Why some powerlifters are pushing for a minimum depth
The most recent buzz in the powerlifting community has been the changes in the International Powerlifting Federation’s (IPF) rules on the bench press. The previous rules of the bench press allowed for a very wide grip and basically as much arching as humanly possible by the athlete. This led to some of the shortest ranges of motion imaginable.
Now the new rules set a “depth” to which the elbows must pass the shoulder joint in an attempt to discourage the minimization of the range of the motion previously allowed.
Why did this rule change happen?
Why did this rule change happen and is it founded on legitimate concerns for the sport? Well for those who may not be deep into powerlifting politics the IPF has been slowly attempting to make their way into the Olympics getting as close to being part of the World Games (the highest category of competition for non-Olympic sports).
In an effort to appeal to the masses, and with a bias against short ranges of motion the IPF, this rule change went into effect. The IPF hoped that this would popularize it enough to get them closer to the Olympics.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I'm just as unimpressed by a two inch range of motion bench press as any other spectator. But, I do believe that it is part of the sport, just like any other athlete would do anything within their respective rules to win.
This debate does get a bit complicated because it does inherently limit the absolute weight that can be bench pressed by athletes as the new rules basically force a longer range of motion. So we have to ask ourselves, is the absolute weight on the bar or the execution of the movement more important? The IPF has ruled in favor of the latter. They've taken the stance that diminishes the weight on the bar in favor of a visually “pleasing” bench press.
But let’s be honest here. This rule change was implemented because of the backlash received on social media by either novice or untrained individuals. As mentioned earlier, I am not in favor of a nonexistent range of motion, but forcing the athlete into a longer range of motion in the hopes that this will bring more popularity to the sport is not the answer in my opinion.
It's not about sportsmanship. It's about marketing.
For the untrained eye, powerlifting is a very boring sport to watch. It is a non-contact sport with 3 total movements. Is changing the range of motion on one of those movements going to suddenly spark interest from the general public in the sport? Of course not. Social media's given it a boost, but the sport's growth seems to be starting to plateau.
Powerlifting is my entire life, and even I can admit that it's just not very exciting to spectate. Moving a barbell from point A to point B at a relatively slow speed? It's just too hard to sell.
Obviously, we as lifters know that there’s a bit more than that going on and can appreciate it, but you can’t expect the general public to do so by just looking at it.
So in short, the rule change addresses a bigger issue of the mainstream appeal in the sport by unfairly taking it out on those few athletes who have been able to work within the previous rules for a competitive advantage.
But if changing the sport isn't the answer, what is?
In my opinion, the thing that makes sports popular has little to do with the actual game itself. It's everything around the sport that makes it so interesting. The stories, the beefs, the legacies, the cultures--that's what propels a sport into mass appeal.
Powerlifting still hasn't really figured out how to make storylines spread, though. The stories are there, but there's no SportsCenter for powerlifting where people just tune in to stay up to speed.
For those of you who were into powerlifting back in 2016, you remember the Gibbs vs Hack battle of the 83kg class at IPF worlds. This was the pinnacle of storytelling in the IPF. The fans understood what was on the line and the build up behind it. Through various podcasts and a strong social media presence, the audience got involved. It wasn’t just moving a barbell from point A to B, it was a fierce competition between the best 83kg drug tested lifters on the planet at the time.
Storytelling turned into strategies to make the rival miss… going above and beyond what either of them thought humanly possible, and ultimately, one coming out on top (in this case, John Haack). But without any background and months of buildup this would’ve been just two guys moving a barbell from point A to B…and no amount of range of motion is going to get you or the general public more engaged.