|Powerlifting is a great way to build strength and physical power and
add muscle to your physique. Powerlifting competition is a tremendous test
of the strength you have built. I will attempt to include enough information
to help you TRAIN
and prepare for your first powerlifting competition. There are many different
training styles that address different strengths and weaknesses. I am a
big believer in the Louie Simmons "Westside Barbell" training techniques.
I have also had good results with methods espoused by Ed Coan and Terry
Grimwood. For the beginner, however, I believe that it is better to stick
to the basics and to build a foundation of raw power. You can move on to
the more advanced techniques once you get to a plateau.
The three competitive lifts are the Squat (my personal favorite), the Bench Press and the Deadlift. Most people who have been to a gym have seen these exercises. Their performance in a meet is governed by strict rules which, I am sure, will be quite different from what you see in most gyms on a daily basis. The rules vary slightly depending upon which organization you choose to lift in but the basics are the same.
The first lift of the day is the SQUAT. To get 3 white lights on your squat you must walkout, setup with your knees locked, and wait for the command, "SQUAT". You have one minute from the time the bar is loaded with your weight to get to this position. Once you receive the command you must squat down until the top of your thigh at the hip is below the top of your thigh at the knee. This is the 2nd most important thing you must do. Remember, if you don't go down far enough your squat is no good. The most important thing you must do comes next......you have to stand back up! Hitting proper depth is the easy part. Lets face it, if you could get 1500 lbs. out of the racks you could hit depth with it BUT STANDING UP would become the most important thing in your life after that. When you do stand up DON'T MOVE. One extra step could cost you an otherwise perfect lift. You must wait motionless until you receive the "RACK" command. You may then rack the bar. Two more times and you're done.
Once you make it through the squats you will get a chance to show off your skills at the worlds favorite lift; the BENCH PRESS. Keep in mind that 99.9% of all the bench presses you will see in the gym would not get passed in a powerlifting meet. Bouncing, butt lifting and the ever popular "flying foot dance" will all draw red lights from the officials. The rules state that you must pause at the bottom until the bar is motionless and wait for a "Press" command. ( See note regarding IPF bench press rules) That's right, YOU HAVE TO STOP WITH THE BAR ON YOUR CHEST. But I'm skipping ahead. First, you lie on the bench and take the bar out. I recommend that you get a hand-off from a spotter. You will need to conserve all your energy for the task at hand. Next, lower the bar to your chest UNDER CONTROL and come to a stop. DON'T relax. You must stay tight and be ready to explode upon receipt of the signal. The head official will give the signal when, in his opinion, the bar has come to a full stop. There is no time limit on how long you will stay at the bottom . Learn to descend under control as this makes it easier to come to a stop and may get you a faster "Press" signal. When you receive the command drive the bar to arms length and hod it there. Do not rack it. You must wait for the final "RACK" command. Then you may rack it.
* Currently, the IPF (and now USAPL) has instituted a rule whereby
the command "Start" is given when the bar is held at arms length prior
to the descent of the bar. The lifter may then lower the bar and
press it up at his/her discretion. A pause is still mandatory and failure
to pause sufficiently will still get the lift red lighted. The referees
simply do not call it for you anymore.
After the benches things get harder. Now, you DEADLIFT. Most meets are won during the deadlifts. So, if you aren't a good deadlifter, you had better build up a huge lead with your squat and bench. Once the bar is loaded the head official will raise his arm. That is your signal to begin. This is the simplest lift to describe. You simply pick the bar up and hold it until you receive the "DOWN" command. Sounds simple enough. Well, it ain't. First of all, if your form and technique are poor you won't be able to pick up the weights. Second the pull must be one smooth motion. The bar can stop but it can not go back in a downward direction. Once your knees start to open (unbend) they are not allowed to close (rebend). the bar may stop but resting it on the thighs will also get you red lights. You will get three attempts and then you will get your rewards; hopefully a PR lift and a trophy or medal but at least now you can go EAT!!!
Many Thanks to Tom McCullough MS, RD, CSCS, MSS for his articles incorporated in the training links.