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What is Power Lifting?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Power lifting is a competitive sport which involves lifting large amounts of weight in three different activities. The sport involves the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Unlike Olympic weightlifting, power lifting focuses primarily on the amount of weight that can be directly lifted, with little focus on precision or technique. The genesis of the sport can be traced to the early 20th century, when it was primarily practiced in New York City. Born of the earlier exhibitions of strongmanism, the new generation of lifters focused on lifting the most weight they possibly could, and demonstrated their prowess in various positions.

In the squat, one of the events involved in power lifting, competitors lift large amounts of weight primarily with the glutes and quadriceps. Safety in the squat is crucial, since serious injuries to the back can occur with large amounts of weight if care isn't taken with one's technique. Many believe that the squat should not go any lower than the point at which the thighs form a straight line parallel to the floor, while some argue that the thighs may go lower if necessary, so long as the knees do not go much further forward than the toes.

When performing the squat as part of a lifting competition, one begins in an upright position with the bar at approximately the position of the deltoids. The bar is removed from the rack, and the lifter waits for the referee's signal. Once given the signal, the power lifting competitor squats until the hips are just below knee level, then returns to an upright position with no bouncing and returns the bar to the rack.

The bench press is the second event performed during a lifting competition, and focuses on the triceps and deltoids. Unlike a workout bench press, in power lifting the pectoral muscles play a minor role in pressing from the bench. When performing the bench press as part of a power lifting competition, the feet must remain flat on the floor at all times, and the head, shoulders, and buttocks must remain flat on the bench. The spacing of the hands differs depending on the overseeing body, but is usually around 80cm (31.5 inches). Once the bar is in place and the lifter begins the lift, the bar may not lower again, or else the competitor will be disqualified.

The deadlift is the last event performed during a competition and works an enormous range of muscles, especially the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings, and the entire back area. During the deadlift portion of the competition, a bar loaded with weight is placed on the ground. The lifter then squats down to get a firm grip on the bar and lifts until the entire body is straight. The bar is then held until the signal to return it to the ground is given, at which point the lifter returns it to the floor in a carefully controlled manner.

In most competitive arenas of power lifting, a lifter is given three attempts at each step of the competition, with the highest weight of those three taken as their best. The best weights from each of the three lifts are then added together, and the total is used to determine the winner.

Some power lifting organizations allow the use of machines to assist in the lifts, while others do not. This has led to large differences in records for most weight lifted. For example, the record for machine-assisted bench press in a competition is 1005lb (456kg), while the record for largest unassisted bench press is 714lb (324kg). Many argue that the use of machines undermines the integrity of power lifting as a pure weight sport, while others note that the reduction in serious physical harm is worth the compromise.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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