The Differences Between Powerlifting and Weightlifting (Feat Meg Squats & Kristin Pope)

Most of the time strength sports seem easy and straightforward. Yet, for those who don’t compete or may be new to strength sports sports in general, then there may be confusion between what differentiates each one, such as powerlifting and weightlifting.

In a recent video posted on YouTube, Kristin Pope and BarBend contributor Meg Gallagher (Meg Squats) break down what differentiates powerlifting and weightlifting. A lot of times if can be intimidating for lifting newbies to ask questions about each sport, so the video below does a really good job at simplifying this issue.

Pope and Gallagher first discuss (1:30) the differences between each sport’s movements. If you’re new to either sport, then you’ll learn that weightlifting includes two movements: snatch and clean & jerk. While powerlifting includes three movements: squat, bench, and deadlift.

They then move into what you’ll find on the platform at competitions (2:20) for each sport. Pope talks about weightlifting only including a barbell and bumper plates, which are used because weights are dropped from overhead. Powerlifting is similar with the use of a barbell, but uses metal plates. Also, powerlifting includes a rack for the squat and bench.

When it comes to meet progressions (3:45), the main difference is how the weight on the bar increases. For weightlifting, lifters will go in the order of bar weight. For example, one lifter may be done with all three lifts before another goes (if their three attempts are lighter than the other lifter’s opener). In weightlifting, during a particular session, the weight on the bar never goes down. Powerlifting will have the bar’s weight change from lightest to heaviest, but will vary between different lifter’s attempts.

Another aspect that a lot of athletes don’t consider is the energy that comes with each sport (6:20) on competition day. Pope and Gallagher both discuss how weightlifting is often more refined and quiet in terms of the crowd and coaches. On the contrary, powerlifting is often filled with yelling and is a lot more like a party.

The next difference they discuss has to do with federations and end goals (10:05) between each sport. Powerlifting has multiple federations, which all come with different rules and regulations. As an Olympic sport, weightlifting is pretty much consolidated to single national governing bodies, with the International Weightlifting Federation overseeing those. (BarBend is the official media partner of USA Weightlifting.)

Long-term goals of each sport also vary. For weightlifters, the dream is to eventually make it to an Olympic or World Championship team (which can include a paid stipend). Powerlifters often work towards prize money meets, but often don’t have the same level of paid competition team goals.

Around 17:40, Gallagher and Pope briefly break down training differences in each sport and transition into their concluding thoughts. They basically talk about how each sport will have lifters cater their programming to work on enhancing their competition lifts.

If you’re new to either sport, or you’re interested in picking one to do full-time, then reach out to lifters and coaches around you. Each strength sport comes with differences that will influence the way you train and move forward in your strength career.

Feature image from @megsquats and @kris10pope Instagram page. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.