More than thirteen years ago, I was working out like most people in a commercial gym. I loved to squat and deadlift and I was good at it. I was lifting weights that most people in the gym couldn't. Not once did I ever think about competition. Actually, I didn't even know there was a sport out there that would allow me to compete in my two exercises I loved so much. It wasn't until one day at the gym when I was performing deadlifts that I heard of the sport of powerlifting.
I was in one corner of the gym deadlifting. I had a little over 545 lbs. on the bar, when another gym member came over and asked me a funny question. He asked me how much I weighed. I thought that was strange but I answered him anyways. At that time I was weighing right around 200 lbs. He looked at the bat after I answered and began to inform me that I should look into competing in powerlifting. Not to embarrass myself, I just agreed and he went on his way. You see, I had never heard of Powerlifting.
One thing I did know was that there was a lady at work that was very much into bodybuilding. Thinking that bodybuilding and powerlifting were somewhat alike, when I got to work the following day I told her what the guy at the gym said and asked her about it. She gave me a brief understanding of the sport and directed me to go to one of the other gyms in town and ask about Team Jax, a local powerlifting team. To make a long story short, I went to the other gym, got a phone number of one of the founding members of Team Jax, called him that night, met up with the team the following Monday and started on my path in the sport.
With my story on how I got into the sport, I was lucky that I knew somebody that new somebody that new somebody who was able to team me and guide me on the right path to become the competitive powerlifter I am today. Others aren't that lucky, they have to learn things the hard way. In fact there are still some gym lifters out there that would make great powerlifters but don't know enough about the sport to even start.
Let's go over a brief summary of the sport itself so you will at least know more than I did when I first heard of about it.
Powerlifting consists of three exercises (lifts), squat, bench press and deadlift. Each competitor (lifter) has three attempts to complete a weight in each lift. The judges will give a white light for a good attempt or a red light for a bad attempt. Any attempt with two or more white lights will be considered as a good attempt, where any with two or more red lights will be considered a bad attempt. After each attempt, good or bad, the lifter will be able to increase the weight on his/her next attempt. If an attempt is bad, the lifter can stay with the same weight for their next attempt. Weight cannot be decreased on a next attempt. The heaviest good attempt on each lift will be added together to create a total for the competition (meet). The lifter with the highest total wins. If a lifter has three bad attempts on any lift, they are disqualified from the meet.
Powerlifting meets are held by private gyms but most are held and sanctioned by different organizations called federations. Each federation has its own set of rules and most allow different type of lifting apparel (gear). Lifting gear consist of squat suits, squat briefs, bench press shirts, belts, knee wraps, deadlift suits or any other type of garment that may aid in support to perform each lift. Each federation has its own list of approved gear. Some federations do not allow any gear other than a belt. The allowed type of gear in a federation is most commonly used when describing the federation. Federations that allow single-ply gear are known as single-ply federations, multi-ply as multi-ply federations and those that do not allow gear are known as "Raw" federations.
Gear can be summed up into two categories, single-ply and multi-ply. Single-ply simply means that any suit or shirt being used by a lifter can be made with a single layer of material. Multi-ply means that the gear can be made with more than one layer of material. Some federations only allow two layers of material for their multi-ply while others do not limit the layers that can be used. Again, each federation has a list of approved gear.
To make competition fair to all lifters, each federation groups lifters together to compete against each other in two ways, divisions and weight classes. Divisions are broken down by age, while weight classes are determined by body weight. Below is a list of the most common divisions and weight classes for almost every federation:
Open: Any age
Weight Classes Men
114 lbs. (52 kg)
123 lbs. (56 kg)
132 lbs. (60 kg)
148 lbs. (67.5 kg)
165 lbs. (75 kg)
181 lbs. (82.5 kg)
198 lbs. (90 kg)
220 lbs. (100 kg)
242 lbs. (110 kg)
275 lbs. (125 kg)
308 lbs. (140 kg)
SHW (140 kg)+
Weight Classes Women
97 (42 kg)
105 (48 kg)
114 (52 kg)
123 (56 kg)
132 (60 kg)
148 (67.5 kg)
165 (75 kg)
181 (82.5 kg)
198 (100 kg)
SHW (100 kg)+
It's pretty simple to figure out what division and weight class you should enter. For the division, just check out the age range, and wherever your age falls, that's the one. Also, anyone, no matter their age, can enter in the Open division. What this all means is that you will be competing against "only" the lifters that are entered in the same division as you. You are permitted to enter more than one division at a meet, but you will most likely have to pay an additional fee. For example: if you are 40 years old, you can enter the Open and the Master 40-44 divisions.
For your weight class, the weights representing each class are the heaviest weight a lifter can weigh to be in that class. The weight of the preceding class plus a pound is the lower weight limit for that class. For example: if you weigh 199 lbs. you will be in the 220 lb. weight class. Weigh-ins normally occurs 24 hours before and on the morning of the meet.
That's pretty much Powerlifting. Now where do you start? Let's go through a few questions you need to ask yourself first.
Do you want to be a competitor?
Start by answering the following questions.
What type if lifters do you plan on being? Raw Singe-ply Multi-ply
If you plan on lifting raw, then pick any federation you like, as most federations allow raw lifters to compete. You will need to check to see what their definition of "raw" is-some allow knee wraps, some only knee sleeves, and some neither, so check the rules before you show up at a meet.
If you plan on lifting in gear, then, depending on the gear you've decided to use, you will have to find a federation that allows it. Check the federation's accepted apparel list to make sure you can use all of the gear you've plan on purchasing.
How old are you?
This will determine the division(s) you will be able to compete in. Remember any lifter can lift in the Open division.
What is your body weight?
This will determine the weight class you will be competing in. Note: weight-in is normally 24 hours before competition, so if you are weighing just over the upper limit of a weight class, you may consider dieting down a few days before the meet to make a lower weight class. For example: if you are weighing 200 lbs., a day or two of dieting could get you in the 198 lbs. weight class 24 hours before the meet, then you have 24 hours to eat, drink and get your weight back up. You will be competing at a heavier weight but it is allowed, they do not reweigh lifters on meet day. It is always a good idea to be weighing close to or heavier than the upper limit of a weight class on meet day.
Once you figure out what type of lifter you want to be and what federation and gear you plan on using, all that's left is to change your training program to a powerlifting program. Training for powerlifting, especially competition is a big difference than going to the gym and working out. You will need to specialize your training by picking the proper exercise and setting up a good powerlifting program that will support the three lifts. The topic of training alone are multiple articles in itself and beyond the scope of this article but, for now, you can go on-line and find tons of material on the subject.
Let me end this article with a few helpful tips:
- Figure out what type of lifter you want to be.
- Research the different federations. Look at their meet results and see what others lifters are lifting in the same division and weight class as you. This will give you a good perspective on other competitors and give you some realistic goals for each lift.
- Search online for powerlifting programs and routines.
- Get on powerlifting forums and ask questions. Most powerlifters will be glad to help.
- Find one or more lifting partners. You will excel quicker in the sport if you have others around you that want to excel as well. A little friendly competition in training is always good.
- Look for a powerlifting friendly gym in your area. Most commercial gyms don't like powerlifters banging the weights around, making noise and bending bars!
- Check your ego at the door. No matter how strong you get, there will always be someone stronger than you. This is just a fact, deal with it and keep lifting.
- The biggest tip of all. DON'T GIVE UP. To be a great powerlifter, you will have to train hard and for a long time. This is not an easy sport and gains will not come over night. Just stay with it, be consistent and you will get there.