What Is Powerlifting and How Do You Get Into It?
Competitive sports often require special facilities or equipment, and this is true for most strength sports. Weightlifting (like the Olympics) requires bouncy bumpers and a gym that won’t mind if you drop them from above. Strongman training uses a variety of unusual equipment that you won’t find in a typical commercial gym. But if you want to prepare for a strength competition with basic equipment – just a barbell – there is a whole sport for you, and it’s called powerlifting.
What’s the difference between powerlifting and just … weightlifting?
Powerlifting is a competitive sport that includes the squat, bench press, and deadlift. You can do these exercises without considering yourself a powerlifter. They are popular for building strength and muscle mass for any purpose. They are made by footballers. Models from Instagram are engaged in it. It’s the same with the millions of people who just want to be strong for health and fitness reasons.
If you’re just getting started with strength training, you don’t need to worry about the difference between weight lifting and powerlifting just yet. Since squats, bench presses, and deadlifts are great strength tools, they should be learned.
What if you have been weightlifting and want to be competitive? Well, then it’s time to find out the details of what is allowed in the competition and what is not. (For example, your squat must reach a certain depth, otherwise it will not count.) There are also some technique you might want to learn to improve your performance in competition, such as learning to use the bench push better. Click. You will want to exercise in the gym according to competition standards, at least sometimes.
Finally, you may end up changing your training program to strategically approach your exercise. As a competitor, you will strengthen your weaknesses, take advantage of your strengths, and timing your hard and light training sessions so you can enter the competition strong but well rested.
What lifts are there?
If you want to become a powerlifter, there are three exercises you need to do. Here is a rundown of each in the order in which they are used in competitions and how they might differ from what you are already doing:
In squats, the barbell should be just below shoulder level. You walk up to him, put your shoulders under him, then lift him up and (usually) step back a few steps to start the squat.
To squat, you bend your knees and hips at the same time until the crease in your thigh is below the kneecap (we have a whole post on squat depth if you want to clarify how low the squat should be to calculate). Then you get up.
We have a post with all the details on squats for further reading. If you’ve just squatted on your own, pay attention to the following points:
- Powerlifters often squat only to their legal depth and no further, even if they can go deeper.
- Many (but definitely not all) powerlifters will use a “low bar” position with the bar resting on the rear deltas. A “high plank” is a plank several inches higher supported by the trapezius muscles at the base of the neck.
- The strap will help you hold your core muscles under heavy weights and allow you to lift more weight, which is why almost all powerlifters will use it.
In this exercise, you lie on your back on a bench with a barbell at arm’s length in a standing position over your face. You either lift the bar from the rack or someone helps you to lift it, and then the lift begins with the bar in your hands, locked above you.
You bend your elbows and shoulders so that the barbell touches your chest, and then push it back down to the starting point. Here’s our in-depth post on bench press .
What you need to know about the powerlifting bench press:
- You cannot push the barbell off your chest. The judge will wait until the barbell is stationary on your chest and then scream, “Push!” before you can push the bar up again. When you train on your own, you need to suspend the barbell on your chest for about one second.
- You can and should arch your back . This allows your shoulders and pecs to carry more weight better, and if you are very flexible it can reduce the distance the bar has to move. A slight bend is just a side effect of your shoulders being squeezed under you, which also helps you stay stable and lift more weight.
- You will use your legs. When you have a good arched setup, your legs can transfer energy from the floor to your torso. You don’t bend or bend your legs as you lift, but your legs provide an important support role that helps stabilize the rest of your body, again allowing you to safely lift more weight.
- There are requirements for the position of your body. They vary, but usually your glute should be on the bench throughout the exercise and your feet should be on the floor. Some organizations require your head to remain on the bench and your heels, not just your toes, to remain on the floor.
Deadlift is easiest to explain: there is a barbell on the floor, and you grab it with your hands, and you get up. Here’s our deadlift guide .
If your feet are on the outside of your arms, this is called a sumo deadlift, and if your feet are on the inside of your arms, it is considered “normal”. Both are legal in competition .
Some things you might want to know about the powerlifting deadlift:
- Belts are not allowed in competition. If you are unable to hold onto the bar, the lift will not be counted. Therefore, use a mixed grip or grappling grip and start working on your grip strength now.
- Straps are often used here, too, for the same reasons as squats.
What is the competition like?
I wrote about my first (and so far only) powerlifting competitions here . Before competing, you must read the rules of your federation. The USAPL and USPA are two of the big ones, and their websites include upcoming listings to be collected in addition to rule books and other useful information.
The basic idea behind the competition is that everyone has three chances to do the best squat, the best bench press, and the best deadlift. These lifts (your best of each) are added together to get the total. The highest result in a weight category wins in that weight category.
Weight category? Yes, athletes are divided by body weight, so tiny people don’t compete directly with huge people. Weigh-in takes place either in the morning of the competition day or the day before.
You will head off to a competition with some ideas on how much weight you would like to use for your first, second, and third attempts. Your first try should be a secure number, something that you know 100% what you can do. Your second will usually be at or close to your best lift you’ve done in the gym recently, and if you’re having a good day, you can set a new personal best with your third lift. If you fail, you are not allowed to lose weight, but you can choose the same weight for the next attempt. If you succeed, you will obviously ask for more on your next try.
In a typical stream, the plank starts with the lightest opening weight anyone has asked for. This person makes his attempt, and then the movers add weight for the next person. The bar gets heavier as everyone has their turn, and then when everyone in the group has made their first attempt, the movers take off the weight so that the process can start on the second try for everyone.
After all exercises are completed, all results are summed up and awards for each weight category are awarded. Also usually awarded are male and female athletes with the highest total weight in relation to their body weight.
How to start?
The first step is to learn to squat, bench press, and deadlift. If you’re in a gym right now that doesn’t have barbells, squat racks, or bench press stations, you won’t be able to practice lifts. You can still get stronger without this equipment, so if you’re stuck with Planet Fitness for now, any muscle you build with dumbbells and machines will still benefit you later.
If you’re a beginner, any workout program that contains a lot of squats, bench presses, and deadlifts will prepare you for the competition. If you are more experienced, you may find it helpful to look for specialized powerlifting training programs that will focus your efforts on the things that will make you the most competitive. For this reason, it will be very helpful to find a powerlifting coach. You can find it at your local powerlifting gym or do your research and find a good one online.
It also helps a lot to make friends with people who are powerlifters, or at least hang out with powerlifters. (Tip: Sign up for a powerlifting gym, not just a commercial gym that has barbells.) This way you can see other people training and have a group of people who love to chat about things like what’s coming up, what jersey should you buy, and how damn strong you all get.