Strength Sports

Powerlifting vs Olympic Lifting: How Are They Different?

powerlifting vs Olympic lifting

Both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are competitive sports in which the athlete is required to undertake a number of lifts. 

While each form of sports requires a significant amount of strength and athleticism, there are a few factors which differentiate one from the other.

Read more to discover more about powerlifting vs Olympic lifting.

The key difference between powerlifting vs Olympic lifting are the types of lifts involved in each sport. Powerlifting comprises of the squat, deadlift, and bench press. Whereas, Olympic lifting constitutes the snatch and clean & jerk.

Let’s look at some other differences between Olympic lifting vs powerlifting:

  1. Powerlifting comprises of three movements whereas Olympic lifting is two.
  2. Weightlifting is currently classified as an Olympic sport, powerlifting is not.
  3. An Olympic lifter would focus more on speed and mobility training whereas the emphasis of a powerlifter is pure strength.
  4. Powerlifting is broken down into additional sub categories; raw and equipped lifting.
  5. Olympic lifts are typically seen as more technically demanding.
  6. A competitive powerlifter usually needs more recovery time so will likely not train as often as an Olympic weightlifter.

What Is Olympic Weightlifting?

Olympic weightlifting is a competitive sport in which an athlete will undertake two movements; the snatch and the clean & jerk. 

The snatch involves lifting a loaded bar from the ground to overhead in one motion.  The clean & jerk is to lift a loaded bar from the ground to overhead in two motions.

Both lifts are commonly undertaken with an element of speed in mind.  That’s because, executing them quickly can allow the athlete to lift more weight than if they were to do them in a slow and controlled motion.

At the time of writing this article and following on from research, there is uncertainty as to whether or not weightlifting will be part of the Olympic Games in the future.   

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have asked that a number of issues be addressed by the sports governing body, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), before it will consider their inclusion going forward.

What Is Powerlifting?

Powerlifting is a competitive strength sport whereby an athlete will undertake three lifts; the squat, bench press and the deadlift.  They are completed in that order. 

Sometimes a competition, usually referred to as a powerlifting meet, will comprise of just the bench press and deadlift, this is referred to as a push/pull competition.

Powerlifting has never been an Olympic sport and, at the time of writing, does not look like it will become one anytime soon. 

The main reason why powerlifting isn’t an Olympic sport is because the different rules among federations make it hard to formulate and structure properly.

For example, one powerlifting federation would stipulate a certain depth to reach for the lifters squat, but this depth height could be different for an opposing federation. 

The sport of powerlifting is a very slow one. 

Categories of powerlifting are broken down into different weight classes and by the time a lifter has accomplished each of the three lifts, it is not uncommon for a powerlifting meet to exceed 6 to 7 hours, depending on the number of athletes taking part. 

These timeframes would make it difficult to integrate into the yearly Olympics and from a viewer perspective, could be rather boring unless you are an avid powerlifting fan.

What Are The Rules Of Weightlifting?

The rules of competing in weightlifting are very straightforward:

  1. The athlete is categorised by their gender and weight.
  2. Each athlete is given three attempts at each of the two lifts.
  3. The heaviest weight they have achieved with the snatch and clean & jerk are added together for their combined total.
  4. This total is what forms the basis of their ranking within their category. The highest total being the overall winner.

When it comes to the specifics for each of the movements, this is a little more complicated.

The Snatch Exercise

The snatch exercise is when a lifter will squat down and grab a loaded barbell and power back up in one explosive and continuous movement until the barbell is overhead with the athletes’ arms locked out. 

During competition, the lifter will have three attempts at achieving their heaviest weight.

For a successful snatch in competition, the lifter must lift the barbell off of the ground in one fluid motion with no other body part having touched the ground aside from their feet. 

They are required to lock out their elbows in an overhead press and maintain control.  The lifter needs to wait for a bell signal before they can drop the bar.

The Clean & Jerk Exercise

The clean and jerk exercise is very similar to the snatch with the exception that the lifter will lift the bar to chest height and then briefly pause before locking out in an overhead press.

As with powerlifting; there are three judges who use a light system in order to determine if a lift was successful or not.

A minimum of two white lights are needed to signal a successful lift with two or more red light signaling a failed lift.

Only once the athlete has achieved a successful lift can they then try again with more weight.

What Are The Rules Of Powerlifting

The general rules of powerlifting are very similar to that of Olympic weightlifting with the lifter being categorised by their gender and weight. 

As with weightlifting, their collective total of each of their heaviest lifts is added together to provide their ranking with the highest total being the winner.

Before, we delve into the specific rules of each movement it’s worth nothing that there are sub- categories within powerlifting that essentially make it two different sports; equipped powerlifting and raw powerlifting

What Is Equipped Powerlifting?

Equipped powerlifting is where a powerlifter can compete whilst taking advantage of a number of aids to assist them with lifting more weight. 

Such aids could be a squat suit or knee wraps.  An equipped powerlifter cannot compete against a raw powerlifter.

You can read more about the type of accessories used in powerlifting here.

What is Raw Powerlifting?

Raw powerlifting, sometimes referred to as classic powerlifting, is when a lifter will compete without the use of supportive equipment, such as a squat suit. 

A raw powerlifter would compete in their own class and not against an equipped lifter, who would typically be able to lift more weight.

Below we briefly explain each of three exercises executed during a powerlifting meet.  Specific rules will vary by federation along with what equipment can and cannot be used. 

This could also depend on whether the competition is regional, national or international.

What are the 3 Lifts In Powerlifting?

The Bench Press

As a general rule, a bench press needs to be executed with the powerlifters feet remaining on the floor with their head, back and buttocks staying flat against the bench pad.  Once in position, spotters will hand over the loaded barbell to the lifter. 

In order for a bench press to be considered a successful lift, the lifter has to lower the bar to their chest and wait for a signal from the referee. 

Typically, this is once the referee has announced the word ‘press’.  They then need to push the bar back up to the starting position with the elbows locking out. 

Should they begin to lower the bar this would be considered a failed lift.  Once locked out, they may need to wait for a further signal before racking the barbell.

The Deadlift

During a competition deadlift, the powerlifter must start with the loaded barbell placed on the floor in front of them. 

They are required to lift the bar off of the ground until they are in a fully upright position with their hips locked out.  If the lifter should begin to lower the bar upon rising, this would be considered a failed lift. 

Once upright, the lifter needs to maintain this position with control and shoulders back until they are given a command by the referee.  This command will only be forthcoming once the lifter has achieved the correct stance.

The Squat

Depending on the federation, some lifters will execute their lift from a monolift device and if not, they will simply unrack the barbell and step back before squatting. 

Once the lifter has demonstrated that they have control of the loaded barbell in a standing position, they will receive a signal to commence the squat. 

The depth that has to be achieved is usually parallel but this can vary depending on federation rules.  The lifter usually does not require a signal to return to a standing position but they need to do so in a controlled manner without dropping back down.


Even though Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting are considered by some as very similar, we have demonstrated that they are two very different disciplines. 

However, all the movements within each sport require a significant amount of strength and excellent form to execute the moves successfully.

Olympic weightlifting has long been a popular sport and in recent years powerlifting continues to rise in popularity amongst men and women, young and old, to the extent that maybe one day it will take the stage at the Olympics alongside weightlifting.

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