You might see all kinds of deadlifting styles in the gym, but there are specific rules and standards that you must follow if you want to compete in powerlifting.
So what are the powerlifting rules for deadlift?
- The bar cannot travel downward before reaching the final position
- You must stand erect with the shoulders back
- You must stand with your knees straight at the completion of the lift
- You cannot have the bar rest on the thighs during the lift
- You cannot step forward or back or move the feet laterally during the ‘up phase’
- You must return the bar to the floor while maintaining control with both hands
Many first-time powerlifters fail to implement even the most basic rules in order to pass their deadlifts in competition. Read on to make sure the technique you practice in training is the technique that will pass in competition.
Deadlifting Movement Standards
In a powerlifting competition, you will have three judges watching that you comply with the following movements standards.
There may be some subjectivity to how a referee judges your movement standards. One referee might think you’re locked out, while another referee might think your shoulders are rounded and not “back”.
This is why all you need is a ‘majority’ of referees (two out of three) to believe the lift was good rather than having unanimous support from all referees (three out of three). If you finish the lift and you see two or three white lights, then the lift was good. However, if you see two or three red lights, then the lift was bad.
The best way to ensure you are passing your lifts in competition is to 1) understand the movement standards below, and then 2) be strict with these standards in training. I have a saying:
Your worst rep in training, is your best rep in competition.
If you approach your training with this in mind, then you’ll be getting white lights when in competition. Without further ado, let’s get into the standards in a bit more detail.
The rules outlined in this article will be based on the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) and USA Powerlifting (USAPL) standards. While most powerlifting competitions have similar rules, each federation will have slight nuances.
1. The bar cannot travel downward before reaching the final position
Once you initiate the up phase off the floor, the bar cannot have any downward movement.
This includes either having one side of the bar dip down or the whole of the bar. If you read my rules for bench press technique, you would have learned that on bench press you can have one side of the barbell dip down and still be a good lift. This is not the case for deadlift. Any downward movement is considered a failed lift.
Failed lift for downward motion (video cred Lorenzo Tomasiello @lstomasiello)
Sometimes you’ll have downward movement of the bar because the bar will slip in your hand from its start position. This is why it’s critically important that once you set your grip that it stays fixed to the bar. Make sure to read my article on how to maximize your deadlift grip. Other reasons for having the bar come down include losing your balance, losing strength in your mid-back, or having the bar come off of you in the mid-range.
Now, I just said the bar cannot travel down, but can the bar stop? Yes.
The bar can stop halfway through the range of motion and as long as the bar continues in the upward direction, then the lift will still be good.
2. You must stand erect with the shoulders back
Let’s dissect the wording of this in two ways: “stand erect’ and “shoulders back”.
Standing erect refers to your torso being straight or perpendicular to the floor. This signals the final position for your torso. What this means is that you don’t need to ‘lean back’ any further than this straight up and down position. A lot of lifters will lean too far back, and this extra range of motion is just wasted effort that won’t give you any extra points with the referees.
Shoulders back refer to your shoulder blades being retracted. What you want to avoid is having your shoulders rounding forward. This is made to look a lot worse if your upper back is rounding because it’s not strong enough to pull your shoulder blades back into position. Therefore, your torso can be erect, but your shoulder might be rounded, which would be considered a bad lift.
3. You must stand with your knees straight at the completion of the lift
Along with your torso needing to be erect and shoulders back, your knees must be locked to end the movement.
The easiest way to get your knees locked is to flex your quads. When you flex your quads it will force your knees into extension. So if you’re at all unsure about whether your knees are locked, engage your quads as you’re standing at lock-out and it will prevent any sort of bending.
If you’re finding that it’s hard to lock your knees in the lock-out it might be because you’re leaning too far back with your torso. Remember, I said your torso needs to be erect. If you pull any further than what’s necessary, you might risk having your knees sag.
4. You cannot have the bar rest on the thighs during the lift
When the bar rests on the thighs during the deadlift, this is called a hitch.
The second rep in the video below is a hitch. You can visibly see the lifter rest the bar on the thigh before continuing the lift.
Remember, the bar can stop (as long as it doesn’t go down), but it cannot stop and rest on the thighs. It’s also important to know that in the sport of Strongman, hitching is allowed. However, in the powerlifting context, it’s not.
5. You cannot step forward or back or move the feet laterally during the ‘up phase’
This standard only applies to the ‘up’ phase of the movement.
So, from the start position to lock-out you cannot move your feet once you initiate upward movement of the barbell.
This rule doesn’t apply during the down phase. Once you get the ‘down’ command from the head referee, you are allowed to move your feet. Most lifters won’t move their feet during the ‘down’ phase, but it’s important to know that if you do it’s not cause for failure.
6. You must return the bar to the floor while maintaining control with both hands
Once you get the ‘down’ command from the head referee, your hands must be gripping the barbell the entire time.
This rule ensures that you don’t drop the bar from hip height after locking the weight out. In other activities where you see deadlifts taking place, like Crossfit or Strongman, it’s allowed to drop the barbell at lock-out. However, in powerlifting, this would be cause for failure.
You can drop the barbell to the floor quickly, i.e. you don’t have to gently put the weight down. But you must at least keep your hands on the bar.
Deadlift Commands You Must Follow
Now that you know the technical movement standards, you must also follow the commands from the referees.
Failure to comply with any referee commands will automatically disqualify the lift even if all other movement standards are followed. It can be extremely frustrating missing an attempt based on not following the commands because in all other ways you were strong enough to make the lift. However, the rule exists that you must follow the commands because it’s the referee’s job to ensure you are maintaining control of the movement at certain points of the lift.
In the deadlift, there is only one command — the “DOWN” command.
Unlike the squat and bench press where there are rules to start and end the movement, the deadlift doesn’t have these commands. The only command you will hear is “DOWN” once the head referee believes you have assumed the ‘lockout position’ with the hips, knees, and shoulders locked.
Rules For Selecting Your Deadlift Attempts
After each attempt, you will select the next load that you lift.
For example, once you’ve done your opener, you need to select your second attempt. You can either choose to repeat the same weight (if you missed the first attempt) or go up. If you decide to go up, you cannot select a load that is below the weight that you just lift. At minimum, you must go up by 2.5kg, and once you select the load, you cannot change the weight. The same rules apply after you’ve completed the second attempt and you are selecting weights for the third attempt.
These rules are the same for squat, bench press, and deadlift, with the exception of the third attempt deadlift. On the third attempt deadlift, you have the option to change your initial third attempt up to two times.
For example, let’s say on your second attempt you deadlifted 100kg successfully and you’re in a battle for 1st place. You then walk over to the score-table and select 110kg for your third attempt. After seeing a few lifters go before you, you recognize that all you need to do to place 1st is 105kg. At that point, you can lower the weight from your initial 110kg to 105kg. You can lower the weight so long as it’s not below the weight you previously lifted on the 2nd attempt (remember, this exception only applies to the 3rd attempt deadlift).
Alternatively, let’s say you needed 115kg for the win. You could change your initial 110kg to 115kg. If you wanted to, you could also change your attempt a second time. So you could change your attempt from 110kg, down to 105kg, and then up to 115kg. But, once you submitted your change request for the second time, you must go and lift the selected weight.
General Powerlifting Competition Rules That Apply To Deadlifting
If you are going to compete in powerlifting, I encourage you to read the rulebook since it doesn’t really matter how strong you are unless you’re playing by the rules.
Below are some common rules that you’ll need to follow:
- Once the bar is loaded you have 60-seconds to begin the deadlift (initiate movement on the bar)
- After the lift, you have 60-seconds to submit the load for the next attempt to the score-table
- You must have the proper lifting attire for the day: singlet, t-shirt, shoes, belt, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves. Everything must conform to the equipment specifications.
- No adhesives can be placed on the bottom of the shoe (an advantage for sumo deadlifts who have a wide stance)
- No straps can be used to aid your grip on deadlifts. Must use either double overhand, mixed grip or hook grip.
When you deadlift in a powerlifting competition you must follow the rules of the competition, including the movement standards and referee commands.
It doesn’t matter if you are strong enough to complete the movement. If you do not conform to the technical standards of the sport, you will not pass the lift in competition.
Each of the rules creates a standardized process for every athlete to follow, and it’s the main difference between deadlifting in the gym versus deadlifting in a competition.
Make sure to practice the movement standards in training and you’ll find that you’re capable of lifting your maximum potential in the competition environment.
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