Ask any random dude to describe a “powerlifter” and there is a 90% chance he’ll start describing a Pumping Iron-era Arnold Schwarzenegger or some ‘roided out Jersey Shore reject.
While there are super huge guys in the sport of powerlifting, the majority of competitors are actually lighter than the average adult American male and female. Those behemoths your buddy had in mind might be serious bodybuilders, but powerlifters they are likely…not.
What is the main reason these big guys stay far away from any powerlifting competition?
Weight classes…more specifically, powerlifting weight classes.
It’s one thing to be a big, strong dude. It’s another thing entirely to compete against big, unfathomably strong dudes.
Let’s take a look at how powerlifting weight classes “level” the playing field and make powerlifting the perfect sport for strong people of any size.
Table of Contents
What Are Powerlifting Weight Classes?
To put it simply, powerlifting weight classes are the different categories that competitive lifters are grouped into to determine who they will directly compete against.
Small guys compete directly against other small guys.
Medium-sized women compete directly against medium-sized women.
Yuge dudes compete against…you get the picture!
Why do we need weight classes?
So you’re probably wondering why we’re making such a big (ha!) deal about weight and size. Well, if you really want to get serious about powerlifting, there are a few tried-and-true methods to improving your performance:
- you can improve your technique
- you can improve your neural efficiency in a particular moving pattern
- you can increase your muscle mass
The last one is the most efficient one. It can increase your body’s leverage and mechanical advantage, hence improving your performance.
In simple words – weight is an important factor in sports performance, particularly in powerlifting.
Absolute vs. Relative Strength
As important as overall weight and strength are, it is important note that there is a distinction between absolute and relative strength.
Absolute strength refers to the weight someone can lift, no matter their weight, height, or any other factor. But, relative weight considers factors like sex and body weight.
In other words, a 200-pound guy benching his body weight is not the same as a 120-pound woman benching the same weight. Powerlifting weight classes take these factors and competitor relative strength into account when determining champions.
Weight classes for men (International Powerlifting Federation (IPF))
|Sub-Junior & Junior only-up to 53.0 kg|
|59.0 kg Class up to 59.0 kg|
|66.0 kg Class from 59.01 kg up to 66.0 kg|
|74.0 kg Class from 66.01 kg up to 74.0 kg|
|83.0 kg Class from 74.01 kg up to 83.0 kg|
|93.0 kg Class from 83.01 kg up to 93.0 kg|
|105.0 kg Class from 93.01 kg up to 105.0 kg|
|120.0 kg Class from 105.01 kg up to 120.0 kg|
Weight classes for women (International Powerlifting Federation (IPF))
|Sub-Junior & Junior only-up to 43.0 kg|
|47.0 kg Class up to 47.0 kg|
|52.0 kg Class from 47.01 kg up to 52.0 kg|
|57.0 kg Class from 52.01 kg up to 57.0 kg|
|63.0 kg Class from 57.01 kg up to 63.0 kg|
|69.0 kg Class from 63.01 kg up to 69.0 kg|
|76.0 kg Class from 69.01 kg up to 76.0 kg|
|84.0 kg Class from 76.01 kg up to 84.0 kg|
|84.0+ kg Class from 84.01 kg up to unlimited|
source: IPF Technical Rules Book
The IPF is the oldest federation, but there are a few others worth mentioning, with their own weight classes.
UPA (United Powerlifting Association) Weight Classes
|52.0kg Class up to 52.0kg||44.0kg Class up to 44.0kg|
|56.0kg Class from 52.01 to 56.0kg||48.0kg Class from 44.01 to 48.0kg|
|60.0kg Class from 56.01 to 60.0kg||52.0kg Class from 48.01 to 52.0kg|
|67.5kg Class from 60.01 to 67.5kg||56.0kg Class from 52.01 to 56.0kg|
|75.0kg Class from 67.01 to 75.0kg||60.0kg Class from 56.01 to 60.0kg|
|82.5kg Class from 75.01 to 82.5kg||67.5kg Class from 60.01 to 67.5kg|
|90.0kg Class from 82.51 to 90.0kg||75.0kg Class from 67.51 to 75.0kg|
|100.0kg Class from 90.01 to 100.0kg||82.5kg Class from 75.01 to 82.5kg|
|110.0kg Class from 100.01 to 110.0kg||90.0kg Class from 82.51 to 90.0kg|
|125.0kg Class from 110.01 to 125.0kg||90.0+kg Class from 90.01 to unlimited|
|140.0kg Class from 125.01 to 140.0kg|
|140.0+kg Class from 140.01 to unlimited|
Source: Official UPA Rulebook
World RAW Powerlifting Federation (WRPF)
|52.0 kg Class up to 52.0 kg||44.0 kg Class up to 44.0 kg|
|56.0 kg Class from 52.01 to 56.0 kg||48.0 kg Class from 44.01 to 48.0 kg|
|60.0 kg Class from 56.01 to 60.0 kg||52.0 kg Class from 48.01 to 52.0 kg|
|67.5 kg Class from 60.01 to 67.5 kg||56.0kg Class from 52.01 to 56.0 kg|
|75.0 kg Class from 67.51 to 75.0 kg||60.0 kg Class from 56.01 to 60.0 kg|
|82.5 kg Class from 75.01 to 82.5 kg||67.5 kg Class from 60.01 to 67.5 kg|
|90.0 kg Class from 82.51 to 90.0 kg||75.0 kg Class from 67.51 to 75.0kg|
|100.0 kg Class from 90.01 to 100.0 kg||82.5 kg Class from 75.01 to 82.5 kg|
|110.0 kg Class from 100.01 to 110.0 kg||90.0 kg Class from 82.51 to 90.0 kg|
|125.0 kg Class from 110.01 to 125.0 kg||100.0 kg Class from 90.01 to 100.0 kg|
|140.0 kg Class from 125.01 to 140.0 kg||110.0 kg Class from 100.01 to 110.0 kg|
|140.0 kg + Class from 140.01 to unlimited||125.0 kg Class from 110.01 to 125.0 kg|
|140.0 kg Class from 125.01 to 140.0 kg|
|140.0 kg + Class from 140.01 to unlimited|
Source: WRPF AMERICAS Technical rulebook
100% Raw Powerlifting Federation
|MEN (kg/pound)||WOMEN (kg/pound)|
How To Select Your Weight Class?
When you’re first starting out, there is no real “need” to be overly concerned with your current or potential powerlifting weight classes. If you are new to powerlifting and still not planning to compete, you should focus on building your technique and strength rather than going up or down in your weight class.
However, if you plan to participate in competitions and have your sights set on crushing records, you’ll want to starting thinking about what weight class best suits you.
First, consider your height. Boris Sheiko, a “professor of powerlifting”, created a chart with recommendations for weight class according to height:
Sheiko’s recommendations do seem to be in line with what you would expect from elite (and I mean elite) powerlifters. However, these recommendations would be like telling an above average high school football player that he should have the same measurables as an “All-Pro” NFL superstar.
For most people, these are going to be pretty tough numbers to hit (the thought of gaining ~35 pounds of muscle in order to hit Sheiko’s recommended weight actually kinda makes me feel sick!)
That being said, if you do have your sights set on high-level competitions, you can use these numbers as guidelines.
Izzy does a great job of breaking down the height-to-powerlifting weight classes ratio below.
When considering your weight class, you should also consider if your nutrition is dialed in. Do you eat enough/too much? Do you want to eat enough or to restrict yourself to “make weight”.
Like I mentioned above, the thought of “eating enough” for Coach Sheiko gives me nightmares!
So, how much body fat should you have as a powerlifter?
Powerlifters are most competitive with around 10-15% body fat (20% for women), while 20% is ok for some heavier weight classes.
It all comes down to balancing the parameters that are the best for your body’s constitution. You should aim to be in a weight class where you feel comfortable, where you are able to grow and increase your performance, and where you will be competitive.
That’s not to say that eating for mass or cutting weight is entirely out of the question if you don’t feel compeltely “comfortable” doing so at times.
Should you increase or cut your weight class?
How you feel about training and how your body responds to training is based on a lot of factors. Hormone levels, outside-of-the-gym concerns, sleep and stress levels are just a few of these factors. Keep these items in mind when considering these signs that could be signaling to you that you should change your weight class.
Consider increasing your weight class if:
- you are not getting stronger
- you are underweight for your height
- you get injured more frequently and experience joint pain
Consider decreasing your weight class if:
- you have excessive body fat that you want to lose
- you are significantly overweight for your height
- you can lose enough weight to enter a lighter weight class without losing strength
There are a couple of ways to cut down the weight class, and the most popular is a water cut. This is a process of manipulating water intake in order to go down the weight class before a powerlifting meet.
If you decide to temporarily cut weight prior to a powerlifting meet, please do so under the guidance of an experienced professional, especially if you have no experience with short-term weight loss.
Comparing Lifters in Different Powerlifting Weight Classes
You may be wondering “so…is the guy who wins the 59kg class as strong as the guy who wins the 120kg class…?”
Yeah…in just about all situations, this is not the case!
Thankfully, we have a few tools for comparing lifters in different weight classes.
There is a way to measure the strength of powerlifters from different weight categories. It’s called the Wilks Formula or Wilks coefficient.
While it is a relative mathematical coefficient, it still helps to compare lifters across the weight and sex categories. It can identify the best lifters, compare men and women lifters and even determine the overall champion (for meets as well as in overall worldwide rankings) across weight classes.
Here is the original version of the formula:
|e||7.01863 × 10−6||4.731582 × 10−5|
|f||−1.291 × 10−8||−9.054 × 10−8|
The formula was updated in 2020 to balance out the coefficients:
|e||7.07665973070743 × 10−6||9.38773881462799 × 10−6|
|f||-1.20804336482315 x 10−8||-2.3334613884954 × 10−8|
In the new formula, “X is the body weight of the lifter in kilograms. The total weight lifted (in kg) is multiplied by the coefficient to find the standard amount lifted, normalized across all body weights.” (1)
A 250 Wilks score is great for a beginner lifter. Once you get into the 400’s, you’re really starting to get competitive!
You can check on your Wilks score here!
IPF GL coefficient
In May 2020 the IPF announced they would be replacing their current formula with the new IPF GL formula. They wanted to find a new calculating method that would be more fair to all weight classes.
If we compare the IPF GL to the Wilks, the formulas look pretty similar. However, the IPF GL formula uses different parameters for different types of competitions:
- Equipped Powerlifting
- Classic Powerlifting
- Equipped Bench Press
- Classic Bench Press
The formula contains a scoring scale that turns sports results into points. If you’re into math, you can check the exact formula and parameters in the IPF GL Coefficient guide.
However, you can use the online calculator if you want to simply calculate your points.
Go and Become King of your Class!
So you see…most powerlifters aren’t the biggest dudes with the most bulging biceps.
If we’ve learned anything today, the hobbit-looking guy who is as wide as a refrigerator is most likely to be an elite powerlifter!
Powerlifting weight classes “level the playing field” and keep competitions fair and reasonable. The 165-pound competitor shouldn’t have to outlift the 355-pound super heavyweight lifter to win, right?
If you have aspirations for high-level powerlifting meets, look closely at the relationship between height and powerlifting weight classes to determine where you will be the most competitive.
However, for those just starting out or who are more casual lifters who simply enjoy competition, don’t get too worked up over finding the “perfect” weight class and over making weight.
Worst case scenario? You decide to give CrossFit a try…no weight classes in CrossFit competitions!
Need a new bar for powerlifting? Check out the ultimate power bar vs Olympic bar comparison to find out why you need that center knurl!