Powerlifting: A Quick Guide
The sport of Powerlifting is the sport of strength. It tests the athletes ability to lift the most weight possible in its three signature lifts: The Squat, the Benchpress, and the Deadlift. The simplicity of the sport belies its more complex nature; evident in the advanced athletes training and meet strategies. But it is this simple application of force which is its major draw. There are few ambiguities in the sport. Lift a weight against the force of gravity; either you win or gravity does.
The sport of Powerlifting is an outgrowth from the sport of Weightlifting, sometimes refered to as the Olympic lifts. Originally known as the ‘odd lifts’ the sport evolved from accessory movements common to Weightlifters into a distinct sport around the early 1960’s with an unofficial power lifting meet in York Pennsylvania (home to York barbell, iconic in the fitness industry). The long and varied history of Powerlifting is beyond the scope of this brief introduction, but for those with a bent for history check out this article: History of Powerlifting.
The sport itself today is straight forward. An athlete competes in weight classes in an effort to lift the most weight across the big three lifts. The athlete has three attempts at the squat; the benchpress, and the deadlift. The highest three completed lifts give the athlete a ‘total’ which is their final score. The highest score wins the meet. Simple.
The sport has branched into several different federations; or organizing bodies; which regulate how a meet is conducted and the governing rules. This has created some small variety in the manner in which a lift is judged, and the equipment permissible between federations. While the technical aspects of how each movement is judged can be argued greatly among enthusiasts, the basic structure of the meet remains roughly the same. For more information on federations, and how they compare you can peruse this article from Powerlifting to Win; or this article for an overview on judging standards for each movement.
Another major division which may strike the newcomer as odd is the split between geared lifting and what has been termed raw lifting. Originally the sport of powerlifting was done with minimal supporting equipment, having drawn its origins from weightlifting. A belt, and perhaps some very light weight knee wraps were all the equipment worn. As the sport began to take on a life of its own lifters looked to additional equipment to provide support in the lifts. At first this equipment was designed to help stabilize a joint in order to exert more force. The use of supporting shirts, squat suites, knee wraps and deadlift suites became widespread and made up the sport of powerlifting nearly in its entirety by the early 1970’s and through the turn of the century. What started as denim bench shirts soon evolved into multi-ply fabrics with extensive supporting characteristics, so much so that geared benchpressers had to train to ‘pull’ a bar down through the power of the shirt in order to touch their chest.
The first large ‘Raw’ meet was not held until 2010, and indeed the first time the International Powerlifting Federation (arguably the largest powerlifting sanctioning organization) held a meet which did not allow any significant supportive equipment aside from wrist wraps and belts, was in 2012. Since then the growth of raw competitions and athletes choosing to lift in raw divisions has eclipsed geared lifting with some federations, 100% RAW, which have eliminated geared lifting entirely.
Here at 3rd Attempt we have embraced all forms of powerlifting, but its the new generation of lifters who have given the sport a breath of fresh air. The newest generation lift with minimal equipment, raw or sometimes called classic, and have forgone the death metal and late night taco runs of there pioneering fore fathers in the sport. Instead these athletes are leaner, stronger, and increasingly represented by strong and athletic women. By far the greatest growth in the sport has been in the female participation. Several major powerlifting federations, USAPL among them, have expanded meets to accommodate all the new female lifters on their own day.
3rd Attempt Barbell Co. strives to support this growing community and share with it our vision of what the sport is, and what it can be. One of the finest aspects of powerlifting is that everyone can improve upon there last attempt. Even beginners who have no shot at winning a trophy or standing atop a world champions podium can still walk out of a meet knowing they improved on their performance; that they were better than they had been.
To that end we have provided a list of organizations and informative sites to expand on your knowledge of powerlifting, the various options to participate in it – geared or raw, junior, open or masters – and the training necessary to be the very best you can be. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but should provide you a starting point on your journey to be the strongest version of yourself.
Powerlifting Articles on Breaking Muscle
United States Powerlifting Association (USPA)
Unites States Powerlifting Federation (USPF):
Information and Resources:
Juggernaught Strength Training