Navigating Powerlifting Federations by Crystal McCullough

I wrote previously about how Olympic weightlifters can start competing with the USAW.

But here at Mash Elite, as you can imagine, we have a fair amount of powerlifters on our online team. With that, I get questions all the time from athletes who want to compete in powerlifting but have no idea how to start. Since weightlifting is an Olympic sport, there is one clear-cut federation that athletes compete in. The same cannot be said for powerlifting. I can honestly say, when I started competing, I had no idea either.

Things to consider

In the earlier years of competitive powerlifting, the primary focus was multi-ply. In recent years, the focus has shifted more toward raw. The leading organization when Travis was at his peak was the WPO (World Powerlifting Congress). When you think Westside Barbell in the early 2000s, they competed in the WPO as well.

But, this article isn’t about raw vs. equipped lifting. We’ve already covered that here.

With powerlifting, there are several federations, and an athlete has to choose the federation that aligns with their goals. What I mean by that is there are federations that have:

  • Local/Regional Meets
  • Nationals
  • Worlds
  • Drug Tested
  • Non Drug Tested

So, when you decide what federation to compete in, you have to decide if you want to compete locally or regionally only, have a goal to go to a nationals meet, or even a world meet. The other aspect is, if you are a clean athlete, do you want to compete in a drug tested federation where all the athletes are subject to drug testing? Or, do you care if the federation is drug tested or not? Many athletes who are clean still compete in a non-drug tested federation because they are more accessible in some regions.

Regardless of the federation, there are a few steps you have to take in order to compete:

  1. Register as a member of the chosen federation
  2. Find a local meet near you on their webpage calendar
  3. Read the rules on what a good lift is for the squat, bench, and deadlift
  4. Check the federation’s approved equipment page
  5. Choose your weight class

When you Google powerlifting federations, you will find a plethora of them. So, how do you decide which one to compete in? I am going to give you a breakdown of the most popular ones and then you can decide.

Here goes…

USA Powerlifting (USAPL)

The USAPL is a fully drug tested federation and a division of the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). They have divisions in teen, open, and master – and lifters can set National and World records in each of those divisions.

Lifters choose to lift:

  • Raw – belt, knee sleeves, and wrist wraps
  • Equipped – single ply allowing for a squat and deadlift suit, bench shirt, wrist wraps and knee wraps

Similar to USA Weightlifting, lifters qualify for Nationals (either raw or equipped) by competing in a local meet. They qualify based on their total. World teams are chosen in a similar manner as well. The top lifter from their weight class is chosen to represent the USA on the Worlds stage.

The weights lifted and bodyweight categories are all in kilograms. The weight classes for this federation:
Men – 53 (sub-junior and junior only), 59, 66, 74, 83, 93, 105, 120, 120+
Women – 43 (sub-junior and junior only), 52, 57, 63, 72, 84, 84+

Check out the website to get more information. Of special interest are these links:

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United States Powerlifting Association (USPA)

The USPA has both a drug tested and a non-drug tested category and is part of the International Powerlifting League (IPL). They also have a have divisions in teen, open, and master and lifters can set National and World records in each of those divisions as well.

Lifters choose to lift:

  • Raw – belt, knee sleeves, elbow sleeves, and wrist wraps
  • Classic Raw – belt, knee wraps, elbow sleeves, and wrist wraps
  • Single Ply – single ply squat and deadlift suit, bench shirt, belt, elbow sleeves, wrist wraps and knee wraps
  • Multi-Ply – multi-ply squat and deadlift suit, bench shirt, belt, elbow sleeves, wrist wraps and knee wraps

Qualifying for Nationals and Worlds is slightly different than USAPL as there are two Nationals and two Worlds (drug tested and non drug tested). You have to compete at a local meet to get a qualifying total for either one. In 2020, the rules will require you to compete at a local drug tested meet in order to compete at Drug Tested Nationals or Drug Tested Worlds. Unlike the USAPL, you don’t have to compete at Nationals to make a world team. There is a minimum total you have to hit at a local meet that qualifies you for Worlds.

The weights lifted and bodyweight categories are all in kilograms. The weight classes for this federation:
Men – 52, 56, 60, 67.5, 75, 82.5, 90, 100, 110, 125, 140, and 140+
Women – 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 67.5, 75, 82.5, 90, 90+

Check out the website to get more information. Of special interest are these links:

  • Membership
  • Calendar
  • Rulebook
  • Qualifying Totals: Go to Member Resources tab on the website and click on Classification Standards and choose Men/Women Kilos or Pounds.

The minimum qualifying totals are:

  • Drug Tested Nationals – Class 2 Total
  • Non-Drug Tested Nationals – Class 1 Total
  • Drug Tested Worlds – Class 1 Total
  • Non-Drug Tested Worlds – Master Total

Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate (RPS)

Local meets from this federation are qualifiers for athletes to compete at The Arnold Classic in the XPC Finals. This federation does not require you to have a membership to compete and RPS events are high energy with loud music.

The divisions for this federation are a bit more complicated, but put simply, the divisions are:

  • Pro division – not drug tested and requires a qualifying total to be classified and compete as Pro.
  • Elite division – drug tested where the athlete has a Pro total, but wants proof they are not on PEDS.
  • Amateur division – drug free division

Equipment divisions include:

  • Muiti-ply – multi-ply squat/deadlift suit, bench shirt, belt, wrist wraps, knee sleeves/wraps
  • Single- ply – single-ply squat/deadlift suit, bench shirt, belt, wrist wraps, knee sleeves/wraps
  • Raw Classic – the only support allowed is a belt and wrist wraps
  • Raw Modern – belt, knee sleeves/wraps, and wrist wraps

Weight Classes are as follows:
Men – 52, 56, 60, 67.5, 75, 82.5, 90, 100, 110, 125, 140, 140+
Women – 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 67.5, 75, 82.5, 90, 100, 110, 110+

Check out the website to get more information. Of special interest are these links:

Other newer/smaller federations that have begun to gain some traction in the United States that are worth a look at are:

Of course, these federations are not the end all/be all of powerlifting. There are several more powerlifting federations in the United States, but from my experience, these are the largest and most competitive. I have competed in the USAPL, USPA, and RPS and have mostly positive things to say about all three. At the end of the day, you just need to do some research and see which federation has local meets in your area and then go from there.

Have fun competing!

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