So, you wanna be a powerlifter, but you’re not sure where to start? Over the next 12 weeks Calgary Barbell has teamed up with BarBend to release weekly YouTube videos to guide you to your first powerlifting competition. We’ll cover everything from selecting the federation that’s right for you, the different equipment that’s available, and of course how to properly train, peak and compete in your chosen meet.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Now that you’ve decided you want to compete in a powerlifting meet, the next step is to decide which federation you’d like to compete in. All powerlifting competitions are sanctioned by federations: they organize, host, judge, and track standings and records.
These standards can and will vary from group to group. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll break the federations into three categories – the IPF, 100%RAW, and untested federations. Within each of these broader categories is a hierarchy that is comprised of national, regional, provincial/state and local organizations.
The IPF (International Powerlifting Federation)
The International Powerlifting Federation was founded in 1972, and it’s the world’s largest, most cohesive powerlifting federation. The IPF has thousands of members, and has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) via their inclusion in the World Games.
The IPF is split into a number of divisions. In Canada, we have the Canadian Powerlifting Union (CPU), in the US, there’s the USAPL. Additionally, there are also international bodies like the Commonwealth and North American Powerlifting Federations (NAPF).
Drug testing and clean sport is a large focus of the IPF, and they use the standards and regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). As such, the IPF has anti-doping education programs for its athletes, as well as registered testing pools, out of meet doping tests, and adheres to all WADA testing protocols.
The equipment in the IPF is as follows:
- Classic – knee sleeves, belt, wrist wraps
- Equipped (Singly Ply Only) – squat suit, bench shirt, deadlift suit, knee wraps, wrist wraps, belt
The IPF uses a Squat/Bench combo rack, commonly referred to as an ‘ER Rack’, which uses built in bench safeties, but lacks any squat safeties, putting a lot of emphasis on the importance of spotters in competition. The IPF uses stiff bars (a number of them are sanctioned), and the same bar for all three lifts in a competition.
The IPF has been criticized in some circles — and praised in others — for its strict judging: especially with squat depth standards and long pauses on bench ‘Press’ commands. I have chosen to compete in the IPF and I find it to be well organized, and fairly and consistently judged. (My personal opinion and experience.)
Prevalent in western Canada and the United States, 100%RAW is a smaller, newer federation. It was founded in 1999 and its presence is steadily growing in Canada and the US. 100%RAW is a drug-tested federation, but is not strictly WADA compliant. (Author’s note: They talk about their drug testing at the above link, but I can only attest to this as having seen drug tests handed out by meet directors as opposed to any official WADA agency.) This affords them the opportunity to use less expensive tests and test more athletes.
100%RAW’s core value is lifting without the use of supportive equipment. It only allows lifters to use a belt and wrist wraps, while knee sleeves/wraps are not permitted.
A similar or identical squat/bench combo rack is used in 100%RAW competitions. This federation also uses a special squat bar, designed thicker and longer than standard bars, and a deadlift bar, thinner and more easily bent – to the advantage of the lifter.
100%RAW has held competitions in the Military Press, Strict Curl, and even a Bench for Reps Challenge.
Some have called 100%RAW less competitive due to its smaller roster of lifters and being a relatively new federation – but it is growing quickly!
Untested Federations (IPL, GPC, WRPF, SPF)
While these federations are separate, the rules of competition can be very similar. Included in this category are the Global Powerlifting Committee (GPC), the USA Powerlifting Association (USAPA), and International Powerlifting League (IPL) and others.
These federations are generally not drug tested and lifters can often choose between competing raw with knee sleeves, or raw with knee wraps. These same federations host competitions for those who compete in multi-ply equipment (squat suits, bench shirts, deadlifts suits – but made of multiple plies of material).
Most of these federations use what’s called a monolift; a type of squat rack where the hooks that hold the bar are moved by a lever once the lifter stands the weight up, eliminating the need for the lifter to walk the bar out. These racks also allow the use of safety catch chains, which can be seen as a useful feature when squatting 1000+lbs, a feat commonly seen in multi-ply lifting!
In the past, these federations have caught some flack for loose judging – high squats, questionable deadlift lockouts, and quick press commands on the bench. That being said, a number of these federations have recently become more consistent with standards and reffing calls, potentially due to internet backlash from a number of incidents.
The best way to find out more about these federations is to do some research yourself! I’ve included in this article a number of links to the websites of each of the federations I’ve talked about – look into these federations and decide which one suits your needs. From there, you can go about choosing a meet.
In our next video, we’ll talk about raw/classic lifting vs equipped lifting, so be sure to subscribe to the Calgary Barbell YouTube channel and stay tuned to the BarBend news page!
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