Beginner's Guide to Powerlifting

By: Nat Galloway

When starting powerlifting it can be pretty overwhelming, which competitions should I enter, how do I select my openers, what equipment do I need? To help, I have written this to help answer any questions you may have.


Squat, Bench and Deadlift (SBD). Powerlifting is an individual sport where the competitors get three attempts to SBD as much weight as possible. The competitor is placed into a division among others who are the same weight, age group and experience. Subdivisions within them are raw, classic raw and geared. Raw uses basic equipment and classic raw uses knee wraps instead of sleeves while geared uses supportive gear. Competitions can last all day and start with three attempts at squats then bench press and finishing with deadlift. 

Judges are used to decide if the lift meets the required standard of the federation you compete in such as depth. Each of the three judges use a panel of red and white lights to represent their decision white equals a good lift and red equals a bad lift. You need a minimum of two whites for the lift to count if you get one white light or less the lift is disqualified. Make sure to check the requirements before the day! 

Powerlifting Equipment Essentials

Flat shoes most lifters will use flat shoes for their deadlift and some for squats. Using Flat shoes instead of raised heel or squishy sole shoes (like running trainers) allows you to route the floor better and keep better foot connection with the ground. Flat shoes like chuck taylors are also stickier than most so you can grip the floor better.

Lifting shoes and knee sleeves are not essential. Heel shoes can be useful if struggling to hit depth on the squat. I highly recommend using knee sleeves to help prevent injury. 

In regards to the bench press, usually going with whichever shoe is most comfortable and allows you to produce the most leg drive is best.

High socks help prevent you from cutting your shins while deadlifting. On top of that they also protect you from other people who may have cut their shins on the bar. 

Lifting belts can be used to help produce a ton of intra-abdominal pressure that can improve strength and decrease injury if used correctly. Learning how to brace properly with a belt is important to get the most out of them.

Wrist wraps help stabilize the joint allowing you to safely move heavier weight. Used mostly for bench press but can also be used on squats to help support the weight. 

Singlets are used in every federation don’t forget it or you won't be competing. Make sure to order online with plenty of time to spare.   

Finding a Competition

How to find a competition, what federation to join and what weight class to compete in.

Each federation has different rules and some are drug free and some are not. Drug free competitions usually state tested (amatuer) or untested (pro) for clarity make sure to read the rules. If you compete in Canada some of the best places to look/sign up are CPL (tested & untested), WPC (tested & untested) and CPU (tested).   

Choosing a weight class unless you are close to breaking a world record (unlikely on your first meet) there is no point in cutting weight and dehydrating yourself. Your focus at competition should be competing with yourself to find out how much you have improved and to see if your training routine actually works. Choose a weight class in which you feel most comfortable and focus on breaking your own personal records.

Geared or Raw or Classic Raw?

In the beginning it's best to stick to raw lifting work on improving your technique and get used to competing before adding more into the mix with equipment and how to use it.

After two to three years of consistent training, if it's something you want to try, give it a shot.

Establish your opener

Your first attempt should be easy, a weight that you can do on any given day usually a RPE of 8 or around 87-93%. You don't want to miss your opener if you miss you can not move down in weight you can either reattempt or go up. If you miss all three attempts of your squat you can not try again and you are out of the meet. 


Some people will require different deloads than others but in general it's at least a week before the competition. This is your opportunity to relax but you should still work keeping it light and easy.


Leading up to the competition you should be eating sufficient calories for your goals. Protein must be a minimum of 1g per lb of body weight and can increase to 1.5 every day. Hydration is important, try to consume at least 2 liters a day. After weighing in try to stick to foods that don't upset your stomach including the meal you bring to the comp. On the day make sure to eat easily digestible food with fruit. Having some sort of pre workout or caffeine can be helpful. It's a long day.  


Some competitions use different equipment and when you weigh in or on the day of, you should have the chance to find out what height they should be for you, make sure they are recorded correctly. Make sure to check before the day what equipment the federation uses so you can try and practice on them. The biggest ones to be aware of are the squat rack, squat bar and deadlift bar used. 

Some competitions use monolifts instead of a squat rack. Unless you have one to practice on, just practice walking your squats out like normal. On the day you will still be able to walk out of the rack. Monolifts allow you to squat without walking out as the rack moves away from the lifter as he un-racks instead of stepping away. Some comps will also use a stiff bar/power bar for deadlifts and squats or a deadlift bar and squat bar. Whichever bar they use each one may change how you lift. If you can’t practice on one, knowing the difference and how it may affect you is important.

A power bar on squats can create a fair bit of whip because of how the weight is distributed. To get rid of this some competitions use a squat bar which is heavier, longer and thicker to prevent whip. The thickness is the main thing to note as it will sit higher up your back and may roll a little easier. 

When the stiff bar is used on deadlifts the bar bends less before the weight leaves the ground compared to a deadlift bar that bends a lot due to being thinner and longer. Deadlift bars usually require a bigger focus on wedging and taking the slack up before you push the ground away. 


Make sure to leave plenty of time for your warm up. There are only so many squat racks, bench presses and plates. Try and get in before the stronger lifters so that you don't have to take plates off and put them back on again when it's your turn. Your final warm up should be around 90% of your opening lift. Once you have done your attempts you can have a long wait before going again. Make sure to stay hydrated and eat! 

Enjoy it! 

The powerlifting community is one of the warmest and most supportive, cheering for people they don't even know! Making the most of it by talking and joking with other competitors, it helps relieve the pressure. Once the day is over make sure to get a good meal in, relax and hydrate. Take a week or two of very low intensity workouts while you build the plan for how to improve your training and preparation for the next competition.

Last but not least, welcome to the powerlifting community! 

If you're interested in working with Nat, Click HERE.