Powerlifting For Beginners: Getting Started

This is a guestpost from Dave Yarnell

Dave is a record holding powerlifter in the WNPF, has 30 years plus training experience, is a certified personal trainer, a published outdoor writer and a drug free strength training advocate

Find out more at http://www.christianiron.com

powerlifting for beginnersLots of folks have dabbled at least with some form of weight training; perhaps as part of an athletic training program, in an effort to just get in better shape overall, or just out of curiosity. To the lay person, weight lifters, bodybuilders and powerlifters kind of all get lumped together despite their more than subtle differences.

Weightlifting, in its proper form, refers to the Olympic lifts, which all involve getting a disc-laden bar from the ground to a point where the arms are locked out overhead.  These lifts are more technically difficult and require more speed and agility than the 3 powerlifts or the bulk of the lifting seen in your average commercial gym.


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Bodybuilders often do some of the powerlifts, and some even start out with the Olympic lifts (like some guy named Sergio), but they are more concerned with the effects the training has on the muscles and the look thereby produced, than in moving huge weights for a singular effort.

The most popular of the 3 powerlifts is without a doubt the bench press. “How much can you bench?”,  is one of the most commonly asked questions,  in your average commercial gym, but it is the least demanding of the 3 powerlifts. The bench press is a great tool for building size and strength in the upper body, but neither builds nor demonstrates full body power.

powerlifting for beginners

Squats and deadlifts both have their diehard fans that claim one or the other to be the truest test of overall body power. But in order to be a fully accomplished powerlifter, one must train and compete in all three lifts; squat, bench press and deadlift, performed in that order in a full power meet. Although it has not always been that way.

Powerlifters often get a bad rap as people that don’t care what or how much they eat, what they look like, but simply lifting massive weight at any cost. While some of the guys in the heaviest classes might fit in this category, there are plenty of powerlifters that look great and in fact lots of bodybuilders got started as powerlifters. The 3 basic lifts and the typical assistance movements that are often added in are sufficient to build the muscle mass desired by the bodybuilder or the average gym rat that is looking to “get big”. 

The difference between powerlifting and bodybuilding lies more in diet than in lifting methods, though builders tend to use more volume and less intensity than lifters.  The competitive lifter must learn proper form and the rules as they apply to each lift.

The official powerlifting version of the bench press, for example, requires keeping feet in the same footprint throughout the lift, rear end on the bench, head on the bench and a pause at the chest held until the head judge gives a “press: signal, given when the bar is motionless on the chest as opposed to a specific amount of time.

powerlifting for beginners

The squat involves giving the head judge some sort of signal that you are prepared to go; lifting the head up, a nod or a verbal sign will do.  From there, the head judge will say squat, after which you make your descent until you feel you have broken parallel, where your hip joint is below your knee joint, and then ascend until legs and torso are erect and locked with feet in same position where you started. You must wait for the “rack” signal before returning the bar to the squat rack, usually with some help from your spotters, but still under your control.

The last lift is the deadlift, the least technical, but by no means easiest of the big 3 lifts. When the “bar loaded” announcement is made, the head judge will hold his hand up, and you are free to make your attempt, simply pulling the bar off the floor until standing erect with legs and shoulders locked. When it appears you are as erect and complete as you are going to get, the head judge will give the visual cue and a verbal “down” command, at which point you lower the bar with at least some control, as dropping the bar is cause for a bad lift.

Training with some competitive lifters is usually a good way to learn the proper techniques, and most are ready, willing and able to show the ropes to the new comers and there is no reason to be intimidated to seek out their direction. 

There are lots of reasons to compete in powerlifting; having a meet to look ahead to is great motivation for training hard, for one thing. Putting yourself in a situation that is out of your comfort zone and puts you “on the spot” to perform at your best is challenging but very satisfying at the same time. It is a great feeling to finish a full meet knowing you have faced your fears, met them and overcome them, regardless of where you placed in the competition.

Winning, of course, feels even better, and setting records, even if just personal records, puts you over the moon.

powerlifting for beginners

Doing the 3 power lifts and the associated assistance exercises is a sure-fire way to build a strong and well-developed body whether you choose to compete or not, down the road. Doing all 3 lifts will create full body power, with strong legs, back, chest, shoulders and arms, as opposed to being a “one lift wonder”. You have surely seen the barrel chested, stork-legged type that can bench a house, but are unable to generate any power with the lower body.

Powerlifting is not for everyone, but many who give it an honest effort find a sport they are hooked on and cannot live without. Maybe that is you…. Who knows?   

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