In a powerlifting meet, athletes compete against each other in the squat, bench press, and deadlift to see who is the strongest. However, the scoring and how lifters rank is not as straightforward as you might think. So in this article, I’ll break it down for you step-by-step.
How is powerlifting scored? Powerlifters have 3 attempts in the squat, bench press, and deadlift to reach the highest number they can lift for 1 repetition. The scores from each lift are added together to give the lifter a total. The total is ranked within a gender, weight, and age class to determine the winner of that specific category.
In addition, there is a ‘handicap’ system that allows lifters to compete across weight categories, which I’ll explain below. There are also rules around competing in a specific weight and age class, which impact the scoring system. Let’s cover these finer details!
You may also be interested in reading about my other articles in my Starting Powerlifting Series:
General Rules Around Powerlifting Scoring
A “powerlifting score” is also referred to as a “total”.
The total is the sum of the heaviest weight lifted for the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
For example, if a lifter squatted 180kg, bench pressed 120kg, and deadlift 200kg their total would be 500kg.
This total is what’s used to rank lifters from first to last.
Here are some other important things to know:
• Men will usually lift more than women
• The heavier you are, the more potential weight you will lift
• The heaviest lifts in the world usually occur by people aged 23-39
Therefore, it would not be fair to have athletes competing against each other who have vastly different attributes when it comes to gender, body-weight, and age.
As such, the sport of powerlifting divides athletes into these separate categories, and the total will only rank lifters within that given category (not across categories).
Dividing athletes by gender is pretty straightforward, so let’s discuss further how body-weight and age categories work in powerlifting.
Scoring based on body-weight
Men and women have different body-weight categories.
Men have 8 weight classes:
Women have 7 weight classes:
it’s fair to assume that the heavier weight categories will have higher powerlifting scores (totals) than the lower weight categories.
Of course, there are outliers where a lifter in a lower weight category might exceed the total of someone lifting in a heavier weight category.
However, when it comes to rankings this doesn’t matter as only lifters within a single category compete against each other.
Scoring based on age
Powerlifting has 7 age categories:
• Sub-Junior: ages 14-18
• Junior: ages 19-23
• Open: ages 24-39
• Master 1: ages 40-49
• Master 2: ages 50-59
• Master 3: ages 60-69
• Master 4: ages 70+
It’s fair to assume the heaviest powerlifting totals happen in the “Open” age category when lifters are at their peak physical strength.
Just like body-weight classes, lifters will not compete outside of their own age category.
So once a lifter turns 40 years old, they move from the “Open” age class to the “Master” 1 age class, and will now compete against all 40-year-old lifters.
Note: the sub-junior and junior age classes have an extra weight category because they are generally lighter lifters. For men, the extra weight category is 53kg, and for women, 43kg.
How Are Powerlifting Scores Calculated? Example Scoresheet
Powerlifting scores are calculated by taking the heaviest attempt lifted for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, and adding them together.
Let’s take a look at a practical example from a powerlifting competition. What you see below is a powerlifting scoresheet.
The category is:
• Gender: Female
• Age: Open
• Body-Weight: 57kg
These athletes have three attempts for each lift (squat, bench press, and deadlift) to reach the highest number possible. Remember, the highest number that is lifted for each individual lift is added together to make the “total”.
If you look at the winner of this category, Teresa Yeung, the heaviest squat was 157.5kg, bench press 97.5kg, and deadlift 172.5kg. When you add these lifts together, her total was 427.5kg, which gave her the highest placing in this category.
Any time you see a “-” in front of the number it means that she missed the lift and it doesn’t count toward her total.
In Teresa’s case, you can see that she missed 172.5kg on her second attempt deadlift. However, she came back on the third attempt and successfully lifted it, so it was then added to her total.
The powerlifting total is what ranks powerlifters within a category.
If you want a strategic method for selecting your attempts in a powerlifting meet, read my article on How to Pick Attempts For Powerlifting.
If you see on the far right of the scoresheet a column that says “points”, that’s a separate scoring system for determining the “Best Overall Lifter”. Let’s discuss that now.
Using A Handicap Scoring System: Wilks Score & IPF Points
I mentioned before that you compete in gender, age, and body-weight categories and that lifters in one category don’t compete against lifters in another category.
That’s true when it comes to awarding medals, i.e. who gets gold, silver, and bronze.
However, there is one award called the “Best Overall Lifter” where athletes DO compete across weight classes.
Competing Across Body-Weight Categories
The purpose of the “Best Overall Lifter” award is to determine who is the strongest lifter on a per-pound basis.
For example, a 59kg lifter can have a total of 600kg, and a 120kg lifter can have a total of 625kg.
The heavier lifter in this scenario lifted 25kg more overall weight, but he also weighs over twice as much as the 59kg lifter.
In order to compare lifters across weight classes, a formula is used to normalize an athlete’s strength. We’ll cover these formulas in a second, but you can already start to imagine that the 59kg lifter is likely stronger on a per-pound basis than the 120kg lifter.
Best Overall Awards
Most competitions will award the following trophies:
• Best Overall Male Lifter
• Best Overall Female Lifter
There may also be a “Best Overall Sub-Junior/Junior” and “Best Overall Master” award that further takes into account the different age categories.
But typically, these additional awards that take into account age categories are only given out at the high-level competitions, such as a National or World Championships.
The “Best Overall Lifter Awards” are also called the “Champion of Champion Awards” because the person who wins this award will be the strongest male or female lifter out of the whole competition regardless of weight.
Depending on the powerlifting federation you compete in, there may be different formulas that are used to determine the “Best Overall Lifter”.
If you’re interested in learning more about the different powerlifting federations, I cover the basics in this article.
The two most popular powerlifting formulas used are the “Wilks Score” and “IPF GL Points”.
Each scoring system has slightly different mathematical formulas to compare lifters across body-weight categories.
The basic idea is that you take the total you lifted, multiple it by a co-efficient based on your body-weight, and then you get a score. This score can be used to rank lifters across different weight classes.
To be honest, there is a lot of math behind these formulas, and you would likely need a degree in mathematics to truly understand how they work. But if you’re interested in learning more about how these formulas were created, I encourage you to read the following resources:
In recent years, the Wilks Score has been phased out by many countries as a way to determine the “Best Overall Award” (although Australia still uses it).
As such, if you’re curious about how your strength compares with someone across different body-weights, I would use the IPF GL Points formula as it’s the more ‘modern’ formula.
Let’s go back to our example of a 59kg lifter with a total of 600kg versus a 120kg lifter with a total of 625kg.
If you use the IPF GL Points formula, the result is as follows:
• 59kg lifter: 99.28 points
• 120kg lifter: 72.65 points
As you can see, the 59kg lifter, even though their total was less than the 120kg lifter, their IPF GL Points is higher. This means that on a per-pound basis the 59kg lifter is stronger than the 120kg lifter.
If you’re interested in finding out what your points would be, you can use the following online calculators:
The main thing you should concern yourself with when it comes to powerlifting scoring is the “total”. The total is the combination of the heaviest weight lifted for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, which ranks you based on your age, gender, and weight class.
The “Best Overall Awards” take the strongest lifters from each weight class and use a mathematical formula to compare who is the best pound-for-pound lifter. These awards are only given to one male and female athlete.