Powerlifting - The mother of all weight training

The sport of powerlifting is based on three activities: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. Despite its name, powerlifting is an exercise in strength not power. The object is to lift as much weight as you can; the very top lifters in the sport can hoist over 1,000 pounds.


Powerlifting has its roots in late 19th-century circuses in Europe, the music halls in England and on the vaudeville circuit in America. Novelty lifts were performed by professional strongmen. The aim was to demonstrate that they were the strongest person in the world. To avoid challenge, each strongman would specialise in a particular lift. Rivals would avoid performing the signature lifts of their competitors. This made it easy to claim supremacy as no one else would be performing their signature lift. The result was that there were a large number of lifts being performed. In addition, other lifts were being used for weightlifting competitions, which was just developing as a sport.


During the early part of the 20th century, a number of associations formed in the United States to govern weightlifting. These associations attempted to record the amount of weight being lifted for certain types of lifts. By the 1920 Olympics, weightlifting was limited to three lifts, snatch, press and clean-and-jerk. With the emphasis now on these three lifts, all other lifts were bundled together as "odd lifts".


Although banished from major competition, several of the odd lifts were important training tools for bodybuilders. They became generally known as strength lifts or power-lifts. Among them were the squat, the deadlift, and the back lift. By the mid-1960s The Amateur Athletic Union in America had selected three lifts as the power-lifts for all official competitions: the squat, the deadlift and the bench press.


  • The squat is primarily a test of strength of the legs, glutes and hips.
  • The deadlift is a test of back strength, with hamstrings, spinal erectors and trapezius being the primary muscles deployed.
  • The bench press is a test of the upper body, chest, shoulders and triceps.


The first national powerlifting championships featuring these three lifts took place in 1964, while the first official World Championships took place in USA in 1973. Although not yet an Olympic sport, powerlifting is an official sport of the Paralympics. The increase in media exposure of powerlifting through the televising of competitions and digital chatter across social media has resulted in a growth in the number of people actively involved in the sport. As a sporting past time, powerlifting offers significant health and fitness benefits:


Increased Strength

You become far stronger than an average person of similar gender, age, weight and height. Strength is a very useful fitness attribute as it makes many strenuous daily activities much easier.


Stronger Bones

Bone mass and density tend to decline with age, which can result in osteoporosis. Lifting heavy weights puts controlled stress on bones, which increases mass and density. Studies have shown that lifting with 10% of the force it takes to break a bone will actually help that bone grow thicker.


Increased Muscle Size

Overloading muscles (i.e. asking them to do more work than they are used to, such as lifting heavier weights) causes them to increase in size (this is not the excessive growth seen on some body builders, which is normally the result of using steroids). Increased muscle mass can be useful in sports and activities requiring strength and power. Bigger muscles can also add dimension to your body shape.


Greater Ab Definition

If you've always wanted a six-pack then powerlifting will help you get one. Heavy lifting burns more calories and keeps your metabolism elevated for hours longer than basic aerobic exercise.


Improved Wellbeing

Powerlifting reduces the risk of stress-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease because of its effectiveness as a stress reliever. It also boosts self-confidence by providing immediate and quantifiable feedback on your performance. There is a great sense of achievement when you exceed your best by lifting an even heavier weight.


Whilst not all participants are interested in competing at national level and are just keen to push their personal best; competitions can be a lot of fun. Given that powerlifting is an individual sport, competing can provide an additional challenge. Powerlifting competitions are organised in 11 weight classes for men, from 52 kg to over 125 kg. Women have 10 weight classes from 44 kg to over 90 kg.


A great feature of powerlifting is that it is a sport that offers virtually lifelong engagement. Children as young as 14 can compete as Sub-juniors (14–19 years of age), 19–23 year olds compete as Juniors, over 23 is the Open category, and Masters are 40+ years. During competitions, each lifter is allowed 3 attempts at each of the 3 lifts. The total of the lifter’s best successful attempt at each determines their place in the contest.


If you want to participate in powerlifting it is important to first develop basic weightlifting skills. This can be done using machines or light free weights. The advantage of using fixed weight equipment such as the Pure Strength range from Technogym, is that you will be able to focus on developing strength safely, without having to worry about difficult lifting techniques.


The next step is to learn and practice the three specific lifts in powerlifting. If you began your training using fixed weight equipment, although you may have already built up your muscle strength, it is still important to start with lower weights and not immediately attempt to lift very heavy weights. Form is a vital part of free weight lifting. It is easy to loose form if you are inexperienced in the technique and the weight you are trying to lift is too heavy. The best way to learn correct technique is to work with an experience powerlifter or personal trainer. Once you have mastered the technique you can start to build your strength again by gradually increasing the weight amount to your one rep max.