When I first start coaching a new powerlifter in the squat, the only thing I’m concerned about is how their technique relates to the squat rules they’ll encounter in competition. The last thing you want to do is train extremely hard for several months, and then fail to pass a squat in competition because you didn’t know the rules, or haven’t practiced the rules sufficiently.
So what are the powerlifting squat technique rules? Regardless of the powerlifting federation, you will need to squat to a minimum level of depth, show control at both start and end by having your knees locked, maintain your balance, and have constant forward motion of the barbell (no dipping or bouncing).
However, there are several additional rules that you should know in order to pass a squat in competition.
Before getting into the details, one quick note…
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The Squat Technique Rules For Powerlifting
There are several powerlifting federations in which you can compete in powerlifting.
Each powerlifting federation will have a different set of rules and standards for the squat. Most follow the same general principles (i.e. needing to squat to a certain depth), but each federation will interpret the rules differently (i.e. what ‘depth’ is deep enough to pass). As such, I encourage you to look up the specific rulebook associated with the powerlifting federation you choose to compete.
With that said, the most popular powerlifting federation for athletes is the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). It’s the largest powerlifting organization in the World, having over 100 affiliate nations. The IPF is also associated with the International World Games Committee, an affiliate of the International Olympic Committee.
In my opinion, the IPF Rulebook is the gold standard in powerlifting.
The IPF rulebook lays out 6 rules for the powerlifting squat:
- You need to bend your knees and lower the body until the top surface of the leg (upper quad at the hip joint) is lower than the top of the knee (explained in more detail below)
- You need to have your knees locked at both the beginning and end of the movement.
- You can’t step forward or backward, or move your feet laterally while squatting — you can’t lose your balance.
- You must listen to the referees signals (explained in more detail below)
- You can’t touch your elbows or arms with your legs which deliberately supports the movement.
- You can’t ‘double bounce’ at the bottom (go up, down, then up again), or have any downward movement of the bar.
The IPF rulebook also lays out what you can and cannot wear in competition. There are specific brands and styles of gear that are allowed. Check out my top recommendations for powerlifting-approved competition gear.
A lot of competitors prefer to use the thumbless grip squat, which is allowed in a powerlifting competition so long as each finger is touching the barbell. You can also check out my other article on the best hand positions for squatting.
How Deep Do You Need to Squat in Competition?
The most contentious rule in the powerlifting squat is how deep you must go. How deep is deep enough?
Remember, the rule is that the top surface of the leg must go lower than the top of the knee. Every lifter, coach, and referee will have a different opinion on what that means. Ultimately, though, it’s the referees in powerlifting who will determine if you’re deep enough. There are three referees on the platform who will enforce the rules, and at least 2/3 of the referees must think you’re deep enough.
The following picture illustrates what the ‘top of the leg’ below the ‘top of the knee’ means:
Depending on where the referees are positioned (front or side) or the angle that they’re watching (higher or lower), it can be difficult to determine whether the top of the leg went below the top of the knee. It becomes increasingly difficult to determine whether depth was achieved based on the tempo of the lifter (how fast the lifter squats down) and how close the lifter is trying to cut depth (the idea that you don’t want to squat ‘too deep’ which would make the movement harder).
Here are some suggestions to ensure you’re getting to competition depth and referees pass your lift:
- Make sure you’re training consistently deep in training. If you’re not consistent in training, it won’t come together in the competition.
- Regularly take videos of your squat training. The visual feedback will be important to understand which reps were higher than others.
- Surround yourself with a coach or training partner that can honestly assess your depth according to the rules. The people giving you feedback need to 1) be honest and not be afraid to call you out if you’re high, and 2) know the rules so that they’re not arbitrarily saying that reps are deep when they’re not.
- Improve your ankle and hip mobility so that you don’t have any restrictions getting to the deeper end range of a squat.
- For beginner powerlifters: go to ‘safe depth’. This is defined as squatting deeper than you need to in order to leave no doubt in the referees’ minds. Over time, you can work on ‘cutting your depth’ to reduce the range of motion of the overall movement.
The rules are slightly different for Olympic weightlifters vs powerlifters when it comes to squatting. Check out my other article that compares these different squat styles.
What Are The Powerlifting Squat Commands?
One of the important squat technique rules is being able to follow the referees’ commands.
The referee commands signal the start and completion of the movement. You cannot start the movement or rack the bar until you get the referee commands.
To start the squat:
For squats, you can take the bar off the rack and walk back into your squat stance. However, you must hold the weight in that position with your knees locked until the referee believes you have control of the barbell. At that point, the referee will say “SQUAT”, which signals that you can start to bend the knees and perform the movement.
To end the squat:
Once you’ve achieved the proper depth and stand back up, the referee will be watching for your knees to be locked, just like how they were in the start position. Once that position has been achieved, they will say “RACK”. This signal means you can walk the weight back into the rack.
If you fail to start and end the movement on the referee commands, squatting down before the “SQUAT” command, or racking the weight before the “RACK” command, the lift is automatically over and you will not pass the lift.
My biggest advice for someone just starting is to have a coach or training partner give you the “SQUAT” and “RACK” commands in training. You need to get used to holding the bar for a few seconds longer at both the start and end of the movements. This extra time is not natural for most people.
Read my guide on How To Pick Attempts For Powerlifting
Getting Familiar With The Powerlifting Squat Rules
There are two important ways to approach your squat technique:
- Focus on squat technique that gets you stronger
- Focus on squat technique that allows you to pass your lifts in competition
Neither of these should be prioritized over the other because you need to be both strong and technical. However, if you can squat a lot of weight, but can’t pass that lift in competition, then the load on the bar doesn’t really matter.
As a result, every aspiring or competitive powerlifter should work to optimize the squat technique for competition as their starting point. If you adopt this mentality then you’ll understand the squat rules more thoroughly, and find yourself passing more lifts in competition.
Passing lifts in competition is the end goal of being a powerlifter.
Want to learn how powerlifting meets work as a whole? Check out my article on How Do Powerlifting Meet Work?
Other Powerlifting Rules to Follow
Knowing the powerlifting squat rules will help you pass your lifts in a competitive environment. Having an honest coach and training partner who can watch for your depth and give you commands will go a long way in practicing your squat technique for powerlifting.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
What equipment can I wear when I squat?
Again, this will vary based on the federation you compete in. So please check the rules for the given federation. In general though, the mandatory equipment is: a singlet (one piece lifting suit), shoes (any sole will do but most prefer a shoe specifically for squatting), and a t-shirt (important that the type of material is improved for your federation). The optional pieces of equipment are wearing a set of wrist wraps and a belt, although most competitive powerlifters choose to wear a belt.
How do you hit depth on squats?
It comes down to three factors: 1) having the mobility necessary in your ankles and hips, 2) developing the motor learning necessary to understand where your body is in space, and 3) being disciplined in consistently practicing deep squats.
How often do powerlifters squat?
The frequency of squats will vary based on an athlete’s individual needs and ability. It can vary between 1-3 times per week, with as much as squatting every single day. However, the average powerlifter will squat two times per week, and will adjust their frequency up and down at certain intervals throughout the year.