What is Powerlifting Exactly?
By Max Hall
So, What IS Powerlifting?
To directly quote the GREAT Wikipedia
"Powerlifting is a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift.” Cite- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powerlifting
However, powerlifting goes far beyond this general definition. Powerlifting is a sport about using one’s passion to find and create their best selves. The best part? It’s a sport for anyone. In the sport of powerlifting you compete in the squat, bench, and deadlift. You are given three attempts for each. You must follow a set of rules dictated by the federation you are competing with.
Some compete with others to lift the most in their weight class, many others compete to lift more weight than they did in their last meet. Your score and total are based on your best attempt from each lift. Federations give you a score based on your weight, gender, and total. Popular formulas include the Wilks, Dots, Goodlifts, and IPF formulas.
Brief History of Powerlifting
Powerlifting history dates back as far as the ancient Greek and Persian times. In ancient Greece men would lift stones to prove their strength. The sport of weightlifting has been in the Olympics since 1896 and remains in the Olympics to this day. Our modern version of powerlifting was created in the 1950s by Britain and the U.S.
The Different Types and Federations of Powerlifting
After reading the data and counting ALL of the federations on Openpowerlifting.org, there are over 300+ different powerlifting federations. These federations are broken into International, National, and Regional federations; some of the federations fall under others. In powerlifting there exists two main categories of lifting: equipped powerlifting and raw powerlifting. Some federations of the sport are focused around equipped lifting, others raw lifting, and some have categories for each. This leaves a lot to choose from so let me help guide you by giving you some information on the two different categories and some of the federations that fall under each.
What is Raw Powerlifting?
What is raw powerlifting? Raw powerlifting is powerlifting performed without the use of supportive equipment. This means no squat suit, bench shirt, or deadlift suit, which I will talk about below. In a raw meet you wear a singlet and are allowed knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and a belt.
Raw meets are also broken down into classic raw and raw with wraps. Raw with wraps is like classic raw but you are allowed to wear knee wraps instead of your knee sleeves which provide extra support.
Some main raw international federations include the IPF, IPL, 100% RAW, WRPF, and now the USAPL since they have broken off from the IPF and plan to expand into being international. Most national federations will fall under one of these international bodies.
What is Equipped Powerlifting?
Equipped powerlifting is powerlifting with the use of supportive equipment. This includes knee wraps, squat suits, bench shirts, and deadlift suits in addition to the usual belt and wrist wraps that are allowed in Raw powerlifting. These supportive pieces of equipment are typically made of thick polyester material. The more this material stretches the more elastic supportive benefit it gives you for your lifts.
These supportive suits and shirts can be difficult to learn how to use. That, paired with the suits being pricey, makes the barrier for entry in equipped powerlifting slightly higher which is why many lifters start with raw powerlifting; if equipped powerlifting appeals to them they may migrate to the equipped side. The supportive equipment allows the lifters to lift heavier weights than they could without the equipment.
The USPA, USAPL, and IPF also have equipped lifting divisions along with their raw divisions, offering both styles of lifters. The bigger equipped federations are the APF, AAPF, WPC and the WPO. If you want to compete at the highest level of equipped lifting and want the most competition, at the time of writing this article these federations are where you should go.
Other Competition Info
Outside of raw and equipped powerlifting, other competitions exist. Most meets will include a “full power” division which includes squat, bench, and deadlift. Other divisions include push/pull (bench and deadlift), bench only, and deadlift only. Some federations will also host competitions for strict curls and overhead pressing.
Most meets will be hosted by a federation that has its own set of rules and records.
Sometimes there will be non-federation bodies that are not governed by a federation. These meets are usually either for charity or for introducing newer lifters to the sport. Rules will be dictated by the judges and there will be no record books available in these meets.
If you are wanting a quick primer to get you through YOUR first powerlifting meet, take a look at this article going over the BASICS.
Why Powerlifting is Great
I believe powerlifting is so great because it’s the sport for virtually everyone. If you are capable of squatting below parallel, touching your chest on bench press, and picking up a deadlift, you can be a powerlifter. If you are limited by any of these things there are push/pull, bench only, and deadlift only meets you still may be able to do. With so many federations that all have their own rules and cultures, it can be confusing to navigate but, it also means if one federation doesn’t fit what you are looking for another very well may. There is a home for you.
Who Should Powerlift?
The way I look at it, there are two main types of people that powerlifting is great for. You may fit into one of these two categories or you may fit somewhere on the spectrum between the two. Wherever you fit is 100% okay. Like I said, this sport is great because it is a fit for anyone, so wherever you fit you shouldn’t be discouraged and you are welcome in this sport.
A casual lifter is someone I would consider less concerned with records, placing, and competing against others and instead is focused on self improvement. The competition is them against themselves. They seek to beat their total from their last meet. I like this style of lifting for many because it is very low pressure and focused on self improvement.
Competitive lifters seek to be the best lifter they can be and shoot for the top. They seek to break records and be the best lifter for their category (Age and Weight Class). These lifters find pleasure in committing themselves to the process and hope to one day be the best in their class.
You may fit into one of these categories or somewhere between. Wherever you fit that’s okay. What matters is that you find purpose, pleasure, and fun in the process of getting stronger and competing in the sport. Powerlifting is the sport for everyone, that anyone and everyone can enjoy and work on improving their physical and mental strength.
Which Powerlifting Federation Should I Choose?
When looking for a federation, you will want to find one with meets in close proximity to you as well as one that fits you as a lifter so that you will have the most fun.
Casual lifters will likely want to find a federation that keeps things fun and is focused on helping the lifters. Federations where everyone cheers for each other, seeks to have fun, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
Competitive lifters will seek to find the federation where the most competition exists for their desired category. They will want to find a federation that holds their lifters to a high standard and where everyone is as serious as them. That doesn’t mean that these lifters won't want to have fun but they will likely find the fun of competing in a more serious sense.
You will also likely want to choose whether you would like to compete raw or equipped. With the additional cost and trickiness of equipped lifting it may benefit you to try one raw meet first to learn the rules of powerlifting before adding the extra variables of equipped lifting.
How to Train for Powerlifting
Training for powerlifting can be seen as simple as there are only three movements you need to be strong for, but can be quite nuanced. Manipulation of factors such as volume, intensity, and frequency can be hard when you are less familiar with how they all work.
Unfortunately many new lifters start by just maxing out their squat, bench, and deadlift every week. This may work at first but will inevitably stop working at some point and will likely result in a greater chance of injury. To ensure safety as well as progress it will benefit you to investigate either hiring a coach or following a program.
There will be some slight differences in how to program for raw lifting vs equipped lifting. If you are going the equipped route you will most definitely want a coach that knows how to program as well as how to teach you how to use the equipment because it may not be super straight forward. The nuance of the equipment can make it harder to figure out. The heavier loads you’ll be lifting through the assistance of the equipment will present more risk. I urge you that if this is the route you’re going, seek professional help.
In raw lifting there may not be as much nuance or risk however working with a coach will help you progress faster while reducing risk of injury. If you are looking for a coach I would love to either work with you or help find the right fit for your needs. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are not in a position to hire a coach but would like some help follow my free 15 week program and powerlifting E-Book linked here. These are a great read to learn everything you need to know about starting powerlifting as well as includes a program to help get you started. In theory you can run this program repeatedly but it will most likely diminish in returns the stronger you get. This may be a great way to get started but long term you may want to position yourself to hire a coach.
Powerlifting and Anime
In this day and age we see many powerlifters who are into anime. You may be asking what do these two things have in common?
The answer is undertones of self improvement. In many popular anime we see the main characters going through amazing journeys of improvement and self discovery. Like many of our favorite characters in anime, when we embark on this powerlifting journey we will truly discover what we are capable of. Both in physical strength and mental strength.
Why I Love Powerlifting
I can say powerlifting has changed my life. It has given me drive and purpose. I found powerlifting at a time in life where I was at a low. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship. I had very little self confidence and to be honest I didn’t really like myself. Powerlifting was a catalyst of change for me. I learned how strong I could be and slowly learned to love myself. I learned to become the hero of my own story and now powerlifting continues to motivate me to help and inspire others.
My Name is Max Hall, I love My Hero Academia and Deadlifts. I work with powerlifters and making sure they get as strong as possible.
For Coaching Email me at email@example.com or check out my free e-book. If you want to get to know the Anime Lifting community a BIT more check out the Plus Ultra Fitness Podcast.