Powerlifting is a sport of growing popularity in the United States of America. For that reason there are plenty of different powerlifting federations that you can join. Two popular federations are the USAPL (USA Powerlifting) and USPA (United States Powerlifting Association).
But, what are the differences between the USAPL and USPA? USAPL is affiliated with the IPF and USPA is affiliated with the IPL. USAPL is a fully drug tested organisation and uses one type of barbell in competition whereas USPA do not drug test most competitions and use different barbells in each event. USPA offers more variety of disciplines than USAPL.
There are many similarities and differences between the two federations. For someone who is thinking about competing in powerlifting, it can cause a lot of confusion or difficulty when choosing which federation to compete in.
In this article, I will provide you a non biased and comprehensive look at both federations so you can make a decision which route to go down.
What Is A Powerlifting Federation
First, we need to understand what a federation is. A federation is a governing body for a sport. They are in charge of setting the competitive rules for participation and organising regional and national events.
There are many different powerlifting federations in the USA and around the world. Some federations may be more popular than others but a lot of the federations have a lot of different things to offer in terms of the variations of the disciplines.
Many powerlifting federations aim to be the overarching governing body of the sport.
Who Are The USAPL And USPA
USAPL was formerly known as the American Drug Free Powerlifting Federation. It was founded in1981 before it joined the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) in 1997.
The USAPL is a subdivision of the North American Powerlifting Federation which is also a subdivision of the IPF.
The IPF is the largest international federation for powerlifting with over 100 country members and was founded in 1972. The IPF are generally known for their strict judging but especially at national and international level.
USAPL offers three types of powerlifting competitions: Classic (or Classic Raw), Equipped (Singly Ply), and Raw With Wraps .We’ll discuss more about these categories later.
Check out my article on Are Powerlifting Meets Drug Tested, where I cover which federations have testing protocols, and which don’t.
The USPA was started in 2010 by Steve Denison and is a subdivision of the International Powerlifting League.
They are not as popular as USAPL but they offer different things, including additional categories to compete.
USPA offers four types of powerlifting competitions: Raw, Classic Raw, Equipped (Singly Ply) and Equipped (Multi Ply).
Why Are There Different Federations
Historically speaking, there have beens lots of politics and differences in opinion regarding philosophy of the sport which lead to spores of federations cropping up over time.
There have been many disagreements with the implementation of drug testing.
Different federations want to run the sport of powerlifting differently. Most powerlifting federations include the main 3 lifts which is the squat, bench press and deadlift, but there are some that offer more outside of those 3 events.
Some federations offer different competitions that allow athletes to wear different pieces of personal equipment on their body for the assistance of performing the lifts.
The use of equipment is sometimes different too. For example, there are some federations that use the monolift for the squat event whereas some federations just use a squat rack.
What Are The Differences Between The USAPL And USPA?
There are 6 main differences between the USAPL and USPA, which include:
- Disciplines and Events
- Athlete Categories
- Technical Rules for Performance
- Weighing In and Drug Testing
- Competition Proceedings
Disciplines and Events
The USAPL and USPA both compete in the back squat, the bench press and the deadlift. They all have the same commands for the execution of the lifts. For the back squat, the commands are “Squat” and “Rack”. For the bench press, the commands are “Start”, “Press”, and “Rack”. For the deadlift, the one command is “Down”.
Apart from the events, USAPL offers three different types of powerlifting that they refer to as Equipped Powerlifting, Classic (Raw/Unequipped) powerlifting, and Raw With Wraps.
- Classic Powerlifting competitions in the USAPL permits the athlete to wear the following (given that they are in the IPF Approved List): singlet, t shirt, underwear, socks, belt, wrist wraps,, shoes and knee sleeves.
- Equipped Powerlifting competitions in the USAPL permits the athlete to wear the following: a singly ply/thickness bench press supportive shirt, a squat suit in place of a singlet during the back squat event and a deadlift suit in place of a singlet during the deadlift event.
- Raw With Wraps competitions in the USAPL permits the athlete to wear knee wraps that are in accordance with the technical rules. All other rules for Classic lifting apply.
Want to know more about how powerlifting meets work? Read my article on 10 Things You Need To Know About How Powerlifting Meets Work.
USPA refers to USAPL’s Classic as Raw and USAPL’s Equipped as Singly Ply.
Along with Raw and Singly Ply, USPA also offers Classic Raw and Multi Ply Powerlifting.
Classic Raw simply permits the lifter to compete in knee wraps in place of the knee sleeves, similar to USAPL’s “Raw With Wraps” competition.
Multi Ply is similar to Single Ply Equipped except that the supportive shirts and suits are made of more than one layer of thickness thus allowing the lifter to execute more load in general.
As a powerlifter, you are able to compete in multiple different categories depending on age and weight class. There are many more weight and age classes in the USPA federation than in the USAPL federation, which makes the categories generally less competitive.
Read my article on How To Pick Your Weight Class For Powerlifting.
The youngest that an athlete can compete in the USAPL is 14. These are the following age categories:
|Age Category||Age Range|
|Sub-Junior||From 14 to 18|
|Junior||From 19 to 23|
|Open||From 14 and upwards (no limit)|
|Masters I||From 40 to 49|
|Masters II||From 50 to 59|
|Masters III||From 60 to 69|
|Masters IV||From 70 to 79|
Check out my other articles on Master Powerlifting:
- Powerlifting Over 40: How To Start & Get Stronger
- Powerlifting Over 50: How To Start & Get Stronger
- Powerlifting Over 60: How To Start & Get Stronger
There are 9 weight categories for both men and women with 1 of them being exclusively for juniors and sub juniors.
|53kg (Sub Junior and Junior only)||43kg (Sub Junior and Junior only)|
The youngest that an athlete can compete in the USPA is 13 officially but athletes younger than 13 can compete as “guest lifters” with approval of a parent or guardian. These are the following age categories:
|Age Category||Age Range|
There are 12 weight categories for men and 10 weight categories for women:
There are different pieces of personal equipment that are permitted for different types of powerlifting competitions. Here are the following pieces of equipment permitted for each type of competition:
- Classic Division: You are permitted wrist wraps, knee sleeves, a powerlifting belt, socks, squat shoes, deadlift shoes, a t- shirt, underwear and a singlet. The listed items must comply with the approved list of apparel and equipment for use. Click the links to read my reviews of various pieces of equipment.
- Equipped Division: All equipment permitted in the classic division is permitted in the equipped division too. On top of that, specific items are also permitted for the performance of equipped powerlifting. For the squat discipline, a singly ply squat suit and knee wraps are permitted. For the bench press discipline, a bench shirt and belt are permitted. For the deadlift, a single ply squat or deadlift suit is permitted.
- Raw With Wraps: All equipment permitted in the classic division is allowed, with the exception of being able to wear knee wraps in replacement of knee sleeves.
Raw Division: The equipment permitted in the raw division under the USPA is equivalent to the USAPL Classic division. You are permitted wrist wraps, knee sleeves, a powerlifting belt, socks, shoes, a t- shirt, underwear, a non-supportive singlet and also elbow sleeves.
Classic Raw Division: The classic raw division is similar to the raw division above except that knee wraps up to 2.5m are permitted in replacement to the knee sleeves.
Single Ply Division: The single ply division is equivalent to the USAPL equipped division. The equipment permitted is similar to the classic raw division under USPA. In replacement to the non-supportive, one piece singlet, the use of a supportive, one piece, single ply squat, bench shirt or deadlift suit is permitted.
Multi Ply Division: The equipment permitted in the multi ply division is similar to the single ply division. The exception is that the supportive, one piece, squat, bench shirt and deadlift suits can be made with multi ply, which means that the supportive suits are made with more layers.
Whatever equipment you wear on the platform, it needs to be approved by the federation. Check out my guides on USAPL Approved Gear and USPA Approved Gear to see if your equipment can be used in competition.
Technical Rules for Performance
Each federation will have specific rules around the squat, bench press, or deadlift. If you lift the weight in competition, but you don’t follow the specific technical rules of the sport, then the lift can still be disqualified.
The rules of performance for the squat is largely the same with USAPL and USPA.
The lifter must face the judge at all times. The lifter must put the bar on his or her back and walk the bar out with a maximum of five spotters around the platform. Upon the first command of “squat”, the lifter must bend their knees until the surface of the hip crease is below the top of the knee, and then stand back up with knees fully extended. After completion of the lift, the lifter will receive the “rack” command, informing the lifter to walk the barbell back into the squat rack.
With the USAPL, they strictly only use a combo competition rack and a 20kg power bar for all disciplines. With the USPA, the mono lift is permitted in competition but the lifter still has to walk the bar out.
The rules of performance for the bench press is similar between the two federations with a few differences.
Under both federations, the head of the bench must face the head referee.
The lifter must lie on their back with shoulders and buttucks in contact with the bench press. The commands are the same in both federations.
Once the bar has been unracked from the combo rack with elbows locked out and still, the head referee will give the “start” command for the lifter to start the descent of the bar towards the top surface of the torso.
Once the bar is held motionless and paused on the torso area, the referee will give the “press” command for the lifter to then press the bar to the point of fully extending the elbows.
When the referee sees that the elbows are locked out and the bar held motionless at the top, the referee will initiate the “rack” command for the lifter to rack the barbell.
Under the USAPL rules, the head must be in constant contact with the bench press, the feet must be flat on the floor and the thumbs must be wrapped around the bar (ie opposite to the palm and fingers). A reverse grip is not permitted.
However, under the USPA rules, the head is allowed to come off the bench press, the feet can be on tiptoes, and suicide grip (thumbless) or reverse grip styles are permitted.
The deadlift rules for performance are practically the same for both federations.
The lifter will approach the bar and have one attempt to lift the bar off the floor in one single smooth motion to the point that the knees, hips and shoulders locked out in a straight position and the lifter is standing upright.
Once the lift is completed, the head referee will give the “down” command to signal the lifter to return the bar to the platform with both hands under control.
Any rising of the bar to the point where all plates come off the floor on either sides will be considered a bona fide attempt.
Any hitching or up and down jerking of the bar is considered a disqualification in both federations. Stepping backward, forwards or lateral movement of the feet will be considered a disqualification however, rocking on the foot is permitted.
For further detail of the rules of performance for the USAPL, please click here and for rules of performance for the USPA, please click here.
Weighing In and Drug Testing
The weigh-in times for both federations will differ (2 hours vs 24 hours), which makes weight cutting for a competition more or less challenging. In addition, the drug testing protocols will be more strict in the USAPL compared with USPA standards.
Under the USAPL, they generally have a more restrictive practice for the weighing process and drug testing. USAPL strictly uses 2 hour weigh-ins where the weighing in window will last one and a half hours. The weigh-in process starts 2 hours prior to the start of the competition i.e. when the first lifter in the first group starts their first attempt on the squat.
For the weighing in process, there is normally a published order to when lifters will be weighed in. If a lifter fails to weigh inside their weight class, they are put on the bottom of the list to re-weigh but within the one hour and a half window. Each lifter may only be weighed once given that their first attempts qualifies them to compete in their initial weight class entry.
The USAPL is strictly a drug free federation so drug testing is common practice in competitions. The selection of lifters for drug testing are made by the Doping Commission. The USAPL uses the USADA United States Anti Doping Agency for their drug testing processes. For further information about anti doping regulation, please check out the WADA website here.
Weighing in processes under the USPA offer more flexibility for their competitors. The weighing in session will last a minimum of one and half hours but can occur up to 24 hours prior to the competition. This will often mean that more competitors will often have more aggressive weight cuts to make weight so they have time to regain the weight prior to the actual competition.
The USPA runs both drug tested and non drug tested competitions. Drug tested competitions will be distinguished through the phrase “Drug Tested” preceding the contest name. Although the USPA run drug tested competitions, they are generally not as popular as the non-drug tested competitions.
After the weigh in, the competition proceedings are very similar in both federations. At the weigh in, the lifter or coach must declare the starting weight for all three lifters.
A maximum number of 15 lifters are permitted per flight. Lifters are permitted one change in first attempt before their flights start. After an attempt has been made, there is a one minute window to submit their next attempt.
Weights submitted for the second and third attempt in squat and bench press cannot be changed. In the third attempt of the deadlift, two attempt changes are permitted.
Learn more in my article on How Is Powerlifting Scored (A Complete Guide).
How Should I Know Which Federation To Choose?
Choosing to compete in a particular federation really depends on your personal values and what you want to get out of competing in powerlifting.
Many individuals value health enough to pursue a drug free career in training and competing in powerlifting. This may bias those to choose the USAPL due to its drug free ethos.
Other people enjoy the variety of divisions of powerlifting competitions. There are more options of levels of performance equipment in the USPA, which may lend others to choose this federation.
Ultimately, you need to decide what is of paramount importance in the nature of the federation and decide what is non-negotiable for you.
Some federations pay their athletes with prize money. You can learn more in my article on Can You Make Money In Powerlifting?
How Do I Find Out More
- To find out more about the USAPL and the IPF parent federation, visit the IPF website here.
- To find out more about the USPA and the IPL parent federation, visit the USPA website here.
- Read my article on How To Find Powerlifting Meets in your local area.
- Read my article on 55 Powerlifting Mistakes To Avoid if you’re thinking about competing
Does the USAPL have an untested division?
No, the USAPL is exclusively a drug free powerlifting federation. The federation can test at competition and can test athletes outside of competition.
What is a federation approved list of equipment?
A federation approved list of equipment is a document detailing brands and items that are permitted for competition use.
Do I need to have a membership to compete in a federation?
Yes, you will need to purchase an annual membership in order to be allowed to enter competitions under each federation’s contests.
What barbells does the USAPL use in competitions?
The USAPL uses a stiff powerlifting/power bar for all 3 lifts.
What barbells does the USPA use in competitions?
The USPA uses a deadlift bar for deadlift and a squat bar for heavier weight classes. The deadlift bar is characterised as a 20kg bar that generally has more whip or bend when the deadlift is performed. The squat bar is characterised as a 25kg bar that generally has more tolerance for more load.
Choosing a federation will be one of the most important things to do early on when deciding to make your first step towards competing in powerlifting.
It is important that your values and ethos of the federation resonates with you as an individual. Ultimately, what you care about will determine which federation will fit with your preference.
It is important that when choosing to be a member of a federation, you should read and fully understand the rules and processes of that federation as different federations have different rules.
Neither the USAPL or USPA are affiliated with the International Olympic Committee. Read my full guide on the 8 reasons why powerlifting is not in the Olympics.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com