On the face of it, powerlifting may seem to be a relatively straightforward strength sport comprising of three main lifts, the squat, bench press and deadlift.
However, these three lifts require excellent technique and form and this is only achieved by a lot of dedicated practice. Failure to execute any of these movements correctly could result in serious injury and will impede an athletes ability during a competitions environment.
The sport itself, evolved from a variety of strongman lifts known as ‘Odd Lifts’. Eventually, powerlifting was standardized to three main lifts we all know today.
What is Powerlifting?
In a nutshell, powerlifting is a competitive strength sport whereby athletes undertake three of each of the following compound movements:
- Bench Press
The idea is to lift as much weight as possible during each movement, the maximum amount of weight lifted for each of the three exercises is added together giving you your total. This total forms the basis of your results and the athlete with the highest total is the winner of the competition.
Those who compete are placed in categories depending on their gender, weight and height, this keeps the competition at a level playing field.
The rules of powerlifting can vary depending upon the federation. For example lifters can compete either equipped or raw.
Lifting equipped means to take advantage of squat or bench press suits or shirts, often known as powerlifting singlets. These suits are typically made from very thick polyester or Lycra which is reinforced and they offer a very tight fit, they aren’t not supposed to be comfortable!
Raw lifting is where the lifter will not be utilizing such aids and would be limiting any use of any such supportive devices such as knee wraps, singlets etc.
What Are The Three Main Lifts In Powerlifting?
The deadlift involves loading up a barbell which is located on the floor. Keep the bar close to your feet, bend at the waist and grab the bar with both hands, keeping them shoulder width apart.
Keeping your back straight, chest up and face forward, slowly stand up keeping the bar close to your shins. Be sure to ‘lock out’ your hips (drive them forward) at the top of the movement – this is important in a competition environment else you will have failed the lift.
A compound movement that activates muscles in your lower body, squats have fast become a very popular exercise due to the strength and muscle building potential. Rack a barbell at the correct height for your stature and load up with the required weight.
When performing the squat, ensure that the barbell is located high up on the back of your shoulders. Make sure it’s not resting on your neck as this can cause pressure on your spine which could result in injury.
Un-rack the barbell and squat down keeping your chest up, back straight and face forward until your hamstrings are parallel to the floor. Do this is a slow and controlled way to avoid injury and be sure to reach parallel, important in a competition. When returning to a standing position power up quickly and lock out the hips to finish.
The third compound exercise is the bench press. A great movement to target your chest, tricep and shoulders.
Using a competition bench press, rack your bar and load with the required weight. Lie back on the bench with your eyes underneath the bar. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, unrack the bar and keeping it close to you, slowly lower the bar until it reaches your chest. From there, push back up to the top position and rerack your bar.
When going heavy for this movement it’s important to have a spotter on hand in case you get into any difficulty.
What Is A Good Target – Bodyweight or More
How much you’re going to be lifting very much depends on your goals. If you are lifting in a competition you’re going to want to push the boundaries and aim for as much as you can physically and mentally achieve.
A good rule of thumb for those not lifting in a competitive capacity is that the average lifter should be able to lift between 1x to 1.5x their own bodyweight (that’s working up to this weight and not starting at this weight).
At beginner level, an average male could be expected to lift around 133% of their bodyweight with an average female being at 101% percent of their bodyweight. This is according to one of the authors of Practical Programming for Strength Training.
This can vary by exercise, 1.5x your bodyweight is a realistic goal for both squatting and deadlifting with 1.25x bodyweight for bench pressing. It’s also worth considering the number of reps you’re going to be working towards , higher reps are likely going to result in a reduction of the total weight lifted.
3 Tips for Beginner Powerlifters
If you are a beginner, here are some tips that should help you.
Tip 1: Squeeze your Scapula during a Bench Press
By squeezing your scapula during bench pressing you will keep your shoulders on the bench (where they should be) and help to reduce the range of motion. Keep your shoulders tight throughout the movement and then lock out the elbows at the top of the exercise. This will ensure better form and improved stability. By doing this, you will also engage more of your triceps helping with your overall lift.
Tip 2: Keep Your Chest Up In The Squat
Keeping your chest up in the squat means to keep it facing forward at the bottom of the movement and throughout the entire lift. By doing this you will prevent your torso from folding during the concentric part of the squat (at the bottom) and reducing any potential for injury and improving your stability which is vital during a heavy squat.
Tip 3: Do Not Bend Your Arms In The Deadlift – Think of Your Arms As Hooks
Never bend your arms when deadlifting. Keep your elbows locked and arms straight throughout the movement. If you try and pull the bar up with your biceps you’ll likely tear them keeping you out of the gym for quite some time. Think of your arms as hooks, you are simply using them to hold on to the weight and nothing more. The key muscles which will be activated during a deadlift will be the quads, glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors.
When Starting Out In Powerlifting
- Split Up Your Training
Also know as split system training, is to focus on a specific body area and training until fatigue sets in. This allows for intensive training, when compared to a full body workout, with ample recovery time before training it again.
A typical week could look like this:
- Monday: Back
- Tuesday: Chest
- Wednesday: Shoulders / Traps
- Thursday: Biceps / Triceps
- Friday: Legs
- Saturday and Sunday and rest days.
- Do Not Over Train
One thing you should keep in mind is not to over-train yourself. There are a number of disadvantages from overtraining ranging from increased muscle soreness due to not enough rest and recovery time, poor sleep and recurring injuries.
Powerlifters generally do not train as much as, say, bodybuilders. This is because powerlifting causes strain on their CNS (Central Nervous System). 3 to 5 days a week is a good rule of thumb.
- Give Yourself Ample Rest Period
This ties in with our previous point. If you give your body enough rest period, it will help it recover from an intense session. Allowing for ample muscle recovery time means you’ll see better performance the next time you train. This will result in increased muscle and strength gains.
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