POWERLIFTING HISTORY & MEET GUIDE

Powerlifting is a strength sport in which three lifts are performed, the squat, bench press, and deadlift, with the objective being to lift the most weight possible in each lift. The sport evolved from an offshoot of Olympic lifting known as “odd lifts”, which followed the same three-attempt format but selected from a wider variety of events (42 in all), more akin to strongman competition. The “odd lifts” developed because of the declining popularity of Olympic Lifting in the US in the 1950’s. Eventually the odd lifts became standardized and in 1964 the first organized modern powerlifting meet was held in New York under the auspices of the York Barbell Company – The Tournament Of Champions.

The rise of powerlifting closely mirrored the rise of bodybuilding in the US. Prior to the 1970’s lifting weights, whether the purpose was functional or aesthetic, was considered an odd, socially unacceptable activity. With the help of Joe Weider on the bodybuilding side, and Bob Hoffman from York Barbell, both sports broke away from the traditional sport of Olympic lifting and came into their own. Britain was the first country outside the US to also take up the sport, and were present at the first international meets starting in the late 60’s.

The first internationally recognized powerlifting federation was the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), which still operates today. In 1973 the first IPF Worlds was held in York, Pennsylvania. There were only 47 entrants: 1 from Sweden, 1 from Puerto Rico, 2 from Canada, 1 West Indian, 8 from Great Britain, and the were rest American. Up until this point American Powerlifing had been governed by the Amateur Athletic Association (AAU). In 1980, with the passage of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 which required that each Olympic or potential Olympic sport must have its own national governing body, the AAU split and the first American powerlifting federation was created, the USPF.

The USPF, however; didn’t last long. Controversy over drug testing caused, what we now look back on as, the great schism. The USPF split in to a myriad number of federations, eventually leading to the massive number we have today. Each has their own slightly different take on drug testing, rules, equipment allowed, and lift definitions. The APF was formed in 1982 by Larry Pacifico and Ernie Frantz and stated a categorical opposition to all drug testing (the AAPF was latter formed to provide a drug tested branch of the APF). In 1977 the USPF fell out of favor with the IPF and the current drug free international federation, USA Powerlifting (USAPL), took it’s place. In general the proliferation of powerlifting federations is now seen today as having gone too far, to the point of damaging the unity of the sport. Some attempts have been made to reduce the number, or provide a federation neutral competition (XPC), but most have not succeeded in any serious degree.

In modern powerlifting there are two main divisions, equipped and un-equipped (un-equipped is typically referred to as “raw”). Raw lifters may use only use a belt and wrist wraps, while equipped lifting can include supportive shirts and suits as well as knee wraps. During competition a lifter is allowed three attempts at each lift. Before the meet begins all competitors submit their opening attempts which set the starting weight for their lifts. If a given attempt is successful the competitor must increase the weight for their next attempt, or forfeit any further attempts. If the attempt is not successful the lifter may increase the weight, or retry the same weight, but the weight may never be decreased. This makes it very important for competitors to choose their opening attempts wisely so they don’t get stuck with a weight they cannot lift, and cannot reduce. The order of the lifts in a meet is squat, bench press, deadlift, with all three attempts at each lift being performed before moving onto the next lift. If at any point a lifter fails all three attempts of a lift they “bomb” and are automatically removed from the remainder of the competition.

 

APF Overview

Divisions

Raw

Classic Raw

Equipped Single-ply

Equipped Multiply

Disabled

Age Divisions

Teen 1: 13–15

Teen 2: 16–17

Teen 3: 18–19

Junior: 20–23

Open (Senior): 13+

Sub-Master: 33–39

Master 1: 40–44

Master 2: 45–49

Master 3: 50–54

Master 4: 55–59

Master 5: 60–64

Master 6: 65–69

Master 7: 70–74

Master 8: 75–79

Master 9: 80+ years

Weight Classes - Men

52.0 kg — up to 52.0 kg

56.0 kg — from 52.01–56.0 kg

60.0 kg — from 56.01–60.0 kg

67.5 kg — from 60.01–67.5 kg

75.0 kg — from 67.01–75.0 kg

82.5 kg — from 75.01–82.5 kg

90.0 kg — from 82.51–90.0 kg

100.0 kg — from 90.01–100.0 kg

110.0 kg — from 100.01–110.0 kg

125.0 kg — from 110.01–125.0 kg

140.0 kg — from 125.01–140.0 kg

SHW — 140.01+ kg

Weight Classes - Women

44.0 kg — up to 44.0 kg

48.0 kg — from 44.01–48.0 kg

52.0 kg — from 48.01–52.0 kg

56.0 kg — from 52.01–56.0 kg

60.0 kg — from 56.01–60.0 kg

67.5 kg — from 60.01–67.5 kg

75.0 kg — from 67.01–75.0 kg

82.5 kg — from 75.01–82.5 kg

90.0 kg — from 82.51–90.0 kg

SHW — 90.01+ kg

Equipment

  • In the equipped division the APF allows bench shirts and lifting suits with unlimited plies (multiply) or a single-ply in denim, canvas, and polyester. Velcro and open back shirts are legal. Up to double-ply briefs with legs and up to 3 m knee wraps are allowed.

  • In the raw division only a belt and wrist wraps are allowed. No knee or elbow wraps/sleeves of any kind are allowed in the raw division.

  • Classic raw is the same as raw except knee sleeves and wraps are allowed in the squat.

  • The APF uses a monolift for the squat lift in all divisions.

Competition Events

  • Full Power (3-lift) – Best of three attempts in all three lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift

  • Push-Pull (Ironman) – Best of three attempts in only two lifts: the bench press, and deadlift

  • Bench Only – Best of three attempts in only the bench press

  • Deadlift Only – Best of three attempts in only the deadlift

Drug Testing

Drug testing is performed in the AAPF/AWPC, no testing is performed in the APF/WPC. Testing is conducted immediately following the completion of a meet on at least 10% of the competitors, chosen at random. The AAPF list of banned substances is available here: AAPF/AWPC Banned Substances

The Lifts

Squat

After removing the bar from the racks while facing the front of the platform, the lifter may move forward or backward to establish the lifting position. The top of the bar not more than 3cm below the top of the anterior deltoids. The bar shall be held horizontally across the shoulders with the hands and/or fingers gripping the bar, and the feet flat upon the platform with the knees locked.

The lifter shall wait in this position for the head referee’s signal. The signal will be given as soon as the lifter is set and demonstrates control with the bar properly positioned. The head referee’s signal shall consist of a downward movement of the arm and audible command “Squat”.
Upon receiving the head referee’s signal, the lifter must bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint are lower than the top of knees.

The lifter must recover at will, without double bouncing, to an upright position with the knees locked. The bar may stop, but there must be no downward motion during recovery. As soon as the lifter demonstrates a controlled final position, the head referee will give the signal indicating completion of the lift and to replace the bar.

The signal to replace the bar will consist of a backward motion of the arm and the audible command ”Rack”. The lifter must then make a bona fide attempt to return the bar to the racks. The lifter shall face the front of the platform, towards the head referee. The lifter shall not hold the collars or discs at any time during the performance of the lift. However, the edge of the hands gripping the bar may be in contact with the inner surface of the collar.

Not more than five and not less than two loaders/spotters shall be on the platform at any time. The head referee may at their discretion for lifter safety in addition to or instead of the Meet Promoter designated loaders/spotters designate additional loaders/spotters, providing the maximum of five is not exceeded. Only designated spotters may remain on the platform during the lift. The lifter may enlist the help of spotters in removing the bar from the racks; however, once the bar has cleared the racks, the spotters shall not physically assist the lifter with regards to actually getting into the proper set position. The spotters may assist the lifter to maintain control should the lifter stumble or demonstrate any evident instability.

 

The lifter will be allowed only one commencement signal per attempt. The lifter may be given an additional attempt at the same weight at the head referee’s discretion if failure in an attempt was due to any error by one or more of the spotters.

Causes for Disqualification of a Squat

  • Failure to observe the head referee’s signals at the commencement or completion of a lift.

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

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

  • Movement of the feet laterally, backward or forward that would constitute a step or stumble.

  • Failure to bend the knees and lower the body until the surface of the legs at the hip joint are lower than the tops of the knees.

  • Any resetting of the feet after the squat signal.

  • Contact with the bar by the spotters between the referee’s signals.

  • Contact of elbows or upper arms with the legs.

  • Failure to make a bona fide attempt to return the bar to the racks.

  • Any intentional dropping or dumping of the bar.

 

Bench Press

The front of the bench must be placed on the platform facing the head referee. The lifter must lie backward with shoulders and buttocks in contact with the flat bench surface. The lifter’s shoes or toes must be in solid contact with the platform or surface. The position of the head is optional. To achieve firm footing, a lifter of any height may use discs or blocks to build up the surface of the platform. Whichever method is chosen, the shoes must be in a solid contact with the surface. If blocks are used, they shall not exceed 45 cm x 45 cm.

Not more than five and not less than two loaders/spotters shall be in attendance. The head referee may at their discretion for lifter safety in addition to or instead of Meet Promoter designated loaders/spotters designate additional loaders/spotters, providing the maximum of five is not exceeded. The lifter may enlist the help of one or more of the designated spotters or enlist a personal spotter in removing the bar from the racks. Only designated spotters may remain on the platform during the lift. The lift off must be to arms length and not down to the chest. A designated spotter, having provided a center lift off, must immediately clear the area in front of the head referee and move to either side of the bar. If the personal spotter does not immediately leave the platform area and/or in any way distracts or impedes the head referees’ responsibilities, the referees may determine that the lift is unacceptable, and be declared “no lift” by the referees and given three red lights.

The spacing of the hands shall not exceed 81 cm, measured between the forefingers. The bar shall have circumferential machine markings or tape indicating this maximum grip allowance. If the lifter should use an offset or unequal grip on the bar, whereby one hand is placed outside the marking or tape, it is the lifter’s responsibility to explain this to the head referee, and allow inspection of the intended grip prior to making an attempt. If this is not done until the lifter is on the platform for an official attempt, any necessary explanation and/or measurements will be done on the lifter’s time for that attempt. The reverse or underhand grip is permitted.

After receiving the bar at arms length, the lifter shall lower the bar to the chest and await the head referees’ signal. The signal shall be an audible command “Press” and given as soon as the bar is motionless on the chest. As long as the bar is not so low that it touches the lifter’s belt, it is acceptable.

The lifter will be allowed only one commencement signal per attempt.
After the signal to commence the lift has been given, the bar is pressed upward. The bar shall not be allowed to sink into the chest or move downwards prior to the lifter’s attempt to press upward. The lifter will press the bar to straight arm’s length and hold motionless until the audible command “Rack” is given. Bar may move horizontally and may stop during the ascent, but may not move downward towards the chest.

Causes for Disqualification of a Bench Press

  • Failure to observe the referee’s signals at the commencement or completion of the lift.

  • Any change in the elected position that results in the buttocks breaking contact with the bench, or lateral movement of the hands (between the referee’s signals). Any excessive movement or change of contact of the feet during the lift proper.

  • Bouncing the bar off the chest.

  • Allowing the bar to sink into the chest after receiving the referee’s signal.

  • Pronounced uneven extension of the arms during or at the completion of the lift.

  • Any downward motion of the bar during the course of being pressed out.

  • Contact with the bar by the spotters between the referee’s signals.

  • Any contact of the lifter’s shoes with the bench or its supports.

  • Deliberate contact between the bar and the bar rest uprights during the lift to assist the completion of the press.

  • It is the responsibility of the lifter to inform any personally enlisted spotters to leave the platform as soon as the bar is secured at arms length. Such spotters shall not return to the platform upon completion or failure of the attempt. It is especially important for a spotter providing a center lift off to leave the platform quickly so as not to impair the head referee’s view. Failure of any personal spotters to leave the platform may cause disqualification of the lift.

 

Deadlift

The bar must be laid horizontally in front of the lifter’s feet, gripped with an optional grip in both hands, and lifted until the lifter is standing erect. The bar may stop but there must be no downward motion of the bar. The lifter shall face the front of the platform. On completion of the lift, the knees shall be locked in a straight position and the lifter shall be standing erect.

The head referee’s signal shall consist of a downward movement of the arm and the audible command “Down”. The signal will not be given until the bar is held motionless and the lifter is in an apparent finished position.


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

Causes of Disqualification of a Deadlift

  • Any downward motion of the bar before it reaches the final position.

  • Failure to stand erect.

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

  • Supporting the bar on the thighs during the performance of the lift. ‘Supporting’ is defined as a body position adopted by the lifter that could not be maintained without the counterbalance of the weight being lifted.

  • Movement of the feet laterally, backward or forward that would constitute a step or stumble.

  • Lowering the bar before receiving the head referee’s signal.

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

The Meet

So, it’s your first powerlifting meet, or you’re new to the Michigan APF. You’ve seen a meet before, maybe not, and maybe even competed in some other strength sport in the past. You know there are three lifts, squat, bench press, and deadlift, and you know you show up and do each with as much weight as you can without dying. If you lift a lot then you maybe win something or break a record, and then go home. The specifics beyond that point though are fuzzy or non-existent. Well fear not, you’ve come to the right collection of 1’s and 0’s floating about the internet tubes. This article gives the general breakdown of how a meet works and what to expect on meet day. Each meet’s a little different, but this should give any new lifter (or even the old ones who have forgotten some of the finer points of the rules) a general layout to go by.

Meet Formats

There are four different meet formats offered by the APF:

  • Full Power: The classic powerlifting meet. You compete in squat, bench press, and deadlift for max weight in each lift and an overall total. This is the most common meet format.

  • Push Pull: Full power minus the squat. You only compete in bench press and deadlift. This is also sometimes called Ironman.

  • Bench Only: You only compete in the bench press.

  • Deadlift Only: You only compete in the deadlift.

Each meet will offer all, or a subset of the above options. Which you chose is completely up to you and your goals and abilities. At most large meets all four will be offered and run simultaneously. Basically all three lifts will run and you only compete in the ones you signed up for. If there are enough lifters bench only will sometimes be pulled out into its own separate event conducted at a different time from the full power meet. For the purposes of this article, we assume a normal full power meet. There are some minor rule differences between the different forms which will be pointed out, but for all other intents and purposes the formats follow the same form with only the lifts involved changing.

Weigh-Ins

Before anything can happen you first have to weigh-in. Per the rules, weigh-ins are conducted in periods starting 24 hrs before the meet actually begins. This gives people the chance to weigh-in early so they can cut weight and have time to recover before competing. If you’ve ever competed in wrestling, combat sports, or other weight-class based events then this should be familiar territory. There will be scheduled periods the day before the meet and the morning of the meet when you can weigh-in. The meet promoter will publish these times and locations. You are by no means required to weigh-in early. You may weigh-in during any of the posted times, it’s just often easier to do it early as it eases the pressures on meet day (both for you, the competitor, and the people running the meet).

At weigh-ins the following will occur (not necessarily in this order):

  • Verification of your entry and divisions/events entered

  • Verification of your APF/AAPF membership card: Please bring your existing card with you, or you may purchase a new card at this time if you do not already have one. Cards are $30 for a single federation (APF or AAPF only), or $40 for a dual card (APF and AAPF). Cash or check only.

  • First Attempts Entered: You are required to provide your first attempts (amount of weight you want to lift for your first try at each lift) at weigh-in. Don’t worry, you may change these up to the point the meet begins, but we need something in the system even if you’re not sure. Some meets will be conducted in lb, some in kg, so make sure you check the meet information and have the correct weight ready. Attempt weights must be a multiple of 5 lb (2.5 kg).

  • Weighing: You will be weighed on the official scale in a private room by an individual of your own sex. You may weigh-in nude, or with undergarments on. If you do not make your desired weight class you may try again as many times as needed up to the point the final weigh-in session is complete.

  • Bench/Squat Rack Heights: Your rack height for the bar in the squat and bench will taken. The competition bench and monolift will be available to determine these heights.

 

Meet Day

A general schedule one could expect on meet day would be as follows:

  • 0730: Meet day weigh-in (if you didn’t weigh-in the day before). This is also the earliest you can show up to get ready.

  • 0800: If you already weighed-in this is probably when you should show up to start getting ready.

  • 0830: Rules meeting. The judges go over the rules and procedures and make sure everyone is clear on everything.

  • 0900: The National Anthem is played, and lifting begins.

You should bring everything you need with you to the meet: ID, lifting gear, snacks, change of clothes. Lifting chalk, a warm up area well stocked with weights and racks, and room for your personal possessions will be provided. Please be sure to review the lifting costume requirements listed in the official rules to ensure you have the proper attire and equipment (Rules Page). In general a singlet is required (you may wear a t-shirt underneath if desired), long socks (up to the knee) are required for deadlift, and shoes or lifting slippers must be worn while performing all lifts (you can’t lift barefoot or with only socks).

Order of lifting

The order of lifts is squat, then bench press, then deadlift. We lift in flights (groups). The flights are based on weight class and are enumerated alphabetically starting with A (A,B,C,D ect.). They are used to keep the group of active lifters to a reasonable size (10-15) so people don’t cool down too much or have too much time between lifts as to be counterproductive. Flights are determined by the meet organizers and will be posted before lifting begins.

Everyone in Flight A will perform all three lifts of the squat (everyone takes their first attempt, then we cycle back around for the second, and then the third). Once Flight A is done, everyone in Flight B performs their three attempts at squat. This continues alphabetically until all flights have gone. We then take a short break (10 mins), and repeat with bench and then deadlift. Flight A always goes first with the other flights following it in alphabetical order. The flight groups never change (if you’re in Flight A for squat you’re in Flight A for bench and deadlift).

The order of lifters within each flight is determined by attempted weight. We always start with the lightest attempt and go up from there. An important take away from this is that the order of lifting can change attempt to attempt (you won’t always go after the same person in the same order). This is because the second and third attempt orders are determined on the fly by the weight each lifter requests after they complete their previous attempt (you always start with the lightest attempt and go up). You have to make sure to check the order for each attempt as its updated to make sure you know when you’re up.

I know this sounds complicated but don’t worry. All this information (order, flights, ect.) will be posted at the meet on TV screens and updated in real-time so you’ll always know exactly where we are and when you’re up.

The Lift

When it’s your turn you have one minute from the time the bar is loaded and ready to make your attempt (the head judge will call “bar is loaded”). If you fail to make the attempt within the time your attempt is forfeit (this rule exists to keep the meet moving and make sure people don’t take absurd amounts of time to go). Once you take your attempt, you then have one minute to decide on and give your next attempt to the scoring table. If you got your lift then you must increase your next attempt by at least 5 lb (2.5 kg), if you missed your lift you may re-try the same weight, or increase it. Even if you missed your lift and are re-trying you still have to tell the scoring table.

If you miss your lift you may NEVER go down in weight – thus it is very important to choose your first attempt carefully. If you choose your first attempt too heavy and can’t get it, you’re stuck with that weight and may bomb out of the meet. Bombing means to fail to perform a good attempt at a lift (out of three attempts). If you bomb at any lift you are disqualified from the meet and do not continue.

Entering and Changing Attempts

As for changing and entering attempts (how much weight you want to lift), this gets a little complicated – actually really complicated. First the easy part, all attempts must be a multiple of 2.5 kg.

First Attempts

You may change the weight you have listed for you first attempt on any lift:

  • First Flight: any time up to five minutes before the flight starts.

  • Following Flights: up to five(5) attempts from the end of the previous flight’s final round.

Prior notice of these deadlines will be announced by the announcer.

Second Attempts

Second and third attempts must be entered within one minute of completing your previous attempt. If no weight is submitted your next attempted will be forfeit. Even if you missed and are repeating the same weight you MUST still tell the scoring table.

  • You may not change your second attempt once entered on squat or bench in a full power meet.

  • You may change your second attempt once for deadlift in a full power meet. This must be done any time before you have been called to lift (“bar is loaded”). You cannot change after called

  • If you are doing a single lift meet (bench or deadlift only meet), you may not change your second attempt.

 

Third Attempts

  • You may not change your third attempt once entered on squat or bench in a full power meet.

  • You may change your third attempt twice for deadlift in a full power meet. This must be done any time before you have been called to lift (“bar is loaded”). You cannot change after called.

  • If you are doing a single lift meet (bench or deadlift only meet), you may change your third attempt as many times as you like. This must be done any time before you have been called to lift (“bar is loaded”). You cannot change after called.

 

Forth Attempts

This only applies to world and select national meets where world records may be set. In such meets there is an optional forth attempt. The forth attempt may be taken in order to break a world record. The attempt MUST break a world record, and it can only be taken if you got your third attempt. The forth attempt does not count toward your meet total or any meet scoring. It exists only to break world records. The forth attempt must be requested and given to the scoring table after your third attempt. Once entered it cannot be changed. There are other points of rules addressing breaking world records which will not be presented here but can be found in the official WPC rule book (available here).

Note On Single Lift Meets

The single lift meet rules only apply if you are competing in a single lift ONLY meet. That is the only thing being contested is one lift. E.g. a bench/deadlift only meet (the two may be combined, or separate). If you are doing bench/dead only in a full power meet, that is the bench only is being run along with full power, then the full power rules apply even to the single lift competitors. Yes it’s odd, yes it may seem unfair, that’s the rule. This means that if you are bench only in a full power meet you CANNOT change your second or third attempts, but you can in a bench only meet.

Yes it’s strange and very confusing I know, it’s how the rules work. There are different rules for first, second, and third lifts and for single lift events. If you have any questions on attempt changes ask the scoring table.

Awards

The meet is done and you survived! You’ve made some new friends born in blood, sweat, and the adrenaline of the iron, and had a hell of a time doing it. It’s time for celebration! About 30 minutes after the lifting completes awards will be given out. Every competitor gets a medal and recognition. Select best lifter awards may also be given based off of heaviest lifts, or lifting coefficient scores. Now, swag in hand, you go forth with your bretheren and and strike fear into the heart of the all you can eat buffet owner. Oorah!

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