Powerlifting vs Weightlifting – Introduction
When it comes to powerlifting vs weightlifting, what are the main differences?
Which training protocol is better for you?
To the uninitiated, powerlifting and weightlifting is the same thing.
After all, don’t both involve lifting heavy barbells?
While there are a few similarities, powerlifting and weightlifting are two very different things, and one may suit you better than the other.
This article examines both of these strength sports so you can discover the major differences and decide which one is right for you.
Table of Contents
- What is Powerlifting vs Weightlifting – Introduction
- Powerlifting 101
- Weightlifting 101
- Powerlifting versus Weightlifting – Comparisons
- Weightlifting vs Powerlifting – Closing Thoughts
- What’s Next
- Related “Comparison” Posts
- Equipment Resources
Powerlifting is newer than Olympic lifting.
It only became a recognized sport in the late 1950s and has yet to be granted Olympic status.
However, the bench press does feature in the Special Olympics.
Powerlifting began as a competitive sport of more than 40 lifts, but that was gradually whittled down to the three lifts used today.
Originally, powerlifting encompassed any lift that wasn’t one of the Olympic lifts and included weird and wonderful events such as:
- barrel lifting,
- floor presses,
- two-finger deadlifts,
- strand pulling,
and a host of other so-called “odd lifts.”
Modern powerlifting – Big 3 Lifts
Modern powerlifting events revolve around three disciplines, which are performed in the same order in all meets:
- Back squat
- Bench press
That said, there are variations, such as pull-pull meets, where only the bench press and deadlift are contested.
Some powerlifting events also include the strict two-handed curl.
However, this is something of a novelty lift and does not count toward the main competition.
Powerlifters get three attempts at each lift, with the heaviest successful lifts added together to give a total.
The athlete with the highest total is the winner.
Lifts must be performed in accordance with the rules of the sport.
For example, squats must reach parallel or below, and the bar must touch and pause on the chest during bench presses.
If a lifter scores three failed lifts in any single discipline, they are disqualified from the competition.
Raw vs equipped powerlifting
Broadly speaking, powerlifting competitions fall into one of two categories – raw or equipped.
Raw events are done without the benefit of supportive clothing, such as squat suits and bench press shirts.
However, lifting belts and knee sleeves or wraps are usually allowed.
In contrast, equipped powerlifting involves the use of very tight, stiff clothing that provides support and assistance during the lifts.
These garments can add a significant amount to how much you can lift, which is why raw and equipped events are separate.
While the basic lifts remain unchanged from raw to equipped, powerlifters tend to specialize in one type of competition or the other.
Raw vs. equipped lifting technique is different, and lifters must practice their chosen discipline to maximize their performance in competition.
It’s worth noting that there are a lot of powerlifting federations, and many have unique sets of rules.
For example, some do not allow you to wear a belt or knee wraps in raw events, while others do.
There are also single and multi-ply equipped powerlifting competitions.
Some federations are certified drug-free and test on the day of competition, while others are not tested.
Even weight categories can vary from federation to federation.
So, if you are planning on competing, make sure you read your chosen federation’s rulebook before the event to avoid getting disqualified before you start.
Weightlifting is an old barbell sport.
It’s been around since the early 1890s and has featured in almost every modern Olympics.
Because of this, weightlifting is often called Olympic lifting or Olympic weightlifting.
As an Olympic sport, weightlifting is governed and has stringent rules that are standard for all competitions.
This includes equipment, weight categories, lifting standards, and competition format.
The Main Lifts
Olympic lifting used to be a sport of three lifts:
- The clean and jerk
- The snatch
- The clean and strict press
However, because of safety and judging issues, the clean and strict press was removed from competition in the 1970s, and Olympic lifting became a sport of two lifts.
Unlike powerlifting, weightlifting does not allow the use of supportive clothing.
However, lifters can wear weightlifting belts, knee sleeves, and hard-soled shoes, all of which make the lifts a little safer and more comfortable to perform.
Olympic weightlifters get three attempts at each lift.
Their best lifts are then added together to make their total, and the athlete with the greatest total is the winner.
Powerlifting vs. Weightlifting – Comparisons
Now that you know a little about powerlifting and Olympic lifting, let’s compare and contrast these two sports to determine which is best for you.
Most gym goers are already familiar with the big three power lifts – squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.
While some skill is required to perform these exercises correctly, they’re relatively simple movements.
They’re also performed quite slowly, which makes them easier to learn and master.
In contrast, the Olympic lifts are performed explosively and involve movements not typically seen in a commercial gym.
Both lifts are highly technical, and doing them incorrectly will limit your performance and could even cause injury.
As such, the Olympic lifts are best learned under the guidance of a qualified coach.
You can train for powerlifting in a commercial gym and even at home.
All you need is a barbell, a squat rack, and a bench.
While there are specialist powerlifting gyms, most novices should be able to prepare for their first few meets with very basic training equipment.
Olympic lifters tend not to lower their weights from overhead; instead, they drop them.
Because slowly lowering the weights would be a waste of energy.
It’s weightLIFTING, not weightLOWERING!
As such, weightlifting bars, plates, and floors are specially designed to withstand impact.
You’ll also need access to a set of squat stands for squats and overhead pressing work.
Commercial gyms are not generally equipped for Olympic weightlifting.
However, some CrossFit gyms, also known as CrossFit boxes, will have what you need.
That said, the best place to learn and train for Olympic lifting is at a dedicated weightlifting club.
Powerlifter vs Weightlifter Clothing
You can train for powerlifting and weightlifting in regular gym clothes.
Still, if you plan on competing or taking your training more seriously, you’ll need to equip yourself with the following:
For both weightlifting and powerlifting:
- A close-fitting singlet and t-shirt
- Squat shoes
- Deadlift shoes/slippers
- Knee sleeves or wraps
- Powerlifting belt
- Long socks
- Wrist wraps
- Lifting chalk
- Weightlifting shoes
- Weightlifting belt
- Knee sleeves
- Wrist wraps
- Lifting chalk
Both types of training can lead to muscle growth, but that’s not really the purpose of either sport.
Rather, muscle gain is a side-effect of getting stronger.
That said, the slow reps and combination of exercises mean that powerlifting is potentially better than weightlifting for building muscle.
As a result, many bodybuilders incorporate powerlifting in their muscle-building workouts.
However, if you are serious about increasing muscle size or hypertrophy, bodybuilding is probably better than either powerlifting or weightlifting.
Athletes usually need a mixture of muscle strength and power.
Somewhat paradoxically, powerlifting is the best way to develop strength, while weightlifting is the best way to build power.
As such, athletes often combine elements of weightlifting and powerlifting to develop the all-around strength and power they need for their sport.
However, if you HAD to choose one type of training, Olympic weightlifting would probably be the best option as the movements tend to transfer well to athletic endeavors like running, jumping, and throwing.
Accidents can happen during any type of sport, including powerlifting and weightlifting.
Both activities involve lifting heavy loads, and failure to complete a lift or using improper form will increase the risk of injury.
Powerlifters tend to suffer knee, lower back, and shoulder injuries.
Muscle strains are also common, with pec tears being especially prevalent.
Olympic lifters experience similar knee, back, and shoulder injuries but are more prone to elbow and wrist problems than powerlifters.
Because of the speed of execution and technical difficulty of the Olympic lifts, the injury risk is slightly higher for weightlifting than for powerlifting.
Also, Olympic lifters do not use spotters, so failed lifts are more likely to result in injury.
That said, powerlifting and weightlifting are still relatively safe sports, with an average of 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity. ¹
Powerlifting vs Weightlifting – Wrapping up
While powerlifting and weightlifting are both barbell sports, they’re actually pretty different.
Powerlifting is a sport of squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, while Olympic weightlifting involves the snatch and clean and jerk.
Is one better than the other?
Of course not!
Powerlifting involves heavy weights lifted relatively slowly.
The contested lifts are less technical, and you can train for powerlifting in a commercial or garage gym.
It’s a very accessible sport.
In contrast, Olympic weightlifting is more technical and explosive, and its competitive lifts are harder to learn and master.
You also need special equipment that won’t break when you drop it.
Which One is Right for You
So, between powerlifter vs weightlifter, which competitive sport is right for you?
Powerlifting is probably the best choice if you want to lift the heaviest possible weights and prefer a sport you can train for in almost any gym.
However, if you enjoy the challenge of learning and performing technically demanding exercises, you’ll probably prefer Olympic lifting.
Still on the fence?
Why not try them both?
They may be different, but powerlifting and Olympic lifting are also quite compatible.
CrossFit uses elements of powerlifting and weightlifting, showing the value of both types of training.
Regardless of which one you choose, and whether you compete or don’t, you are sure to enjoy the challenge and how both training styles transform your body.
As you now know, powerlifting is less technically demanding than Olympic weightlifting and a fantastic way to get leaner and stronger.
No matter what your age and even if you never intend to compete.
Use this excellent Beginner Powerlifting Program for Fitness and Strength to get started today!
Related “Comparison” Posts
- Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding; Differences, Pros + Cons
- Powerlifting Over 50: Benefits + Best Routine to Get Started
- Cardio vs Weight Training: Which Is Better for Fat Loss + Fitness
- CrossFit vs Bodybuilding: Differences + Which Is Better For You
- Pilates vs Strength Training: The Differences + Which Is Better
- Strength Training vs Bodybuilding: What’s The Difference?
Related Equipment Resources
- Weightlifting Gear You Need – Sleeves, Wraps, Belts, and More!
- 7 Best Budget Olympic Barbells for Your Home Gym in 2023
- Squat Rack vs Power Rack: Which Is Best For Your Home Gym in 2023
- The 5 Best Budget Power Racks in 2023: Home Gym Buying Guide
- 5 Best Shoes for Squats and Deadlifts: 2023 Buying Guide
- The 5 Best Deadlift Socks on the Market Today in 2023
- 7 Best Deadlift Slippers for Fitness & Powerlifting in 2023
- 7 Best Budget Bumper Plates for Your Home Gym in 2023
- Best Deadlift Equipment: Home Gym Guide; Start Lifting Today!
- The Best Home Strength Training Equipment List for 2023
¹ Injury incidence and prevalence among elite weight and power lifters – National Library of Medicine