Should You Switch from Weightlifting to Powerlifting?

I’m a mystery to many people, especially in terms of my lifting. What do I do, if I even train at all?

The short answer: My initial focus and true love is weightlifting.

The slightly longer answer: My initial focus and true love is weightlifting; however, I have wandered into a few periods of strict powerlifting to increase my strength and because, frankly, it’s hard not to want to train that way when I’m so involved in that sport. But I’ll never stop weightlifting!

I am lucky to have been taught weightlifting from the start by some old-time, entrenched, no-BS coaches. Training in that environment gave me a chance to see lifters through their eyes. Who will be able to handle the coaching and, more importantly, what will weightlifting demands of them? Trust me – it asks a lot.

So many people want to be good at weightlifting. Desperately. They think it looks “fun”. Not everyone is cut out for it in long run, though. Certain people may be better off powerlifting as a strength sport. Sometimes they realize this, and sometimes they don’t. Unfortunately, this means that a coach might have to have “the talk” with a lifter. This is the time when they need to encourage a member to move into powerlifting from weightlifting.


As a coach, there are several reasons why the conversation may go in that direction. Simply put, there are both physical and mental traits I recognize as red flags. Physically, one may have trouble weightlifting due to:

  •    Lack of flexibility
  •    Lack of explosive power
  •    Chronic pain or injury that doesn’t work with weightlifting
  •    Lack of proprioception

I certainly don’t expect anyone to be an Olympian. Lifting is recreational at this level! However, people have to face the facts. If someone’s been working on the lifts and mobility for a long time, but still can’t get into anything slightly resembling a proper position, then it’s time to consider moving on.

Weightlifting is described specifically as speed strength. Yes, there are drills that may improve quickness. But genetics play a big role, and a person’s ability depends on the type of muscle fibers being recruited. This can’t be overcome completely. Even for the casual trainee, never being fast enough is going to get frustrating.

If I, as a coach, see no improvement in flexibility or speed after several months, or there is a clearly limiting or nagging injury, and every session on the platform is a struggle, then I’ll suggest switching to powerlifting. Powerlifting doesn’t demand the same intense speed and coordination that weightlifting does. It does requires mobility, but not as specifically as weightlifting. I may ease them into the change by suggesting that they take a break, nothing permanent…


Lack of proprioception, or the ability to correctly judge how one’s own body is moving through space, is a huge issue, too. Weightlifting is like dancing or gymnastics in this sense. Some people just don’t have the proprioception or coordination to truly excel at it.

Yes, it is up to a coach to give the lifter cues that help the trainee understand what to do. She may have to try different approaches. But if a lifter is never able to comprehend what their body is doing, they are not a good fit for weightlifting. They shouldn’t struggle against the inevitable. Please think about your coach, too!

More importantly, I look for a strong mental and emotional game in weightlifters. In other words: attitude. In this case, warning signs of a problematic mindset/approach include:

  •    Lack of focus
  •    Impatience
  •    Self-deprecation
  •    Lack of cooperation with the coach
  •    Sense of entitlement
  •    Apathy, lack of enthusiasm, decreased interest or passion

A negative outlook is the biggest reason, at least in a dedicated lifting gym, to move from weightlifting to powerlifting.

On the other hand, a strong positive attitude can trump a lifter’s physical limitations!

Weightlifting requires patience, the ability to make micro-adjustments, and the capacity to replicate a pattern over and over (and over) again. The setup has to be methodical and specific. Then the lift needs to follow with a clear mind. This all takes focus!

Impatience can take the form of constantly moving, doing excessive reps, or jumping ahead before being cued. The only thing that’ll be achieved is a reinforcement of bad habits. It creates a negative loop.


Getting angry or anxious about the previous or next attempt only makes things worse. I see people shaking their head in the middle of a lift or give up halfway through. I watch them freeze. I cringe as they berate themselves afterwards. None of this self-deprecation works. It shuts everything down. There’s no room to learn. Also, it doesn’t impress your coach.

Allowing oneself to be coached is, of course, extremely important, too. This goes hand-in-hand with being patient, listening, and checking one’s ego at the door. A lot of high-powered, intense, smart people want to weightlift. They are used to being great at everything, or getting what they want by pushing hard enough for it. They aren’t used to getting corrected or being unsuccessful.

Those people will question everything, or not believe the feedback they receive. They will scoff and be condescending. Anyone chronically acting this way is wasting time with coaching. On the other hand, they may be able to manage powerlifting, which is comparatively less intense in the need for precision. This alone could work out better for everyone and make them happier.

Finally, the reason that someone is lifting is important, too. One of the first questions I’ll ask someone walking in is why she is doing it or want to begin, and what she knows about it. Depending on the answer, I may need to dissuade them from starting or continuing weightlifting.

Powerlifting Plates

Why? If someone is weightlifting only because they “think it looks cool”, they could be in for a surprise. Yes – it does look cool when lifts are executed correctly, and that’s inspiring! The reality for a new lifter, though, is that it isn’t going to be fun or rewarding or that an individual will not be suited for it.

Additionally, I’ve seen people lose their passion for weightlifting, or I’ve noticed that they never had it in the first place. This can be temporary. But sometimes it simply is. And that’s okay. Admit it and move on. Someone can get strong with powerlifting, still be in the gym, interact with a lifting crew, and feel healthy. Who knows? Maybe the lifter will want to go back to weightlifting in 3-6 months. That’s fine, too.

Nothing is written in stone. Sometimes, down the line, weightlifting clicks. Other times, it’s best to remember that, as the saying goes, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Be honest about how and why you are training. Trust your coach and don’t be afraid to admit that something else may be better for you. Whatever you do, approach weightlifting with a clear mind, integrity, and a positive attitude.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

About the author

Rebecca Steinman

Becca Steinman is a powerlifting and weightlifting coach at South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club. Becca is a certified USA Powerlifting Senior International Coach and USA Powerlifting National Referee. She has worked as an assistant coach at several international powerlifting competitions. She is also a USA Weightlifting Level II Certified Coach and a qualified Referee. Her early participation in peer tutoring and mentoring plus her interest in social work and therapy have culminated in her role as a strength coach - a fascinating but slightly different application than she expected. Becca is also a founding partner of Beat the Weight.