The Difference Between Powerlifting and Weightlifting
If you’re fairly new to the body building space, you may have heard the terms “power lifting” and “weightlifting,” without really knowing the difference. You may even think that they’re interchangeable, which isn’t exactly true.
The short of it is that powerlifting is the competition form of weightlifting. Of course, the line between any athletic competition and any athletic exercise is a bit blurry. Running is another great example: where is the line between competing and exercising?
Let’s look closer. We’ll start by looking at powerlifting and weightlifting separately and then looking at their similarities and differences.
Powerlifting is a sport. Participants get three attempts to lift their maximum weight capacity. It fits itself well to sports because it’s easily quantifiable. It’s easy to objectively compare the performance of two people.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s look at powerlifting as an exercise.
As an exercise, powerlifting has a couple of upsides.
For one, it is the extreme case for “high weight, low rep.” This common mantra refers to how to build muscle rather than toning muscle. While toning muscle is also important, powerlifting is a huge tool for building.
We’ll talk in a moment about how powerlifting is not highly versatile in terms of the muscles that you can work out, the three main power lifts – the squat, the bench press, and the dead lift – exercise the legs, the arms and chest, and the core respectively. So, if you practice all of these, it’s more-or-less a full body workout.
Finally, we’ve already said that pushing yourself is a good thing when it comes to exercise and bodybuilding. Powerlifting definitely forces you to push yourself, so it’s great in that way from a psychology perspective.
As an exercise, the versatility of power lifting is extremely limited. There are a limited number of lifts that can be performed, because of physical limitations that come in with big weights.
Using smaller weights allows people to exercise smaller muscles groups, so the “bigger is better” mentality limits you. It also limits you to building rather than toning.
The “bigger is better” mentality also makes powerlifting potentially dangerous. While pushing yourself is always good, pushing yourself too far to lift too much can lead you to damage your muscles.
To kind of compare weightlifting and powerlifting, we’ve been a little unfair in treating powerlifting as an exercise rather than a sport. While we could look at weightlifting as a sport, we’re going to stick with talking about it as an exercise.
Weightlifting is highly versatile. Because it doesn’t stress max capacity weights, you can get pretty creative in terms of the workouts that you do. That means that you can target very small and very specific muscles, which is important for doing things like preventative maintenance for specific areas like the rotator cuff.
You can also adjust the weight to run the whole spectrum between low weight high rep all the way up to high weight low rep. Similarly, because there isn’t the “bigger is better” mentality, weightlifting is a lot more approachable for people new to the space. It’s also safer because there isn’t as much emphasis on pushing yourself to your limits.
Weightlifting isn’t perfect, particularly if you do it imperfectly.
Remember how we said above that if you do the three main power lifts you’re essentially working out your whole body? Weightlifting doesn’t have that. So, while the mechanics make it easier to target specific body parts, the psychology makes it easier to neglect major muscle groups.
Finally, because powerlifting is essentially a sport, it’s more inherently social. That’s helpful in terms of psychology, but it also gives you a defined goal. Knowing the right goal and knowing the best pace is more difficult in weightlifting because for most people it is a solitary activity.
If only there was some system that gave you the best of both the weightlifting and the power lifting world. But wait, there is! It’s called “powerbuilding.”
Power building rose out of a combination of powerlifting and bodybuilding, a sport that we didn’t get into here. It focuses on pushing for max strength like power lifting does, but it also incorporates concerns over aesthetic muscle form, which necessarily incorporates different workout styles and intensities.
Powerbuilding includes the high weight low rep mentality but it also includes a lower weight lower rep mentality that places it between the sheer size building in powerlifting that is both impractical and unsafe, and the toning exercises that keep you safe while lifting but that some bodybuilders just don’t want to take time for.
Powerbuilding still never really emphasises things like proper toning and it does always encourage the individual to be thinking toward the top of their one-rep max. This means that while it isn’t as likely to lead to harm as powerlifting, it still isn’t what some biomechanical experts would call responsible in the long term.
What’s Right for You?
So, now you know the differences between powerlifting, weightlifting, and powerbuilding – which you didn’t even ask about. So, which one is right for you?
It’s true that all three of these things have different goals in mind, which they achieve through different ends. However, they aren’t mutually exclusive.
Say you like the toning aspect of weightlifting, and the competitive aspect of powerlifting but you’re scared off by the emphasis on high weight. No one is going to take your gym membership away if you engage in any combination of all of these.
If you’re reading this article, you know what you want, and exercise is a world big enough to give you whatever that is. There’s no need to pick a box and sit in it when it comes to your health and activity.
So, if one of these activities really speaks to you, do what speaks to you. If you like something from all of them, take what you like and leave what you don’t.