Powerlifting FAQ


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The Powerlifting Competition FAQ

WARNING:

The routines and techniques described in this FAQ are intended only for healthy men and women. People with health problems should not follow the routines without a physician's approval. Before beginning *any* exercise or dietary program, always consult your doctor.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Acknowledgment must be made to Matt Brzycki, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Princeton University, for his reviewing the drafts of this FAQ and making some excellent suggestions for improvement.

Acknowledgment must also be made to Fred Hatfield Jr., Assistant Strength Coach at James Madison University, for reviewing Version 1.0 of this FAQ and making some great suggestions for Version 2.0.

1.0 Why this FAQ?

This FAQ is for those that have an interest in entering a powerlifting competition. The information in the FAQ is from my experience as a powerlifter since 1981, talking to world and national champions, and reading just about everything I could get my hands on about the sport. My hope is that this FAQ will help a new competitor in Powerlifting competition.

2.0 Why Compete?

Lifts made in a nice comfortable gym atmosphere, with familiar equipment, just don't cut it. Lifting in the gym is a lot different than lifting in competition. Lifting in competition is the true challenge of strength. Unfamiliar equipment, unfamiliar surroundings, rules to abide by, and judges to scrutinize your adherence to the rules, make powerlifting competition where one can truly test how strong they are in the big three (i.e., the squat, bench press, and deadlift). When it comes right down to it, gym lifts don't mean SQUAT! You either put up or shut up in competition!

3.0 Where are the Competitions?

There are powerlifting contests almost every week of the year in all parts of the country. All you have to do is get the most recent copy of Powerlifting USA magazine. You probably won't find it on the newsstands. Every month they have a section in the back called Coming Events which lists the competitions across the U.S.A. The address for Powerlifting USA:

Powerlifting USA (PLUSA)
P.O. Box 467
Camarillo, CA 93011
$31.95 for 12 monthly issues

Most entry fees are about $35.00 per division. Most contest directors prefer that you pre-register. Always include a S.A.S.E with your check or money order. You will have to buy a membership card for the specific organization under which the contest is sanctioned.

Unfortunately, there are too many organizations right now. Some are drug tested, others are not. Natural Athletes Strength Association (NASA), American Drug Free Powerlifting Association (ADFPA), United States Powerlifting Federation (USPF), World Powerlifting Association (WPA), American Powerlifting Federation (APF) are some of the organizations. Beware of rule differences, because they exist. For example, some organizations don't even have equipment checks. One time the author saw a guy putting on a wet suit under his squat suit!!

Make sure you attend a competition as a spectator before you actually compete yourself. That way you can see first hand how a typical contest is run.

4.0 Some General Rules of Powerlifting

These rules are based on the International Powerlifting Federation. The United States Powerlifting Federation is the U.S. member of that federation. Note that other organizations may have some differences in their rules.

  1. The sequence of lifts for competition is 1) Squat, 2) Bench, 3) Deadlift.
  2. Each competitor is allowed three attempts on each lift. The lifter's best valid attempt on each lift, disregarding any fourth attempts for record purposes, counts toward his competition total.
  3. The winner of a category shall be the lifter who achieves the highest total. The remaining lifters shall be ranked in descending order of total. Lifters failing to achieve a total are eliminated from the competition. If two or more lifters achieve the same total, the lighter lifter ranks above the heavier lifter.

4.1 Age Categories

Men

Senior
from 14 years upwards (no category restrictions need apply).
Junior
from 14 years to and including 23 years of age.
Master I
from 40 years to and including 49 years of age.
Master II
from 50 years upwards.

Women

Senior
from 14 years upwards (no category restriction need apply).
Junior
from 14 years to and including 23 years of age.
Master
from 40 years upwards.

4.2 Bodyweight Categories

To convert from kilos to pounds multiply by 2.2046. A quick conversion for kilos to pounds is to double the kilo weight and add one tenth. For example, doubling 100 kilos is 200 pounds and adding a tenth (i.e. 20 pounds) is 220 pounds. The exact conversion yields 220.46 pounds.

4.2.1 Men

  • 52.0 kg Class up to 52.0 kg.
  • 56.0 kg class from 52.01 to 56.0 kg.
  • 60.0 kg class from 56.01 to 60.0 kg.
  • 67.5 kg class from 60.01 to 67.5 kg.
  • 75.0 kg class from 67.51 to 75.0 kg.
  • 82.5 kg class from 75.01 to 82.5 kg.
  • 90.0 kg class from 82.51 to 90.0 kg.
  • 100.0 kg class from 90.01 to 100.0 kg.
  • 110.0 kg class from 100.01 to 110.0 kg.
  • 125.0 kg class from 110.01 to 125.0 kg.
  • 125.0+kg class from 125.01 to unlimited.

4.2.2 Women

  • 44.0 kg Class up to 44.0 kg.
  • 48.0 kg class from 44.01 to 48.0 kg.
  • 52.0 kg class from 48.01 to 52.0 kg.
  • 56.0 kg class from 52.01 to 56.0 kg.
  • 60.0 kg class from 56.01 to 60.0 kg.
  • 67.5 kg class from 60.01 to 67.5 kg.
  • 75.0 kg class from 67.51 to 75.0 kg.
  • 82.5 kg class from 75.01 to 82.5 kg.
  • 90.0 kg class from 82.51 to 90.0 kg.
  • 90.0+kg class from 90.01 to unlimited.

5.0 What Weight Class?

What weight class should you compete in? Well, in come cases it can be obvious. For example, someone weighs 200 pounds, but they have 20% bodyfat. That means they have about 40 pounds of fat. Subtracting this from 200 pounds leaves 160 pounds if they lost all of their fat. It is likely they could make the 181 pound class limit without losing lean body mass. They COULD lift in the 198's or the 220's easily, but muscle not fat moves the weight. The 181's would probably be the wisest choice.

Another example would be someone who weighs 175 at 8% bodyfat. That means they have about 14 pounds of fat. Subtracting this from 175 leaves 161 pounds, so even if they lost ALL their fat, they would weigh 161. In other words, it is not likely they could make the 165 pound class limit without losing lean body mass.

6.0 A Sample Powerlifting Training Program

A powerlifting training program must be centered around the squat, bench, and deadlift. After all, no one is going to give a crap how much you can use on the leg extension machine or how good of a front double biceps pose you have! Assistance exercise should be limited and should NOT comprise most of your training program. The powerlifter should choose assistance exercises that are closely coupled to the powerlifts. For example, a good assistance exercise for the bench would be close grip bench presses. A poor assistance exercise would be flat bench flyes or an even worse one would be cable crossovers. The powerlifter should train according to the HIT philosophy, except just prior to a meet. The HIT FAQ by Robert Spector is a must read for any lifter, new or old.

The powerlifter should not do the squat, bench, or deadlift more than once a week. "But I do a second light bench and squat workout" say some lifters. The author says "what the hell for?". Time wasted, period! Most of the top national and world competitors only perform the powerlifts once a week, and many are using steroids to help their recovery.

A simple, basic, beginner, sample training program for a lifter not intent on peaking for a meet is as follows:

Monday
Squat (No equipment except belt)2 sets of 8-10
Leg Press1 set 8-10
Calves3 sets 15
Wednesday
Bench Press2 sets of 8-10
Close Grip Bench2 sets of 8-10
Preacher Curls2 sets of 8-10
Friday
Deadlift1 set of 8
Weighted Chins1 set of 8-10
One arm rows1 set of 8-10
Weighted Crunches 2 sets of 25

These are top sets only. Warmups are not included. Don't burn yourself out on the warmups. Warmups are just that - to warm you up for the real working sets to come. For variety, the lifter can increase the reps in the top sets to the 12-15 range.

The lifter may want to deadlift every other week as they become more experienced since the low back takes a beating with the powerlifts. The author noted a 40 pound gain in his deadlift when switching from once a week deadlifting to once every other week.

Another great alternative to the regular deadlift during "off contest" training is the trap bar deadlift. The trap bar is a diamond shaped bar where the lifter stands inside the diamond. This shifts the weight on the bar towards your center of gravity. The benefit is less strain on the lower back. The powerlifter should treat the low back with upmost care. An awareness early on in your power endeavors will prevent injuries and back problems later.

Notice that there are no flashy shoulder exercises. Your shoulders are another area that takes a beating. Doing side laterals, front raises, etc. for those barn yard delts will likely give you rotator cuff problems down the road from over use.

There is a biceps exercise, but more for balancing off the triceps and for the deadlift. The biceps get hit considerably with the back assistance exercises.

The lifter only needs to go to positive failure. The lifter should not get caught up in the "rep" trap. They are shooting for a certain amount of reps and end up getting sloppy in their form to "get the reps". You will pay later if you get caught in this trap (meet performance).

7.0 Training for a Competition

When it comes to contest day, one must try and max out on the big three. Training for the contest does not have to be complicated. One does have to be flexible, especially if they are drug free. "Off contest" training should have focused on increasing overall body strength and muscle endurance by focusing on higher reps (8-15). Lower reps should only be done as part of the training cycle for the competition. Lower reps means doing 5's and lastly 3's before the competition. You should try to peak for the competition by lowering volume and reps over the course of an 8-12 week period. There is no reason to be performing the big three more than once a week. Even the great lifters with superior genetics (e.g. Ed Coan - probably the greatest powerlifter ever) only do the big three once a week and in many instances they are loaded to the gills with steroids (i.e., the juice, the gear, the sauce) to aid their recovery.

The training reps should be clean and within the rules. A sample peaking cycle for the squat is as follows:

Week 1350x12
Week 2365x12
Week 3380x8
Week 4390x8
Week 5405x5
Week 6415x5
Week 7425x5
Week 8435x3
Week 9450x3
Week 10Contest

There are numerous cycles (length, rep schemes) that one could use. The bottom line is to get used to progressively heavier weights for lower reps. The individual powerlifter will have to experiment to establish a good pre-contest cycle that works for them.

Make sure you use 100 pound plates in your training for a contest. This includes the bench press as well. The 100 pound plates change the "feel" of the weight when compared to using just 45's. Skeptical? Try it and see for yourself.

Most powerlifters end up running into a rut during a pre-contest cycle. Their biggest failure is writing down their weights and projected reps and then not adapting the cycle as they go. No one is going to have a great workout every workout. There are too many other factors in life that can effect strength levels. So they end up grinding up weights way before contest time because they either set their cycle weights unrealistically or they fail to adapt their cycle according to how they feel. The result is often peaking early, injury, and last but not least, poor contest performance. The great lifters will seldom miss a lift during a pre-contest cycle, always leaving some in the tank. A high school coach once told me "You play like you practice".

7.1 Performance of the Squat

You must perform the squat in training as you would in the competition. Therefore, the following is a description of the performance of the squat according to the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF):

  1. The lifter shall assume an upright position with the top of the bar not more than 3 cm below the top of the anterior deltoids. 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.
  2. After removing the bar from the racks, the lifter must move backwards to establish his position. The lifter shall wait in this position for the Head Referee's signal. The signal shall be given as soon as the lifter is motionless and the bar properly positioned. If mechanical racks that withdraw are used, the lifter must remove the barbell from the racks before they are withdrawn and wait motionless for the Head Referee's signal. The Head Referee's signal shall consist of a downward movement of the arm and the audible command "squat".
  3. 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 is lower than the top of the knees (legal depth).
  4. 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 Head Referee will give the signal to replace the bar.
  5. The signal to replace the bar will consist of a backward motion of the hand and the audible command "rack". The lifter must then make a bona fide attempt to return the bar to the racks.
  6. The lifter shall face the front of the platform.
  7. The lifter shall not hold the collars, sleeves 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 collars.
  8. Not more than five and not less than two spotter/loaders shall be on the platform at any time.
  9. The lifter may enlist the help of the spotter/loaders in removing the bar from the racks; however, once the bar has cleared the racks, the spotter/loaders shall not assist the lifter further with regard to proper positioning, foot placement, bar positioning, etc.
  10. The lifter may, at the Head Referee's discretion, be given an additional attempt at the same weight if failure in an attempt was due to an error by one or more of the spotter/loaders.

The squat is the first lift in the competition. Your performance in the squat WILL set the tone for your whole contest. The squat is the king of disqualification of lifters!

The biggest mistake made by lifters from the local level all the way up to the world championships, is not attaining legal depth. Squat to legal depth in training, and you should have nothing to worry about. You cut them close in training, and you take the chance of disqualification come contest time.

The squat also seems to cause the most anxiety for lifters since it is the first lift. Being a little nervous is ok, but if you let nerves overwhelm you before your first squat, you will be in for a long day. If you have trained properly for the contest, and used proper squat depth, you should have no reason to be nervous.

Another common mistake lifters make is doing a dance when they come out of the racks. You are NOT auditioning for Saturday Night Fever! The squat setup should be quick with the goal of minimal effort.

7.2 Performance of the Bench

You must perform the bench in training as you would in the competition. Therefore, the following is a description of the performance of the bench according to the International Powerlifting Federation:

  1. The head of the bench must be placed on the platform facing the Head Referee.
  2. The lifter must lie on his back with head, shoulders and buttocks in contact with the flat bench surface. His shoes must be flat on the floor. This position shall be maintained throughout the attempt.
  3. If the lifter's costume and the bench surface are not of a sufficient colour contrast to enable the referees to detect possible raising movement at the points of contact, then the bench surface may be covered accordingly.
  4. To achieve firm footing the lifter may use flat surfaced plates or blocks not exceeding 30 cm in total height, to build up the surface of the platform. Whichever method is chosen, the entire foot must be flat on the surface. If blocks are used, they shall not exceed 45 cm x 45 cm.
  5. Not more than four and not less than two spotter/loaders shall be in attendance. The lifter may enlist the help of the spotter/loaders in removing the bar from the racks. The lift off, if assisted by the spotter/loaders, must be to arms length.
  6. The spacing of the hands shall not exceed 81 cm measured between the forefingers.
  7. After receiving the bar at arms length, the lifter shall wait with elbows locked for the Head Referee's signal. The signal shall be given as soon as the lifter is motionless and the bar properly positioned.
  8. The signal shall consist of a downward movement of the arm together with the audible command "start".
  9. After receiving the signal, the lifter must lower the bar to the chest and then press upwards with an even extension of the arms to arms length. When held motionless in this position the audible command "rack" is given.

The bench is the second lift of the competition. Most novice lifters fail to realize that since they have just squatted to the max, that their shoulder girdle was taxed. This can be a cause for disqualification because the lifter bases their opener on their bench training where the only lift they performed in the workout was the bench. There is no reason for a lifter not to make all 3 bench attempts. Just like the squat, if you bench sloppy don't expect to have many attempts passed in competition.

Some novice lifters will also do their bench attempts without a lift-off. This is not recommended since you don't get credit for a heavy lift-off, and it just takes away strength for the attempt itself. In most local contests, the lifter can have his training partner lift-off. Otherwise, there are assigned spotters who can give a lift-off. Make sure you tell the spotters EXACTLY what you want for a lift-off. After all, they aren't mind readers!

After the bench, the well prepared and technically correct lifter, should be 6 for 6 with a maximized subtotal (squat+bench).

7.3 Performance of the Deadlift

You must perform the deadlift in training as you would in the competition. Therefore, the following is a description of the performance of the deadlift according to the International Powerlifting Federation:

  1. 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.
  2. The lifter shall face the front of the platform.
  3. On completion of the lift, the knees shall be locked in a straight position and the shoulders back.
  4. The Head 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.
  5. Any raising of the bar or any deliberate attempt to do so will count as an attempt.

"The contest doesn't start until the bar hits the floor". This statement turns out to be true most of the time. The lifter with a decent squat and bench and an excellent deadlift will beat a lifter with a excellent squat and bench and poor deadlift most of the time.

One of the biggest mistakes lifters make in the deadlift is basing their projected max on their training weights when they deadlift in a separate workout from the squat. They fail to realize the effect of already max squatting and benching on their deadlift max. Novice lifters just don't make this mistake either. A lot of national and world competitors are mystified when it comes contest time and they fail to pull a weight they have done a triple with in training!

You have to squat and deadlift in the contest. There is no reason to not double up in your training at least a few times during the pre-contest cycle. It will not only give a true indication of what to expect come contest time, but it will also give you greater recovery time.

8.0 Powerlifting Equipment

There is too much supportive equipment in powerlifting. Powerlifters use the excuse that the equipment is necessary for injury prevention. This is pure BUNK! Powerlifters use the equipment to lift more weight, period. The belt is probably the only true piece of equipment to help prevent injury, although most still cinch it so tight they can hardly breath (so they can lift more of course). Powerlifting is such an ego sport that the equipment is here to stay, so if you don't use it, your competitor surely will and you will likely be at a significant disadvantage. A powerlifter should by no means depend on their equipment to carry them through. The lifter should have a backup at the contest for most of the equipment. On to the powerlifting "equipment".

8.1 Squat Equipment

8.1.1 Squat Suit

A powerlifting squat suit probably adds 50 pounds or more to your squat. There are numerous manufacturers of squat suits. Inzer and Titan, and Marathon, are popular brands. A squat suit will set you back about 50 bucks. It is important when you first send for a suit that you give accurate measurements. No need to increase that quad size 3 inches!

The suit should fit very tight! It should not be comfortable to put on nor wear. BUT, it should not take 3 people and bloody knuckles to put it on! Many times guys have left their energy in the locker room putting on their darn suit. Ridiculous! Don't be surprised to find tiny bruises in the hip and thigh area after using the suit. This is normal. In fact, if you don't get them, it is probably not tight enough.

The squat suit WILL effect your form. It may even alter your ability to reach legal depth. Therefore, the lifter should wear the suit during the pre-contest cycle to get used to it.

Some lifters end up doing a good morning when they put on the suit and end up bending over rather than squatting down and they wonder why none of their attempts get passed. Another common mistake is to unconsciously slow the rate of descent and end up pausing at the bottom of the squat. A lifter should be in control and flow through the bottom position. Some lifters get a benefit by executing a slight speed increase right at parallel for the last inch to legal depth to get a rebound from the suit. Straps down on the suit versus straps up lifting also makes a big difference. The suit is normally introduced last in a pre-contest cycle. Some lifters first introduce the suit into a cycle, but don't put the straps up until later workouts.

8.1.2 Belt

A powerlifting belt should be worn. Not the thin leather belts either. It should be the thick, wide, powerlifting belts. A good selection can be found in PLUSA. Bob Morris was the creator of the original thick leather power belts. He still advertises in PLUSA. Beware of cheap copies though.

A single prong belt is recommended. When you are strapped for time getting ready for an attempt you don't need the extra hassle of the second prong. There are also "lever" belts that some have had good luck with.

8.1.3 Knee Wraps

Knee wraps are used to provide resistance to the bending of the leg and when worn are analogous to compressing a powerful spring when the lifter squats. This recoil of the wraps enables the lifter to lift more weight. There are tons of different powerlifting wraps on the market. Marathon makes a good powerlifting wrap. Expect to pay about 20 bucks for a good pair of wraps.

Wrapping the knee does not have to be a complex task. The lifter can start just below the bottom of the knee and in a circular pattern wrap up with a overlap of about one-half of the wrap. The small excess can then be tucked under one of the folds. The leg should be held tight and straight. A common mistake made by novices is wrapping with the leg bent. Obviously, the benefit of the wraps are diminished. A little trick to help get an illusion of depth is to make sure the loose end of the wrap is on top of your knee when you tuck it in. This can make the top of the knee look "higher" to the judges and may even help you get a close squat passed.

Wraps should be the first piece of equipment added into the pre- contest cycle after the belt. A lifter should wrap the knees tight, but should not wrap them so tight that 2 guys need to help you stand and carry you to the platform (I have seen this!).

When wrapping at the contest, always have a backup pair rolled up and ready in case you fumble the first pair during wrapping. A little trick is to roll up the wraps tight by pulling on them when rolling. Then when you go to wrap, pulling the wraps around the knee is a little easier.

8.1.4 Squat Shoes

Yes, wear shoes during the squat. Flat soled shoes are recommended. A good leather high top basketball shoe will work well and give some ankle support. Make sure the sole is hard. The author has seen some lifters wear Army boots. This is definitely not partriotic, it is idiotic! Don't wear those Bruno Magli Italian dress shoes either. There is no such thing as the Best Dressed Lifter award! bbbbaaaaaahhhhhhaaaaaaa!

8.1.5 Powerlifting Underwear

Yes! Powerlifting underwear! These are basically partial squat suits and are legal in some organizations. My experience with these are nill and personally have not seen many lifters wear them and have no idea how much they would help. Of course, they will reduce the size of your wallet.

8.1.6 Wrist Wraps

Wear wrist wraps. When the bar is in the low bar position, it can put tremendous strain on your wrists. In the long run, you wrists will thank you.

8.2 Bench Equipment

8.2.1 Belt

Why wear a powerlifting belt for the bench? Good question. The author doesn't believe there is any benefit to wearing one for the bench except perhaps to inhibit a good arch which is actually a disadvantage. Some lifters can't be without their belt and say it makes them "feel tighter". That is all psychological. One good reason lifters wear a belt is to keep their bench shirt pulled down tight.

8.2.2 Wrist Wraps

It is recommended that a lifter wear wrist wraps. Wrist wraps can be made from your old knee wraps by just cutting them to length and sewing the end. The wrist wrap will keep your wrist in a firm position and reduce stress on the wrists.

8.2.3 Bench Shirt

A bench shirt is used to lift more weight period. The bench shirt is basically artificial shoulders and pecs. The shirt resists the bench press movement (like compressing a powerful spring) thereby giving a boost off the chest. The Inzer shirt is one of the best on the market. Other copies have followed. Some claim to get 70 pounds from a bench press shirt. Most will probably gain 20 pounds.

The shirt should be very tight and somewhat uncomfortable to wear. It should not take 3 people, bloody knuckles, and 5 pounds of sweat to put on! Good old fashioned baby powder can help you get the shirt on. Just a few sprinkles and rub it all over your upper body. The shirt should be worn during the pre-contest cycle, because it can change your groove and takes some getting used to get the full benefits. If you don't use it during the pre-contest cycle, you may actually reduce your bench due to it's awkward effect. For most lifters, touching the bar at a slightly lower point on the chest is of benefit. Folding the arms in front of you between attempts provides a bit more comfort when wearing the shirt.

8.3 Deadlift Equipment

8.3.1 Deadlift Suit

Some lifters like to deadlift in their squat suit stating that they feel "tighter". In some cases, depending on body structure and deadlift style, the suit may actually hinder locking the shoulders back at the top. The author recommends deadlifting in a wrestling singlet that can be purchased at most sporting goods stores.

Recently Marathon has come out with a deadlift suit that is supposed to add pounds to the deadlift. Common sense tells me that it is a ruse.

8.3.2 Belt

The lifter should definitely wear a power belt. Out of the three lifts, the belt probably helps the most in the deadlift.

8.3.3 Deadlift Shoes

The less distance the bar has to travel the better. A wrestling shoe or very low soled shoe is recommended. Some lifters even go a little farther by wearing ballet slippers. This is not recommended since there is usually baby powder and chalk on the platform that can cause foot slippage. Especially if the lifter is a sumo deadlifter.

8.3.4 Knee Wraps

Knee wraps have no benefit in the deadlift. They actually can catch the bar and be a big hindrance.

8.3.5 Baby Powder

Baby powder is legal to use on the legs and does lower the friction when the bar is sliding up the leg. The author has seen lifters use chalk (magnesium carbonate) on their legs. Dumb! The idea is to lower the friction, not increase it.

8.3.6 Shave the Legs

This is obviously not equipment, but shaving the front of the thigh does help lower the friction when the bar is sliding up the leg.

9.0 THE CONTEST

You have trained for weeks and now it is contest day. Call ahead the night before to the contest director to make sure there IS a contest. Last minute cancellations are not out of the realm of possibilities. Make a list of your equipment so nothing is forgotten, since more than likely you will have some sort of drive to the contest site. Know the rules of powerlifting. Even though most of the rules have been mentioned in this FAQ most of the sources at the end of the FAQ list the rules for a powerlifting competition.

The number one rule come contest day is "THOU SHALL NOT BOMB". The "BOMB" is the powerlifting term for disqualification from the contest because the lifter did not make at least one attempt for each of the big three. Most BOMB in the squat. The next section are tips on how to AVOID bombing in a powerlifting competition.

9.1 THOU SHALL NOT BOMB!

Train in a contest-like fashion. If you manage a triple with 500 in the squat, but they were all 3 inches high, then you will be in for a surprise on contest day when you open at 500. A couple of inches could mean over 100 pounds, and does not give you an accurate idea how much you can really squat. Always train under contest conditions.

Open with a weight you can comfortably handle. Depending on the circumstances, this could be a weight you can do for 3 to 5 times. If the contest is close, you might open at a weight you can do for a triple. For the less experienced, it is recommended to open with a weight you can do for 5. A good clean opener also sets the tone with the judges for your next attempts. A close squat will have them really looking at your second -- it is only human nature. A good saying to remember is "It is not what you start with, but what you end with".

Be honest with yourself! This can be very hard to do. Don't change your attempts to something unrealistic just because Junior World Champion Bob Eucker is in your class. Suddenly your opener at 550 doesn't seem too impressive. Panic sets in and you decide to push up your opener to a new PR. BAD IDEA! Wham, Bam, 3 misses and you are sitting on the sidelines in street clothes with the other spectators thinking about how much money you blew to compete.

You should always lift against yourself first and foremost.

Take into account any weight loss. Don't wait until the week before the contest to lose significant weight to make a class limit. If you do have to make some last minute weight loss, account for this in your selection of an opener.

Don't go alone to a contest. Either have a coach or a second to help you get the equipment on and get ready for your attempts. This person can also help be objective about attempt choices. For the novice lifter, the ideal person is an experienced powerlifter.

Use your opener as your last warmup. Some might not agree on this, but even if you use your first attempt as your last warmup, you still have two more attempts to win.

Don't kill yourself warming up. There have been times when the author has seen lifters trying their opening attempts in the warmup room just to make sure they can get it! Sometimes they barely get it and then BOMB! Warmups are just that, warmups. There is no need to be repping out for warmups. It is much better to do singles as a warmup, because you get a feel for the weight, but you aren't tiring yourself out. For example, say you are opening at 300 in the bench, a good singles warmup would be: 135x5, 225x1, 250x1, 275x1. The bench shirt would come on for the last two. Another side note is that there is no need to remove the bench shirt in between warmups or attempts for that matter.

Don't be nervous, and if you are take that into account. It is easy to let your nerves get out of hand. It is always a good idea to open lighter if you are nervous to build confidence. An easy, good, first squat can set you on a roll for the rest of the contest. Otherwise, you might want to bring a couple of Huggies to wear under your lifting suit!!

9.2 Weigh-in

Some contests provide the opportunity to weigh in the night before. If you are close to the weight limit, this can be an advantage. Weigh in the nude. This may sound stupid, but the author has seen guys weigh in fully clothed and then lose on bodyweight to another lifter (the lower bodyweight person is the winner in the event of a tie in total). Don't wait until the last minute to weigh in either. The contest scale is not likely the same as your gym or home scale so beware.

Don't get pysched out at the weigh-in either! If you see some lifter who looks like Mr. Olympia in your weight class or some other neanderthal weighing in, don't worry, there is always Ex-Lax to make the lower class!

9.3 What do You Eat?

There have been numerous times when the author has seen lifters "blow chunks" on the lifting platform because they ate differently on contest day. Some lifters will weigh in and then go pig out with the $1.99 Denny's Breakfast Special on pancakes, eggs, etc. thinking they will get a boost in weight and lift bigger. Their normal breakfast may be a bowl of cereal and milk. They just end up feeling sluggish and worse yet they get the head judge scrambling for cover! The normal power contest is MANY hours in length, depending on the number of platforms and lifters. A lifter should make sure they keep hydrated and keep their blood sugar from plummeting by ingesting some form of carbs in-between the normal breaks of the contest.

9.4 The Competition Begins

9.4.1 The Rounds System

The lifting is scheduled to start at 10:00 am. NOT!! Nine times out of 10 the competition WILL NOT start on time. Most powerlifting contests use the Rounds system. Basically, the lifters are broke up into small groups of 10-15 lifters (flights). Each lifter in each flight will take all three attempts before the next flight lifts. Each lifter within a flight will take their first attempt as the bar is progressively loaded from the lowest opener to the highest opener. The bar will then be stripped back down to the lowest second attempt and all lifters in the flight will take their second attempt. The same applies for the third attempt. Once the first flight has completed all three attempts, then if there is another flight, they will follow the same procedure until all groups have finished.

9.4.2 Conventional System

Very few contests are run this way today. This system is basically the progressive loading of the bar from the lowest attempts to the highest attempts.

9.4.3 Warming Up

As mentioned previously, warmups should be just that: warmups. There is no need to try opening attempts or put in full workouts. A typical example for warming up can be found in section 5.1.

Don't expect the warmup area to be close to the lifting platform, because often it is not. Don't expect there to be plenty of weights and benches and bars. Don't be surprised if the equipment is shabby or the warmup area is some hallway. Make sure you have someone keep tabs on the platform you will be lifting on.

You have to be bold but courteous in the warmup area. If you hesitate, when 10 people are fighting to cram in warmups using one bar in 20 minutes, you will be screwed. You have to be flexible when warming up and keep a cool head. Many times the author has seen lifters fall apart and spaz out in the warm-up area. They are defeated before they even hit the platform!

If you are going to error in the timing of your warmups it is better to err on the early side. You can always take another token single every 15 minutes or so if you end up early. Don't expect to not have to adjust! Many times the contest director will say that your group will start at X time and 9 times out of 10 he is wrong.

9.4.3.1 A Method to Time Your Warmups

There are probably numerous methods to timing warmups. Even winging it can work. A method to use with the rounds system that has been used successfully by the author and numerous others is as follows:

First you must find out how many lifters are in your flight and where you stand in it. For example, if your flight has 10 lifters in it and you are the fifth lifter in the that flight, you have about 5 minutes after the flight starts before you lift. If there are weight changes, that time could be slightly higher. That means you have about 5 more minutes to finish warmups than the first lifter up in the flight. After each flight, the order of the lifters changes, so you will not always be fifth. But, after your first lift is over warmups are no longer a factor.

If you are lifting in the second flight, you can approximate when you will lift. Count the total lifters in the previous flight and multiply that number by 3 for the total amount of attempts. For example if there were 10 lifters in the previous flight, the total number of attempts would be 30. Allow a minimum of 1 minute per attempt, allow 40% or so for weight changes and that would come out to 45 minutes for the flight. The squat will take longer than the other two lifts and the deadlift will go the fastest. In addition, find out if there will be a break between flights or lifts. There usually is breaks between lifts, but not flights. If you lift in a later flight, you can see how the contest is being run which can be an advantage. A good number to use for the time between your last warmup and first attempt is 10 minutes. This time is really up to the individual.

9.4.4 The Judging

Basically, you have to have the majority decision from the 3 judges; 2 side, one head judge sitting directly in front. They will either give you a white light (good lift) or a red light (no lift). Two whites out of three gives you a good lift. At the local level don't expect consistent judging. You may even see your head judge munching on a Big Mac just before your attempt at the local level. You may even see the contest director call someone from the bleachers to sit in on your attempt because the previous judge cannot be found (the author has seen this too!). The head judge will give you the commands for the lifts.

9.4.4.1 Causes for Disqualification of a Squat (IPF)

  1. Failure to observe the Head Referee's signals at the commencement or completion of a lift.
  2. Double bouncing or more than one recovery attempt at the bottom of the lift.
  3. Failure to assume an upright position with the knees locked at thecommencement and completion of the lift.
  4. Any shifting of the feet laterally, backwards or forwards, during the performance of the lift.
  5. Failure to bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint are lower than the top of the knees.
  6. Changing the position of the bar across the shoulders after the commencement of the lift.
  7. Contact with the bar by the spotter/loaders between the referee's signals.
  8. Contact of elbows or upper arms with the legs.
  9. Failure to make a bona fide attempt to return the bar to the racks.
  10. Any dropping or dumping of the bar after completion of the lift.
  11. Failure to comply with any of the requirements contained in the general description of the lift which precedes this list of disqualifications.

Normally, you must give the judge some indication that you are set to squat before he will give the command and signal. This can be accomplished by giving the head judge a definite nod of your head while making eye contact once you are sure you are set up properly. Numerous times the author has seen lifters do the jig during the setup and stand dumbfounded because they have not given any indication to the judge that they are ready.

9.4.4.2 Causes for Disqualification of a Bench (IPF)

  1. Failure to observe the Head Referee's signals at the commencement or completion of the lift.
  2. Any change in the elected lifting position during the lift proper, i.e. any raising movement of the head, shoulders, buttocks or feet from their original points of contact with the bench or the floor, or lateral movement of the hands on the bar.
  3. Heaving or bouncing or sinking the bar after it has been motionless on the chest.
  4. Any uneven extension of the arms during the lift.
  5. Any downward movement of the bar in the course of being pressed out.
  6. Failure to press the bar to full extension of the arms at the completion of the lift.
  7. Contact with the bar by spotter/loaders between the Head Referee's signals.
  8. Any contact of the lifter's feet with the bench or its supports.
  9. Deliberate contact between the bar and the bar rest supports during the lift in order to make the press easier.
  10. Failure to comply with any of the requirements contained in the general description of the lift which precedes this list of disqualifications.

9.4.4.3 Causes for Disqualification of a Deadlift (IPF)

  1. Any downward movement of the bar before it reaches the final position.
  2. Failure to stand erect with the shoulders back.
  3. Failure to lock the knees straight at the completion of the lift.
  4. Supporting the bar on the thighs during the performance of the lift.
  5. Stepping backward or forward although lateral movement of the sole or rocking feet between ball and heel is permitted.
  6. Lowering the bar before receiving the Head Referee's signal.
  7. Allowing the bar to return to the platform without maintaining control with both hands.
  8. Failure to comply with any of the requirements contained in the general description of the lift which precedes this list of disqualifications.

9.4.5 The Attempts

At weigh-in you will normally fill out a card with the values of your opening attempts. Make sure you know whether the weights will be in kilos or pounds. An opener of 400, when you meant 400 pounds, would be 881 pounds for a kilogram weight of 400! Hitting legal depth would not be a problem. Your buttisemo will be driven into the floor so fast that your kneecaps will block your view!

The order and execution of the attempts has been described previously (rounds system). A person will normally be announcing the attempts. They will usually call the attempts as a) lifter on the platform, b) lifter on deck (next up), and c) lifter in the hole (lifter third up). You should be warmed up and waiting when your name is called as in the hole. Some like to start wrapping at this point. The author has found that starting to wrap the knees just before the lifter ahead of you gets on the platform gives plenty of time - no need to have those tight wraps on longer than necessary. There usually has to be a weight change for your attempt which adds extra time. Once your name is called to lift and the bar is loaded properly, you have one minute to attempt the lift, otherwise it is a "no lift". It is much easier if you wrap sitting down and then stand up and have someone help pull up the straps on your suit and last but not least, cinch your belt. Make sure you bring your own chalk, because they may not always have chalk at the contest. To sum it up, an attempt should look like this:

  1. YOU ARE ANNOUNCED IN THE HOLE: You have all your equipment ready and are sitting in a chair.
  2. YOU ARE ON DECK: (the weight is loaded for the guy in front of you) You begin wrapping and other preparation.
  3. YOU ARE UP: (your attempt has been loaded and the one minute clock is ticking) You are fully wrapped and immediately approach the platform. Waste no time, but do not rush.

When you get ready for the attempt, it is not Star Search audition time! Banging your head against the wall, sniffing ammonia caps until your brain explodes, or bellowing out your personal mating call, is not going to get you anywhere - except maybe in a straight jacket! The best lifters maintain their psyche within themselves. These lifters are the ones who maintain their technique and literally lift like machines.

After each attempt, you must submit your next attempt to the scorer. You don't have all day to do this - usually one minute. At subtotal time, it is a good idea to see where you stand even if you are a novice. The difference between first and second could be five pounds and there have been many times where lifters did not know this and took a 40 pound jump in their deadlift attempts and missed when they needed 5 pounds to win! If in position to do so, win first, then go for PR's.

In between each attempt, relax and stay warm. Get the equipment off right after the attempt -- pull the suit straps down, take off your wraps, and take off your belt.

10.0 Aerobics and Powerlifting

Aerobics and Powerlifting DON'T MIX!!! That sums it up in a nutshell. I have experimented with doing some running with powerlifting and no matter how you cut it, it will crucify your max squat. You will NOT be able to squat as much. So do you want to be a marathon runner or a powerlifter? Ever look at a marathon runner. A bag of bones. Enough said!

11.0 Powerlifting - The Long Haul?

Powerlifting is a brutal sport on the body. Most will get minor strains, pulls, and other injuries. As you get older, the time spent actually doing the higher weights must decrease or you will get injured or make little progress. There is a big difference in recovery when you are 25 versus 35 years old. Most top national lifters are seen as flashes in the pan. The author has seen this even at the state level. Five years and they vanish.

Powerlifting competition is fun, but unless you want to be in pain all the time, it is not a lifelong sport in my opinion. There is a masters program for lifters over 35, and some men and women compete till in even their 80's (although I have NEVER seen anyone compete continuously for 20 years!), but they invariably have to be taking breaks from the heavy lifting at some point. That doesn't mean that the lifter should drop the powerlifts themselves, NO WAY.

A bodybuilding program which includes the powerlifts and a rep scheme where 10-15 is the norm is much better suited for overall health and longevity. After all, wouldn't you rather bodybuild then not lift at all?

12.0 Powerlifting Books

There are numerous books listed for sale in what is really the number one source for powerlifting, PLUSA. Some decent books the author has read are:

A New Dimension in Powerlifting by Mike Bridges

Pushing for Power by Bill Seno

The Ten Commandments of Powerlifting by Ernie Franz

Powerlifting: A Scientific Approach by Fred Hatfield

13.0 Things You Might See at a Powerlifting Contest

(Hopefully, some of these would not be seen at a National level contest)

1. The meet is supposed to start at 10:30 am and actually starts at 11:30am.
2. The smell of icy hot.
3. A contest with 90 lifters that has only one platform.
4. A flight with over 20 lifters.
5. Lifters "warmed up" an hour early.
6. Two of the three spotter/loaders look like this is the first time they�ve lifted weights.
7. Lifters wrapping their knees with their knees bent.
8. A lifter wrapping their knees so loose they could go for a jog.
9. A lifter wearing a bench press shirt that is about as tight as a normal T-shirt.
10. A lifter who wraps their knees so the knee cap is sticking out.
11. Some lifter eating a grease burger and fries in between lifts.
12. A crowd who gets behind the lifter and cheers and then goes dead silent when the lifter touches the bar to lift.
13. A lifter who lets the bar drop like a rock on the descent in the squat or bench press.
14. A head judge who forgets the rack signal and lets the lifter stand or lay there blowin in the wind.
15. A lifter who raises their butt on a bench press attempt so high you could drive a truck underneath..
16. A lifter who thinks legal depth is when the knees become unlocked.
17. The majority of lifters back lifting their deadlifts. OUCH!
18. A lifter who takes off their bench press shirt in between bench attempts, and then puts the same one back on.
19. An announcer who doesn�t speak into the mike.
20. An announcer who keeps using the same crowd phrase like "These guys have worked hard in the gym for these lifts" OVER and OVER again.
21. A lifter who puts chalk instead of powder on their thighs for the deadlift.
22. A judge pulled out of the audience.
23. Trophies that look like they would make a good hood ornament or door stop.
24. Lifters snorting smelling salts (or other concoctions) like they are cocaine addicts.
25. A lifter who opens with a weight they have no chance of getting and bombs.
26. A lifter who is either wearing clothes, has a license plate, or even painted their car with their "lifting accomplishments" displayed.
27. A 12 hour contest.
28. A five minute break between rounds that turns into 20 minutes.
29. A lifter putting on their bench press shirt with the help of four people.
30. A lifter putting on their squat suit with the help of four people.
31. A lifter putting on part of a wet suit under their squat suit.
32. A lifter who thinks their thighs is a good resting place for the bar during the deadlift and then can�t figure out why they were red-lighted.
33. The smell of baby powder.
34. A lifter who weighs in fully dressed.
35. A lifter who lifts with a tooth pick in their mouth.
36. A lifter who tries to start their squat on the wrong side of the racks.
37. A lifter who thinks "pause at the chest" means when the bar just touches their shirt.
38. A lifter who walks around with ELS (Exaggerated Lat Spread) syndrome.
39. A lifter who has obviously done more curls than squats or deadlifts.
40. A lifter who has a bench press bigger than their squat or deadlift.
41. A lifter who wears a "contest T-shirt" from their last contest.
42. A lifter wearing Army or work boots, even for the deadlift.
43. A lifter getting slapped in the face to "get psyched".
44. A drug tested contest where it appears that no one gets drug tested.
45. A lifter using the "suicide grip" in the bench press.
46. A lifter using the "suicide grip" who loses their grip and the bar crashes down on their chest.
47. A lifter taking a third attempt after the bar barely moves on their second attempt.
48. A lifter wearing the latest "bodybuilding active wear".
49. Ace bandages that are used for knee wraps.
50. Ace bandages that are used for both knee wraps and wrist wraps.
51. A lifter catching a smoke between lifts.
52. A lifter who fails on a squat and totally stop their effort leaving the weight in the spotter�s hands.
53. A lifter doing the jig while setting up for the squat.
54. A lifter doing the shake and bake (shaking all over) during a deadlift attempt.
55. A lifter trying their opening attempt in the warm up room.
56. A lifter coming back to the warmup room after their opener and doing partial reps with their second attempt to "get the feel of it".
57. A lifter specifying their opening attempts in pounds when they should be in kilos.
58. A lifter who takes a 40 pound jump between their second and third deadlift attempts and miss it when they needed five pounds over their second attempt to win.
59. A lifter specifying a squat rack height without accounting for the weight so they end up catching the racks and stumbling.
60. A lifter using knee wraps for the deadlift.
61. A lifter blowing chunks during a lift.
62. A lifter, while doing their squat warmups, asks bystanders if they are going deep enough.

14.0 Powerlifting Resources on the WWW


Powerlifting Links

This FAQ is of course subject to change and revision.

LIFT WITH YOUR BRAIN, NOT YOUR EGO!

May All Your Lifts be Light, and All Your Lights be White!


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