Powerlifters compete in three lifts -- the squat, bench press and deadlift. The lifter with the highest total in his weight class wins that class. A formula determines the best lifter overall, and percentages of bodyweight do not factor into competition. While bodyweight ratios for average or beginning lifters are not maintained, you can review a list of the percentage of bodyweight for powerlifting record holders.
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Size and Strength Relationships
While it is true that size and strength are related, the relationship between size and strength is not linear. Your muscles' ability to generate strength is based directly on their peak cross-sectional area. If a muscle doubles in size, its PCSA does not double, or even come close to this. So if you were to double your available muscle mass, your strength would not double. Many other factors contribute to strength that have nothing to do with size, including the rate at which you recruit muscle fibers and the order in which you recruit them. Both factors are trainable.
Magic Number for Men
Weight classes in the men's division range from 114 to 308 pounds with no upper limit after this. Using established records as the limit and the top weight for each class, men achieve 8.9 times their bodyweight on average when setting a world record. The highest ratio is in the lightest weight class, where Andrzej Stanaszek of Poland achieved 10.6 times his bodyweight. The lowest ratio is in the heaviest weight class, where John Cole of the U.S. totaled 7.7 times his bodyweight in competition.
And the Ratio for Women
Female powerlifting weight classes range from 97 pounds to 198 pounds with no upper limit after the heavyweight class. Using the same protocol used for the men, women total 6.8 times their bodyweight when setting a record. Unlike men, for women the highest ratio is in the 132-pound class, where Carrie Boudreau of the United States totaled 7.6 times her bodyweight. Like the men, the women's lowest strength-to-bodyweight powerlifting total occurs in the heavyweight class, where Shannon Nash of the U.S. totaled 6.0 times her bodyweight.
One of the reasons the ratio of lifts to bodyweight drops is the effect of competition itself. Powerlifters often restrict their bodyweight, working very hard to cut weight for competition. This is regularly done until an athlete can no longer make weight without a negative impact on strength. In the heavier weight classes, some men will cut up to 40 pounds to make weight, coming down from as much as 260 pounds to make weight for the 220-pound class.
- Science and Practice of Strength Training; Vladimir Zatsiorsky
- Powerlifting Watch: Men's World Records
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Considering Body Mass Differences, Who Are the World's Strongest Women
- Powerlifting Watch: Women's World Records