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What is Powerlifting and Why Should you Care?

November 07, 2016

By Genna Cohen

With the growth of social media and the fitness communities, you’ve probably heard about endless different styles of competitive fitness. Sports such as Bodybuilding, Crossfit, Olympic Lifting, Strongman, and Powerlifting are all the talk of the town with #fitsporation and the rapidly expanding social media fitness movement. More often than not they all get grouped together; however, each of these is a unique sport in and of itself. And possibly the most commonly mistaken or misrepresented is powerlifting. So what exactly is powerlifting? And more importantly, why should you care?

Powerlifting involves the Big Three, squat, bench, and dead. Essentially come competition day you want to go out and lift the most weight you can. There is a winner in each age and weight class (Ex: 57kg 18-19, 63kg 20-23, 72kg open, etc.), based off of who has the highest combined total (squat + bench + dead= total).

Because you are judged based on three lifts, most powerlifters center their training around them. This means that where a bodybuilder might differentiate their workouts based on body part, chest/tri’s, back/bi’s, legs, shoulders, etc. a powerlifter is going to differentiate based on what lift they’ll be doing that day, bench press, squat, deadlift, and sometimes over head press. Most powerlifters also organize their training into blocks, periods of time that they’ll spend working on different goals like muscle growth and maximal strength increase, and have these blocks lead up to a competition so their body is primed and ready to go out on the platform and try to set some new personal bests.

And that’s powerlifting in a nutshell. Now onto the important part, what does it do for you?

Powerlifting was long thought of as a bunch of big guys lifting crazy heavy weight. They weren’t thought of as being particularly well conditioned, aesthetic, or lean, they were just strong. There’s been a shift of late where powerlifters are focusing on being as strong as they can be within their given weight class, or getting the strongest Wilks Score- which compares all lifters of the day regardless of weight class. It’s become a strategy and skill sport as well as a strength sport. Powerlifters like Jesse Norris, John Haack, Heather Connor, Jennifer Millican, and Monet Bland are redirecting the common picture of powerlifters by showing off stunningly contoured shoulders, rippling abs, and thick thighs. But even with this shift of having aesthetic powerlifters, being aesthetic doesn’t have anything to do with where you place, how you are treated, or how you train. Powerlifting is all about strength, but one of the byproducts of getting strong is getting well contoured muscles, and one of the byproducts of intense training of any kind is being well conditioned and shaping your body. So, if you want to build yourself some curves, or maybe you want to take some curves away, powerlifting is there for you. You will meet men and women who never diet and just live their lives and aim to have as much strength and happiness as they can muster, you will also see the opposite side of the spectrum- men and women who are insanely chiseled and set on dropping a weight class or maintaining a low weight so they can be more competitive. No matter what their weight goal is, come competition day they all scream, cry, and rejoice alongside one another.

One of the taglines of the female powerlifting community is “Uplift and Lift Heavy” and I couldn’t think of a better line to represent this community as a whole. No one is cheering for you to fail so they can win. No one is nasty or sabotaging in warm ups or on the platform. Everyone is so focused on doing their best that they want you to do yours too. I have never been to a powerlifting meet where people are nasty to each other, where people put each other down or go out of the way to mess their competition up. That’s just not the community. There is some kind of unspoken bond in powerlifting: You do what I do. You train how I train. You sweat and bleed and strive for the same goals I do. And that makes us the same. You can recognize that part of you in everyone in the room. And it is the most amazing experience.

As a young woman, there are more than enough outlets telling me how I should look and act and what dreams are acceptable. When I step into training or into a competition though, I am surrounded by people who want me to be my best. Who are encouraging me to be nothing but myself. And that’s why you should care about powerlifting. Not because it is going to make you strong and fit, because it will. Not because it is going to push your workouts to the next level, because it will. Not because it will challenge you physically and mentally, because it will. But because the people you meet will always have your back, and they will. Because you will start achieving things you never thought you could, and you will. Because you will find what exists on the either side of fear and doubt and apprehension, and you will. Powerlifting will take you on an incredible personal journey. Lifting heavy weights will teach you a kind of strength that carries over to every aspect of your life. Never have I met stronger, kinder, more dedicated people than those I’ve met through powerlifting. These aren’t just my training partners. They’re more than that. Not just teammates or friends. They’re like brothers and sisters. The sense of community you find in powerlifting is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

So what is powerlifting? Technically speaking- Squatting, Benching, Deadlifting. In reality- it is the best thing to ever happen to me, it is a transformative way of training, and an amazing community unlike any other.

Why should you care? Because it will lift you up. It can help you reach your physique goals, your strength goals, your personal goals. It can teach you the strength and self worth to reach career goals and relationship goals and achieve things you never dared dream of. You should care about it because it will care about you.

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