Test the limits and unleash that inner beast with Ask Muscle’s very own powerlifting beginners guide.
RELATED: Weight Training For Beginners | A Comprehensive Guide
In this article:
- What Is Powerlifting?
- Powerlifting vs Weightlifting
- Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding
- Powerlifting vs Strength Training
- What You Need to Get Started in Powerlifting
- Powerlifting Exercises List
- Beginner Powerlifting Program
- Powerlifting Advice From the Pros
Powerlifting for Beginners: Start Strong from Day One
What Is Powerlifting?
Powerlifting is a sport where the athlete lifts the heaviest weight he or she can muster at one time. Powerlifters test their strength in three primary weight exercises: the deadlift, the squat, and the bench press.
Since powerlifting shares many overlaps with other strength sports, it’s easy to mistake it for one or the other. Let’s define a powerlifting competition by comparing it with the other strength disciplines.
Powerlifting vs Weightlifting
Powerlifting and weightlifting differ in movements and exercises performed. Generally, powerlifting involves the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Meanwhile, Olympic weightlifting focuses on the snatch, the clean, and the jerk. These three Olympic lifting moves require the athlete to lift the barbell overhead while the deadlift, the squat, and the bench press do not.
Regardless of what competition the lifter enters, the main goal remains the same: lifting heavy weights. Overall, the athlete with the heaviest weight lifted is crowned the champion in their weight division.
Also, both events require athletes to undergo drug testing. One cannot enter any powerlifting or weightlifting competition if they are under the effects of performance-enhancing drugs.
Powerlifting vs Bodybuilding
Powerlifting develops a person’s power by focusing on the body’s core area, while bodybuilding exercises aim for a good looking physique.
The difference in goals means bodybuilders pay attention to their diet and do more cardio in a bid to maximize bulk and lose fat. Powerlifters, on the other hand, focus on gaining brute power over the physique, so dieting and cardio occupy a smaller place in their regimen.
So if one wants to increase their body mass and improve overall strength without minding their total body fat percentage, he or she can try powerlifting. But if they want to lose weight, build lean muscle mass or focus on fat loss, they should look into bodybuilding.
Powerlifting vs Strength Training
Strength training programs target all areas of the body for overall strength and conditioning, while powerlifting focuses on the core muscle group and the central nervous system. Strength training offers more variety in terms of workouts and exercises compared to powerlifting.
What You Need to Get Started in Powerlifting
Preparation plays a very important role in powerlifting. It increases workout efficiency, improves one’s performance, and most importantly, reduces the risk of an injury.
Before one starts powerlifting, here are some things he or she needs to prepare:
1. A Powerlifting Gym
Powerlifters take their time lifting weights which can hold up other gym members from exercising at the bench or at the squat machine in a general fitness club.
A fully-functional powerlifting gym gives members access to the right coaches, all the weights they can handle, and a lot of “me time” with the iron.
Tip: Don’t want to go to the gym to train? Then invest in some powerlifting equipment! Beginners can start training with a flat bench and one heavy barbell. Once one has a little more money to set aside, he or she can invest in even more equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.
2. The Correct Exercise Forms
Exercises demand the correct form from its disciples so they engage the right muscles as they go through the motions.
Before anyone starts powerlifting, they should practice the three core exercises slowly with emphasis on getting the posture right and making the right muscles do the work.
By doing an exercise correctly, they are also putting their own safety first as the wrong form may put the brunt of the strain on the wrong muscles and lead to injury. For example, one can’t do a deadlift from the back as this may cause spinal injury if they take on too much weight.
3. Weightlifting Belt
Powerlifting will push the core muscles and the back to their limits, so people should protect themselves by wearing weightlifting belts.
4. Exercise Shirt
Choose a relaxed-fit shirt that doesn’t hinder one’s range of motion. They should be able to move their arms freely in all directions or it will affect their overall performance.
5. Wrist Wraps
Beginners might find raw lifting a bit strenuous on their wrists, especially while busting out a few bench press reps. Apart from hampering one’s strength, it also puts his or her wrist at risk of a sprain.
To prevent this, powerlifters can use wrist wraps. They’re really effective and some high-grade ones online cost less than $10!
Hands also bear the brunt of the strain as the bars will rub against the palms whenever one lifts. That’s why powerlifters rub chalk on their hands to maximize grip and to give their hands added protection.
7. Callus Stones
Everyone develops calluses no matter how much they care for their hands. Experts advise to sand calluses immediately with callus stones.
The bad thing about calluses is they break into wounds if people choose to soldier on and fail to remove them.
8. The Right Shoes
Powerlifters invest in powerlifting shoes which possess a higher heel than normal pairs. This helps lifters position themselves better under the barbell while working their lower back, butt, and thigh muscles.
For athletes intent on perfecting their deadlifts, deadlifting slippers or shoes with thin rubber soles will work.
9. Medical Clearance
Patients suffering from complications and injuries should always consult with a medical professional before attempting to do any powerlifting moves. The same goes for men and women athletes who are on the higher end of the age bracket.
Building strength and muscle mass are great, but one shouldn’t do so at the expense of their well-being. Overall, the goal should be to create a healthy, strong body.
Athletes know proper training and healthy eating can only get them so far in powerlifting. If one wants to break plateaus and constantly dominate their records, they need to start exploring some strength-boosting supplements!
Some supplements to consider are:
- Pre-Workouts: Feel like caffeine doesn’t get the body as pumped as it used to anymore? Then switch to pre-workouts! These are effective supplements that provide athletes the extra energy and power they need to go harder and longer at the gym.
- Creatine: Creatine increases the body’s phosphocreatine levels, and these cells are responsible for creating the most basic form of energy in the body’s cells: ATP. With the increased production of ATP, the body will be able to gather more power to sustain longer-lasting energy levels.
- BCAA: Amino acids or BCAA are the building blocks of protein. These are essential to fitness buffs of all kinds whether they’re training for strength, power, or aesthetics.
11. Grit and Determination
Every beginner needs these in spades as powerlifting tests the upper limits of their resolve.
Powerlifting Exercises List
1. How to Do Barbell Back Squats Correctly
The barbell back squat is the king of all leg exercises. It’s a powerful compound exercise that works every single lower body muscle group including the calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
- Before placing the barbell on the trapezoids, stand with the heels and shoulders aligned and the toes pointed slightly outward.
- Place the barbell on the upper part of the trapezoids and NOT at the base of the neck.
- With the chest up and the hips back, bend at the knees to go low only stopping when the hip joints are just a tad lower than the knees. Inhale on the descent.
- Return to an upright position leading with the chest and pushing the hips forward. Exhale when going up.
- Remember to put the full body weight on the heels and not the knees. Keep the feet flat all throughout the exercise
- Always keep the chest out and hips back to prevent the spine from slouching while doing the squats.
2. How to Do Bench Presses Correctly
The bench press is more than just an exercise, it’s a symbol of power. Nothing beats the pride and confidence that walking toward a heavy loaded bench press provides.
It’s a popular compound exercise every athlete knows about. In fact, the first question most gym-goers ask their peers is “how much do you bench?”
- Lie down on a bench in a comfortable position keeping the eyes aligned underneath the bar.
- Grip the bar in such a way the hands are slightly wider shoulders’ width. Lock the thumbs around the bar for better grip to prevent any accidents.
- Arch the lower back slightly. Make sure the feet are firmly planted on the floor.
- Pull the shoulders down and squeeze the shoulder blades together as the bar is gently lowered to the midchest. Make sure the elbows and forearms are at a 45-degree angle.
- Push the bar upwards while keeping the legs and torso firm and tight.
Tip: Ask someone for help when needed, especially when lifting heavier weights.
3. How to Do Deadlifts Correctly
Deadlifts might look easy, but it’s probably the hardest powerlifting move to master. It requires a good combination of strength, posture, and balance or one would end up flat on the floor with a broken back.
Beginners should start off with a weight they can easily pick off the ground. Make one mistake and it could lead to some serious complications like hernia or a slipped disc.
- Plant the feet at shoulders’ width and pointed slightly outwards.
- Put the hands around the bar making sure the arms are slightly outside the legs while the shoulder blades are directly over the bar.
- Keep the chest in an upright position just pushing the hips slightly out as the bar goes up.
- Push the hips forward going into mid-lift.
- Hold this position for two seconds when the barbell reaches its peak.
- Start lowering the bar back to the starting point by pushing the hips back with the knees slightly bent until the barbell is on the ground.
- Always lift the bar in a vertical line and avoid tipping forward and backward while doing the deadlifts.
Beginner Powerlifting Program
This is a three-day workout that beginners can use on a weekly basis.
The beginning powerlifter needs to give their body time to rest in between sessions, especially during the first day and the second day. The first day contains more workout volume to increase their muscle and strength gains over the week.
When choosing how heavy their weights are, beginners should go for 70% of the maximum weight they can carry. If the heaviest they can lift on the barbell squats is 140 lbs, they should go with 100 lbs for this program.
Basic Powerlifting Warm-Ups
- Stationary Bike: 5 minutes
- Jumping Jacks: 20 reps
- Air Squats: 10 reps
- Walking Leg Swings: 10 reps each leg
- Monster Walks: 10 steps each way
- Side-to-Side Leg Swings: 10 reps each leg
- Walking Lunges: 20 reps
- Single-Leg Ham String Curls: 10 reps each leg using light weights
Powerlifting for Beginners Day 1
- Barbell Back Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps each
- Bench Press: 3 sets of 8 reps each
- Chin-Ups: 4 sets of 10 reps each
Powerlifting for Beginners Day 2
- Bench Press: 3 sets of 4 reps each
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 3 reps each
- Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 10 reps each
Powerlifting for Beginners Day 3
- Barbell Back Squats: 3 sets of 4 reps each
- Bench Press: 3 sets of 4 reps each
- Dumbbell Rows: 4 sets of 10 reps each
- Single-Leg Squats with Kettlebells: 3 sets of 10 reps each
Powerlifting Advice from the Pros
1. Be Modest at the Beginning
Beginners shouldn’t start by going for the maximum load they can carry on their very first day. The sheer weight of things can crush them figuratively and literally.
Staying realistic will help anyone maintain steady progress in powerlifting.
2. Consistency Is Key
Powerlifting demands a person’s all, so they need to stay focused on their training if they’re going to do it professionally. If they’re working for overall strength, they should just use the three powerlifting exercises in their training regimen instead.
3. Respect Pain
Though pain means gains, it is also the body’s way of saying something’s wrong. People should take note when there’s excessive pain. They should respect it as a sign and examine themselves for injuries instead of barreling through their workouts.
4. Maintain the Right Form
The big three exercises are compound exercises so people need to maintain the right form to engage as many of the muscles these exercises hit as possible.
5. Find the Right Coach
Without proper coaching, athletes are more prone to risks, accidents, and inefficiency. That’s why people who want to take powerlifting seriously should get a coach who will plot out a program and guide them through the peaks and valleys of their own strength and development.
Follow this beginner’s guide in powerlifting by Montreal Gazette:
Powerlifting’s single-minded focus on developing raw strength, its discipline in following the correct form for every exercise, and its slow and steadfast approach to grinding are enough to turn a beginner into an athlete. As many powerlifters attest, it has always been there—just go take the bar and start lifting.
Are you now ready to start your first powerlifting session? What other concerns do you have about powerlifting we haven’t covered here? Give us your replies in the comments section below.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 21, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.