Powerlifting vs Olympic Weightlifting vs Weightlifting

Written by Joey Daoud

On May 5, 2018

Last Sunday the New York Times had an article on the rise of youth in powerlifting. There was just one, big issue…they never explained what the sport of powerlifting actually is.

As a USA Powerlifting and USA Weightlifting coach (and someone who formerly confused the two sports all the time), I felt compelled to set some things straight and explain the difference between the two (along with how to spell deadlift, which the article kept messing up. Spoiler: I just spelled it for you.)

Before I dive into what the article missed, I just want to point out what was very cool about it. There’s been a rise in youth participation in the sport of powerlifting. Even more awesome, the vast majority of those new participants are female. At USA Powerlifting’s 2018 competition, 75% of the participants were female.

It attributes the rise of interest to social media. I think if you go even further back you could probably trace it to CrossFit. CrossFit made the barbell mainstream, and any ‘fringe’ sport that’s based on the barbell has seen an influx in interest and participation.

Weightlifting vs Olympic Weightlifting vs Powerlifting

So weightlifting (lowercase ‘w’) is the act of lifting weight. Lifting, pressing, squatting – you’re weightlifting.

Olympic Weightlifting refers to two (technically three) very specific movements – the snatch and the clean and jerk. Both are variations of achieving the same goal: get a loaded barbell from the ground to over your head. This is an Olympic sport. You get three attempts to lift the heaviest weight for each movement. Your heaviest successful lift for the two movements is added up. Highest score wins (you’re competing in weight classes).

Powerlifting (as in the sport of powerlifting – what you’d be doing at a meet or competition) entails three movements: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Same deal with Olympic Weightlifting: three attempts for each lift. Score is added up. Highest total wins.

The article never gave that simple explanation. It also kept mixing up movements, like calling a deadlift a powerlift (there’s no ‘powerlift’ movement), or spelling ‘deadlift’ every way possible (dead lift, dead-lift).

Maybe I’m being nit-picky, maybe it’s because it’s in the Styles section and not the Sports section, but when you write about something you’re not familiar with, you should at least get the basics right. Because if you the simple facts are wrong, what else about your story is inaccurate?

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