Ultimate Guide to Powerlifting Competition Rules: Squat, Bench, Deadlift

Ultimate Guide to Powerlifting Competition Rules: Squat, Bench, Deadlift

Hello my strong, strong friend! If you’re new to the channel, my name is Megsquats, and I am an elite powerlifter and strength coach. Welcome to the third video of my Zero to Platform series, where we’re talking everything you need to know about competing in powerlifting.

This video is all about reasons lifters fail lifts in a meet. In my opinion, this is a really important topic in a lifter’s preparation - by having an understanding of the technical standards of each lift, we can ensure that 100% of our training lifts are in compliance and we are best prepared to hit our biggest numbers on the platform come meet day.

The most common mistake that we see novice competitors make across all three lifts is a failure to wait for and comply with the judge’s commands for the three lifts. If you didn’t know already, there will be a front judge, and 2 side judges who decide whether or not the lifter has met all standards. When breaking down each lift, we’ll take a moment to go over those particular commands, and then dive into other common reasons for failure. While these lists are not exhaustive, they are a good overview of common mistakes we see. We recommend reviewing your federation’s rule book prior to competition to best understand your particular needs.


We’ll start with the squat. The commands for the squat are simple - there are only two verbal commands, “squat”, signalling that the lifter can begin the movement, and “rack”, given at completion of the repetition informing the lifter to return the barbell to the squat rack. Please note that there is no command given to unrack the barbell, and that a lifter may do so at their own pace - from the time the judge announces that the bar is loaded, the lifter has 1 minute to receive the “Squat” command, so there is ample time here - no need to rush!


Beyond failing to obey the commands, the most common reason for a techniical miss in a powerlifting competition is for not reaching adequate depth, where the crease of the hip sits below the horizontal plane made by the top of the knee [IMAGE]. While there can be some inconsistencies in judging, we always recommend that lifters squat to depth beyond a reasonable doubt in training so that they are never caught off guard in a competition setting. Failing to meet depth will be denoted by the judges with a red flag.


In addition to depth, common mistakes causing lifters to fail in a meet include the following:

  1. Foot movement after the “squat” and before the “rack” commands are given. This could be any lateral, forward, or backward step, and doesn’t just refer to stumbling - if you start to rack the bar before the command is given, you’ll fail the rep!
  2. Downward motion of the bar. If at any point during the concentric (upwards) portion of the lift the bar starts to lower, the lift is technically no good - even if the lifter saves it! This rule also applies to double bouncing.
  3. Failure to lockout knees/hips at completion of the rep. Even if you stand all the way up, the rep won’t count in a meet unless your knees and hips are locked out. Soft knees here at the completion of the rep will be red-lighted, and you sometimes see lifters fail to receive the squat command because of not having knees and hips locked out at the start.
  4. Contact of upper arms/elbows to legs (deemed by the judges to be supportive). While incidental contact isn’t necessarily an immediate disqualification, any contact that is deemed supportive can be flagged as a “no-lift”. Rather than leave this to the discretion of the judges, we recommend avoiding contact altogether.



Moving onto the bench. There are three commands here: “start”, indicating that the lifter is able to begin their rep, “press”, given once the bar rests motionless on the chest telling the lifter to begin pushing the bar up, and “rack”, given at lockout and indicating that the lifter can return the bar to the rack.


Even after obeying the judge’s commands, there are a number of other reasons lifters fail lifts in a meet that we want to avoid:

  1. Failure to lockout the bar. The rep isn’t over until your elbows are fully locked out and the “rack” command is given.
  2. Downward movement of the entire bar. While some federations used to have a rule where lockout was required of both arms simultaneously, feds have recently allowed asymmetric lockouts. Given this rule, it’s possible to see a dip in one side of the bar that accompanies an uneven lockout. That is all within a legal rep. The rep will not be overruled here unless the entire bar descends. This also applies to any sink or heave where the bar descends after the “press” command.
  3. Head, shoulders, or butt losing contact with the bench. Any change in the lifter’s elected position during the lift will result in a no-lift. Some federations (including USAPL) require contact between a lifter’s head and the bench through the whole rep, other feds do not.
  4. Feet/foot lifting off the floor. During the press, the lifter’s feet must remain on the floor. The USAPL requires that the foot must be flat on the floor (as flat as the shape of the shoe allows), while other feds allow you to bench with your heels up. Foot movement in the USAPL is permissible, as long as the foot remains completely flat on the floor. Like head position, rules on foot placement may vary from fed to fed, so double check your rule books for your particular case.



Finally, the deadlift. There is only one command for the deadlift, where the center judge calls “Down” to inform the lifter that the rep is complete and they may lower the bar to the ground. As there is no start command, the lifter may begin their rep at any point after the judge announces that the bar is loaded, within their 1 minute window. The lifter must wait until the “down” command is given to lower the bar, or else the lift will be deemed no good.


Beyond missing the down command, there are a number of other reasons lifters fail lifts in a meet:

  1. Failure to stand erect at lockout. Full lockout is achieved when the lifter’s shoulders are back, hips are forward, and knees are straight.
  2. Downward movement of the bar. Any downward movement of the bar before it reaches lockout will result in a no-lift.
  3. Supporting the bar on the thighs. Any lift where the judges deem the bar is supported by the thighs (as the bar ramps its way up the leg) may be ruled invalid. This rule also applies to any hitching, where the knees are locked and unlocked in an attempt to squat the bar up.
  4. Foot movement before the “down” command. Any step forward, backward, or laterally before the down command will result in a red light. Movement is allowed after the down command is given, where you may see sumo deadlifters with a wide stance rotate their toes inwards after the down command (to avoid dropping the bar on their feet), as is allowed.
  5. Lowering the bar without control. After receiving the down command, the bar must be lowered to the platform with control (using both hands).


Recap & Conclusion

That’s going to be the end of this video you guys, thanks so much for watching. By now, you should have a good sense of the rules and competition standards for each lift. I definitely recommend that you check out the rules of performance in your fed’s rule book whenever you decide on a meet.

If you have found a meet and are looking to perform your best on game day, definitely check out our meet prep packages at strongstrongfriends.com. Whether you’re 6-weeks or 6-months away from a competition, it’s never too late to have a plan in place designed specifically for you, as well as support around program adjustments and attempt selection.