USPA vs. USAPL: One Federation To Rule Them All? No

So while I am sure you came to this article hoping to hear some bashing and controversial discussion, I am sorry to say that is not the angle I am going to take. Instead my goal is to “clear the air” in the areas I see hate being thrown around and how I feel that both sides are misunderstood in these areas. I have competed in both the USPA and USAPL, I have athletes I coach competing in both, and while I personally now compete and direct meets through the USAPL, I honestly have the highest respect for both organizations and in the future plan to probably compete again in the USPA at some point. So without further ado, let’s dive in! (If you are unfamiliar with the fundamental differences between USPA vs. USAPL, read What is the difference between USPA vs. USAPL? before reading on)

The “Elitists”

This is the one issue that is stemming from both sides, and is the only area here that I may be a bit “controversial”. We have competitors from both sides bashing the other and stating that there is only one real federation, and out of everything else this is what is giving these respective federations a bad rap. The USAPL is not any better because it is drug free and known to be stricter in regards to the competition movements, and the USPA is not any better because they have the highest totals and don’t “rob” lifters of their good attempts. No federation is going to be perfect in any sport and from the USAPL/USPA to the NFL to the NBA, there is always going to be good and bad. But the reasons these federations stand out and are successful is because the good outweighs the bad. So in my opinion, the only right and wrong in this whole discussion is that if you are one of the “haters”  or “elitists” on either side, you are the ones dragging the powerlifting community down versus raising it up.

USAPL Approved Equipment List

Probably the biggest knock on the USAPL and IPF is the “IPF Approved Equipment List” and the fees that are charged to companies wanting to be a part of it. While I don’t think it is out of the question for the IPF to charge a fee, as being on this list automatically helps increased sales for these companies, I as well as most anyone associated with the USAPL agree the fee is too high.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? If you have never competed in the USAPL, you probably don’t realize that this equipment list is only utilized and enforced at national and world level meets. If you are competing at a state or local meet, the equipment only needs to  meet USAPL standards and does not need to be on this approved list. I’d guess probably 90% of those competing in the USAPL are not competing at the national or world level meets, so they are not subject to this list, therefore they are at free will to purchase from a vast majority of different brands. So the next question is what is equipment that meets USAPL standard? Basically the same brands and equipment that is allowed in USPA. So before you hate on the USAPL/IPF for their equipment rules, make sure to understand that around 90% of the people competing can use any brands they wish, not just the “IPF Approved Equipment List”.

USPA Judging Criteria Not Strict Enough

An argument that comes from many USAPL “elitists” is that USPA judging is not strict enough and that competitors are getting away with high squats, short pauses, and non-locked out deadlifts too often.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? Because USAPL “elitists” incorrectly lump the USPA with the rest of the untested federations way too often. The fact is the judging criteria for the USPA is pretty darn similar to those used in the USAPL, and where the bad rap comes from is the other federations that are giving white lights to blatantly incorrect lifts. While the USPA is a tad less strict than the USAPL even though they use the same guidelines, at most USPA meets if you get white lights it was a good lift. Just like in any federation there is politics and friends that may be judging and passing lifts they shouldn’t, but the USPA rose up to give untested lifters a federation that was more consistent and stigent on calls and I fully believe they are succeeding in doing so. So before you hate on the USPA for not being strict enough, make sure you realize that the USPA does not encompass all untested federations. Just because some untested federations are giving themselves a bad name doesn’t mean the USPA is.

USAPL Judging Too Strict

Vice versa the USPA “elitists” hate on the USAPL for being too strict with their judging criteria, in particular when it comes to squat depth.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? The USAPL has the same rules as the USPA, they are just more consistently enforced. There are for sure calls in the USAPL where someone hit depth on squats and got “robbed”. But for every time that happens there is someone in the USPA getting gifted white lights when they cut their squat high, and even vice versa.. I am a USAPL State Ref and I am human and will make errors. We will not get every call right. But the reason that both the USAPL and USPA have become so popular is that no matter where you compete in the US, the judging criteria is fairly consistent. And for someone who coaches athletes in both federations, I hold even my USPA athletes to the same stringent rules because come game-day I do not want any “ifs” when it comes to a good lift. So before you hate on the USAPL for their judging being too strict, instead give them some credit for being honorable in their efforts of consistent judging across the board, and understand we are all humans and not every call is going to be the right one.

USPA Uses A “Cheater” Deadlift Bar

Since the USPA allows a deadlift bar, its cheating because your total will be higher because of it.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? Barring that your name is Yuri Belkin, that deadlift bar really isn’t making that much of a difference. And in reality if you haven’t trained with one leading into a USPA meet, you may actually pull less on a deadlift bar than a stiff bar due to it requiring a different tension and technique during the initial pull. Go to local meets around the US and the majority of the deadlifts you are going to see are in the 500lb. range or less. A deadlift bar maybe adds 5% to your deadlift at most,  so to call it a cheater bar is just a way to cover up your insecurities about your own poverty deadlift. While I agree a 600lb. deadlift on a deadlift bar versus a stiff bar is not the same, getting “elitist” because you use a stiff bar is not doing anyone any good. So before you hate on someone for using a deadlift bar in competition, maybe you should be able to pull 600lbs. or more first so that the bar actually will make a difference.

USAPL “Drug Tested Does Not Mean Drug Free”

The USPA “elitists” and the USAPL “elitist” like to fight over the whole drug free versus not drug free debate, which is just ridiculous. To each their own, as being drug free or not does not make you any better of a human being than the other. The typical argument coming from the haters of the USAPL is that “drug tested does not mean drug free”, which is 100% true. Professional sports is littered with performance enhancing drugs even though they are “drug free”. People cheat and it sucks. I have zero hate in any way for someone who chooses to take performancing enhancing drugs just as long as they compete in a federation that allows for that.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? It mainly comes down to USAPL “elitists” bragging that they are drug free, so the USPA lifters come back with the “drug tested does not mean drug free” argument. But the fact is that at the highest levels of the USAPL, with the lifters who are winning national championships, I fully believe those lifters are drug free. For a good perspective on why, listen to the Juggernaut podcast where Chad Wesley Smith dives into this subject after Jesse Norris got popped at nationals for stimulants. CWS gives a great breakdown to why most of the top USAPL and USAW lifters are drug free. So if drug free guys are the best in the country, then who cares if “drug tested does not mean drug free”. You are not going to catch everyone, and if guys who are cheating can’t even win, then that is just embarrassing for them. So before you hate on the USAPL because “drug tested does not mean drug free”, make sure to realize that in every aspect of life people are going to cheat, and the USAPL is not going to magically be free of that and be morally perfect.

USPA Is Just A Lot Of Drugs

After the “drug tested does not mean drug free” argument is thrown out then the USAPL “elitists” come right back with that the USPA is just a bunch of juice heads, so of course they are stronger.

So why do I feel this is misunderstood? First, not all lifters competing in the USPA are on performance enhancing drugs, so we shouldn’t all be rushing to assumptions just because someone competed in the USPA. Second, Greg Nuckols wrote an excellent article on this, so instead of going into every detail, I’ll give the summary and if you’d like the full breakdown read this:

Basically what it comes down to is that steroids do a great job of helping someone get bigger, but not necessarily stronger. This can be seen particular in the middle-weight men’s classes of 181-205lbs. The fact is some of the strongest guys in the world in these classes compete in the USAPL/IPF. John Haack switched over last year to compete at the US Open and he ended up tieing for first overall, getting second only due to the bodyweight tiebreaker. If an exceptionally strong 205lb. lifter goes from being natural to taking steroids, the first immediate change will be that he won’t be a 205lb. lifter anymore. He is going to gain size and probably move up a weight class, which is why you see so many freakishly strong powerlifters in the 220-275lb. weight classes in the USPA. So just throwing out the argument that someone takes steroids so of course they are stronger is ignorant for the fact that pound for pound strength should not be affected nearly as much. Does performance enhancing drugs make a difference? Of course, or else people wouldn’t use them, but I think it’s less of an effect in powerlifting than you might think. So before you hate on USPA lifters for taking drugs, realize that the USPA is untested so it is not cheating, and also realize that if you’d like to compete against natural competitors, then just stick to the USAPL. There are two different federations with different drug testing rules for a reason.

Hopefully this shed some light on the issues that arise and maybe gave you a different perspective than you had thought about in the past. If we want to grow this great sport, hating on each other is not the way to go. Instead supporting our fellow lifters in every way possible, no matter what federation they compete in, is why this sport is so great and is the way it will continue to grow. Please feel free to engage in any productive discussion topics you might have, as the more we talk about these issues the more we can come together!


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