I am often asked by those newer to the sport or those thinking about entering their first powerlifting competition – what do the competition lifts look like? There are many forms and variations of the powerlifts in the gym and they want to know if their gym lift would count in a competition. I also get questions about the rules and what one can and can’t do in a competition.
The point of this article series is to make it very clear what the competition standards are for each lift, along with the key rules. To be blunt, a seasoned veteran won’t get much out of this series of articles (I will do one article for each competitive lift) but those same lifters are often the ones that are asked this very question. It is my hope they share the information with any of the newer, up-and-coming lifters they know.
A powerlifting competition always starts with the squat, then the bench press, and the meet finishes with the deadlift. If a strict curl is contested it is usually done after the bench or after the deadlift.
There are 4 main types of deadlifts, 2 of them are commonly performed in a competition. The Conventional Deadlift (or just a deadlift) is when your hands are on the outside of your legs at the bottom of the lift. It tends to test your back strength more and most people find it the easiest one to master. The Sumo Deadlift is when your hands are on the inside of your legs at the bottom of the lift, and one typically uses a very wide stance. The Sumo Deadlift tends to test the strength of your legs more and tends to be better suited to those flexible enough to do it well. Lifters can technically do Romanian Deadlifts (RDL’s) and Stiff Legged Deadlifts (SLDL’s) if they wish but since the form on those lifts is set up to intentionally make them harder it is generally not wise to do them in a competition.
Deadlift Visual Guide
If you simply want a visual guide of a proper competition deadlift, read no further and go the video link for each lift:
If you want more information and you want to be fully prepared for competition day, read on.
Key Terms to Know
In order to help lifters understand the lifting order in powerlifting, there are several terms that are regularly used. They are:
- The Lifter – the person lifting the weight that is currently loaded
- On Deck – this is the person up next after the current competitor
- In the Hole – this person will be second up after the Lifter and the person On Deck
- In the Wing – this person will be third up, after the Lifter, the person On Deck, and the person In the Hole
- Bar is Loaded – this means the bar with the proper weight has been loaded and is ready for the lifter. When the Bar is Loaded for you, it means you have 1 minute from the time of that announcement to walk on the platform and begin your lift.
Generally when a lifter is “In the Hole” they begin to mentally prep themselves for the event and they will start to put on any powerlifting apparel such as a belt or wrist wraps that they will wear in the event.
Once the Bar is Loaded command is given, you will walk up to the platform. If the bar is crooked or anything if you want to roll it so it is straight that is okay to do. Approach the bar, be fully prepared, take your grip, and then lift the weight up. There is NO start command, you simply pull when you are ready. You must lift the weight up and at the finish you must be standing straight, shoulders back (think shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in a straight line; it is okay to lean back slightly) with your legs locked out. You must hold the bar at the top and wait for the “Down” Command.
- Set your grip. Keep in mind not all rings and other markings on all bars are the same
- There is NO “Start” Command, you lift when you are ready after the bar is loaded
- You must stand straight with shoulders back – there is no need to shrug or lean back excessively
- The knees must be locked at the top of the lift
- Gloves and wrist straps (that attach you to the bar) are NOT allowed
- You are not allowed to “hitch” the bar by resting it on your thighs
- You are not allowed to “ramp” the bar up the thighs
- Chalk goes on your hands; if you wish to use baby powder it goes on your thighs – don’t confuse the two.
Here is an example of a hitched deadlift. Hitching when you rest the bar on your thighs and then bring it further up. It is not excessive but it is clear and this will get you red lighted every time (the hitch takes place at :17 into the video)
Here is an example of a ramped deadlift (this is allowed in Strongman but not in powerlifting). Ramping is when you push your knees forward and then try to slide the weight up your thighs once the bar clears your knees. Your knees should never be in front of your chest once you begin a deadlift.
Once you have completed the lift you must hold the bar in the finished position and then wait for the “Down” Command. This is not hard to do you just have to remember to wait for it. You need to return the bar under control to the ground. You don’t have to do a negative or use up a ton of energy lowering the bar down slowly. The biggest point is you can’t drop it from the top if you are used to training that way.
- Hold the bar at the top in locked out position and wait for the command.
- Return the bar to the ground under control
- You can’t drop the bar from the waist like many Olympic Lifters or CrossFitters tend to do.
Other Important Information
The deadlift tends to be a lift where the competition form most likely matches gym form. However, it is important to for newer lifters to remember a few things.
- You might be tired after squatting and benching so the weight may feel heavy
- Straps are not allowed – testing grip strength is part of powerlifting
- Hitching and Ramping are not allowed
- It is not desirable or necessary to shrug your shoulders or lean back excessively once you complete the lift
- Almost all powerlifting federations require that you wear high socks that can cover your shin (to prevent blood from getting on the bar) when you compete
- If you don’t get at least one deadlift it will void your other two lifts so open light
If you can remember those key points and avoid the major mistakes new lifters tend to make in the deadlift you will be well on your way to the start of a successful and enjoyable powerlifting journey.