Mar 8, 2023 | Powerlifting Competitions, Powerlifting Basics 101

As a coach and a lifter, I can tell you from experience that powerlifting meets are some of the most welcoming and encouraging sporting events around. 

From the outside it can seem a little intimidating. There are people inhaling ammonia, getting slapped on the back so hard they welt, and lots of screaming. 

It’s really all part of the fun. 

Like anything, powerlifting meets seem intimidating to newcomers because it’s unfamiliar. Anything outside our comfort zone is scary. 

If you are getting ready for your first meet or thinking about doing a competition, this blog will tell you everything you need to know. 

Being prepared will make competition day less stressful and allow you to enjoy your first experience to the fullest. 

Before we dive in, I highly recommend going and watching a competition first. You get to experience the atmosphere, see how the competition runs without the stress of actually competing. You also know what to expect when it’s your turn. 


I think one of the biggest uncertainties new lifters have is: how does this whole competition thing actually work?

Let’s break it down. 

Weigh-ins: Weigh-in will be either 24 hours before or 2 hours before lifting starts. This is dependent on federation or if it’s an unsanctioned novice comp, what the meet director decides. The meet director will send out information leading up to comp day as to when weigh-ins will be. 

FAQ: I’m doing a novice comp, why do I need to weigh-in? Even though powerlifting is a weight class sport, novice competitions usually do not have weight classes. You still need to weigh in since placings will be decided by a power to weight ratio formula.

Lifters briefing: The lifters briefing is usually one hour before lifting starts. I recommend getting to the meet venue about 30 minutes beforehand to get a feel for the space and to settle in. In the briefing they will go over the number of flights, brief overview of competition rules, and any other housekeeping. 

FAQ: What is a flight? All the lifters in the competition are broken down into groups or ‘flights’ of around 15. This is usually by weight and gender. This is to put people lifting similar weights into the same group and make the day run smoother. So for a competition that has 45 lifters, there will be three flights of 15 (usually A, B, and C). Multiple flights breaks up the number of people in the warm-up area and gives you a break between lifts. 

Warming up: Once the lifters briefing is over, flight A will start warming up immediately. As soon as flight A has started lifting, flight B starts warming up.

Lifting starts: Lifting usually starts in the morning between 9 and 10 am. Flight A does all of their first attempts, then it goes back to the start of flight A. Everyone does their second attempt followed by their third attempt. Once flight A has done all of their squats, flight B starts. When flight B is finished, flight C starts. 

When the last flight finishes their squats, there is a small break to set up for bench. Then it goes back to the beginning with flight A starting off bench press. The cycle continues for bench press and for deadlift. 

As soon as all three flights finish their deadlifts, some quick calculations are done for placings and awards are given out. 

FAQ: How will I know when it’s my turn? The order of the flight is determined by the amount of weight being lifted. Starting with the lightest weight and ending with the heaviest. There will be a TV or monitor in the warm up area showing the flight list. Pay attention to where you are on this list. It’s best to be ready two lifters out. 

When it’s time for you to lift, the head ref will call “Bar is loaded.” Once you hear this, you have 60s to come out on the platform and begin your lift. 

Keep in mind that the order can change from attempt to attempt. Always keep an eye on the flight list so that you don’t miss your turn. 


Each lift has different commands and rules that you must follow. This holds everyone to the same standard. In this section we will cover just the commands and in the next section we will discuss the rules for each lift. 


The commands for squat are 1. Start 2. Rack. 

Once you’ve unracked the bar and are motionless, you will be given the ‘Start’ command. From here, you perform your squat. Once you’ve finished and again are motionless, you will be given the ‘Rack’ command. 


Bench commands are 1. Start 2. Press 3. Rack.

You come out and set up for bench as normal. Once you unrack the bar and the bar is motionless, you will hear the ‘Start’ command. When the bar touches your chest and is motionless, you will hear the ‘Press’ command. From here, start pressing until you’ve reached the top of the lift. At the top, wait for the ‘Rack’ command before racking the bar. 

Because bench has the ‘Press’ command, it’s important that you always practice pausing your bench in training. 


Deadlift is the simplest with its commands. It’s a good thing too because at this point in the day you’re usually starting to feel the fatigue setting in. 

Deadlift command: Down, that’s it. 

Once you hear ‘bar is loaded,’ come out and do your thing. When you’ve locked out your deadlift, you will receive the ‘Down’ command. 


To keep everyone to the same standard, there are a few technical rules that you must follow. If you don’t keep to these, you will receive a red light. Two red lights and it’s no lift. Here are some of the most common reasons you might receive a red light. 


  • Squats must be to depth. Depth is defined by the hip crease below the top of the knee. 
  • No downward motion. If you’re coming up and then go back down a little before you keep going up, this will give you a red light. 
  • You can’t move your feet. Once you’ve been given the ‘Start’ call, feet must stay in place. 
  • Jumping commands. If you jump any of the commands, even if it was a good lift, you will automatically receive red lights. 


  • Elbows must be fully locked at the start and end of the lift.
  • Just like the squat, there can’t be any downward motion.
  • Bum must stay in contact with the bench at all times.
  • Also like in the squat, feet cannot move once the ‘Start’ command has been given. 
  • IPF (one of the federations) requires feet flat and also has rules around elbow depth.
  • Jumping any of the commands will also give you a red light. 


  • Same as the other two, any downward motion will put you in the red zone.
  • You must be fully locked out. This means no soft knees, shoulders back, and hips all the way through. Be mindful that you can still receive a ‘Down’ command, even if you aren’t fully locked out. 
  • Hitching or lapping will also give you red lights. Lapping is when your knees come in front of the bar. Hitching is when you use your quads to support the bar and help get it up. 
  • Dropping the bar, even if you get to the top means a red light
  • And finally missing the ‘Down’ call gives you a red light. 


Let’s start with what is actually required for a competition. There are a lot of different bits and pieces but not all of them are required. 

First and foremost is the softsuit. If you are doing a sanctioned competition, you must wear one. If you are doing a novice competition, a softsuit is not required but it’s good to get used to wearing one. 

You also must wear a t-shirt under your softsuit for squat and bench. A t-shirt is not required for deadlift. 

You are also required to wear deadlift socks regardless if the meet is novice or sanctioned. 

There are also rules around footwear that can change from federation to federation. First, you must wear shoes and cannot go out on the platform barefoot. 

Some easy rules around footwear: wear something flat and comfortable. Vans, Converse, Notorious Lifts are all good options. 

If you wear lifting shoes that is also fine for squat and bench but not deadlift. 

Now lets get to everything else that you can wear but don’t have to wear: 

  • Lifting belt: 10mm or 13mm
  • Wrist wraps
  • Knee sleeves
  • Knee wraps: can be worn in GPC, CAPO, and APL but are not allowed in APU or USAPL
  • Mouth guard

Things that are not allowed to be worn on the platform:

  • Hats of any kind
  • No earphones/headphones, give them to your coach or handler before you hit the platform
  • Loop on your wrist wraps cannot be around your thumb
  • Knee sleeves can’t be touching your softsuit


You get three attempts for each lift. 

Your opener is arguably the most important. This is what gets you a number on the board and keeps you in a competition. 

An opener should be something that you can easily hit, even on your worst training day. A good rule of thumb is something that you can hit for a triple. 

Once you’ve completed an attempt, you have 60s to put in your next attempt. If you miss this window, your next attempt will automatically go up by 2.5kg. 

Choosing second and third attempts can be an art. This is when having an experienced coach can be helpful. It takes all the guesswork out. If you don’t have a coach to guide you, make jumps based around what you are used to taking. Normally only go up by 5kg? Stick with what is familiar. 

If you miss a lift, it’s always a good idea to re-attempt it rather than going up. This is true even if you are an experienced lifter. 

What happens if you miss all of one lift? If you miss all three attempts of one lift, this is called ‘bombing.’ When this happens, you can’t get a total and therefore can’t place. This is why getting your opener is so important. 


Having a coach for competition is a valuable investment. It means you can focus on your lifting while not having to worry about everything else. 

A coach will guide you through warm-ups, choose attempts for you, tell you where you need to be and when, and g you up for every lift. 

If you are interested in coaching and ready to take the plunge into your first competition, you can chat to us here

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun while you hit some spicy PBs. That’s what competing is all about. 


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