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 then the deadlift. The strict curl is usually done after the bench or after the deadlift, occasionally it is done the night before the regular powerlifting competition.
Strict Curl Visual Guide
If you simply want a visual guide of a proper competition strict curl, read no further and watch the following:
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.
The Strict Curl
Once the Bar is Loaded command is given, you will walk up to the curl bar (it is usually resting on something elevated so you don’t have to deadlift it). You will take your grip, you can take either a wide grip or a narrow grip on the bar, whatever your preference is. Many newbies often grab the bar in the wrong position so make sure your grip is good and you can replicate it. Lift the bar off the rack and step back. Place your butt and upper back against the support. Your heels can be a maximum of 12” away from the wall and generally the farther they are away from the wall, and the wider your stance, the better. This makes it less likely that your butt will pop up off the wall – by far the most common issue when curling heavy weights. You must start with your arms and legs full extended. You must wait for the “Curl” Command before you begin the lift.
- Set your grip, wide or narrow
- Keep in mind not all curl bars have the same angle of camber, they can vary considerably
- Your arms and legs must be fully extended before you begin
- Your heels can’t be further than 12” away from the wall, take a wide stance
- Get yourself comfortable but once the “Curl” Command is given you can’t adjust your position
Once you are holding the bar with your arms and legs fully extended and you are set in your position you will receive the “Curl” Command. When you do receive the command then curl the bar to the finish position. This varies for everyone but it is generally near the nose or chin. It is okay for your head to move. It is normal for your upper arm to move as much as you want. Your butt and upper back must stay against the wall at all times and your knees must stay straight. It is ideal to curl your wrists forward (flex them) as you curl the weight. Once finished you must hold it at the top and wait for the “Down” Command.
- Curl the bar up to your nose or chin and hold it there
- Your butt and upper back must stay in contact with the wall the entire time
- It is legal for your head and upper arm to move as much as you want
Once you have reached the finished (top) position and you hold the bar there for a second or so, you will receive the “Down” Command. Lower the bar slowly to the start position. If you lower the bar rapidly your back may get pulled off the wall from the momentum of the weight. Finish the lift with your arms straight and wait to receive the “Rack” Command.
- Lower the bar slowly to return to the start position
- Your upper back and butt must remain in contact with the wall during this portion of the lift as well
- Finish with your arms straight
- Wait for the “Rack” command
Once the bar is returned to the start position and your arms are fully extended, you will receive the Rack Command. Step forward and place the bar on the rack. Once you receive this command the lift is over.
- You must wait until the Rack command is given to rack the weight
It is a Strict Curl
By far the biggest issue for lifters on the Strict Curl is the very fact that it is strict, the lift is performed up against the wall. This makes the lift immensely harder, even if you have been training with “strict” form on a standing curl. It is important to practice the lift in training up against the wall so you can understand how much harder it is. Generally lifters lift 20% less up against the wall then they do standing, and that is assuming they are using strict form when standing. If they are swinging a lot it can be up to 40% less weight.
It is also important to point out that the total weight lifted in the curl is low and a little bit of weight makes a big difference in how it feels. For most lifters a 10 lb jump from their first to second attempt works well, followed by a 5 lb jump to their third attempt.
Finally many lifters don’t know how heavy their curl bar in the gym and they often assume it is heavier than it is. This leads them to thinking they are lifting more weight than they really are. I would suggest you actually weigh the bar on the scale to find its actual weight. Most curl bars are NOT 25 lbs, many are 15 or 20 lbs total.
In Summary, it is important for competitors, especially those new to the game, to know what is expected of them and to train to the proper standard. The 5 most common mistakes for new strict curlers are:
- Not realizing how much harder it is to curl up against the wall
- Opening with too much weight
- Letting their butt come off the wall
- Not taking an optimal grip on the bar (grabbing it at the wrong angle or wrong position)
- Not knowing how heavy their own curl bar is and thus not knowing how much weight they are actually lifting
If you can avoid making those 5 common mistakes you will be well on your way to the start of a successful and fun strict curl experience.