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Powerlifting 101

Justin Titchenell is a student at Gettysburg College, where he competes on the football team and studies Organization and Management.


Powerlifting is a sport consisting of the bench press, squat, and deadlift where athletes are given three attempts to lift maximum weight for a single repetition. Competitions are separated into weight and age classes where athletes compete with individuals of a similar age and weight. Additionally, there are categories allocated to individuals who prefer to use specialized equipment. The individual that lifts the most combined weight in their class wins the competition. Strength levels in powerlifting have increased significantly over time due to advancements in technique and equipment.

Important factors regarding individuals’ strength threshold are their body and muscle fiber types. Body types can be categorized into three groups: mesomorphs, ectomorphs, and endomorphs.

Mesomorphs have a naturally muscular build, and they tend to be on the shorter side. This build is more advantageous for the squat and deadlift as shorter limbs provide a technical advantage.

Ectomorphs tend to be tall, lanky, and have long limbs. These people are better suited for the deadlift as longer arms shorten the distance the bar has to travel.

Finally, endomorphs gain fat easily and have a large build. Their height varies, however, due to their large frame, they normally excel in the squat and bench press.


Equally important is the composition of muscles or the two types of skeletal muscle in the human body, fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Slow-twitch fibers contract slowly but can work for a long time; whereas, fast-twitch fibers contract at a high rate and get tired quickly.

For any type of weightlifting, it is better to have a higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers. These fibers need to be recruited and will only be activated when force demands are too much for slow-twitch fibers to handle. Strength and power training increase the number of fast-twitch fibers which account for size and definition of muscle.

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Although body type and the composition of muscle play an important role in gaining strength, the mastering of technique is essential to getting strong. Proper technique can be broken into the three phases; moreover, there are several precautions that need to be taken.

In preparing for the lift, the core must be stabilized. This not only induces tension in the whole body but helps prevent injury. The higher the tension, the greater the potential energy. This allows each muscle fiber to store more kinetic energy that is to be exerted during the lift.

Next, it is important to breathe properly. In the eccentric movement, the portion of the lift where the bar is lowered, it is necessary to breathe in.

On the other hand, in the concentric movement where the bar is raised, it is important to breathe out.

Proper technique also means positioning the hands and feet to create an efficient movement. The most efficient way to position the hands and feet are debatable, but the most effective position depends on preference. Generally speaking, optimal form can be determined through three scientific principles in the squat.

The barbell must be directly centered over the mid-section of the foot, it must travel in a straight line, and the moment arm and range of motion must be shortened. Therefore, a wider stance would be more efficient for a maximum attempt.

In the bench press, hand placement varies with individual preference. However, it has been proven that a wider grip decreases the range of motion the bar travels and shortens the lever arm between the shoulder and the bar.

The most effective hand and foot placement in the deadlift is similar to the squat and bench press in that the shorter the range of motion, the more efficient the lift.


It is evident technique impacts strength; however, the use of proper equipment is equally important. The equipment used in powerlifting depends on classification. These are categories that separate lifters who choose to use specialized gear from those who do not.

Those competing with the assistance of specialized gear are known as equipped lifters. Specialized gear was first introduced to prevent injury but now functions as a tool to lift heavier loads.

On the other hand, non-equipped, or raw lifters, do not use specialized gear. However, both categories allow athletes to use support belts, wrist and knee wraps, and weightlifting shoes.


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