7 Major Benefits of Powerlifting: Why You Should Lift Heavy

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 29, 2022

It’s no secret that working out with resistance equipment comes with a number of positive effects - some of which are physical, others psychological, and a few that are more specific in scope, like sports-specific skill development.

One of the more common forms of resistance training is that of powerlifting, a weightlifting discipline with a focus on gross physical strength and proper exercise execution so as to train the strength and lifting potential of powerlifting athletes.

The main benefit of powerlifting is in the impressive physical strength that it is capable of developing in the lifter. 

That, alongside other benefits such as improved bone density, muscle mass and an understanding of correct exercise mechanics all lead to powerlifting being an excellent training modality to pursue for those whose goals align.

What is Powerlifting?

The term powerlifting refers to both the sport of powerlifting and the subsequent style training that is performed by its athletes, or those who wish to train in a similar manner to powerlifting athletes.

powerlifter deadlifting

The sport of powerlifting features heavy compound resistance exercises with standardized free weight equipment, with the bench press, deadlift and barbell squat being considered the main staple exercises of any powerlifting competition.

As such, the sort of training done for powerlifting will often feature similar exercises, or accessory exercises meant to build upon such types of competition lifts.

How do Powerlifters Train?

Powerlifter training is characterized by a low amount of compound exercise volume and high amounts of weight lifted per repetition, with a particular focus on one of the three major competition lifts that were previously mentioned in this article (deadlifting, bench pressing, squatting).

The training split and what sort of exercises involved in said powerlifting training will depend on the lifter and their goals, but one can generally expect a powerlifting workout session to include the bench press, squat, or deadlift for several heavy sets.

This means that individuals with a history of injury or aversion to heavy free weight exercises will find powerlifting training to be unsuitable.

In terms of more specific training programming, competitive powerlifting athletes will make use of periodization methodology, strategic deload weeks, volume training and incremental or linear progression in order to maximize their relative strength development over time.

Benefits of Powerlifting

1. Greatly Improved Strength

It comes as no surprise that the primary benefit of powerlifting training is the strength that it engenders to the lifter - improving not only their capacity to lift heavy weight with a barbell, but also to exert force in practically any manner possible.

Powerlifting achieves this through stimulation of muscular hypertrophy, improvement of neuromuscular contraction and by psychologically conditioning the lifter to better exert their musculature in a conscious manner.

From a more technical point of view, powerlifting training will generally follow the trend of linear progressive overload - at least, until the lifter has reached a point in their training where linear progress has slowed or entirely stalled. From here, powerlifters will employ a number of different strategies to overcome these problems.

progressive overload
Progressive Overload

However, unless you have already reached an advanced level of training, it is unlikely that these strategies will be needed for quite a while. 

Instead, correct powerlifting training can be counted on to develop your physical strength in a steady and highly efficient manner, moreso even that most other resistance training modalities.

2. Maximizing Strength Development from Powerlifting

Employing powerlifting training strategies is only half of what is needed to fully develop physical strength. Alongside said training, lifters must also consume sufficient calories and the correct ratio of macronutrients so as to fuel their muscular growth.

Furthermore, sufficient time must be given to the body so as to allow for this growth to be completed. For novice and intermediate level lifters, this is generally only one to two days between training sessions, whereas more advanced lifters will need more time to recover.

3. Body Composition Changes from Powerlifting

Engaging in the sport of powerlifting or its subsequent training methods can result in impressive changes to the lifter’s bodily composition, with a reduction in body fat percentage and an increase in skeletal muscle mass all resulting from the resistance exercises employed in said powerlifting training itself.

strongman physique
Editorial Credit: spotpoint74 / 123rf.com

Though aerobic exercise is the usual go-to for burning fat stores, the intensity of most powerlifting workouts will doubtless expend quite a few calories - resulting in fat loss over time.

Furthermore, the obvious development of lean mass alongside this caloric expenditure will eventually lead to the lifter possessing a physique of low body fat and high muscle mass over time, a goal that many individuals strive towards.

4. Joint and Bone Reinforcement from Powerlifting Training

Reinforcement and repair of various non-muscle tissue is a clinically established benefit of resistance training. 

For powerlifting training in particular, this benefit is taken even further due to the various angles of resistance and high levels of pressure placed on the bones and joints of the lifter.

Over time, participants in powerlifting training will find that their osseous and connective tissues have not only adapted to the force encountered during said training, but that they have also become more dense and flexible - reducing the risk of injury and partially countering the effects of aging.

A Note on Safety

An important point to note is that powerlifting achieves this in a slow and carefully controlled manner, meaning that overloading yourself with excessively heavy lifts so as to strengthen non-muscular tissues will not work, and will only result in injury.

5. Athletic Carryover of Powerlifting

Certain aspects of powerlifting training are employed by most athletes to an extent - classic powerlifting exercises like the deadlift or squat are especially useful for building physical power, whereas the overhead press or bench press are considered to be among the most effective ways to build upper body strength.

However, even if you are not following an athletic training program, training for powerlifting can also be employed to improve your abilities in other athletic activities. 

Apart from raw muscular strength, powerlifting is capable of inducing some small level of aerobic development, as well as greater muscular endurance and general bodily coordination - all of which are essential skills for any competitive athlete.

In particular, other forms of strength athletes will benefit the most from powerlifting training, such as strongman competitors or those that engage in full contact sports.

6. Large Muscle Group Hypertrophy from Powerlifting

Unlike in bodybuilding wherein every muscle group is focused on with high volume and targeted training stimulus, powerlifting involves recruiting every muscle group in powerful compound movements that recruit the larger muscle groups to the greatest extent.

As such, the traditional powerlifter’s body features large quadriceps and glutes, a broad upper back and significant muscle mass along the chest - all of which constitute the largest skeletal muscle groups in the human physique.

For individuals that also wish to develop their smaller muscle groups to a similar extent, the majority of powerlifting training programs allow for isolation exercises to be incorporated for the purposes of targeted muscular hypertrophy or rehabilitation.

7. Endocrinological Benefits of Powerlifting

Though the endocrinological benefits of resistance training are non-specific to powerlifting, the intensity featured in most workouts and training programs of powerlifting ensure that these endocrinological changes occur at a definitive level.

The most beneficial of these changes are a significant increase in HGH, a reduction in the catabolic stress hormone known as cortisol, improved cellular insulin sensitivity and an increase in red blood cell production via erythropoietin stimulation in the bone marrow.

Each of these benefits has some effect on the health and performance of the lifter, ranging from a lengthened lifespan and improved physical healing to countering the effects of many common diseases, like diabetes and anemia.

Furthermore, powerlifting (and lifting in general) is known to increase testosterone levels, making it particularly useful for men that wish to naturally attain higher testosterone. 

While this increase in testosterone is also seen in women, it is unlikely to result in any unwanted androgenic effects, making powerlifting perfectly suitable for women as well.

How to Know if Powerlifting Training is Right for You

While powerlifting training undoubtedly provides all the aforementioned benefits, sometimes the goals of a lifter are not in line with what this particular style of training can provide. Instead, they may see better results with other kinds of training, or even an entirely different type of exercise other than resistance training itself.

If your goals involve getting stronger, lifting heavy amounts of weight or otherwise competing in strength-based athletic activities, then powerlifting training is one of the best possible training modalities for reaching such goals.

However, if you wish to build muscle mass rather than pursuing physical strength, or otherwise are not comfortable with the sort of exercises usually involved in powerlifting - then it is entirely possible to pursue a different form of training instead.

Can Women Do Powerlifting?

Yes - powerlifting is perfectly safe and effective for women, just as it is with men. 

So much so that the majority of powerlifting leagues feature a women’s division with actively competing athletes, all of which train at a level of intensity that surpasses many ordinary male weightlifters. 

female powerlifter

Powerlifting is an excellent method of countering the bone-density reducing effects of menopause and certain diseases specific to the female demographic, as well as improving a host of factors in their health and athletic ability.

It should be noted that - due to biological differences - training for men and women may be somewhat different in powerlifting, especially in regards to how much weight a novice lifter will train at, and the rate at which either gender progresses with.

Can Older Individuals Do Powerlifting?

Individuals of a more advanced age can readily engage in powerlifting without worry - so long as they have prior approval from their physician, and are aware of the sort of challenges that powerlifting training can entail.

Due to the higher amounts of weight and the level of intensity involved in powerlifting training, there is an increased risk of injury and cardiovascular stress during powerlifting workouts, and it is advised that older lifters start at a far lower intensity than their younger counterparts so as to avoid any occurrences.

Otherwise, the many benefits of powerlifting can be particularly useful for these older individuals, improving their bone density and mobility while also countering the lesser-known effects of aging, such as brain fog or a poor metabolism.

Can Previously Injured People Do Powerlifting?

Whether or not an individual with a history of injury can employ powerlifting training will depend on two factors; what sort of injury they have previously sustained, and whether or not they have been cleared for highly strenuous exercise.

Certain kinds of injuries can rule out powerlifting training entirely, as the stresses that powerlifting exercises place on parts of the body can easily cause said injuries to return or even cause new injuries to co-occur.

In particular, injuries of the knees and spine are the most dangerous to combine with powerlifting training, as these two structures receive significant pressure during powerlifting workouts and can easily lead to severe pain, permanently damaged mobility or even nerve damage if aggravated by exercises like the deadlift and squat.

More minor injuries that have not left lasting effects on the lifter (such as reduced mobility or structural weakness) can allow for powerlifting training to be performed, though it is generally advised that these individuals exercise caution and perform prehabilitory exercises in order to avoid a recurrence of such injuries.

In Conclusion

Now that we’ve covered the many benefits of powerlifting, it’s time to ascertain whether your goals align with the sort of training and positive effects that may be engendered through this particular style of weightlifting.

Remember, it’s even possible to take certain aspects of powerlifting training and combine it with other workout programs, allowing you to retain whatever benefits that may be needed.

Regardless of whether you choose to begin your powerlifting journey or not, it is important to perform resistance training in a safe and thoughtful manner. 

Always follow proper form, adhere to recovery protocols and consult a professional if you are unsure of a certain aspect of training.

References

1. Hackett DA, Wilson GC, Mitchell L, Haghighi MM, Clarke JL, Mavros Y, O'Connor H, Hagstrom AD, Slater GJ, Keogh J, McLellan C. Effect of Training Phase on Physical and Physiological Parameters of Male Powerlifters. Sports (Basel). 2020 Jul 30;8(8):106. doi: 10.3390/sports8080106. PMID: 32751554; PMCID: PMC7466622.

2. Aasa U, Svartholm I, Andersson F, et alInjuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic reviewBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51:211-219.

3. Bårdstu, H.B., Andersen, V., Fimland, M.S. et al. Effectiveness of a resistance training program on physical function, muscle strength, and body composition in community-dwelling older adults receiving home care: a cluster-randomized controlled trial. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act 17, 11 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s11556-020-00243-9

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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