competition · Crossfit · weight lifting

Deadlifting, bench, and squat: The powerlifting combo

Mr Rogers

I watched my first ever powerlifting competition on the weekend. It was a local competition and was billed as a “fun meet” and had just eight competitors. You can read the results here. The meet was held at a local Goodlife gym on a Saturday afternoon. It seemed funny walking by all the people lifting relatively light weights on machines to get through to the back studio where the competition was taking place.

I went because one of the big guys I most like to throw around at Aikido was competing. I know if I can move Steve that I’ve got my technique correct!

Powerlifing is a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. It’s different than the sport of Olympic lifting which I think might be more familiar to the average person.

Olympic lifting is more speed, power, and timing. Powerlifting is a straight strength competition. And they each feature different lifts. Olympic lifting is the clean and jerk and the snatch. Powerlifting is squat, bench press, and deadlift.

And of course there’s some argument back and forth about which is best.

With their proposed popularity comes a little controversy. Many Olympic lifters and powerlifters proclaim their style of training as the “method of choice” for training athletes. Each method of training elicits a unique training philosophy, program, and outcome. For instance, “Olympic-style weightlifting is an excellent training method for developing power. It consists of two movements—the clean and jerk and the snatch. The derivatives of those movements are what make up the majority of the training exercises” (Gambetta 2007). Unlike its name, powerlifting is a training method that focuses on maximum strength. “Powerlifting is centered on the three competition lifts of the squat, bench press, and the deadlift; powerlifting develops strength in almost all major muscle groups” (Piper & Erdmann 1998).

The mood at the competition seemed friendly and supportive. There were two women competing, both young, but a few older women watching who usually lift but who were injured at the time. Some of the younger people were brand new to ccompetition. One young man had driven down from further north and his parents had to run out and get knee high socks. They were new to the idea of deadlifting socks which are required. I noticed that pretty much everyone had the other gear, one piece suits, special lifting shoes, and belts.

It struck me, watching, that you’d have to be not at all self conscious about your weight to compete. The screen displaying the weight the person was attempting also displayed their body weight.

I was curious too to see the weights the women were lifting. While there was some overlap between the first weights they attempted and my personal best, they were–no surprise here since this is their thing–much stronger than me.

Since moving to CrossFit, I still squat (see Get your ass to grass: Squats and functional fitness) and deadlift (Why deadlift? I mean, besides for the cool socks) but I haven’t done a bench press in years. Now, I want to know. I might have to sneak into the weight room before Aikido someday and find out what my max bench press is.

deadlifting bear

11 thoughts on “Deadlifting, bench, and squat: The powerlifting combo

  1. “It struck me, watching, that you’d have to be not at all self conscious about your weight to compete. The screen displaying the weight the person was attempting also displayed their body weight.”

    You’d think so, but I’ve found that competing has made me less self conscious about my weight. I was really worried on my first comp, but really, nobody cares. It becomes an abstract figure used to decide who you’re competing against, but it doesn’t represent your worth in any way. It’s quite liberating.

    Mind you, I haven’t competed anywhere where my weight is actually displayed during the comp.

    1. I’ve also found that lifting has made me less self conscious about my weight. In our competitions, it’s right there on the score board on stage with us. Actually, at the start, we line up on stage and they introduce us by our name, our club, and our weightclass! But all we really care about are the number of kg we are attempting to lift. In fact, going up a weight class is seen as a badge of honour; it means you’ve been packing on the muscle lbs! I compete as a 63, but one day after some great squatting, my coach said, “keep that up and soon you’ll be a 69!” (which is the next higher weight category) and I felt so proud!

      1. I totally agree with this. I can’t believe the casual way in which I throw around my weight numbers now, after a lifetime of weight self-consciousness. It’s incredibly liberating to think of your weight as just part of the overall story of your sport.

  2. As I’m sure you know, Sam, get someone to spot you when you go to see what your maximum bench press is! That’s one exercise for certain where you have someone spot you, you use a much lighter weight than you could press, or you lift using dumbells – the latter of which you can just drop to the sides when absolutely necessary. Alternatively, you could use a machine but you can usually press alot more with those machines than you can with free weights. I do sets using dumbells on “chest day” as I usally lift alone on this day. While there are some additional benefits to using the barbell, one good thing about pressing dumbells is that you also strengthen your stabilizer muscles. When people who don’t regularly press dumbells try to do so, their arms and wrists usually shake about in an uncontrolled way because their stabilizer muscles haven’t been developed. Also, you really have to be shown the correct method for pressing with dumbells. In addition, you require a fair amount of arm strength to get the dumbells you actually can press into position properly. So if you really want to know what your true limit on bench press is, and you haven’t performed this exercise for a long time, I’d highly recommend that you use the barbell and get someone to spot you. Also start with 7 or 8 easy presses with a lighter weight (half of what you think you might be able to press) to warm up. Good luck!

  3. Excellent! Does your son go to Aikido with you? I’m seriously thinking of getting back into taekwondo with my 9 year old daughter.

    1. No. He only likes team sports with balls…basketball, football, and rugby. Lifts weights for instrumental reasons! Runs for the same reasons. We used to do Aikido together and ride bikes at the Velodrome together until he was about 12. But he’s still my early morning exercise companion even though he makes CrossFit jokes.

  4. “It struck me, watching, that you’d have to be not at all self conscious about your weight to compete.” My first meet, I was self-conscious about my weight, the way I looked (lifting singlets…if you don’t look like an oompa loompa, it doesn’t fit right), and how strong I was. But when I got there, I saw people of all shapes and sizes and abilities and they were all welcomed and cheered. Powerlifting has one of the most positive communities I have encountered in the sports world. Even those who are competing directly against you will cheer you on and give you high fives. Additionally, there is a lack of sexualization that comes with many other sports. At meets, you see men and women, in their underwear helping each other into their gear. And it is never made to be a sexual thing. There are no wisecracks about bodies. It is nice to have a body recognized as what it is…a body and nothing more. I agree with Polly…the powerlifting meet atmosphere is quite liberating!

  5. Hilarious. So I have about 3 years before my daughter refuses to work out with me then. I’ve already done yoga with her although she found it boring, and on Sundays now I go with her to this strange class based partially on yoga, partially on dance and partially on certain styles of kung fu, emphasizing spiral movements of many sorts. I better hurry up and get into some form of real martial arts while I still have time, Shes so suited to it, given her balance and incredible flexibility. And she’s good for me too as a workout partner. She’s fun, and she calls me on everything. (e.g. you’re cheating again, Dad.)

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