot really differentiate between powerlifting and bodybuilding; to them, they are one and the same thing. But once you decide to step into the game, the difference becomes as apparent as that between iOS and Android.

Powerlifting is a hybrid of weightlifting and bodybuilding with its own unique set of rules and regulations. A bodybuilder puts on a demonstration of his strength and power by displaying his size, symmetry and physique. In powerlifting, on the other hand, the display of strength is judged through the Big 3 Lifts viz. Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press, all of which are performed with a barbell. This should NOT be confused with Olympic Weightlifting where the lifts are different (such as Clean and Jerk & Snatch), as are the rules. The aim of Powerlifting is to display maximal strength by lifting as much weight as possible for one single rep while sticking to the rules.

Needless to say, it’s a much easier sport when it comes down to technicalities as compared to weightlifting but the best part about powerlifting is that you never lose. Even though you have many competitors at a powerlifting event, your most significant competition is with you. It’s all about beating your own PR and getting better at it every single time.

The whole concept revolves around one basic principle: if you lift more than the others, you win; it’s as simple as that.

Now, when there are so many like-minded beasts under one roof who have the same insane goal, i.e. to lift as much weight as possible for a single rep, at times it can give an invitation to injuries like muscle tear, fracture or even joint dislocation due to the extreme load being lifted while training and competitions. As in every other sport, there are a few pieces of equipment and safety gears to help avoid any sort of accidents. So, let’s have a look.

Equipment & Safety Gear

First off, let’s learn about the equipment, There are four essential pieces of equipment which we need to know well enough before we get into it.

  1. Barbell: Yes, it’s not a rod, it is a barbell. Generally, powerlifting requires a stiffer bar for the better accommodation of heavy plates with a more robust bushing. Dimensions of the bar – 28-29 millimetres in diameter and around 2.2 meters as an overall length, weighing about 20-22 kgs, according to the international powerlifting standards.
  2. Squat Rack: Also known as power cage or a power rack, it is an iron frame that holds the bar equipped with weight for the lifter to squat allowing a full range of motion without any restriction of the movement. The basic design consists of four upright posts with two adjustable horizontal bar catches (Safety Pins).
  3. Powerlifting Plates: The plates are round with no hexagonal designs and can roll swiftly on the ground. Around 45 cms tall, the plates are weighed in kilos and calibrated to the nearest 10 grams.
  4. Bench: A vital equipment typically used for bench presses, its typical dimensions are around 1.22 meters long, 29-32 cms wide with a height of 42-45 cms from the ground.

In addition, there is a wooden floor or platform for better stability during the lifts which is an essential prerequisite for any powerlifting event.

Safety gears include:

Belt, singlet, wrist wrap, knee wraps, lifting shoes and chalk. They are absolutely essential and not having them could be very detrimental to your performance; yet, they remain to be more of a personal preference. Lifters use them to keep themselves injury-free. E.g. Knee Wraps are used to protect the knee from getting injured while locking out during the lifts such as Squat and Deadlift, Chalk & Wrist wraps add a better handling grip and so on.

Now that we know pretty much everything about equipment, let’s understands the rules and the lifts involved.

Rules & Lifts

Enough small talk, let’s get down to business. It’s time to get these rules straight in your head.

(Note: The rules are referenced from IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) Technical Rules Book 2016).

Age & Weight Category:

The minimum age of entering a powerlifting competition is 14 years and above.

Age and Class for Men & Women are as follows:

14 to 18 years – Sub-Junior

19 to 23 years – Junior

40 to 49 years – Master I

50 to 59 years – Master II

60 to 69 years – Master III

70 and above –  Master IV

Weight Category for Men:

Sub-Junior & Junior only-up to 53.0 kg

59.0 kg Class up to 59.0 kg

66.0 kg Class from 59.01 kg up to 66.0 kg

74.0 kg Class from 66.01 kg up to 74.0 kg

83.0 kg Class from 74.01 kg up to 83.0 kg

93.0 kg Class from 83.01 kg up to 93.0 kg

105.0 kg Class from 93.01 kg up to 105.0 kg

120.0 kg Class from 105.01 kg up to 120.0 kg

120.0+ kg Class from 120.01 kg up to unlimited

Weight Category for Women:

Sub-Junior & Junior only-up to 43.0 kg

47.0 kg Class up to 47.0 kg

52.0 kg Class from 47.01 kg up to 52.0 kg

57.0 kg Class from 52.01 kg up to 57.0 kg

63.0 kg Class from 57.01 kg up to 63.0 kg

72.0 kg Class from 63.01 kg up to 72.0 kg

84.0 kg Class from 72.01 kg up to 84.0 kg

84.0+ kg Class from 84.01 kg up to unlimited.

Powerlifting and Rules Of Performance

You are all set to bend some barbells but before getting started with the actual lifts, there are a few expectations from you which must be kept as priorities while attempting the lift. As per powerlifting standards, there are a few lifting requirements to be fulfilled to qualify the rounds, depending on the type of lift.

So, I’ll break down each lift with the requirements and the causes of disqualification associated with them. Let’s start with the King of Lifts.

  1. SQUATS

– First, the lifter shall un-rack the weight and assume an upright position. The bar shall be held horizontally across the shoulders with the hands and fingers gripping the bar and the feet flat on the platform with the knees locked.

– After removing the bar from the racks, the lifter shall wait in this position for the Chief Referee’s signal. The signal shall be given as soon as the lifter is motionless. The Chief Referee’s signal shall consist of a downward movement of the arm and the audible command “squat.”

– Upon receiving the Chief Referee’s signal, the lifter must bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the top of the knees. In other words, you are expected to squat below parallel.

– The lifter must recover at will without double bouncing or any downward movement to an upright position with the knees locked.

-When the lifter is motionless, the Chief Referee will give the signal to replace the bar with a backward motion of the hand and the audible command “rack.”

-The lifter shall face the front of the platform.

Reasons for disqualification:

-Double bouncing or more than one recovery attempt at the bottom of the lift.

-Failure to assume an upright position with the knees locked at the commencement and completion of the lift.

-Any shifting of the feet laterally, backwards or forwards, during the performance of the lift.  

-Failure to bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the top of the knees.

  1. BENCH PRESS

-The lifter must lie on his/her back with shoulders and buttocks in contact with the flat bench surface.

-The lifter’s hands may grip the bar with a “thumbs around” grip.  Note: The use of the “reverse grip” or a thumb-less grip on the bench is strictly prohibited.

-The lifter’s shoes must be in contact with the floor. This position shall be maintained throughout the attempt.

-The spacing of the hands shall not exceed 81 cms between the forefingers. In other words, the index finger must completely cover the 81 cm. Ring.

-After receiving the bar at arm’s length, the lifter shall lower the bar to his/her chest and await the Chief Referee’s signal.

-The signal shall be the command: “PRESS” to press when the bar is motionless on the chest.

-After the signal to commence the lift has been given, the bar is pressed upwards to straight arm’s length and held motionless until the audible command “RACK” is delivered.

Reasons for disqualification:

-Any change in the elected lifting position during the performance of the lift (i.e., any raising of the shoulders, buttocks or movement or the feet from their original points of contact with the bench or the floor, or lateral movement of the hands on the bar).

-Failure to press the bar to full extension of the arms at the completion of the lift.

-Heaving or bouncing the bar off the chest.

-Allowing the bar to sink into the chest after receiving the Chief Referee’s signal.

-Any exaggerated uneven extension of the arms during the lift.

Any downward movement of the bar in the course of being pressed out.

  1. DEADLIFT

-The bar must be laid horizontally in front of the lifter’s feet, gripped with an optional grip in both hands, and lifted without any downward movement until the lifter is standing erect.

-On completion of the lift, the knees shall be locked in a straight position, and the shoulders square or back as seen in the figure below.

-The Chief Referee’s signal shall consist of a downward movement of the hand and the audible command “down.” The signal will not be given until the bar is held motionless and the lifter is in the apparent finished position.

-Any raising of the bar or any deliberate attempt to do so will count as an attempt.

Reasons for disqualification:

-Any downward movement of the bar before it reaches the final position.

-Failure to stand erect with the shoulders square or back.

-Failure to lock the knees straight at the completion of the lift.

-Supporting the bar on the thighs during the performance of the lift.

-Stepping backwards or forward, although lateral movement of the sole or rocking feet between ball and heel is permitted.

-Lowering the bar before receiving the Chief Referee’s signal.

-Allowing the bar to return to the platform without maintaining control with both hands.

This pretty much sums up everything you need to know about the rules and lifts. But the silliest mistake you could make that could lead to your disqualification is ignoring or failing to notice the signals provided by the Chief Referee while lifting from the point of setup till the execution or even racking the barbell back to its finishing position which remains constant for all the lifts.

So, you are expected to be keen and attentive while you are pursuing the lifts in the competition.

I believe by now you are all set to train your mind and body to step into the world of powerlifting. Remember – anyone can become a powerlifter if they really focus on it.

(In my next article, I shall touch upon the training protocols which can be useful for you to lay down a concrete foundation if you are a beginner or can prove constructive if you are a seasoned warrior. Till then, take care.)

AUTHOR CREDITS: Rishi Manuja