Powerlifting 101: A Comprehensive Look Into An Intense Sport

Powerlifting 101: A Comprehensive Look Into An Intense Sport - 1st Detachment

Powerlifting is not just a form of exercise; it's a test of physical strength and endurance, a challenge of mind over matter.

It's no surprise that those who are curious or new to powerlifting often have several burning questions.

This article will dive into the essential aspects of powerlifting, distinguishing it from weightlifting and bodybuilding, and providing guidance on how to start your powerlifting journey.


What is Powerlifting?

Powerlifter in competition attempting one rep max

Powerlifting is a strength sport that primarily focuses on three main lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Powerlifting's objective is simple- lifting as much weight as possible for a single repetition in these three lifts.

Athletes compete in weight classes and the one with the highest total combined weight lifted wins.

While it may seem like a straightforward sport, powerlifting requires a balance of raw strength, perfect technique, and strategic planning.

It's not just about lifting heavy weights but about consistent progression, pushing your limits, and breaking personal records.

Powerlifting is also a community, where athletes support and push each other to strive for their best. It's an environment that fosters mental strength, self-confidence, and determination.


Powerlifting vs. Weightlifting vs. Bodybuilding

One common source of confusion is distinguishing powerlifting from weightlifting and bodybuilding. While they all involve weights, the objectives, techniques, and training methodologies differ significantly.

Powerlifting, as mentioned earlier, revolves around three main lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) with the aim to maximize strength for these lifts. It's about performance and how much weight you can lift.

Weightlifting, also known as Olympic weightlifting, involves two technical lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk. It requires a blend of strength, speed, power, flexibility, and coordination. The goal in weightlifting is not only about lifting heavy but also executing these complex lifts with perfect technique.

Bodybuilding, on the other hand, focuses on aesthetic goals. Bodybuilders aim to build, sculpt, and define various muscle groups for symmetrical body composition. The emphasis here is on muscle size, shape, and proportion rather than maximal strength or power.

In summary, powerlifting is about strength, weightlifting about technique, and bodybuilding about aesthetics.


Getting Started with Powerlifting

Athlete working on powerlifting programs

Starting your journey in powerlifting can seem daunting, but with the right steps, it can be a rewarding experience.

Step 1: Learn the Basics

Start by learning the fundamentals of the three main lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. Use light weights or just your body weight initially to get the form right.

Step 2: Get a Physical Check-Up

Before you begin any intensive workout regimen, it's crucial to have a physical check-up. It helps you understand your body's capacity and any limitations you may have.

Step 3: Follow a Training Program

Beginners should follow a structured training program or hire a coach. This helps to maintain consistency, track progress, build muscle, and prevent injuries.

Step 4: Gradually Increase Your Weights

Once you're comfortable with the form, gradually start increasing the weight. Always prioritize quality over quantity; it's not about how much you lift but how you lift.

Step 5: Join a Community

Powerlifting communities are great for support, motivation, and advice. Find a local powerlifting gym or an online group. You'll learn from others' experiences and gain invaluable insights.

Remember, a powerlifting program is a marathon, not a sprint. It's about consistent progress over time. Be patient, stay determined, and you'll see yourself growing physically and mentally stronger.


What Is Gear?

In the context of powerlifting, "gear" typically refers to two different categories: equipment used during a training session and performance-enhancing substances.

Many powerlifters use equipment such as knee wraps or lifting shoes to assist with good technique

Training Equipment:

This includes essential items like weightlifting belts, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and special shoes that provide better support and stability during lifts. It can also include powerlifting suits and bench press shirts, which are designed to support the body and enhance lifting performance during competition.

Performance-Enhancing Substances:

In a different context, especially in bodybuilding and powerlifting, "gear" can sometimes be a slang term for anabolic steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. It's important to note that the use of such substances is considered illegal and unethical in competitive sports and can have serious health consequences.

If you're referring to "gear" in a different context outside of powerlifting, please provide more details so I can give a more accurate response.


What Are Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts are commonly used in powerlifting programs

Smelling salts, also known as ammonia inhalants, are compounds that release small amounts of ammonia gas.

Traditionally, they've been used to revive or stimulate consciousness in people who have fainted or lost consciousness. The sharp, pungent smell of the ammonia gas irritates the membranes of the nose and lungs, triggering an inhalation reflex, which affects the pattern of breathing and increases oxygen flow to the brain, helping to restore consciousness.


How Do Smelling Salts Work In Powerlifting?

In the context of powerlifting and other high-intensity sports, athletes sometimes use smelling salts to sharpen focus and provide a temporary boost in energy or alertness just before a heavy lift or a big play.

The quick rush can help athletes to overcome the mental fatigue of a tough workout or match, and some believe it aids in their performance.

It's important to note, however, that the use of smelling salts is not without controversy. While it's not generally considered harmful if used occasionally and correctly, frequent use can potentially lead to negative health impacts like nasal irritation or even damage to the respiratory tract.

It's always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or a trusted coach before incorporating something new like smelling salts into your routine.


What Are The Types Of Competitions And Weight Classes?

Athlete in beginner powerlifting program squat sessions

Powerlifting competitions are organized across multiple local, national, and international platforms by various organizations, with some of the most well-known ones being the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), the United Powerlifting Association (UPA), and the World Powerlifting Congress (WPC).

Each competition and its organizing body may have their specific rules and weight classes. However, most adhere to the standardized classes to maintain uniformity and fair play. Weight classes allow lifters to compete against others of similar body weight, ensuring a more balanced competition.

Below are the weight classes as per the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF):


  1. 59 kg (130 lbs)
  2. 66 kg (145 lbs)
  3. 74 kg (163 lbs)
  4. 83 kg (183 lbs)
  5. 93 kg (205 lbs)
  6. 105 kg (231 lbs)
  7. 120 kg (264.5 lbs)
  8. 120 kg+ (264.5+ lbs)


  1. 47 kg (104 lbs)
  2. 52 kg (114.5 lbs)
  3. 57 kg (125.5 lbs)
  4. 63 kg (138.75 lbs)
  5. 72 kg (158.5 lbs)
  6. 84 kg (185.25 lbs)
  7. 84 kg+ (185.25+ lbs)

Note that these are weight classes for adults. There may be different weight classes for junior and master lifters (those over 40 years old), and each federation might have variations.

The type of competitions also varies in powerlifting. Here are a few types:

Full Power: These competitions include all three lifts – squat, bench press, and deadlift. This is the most traditional type of powerlifting competition.

Push/Pull: These competitions include just the bench press and the deadlift.

Single lift: These competitions focus on just one of the three lifts, most commonly the bench press.

Raw or Classic: Lifters compete using minimal equipment – typically just a singlet, belt, knee-high socks, shoes, and sometimes wrist wraps and knee sleeves.

Equipped or Geared: Lifters use specialized equipment like squat suits, bench shirts, and deadlift suits, which allow them to lift more weight than they could raw.

Whether you're a novice lifter or a seasoned powerlifter, there's a competition and a weight class for you. Just make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules of the specific federation under which you plan to compete.


How Is Powerlifting Scored?

Powerlifting is scored based on the total weight lifted across three exercises: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Each competitor gets three attempts at each lift, and add weight from the highest successful lift from each exercise is taken into account. The weights from these three lifts are then added together to form a competitor's total.

For each lift, if a competitor fails to successfully complete a lift according to the rules set out by the federation they're competing in, that attempt is not counted.

This includes failing to fully complete the lift, not following commands, or breaking other specific rules, like moving their feet during the bench press.

The highest successful lifts from each exercise are then added together to form the lifter's total. The competitor with the highest total in their weight class is the winner.

In some competitions, a formula such as the Wilks coefficient or the IPF points may be used to adjust the totals based on body weight, allowing lifters of different weight classes to be compared more fairly.

This formula accounts for the fact that lifting a given weight is generally more difficult for lighter lifters than heavier ones.

In a situation where two lifters achieve the same total, the lifter with the lower body weight is declared the winner. If competition lifts and they have the same body weight, the lifter who reached the total first is typically the winner.

Remember, each powerlifting federation may have slight variations in its rules, so it's always important to familiarize yourself with the specific rules of the federation you're competing in.


What Is A Wilks Coefficient?

The Wilks Coefficient, also known as the Wilks Score, is a method for comparing the strength of powerlifters despite the different weights of the athletes.

Named after Robert Wilks, CEO of Powerlifting Australia, the Wilks Score is a formula used to level the playing field between powerlifters of different body weights, making it possible to determine who is the most efficient lifter.

The Wilks Score is a calculation that involves a coefficient, which is multiplied by the total amount of weight lifted to give a score. The lifter's body weight and the total weight lifted in competition (the sum of their squat, bench press, and deadlift) are plugged into the Wilks formula, which adjusts the total lifted to a bodyweight coefficient.

Here is the Wilks Coefficient formula:

For men: 500/(a + bx + cx² + dx³ + ex⁴ + fx⁵) For women: 500/(g + hx + ix² + jx³ + kx⁴ + lx⁵)

Where x = the lifter’s body weight in kilograms

The coefficients (a, b, c, d, e, f for men and g, h, i, j, k, l for women) are constants determined through analysis of top lifting performances.

With this formula, a lighter lifter who lifts the same weight as a heavier lifter will have a higher Wilks Score. Similarly, if a heavier and lighter lifter have the same Wilks Score, it means that the heavier lifter lifted more weight.

The use of the Wilks Score allows for comparisons between powerlifters in different weight classes, and it's often used to determine the best overall lifter in a powerlifting competition. However, as of 2020, the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) replaced the Wilks Coefficient with a new formula called the IPF points.


Who Holds The Top Powerlifting Records?

Powerlifter in competition

According to the USAPL Lifting Database, here are the following rankings and when they accomplished their powerlifting total.


Taylor Atwood - 06/14/2021 - Points - 123.42 Weight - 838.5 kg - Bodyweight - 73.6 kg

Jesse Norris 12/13/2014 - Points -121.99 - Weight - 914 kg Bodyweight - 89.3 kg

Austin Perkins 05/20/2023 - Points - 121.20 - Weight - 825 kg - Bodyweight - 73.9 kg

Ashton Rouska 11/14/2020 - Points - 120.97 - Weight - 950.5 kg - Bodyweight - 98.5 kg

Bobb Matthews 03/04/2023 - Points - 119.84 - Weight - 937.5 kg - Bodyweight -97.6 kg

Keenan Lee 12/17/2022 - Points - 119.32 - Weight - 957.5 kg - Bodyweight - 102.9 kg

Brandon Pitre 06/03/2023 - Points - 118.18 - Weight - 887.5 kg - Bodyweight - 89.7 kg

Russel Orhii 12/17/2022 - Points - 117.74 - Weight - 885 kg - Bodyweight - 89.9 kg

Rondel Hunte 03/04/2023 - Points - 117.08 - Weight - 1002.5 kg - Bodyweight - 118.7 kg

Jonathan Cayco 02/27/2021 - Points - 116.94 - Weight - 892.5 kg - Bodyweight - 92.7 kg


Amanda Lawrence 11/21/2020 - Points 122.17 - Weight 646 kg - Bodyweight 83.7 kg

Heather Connor 06/14/2021 - Points 117.91 - Weight 408 kg - Bodyweight 45.1 kg

Alexis Jones 04/13/2023 - Points 117.42 - Weight 701 kg - Bodyweight 143.1 kg

Natalie Richards 10/15/2022 - Points 116.98 - Weight 501 kg - Bodyweight 57.4 kg

Kelsey Mccarthy 05/10/2019 - Points 116.05 - Weight 680 kg - Bodyweight 70 kg

Daniella Melo 10/11/2018 - Points 113.86 - Weight 601.5 kg - Bodyweight 83.5 kg

Celine Crum 03/04/2023 - Points 113.78 - Weight 515 kg - Bodyweight 62.1 kg

Bonica Brown 07/21/2018 - Points 113.78 - Weight 675 kg - Bodyweight 135 kg

Samantha Calhoun 11/14/2020 - Points 113.48 - Weight 510 kg - Bodyweight 61.4 kg

Jessica Espinal 06/08/2022 - Points 112.08 - Weight 402 kg - Bodyweight 46.7 kg

Who Are Some Notable Powerlifters In History?

Ed Coan attempting one rep max in powerlifting competition

The powerlifting community has seen many athletes rise to prominence due to their incredible strength, determination, and record-breaking performances. Here are a few notable figures:

  1. Ed Coan: Often referred to as the greatest powerlifter of all time, Ed Coan has set numerous world records throughout his career, many of which stand to this day. He competed in both the 100kg and 110kg weight classes and achieved a total lift (squat, bench press, and deadlift combined) of 1,180kg (2,601 lbs) in his prime.
  2. Hafthor Bjornsson: Known for his role as "The Mountain" in Game of Thrones, Hafthor Bjornsson is also a record-breaking powerlifter. He notably set a new deadlift world record by lifting 501 kg (1,104 lbs) in 2020.
  3. Jennifer Thompson: Jennifer Thompson is one of the most renowned female powerlifters in the world. She is especially known for her impressive bench press, having set multiple world records.
  4. Ray Williams: A dominant force in the super heavyweight class, Ray Williams was the first person to squat over 1,000 lbs (455 kg) raw, meaning without the help of a squat suit or knee wraps.
  5. Stefi Cohen: Stefi Cohen is a record-holding powerlifter in the 123-pound weight class, and she's also known for her educational content on strength training. Cohen has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and shares her knowledge to help others improve their performance.
  6. Blaine Sumner: Known as "The Vanilla Gorilla," Blaine Sumner is a record-holding powerlifter in the super heavyweight class. He's particularly known for his equipped lifting, using gear such as bench shirts and squat suits.
  7. Kimberly Walford: Seven-time IPF World Champion, Kimberly Walford is one of the most decorated female powerlifters. She's especially known for her exceptional deadlift.

These are just a few of the numerous athletes who've made significant contributions to the powerlifting community. They've not only achieved personal success but also helped to popularize the sport and inspire a new generation of lifters.


What Are The Best Workouts For A Powerlifter?

Athlete beginning powerlifting program

Powerlifters typically structure their workouts around the three primary lifts - the squat, bench press, and deadlift. However, a comprehensive powerlifting training routine also includes assistance exercises to strengthen specific muscles, improve weak points, and prevent injury. Here are some exercises commonly incorporated into a powerlifting routine:

Barbell Squat:

This is a fundamental powerlifting movement that primarily targets your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, while also engaging your lower back, abs, and several other muscles.

Barbell Bench Press:

This exercise primarily targets the chest, triceps, and front deltoids.


The deadlift works your entire body, but the focus is on your posterior chain, including your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles.

Overhead Press:

This exercise works the shoulders, upper chest, triceps, and core. It can improve your bench press by strengthening the deltoids and triceps.

Barbell Row:

This strengthens your back, an essential area for all three major lifts. It specifically targets your lats and rhomboids, which aid in stabilizing your body during the lifts.

Front Squats:

A great assistance exercise for squats and deadlifts, it targets the quads and core, improving your strength and stability.


Pull-ups are excellent for building upper-body strength. They particularly work your lats, which are crucial for maintaining a strong, stable position in squats and bench presses.

Romanian Deadlifts:

They specifically target the hamstrings and glutes, which can help improve your regular deadlift.

Tricep Dips/Pushdowns:

These exercises can strengthen your triceps, a key muscle group used in the bench press.

Good Mornings:

This exercise strengthens the lower back and hamstrings, aiding in both the squat and deadlift.

In training frequency in addition to these exercises, powerlifters often incorporate various forms of accessory work to target weak points, work on muscle imbalances, and further improve their main lifts.

Remember, every powerlifter is unique, and what works best will depend on your specific strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Always consider seeking guidance from a qualified coach or trainer to help create the most effective workout program for you. Be sure to incorporate adequate rest and recovery into your routine, as this is when much of your progress is made.


What Is Progressive Overload?

Athlete performing competition lifts

Progressive overload is a critical principle in powerlifting, and strength training in general. It is based on the idea that in order for muscles to grow and strength to increase, the muscles must be continually challenged to produce an output that is greater than what they have previously done. This concept is what fuels improvements in muscle growth in strength and muscle size over time.

In the context of powerlifting, progressive overload is typically achieved through one or a combination of the following methods:

  1. Increasing the Weight: This is the most straightforward method of progressive overload. As your strength increases, so should the weight that you're lifting. For example, if you can squat 100 kg for 5 reps, and then over time you increase this to 110 kg for 5 reps, you've achieved progressive overload.
  2. Increasing the Volume: This refers to lifting the same weight for more repetitions or sets. For example, if you can squat 100 kg for 3 sets of 5 reps, and then over time you increase this to 3 sets of 8 reps, you've increased the volume and achieved progressive overload.
  3. Increasing the Frequency: This involves doing the same workout more times per week. So, if you typically squat twice a week and then increase this to three times a week, you've achieved progressive overload.
  4. Decreasing Rest Time: By reducing the rest time between sets, you can increase the intensity of your workouts, thereby achieving progressive overload.
  5. Improving Form: Better form and technique can enable you to lift more weight, perform more reps, or do more sets. Enhanced form also helps to prevent injuries, which could otherwise halt your progress.

In the best powerlifting program, using progressive overload in a structured and measured way is key.

By progressively overloading your muscles, you force them to adapt and grow stronger, helping to improve your performance in the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

However, it's crucial to avoid excessive overload, as it can lead to injuries or overtraining.

It's a delicate balance that requires a well-structured training program and attention to recovery and nutrition.

Listening to your body is also essential: pushing too hard when your body is signaling that it needs a break can be counterproductive.

Remember, consistency, using proper technique and form, and gradual progression are the cornerstones of successful powerlifting.

It's not about how quickly you can increase the weight, but about making consistent, long-term progress.


What Are The Best Beginner Powerlifting Programs?

Beginner powerlifting program in gym

Here's an example of a simple beginner powerlifting program based on the StrongLifts 5x5 principles:

This program is based on a three-day-per-week training schedule, with each day featuring three exercises. The idea of beginner program is to keep increasing the weights incrementally each workout to continuously challenge your body.

Week 1:

Day 1:

  1. Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
  3. Barbell Row: 5 sets of 5 reps

Day 2:

  1. Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Overhead Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set of 5 reps

Day 3:

  1. Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
  3. Barbell Row: 5 sets of 5 reps

Week 2:

Day 1:

  1. Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Overhead Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set of 5 reps

Day 2:

  1. Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
  3. Barbell Row: 5 sets of 5 reps

Day 3:

  1. Squat: 5 sets of 5 reps
  2. Overhead Press: 5 sets of 5 reps
  3. Deadlift: 1 set of 5 reps

Repeat these two weeks, adding weight to the bar each workout. For the squat, bench press, overhead press, and barbell row, start with a weight that you can comfortably lift for 5 sets of 5 reps.

Then, add 2.5 kg (5 lbs) each workout. For the deadlift, start with a comfortable weight for 1 set of 5 reps, then add 5 kg (10 lbs) each workout.

Remember, the weights should be challenging, but not so heavy that they compromise your form. As a beginner, it's crucial to learn the correct technique for each lift to prevent injuries.

If you're unsure, consider seeking advice from a fitness professional or experienced lifter. Always warm up before starting your workout and cool down afterwards.

As you progress, the weight increments may become too challenging, and you may not be able to complete 5x5 with the added weight.

At that point, you might consider switching to a more advanced program, such advanced programs such as Madcow 5x5 or Wendler's 5/3/1, which allow for more gradual progression.


Barbells are commonly used in powerlifting movements


So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to powerlifting. Whether you're an aspiring powerlifter or just someone fascinated by the sport, we hope this article sheds some light on your queries.

Keep pushing, keep lifting, and embrace the journey of strength that powerlifting offers.

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