How Do Powerlifting Meets Work?

Finding A Meet

Your first powerlifting meet can be one of the best experiences of your career.

You’ve been training for months, counting your macros, and taking every step you can to make sure you’re in tip-top shape for competition day. To help you learn what to expect, here’s a brief summary of how powerlifting meets work and what meet day might look like for you. 

Where to Look

Powerlifting meets happen all over the country, and since there’s no specific powerlifting “season,” there’s almost always a meet around the corner somewhere near you. 

A great place to start your research is on the federation event calendars which you can find on their websites. In the United States, that’s going to be USA Powerlifting, and you can click here to view their calendar. You can also check out the US Powerlifting Association. Their calendar lets you sort by level, state, and month, so it’s easy to find official events happening at the right time for you. 

Get A Membership with the Powerlifting Association

USPA and USAPL both require you to be a member in order to compete. Their forms can be found here for USPA and here for USAPL. 

How to Enter

Entering is basically as simple as submitting a form and paying the entry fee. Meets Will often have unique requirements and fields to fill out, but you’ll always need to fill out the following:

  • Contact Info
  • Weight Class
  • Gender
  • Age Class
  • Division (Raw or Equipped)


Be Sure to Review Their Rules & Procedures

I’m not talking about the powerlifting rules here; I mean you should look out for the dumb little details that can sometimes get you tripped up. 

That means make sure you know where to park, what you can bring, how early you need to get there, and anything else you can find in the fine print. 

Sure, it might sound obvious, but trust me. You’d be surprised.

Arriving At The Meet

Weigh-In

Weigh in is almost always 2 hours before people start lifting. It goes pretty quickly, so don’t wander off thinking you’ll have plenty of time to get back in line. 

Oh, and you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got the following 3 things with you:

Rack Heights

You’ll need the rack height for squat and both the rack and safety rack heights for bench press. 

Opening Attempts (In Kilograms)

Powerlifting runs on the metric system, so if your gym doesn’t have plates in kilos, do the conversions beforehand. (1kg equals 2.2 pounds)

Powerlifting Membership Card

You’ll receive this after officially registering as a member with the powerlifting federation putting on your meet.

Equipment Check

During Weigh-In, there’s going to be referees coming around to check everybody’s equipment they’ll be wearing on the platform. Pro tip: make sure you aren’t wearing it when you show up. 

Move On To The Warm-Up Room

After weigh-in, you’ll be guided along to the warm-up room. You’ll likely have more time than you need to warm up before you’re called to the platform, but this works to your benefit. It’s far better to have too much time on your hands than to feel rushed. 

Of course, you’ll never know how you’ll feel on meet day until… well… meet day. So if you realize after warming up that you’re either feeling stronger or weaker than you originally planned, you might be worried about that opening attempt you gave the refs earlier.

Not to worry. You have up until 3 minutes before the start of the event to change it up. As long as you’re done with your warm-ups by then, you’ll have time to make adjustments to your opening attempts. 

The Staging Area

Once you’re done warming up, you’ll move on to an area behind the competition platform where you’ll wait until it’s your turn to go. You’ll know the lifting order thanks to screens provided in the staging area that show the order and update it as the competition progresses.

On The Platform

Commands

The chief referee will tell you when to start and finish the lift. These instructions are called “cues,” and they’re put in place to standardize the “start” and “finish” points for the lifter. 

For the squat, these commands are: “Squat” to begin and “Rack” to finish. 

For bench, the commands are “start,” “press” (given at the bottom of the movement), and “Rack.”

For Deadlift, they only give you a finish command: “Down.” You can start whenever you’re ready. 

Attempts

For each lift, you get 3 attempts, and after each one you have to write what your next attempt will be on a card and give it to the score table. You can’t take back an attempt after you submit it, so make sure you choose it intelligently. 

You also can’t go down in weight from the previous attempt. You can repeat the same weight, but you can’t go any lower than that.

Lastly, you have 60 seconds to decide your next attempt. If you miss this window, they’ll choose a weight for you. The amount depends on whether or not you missed your last attempt. If you missed it, you’ll automatically keep the same weight. If you made it, they’ll bump it up 2.5kg.

Special Rule: Third Deadlift Attempt

After you turn in your third deadlift attempt, you can actually change it two more times. This is allowed to help you strategize based on what other athletes are attempting for their own lifts. 

You can also move either up or down for these changes, unlike other attempt rules. 

End of the Meet

When the meet is concluded, the award ceremony begins. Scoring and awards are handled differently depending on where you compete.

For USAPL, they’ll hand out either class medals (based on gender, age, and weight classes) as well as “Best Overall” awards, given to one male and female athlete. These are calculated taking your powerlifting total and converting it to IPF points. As a result, lifting the heaviest weight won’t necessarily guarantee you this award. But for more information about how they get this number, you’ll need to check this out: Understanding IPF Points.

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Alex Gaynor

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