Lifters: Take Pride in the Shared Discipline of Iron

A look at weightlifting’s rival in iron, powerlifting, and the things they share in common. Let’s embrace the differences, too.

Having been a weightlifting technical official for nearly a half century I have often found it useful to investigate the technical niceties of other sports. There is always something that can be learned by how the other guy does it. We in weightlifting have a tendency to circle the wagons and not want to take any lessons from others but over the years I’ve seen the folly of this attitude.

Having been a weightlifting technical official for nearly a half century I have often found it useful to investigate the technical niceties of other sports. There is always something that can be learned by how the other guy does it. We in weightlifting have a tendency to circle the wagons and not want to take any lessons from others but over the years I’ve seen the folly of this attitude.

I have looked at a lot of other sports, but in June, I had the opportunity to take a closer look at our so-called rival sport of powerlifting. Their World Championships were recently held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. That was more or less in my own backyard so I decided I would go down and take a look. I should add that this was the Classic version of their world championships where supportive gear is not allowed, only belts and knee wraps. The geared version will be held elsewhere.

I had done a wee bit of powerlifting in my early days as a lifter. That is now over four decades ago and I can tell you that the sport has matured a lot in that time. My brief powerlifting career started in the days before world championships were even held.

When the first international meetings were held they were between the USA and the UK for those were the two main hotbeds, such as they were. Their first Worlds were in 1971 and involved seven countries, I believe.

By contrast, the Worlds in Calgary had 38 countries spread all over the world. Even though the USA is still one of the leading nations, it by no means has a monopoly on the gold medals like they once did.


Due to the nature of the sport, the platform presentation is very busy compared to the empty look of a weightlifting competition.

  • First off, the platform is smaller, three meters square instead of four. There is no need for the extra real estate since nobody is planning to take a walk.
  • For two of the lifts, there will be a bench/squat rack set up in the middle of the platform.
  • Loaders-cum-spotters do take up a large portion of the platform but this is unavoidable due to the potential danger of a missed squat. At least three will be on stage and with the big men, five are for the squat.
  • Add to this the three referees who will be seated quite close to the platform, somewhat closer than they would be in a WL event.
  • On top of them throw in a three-man jury who will also be up on the stage as they need to be closer as well. They do not use the five-man juries as the three take up enough room as it is. Finally, there are two cameras set up between the side referees and the center referee. All of these are placed around the platform which is located on a raised stage.

Since the audience was located down on the floor this can sometimes make for difficult viewing what with all the obstructions. That’s why the cameras were there so they could film the competition so that it could be watched on the JumboTron up above. This proved to be a workable solution.

Two platforms were used since there were a lot of lifters that had to be accommodated over the two weeks that the competition took to complete. While weightlifting has separate events for Youth, Junior, Senior, and Masters the powerlifters hold one large meet for all age groups, including Masters. This all makes for a long week but perhaps it is cost effective. This necessitated two platforms complete with all of the electronics although both were not always operative at the same time.

Huge electronics scoreboards are used just like in weightlifting. These were excellent for keeping the audience abreast of what is happening and much advanced from the old manually operated boards.

Back to the Loaders

The first thing I noticed was their size. All were quite big men, few were women. You want the biggest and strongest loading since they will also be called upon to spot a half ton of steel.

Weightlifting, however, works better with small spry loaders as they do not have to spot and are jumping up and down all day, half of them from the same side of the platform. I also liked the plate racks raised to chest level. This made for much easier loading onto squat and the bench bars. No bending over. Save that for the dead-lifters

Another difference between the two sports is the order of lifting:

  • In weightlifting, we have always followed the principle of the rising bar. Attempts start with the lightest weight requested and the barbell moves upward until the strongest lifter in the session who will be lifting the most weight. Your attempts can come at any time depending on how others plan their progression. You might have to follow yourself right after your previous lift or you might have a 10 or 15-minute break between lifts.
  • Powerlifting used to use the same method but due to the extra energy that these highly eccentric lifts take out of the athlete, it was soon decided that a round system would be more advisable. In this system, all the lifters in a certain group will all do their first attempts starting from the latest attempt and finishing with the heaviest attempt. After that, they do their 2nd attempts in the same manner and then their 3rd attempts. In this way, a lifter will have 10 or 15 minutes between attempts, enough to recover from the previous attempt and be ready.

In the old days, powerlifting meets were long drawn-out affairs where adjusting the stands and whatnot took a lot of extra time on the part of loaders. Happy to say today things are much quicker. Ten lifters would take about a half hour for each of the three lifts so that works out to about one minute for each attempt.

This compares favorably to Olympic lifting where the standard is about eight lifters per hour, each taking six attempts or about 48 lifters per hour. The time management is far more important today than in years gone by due to the shorter attention span that people seem to have today.

Positive Changes

One positive change that I liked was that it is no longer acceptable to try psyching up your lifter via slapping, punching, sniffing ammonia, yelling, and screaming, all while onstage and visible to the audience. This I think is a very positive step which would improve powerlifting’s public image tremendously.

I also like the way that national team uniforms must be worn during the medal ceremony. All too often in weightlifting, we have medalists stepping on the podium in various stages of dress, undress, and redress. Medal presentations of the highlight for many in the audience especially those who are not too cognizant of the sport. Therefore, it is incumbent that the medal ceremony is done with as much dignity as possible.

In a similar vein, coaches are required to also wear a national team uniform when working a session. This makes his or her identity far easier to discern when needed.


The results can be seen on the IPF website. Being the stats nerd that I am, I have decided to do a quick analysis of the attempts made and missed during the competition. Below we see a table showing the weight categories the number of lifters and the number of lifts and misses for each of the three events:

To someone more familiar with the typical stats produced in a weightlifting meet I found these to be quite interesting. A rough rule of thumb we have today is that in weightlifting one half or even more of all attempts made will be incomplete lifts or misses if you prefer. But above we see that on average powerlifters only miss slightly less than 30% of their squats and deadlifts and only about 20% of their bench presses. This has been noted by others.

The reasons will vary depending on the commentator’s feelings for each sport. Powerlifters will say that weightlifters miss because they do not have the tenacity that the power boys do and vice versa that the powerlifters do not take the risks Olympic lifters do. This may bring some psychic satisfaction to those people but the real reason is somewhat different.

Olympic lifters miss a lot because there is virtually no time to correct a bad lift. If you get the bar out of the groove at any point there simply is not enough time to move it back and still keep the bar moving upwards at high-speed. Most lifts are lost right off the ground not somewhere way up high.

Powerlifters, lifting at their typical speed, often have the time to make corrections, to get the bar back in the groove. Powerlifters indeed can also use great tenacity to their advantage. They can just bear down and with enough determination might finally move that bar through the sticking point. Weightlifters do not have enough time to summon up such gritty performances except perhaps in the recovery from the clean.

Just like in weightlifting the powerlifters seem to succeed with most of their first take more risks if they want to remain a factor in the competition. The lower missed lift percentages in the bench press warrant some investigation or at least speculation at this point. There are probably several reasons for this:

  • One is that the bulk of one’s total is going to be made up of the squat and deadlifts.
  • Fewer people will specialize on the bench press and therefore the lift will not be up to the performance levels of the other two.
  • Lifters may simply drop back on their poundages to ensure they have a total.
  • They will not make the jumps because the extra weight may not be worth the extra risk. Perhaps they also may want to save some energy for the deadlifts.

It is interesting though that the women made more misses on the bench than the men did in this competition. I am not sure if this variance is due to some specific factor or it may just be a random occurrence in this competition. This cries out for more research and study of the competition statistics.

Team Scoring

It can also be seen that in the team scoring is mostly Western nations that are leading the world in classic powerlifting. The USA still dominates the men’s and women’s events with Canada right behind most of the other Western countries rounding up top 10.

Only Russia scores high here. This contrasts greatly with the open, geared world championships where former Eastern Bloc countries have taken over powerlifting just as they did with Olympic weightlifting.

Time Under Heavy Iron

In conclusion, I found that while the two iron hoisting sports have their differences in rules and presentation, they still share much in common. The iron is still heavy and only a lot of sweat is going to move it.

Those who have spent a lot of time under heavy iron regardless of the discipline can take pride in the bonds they feel with those who have brought their strength levels to the heretofore unimaginable.

Now get back in the gym.