What is Powerlifting?

N. Swensson

A lay person may think of powerlifting as a simplistic sport in which competitors try to lift very heavy weights and where the one who lifts the most wins. This sport, however, actually features three different types of lifts in the following order: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Powerlifting is similar to the sport of Olympic weightlifting in that competitors have three or four attempts to lift each weight, but the types of lifts are different. Powerlifting competitors are divided into categories based on weight, age, and sex, and events may consist of one, two, or all three types of lift. While strength is the most definite advantage for a powerlifter, if two athletes lift the same amount of weight in a competition, the one who weighs less wins.

Performing squats, especially with heavy weights, can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.
Performing squats, especially with heavy weights, can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.

The first type of lift in a powerlifting competition is the squat. This involves the lifter resting the weight bar across the back while standing up straight and then bending the legs so that the hips are lower than the knees. Then the lifter must maintain control of the weight and return to standing, waiting for the referee's signal before putting the weight down. The athlete may not move the feet or bounce the weight at any time during the lift.

In the second type of lift, a bench press, the lifter lies on a weight bench and holds the weight bar at chest level. When signaled by the referee, the lifter extends the arms fully to lift the weight and must hold it steady in that position until the referee gives permission to put it back on the bench.

During the deadlift, the final type of lift, the weight bar sits on the floor, and the lifter must pick it up and move to a standing position. To receive credit for the lift, the athlete must lock the knees and can't stumble or move the feet. When the referee feels that the lifter has held the weight steadily in this position, he or she gives a signal, and the powerlifter must lower the weight bar back to the ground with control and without dropping it.

Powerlifting allows competitors to have between two and five spotters present to help with various aspects of the competition, such as returning the weight bar to the rack after a lift or assisting a lifter who loses control of a weight. Spotters must be careful not to interfere with the actual lifts, which can result in disqualification for the lifter.

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