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Nina Laidlaw Rumler, B.A.


Do you know what sport uses weights and is governed by rules published in 17 different languages with participants in 100 different countries, competes males and females of all ages and sizes against others in their divisions – and is not in the Olympics?

Here’s a hint – it’s not bodybuilding although it maximizes muscle development; in fact, it developed in competition with bodybuilding. Although it uses weights, it isn’t Olympic weightlifting. As Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek would say, “Powerlifting, that’s the one!”

Since all three involve heavy iron, what are the differences? Powerlifting focuses on three movements – bench presses, squats, and deadlifts – with maximal muscle strength and size as the main goal and is sometimes referred to as slow-speed training. Bodybuilders use those three in addition to others, cardiovascular exercise, and dietary techniques all aimed at physical appearance. Olympic weightlifters compete with the snatch and the clean jerk movements, which are both overhead lifts, emphasizing “explosive” strength.

A non-technical thumbnail explanation of these exercises follows.

  • Cardiovascular of course includes running, jogging, walking, biking, etc.
  • To perform the bench press, the lifter lies horizontal on a bench, lowers the loaded bar to chest level, then raises it to full arm extension.
  • For the squat, the standing lifter supports a loaded bar on his or her shoulders, squats, then rises back to standing position.
  • In the deadlift, the standing lifter picks up the loaded bar from the floor and returns to a standing position with knees locked and shoulders back.
  • In weightlifting’s clean and jerk, the lifter moves a weighted barbell from the floor to a racked position across the shoulders, then lifts the weight overhead until the arms are straight and the bar is level.
  • In the snatch movement, the lifter crouches, picks up the bar from the ground, swings it upward overhead, and rises. 

Safety is a big concern. Data from a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2010 showed that between 1990 and 2007, over 970,000 weight-training-related injuries treated in emergency rooms occurred, which was an increase of 50% over the previous time period. However, it’s difficult to find data supporting a claim for the least injurious of the three techniques. Each claims elderly practitioners, champions in their 80’s or 90’s. But each has risk of injury. Bodybuilders typically train to failure which can stress the same joints repeatedly until muscular or tendon damage occurs (The other two are more cyclical, building to a peak, then reducing the amount of weight). Powerlifting and Olympic-style weightlifting injuries typically include the shoulder, lower back and the knee with research also reporting injury to the spine in weightlifting. Many believe powerlifting to be safer since it does not use overhead work and is more gradual rather than rapid. However, this is not a topic with an abundance of neutral, objective information. In fact, besides iron, a competitive nature is something else these sports are proven to have in common!

To learn more about them, here are a few websites:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powerlifting, http://www.powerlifting-ipf.com/
  2. http://www.bodybuilding.com/
  3. http://www.iwf.net/
  • Iron Bars and You


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