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Difference Between Weightlifting and Powerlifting

by
author image Patrick Dale
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. A lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a contributor to "Ultra-FIT" magazine and has been involved in fitness for more than 22 years. He authored the books "Military Fitness", "Live Long, Live Strong" and "No Gym? No Problem!" and served in the Royal Marines for five years.
Difference Between Weightlifting and Powerlifting
Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting both use barbells. Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Several sports involve lifting heavy objects, including strongman competitions, Highland games, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. On initial examination, these sports can seem very similar, but in actuality, weightlifting and powerlifting are very different, and strongman competitions take elements from both. Each of these strength sports places very different demands on the competitors.

Contested Lifts

Olympic lifting involves two lifts, both of which involve taking a heavy weight from the floor and lifting it above your head. The clean-and-jerk is a two-part lift in which the weight is taken from floor to shoulder height, then pushed overhead. The snatch is a single-part lift that involves taking the weight from the floor to overhead in one movement.

In contrast, powerlifting consists of three lifts; the squat, bench press and deadlift. In the squat, competitors rest a heavy barbell across their shoulders, bend their legs until their knees are bent to 90 degrees, then stand back up. The bench press is performed lying on your back, with the bar lowered to your chest and pressed to arms' length, and the deadlift involves taking a barbell from the floor and, with your arms straight, lifting it so you stand completely upright.

Morphology

The demands of powerlifting and weightlifting require and develop different body shapes -- called morphology.

Powerlifters tend to be very heavily muscled with a moderate to high level of body fat. They usually have a short torso in relation to leg length, which allows for larger weights to be lifted in the squat and deadlift events. Powerlifters are generally not known for their flexibility, as the events in powerlifting use very short ranges.

Olympic weightlifters are generally less massive than powerlfiters and tend to be leaner. Successful weightlifters tend to have longer torsos in relation to leg length and are very flexible.

Velocity of Movement

In powerlifting, the bar never travels very far or very fast. The weights are generally so huge that despite the best efforts of the lifter, the speed of bar travel is very low. In contrast, weightlifting is a highly explosive and fast sport. Lifters attempt to accelerate the bar to a maximum velocity and use momentum to help get the weight from the floor to shoulder or above-head height. This means that, contrary to the names of the respective sports, Olympic weightlifting results in a much higher degree of power production than powerlifting which is less a test of power and more a test of pure strength.

Personal Equipment

The sport of weightlifting allows very little in the way of equipment for the lifter. Weightlifters can wear a back support belt, knee sleeves and wrist wraps but, in addition to their lifting suit and shoes, no assistance equipment is allowed. Powerlifting is often performed using support gear, which includes tightly fitting squat suits, bench pressing shirts, deadlifting suits and elastic briefs. All of this equipment is designed to help the competitors lift heavier weights. Some powerlifting federations do not allow assistance gear, and their competitions are designated as "raw," while others allow the full available array of support gear to be worn.

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