The state of play for competitive powerlifting will undergo a significant change in 2023. On Sep. 10, 2022, the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) unveiled a revised Technical Rules handbook on its website.
Effective Jan. 1, 2023, the bench press will be judged under new criteria aimed at curtailing the extreme measures athletes take to reduce their range of motion.
Beginning next year, competitive powerlifters in the IPF can expect their bench press setup and execution to be judged to a “depth” standard — specifically, the angle of their upper arm relative to that of the floor, among other additional criteria.
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According to the organization, the IPF Rule Group made the adjustment after receiving “numerous complaints” following the 2022 IPF World Bench Press Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The IPF also remarked that they expect the updated ruleset “wouldn’t affect 95 percent of athletes.”
Pursuant to the changes outlined in the rulebook, the IPF will take action against the longstanding technique of an athlete arching their spine in the bench press.
- During the setup on the bench, the athlete is not allowed to place his or her feet on the bench.
- The lifter must lower the bar to the chest or abdominal area whereby the underside of the elbow joint is level with (or below) the top of the shoulder joint.
Failure to lower the elbows equal to or below the height of the shoulders will be considered grounds for disqualification in the bench press.
What It Means
Like any sport, powerlifting at the highest levels is extremely competitive. Athletes are liable to take as many advantages as they are permitted within the parameters of the ruleset outlined by their federation.
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Historically, as long as an athlete keeps their body (particularly the pelvis) in contact with the bench, and the barbell comes to a stop on their chest, the lift would be considered valid once they returned the bar to arm’s length.
Arching the spine to raise the height of the sternum has long been the accepted norm in competitive powerlifting, with some athletes capable of performing incredible feats of flexibility while they bench.
Assuming the widest legal grip possible on the bar also shortens range of motion, as the athlete wouldn’t need to bend their elbows as much to lower the bar to their chest.
The IPF’s changes are aimed at curbing these habits among its competitors. Some athletes opt to place their feet up on the bench while they set up, as it can afford them a more pronounced spinal arch. Requiring the elbow to be parallel to (or lower than) the shoulder may also encourage some lifters to narrow their grip width as well.
Whether these changes will have a significant effect on how athletes approach the bench is unclear. Regardless, the IPF has undoubtedly shaken up the norms of competitive powerlifting for 2023 and beyond.
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