Photo by: http://www.flashfitphotography.com
This is my Mom. At her first powerlifting meet!
Luckily, she had me there to handle and guide her through it, but even then, she still found getting to this day to be a pretty confusing journey. Because of that, and the hundreds of basic questions I receive on competitive lifting, I decided to make a series that very directly lays out a roadmap to of all the things you need to know before competing in a powerlifting meet. This series intends to lay out all the information needed to get you from zero to platform.
First question to tackle, is figuring out what meet to look forward to. What seems like a relatively simple question to answer, is muddied with the confusing state of powerlifting today. While weightlifters have one straightforward choice with USAW, beginner powerlifters have 51 United States federations to choose from.
This sounds a little excessive to veteran powerlifters too, and this isn't really something we're proud of. For a little powerlifting history to explain why this is, back in 1971, York Barbell hosted the first 'World Championships' of Powerlifting. This evolved from a yearly meeting in York PA to celebrate Bob Hoffman's birthday party, dating back to the first unofficial American PL Championships in 1964.
After the 1972 World Championships, the IPF or the International Powerlifting Federation was created.
The IPF to this day is the largest and most prestigious powerlifting federation. Most lifters consider the IPF to be the only truly global powerlifting organization, with over 100 countries with IPF-affiliate federations. The IPF also successfully brought Powerlifting to the World Games in 2009.
So, if the IPF is the most popular, and most legit federation, then why doesn't everyone compete in their organization?
One answer and one answer only:
In 1982 the IPF began implementing drug testing. Many lifters opposed the policy, and as a result lifters began segmenting and creating new powerlifting federations.
Legendary Ernie Frantz and Larry Pacifico created the American Powerlifting Federation that actively advertised no drug testing. Unfortunately the segmentation didn't stop there. While most of us wish we could live in a clear cut world where 2 federations rule tested and non-tested lifters respectively, Frantz and Pacifico unfortunately created a trend of lifters creating new federations that result in the dozens of 'American' Powerlifting Federations we see today.
So, with 51 American federations, how does one weed through the many options and arrive at the choice that is best for them? Well, to start, I would first suggest one should take a look in the mirror and search deep within themselves and ask "Am I natty?"
Typically I recommend lifters go to powerliftingwatch.com and choose the meet that is most convienient to them in regards to time or location to them. Now, before I go any further, there is one caveat here, and it's if you use drugs. Like seriously, any drugs, including those that aren't perceived as performance enhancing. As marijuana use becomes more legal in the United States, in-competition use is still prohibited, and the clearance time of a substance can take weeks or months to clear completely from an athlete's body. If you like to toke, no worries! Just avoid expensive and embarrassing anti-doping violations, and compete in one of the many untested federations.
For recreational lifters who use drugs, then avoid federations like The American Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation, or the United States Powerlifting Federation who's tagline is America's Choice for Drug-free Strength Sport, also avoid 100% Raw, who don't abide by World Anti-Doping Agency Regulations, they do use multiple forms of drug testing.
Recently, the USAPL, has experienced problems with more lifters than usual testing positive for drug tests, if deciding to compete in the USAPL, or any drug-tested federation, keep in mind the extra responsibility to make sure that you're diligent with abiding by competition drug rules. This means taking precautionary measures for checking the banned substance list, and registering Therapuetic Use Exemptions for common medications that could be seen as performance enhancers like adderall. While I personally, like to make powerlifting seem accessible to all lifters in attempt to grow the sport, realize that being a part of a more strict federation does require responsibility, research, and time.
If the piss tests scare you, HAVE NO FEAR! There are a dozen untested organizations that you can compete in. Accordingly to PowerliftingWatch.com, the USPA, has the greatest number of lifters in non-tested federations, and is typically recognized to have elite competition and legit standards.
For beginners, understanding the small nuances between federations and rules can be tricky. I compete in the USAPL, which has the following more strict conditions:
a) drug testing
b) two hour weigh in
c) stiff bar for deadlifts
d) no supportive equipment
e) walk out squats
Those parameters differ from federation to federation. For example, a lifter could alternatively compete in the Southern Powerlifting Federation (SPF) and follow rules that reflect:
a) no drug testing
b) 24 hour weigh in
c) deadlift bar for deadlifts
d) still no supportive equipment
As you can assume, a 24 hour weigh in, deadlift bar, and monolift can result in a higher total and increased likelihood to break all-time world records for elite lifters, or overall ease and enjoyment for recreational lifters, like enjoying a proper meal the night before, and after weigh ins.
Even with these rigid standards in mind, I usually suggest newer, natural lifters to compete in the USAPL. The larger organization is more organized, runs more meets per year, has a high level of competition, and state, regional, national, and international competitions that lifters can look forward to and qualify for.
Again, the USAPL does have its drawbacks. The federation gets criticized by many lifters, myself included, for charging extra money often, and sometimes creating new rules or fees that just seem to me like more barriers to entry.
Just this year, the organization voted to require coaches and handlers to obtain a USAPL Membership, meaning if you're a first time competitor and are lucky enough to have a friend help on competition day, they too, would need to sign up for a $45 dollar membership. While I've been told the rule isn't enforced on a local level, it's still a cost that lifters should be aware of. On top of the fees going to the federation as a whole, individual meet directors can choose to charge spectators and coaches additional fees to be present.
While many lifters in the USAPL will preach about how it is the most important, or best organization, I do not think the additional costs best support the mission to grow powerlifting, which is something that I'm personally passionate about.
While the USAPL is still my recommended option, lifters who don't have a preference to drug testing, or already mentioned standards should consider simply signing up for a competition that is most convenient in regards to time and location to you and your training cycle, regardless of federation.
I spend a lot of my time encouraging lifters to compete because I think the structure and formality of competition day can provide positive motivation throughout long term training cycles. The competition and celebration of your strength is a great way to bond with lifting partners and friends, get inspired for long term strength goals, and track progress while holding yourself to a commitment and high standard.
So compete! But know that you have a lot of options in regards to federation. Getting started, I wouldn't look to far into marrying yourself to a certain one, just try not to get overwhelmed with your options.