There are so many different modalities of strength training these days that it’s very easy to get confused between them all. From the outside it can seem like they are all the same thing and all fall into the same category of training. This is not the case!
So what is the difference between powerlifting, weightlifting, and strength training!?
Powerlifting is an individual, competitive sport, where the goal is to lift the most amount of weight possible in a single plane of motion. The lifts utalised in powerlifting are the squat, bench press and deadlift. Competitors have three attempts to reach their maximum capacity and must follow strict technique rules so that everyone is compared equally. For example everyone must squat to a certain depth or else the lift doesn’t count. The heaviest squat, bench press and deadlift that are successfully lifted are added up to give athletes a ‘total’. This total is what’s used to rank athletes amongst each other, along with being ranked in weight classes and age categories.
Worldwide there are several powerlifting federations that govern the sport and each federation has slightly different technical rules, weigh-in protocols, and policies around drug testing.
Weightlifting, also known as olympic lifting, is also an individual competitive sport where the goal is to lift the most amount of weight possible with athletes competing in various weight classes, which are different for each sex. The big difference to powerlifting is it consists of only two lifts, the snatch, and the clean and jerk, which are explosive movements and require a combination of maximal strength, power and speed.
The snatch involves lifting the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in a single movement. The clean and jerk involves two distinct lifting motions, the first is lifting the barbell from the floor to chest level, and then the second is from chest level to overhead with feet directly under the hips and shoulders. Each weightlifter gets three attempts at both the snatch and the clean and jerk, with the snatch attempts being done first.
Athletes preparing for a weightlifting competition need to do more than just increase the weight they attempt to lift each week in order to improve their performance and prevent injury, it also includes cardiovascular endurance training, isometrics and other strength training techniques that build explosive strength and proper body alignment.
While powerlifters and weightlifters both focus on lifting as much weight as possible for a one-rep max, the movements utalised are very different. Powerlifters tend to perform their lifts much slower and in a controlled manner as one mistake might lead to the lift being red-lifted (meaning the lift will not be counted), they’re also single plane movements (one direction) and very much about how much you can lift. Whereas the movements utalised in weightlifting, the snatch, and clean and jerk, require more advanced technical skill, precision and control along with explosive power and strength to complete the lift.
In weightlifting there is only one federation and the rules are the same at almost every competition in the world, no matter the size or significance of the event, whereas in powerlifting the rules vary from federation to federation.
Strength training or resistance training, involves using your own bodyweight or equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands or machines to build muscle mass, strength and work capacity. What this looks like in practice can very much differ from person to person based on their preferences and what they enjoy when it comes to training.
Here at BBB we use the movements squat, bench press, deadlift and overhead press as the heart of our training, however that doesn’t mean you’re training for powerlifting. The difference being programming principles applied. For example, a powerlifter is training for a one-rep max and will be utalising intensities of 75% and above with lower rep ranges, in comparison to someone who may be just starting their strength training journey or training to build muscle, their programming principles will look different, for example 50% loads and below at rep ranges of 8 and above.
Just because you’re doing squat, bench press and deadlift, doesn’t mean you’re training for powerlifting, you’re simply utilising those movements in your strength training journey. Likewise, just because you may be utilising the movements of the snatch and the clean and jerk, doesn’t mean you’re training for one-rep max weightlifting strength.
We hope this helps with some clarity around the what’s what of powerlifting, weightlifting and strength training.
We absolutely love to lift and discuss all things strength!
Reach out if you’re keen to chat x