What is Powerlifting?

Over the last 30 years, endurance based sports have dominated the fitness industry. Running specifically is popular, probably because of its low barrier to entry. All you need is a pair of shoes, and you’re off. You can do it anywhere, and don’t even need any special equipment. But strength training has been gaining traction in the last 10 years or so, and for good reason: Strength is the foundation of all human movement. It’s easy to measure, and is extremely rewarding when you make progress. And of course, we can’t forget about vanity; strength training usually produces a more “athletic” looking physique than endurance training.

A Brief History

Powerlifting was born from the sport of Weightlifting. Weightlifting was included in the first modern Olympic games in 1896. Weightlifters, who compete in the snatch and clean & jerk, used exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, and curls to get stronger for Weightlifting. Over time people begin to test these “accessory” exercises in informal spectacles of strength. Originally, these were called the “odd lifts,” until eventually the sport was formalized, regulated and named: Powerlifting. The first official competition was held in 1964 at York Barbell in York, PA.

The Movements

The Squat

The athlete begins by unracking the barbell with the weight on the shoulders and traps. After stepping from the rack and readying themselves, they go into a deep squat, with the minimum depth being the hip crease being level with the knee. Once the proper depth is achieved, they ascend, and then rerack the bar. Take a look:

The Bench Press

If you’re not familiar with what a bench press is, you’ve probaby been living under a rock. The lifter lays on their back, unracks the bar, brings it down to their chest. After touching the bar to the body, the athlete then presses the bar back up to arms length and reracks the bar.

 

The Deadlift

The deadlift stars with the bar on the floor. The athlete squats down to grab the bar, and then stands up. The lift is completed when the athlete’s body is fully erect in the standing position.

The Competition

Powerlifting is broken up into different weight classes, so you only compete against people who are the same weight as you. You get 3 attempts in each lift. At the end, your best (heaviest) of each is added together for a total. The person with the highest total within their weight class wins. So if you squatted 100kg, bench pressed 50kg, and deadlift 120kg, your total would be 270kg. No one is too small to compete, with the lightest weight classes being 47kg(103lbs) and 56kg(123lbs) for women and men respectively.

What Makes a Good Powerlifter

Unlike some other sports, there is no specific body type that is best for Powerlifting. Being naturally strong, is absolutely NOT a prerequisite. Powerlifting is different in that some characteristics favor certain lifts, while they hinder others. For example having long arms isn’t great for bench pressing, because the bar has to travel further, but it’s great for deadlifting as you can grab hold of the bar with your hips higher, meaning your hips (the prime mover in the deadlift) do not have to travel as far. Generally people with more type II muscle fibers (also called fast twitch) excel in Powerlifting because those muscle fibers are able to create stronger contractions. Powerlifting is also a mentally demanding sport as it can take a lot of bravery and courage to load big weights on your back and squat under them!

What Makes Powerlifting Unique

Powerlifting is unique in that the physical attributes needed are some what singular: Maximal strength. Some people see this as a knock against the sport, but I think it gives the sport a purity that other sports do not have. The three lifts test the main human movements: Squatting, pressing and pulling. At the end of the competition there is no doubt the winner was the strongest overall athlete. Other sports that rely on strength don’t guarantee the strongest athlete will win. This is not to say that Powerlifting does not require technical proficiency, it certainly does.

Who Should Do Powerlifting

Anyone who is generally interested in the sport should compete in Powerlifting, regardless of your propensity for it. Powerlifting is an extremely rewarding sport because you get out of it almost exactly what you put in. In team sports you must rely on your teammates. In individual sports  the actions of your opponents effects your own actions and reactions. But in Powerlifting, you’re mostly competing against yourself. Although the goal is to lift more than your opponents, progress is easily measured: You lifted more today than you could before, and every time you hit a new “personal record” or as we call it a “PR,” you know your hard work paid off and you can see the results in cold hard steel. Plus there are few things more empowering than crushing a heavy deadlift! To quote James Tatum’s book The Physically Prepared Weightlifter, “Powerlifting allows the hard working athlete to thrive.”

Powerlifting is also an excellent choice for those looking for a new objective in their training. Few people can succeed in exercising just for the sake of exercising. Having a tangible goal gives your training purpose and Powerlifting is the answer for those who aren’t interested in endurance sports.

Are you interested in trying Powerlifting? Consider entering a competition, like the one we’re hosting at our facility!

AUTHOR

Dr. Brett Scott

Arkitect Fitness

"We help athletes and active adults
lose weight, get fit, and optimize performance."
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