Powerlifting Competitions for Novices


So you’re a newbie – welcome to the addictive world of competition! Once you have lifted in your first comp, it’s quite hard to shake the excitement and intensity of the experience. The purpose of this article is to describe the process of competition so that all athletes enter knowing what to expect. Many novice lifters can experience anything from excitement to intense anxiety prior to their first comp, and it is the ADFPF’s role to ensure that athletes are aware of the proceedures to allow a successful competition and most importantly, the safety of all individuals and athletes involved. The important thing is to relax and enjoy yourself!


First things first, you need to make sure you are a full financial member of one of the ADFPF Incorporated States (SADFPA Inc). Forms can be downloaded from the ADFPF website, printed, filled in, and either emailed, posted or handed over in person. Join the state in which you live, or if there is no incorporation in the state that you live in, join the state nearest to yours. Payment details are listed on each form. You will also need to download and fill in an entry form for each competition you enter. You will need to download the entry form of the state that is hosting the competition that you wish to enter. Fill it out, and return it as per the recommendations of the form, along with your fees as per the schedule detailed. Entries will normally close 12-14 days before the competition, however will be detailed on the individual entry forms. Some states will accept late entries, however it will usually be a conditional entry, and is at the discretion of the state. It is always best to allow ample time between when you get your entry submitted and the closing date so that you can focus solely on your training, rather than making a last minute dash to get things in order. Dress code for competitions can vary. For official Novice/Qualifying competitions, casual dress is acceptable. For all State, National and International competitions (even if you are entering these as a Novice) you are required to follow all dress codes as outlined in the rulebook. I will give a brief overview:

  • Unequipped/Raw/Unassisted
    • Competition approved soft suit, sometimes referred to as a soft or lifting singlet
    • Knee high socks
    • Competition approved t-shirt
    • Suitable footwear such as joggers, squat boots. Deadlift slippers are permitted
    • Non assistive underwear
    • Optional – competition approved wrist wraps
    • Optional – competition approved lifting belt
  • Equipped/Assisted
    • All items listed in the Unequipped category are permitted in the Equipped category. There is no obligation to wear any of the below mentioned items in this category.
    • Competition approved Squat Suits
    • Competition approved Bench Shirts
    • Competition approved Deadlift Suits
    • Competition approved Knee Wraps

Refer to the Rulebook for all competition legal lengths and conditions.


On the morning of the competition, each athlete is summoned to appear at weigh in and equipment inspection at the venue of the competition. Times are normally detailed on your entry form, as well as listed on both the website and Facebook, the latter two also detailing the address of the venue. Weigh in begins strictly 2 hours before competition, so for example, if the competition is due to start at 12 noon, weigh in will commence at 10am SHARP and can continue up until half an hour before competition commences. All athletes are encouraged to appear at weigh in as early as possible, to allow for eating, snacking, warming up, dressing etc before the comp commences. Each athlete will be weighed in individually with a referee in screened booth. Women can be weighed in by a designated female official. Athletes may weigh in in the nude to acheive the weight results they require. If athletes weigh in over the weight class they have entered into, they are permitted to weigh in multiple times up to half an hour beforehand to the competition. The athlete’s body weight will be recorded on their lifting card. The athlete must bring ALL equipment they intend to use for the competition and present it for inspection to the present referees and officials. It is at this stage where you will need to indicate your starting weights in all three disciplines, however these starting weights may be changed up to 5 minutes prior to the lift. If blocks are required for the benchpress, now is the time to indicate this and have it recorded on your lifting card. A warm up area with sufficient equipment is provided for athletes to use pre and during the competition. All athletes are encouraged to work together in this area. Always keep in mind the lifting order of the athletes and be considerate to all athletes around you. To prevent injury, please play your part in ensuring all equipment is returned to where you found it, unless another athlete expresses their intention to use it immediately after you. If you are unsure of anything, we encourage you to talk to your fellow athletes. For technical information, please feel free to approach any official present. The lifting order of the athletes will be determined by order of weight intended to be lifted, therefore the bar will be progressively loaded. Athletes will be summoned individually over a microphone when it is their turn to lift. Depending on the number athletes participating in the competition, the competition may be split up into ‘flights’ which may be based on gender and/or weight, with the aim of preventing delays, and allowing the bar to be loaded progressively. It also allows for the warm up area to be free for more effective use by athletes.


At the designated time, the competition will commence. All athletes are required to strictly adhere to these times to prevent delays for fellow athletes. All athletes will be called to present themselves, as a group, on the lifting platform, where the announcer will individually call out names, and you will step forward to introduce yourself. When this is over, all athletes are to vacate the lifting platform, whereby the platform manager and spotters/loaders will take their positions on the platform, and referees will take their positions around the platform (one at the front, one either side), and the squats will begin. SQUATS The first athlete will be called, and the announcer will indicate to the spotters/loaders the weight required. The bar is loaded progressively throughout the round, meaning that the person with the lowest starting weight goes first, then the next etc. The athlete must stand back from the platform, as any contact with it before it is permitted can subject the athlete to have that lift disqualified. It is recommended that at this stage, the athlete be lined up and waiting on the indicated side of the lifting platform, however the ADFPF understands that some athletes have pre lifting ‘rituals’. The referees will all have loading charts with them, in which they will indicate to the spotters/loaders the most effective way for the bar to be loaded. When the weight plates are loaded onto the bar, and the collars firmly fitted, the platform manager will visually check that each side is loaded evenly, that the bar is evenly distributed on the side stands, and that the platform surface is clean. He will then call, when he is satisfied, ‘The bar is loaded’ to the head referee, who will then call the same to the announcer. The announcer will then say the same over the microphone. The athlete has exactly 1 minute to commence the lift from this point. Failure to do so will result in the lift being disqualified. The athlete is to step on to the platform and make his/her way to the bar, and set themselves up under the bar. The platform manager will be behind the athlete at this point, and is there to assist in the athlete finding his/her centre. When the athlete is ready, they will take the full weight off the racks, and step back. When the athlete is ready to commence, it is advisable that they MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH THE HEAD REFEREE. At this point the head referee will be waiting with their arm raised, and at such a point when the athlete makes eye contact, the referee will motion his/her arm down, with a very audible ‘DOWN’ command. The athlete can then commence the downward movement of the squat, ensuring that they break parallel – see diagram below:

ADFPF squat

There is no requirement to pause at the bottom of the squat, and thus athletes can commence the upward motion at will. When they have recovered from this position and are once more upright, the athlete is required to stand, motionless, until the head referee motions backward with his/her hand with the audible command of ‘RACK’. After this, the lift is deemed finished, and the athlete can walk forward with the weight, and with the help of the platform manager and spotters/loaders, replace the full weight on to the stands. The referees with indicate with either coloured cards, or lights, whether the athlete, in their professional opinion, has completed the lift successfully and adhering to all rules. Red indicates an error, white is indicative of success. For example, 3 white lights/cards is success, two whites and one red also success. Three reds or two reds and a white would indicated failure. The athlete may remove themselves from the platform, and will need to go to the desk to indicate what their next weight is to be in the following round, before lining up once more. There are three rounds for the squats. An athlete may retire after one successful squat if they so wish. Extra attempts can be granted by the discretion of the head referee IF the additional attempt is in aim to set/break records. It is the athlete’s responsibility to approach the head referee and request this. Reasons for disqualification of the squat:

  1. Failure to observe the Chief Referee`s signals at the commencement or completion of a lift.
  2. Changing the position of the hands laterally in or out on the bar after receiving the signal to commence the lift. (Opening & closing of the fingers is allowed.)
  3. Double bouncing or more than one recovery attempt at the bottom of the lift.
  4. Failure to assume an upright position with the knees locked at the commencement and completion of the lift.
  5. Any shifting of the feet laterally, backward, or forward, during the performance of the lift. The toes and/or heels may come up off the platform, but must return to the same position.
  6. Failure to bend the knees and lower the body until the TOP surface of the legs at the hip joint are lower than the tops of the knees. (Refer to Diagrams 2, 3, & 4).
  7. Changing the position of the bar across the shoulders after the commencement of the lift. This applies to the intentional or unintentional rolling of the bar to aid the performance of the lift – not to a minute amount of position change which would not aid the lifter.
  8. Contact with the bar, plates or lifter by the spotter/loaders between the referee’s signals.
  9. Contact of elbows or upper arms with the legs during the squat.
  10. Failure to make a bona fide attempt to return the bar to the racks.
  11. Any intentional dropping or ‘dumping’ of the bar.

When the squat round has finished, a short break will be called while the equipment on the platform is changed. The benchpress rounds will begin in the same fashion as the squat round. The athlete is called, the weight announced, loaded and checked, the bar is called three times that it is loaded (platform manager, head referee, announcer). The athlete may step on to the platform, approach the bench, and set up as they need to – see reasons for disqualification below. The athlete’s feet MUST remain flat on the ground for the duration of the lift. An arch in the lower back is permitted, but the shoulders and buttocks always must maintain contact with the bench for the duration of the lift. The lifter may have blocks under their feet up to 30cm in total height – if blocks are required, the athlete needs to inform the official who does their equipment check and starting weights at weigh in. When the athlete has set up their form on the bench, and taken hold of the bar without lifting it from the rack, the platform manager will be present to assist you as a centre lift out. He/she will ask if the athlete is ready, and when the athlete gives indication that they are, the athlete will take the weight off the bars, with the assistance of the platform manager. The platform manager will then promptly move away. The head referee will signal when the lift is to commence, normally by an audible command of ‘START’. The athlete may then bring the bar towards the chest in a controlled motion. When the bar is motionless on the chest, the head referee will indicate the upward movement by either a clapping signal, or a loud and audible ‘PRESS’. The athlete then presses the weight upward, and must stop at the full extension of the arms. The head referee will then indicate with a loud ‘RACK’. The platform manager will quickly step forward and assist the athlete to return the weight to the rack. The lift has then ended, and the referees will quickly indicate their judgement, which will be announced. The athlete may remove themselves from the platform, and will need to go to the desk to indicate what their next weight is to be in the following round, before lining up once more. There are three rounds for the benchpress. An athlete may retire after one successful benchpress if they so wish. Extra attempts can be granted by the discretion of the head referee IF the additional attempt is in aim to set/break records. It is the athlete’s responsibility to approach the head referee and request this.


Reasons for disqualification of the benchpress:

  1. Failure to observe the referee’s signals at the commencement or completion of the lift.
  2. Any change in the elected lifting position during the lift proper (i.e. any movement of the head, shoulders, buttocks or feet from their original points of contact with the bench, floor or blocks, or lateral movement of the hands on the bar once the “Clap” signal has been given.
  3. Heaving or bouncing the bar off the chest.
  4. Allowing the bar to sink into the chest after receiving the referee’s signal.
  5. Any uneven extension of the arms at the completion of the lift.
  6. Any downward movement of one or both hands during the upward movement.
  7. Contact with the bar by spotter/loaders between the referee’s signals.
  8. Any contact of the lifter`s feet with the bench or its supports.
  9. Deliberate contact between the bar and the bar rest uprights during the lift to make the press easier.

At the end of the benchpress rounds, another break will be called so that the platform may be organised for the deadlift rounds. The deadlift round will begin as per the disciplines before it. The athlete and weight will be announced, loaded and checked. The platform manager will declare the bar loaded, as will the head referee, and finally the announcer. The athlete may step onto the platform, approach the bar, and set up for the lift. At this point the head referee will raise one arm, however the ATHLETE IS TO COMMENCE THE LIFT AT WILL, therefore there is NO start signal. The athlete commences the lift, pulling the bar upwards, until they have full shoulder and knee lockout. The head referee will then indicate ‘DOWN’ whereby the athlete may replace the bar back onto the platform. The lift has then ended and the referees will make their judgement. The athlete may remove themselves from the platform, and will need to go to the desk to indicate what their next weight is to be in the following round, before lining up once more. There are three rounds for the deadlift. An athlete may retire after one successful deadlift if they so wish. Extra attempts can be granted by the discretion of the head referee IF the additional attempt is in aim to set/break records. It is the athlete’s responsibility to approach the head referee and request this.


Reasons for disqualification of the deadlift:

  1. Any downward movement of the bar during the upward movement.
  2. Failure to stand upright
  3. Failure to lock the knees straight at the completion of the lift.
  4. Supporting the bar on the thighs during the performance of the lift. This will be determined by any attempt at secondary knee flexion. (As the bar is raised from the platform, the legs must extend without additional flexion taking place at the knees at any time during the upward movement of the bar.
  5. Any lateral movement of the feet, or stepping backward or forward.
  6. Lowering the bar before receiving the Chief Referee`s signal.
  7. Allowing the bar to return to the platform without maintaining control with both hands.

At the end of the last  deadlift round, the competition has finished. The referees and desk staff will then work to calculate totals, and from there, use the Schwartz formula to calculate best male lifter, and the Malone formula to calculate best female lifter. A trophy presentation may then follow, however, at times a dinner and official presentation may be organised for that evening.

All athletes are not permitted to exit the premises until such times as at least 10% of the total athletes have been selected for drug testing. Males athletes will be accompanied to the nearest restroom by a designated male official, and female athletes accompanied by a designated female official, to collect a urine sample that is sent for testing at the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory. The athlete is provided a form to fill out with their details and a list of any medications/substances that have been consumed prior to the competition. The athlete will also be required to sign a Chain of Custody document indicating that they have provided a urine sample/s for the designated official. The official will then direct the athlete on the procedure required to take the urine sample. There are two bottles contained in each test kit, generally labelled A and B. Test bottle A is the bottle that will be tested for any prohibited substances as per WADA guidelines. Test bottle B is used if a drug test comes back positive for prohibited substances, which is maintained for re-testing in the case that the athlete wishes to dispute the test results. Athletes may consume water in the presence of an official athlete until such times as they are able to provide the two full samples. Both samples will then be sealed and packed for shipping by the designated official for transport to the testing facility. When the sample has been tested and a result is available, the National and/or State Drug Control officer will contact you to advise of the results.


Single lift title competitions follow the same procedure as a full three lift competition, however an athlete is not required to lift in all three disciplines – they can lift in one, two or all three, depending on their goals and preferences.


Permission can be sought from the head referee to allow your coach to provide a spot for the duration of your lift in all three disciplines.

A referee’s decision is final. Athletes are welcome discuss with a referee in a designated break what errors might be occurring in their lifts, however the referee’s decision must be respected. Aggression toward any referee will not be tolerated and will result in a single warning, and if it continues, the individual will be disqualified/ejected from the competition.

If an athlete is showing significant signs of struggling with the weight they are lifting, with little to no hope of recovery, or at risk of injury, the referees have the right to state ‘TAKE THE WEIGHT’ or similar, where the platform manager and/or spotters/loaders will step in and assist the athlete to return the weight to the racks. The lift is then disqualified.

Chalk and talcum powder will be provided beside the lifting platform for use by all athletes.

Smelling salts are permitted in competition, but must be used in privacy.

It is always good etiquette, IF physical condition and schedule allows, to assist in the packing up and transport of all lifting gear including the platform, weights, bars and other equipment. The ADFPF and it’s incorporated states all rely on volunteer help, and many hands make light work.


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