Powerlifting, a history

Basic weightlifting dates back to prehistoric tribes, who used the lifting of a special rock as a test of manhood.

The Vikings used a series of stones of increasing weight to prove their ‘worth’ and earn a position in the hierarchical crew structure of their fishing boats. The tradition continued in Scotland, with many of the stones known as "clach cuid fir", or "manhood stones", young men were welcomed into manhood when they were able to lift the stone from the ground to waist height.

In the 9th century, at about the same time as the Vikings, Chikaraishi, the name given to stones used in Shinto religious rituals and strength contests, were common across Japan. Stones were lifted to varying heights, for example, a 68kg stone would be lifted overhead but a 240kg stone could be lifted using rope handles before being carried for distance.

Stone lifting events continue to be included in Strongman (also known as Strength Athletics) competitions. 

Modern weightlifting originated with strong men who performed in the circuses and theatres of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In March 1891, the First World Weightlifting Championships were held in London. Seven athletes, representing six countries competed in the three-day event which largely consisted of repetition and alternate pressing with 56lb (approx. 25kg) or 84lb (approx. 38kg) in each hand. E. Lawrence Levy of England won, claiming the title of Amateur Champion Weightlifter of the World. 

The Österreichischer Athleten Bund, founded in December 1889 and officially recognised by the Austrian Imperial and Royal Governorship, became the worlds’ first, national, governing body for weightlifting.

Weightlifting events were included in the Olympic Games of 1896, 1900 and 1904 but were then suspended until the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

In 1920, as suggested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Amateur-Athleten-Weltunion, founded in 1905 and responsible for weightlifting and wrestling, became the International Weightlifting Federation (Fédération Haltérophile Internationale; FHI) with the aim of regularising events and supervising international competition. In 1972 the organisation was renamed as the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

Powerlifting was primarily developed in the United States and England by weightlifters who felt that Olympic weightlifting focused too much on technique and too little on pure strength. In the late 1950’s Britain had a form of powerlifting, called the Strength Set it included the curl, bench press and squat, which were done in that order.

Powerlifting, a competitive sport

Powerlifting is one of the ultimate ways to test human upper body strength, with some athletes able to lift more than three times their body weight. 

As the popularity of powerlifting grew it became inevitable that there would be international competition. The first was between Great Britain and France, when, in 1968 a team of six French lifters travelled to Bristol, England, the following year saw the return match in Paris, France. In 1970, eight British lifters travelled to Los Angeles to compete against the American team. 

At the first World Championships in 1971, held in York, Pennsylvania, USA, only the USA and GB competed. At the end of the 1972 World Championships, delegates from competing countries collaborated in founding the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), with worldwide responsibility for the new sport. The first official World Championship was held in November 1973.

Powerlifting, a Paralympic sport

Weightlifting made its debut Paralympic Games appearance at the 1964 Tokyo Games, as a bench press event for men with spinal cord injuries. 

Over the years, the sport developed its rules to become similar to those followed by non-disabled powerlifting athletes and an increasing number of disability groups have been included. 

Powerlifting replaced weightlifting at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Summer Games, with the bench press as the single discipline. 

The women’s competition was introduced to the Games in 2000, by which point the sport was being practised on every continent.

Powerlifting at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan - 4 events, 10 countries and 18 male athletes participated.
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel – 4 events, 9 countries and 28 male athletes participated.
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany - 6 events, 15 countries and 46 male athletes participated.
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada - 6 events, 12 countries and 43 male athletes participated.
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands - 11 events, 15 countries and 58 male athletes participated.
  • 1984 New York, USA – 7 events, 6 countries and 16 male athletes participated.
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea – 9 events, 16 countries and 52 male athletes participated.
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain – 10 events, 23 countries and 106 male athletes participated.
  • 1996 Atlanta, USA – 10 events, 56 countries and 141 male athletes participated.
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia – 20 events, 67 countries and 258 athletes (166 men and 92 women) participated.
  • 2004 Athens, Greece – 20 events, 69 countries and 229 athletes (150 men and 79 women) participated.
  • 2008 Beijing, China – 20 events, 74 countries and 203 athletes (121 men and 82 women) participated.
  • 2012 London, UK – 20 events, 61 countries and 194 athletes (114 men and 80 women) participated.

British powerlifting medal winners

  • 1964 Tokyo, Japan
    J. Redgwick - gold in Men's Featherweight
    T. Palmer - silver in Men's Middleweight
    D. Pickering - bronze in Men's Middleweight
    R. Rowe - bronze in Men's Heavyweight
  • 1968 Tel Aviv, Israel
    T. Palmer - gold in Men's Middleweight
    R. Rowe - silver in Men's Heavyweight
  • 1972 Heidelberg, Germany
    R. Rowe - gold in Men's Light-Heavyweight
  • 1976 Toronto, Canada
    R. Rowe - silver in Men's Light-Heavyweight
  • 1980 Arnhem, Netherlands
    No medals
  • 1984 New York, USA
    Brian Stones - gold in Men's -57 kg Paraplegic
    C. Wood - silver in Men's -57 kg Paraplegic
    Anthony Bishop - silver in Men's -95 kg Integrated
    R. Rowe - silver in Men's -95 kg Paraplegic
    Alper Ali - bronze in Men's -65 kg Integrated
    Fred McKenzie - bronze in Men's -85 kg Integrated
  • 1988 Seoul, South Korea
    Anthony Bishop - gold in Men's +100 kg
    Nicholas Slater - silver in Men's -75 kg
    Fred McKenzie - bronze in Men's -90 kg
  • 1992 Barcelona, Spain
    Nicholas Slater - silver in Men's -90 kg
    1996 Atlanta, USA
    Anthony Peddle - bronze in Men's -48 kg
  • 2000 Sydney, Australia
    Anthony Peddle - gold in Men's -48 kg
    Emma Brown - gold in Women's -82.5 kg
    Nicholas Slater - bronze in Men's -100 kg
  • 2004 Athens, Greece
    Emma Brown - gold in Women's -82.5 kg
  • 2008 Beijing, China
    No medals
  • 2012 London, UK
    Zoe Newson - bronze in Women's -40 kg

Disclaimer -
Some information from earlier Paralympic Games (i.e. 1960-1988) such as relay and team members are not presented in the IPC source data. Therefore, final results, medal standings and derived statistics may not be complete.
Important note on the definition of participants: Only athletes that appear in the official results books in the section of final results are included in the database and counted towards participant statistics. Data for 2014 and 2016 are accurate. Statistics for previous Games are under review by the IPC.
Important note on competition partners: Competition partners eligible for medals are included in the combined participant statistics until 2014. Statistics for 2016 and beyond consider athletes with an impairment and their competition partners separately. 

Rules of powerlifting

There are competitions for both men and women in one sport class that is divided into 10 weight categories. There are currently 8 physical impairment categories within powerlifting, these are:

  • Ataxia
  • Athetosis
  • Hypertonia
  • Impaired muscle power
  • Impaired passive range of movement
  • Limb deficiency
  • Leg length difference
  • Short stature 

The World Para Powerlifting rules mean that athletes with a range of physical disabilities are able to complete, including (but not limited to) those with Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Cord Injuries, Lower Limb Amputation and Poliomyelitis. 

Para powerlifting consists solely of the bench press, in which athletes compete within one of 10 body weight categories:
Men - 49kg, 54kg, 59kg, 65kg, 72kg, 80kg, 88kg, 97kg, 107kg and +107kg.
Women - 41kg, 45kg, 50kg, 55kg, 61kg, 67kg, 73kg, 79kg, 86kg and +86kg.

The equipment used must conform to World Para Powerlifting standards defined in the Technical Rules and Regulations.  These include specifications for everything from the weight discs, bench (which must be 2.1m long, 61cm wide, narrowing to 30cm where the head is placed and 48 to 50cm high) to the ‘Athletes Personal Costume and Equipment’. 

The athletes lie on the bench and take, or receive, the bar at arm’s length. They must wait for the Chief Referee's signal to start with their elbows locked and the bar under control. When they have received the signal, they must lower the bar to their chest and hold it motionless before pressing it upward. That movement must be completed with an equal extension of both the arms with locked elbows. After it has been held motionless and controlled, there is an audible signal of "rack" for the bar to be returned to the rack. An immediate decision is given by three international referees using a system of white and red lights, two or more white lights signifying a good lift and two or more red lights signifying a ‘no lift’. 

A ‘no lift’ decision from the referees indicates the athlete has failed to correctly complete one or more of the steps, Body Position Sequence, Bar Control Sequence, Chest Sequence or Press Sequence. A lift that has not been started within the 2/3 minutes time limit, or an attempt that is unsuccessful, is indicated as a “no lift” with 3 red lights. 

Each athlete has three attempts, at the discretion of the jury they may be allowed a fourth attempt to achieve a new world record, but this does not count towards the results of the competition. 

The winner is the competitor who lifted the heaviest weight during their 3 attempts. In the event of a tie, the competitor with the lightest bodyweight is ranked higher.

Governing bodies

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), acts as the International Federation and is the international governing body. Following a name change in 2016, IPC Powerlifting became World Para Powerlifting. 

British Weight Lifting is the national governing body in the UK, with regional bodies covering each of the Home Nations, their website details can be found here.

Regional clubs

The BPA have created an online directory, Parasport, where you can search for and find out about sport and physical activity in your area.

UK Wide
British Weight Lifting provides a local club search facility covering all the Home Nations.