Weightlifting and Powerlifting; Understanding The Difference – Dylan Spina

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Dylan Spina – @DylanSpina61

Check out video content for the article here: http://ironvalleybarbell.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/WLvPL.mov

There’s a lot of discussion now-a-days into the many sports of the fitness world. Two that always get mixed up is Weightlifting (Olympic) and Powerlifting. Both sports are extremely competitive on a high level, both drastically different in many respected ways. I have a good friend who is a Weightlifter, Frank Miele, who has a spot to compete at the USAW American Open in California at 105kg at the end of the year. We both discuss the vast difference between his sport and mine, Powerlifting, on the daily. And we both agree that there should be distinct difference made clear to the public and athletes about those differences in the two sports.

As Frank would describe his sport, Weightlifting is an overwhelmingly technical sport. The snatch and clean and jerk require countless and immeasurable repetitions and practice for years just to become mediocre at the technique. In the sport of weightlifting, the objective is to take as much weight from the floor to overhead in the most efficient and explosive way possible, in two different movements:

  1. The Snatch being the movement where the athlete will take a loaded bar from the floor to overhead position, the athlete pulls under the bar into an overhead squat position and stands up with the weight in the overhead position
  2. The Clean and Jerk being the movement that the athlete will take the loaded bar from floor to the front rack, once athlete stands with bar, the athlete begins the jerk with a dip and driving the bar upwards while punching underneath the bar, so that he is under the bar as the weight is in an overhead position and then standing with control.


In Competition, the athlete has three attempts at each lift. The best result of each lift is combined to form their ‘total’. The athlete with the highest total wins the competition in his or her respective weight class. The highest level of competition in the sport is at the Olympic level.

When preparing for competition the Weightlifting athlete focuses on Three phases before peaking for their meet. Each phase consists of 3 weeks of training 4-6 days a week and one week of a De-load consisting of a lighter load on the lifter. The First phase is focused on strength and Hypertrophy at 60-70%. The Second phase is focused on more technique work, you’ll see a decrease in training volume here, somewhere between 3-4 set of 2-3 reps at 75-85%. The Third Phase the volume drops off and you’ll see working sets of 2-4 heavy singles at somewhere between 85-100%.

“Weightlifters are more powerful athletes, but powerlifters are stronger.”

Powerlifting in its entirety is very strength focused sport. In contest there’s 3 main lifts, “The Big Three,” as many across the sports world refer to as: The Squat, The Bench Press, and The Deadlift. In the beginning, there are many exercises to help your Big Three get better. The further advanced you get with the sport some say the less accessory work you may have to do and focus more on the actual lifts themselves. To break down the 3 movements are:

  1. The Squat being the movement of having a weight loaded on your back, squatting to depth when your hip joint breaks the top of your knee, then standing back up to the start position.
  2. The Bench Press being the movement when you lay down with the weight load in your hands, bring the bar to chest, pause then press the bar back up into the start position.
  3. The Deadlift being the movement when the bar is loaded on the ground, you pick the weight up and lock out your hips and knees, then return the bar back to the ground in a safe manner.

As the same with weightlifting these movements that are tested in 3 attempts each and 9 totals in competition. The highest successful attempt in each list is calculated into their total. The athlete with the highest total in their respected weight class wins that class. And the athlete with the highest “Wilks Coefficient”, the best total in comparison to his body weight, wins best overall lifter. Powerlifting is not tested at an Olympic Level but is tested on a world level in multiple federations.

Training for this sport is vastly different from Weightlifting, where as there is no one true way to prepare an athlete for competition. There are many different styles of programming for a peak but most programs have athletes training anywhere between 4-7 days per week with usually 2-3 max effort days and 2-3 speed days at anywhere between 35-100%. Everyone has their own ways to build phases and how to cycle them whether its speed, hypertrophy, power, etc. When an athlete decides to start peaking for a meet, usually, they test their lift max lifts or their heaviest attempts in each lift for the meet anywhere between 7-8 days out and take the last 3-6 days on a complete de-load. On the de-load, they will rest the body, continue moving some blood and fueling up for competition.

Powerlifting and Weightlifting are vastly different. There are certainly aspects and concepts to be taken from either sport to benefit the other, but the truth is that the two sports have very, very little in common with one another. At the end of the day, training is training, and none of it is easy—it’s suppose to hurt. A BIG, thank you to Frank for helping with the weightlifting section of this article so we could help deliver a more accurate piece. Hopefully this cleared up a lot of confusion about the two sports.



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