What Is Powerlifting?

“What is Powerlifting?” is a question we are asked quite a lot, as you can imagine!

Powerlifting is a strength sport. The whole point of the sport is to find out just how strong you really are. The basics are incredibly simple. In competition, a powerlifter stands alone on a platform and tries to lift the heaviest weights he is capable of for a single repetition. Judges look on to ensure that the rules are followed.

Powerlifters perform three competitive events: the squat, the bench, and the deadlift. A lifter receives three attempts for each event. Only the heaviest successful attempt is counted. At the end of the competition, the lifter’s best lift from each event is added together to make up the lifter’s “total”. For example, if a lifter squatted 250, benched 200, and deadlifted 300, his total would be 750kg. In conjunction with weight classes, gender, and age groups, this total is then used to determine placing and awards in the competition.

Who does Powerlifting?

Despite many peoples’ misconceptions to the contrary, powerlifting is actually a highly inclusive sport. You don’t need to be a lumbering giant to participate. Although, mastodons are welcome as well! Both men and women have their own divisions. For each gender, there are approximately ten weight classes. The men’s weight classes range from 59kg all the way to 120kg+. The women’s weight classes go as low as 44kg and as high as 84kg+. The age groups cater to everything from various sub-junior categories (teens and under) to different levels of master’s competition (40+, 50+, 60+, etc.). At any given powerlifting meet, there will be just as many novices as experienced lifters. So who does powerlifting? The honest truth is… everyone.

I’m not just paying lip service to participation, either. You could argue that everyone plays every sport. Powerlifting is very different though. Thanks to organizations like the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation), everyone, no matter their demographic profile has the opportunity to compete in meaningful international competition against people just like them; everyone has the opportunity to stand atop the highest rung of the podium, gold medal around their neck, their country’s flag at their back, as the national anthem plays to signify their victory. And if that doesn’t send chills down your spine, nothing will.

So… Why Powerlifting?

Powerlifters’ motivations are as broad as their demographic profile. For many, competition is a driving force. It isn’t uncommon to find that out any given powerlifter has been a competitive athlete for most of their life. No matter what sport you play growing up, you almost always have a reason to hit the gym. Powerlifting lets people continue to fulfill that role as an athlete.

Though I’ve harped on competition over and over in this post, and given the name of this site you can’t be too surprised, most powerlifters are primarily intrinsically motivated. They compete against others, sure, but their biggest competition is the person facing them in the mirror each morning. They want to get stronger. They want to test themselves. They want the satisfaction of breaking personal records. They simply want to be better.

You see, powerlifting is often a microcosm of life itself. In the beginning, things aren’t so hard and the gains come quickly. As you get older, you must be smarter, you must work harder, and you must stick to a plan for many, many months just to return some modest improvements. Powerlifting is exactly the same way. Most powerlifters simply love, and thrive off of, that constant and never-ending improvement.

As much as I can try to convey the “soul” of powerlifting to you through text, I’m guaranteed to fall short. Until you’ve been around a group of powerlifters for long enough to really immerse yourself in the culture, you won’t quite “get it”. And that’s okay.