Articles of Interest to Those New To Powerlifting,
As Well as Sport Veterans.
The Novice Referee
by Mike Armstrong
In the last issue we looked at how the squat should be judged, this time around we will do the Bench Press, next issue the Deadlift. I was going to do both this month, but this bench article got a bit longer than expected. As before, we won't go over every single rule, just the most common ones to watch for.
The Bench is without a doubt the lift that has seen the most change in rules, performance of the lift, safety concerns, and of course, the amount of weight lifted. When I got into powerlifting, over 20 years back, there were no bench shirts (in the IPF at least), very few "Bench Only" meets, and Ted Arcidi, a Super, was "Mr. 705". These days, 220 lb bench specialists with iron-clad shirts are benching 705, and it doesn't make the headlines.
As with the other lifts, place yourself where you get the best vantage point for watching the lift, and this does not mean directly behind the lifters head. A little to one side means you can watch the lifters butt, for obvious raising off the bench. Side ref's can and do miss the obvious sometimes.
At the start, and finish of the lift, the lifters arms must be fully locked out, barring anatomical reasons why they can't. This can be surprisingly difficult to determine sometimes, especially if the lifters has very large arms. Don't be afraid to ask them demonstrate and try to straighten their arms more if you want, just to be sure, if in doubt. The head must stay in contact with the bench. With the advent of bench shirts, raising of the head became much more common, it must have aided the lift in some way, so this rule has reverted back to how it was before.
Of course the part that causes so much controversy in the bench is the "motionless on the chest" part. Now that we are back to the press command, the onus is back on the judge to decide if the bar is in fact motionless, long enough to be certain there was no chance of the bar bouncing, which is the WHOLE POINT. I have had lifters try to argue that the fact that the bar reversed direction meant that it must have stopped. I tell them "drop a rubber ball on the floor, it will "reverse direction" too, but it sure does bounce back up pretty good". You hear things about one second counts and such to determine the right amount of time. Generally speaking, in the time it takes you to determine if the bar actually is motionless, and get the word "Press" out of your mouth, that's long enough. I like this change back, it makes the judge be the judge again, not the lifter. Having held 500 lbs over my own face, I know that a lifters sense of time can be pretty messed up due to the adrenalin pumping through them. There is no hard and fast method for determining the right period of time, just remember that preventing a bounce is the reason for it.
Heaving the bar, that is, letting the bar sink in too far, either before or after the Press signal, and then pushing up on the bar with the body, is just another form of bouncing the bar, and should be red-lighted. A little sinking, especially in larger guys with 500 plus in their hands, is to be expected, watch for the legs and butt tightening up to push with the body before the arms start to move.
The position of the bar on the chest is important to watch too. I don't think there is any rule about how high up it can be, but certainly it cannot be too low, in other words, below the bottom of the sternum. Belly benching as it is called, it brings out heaving, bouncing, and unfairly reducing the travel distance. I would not say it's exactly common, but it's not uncommon either.
It should go without saying that the bar actually needs to touch the chest. In these days of super-tight bench shirts, you are always hearing the comment that "I could not get my 580 opener to touch". Yet if a 148 lb lifter with 2 years experience put on the same type of shirt, just as tight, and I put 580 on the bar, I guarantee you he'd have no trouble getting it to touch his chest. He'd probably say "I could not get 300 to touch". Yes, I know it can certainly feel like the weight will not come down, but it will. As a judge, make sure it does.
The travel of the bar is very important, mostly in the evenness of movement. Of course no downward movement is allowed, but the bar must come up even and smooth, with almost no unevenness. Zig-zaging the bar is not allowed. If something is too heavy for both arms, the human body will energy-compensate by only pushing on one side at a time, going back and forth. Minor, very minor, unevenness is okay, say the ½ the width of the bar difference at the top. And the bar does not have to be parallel to the ground! I don't know how many times I have seen a lifter red-lighted for being "uneven", when he pushed up smooth, both arms stopped at the same time, but the bar was 3" higher on one side. Certainly parallel is the most geometrically stable, but it is not required!
Touching the rack in any way used to be illegal. Now the rule says "any contact with the uprights intended to aid the lift" in other words, like "hitching" the bar, supporting the weight on the rack. I've seen quite a few lifters touch the rack then give up on the lift, thinking the contact meant instant disqualification of the lift. Not so.
To summarize a bit for the head judge, your common tasks are to give the signals, and make sure they are followed, watch the straightness of the arms before and after, the body position must stay the same, if the bar is actually motionless on the chest, and if the bar raises to full lockout evenly. Sounds simple enough, but it's probably the most difficult lift to judge, there are so many things to look at, all at the same time it seems.
For side judges, your duties are very similar, minus giving the signals, but your most important extra is watching the body position on the bench, the butt in particular, must stay in contact with the bench. The feet also, difficult for the head just to see, must remain flat, or at least as flat as the sole of the shoe will allow.
As in all the powerlifts, the benefit of the doubt must be given to the lifter. If you as a judge cannot find a direct fault, that is, something you can quote from the "rules for disqualification", then you must give a white. Like I said before, you will see some really sloppy lifts that you don't want to pass, but unless they have a clear violation, give a white!