The Basics

In a powerlifting competition, contestants do a one-rep max of three lifts: a squat, a bench press, and a deadlift. The max rep of each move is then added together, and the competitor with the highest total score wins. “Powerlifting is the ultimate test of strength,” says Tim Sparkes, owner of Die Hard Gym in Peoria, AZ. Unlike Olympic lifting, which features the snatch and the clean and jerk, powerlifting doesn’t have a lot of explosive movements.

There are two types of powerlifting competitions—raw and equipped. In equipped competitions, participants wear a tight-fitting lifting suit that provides some additional support; raw (the more popular option) does not. Both divisions allow belts, wrist wraps, and knee wraps, although wraps can’t assist with grip. Subdivisions are divided by gender, age, and weight, ranging from 97 to 198-plus pounds for women and 114 to 308-plus for men.

Each lift is judged by three officials, who stand on each side and in front of the participant to make sure the lifts are legal. To get credit for the lift, at least two of the judges must deem it “good.” Each competitor gets three attempts at each lift. To qualify, squats must break parallel with depth, a bench press must be held with a pause, and none of the lifts can jerk around or have the bar change direction.

Finding a Meet

A wide variety of federations host sanctioned powerlifting meets. Some of the best known include the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), United States Powerlifting Association (USPA), and USA Powerlifting. Seek out these and other federations at for an upcoming meet near you.

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3 Tips for Newbies

1. Lift Efficiently.
“Stick to basic exercises that build the most muscle fast,” Sparkes says. Along with squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, try adding overhead presses, incline bench presses, and dumbbell presses.

2. Be Committed.
“Powerlifting requires steady work, so stay consistent with your training,” he notes. “Cycling on and off with your training won’t help you progress at a desirable rate.”

3. Don’t Do It Alone.
“Look for gyms that are certified by powerlifting organizations as credible to teach the sport,” Sparkes says. “They’re a great way to learn form and can help put together a plan for you.”

World Record Stats

  • 530 lbs: Amount bench-pressed by Laura Phelps-Sweatt in 2011 (3.25x her body weight).
  • 775 lbs: Amount squatted by Phelps-Sweatt in 2012 (4.7x her body weight).
  • 429.9 lbs: Amount deadlifted by Wei-Ling Chen in 2009 (4.17x her body weight).
  • 1,495 lbs: Total amount lifted in competition by Heidi Howar in 2017—11.45x her body weight, ranking it the highest total female body-weight coefficient of all time.
  • 2,050.3 lbs: Total amount lifted in competition, achieved by Becca Swanson in 2005.
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