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September 10, 2021 9 min read

You’ve heard the term dozens of times, maybe you’ve even used the term yourself. But do you actually know what powerlifting is?

Like  functional strength training, powerlifting seems to be used as an umbrella term or used interchangeably with bodybuilding or weightlifting. However, there are characteristics of powerlifting that distinguish it from other types of lifting. 

Powerlifting Defined

Let’s jump right into what makes powerlifting special.d Knowing exactly what powerlifting is will give you a good foundation of knowledge for the topics we’ll discuss later.

Powerlifting is often thought of as a method of strength training, but it is more accurately defined as its own strength sport. Any powerlifting training session is done with the structure and requirements of a powerlifting competition in mind.

So what exactly is this structure?

At the typical powerlifting meet, you will see three lifts of importance: bench press, deadlift, and squat, all done with a weighted barbell. You will never see dumbbells or kettlebells at a powerlifting competition. It is safe to assume these competition lifts would be the main focus of powerlifting training programs.

Within these three lifts, powerlifters will get three attempts to perform their highest possible one rep max. Each competitor performs all three lifts and the top lifts of each are added for the total competitor’s tally. This allows people of different areas of strength a chance at an overall win. So, even if your deadlifting isn’t up to par, a strong bench press or squat may be all it takes.

This tally is compared to other competitors that fall within the same weight class, based, of course, on your body weight. This way the competition is fair, as heavier lifters tend to be able to lift heavier due to pure physics. Age is also taken into account in competitions.

However, in some powerlifting competitions, there will be an overall best lifter. This is determined by the ratio of body weight to weight lifted. So, even if a huge dude has a good lift, it definitely is not as impressive as a much smaller lifter moving the same weight.

Seems easy? Think again.

Not only do you have to perform your absolute best in just three lifts, but there are also a stringent set of standards and rules to follow within each lift. Fail to meet even one lift criteria and that attempt will be disqualified. A lot of the standard for powerlifting has been set forth by powerlifting federations, such as the International Powerlifting Federation, or IPF. 

Quick History of Powerlifting

You may be interested to know that powerlifting has  strong roots in ancient Greece.

These days, it’s a well-established sport. Stemming from weightlifting, which has been an Olympic sport since the late 1800s, powerlifting was not officially established until around the 1970s when the IPF was founded.

powerlifting back male athlete squat with barbell

Although powerlifting is only officially relatively new, it has been around much longer than the IPF was founded. The entire history of powerlifting is lengthy, yet captivating. If you’re highly interested, check out some of history’s best powerlifters, such as Ed Coan, Eddie Hall, or Mikhail Koklyaev.

Where Can You Compete?

If you’re interested in powerlifting, your next question might be where on earth you’ll be able to show off all your hard work. After all, when and where powerlifting meets are is not really common knowledge.

Like any well-established sport, there are levels to tackle, each level covering increasingly more areas. Your first powerlifting competition will be a small, local meet. Typically you can find these meets by contacting your local powerlifting gyms who may host the competitions.

Doing these meets, even if they may seem arbitrary, is a great way to see where you stand and is also good for practicing the pressure of competing. However, it’s not likely you’ll have a large audience and you may not even have another participant in your weight class. .

The biggest meet you can possibly do would be an international competition. While this can, of course, be a goal of yours, getting there takes serious time, dedication, and, of course, some major wins under your belt.

What You Might Need For a Competition

Next to practice and strength, there are a few things allowed at competitions to give lifters the ability to capitalize on their strength as much as possible.

They include:

  • Knee Sleeves: Knee sleeves are more for protection than anything else. When lifting, your body is put under a lot of pressure. Some lifts, like squats, put a lot of pressure on the knees. Knee sleeves provide a tight compression that better supports the knees. Without knee sleeves, your risk of injury in that region may be significant. Knee sleeves may also help these joints stay better aligned, which will aid your form.
  • Knee Wraps: Knee wraps have the same idea as knee sleeves by providing your knees with a tight, supportive compression. In some ways, many lifters prefer knee wraps because the user controls the compression simply by wrapping the knees tighter or looser. A tighter wrap can provide more support and thus, help the user lift more weight.
  • Wrist Wraps: Even if you’re not a powerlifter, wrist wraps can be very beneficial. Many lifts put a lot of pressure on the wrists, which are very weak areas of the body. Under even the smallest bit of pressure, your wrists can bend in funny ways. This makes it hard for your body to support the weight as your wrists are taking a lot of the hit. Wrist wraps ensure that not much bending can occur by keeping your wrist as straight and unwavering as possible.
  • Singlet: While you may see lots of t-shirts and shorts at your first few small meets, you’ll eventually need a singlet. Singlets are popular in powerlifting as it hugs the body snuggly. This creates less hassle with loose clothing getting in your way during lifts and also allows judges to have a better view of your form.
  • Weightlifting Belt: Weightlifting belts are a great tool for several reasons. Belts provide protection to the core when lifting heavy weights and control any potential unalignment of the spine. Additionally, they also help the core to properly engage, which is essential for nearly any lift. Although they provide lifters with strong support in the core and help in moving large weights, relying on this tool will be doing a great disservice to yourself.
  • Chalk: Yes, chalk. Gymnasts use it to get the best grip when performing stunts, but chalk is also useful to powerlifters to help them get a strong grip on the bar. Even the best lifters can experience bar slippage, costing them their lift attempt. Chalk helps to combat this by creating friction between your hands and the bar.
  • Lifting Garments: Powerlifters sometimes utilize bench pressing shirts, squat suits, or deadlift suits. These garments differ from singlets as their direct purpose is to significantly increase your lifts. However, when wearing these items, you would not be considered “raw” lifting, or lifting without the aid of lift-boosting garments. These types of garments may not be allowed in certain competitions.

 Powerlifting Benefits

With all the rules and specifics, you may be deterred from powerlifting. However, the benefits of this strength sport heavily outweigh its cons. Training for powerlifting and competing in competitions will help you:

  • Develop Discipline: Powerlifting can often help people work towards concrete goals, which aid in the development of drive and discipline. Reaching your powerlifting goals, whether that be to compete in a competition for the first time in your regional meet, takes hardcore discipline and determination.
  • Get Stronger: It may be obvious, but if nothing else, look to powerlifting for its strength-boosting properties. Moving weight, especially large amounts of weight, will encourage muscle growth and hypertrophy, helping you get physically stronger.
  • Get Mentally Stronger: Sure, powerlifting is great for gaining some serious physical strength, but did you know that powerlifting can also help your mental strength? Often, we don’t think about the mental hurdles we have to jump through in order to better ourselves and reach goals, especially when it comes to fitness. Powerlifting will really challenge your mental strength which will help you get stronger in this aspect.
  • Boost Performance in Other Endeavors: Whether you’re a runner, a CrossFit athlete, or a gymnast, using weight training techniques from powerlifting can help you get better at whatever it is you already do best.
  • Increase Muscle Mass: Everyone needs some muscle mass in order to properly function. If you’re someone with a low amount of muscle mass, you can use powerlifting to whip those muscles into shape. With adequate muscle mass, you’ll likely feel an ease of movement, increased mobility, and less fatigue and pain. Of course, even if you already have some muscle mass, powerlifting can easily be used to get even more massive.
  • Increase Bone Density: Bone density is very important to your overall health. This is especially true in the elderly population. Less bone density means your risk of pain and injury is increased. Exercise can help  increase or maintain bone density, especially in older people. 
  • Lower Your Risk of Injury: The above two points should be enough to tell you that powerlifting is great for protecting your body from injury. This can be injuries related to exercise, or even injuries that develop from everyday life.
  • Manage Weight: While powerlifting does not tend to focus much on physique (more on that later), any form of physical activity can help you manage your weight. Whether you’d like to see that scale go up, or see some fat loss, the increase in muscle mass that is typically seen with powerlifting can get you there. However, some cardio might be needed if your main goal is to lose weight.
  • Develop More Confidence: Lack of confidence can leech the fun of life from people. Physical activity like powerlifting produces actual pleasure hormones in the body, which can lead to an overall happier attitude and boost your confidence. And let’s be honest,  moving a ton of weight makes anyone feel like a badass.
  • Get Better Posture: Your posture is incredibly important to your health. Still, much of the population is plagued with poor posture, typically from sitting at a desk or an excess of technology use. Strengthening the core muscles, which all three main lifts in powerlifting do very well, can help your posture immensely as your body can now be adequately supported.
  • Do Everyday Tasks Easier: If you find certain everyday tasks, such as walking upstairs or lifting things off the floor, a bit difficult, this is a great time to start boosting your strength. As you get older, these tasks will only become harder. Additionally, more ease in your everyday life can give you more energy to do the things you actually love doing! Gaining strength from activities like powerlifting is a functional training method to make your life feel less physically demanding.

What Makes Powerlifting Different?

In reading all this, you may be wondering how powerlifting actually differs from other strength training methods, like bodybuilding or weightlifting. Here are the main things that make powerlifting unique:

Powerlifting Focuses On Simple Lifting

If you’re not big into aesthetics or super fancy multi-part lifts, powerlifting might be your thing. Bodybuilders, while they may train similarly to powerlifters, put nearly all of their focus towards their physique. Powerlifters, however, have one main goal: to perform at their best. Powerlifters don’t really care whether or not they get cut in the process. For this reason, many weightlifters may simply appear big but not necessarily jacked.

Very unlike powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting participants must learn very complex and dynamic movements, such as the clean and jerk. Powerlifting is all about lifting heavy with just three main and, comparatively, simple lifts that all stay within one plane of movement.

Does Not Typically Follow A Diet

Just as powerlifters are not concerned with their appearance, they also aren’t concerned with following any sort of rigid diet. Bodybuilders live and breathe diets while powerlifters utilize them much more seldomly. Sure, they may need to shed a few pounds to stay within a certain weight class or they may need to bulk up a bit.

protein powder

If anything, powerlifters like to stay in a healthy surplus of calories to help perform at maximum energy during lifts, typically utilizing products such as  Steel Supplements Whey Iso Protein Powder

But, overall, you should not expect to feel too focused on your food being a powerlifter. Each powerlifter is different in this aspect, however.

May Train Less

Powerlifters are mainly concerned with building maximum strength in their muscles. In order to do this, they must allow for proper recovery times between training sessions. You’re not likely to see a powerlifter training one muscle group more than 2-3 times a week.

In total, they may even only train 3-5 times a week. However, don’t mistake this for laziness. Powerlifting training sessions are intense and highly difficult, requiring maximum energy. For this reason, powerlifters can afford and even benefit from training less than bodybuilders or other types of strength training might.

Final Thoughts

Powerlifting is its own unique and special type of strength sport. In fact, powerlifters, are some of the most hardcore and dedicated people out there. The great news is, anyone can get into powerlifting. Building strength through powerlifting is almost guaranteed when done properly, so don’t feel discouraged if you’re starting off as an absolute beginner.

If you’re someone who prioritizes the nitty-gritty performance aspect of lifting, then you should try out powerlifting. Getting into powerlifting is rewarding and fun, but won’t come without some hardships. Preparing yourself with the proper knowledge and specifics on the sport will already give you a leg up on your first training session. No idea where to start?

Try  the Sheiko Powerlifting Program!