Powerlifting is a contest with the squat, bench, and deadlift. The gym focuses on the unequipped division of powerlifting under USAPL/IPF rules, which only allows belt, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and shoes. Every lifter will be given three attempts in each lift, and the heaviest successful lift from each event is added to their total, which determines their placing or overall competition result.
Powerlifting competitions are organized by flights. Each flight, usually made up of 8-15 lifters, competes as a session. Usually, flights are organized by weight class, so lifters in the same weight class will generally lift at the same time. If the meet is smaller, then more than one weight class will lift in the same flight. Lifters for each flight declare their first attempt in each lift during weigh ins 2 hours before lifting starts. They also declare their rack heights for the squat and bench at this time, which allows them to choose where exactly they'd like the bar to be placed for their attempts on the adjustable rack used at powerlifting meets. Once the session begins lifting, the bar is loaded from lightest first attempt to heaviest first attempt. Lifters declare their second attempts after completing their first attempt. The bar is then reset to the lowest second attempt, and proceeds back up to the heaviest second attempt. This way, lifters are given adequate rest (usually 10-15 minutes) between max-effort singles.
Lifting in competition is a little different than lifting in training. The biggest difference is that other than basic factors like legal squat depth and complete lock out, lifters must follow commands correctly. The purpose of the commands is to have the lifter demonstrate control of the weight at every stage of the lift.
In the squat, the lifter must demonstrate control by standing still before the head judge gives the "squat!" command, and then after completing the lift, must stand still before the judge gives the "rack" command.
In the bench press, lifters have to hold the bar steady at lock out before given the "start" command, motionless at the chest before given the "press" command, and then again at the end of the press before given the "rack" command.
For the deadlift, lifters must hold the bar steady at lock out for a moment before the head judge gives them the "down" command.
It is unfortunately common at every meet for lifters to prematurely begin the lift or place the bar back in the rack before given the commands to do so, resulting in not being credited for that lift whether it was completed successfully or not. However, these commands help enforce safety and legitimacy by requiring lifters to adequately support the weight under their own power during the walk out or unrack, and also prior to the re-rack. In this way, lifters are discouraged from attempting weights they cannot control, endangering not only themselves, but the spotters and the equipment.
Beyond commands, 3 separate judges determine whether a lift is within competition specifications or not. Majority rules in these decisions, so if only one judge saw a fault in the lift and other two did not, you would still be credited with that lift.
In the squat, this means that the hip crease must be below the level of the knee. Unfortunately, every powerlifting federation has some inconsistency when judging depth. USAPL is among the harshest, and almost always requires a very obvious, no shadow of doubt depth of hip crease well below the top of the knee. Almost every other federation is more lax, but this results in squats of inconsistent depth, with some squats being passed that probably shouldn't be.
For the bench press, USAPL requires a visible pause with the bar touching the chest before the command to "press" is gven. This is another aspect in which USAPL is pretty harsh, requiring a deliberate, visible pause at the chest with absolutely no movement. In addition, no part of the body including the head, shoulders, hips, or feet are allowed to move from the bench at any point during the press. If your feet fidget and leave the floor or slide around during the press and you successfully lift the bar to lock out, it would be considered a missed lift.
When deadlifting, the lifter can't hitch the bar to lock out, and must also demonstrate complete lock out of both the hips and the knees. In all lifts, any downward motion of the bar during the ascent is an automatic red light, even if the lifter eventually reverses directions and completes the lift.
Basically, every lift has to pass a lot of scrutiny at a USAPL competition, so if you make the lift, are credited with it, and post a total, you know it's pretty legit. The same can't always be said of a gym lift. Totaling at a USAPL competition means you pass the same standards used to judge every IPF world record lift, which is generally regarded to be the most prestigious and most legitimate international powerlifting federation.
Team DSC has trained hard for this meet and they've set a lot of PRs leading up to it. Best of luck to everyone this Sunday, we know you'll do great!
Brent is the weightlifting coach at Dallas Strength and Conditioning. He has competed at USAW Nationals in 2015 and has been active in competition since 2006.