Powerlifting, a history

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 1950s Britain had a form of powerlifting, called the Strength Set. It included the curl, bench press and squat, which were done in that order.

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, 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 competitions. 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

Powerlifting first appeared at a Paralympic Games in 1984 in New York, USA, and was contested by sixteen male athletes from six different countries. It became the only strength sport at a Paralympic Games once weightlifting was dropped from the programme at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Summer Games. By 1996, the number of competing countries had increased significantly to fifty-eight. Women have been included in the event since the Sydney Games in 2000, when 10 medal winning categories were added, by which point the sport was being practised on every continent.

Powerlifting at the Paralympic Summer Games

  • 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, 25 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

  • 1984 New York, USA
    Anthony Griffin - silver in Men’s -52kg
    Keith Bell - bronze in Men’s -75kg
  • 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
    Anthony Peddle - bronze in Men's -48 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
  • 2016 Rio, Brazil
    Ali Jawad - silver in Men’s -59kg
    Zoe Newson - bronze in Women’s -45kg

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

Since 2013, athletes have competed in 10 weight categories ranging from 49kg-107kg+ for men, and 41kg-86kg+ for women. As the sport progressed the range of impairments was also expanded and now includes 8 different impairment groups, including athletes who have had amputations or who were born without limbs, as well as those with short stature. The inclusive nature of Paralympic sports means that athletes are grouped into weight classes, rather than by disability, to maintain an indiscriminate approach within the sport. The various weight categories make sure that tournaments are fair, and each has a gold, silver and bronze category.

  1. Ataxia
  2. Athetosis
  3. Hypertonia
  4. Impaired muscle power
  5. Impaired passive range of movement
  6. Limb deficiency
  7. Leg length difference
  8. Short stature 

Powerlifting involves athletes laying down on a flat bench in a bench-press position. They begin with the weighted bar at arm’s length, with locked elbows, before bringing it down to their chest, waiting for a few moments, and then lifting the bar back up with straight arms and equal extension in both. Athletes need to maintain stability of both their arms and the weighted bar. There are three referees who measure each stage of the lift against set criteria and decide whether the lift is successful. Athletes must receive a 'good lift' result from at least two referees for their attempt to be classed as successful. The referees use a system of white and red lights, two or more white lights signifying a good lift and two or more red lights signify 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.

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’. 

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.