On September 10, 2022 the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) announced changes to the bench press that will take effect on January 1, 2023.
The IPF made two primary rule changes to the bench press. The first change is that the underside of the lifter’s elbows must be level with or below the top surface of each respective shoulder joint during the downward movement of the lift. The second change is that the lifter cannot place their feet on the bench during their setup.
Here’s an example provided by the IPF of a bench press that is not good because the elbows are too high. As you can see, the athlete uses a large back arch when performing the lift.
Here’s an example of the underside of both elbow joints being level with each respective shoulder joint.
You can view the official rule changes in the IPF Technical Rules Book for 2023. The relevant changes can be found on pages 8 and 18-22.
Why did the bench press rules change?
These rule changes were announced to combat athletes with an exceptionally large back arch when performing the bench press.
Athletes used a large arch to reduce the range of motion that the bar must travel to touch their chest or abdomen, which previously was all that was required for a downward movement to be considered sufficient.
Let’s take a look at two different bench press videos to visualize the difference.
Examples of Bench Presses That Will Be Impacted
Example of a Bench Press That is No Longer Legal
This video shows Owen Hubbard’s large arch when performing the bench press. Under the new IPF rules, this would not be a good lift because the elbows were not level with or below their respective shoulder joints.
Example of a Bench Press Setup That is No Longer Legal
This bench press setup is no longer legal because the lifter places his feet on the bench.
Example of a Bench Press That is Still Legal
In this video, Ilyas Boughalem ALG lowers his elbows past their respective joints. This is still considered a good lift under the 2023 IPF bench press rules.
Example of a Bench Press Setup That is Still Legal
This bench press setup is still legal because the lifter does not place their feet on the bench.
Implications of the Bench Press Rule Change
There will undoubtedly be various consequences resulting from the IPF’s change in bench press rules.
Athletes Will Change Their Form and Setup for the Bench Press
The most obvious is that athletes with an excessive back arch will have to change their bench press form. Most of these lifters will also have to change their bench press setup, as placing the feet upon the bench is usually required for achieving a large arch.
Bench press Record Breaking May Temporarily Slow Down in Lighter Weight Classes
Many of the record holders in lighter weight classes (93 kg and below) use large back arches when performing the bench press. It may be some time until athletes adapt their training to the new rules and continue to set new records.
Other Powerlifting Federations Will Likely Adopt These Rules Too
As the USAPL and many other powerlifting federations adapt their rules from the IPF technical rulebook, it’s likely that these new bench press rules will carry over into other federations in 2023. Exactly which federations will adopt these changes remains unconfirmed so far.