What the Competition Lifts Look Like – The Bench Press

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 this 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 it finishes with the deadlift.  If a strict curl is contested it is usually done after the bench or after the deadlift.


Bench Press Visual Guide

If you simply want a visual guide of a proper competition bench press, read no further and go the video link:


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 Bench Press

Once the Bar is Loaded command is given, you will walk up to the bench, sit on it, get set-up and take your grip.  You have may request a lift-off if you wish – some competitions let you choose your own helper to provide the lift-off, others will have one of the spotters do it.  Most organizations require you to keep your head down and your feet flat but it can vary.  Start with the bar over your chest with your arms straight and wait for the “Start” Command.

Key Points:

  • Set your grip. Keep in mind not all rings on all bars are the same
  • If your lift-off person is the not the main spotter they need to get out of the way of the head judge
  • Your grip can’t be wider than 81 cm (at least one finger must be on the ring; it is okay to take as narrow of a grip as you want)
  • Some organizations allow a suicide and/or reverse grip, other’s don’t; if you like to bench press that way find out first if that is allowed
  • It is okay to shuffle your feet or adjust your stance BEFORE you receive the “start” command, but your feet can not move after that


Start Command

Once you are holding the bar at arm’s length you will receive the start command.  Lower the bar to your chest.  You can use any speed you want, in general if you go super slow it may take away some of your energy, and if you go too fast you might mis-groove the lift or bring it down in the wrong spot.  Once there wait for the “Press” Command.  Not all organizations have a start command, for the ones that don’t you start the lift at arm’s length and then you lower it when you are ready to your chest.

Key Points

  • Take a deep breath in before you go down and then hold your breath
  • Lower the bar to your chest – nipple level or bottom of the chest is usually ideal
  • You can NOT shuffle your feet or readjust your position at this point
  • You must hold the bar motionless on your chest and wait for the command
  • If the bar is bouncing around you will not receive the press command


Press Command

Once the bar is motionless on your chest you will receive the press command.  At this point press the weight up and back until the arms are fully extended and the lift is completed.

Key Points

  • You must press the bar relatively evenly, try to keep the bar level as it ascends
  • Your head and butt must remain in contact with the bench at all times
  • Don’t press straight up, drive up and back or back and up, the bar should end over your clavicle
  • Once you receive the press command you cannot sink the bar further into your chest and then press it up again
  • Hold the bar at the top with arms fully extended and wait for the command


Rack Command

Once the bar is pressed to full extension you will receive the Rack command.  At this point attempt to rerack the weight, the spotters can help you.  The bench press is effectively over once this command is given.

Key Points

  • You must wait until the Rack command is given to rack the weight
  • Your arms must be fully extended, if they are not locked out you will not receive credit for the lift


The Paused Bench Press

By far the biggest issue for lifters on the bench press is training for a long pause on the chest.  If one is used to only touch-n-go bench presses or very fast press commands, it can really throw a lifter off when they show up to compete.  The best way to prepare for this is to simply practice with a longer press command and choose weights within your capability.  If someone is going to give you a press command in the gym or if you are counting in your head, go “one-thousand-one press” to ensure the pause is long enough.  For those completely new to the pause, it tends to reduce their strength by 5-10% (15-30 lbs off of a 300 lb bench press), for advanced lifters it will make a smaller difference.


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 4 most common mistakes for new bench pressers are:

  1. Opening with too heavy of a weight
  2. Not being able to properly pause their weight on their chest for the standard length of time
  3. Letting their butt come off the bench
  4. Not following the commands


If you can avoid those 4 pitfalls you will be well on your way to the start of a successful and enjoyable powerlifting journey.

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