Powerlifting is a sport where lifters display incredible amounts of strength, but are these lifters using performance-enhancing drugs or are they naturally that strong? Is using performance-enhancers against the rules?
Are powerlifting meets drug tested? Yes, some federations in powerlifting do drug tests, such as the International Powerlifting Federation. However, federations that do not drug test are greater in number than those that do, which either allow performance-enhancing drugs or don’t have the testing infrastructure to eradicate them.
Choosing the federation that is right for you can be confusing when multiple options exist, especially for those looking to be drug-free athletes. In this article, I’ll present the options for different organizations for both drug-tested and untested federations. In addition, I’ll give recommendations for those who want to be drug-free athletes.
Two of the most popular federations are the USAPL and USPA. I wrote an article comparing the USAPL vs USPA. One is drug tested, the other is not.
Are Powerlifters Drug Tested?
Powerlifters in “tested federations” are drug tested in and out of competition.
In each of these testing environments, the lifter is approached by doping control representatives and is asked to give a sample (usually urine or blood).
The sample collected is to be monitored by the athlete until the sample is sealed by the doping control agents, and then sent to a WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) accredited laboratory for testing.
In-competition testing determines whether athletes are competing in a meet drug-free, or if they are competing using performance-enhancing substances.
The selection process for testing can be based on a finishing position (ex: 1st place), a random selection (random lifters are chosen for tests), or a targeted test (lifters are sought out for testing).
Out Of Competition Testing
Out-of-competition testing is testing that occurs outside of the competition setting to help identify use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes competing in the sport.
This helps to target those who cycle on and off of performance enhancers in order to test negative in-competition, despite receiving benefits from a banned substance during their training.
There are 2 methods of out-of-competition testing: random testing, or advanced notice testing.
- Athletes who are to be tested randomly will have provided information to the organization for their whereabouts at certain times and will be tested randomly during these times.
- Advanced notice testing requires athletes to present themselves at a certain time and date to be tested by a WADA-Approved doping control centre.
Out-of-competition testing is becoming more frequent in the IPF as they are working to keep the sport of powerlifting drug-free in order to get recognition from the International Olympic Committee and get the sport into the Olympics.
Wondering how to stay up to date on powerlifting meets? Check out our Step-By-Step Guide on How To Find Powerlifting Meets
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
What Powerlifting Federations Drug Test?
The powerlifting federations that drug test are:
- International Powerlifting Federation (IPF)
- World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation (WDFPF)
- World Powerlifting Federation (WPF)
International Powerlifting Federation (IPF)
The most popular drug-tested federation, hoping to receive IOC recognition for the sport of powerlifting in the Olympics. This federation performs drug tests in and out of competition, and is compliant with WADA .
Lifters in this federation can compete raw with wrist wraps, and knee sleeves; or equipped with single-ply suits, bench shirts, and knee wraps.
Check out the IPF website: https://www.powerlifting.sport/
he highest level of competition in powerlifting is IPF World's. Find out how you can qualify for IPF Worlds.
World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation (WDFPF)
This federation performs drug-tests in and out of competition but according to the federation's rule book, uses the WADA Prohibited List only as a guideline. It states that they reserve the right to make changes to the amount of substance a sample may have before it qualifies as a positive sample, as well as what substances will qualify as prohibited.
Lifters in this federation can compete in their raw division which only permits wrist wraps and a belt (no knee sleeves), or their single-ply division which allows single-ply suits, bench shirts, and knee wraps.
Check out the WDFPF website: https://wdfpf.co.uk/
World Powerlifting Federation (WPF)
This federation is WADA compliant, meaning that it operates based on the prohibited list to determine banned substances, and drug tests its athletes in and out of competition. This federation competes only in a raw category which allows wrist wraps, knees sleeves and belts.
Check out the WPF website: https://worldpowerlifting.com/
Wondering which equipment is allowed in the IPF? Check out our guide for Approved Equipment & Gear For Competition
What Powerlifting Federations Do Not Drug Test?
The powerlifting federations that DO NOT drug test are:
- International Powerlifting League (IPL)
- Global Powerlifting Alliance (GPA)
- International Raw Powerlifting (IRP)
- World Powerlifting Alliance (APA-WPA)
- World Powerlifting Congress (WPC)
- World United Amateur Powerlifting
International Powerlifting League (IPL)
The IPL is not drug-tested unless a meet specifically specifies that it will be a drug-tested meet. In order to host a drug-tested meet the organization must pay a sanction fee in order to drug-test. In these meets, only the lifters who finish in the top 10% get tested and there is not out-of-competition testing.
This federation does not comply with WADA, therefore it is unclear what banned substances they are testing for and in what amounts. However, they state that if a substance is identified the lifter will be required to pay a fine of $500 before they can compete again.
The most commonly known branch of the IPL is the USPA. They have raw, single-ply, and multi-ply divisions and often use monolifts instead of a traditional rack for the squat.
Check out the IPL website: https://www.powerlifting-ipl.com/
Global Powerlifting Alliance (GPA)
This federation does not drug test. Lifters can compete with wrist wraps, knee sleeves or wraps, belts, and elbow wraps (in the squat or deadlift only).
Check out the GPA website: https://www.globalpowerliftingalliance.com/
International Raw Powerlifting (IRP)
No option for drug-testing exists in this federation.
In addition, there are no weight classes for women, totals are determined by subtracting the lifters bodyweight from the weight they lifted, and all lifters must compete raw (wrist wraps and light knee sleeves permitted).
Check out the IRP website: http://www.irp-powerlifting.com/
World Powerlifting Alliance (APA-WPA)
This federation is mostly known as the American Powerlifting Alliance, which operates internationally as the WPA. There are tested and untested divisions of this federation. Tested meets must be specified.
In these meets, only the lifters who finish in the top 10% get tested and there is not out-of-competition testing. This federation does not comply with WADA, therefore it is unclear what banned substances they are testing for and in what amounts.
This federation has raw and equipped divisions, has 24-hour weigh-ins, and primarily uses a monolift for their squats.
Check out the APA-WPA website: https://apapowerlifting.com/
World Powerlifting Congress (WPC)
This federation does not participate in any drug-testing. Lifters in this federation can lift in raw, single-ply, mulit-ply divisions and operate with 24 hour weigh-ins.
Check out the WPC website: https://worldpowerliftingcongress.com/
World United Amateur Powerlifting (WUAP)
This federation does not participate in any drug-testing. Lifters in these federations can compete in raw or multi-ply divisions, they use a 24hour weigh in, and primarily use a monolift for their squats rather than a traditional rack.
Check out the WUAP website: https://wuap-powerlifting.com/
Drug Testing Standards For Powerlifting Meets
WADA determines its list of banned substances by identifying substances that meet at least 2 of the following criteria: “It has the potential to enhance sport performance; It represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete; It violates the spirit of sport”.
The list of prohibited substances is reviewed annually by experts to ensure the list of substances supports updated medical and scientific evidence.
It is unclear how other federations determine which substances are “banned” and in what amounts, because they do not comply with WADA and have not listed in their Rulebook what substances are prohibited for their athletes.
The most common tests used are urine and blood tests to determine if a banned substance was used by the athlete. The tests will have Sample A and Sample B, which helps to confirm a positive result. Sample B is used if Sample A returns a positive result for a banned substance.
The athlete is confirmed to have a positive sample when both Samples A and B have yielded a positive result. If both samples do not confirm a positive test, there may have been a false-positive and more investigation is required before a conclusion can be made.
Are powerlifters more competitive when they are fat? Find out more in our article Will Powerlifting Make You Fat?
What Happens If A Powerlifter Tests Positive In A Drug-Tested Meet?
If a lifter tests positive in a meet and is found to be guilty of using performance enhancing substances, they may be charged a fine as well as being banned from competing in powerlifting or all sports for a period of time.
In the IPF if a lifter tests positive, they are disqualified from all WADA compliant sports in all countries for 2 to 4 years – depending on the severity of the violation and if there was intentional use of the substance, or if it was a case of ignorance.
It should be noted that it is possible to be banned indefinitely from the sport, for extreme cases of WADA rule violations (ex: tampering with samples, trafficking a prohibited substance).
Interested in learning more about meet day nutrition? Check out these 6 Rules For What To Eat During A Powerlifting Meet
My Recommendation If You Want To Be A Drug-Free Powerlifter
Compete In The International Powerlifting Federation
If we want to be a drug-free powerlifter, it is best to compete in a federation that takes drug testing seriously. The IPF has demonstrated that they do not condone drug-use in their federation and are making an effort to perform more out-of-competition tests to identify athletes who are breaking the rules.
As a drug-free lifter, the only hope of being competitive in a federation is to compete amongst lifters who follow the same principles, of competing without performance enhancers.
Wondering what to bring with you when you compete? Check out our Checklist For What You Should Bring To A Powerlifting Meet
Limit Supplement Intake
It is important to be diligent about the products we consume, as it is easy to consume banned substances by accident – especially when we are taking supplements. It is recommended to limit supplement use to avoid the increased risk of consuming unwanted additives that the supplement contains.
If we are set on taking supplements (protein powder, creatine, pre-workout), it is recommended to verify that supplements are NSF Certified. Approval by the NSF states that a product has been tested for purity, quality, and contains the ingredients that it claims to contain.
It is important to note that even if a supplement has been deemed free of banned substances, if we obtain a positive result for a banned substance in our sample, it is us that are responsible.
Stay Vigilant About Banned Substances
Oftentimes athletes produce a positive sample for a banned substance simply because they were not aware that the substance was banned.
An example of this is cannabinoids, which are banned in competition but may appear in a drug test if they are used the night before and are not fully metabolized by the body.
Another situation where this might occur is when taking medications. It is important to confirm that over-the-counter medications (ex:cold and flu medications) do not contain banned substances, and that all prescription medications have been declared and approved for use in competition by the organization.
To be safe, always check the WADA Banned Substance List to verify that all medications and supplements do not contain banned substances that could result in severe consequences for our future in the sport, even if taken without knowing the consequences.
It's important to be aware of the options for powerlifters who wish to be drug-free athletes and for those who do not. Tested and untested federations exist to help cater to all athletes. The goal is to allow drug-free athletes to compete on an even playing field, without the threat of performance-enhancers. In addition, the athletes who want to strive for more have a place to do so.