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What is Powerlifting?

Since I go on and on about it and some people still don't know what it is, I figured I'd write a blog about what Powerlifting actually is. I've been asked after doing my competitions if I had to get a tan and wear my speedos. I feel I very much need to explain what Powerlifting is, so listen up peeps.

Powerlifting is THE true max-strength sport. It is lifting the most weight you possibly can for 1 repetition in 3 different movements. You get 3 attempts at each movement. This is a sport which is for everyone. Everyone can get strong, and dedicated enough, they can get REALLY strong.

Note: All rules and regulations I will be referring to will be relating to the IPF rules and regulations which British Powerlifting are under the umbrella of. For in depth technical rules and regulations, please refer to the IPF handbook.

Raw vs Geared

Raw lifting is when you lift with minimal gear, normally just knee sleeves and belts are all that's allowed that will increase how much you lift compared to without. Other federations may differ from that, but that's the general consensus. Geared lifting will have a myriad of lifting equipment that'll actually help you through the lift, and can add A LOT of weight to your lifts. Deadlift suits, squat suits, bench shirts, knee wraps, elbow sleeves and even squat briefs can be worn. The material will actually support you so much that weight is needed to bring you down in your movement, upon concentric requirement the gear will help ping you back up. I don't know much about geared lifting, so this post is going to be all about raw lifting.

Legal supportive equipment in raw lifting:

  • Knee sleeves; neoprene material that pops over your knee joint. Helps you out of the bottom of a squat. I normally suggest only use them on lifts over 80% of your max.

  • Wrist wraps; pop them around your wrist joint for support. They may help you with your bench if your wrists keep coming out of line, and for those who squat particularly low bar you might find that these are helpful. I wouldn't rely on them if you really don't need them though.

  • Weights belt; only to be used in the squat and deadlift. Any hinging movement, and again, I normally suggest only on your lifts at 80% or more. Also try beltless lifting at times so that you don't rely on it too much, just like the sleeves. Some people wear a belt during bench pressing too, the only time I've thought that could be helpful is if your back is a bit sore, it stops you from overarching an irritated back.

Olympic shoes Other pieces of equipment you'll see with Powerlifting are Olympic lifting shoes. These will be rock solid through the sole and will have a slight heel lift. These can help the individual get into lower depths by 'cheating' mobility in the squat, it also can help reduce the back rounding. It's rare you see a lifter without Olympic shoes on, but they certainly aren't a requirement. It depends on the individual. Those who squat with a wider stance, or those who already have good mobility and don't round their backs may not require them.

Singlet Although you don't have to get a tan and wear speedos, you DO have to wear a singlet, kind of like a leotard. It has to be IPF approved. They are tight. You are on a platform squatting in front of a crowd of probably anywhere from 20 people to 50 odd. You'll get over it, but it's quite amusing when you think about it.

Deadlift socks Deadlift socks are actually a requirement in Powerlifting. They don't have to be approved by the IPF, but they can't be in contact with the knee, as far as I understand. You'll be surprised at how much socks can help a lifter. You don't want the bar drifting away from you at all in a deadlift, so socks can help protect your shins from a bit of bruising, and certainly bleeding, especially if you deadlift in a wider stance and drag the knurling up your shins. Conventional lifters might not reap the benefits as much, but I still recommend socks. When people start to worry about hurting their shins/legs on the bar, they really do lift with awful form as they aren't concentrating on the lift itself.

What do you do?

It's a pretty straight forward sport, but there are some intricacies that you don't want to miss. You get 3 attempts at a lift. So long as you succeed, those attempts will get heavier, it's your decision by how much. So make sure your opening lifts are feasible. You'll have established what you roughly want to hit for the 3rd attempt through vigorous training and preparation.

Get a majority of white lights out of 3 and that means you've successfully gotten that lift. Get 2 reds or more and that lift doesn't count and you failed that particular lift. If you fail 3 attempts at a lift, you've 'bombed' out. You're out the competition. That sucks. Try not to do that.

Squat- Unrack the bar. Wait for the squat command. When you have stabilised and the judges have all agreed that you have, you'll hear and see the 'squat' command from the centre judge. Once you've hit depth (hip crease underneath the top of the knee), stand back up and stabilise the bar once again. WAIT! WAIIIIIIT!! You'll hear and see the 'rack' command to rack the bar. The spotters will also help you re-rack the bar. 

Bench- The most complex of the lifts. There are a lot of ways you can fail a bench. First of all you'll lie down and do whatever crazy method it is to arch your back (oh noes, that's not a real bench press!). Make sure you have your feet where you want them, and your butt and head stay in contact with the bench the whole time. Once the bar has stabilised in your hands you'll hear a 'start' command (there is a visual cue, but chances are slim you'll see it!). Bring the bar down onto your chest (or your sternum, top of your abs, depends on how big of an arch you have). You'll be required to pause on your chest and keep the bar steady before hearing the 'press' command. Press back up, utilise leg drive and wait at the top. I SAID WAIT!!! You'll hear the rack command; rack the bar! Remember; this is not a body building exercise, you're trying to lift as much weight as possible, not build your chest.

Deadlift- This is where the competition really starts. This is the most simple of the lifts. Get up to the bar and pick it up. Wait for the 'down' command. Don't drop the bar! You can control the drop, but don't let go of the bar itself or your lift won't count.

And that's it! You want to aim for 9 out of 9, especially if this is your first competition. If you can get ALL white lights, that'd be great too. But eventually you will fail a lift, so expect it and learn to deal with it. 

Weight Classes

It is a weight classed sport. So you will have to compete in your weight category. For a beginner, don't even concern yourself with trying to get into a particular weight class. As you advance, you might want to cut or bulk into another weight class. But, that's for another post.


This sport developed from something called 'Oddlifts'. And they used to have a lot more odd lifts. In some rare instances (more common in America, as far as I'm aware) they will still have the strict curl in. Where you have to do a bicep curl with a bar in a strict fashion. It also used to have the overhead press. But, as far as I'm aware, it got very difficult to judge if people started to use their legs a bit or not, so they got rid of that lift. They also used to bend so far over backwards they'd essentially be doing a standing bench press!

How do I get into it?

Get a coach. I'm not just saying this to sell myself. I started Powerlifting thinking I knew what I needed to do. Afterall, I have been a personal trainer for years. I soon found that when I got a coach I improved 10 fold. I highly, highly suggest you do the same. Get a coach and learn how to PROPERLY lift heavy as well as get programmes made up for you. If you can't afford to do that, try for an online coach. Decide what you want to compete in; do you want to do geared lifting or raw lifting? Do you want to compete with potentially drug fueled lifters or most likely drug free lifters? Serious question. Most feds in the UK are untested. But, British Powerlifting, who operate out of Britain (duh) under IPF are the only tested federation. So, do consider that. Go onto their website and find a local powerlifting coach and/or gym. 

The atmosphere of a regional event is brilliant, everyone is welcoming and understanding. We all started somewhere. Powerlifters in particular seem to really understand that, and no matter what you're lifting, you'll get cheers and encouragement from EVERYONE. Your peers, the audience, the judges table and even from the loaders and spotters themselves. It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it. The best thing I did was to just compete, even if I felt my weights weren't up to the standard they should be.

Get in touch if you want to learn more about Powerlifting!


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