The Sport of Powerlifting

A man performs a deadlift
The deadlift is one of the three lifts in powerlifting. Westend61/Getty Images

Powerlifting is a weightlifting competition sport. It comprises three lifts: the squat, the deadlift and the bench press. Each lift has rules and regulations for what constitutes a valid lift. In a competition, three attempts are made for each kind of lift and the highest weight from each lift is counted in the total score. Lifters compete in divisions of gender, weight, and age and whether lifting equipped or raw. Records are kept for each division.

Powerlifting is not Olympic lifting and is not an Olympic sport. Read more about the differences between powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, and various weightlifting pursuits.

Examples Andy Bolton, a powerlifter from Leeds, England, UK set the equipped deadlift record of 457.5 kilograms (1009 pounds).

Raw Powerlifting

Raw or unequipped powerlifting has rules to prohibit the use of supportive clothing such as bench shirts and squat or deadlift suits. Lifters wear a singlet approved by the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) that has no additional support elements. Lifters may use a belt so long as it fastens with a lever or prong, but not with Velcro. They can wear wrist wraps and IPF-approved knee sleeves that do not have Velcro and are not multiply.

Geared or Equipped Powerlifting

Lifters in this category wear single-ply or multi-ply singlets or bench shirts and briefs which are stiff to provide extra support. They may also wear a belt (but not Velcro), wrist wraps and knee wraps. This category may be further divided into single-ply geared and multi-ply geared.

Youth Powerlifting

Age groups and age limitations are set by powerlifting federations. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) admits lifters from the age of six, while USA Powerlifting (USAPL) admits children starting at age 10.

Competitions and Events

At a competition, a lifter is allowed three attempts for each lift event (squat, bench press, and deadlift). Each lifter chooses what the weight will be that they attempt to lift. A lifter is given several minutes between each attempt and an hour or more between each different lift event. Judges and referees ensure they lift according to the rules for each event.

  • Squat Lift: The barbell is on a rack.The lifter stands with the bar resting on the shoulders, removes it from the rack and drops down to a squat position with the hip joint lower than the knees. Then the lifter must raise back up to a standing position with knees locked and return the bar to the rack. 
  • Benchpress Lift: While lying on his back on a bench, the lifter takes the barbell with straight arms, lowers it to the chest, and presses it back up to straight arm position. 
  • Deadlift: The lifter lifts the barbell from the floor to an erect position with knees locked, then returns the weight to the floor. 


The sport is organized and regulated by several international federations. Each has their own rules and interpretations of what gear and technique are allowed. In a local area, there may be a choice of federations to join for competitions.

  • International Powerlifting Federation: Has over 100 member countries, including the USAPL in the United States.
  • World Powerlifting Congress: The US affiliate is the American Powerlifting Federation.
  • World Powerlifting Alliance: Founded in 1987, the US affiliate is American Powerlifting Association.

Cash prizes are awarded at some powerlifting competitions, while other competitions are for amateurs.