Powerlifting vs Weightlifting: What's the Difference?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 9, 2022

Most people often refer to powerlifting and weightlifting as just barbell exercises or barbell sports. These two forms of weightlifting may appear similar, but there is an array of differences between the two in terms of concept and objective and how the body is engaged in performing their encompassing exercises.

Powerlifting focuses on attaining maximum strength when performing one-rep maxes on three core lifts: squats, bench press, and deadlifts.

Weightlifting or Olympic Weightlifting, puts an emphasis on technique for two types of lifts: snatches and clean-and-jerk. Both of which both require greater range of motion through full limb extension.

This article will explain the differences between modes of exercises and training in powerlifting and weightlifting and the various requirements to perform the exercises. It will also explain the difference between the two lifting exercises concerning power generation and reaching muscle hypertrophy.

The Differences Between Powerlifting and Weightlifting

powerlifter deadlifting

Modes and Speed of Exercise

Powerlifting and weightlifting vary in the type of exercise and the speed required to perform the exercises. Powerlifting comprises three core strength exercises: squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Weightlifting, on the other hand, only has two exercises: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.

Powerlifters primarily rely on strength to perform the three exercises properly. They perform these exercises on a single plane of motion by lifting the barbell a few feet from its point of origin. Weightlifters, on the other hand, require balance among strength, speed, and flexibility to deliver explosive power to lift the barbell overhead.

Weightlifters are also more flexible than powerlifters because of the range of motion required to perform the two weightlifting exercises.

The snatch requires the weightlifter to have enough flexibility to follow-up on the momentum to carry the barbell overhead in one swift motion. The clean-and-jerk also requires flexibility to transition from one phase of the exercise to the other.

Due to the required technique to execute weightlifting exercises properly, missed lifts are more frequent in weightlifting than in powerlifting. Powerlifting requires some semblance of technique however, it is more focused on maintaining a stable base as apposed to the explosive movement associated with weightlifting.

Precision and Technique

woman snatching weight

Greater precision and technique is required to perform weightlifting exercises. While both lifting exercises require triple extension, or the straight alignment of the body before performing the exercises, the subsequent parts of the exercises are very different.

Powerlifters do not have to consider momentum to perform their exercises properly because they're required to control the movement.

For instance, bouncing the weight off the chest or bouncing at the bottom of a squat would result in a "bad lift." Powerlifters are told when to lift the weight rather than using momentum to push or pull the weight.

Weightlifters, however, focus on technique and precision to catch the momentum of the barbell efficiently during the first part of the lifting motion. After the first part, they also have to focus on doing the final part, which is overhead extension of the limbs.

Usually, the motion of weightlifting exercises either fails during the first or last part of the exercise. If the barbell weighs significantly more than the weightlifter's one-rep max or the maximum amount of weight they can carry in a single repetition, the lift almost always fails.

Still, if the barbell weighs only half of the weightlifter's 1RM, the lift can still fail if the kinetic chains do not activate in the right sequence.


Powerlifting focuses on reaching maximum strength using heavy weights to reach and surpass their 1RM. They typically work out three times a week, with each workout focusing on the foundational exercises of powerlifting: squats, bench press, and deadlifts.

Powerlifters may also perform accessory exercises to train weak, stabilizing muscles associated with the foundational exercises in order to pass "sticking points."

For example, bench press accessories include things like pin presses, board presses, pause presses, floor presses as well as various bench press variations like close-grip or wide grip.

Where-as the deadlift would use accessories like seated box jumps, box squats, deficit deadlifts, pause deadlifts, barbell bent over rows, banded deadlifts, hip thrusts, and rack pulls.

The common rep ranges for powerlifters is usually between 4-6 repetitions. This number can also change based on the style of training being used.

Note: Powerlifters often work based on percentages of their 1 rep max; Typically, 5 reps is 85% of your one-rep max.

The rest period in between sets in powerlifting spans from 2 minutes to 5 minutes to facilitate full recovery before performing the next set.

Weightlifting focuses on efficiency of movement. Weightlifting exercises require explosive strength at the beginning of the motion to lift the barbell overhead for snatches.

It also requires similar explosiveness to lift the barbell at shoulder level during a clean-and-jerk, and another explosive motion to lift the barbell overhead for the second phase of the exercise.

Because of the complicated technique to perform weightlifting exercises, the training focuses on perfecting the movement using proper technique.

They typically stick to 70-75% of their one-rep max and train 3-6 days per week. Additional exercises are also included to target accessory muscles like the major leg muscles so as not to impede the proper chain of motions needed for the lift.

There is also more of an aerobic component to weightlifting than powerlifting because of the faster pace of movement.

Weightlifting routines commonly incorporate exercises like 800-meter runs, kettlebell swings, deadlifts (as well as alternatives), and squats (as well as alternatives). Despite performing deadlifts and squats, which are powerlifting exercises, the purpose for weightlifters is to increase explosive power rather than reach and surpass their 1RM on a specific lift.

Amount of Power Generated

weightlifter clean and jerk

Despite being called powerlifting, weightlifting produces more force, or power per kilogram of body weight, than powerlifting.

Weightlifting produces over 52 watts per kilogram as force when performing snatches and clean-and-jerks, while powerlifting only produces 12 watts per kilogram as force when performing the three core exercises, squats, bench press, and deadlifts.

Weightlifting produces greater power because of the engagement of multiple muscle groups. It engages all the large-fiber muscles in the upper and lower body with great force and speed, which increases overall power generation.

Powerlifting primarily engages type IIB muscle fibers, which are fast-twitch but are more predisposed to slow, maximal-effort muscle contractions as opposed to type IIA fibers, which are similarly fast-twitch but are more suitable for fast, near-maximal contractions.

Reaching Hypertrophy

Both weightlifters and powerlifters do not focus on their physique when training. Their primary focus is on performing their respective exercises properly (while remaining in specific weight classes). However, the type of training involved between the two affects their physique due to the activation of muscle hypertrophy.

Powerlifters are generally bigger than weightlifters. Powerlifting builds more body mass than weightlifting because the slow speed of the repetitions puts the muscle under greater tension in a shorter period of time. This allows powerlifters to reach hypertrophy faster than weightlifters. The training in powerlifting is also usually related to increasing their 1RM.

Weightlifters, however, are leaner than powerlifters because weightlifting exercises activate various muscle groups all at once. The lack of isolation exercises in weightlifting, however, does not put enough pressure on the individual muscles for them to reach muscle hypertrophy.

Final Thoughts

Weightlifting and powerlifting vary significantly in the exercises and training required to perform them.

Weightlifting requires mastery of technique to place the barbell overhead, while powerlifting requires increasing maximum strength by reaching and surpassing a 1RM.

Powerlifting is better for building body mass and strength because the longer time under tension allows the muscles to reach hypertrophy.

However, weightlifting is better for overall power generation because it activates the core, upper, and lower body muscles at the same time.


1. https://uspa.net/

2. https://www.teamusa.org/

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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