If you go to any gym today, you will find it full of people in search of bulging biceps and washboard abs. In the corner, you might see someone standing with a huge weight across their back, preparing to descend into a squat, striving for a personal record. You have encountered a powerlifter.
In the sport of powerlifting, you compete to lift the most weight for a single repetition in the big three- the Squat, the bench press and the deadlift. I contend that this is the purest of all the strength sports- Powerlifting, Weightlifting, Strongman and kettlebell sport. Of these only weightlifting is contested at the Olympics, for it is the oldest and is the father of all strength sports. But in weightlifting the bar must be lifted over the head, with great speed and precision, making it a test of speed, flexibility and strength. Dragging cars in strongman is tiring and is a test of endurance and strength. Swinging the kettlebell over and over again for ten minutes is clearly a test of endurance. But in powerlifting, strength is the biggest factor, and the strongest walk away with the trophies.
The first adjustable barbells date to the 1870’s. By 1890, weightlifting become a thriving sport. At the time all lifting was done from the ground. The classic tests of strength were the Deadlift, the Clean and Jerk, the Snatch, the One arm Jerk, the One arm Snatch, the One arm Deadlift, the shoulder press and the one arm side (or bent) press. Many of the records of the time are still standing, like Arthur Saxon’s one arm side press of 165kgs or Hermann Groener’s one arm deadlift of 330kgs.
By the 1930’s, in order to keep breaking weightlifting records, athletes began to realize that they needed to handle more weight and strengthen the legs and upper body separately. Thus the Squat and the bench press were invented, to add power to the Olympic lifts (hence the term Power-lifting), which consisted of the shoulder press, the clean and jerk and the snatch. Using this strategy John Davis set the world record in every single weight class, in every lift. He would squat and bench press after Olympic lifting every workout, four days a week. The first person to specialize in a power-lift was Bob Peoples, who in 1947 deadlifted 320kgs at a body weight of 74kgs. He invented the power rack and deserves the title of the father of powerlifting. Soon Doug Hepburn bench pressed the first 250kgs and shoulder pressed 185kgs and Paul Anderson squatted 500kgs, raw. By 1970 the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) was formed and the first World Championships were held in 1971.
In 1972 the shoulder press was removed from the olympics. This transformed weightlifting into a speed and lower body based sport. Big shoulders and bulging biceps disappeared from weightlifting and it’s popularity declined. But nature does not tolerate a vacuum, and powerlifting rose to take its place and hasn’t turned back.
Powerlifting methods have increased the strength of athletes in various sports like weightlifting, rugby, football, shot put, sprinting, jumping, basketball and swimming. Every sport requires strength and muscle and at its heart Powerlifting is the simplest way to develop it. Thus every athlete, bodybuilder and would be powerlifter would be wise to learn the principles of strength training.
Principles of Strength Training
- Use Basic Compound Movements to Build Strength
You will never get truly strong using tiny exercises like concentration curls. The big exercises take care of the smaller muscles too and allow those muscles to handle heavier loads, which leads to better strength development. Due to neurological reasons, strength developed by isolation work does not transfer to other activities, but heavy squats will.
This also means that training should be thought of in terms of movements, not muscles. There is no chest day- just bench day. You can do pec flys on that day, but the goal is to build the bench press, not the chest. If you do this, the chest will develop on its own. The idea is to use the minimum number of movements to cover the entire body and then focus on building those movements, to develop full body strength and muscle.
Every routine should contain one push, one pull and one squat. Then you can be assured that you will have almost complete development. Extra work can be done for lagging groups but focus on the big stuff first. For Example- Squat, Bench press and deadlift is one, Incline press, Chin ups and Front Squats is another.
- Progressive Overload
Over time, you must strive to use more weight or do more reps in the movements you have chosen. Progressive overload is the cornerstone of all strength training.
- Technical Perfection
You can fool yourself by doing half squats or bouncing your bench presses but you can’t fool your body. Using proper technique will lead to better development, better strength gains and fewer injuries. If you have to reduce the weight and swallow your ego to do this, so be it.
- Have a plan
If you don’t have a plan, you plan to fail. Even a simple plan will be effective if you follow a few basic rules.
-Plan realistically: It is better to plan for 2 days a week and actually execute the plan than to plan for 5 and fall flat on your face.
-Set measurable objectives: “Getting jacked” is a wish not a goal. Benching 100kgs is a concrete goal.
-Start light and progress slow. The heavy weight is not going anywhere.
-Dont be afraid to take 2 steps back to move 5 steps forward.
-Train optimally not maximally: The goal is to reach the objectives you have set and every workout builds to it. If you can progress using just one exercise, then the other four are wasted effort. Killing yourself achieves nothing.
Every sport requires a little of strength, flexibility, skill and endurance. In powerlifting strength is king, but don’t forget the rest. If you let them drop too low eventually it will hurt you and stunt your progress.
It is also important to train the body evenly- don’t just bench and curl, you need to train the back and lower body also.
You must compare your training to these five rules and make sure they are all obeyed. If you do, you will always be able to make progress. I will dig deep into all of these principles in future articles. Until then, good luck with your training.