Strength and fitness training is not just for building big muscles; there are other benefits, too, like increasing strength, power and pushing your capabilities. This can be done on your own or competitively. 

A lot of people use the words weightlifting and powerlifting interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference.

Each has its own specific lifts that require strength, explosive power, speed, and even technique. If you are looking to gain muscle, strength, power, and endurance, this outline of powerlifting and weightlifting can help you decide which suits your training style and requirements.

Weight training is steadily growing in popularity at both the home and public gyms. People are realizing that weight training is a great workout and starting to get curious. 

Most people at the gym who don’t do Olympic Weightlifting (I'll be referring to this as just weightlifting or olympic lifting in this article) or powerlifting likely don't know the difference, but today I'm going to clear this up if you're confused about the differences. 

Powerlifters rely primarily on strength, and weightlifters must balance strength, speed, flexibility and explosive power. The key differences are the lifts, force production, speed required and the level of skill involved.

Olympic weightlifting is performed at the Olympics, whereas powerlifting is not part of this sporting event as there are certain criteria that it hasn't met. 

Powerlifting and weightlifting both have their own international body for competition. For powerlifting, there is the International Powerlifting Federation  (IPF) and for weightlifting it's the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

Although many get into the sports not wanting to compete, there is always the opportunity to do so. This comparison of powerlifting and weightlifting can help you decide which training is right for you.

What are the Types Of lifts?

Before explaining the differences between powerlifting and weightlifting, it's important to know the difference between power and strength.

Power is a combination of speed and strength. Strength is the ability to apply force and speed refers to the velocity of the movement. Powerlifting focuses on pure strength and the weightlifting is focused on dynamic power and strength.

Powerlifting and Olympic lifting are unique in their own right. They are similar (both strength sports, using a loaded barbell) but there are several key differences. 

Preparing To Lift Weights

Let's start with powerlifting. There are 3 different lifts used in powerlifting, with the goal of lifting as much weight as possible in the deadlift, back squat and bench press. 

Powerlifting does not require fast and precise movement that weightlifting does. Rather than explosive power, the goal is to lift the most weight possible. The power lifts never go overhead, whilst both Olympic lifts do.  More on this soon.

Olympic Weightlifting compromises of two lifts, the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. They both require a high amount of explosive power and technical precision, both finishing overhead. Olympic lifting requires quick, precise movement that leaves little room for error.

The snatch is the slightly more technical of the two and it requires taking the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in one movement.

The clean and jerk is broken down into two movements. The bar is taking from the floor to the shoulders and then it is pressed overhead. 

These lifts generate an incredible amount of explosive power through the weight that is lifted and the speed it is lifted at. Because of this, Olympic lifts not only require strength, but also speed and flexibility too.

which required more power and force?

You'd think that powerlifting is the sport that requires more power and force, given that these athletes are lifting heavy weights but weightlifting produces more.

Research indicates that the power outputs (watts per kilogram of bodyweight) of Olympic lifting are significantly higher than powerlifting [1].

Olympic lifting produces greater power because of the engagement of multiple muscle groups.

It is impossible to perform Olympic lifting movements at a slow speed. In the power lifts such as the bench, squat, and deadlift it is not uncommon to see slower maximum lifts. 

What Is The Focus Of each Sport?

Powerlifting focuses on pure strength, while weightlifting focuses on strength, speed and technique.

This should be one of your first considerations when you’re deciding which of the two sports best suit you. 

These two athletic sports may look the same to someone new to the gym or weight training scene, but each has an entirely different focus.

Physique Achieved

Hopefully, physique isn't the reason you want to get into weight training.

Most powerlifters and weightlifters don't nurture the way they look as much as you think they would. That being said, powerlifters tend to be bulkier than weightlifters.

Weightlifters tend to have less body fat since their training usually requires more reps. For both powerlifters and weightlifters, physique is not nearly as much of a concern as strength, speed, and technique.


A notable difference between the training involved with powerlifting and weightlifting is the main focus.

Both powerlifting and Olympic lifting focus on building strength, but with weightlifting, it takes many years of practice to learn and master the proper technique necessary to compete.

This should also be a consideration when deciding which of the two is right for you.

Both powerlifting and weightlifting have the goals of getting better at the main lifts and lifting heavy weights. They each use accessory exercises to target specific weaknesses to get better and stronger.

Related Article - Do Boxers Lift Weights When Training?

Which Type Of Belts To Use?

Powerlifters and weightlifters have distinctly different belts. A powerlifting belt is the same width all the way around, and weightlifting belts are narrower in the front.

If you plan on getting into competitive weightlifting, many of the federations and competitions have guidelines and chart size for lifting belts that plan on being worn during competitions. 

guy doing deadlifts in the gym

What Is Powerlifting?

In a nutshell, powerlifting is a strength sport designed to find out how strong you are. The main idea of powerlifting involves three barbell lifts: the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift.

Each of these three distinct lifts are judged separately; the competitors have three attempts at each one. The final score of a powerlifting competition includes the single best scores for each of the three lifts.

While powerlifting has its roots in Ancient Greece and with notable strongmen like Angus MacAskill, the more modern powerlifting we know today came out of the United States and the United Kingdom [2]. 

As Olympic Weightlifting fizzled out in the United States during the 1950s, powerlifting started to gain popularity. Although it’s not an Olympic Sport, powerlifting is a World Games Sport and Paralympic Sport (only the bench press).

Powerlifting is a sport for almost any age group. There are some exceptions, but kids younger than the age of 7 or 8 years old are not physically ready for any kind of serious weightlifting. Kids older than 8 and young adults can start powerlifting under the guidance of a trainer or knowledgeable adult. 

Both men and women are competing in powerlifting though in separate classes.

woman lifting weights

Weight Classes In Powerlifting

There are different weight classes for men and women. For women, there are 11 weight classes with 12 lifters competing. Women’s weight classes start at 97.6 lbs. and top out at 242.6 and SHW (over 242.6.)

For men, there are 12 weight classes also with 12 lifters competing. The weight classes for men start at 114.6 lbs and go up to 308.6 lbs, and SHW (over 308.6.)

If you want to start powerlifting, you’ll need a weight bench, barbell bar, squat rack, and weight plates for training at the gym or at home.

There is other equipment out there for strength training, but these four pieces of equipment are the minimum requirements if you want to train and execute the three powerlifting moves.

There are also accessories that you can use to reduce the chances of injury and others that increase the effectiveness of your workout, like chalk, belts, best powerlifting shoes, and singlets.

The three powerlifting moves are the bench press, squat, and deadlift. To do the bench press, lie on your back on the bench, hold the bar, then lower it to your chest and then press the bar back up again.

For the squat, stand up straight, hold the bar on your back and keep your chest up and your weight on your heels, then lower and push the bar back up to start.

For the deadlift, you’ll hoist the bar off the ground until you are standing, then you can either reverse the movement back to start or, if the weight is really heavy, you can gently drop the bar to the ground.

Related Article - Best Adjustable Weight Benches

Can Powerlifting Build Muscle?

Yes, you can gain strength and effectively build muscle if you train correctly. The main goal of powerlifting is to gain strength. That being said, one of the positive side effects of powerlifting is building muscle [3]. 

To build the most muscle, work on doing 6-10 reps of squats, bench presses, and deadlifts to the maximum weight you can lift while still maintaining the correct form.

Pros And Cons Of Powerlifting


  • Refined focus
  • Increased health benefits
  • Builds a stronger core
  • Builds stronger bones


  • Focus too narrow
  • Possibility of injuries
  • Developing calluses

What Is Weightlifting?

Olympic weightlifting is also a sport that measures strength but also concentrates on explosive power, speed and technique.

Unlike powerlifting, Olympic lifting involves two main lifts instead of three; the clean and jerk and the snatch [4].

The idea of the Snatch lift is to get the barbell from the floor to arm’s length overhead in one single motion. You have to use the muscles of your legs, hips, and back to raise the barbell from the floor while you quickly lower your body underneath the barbell.

The clean and jerk is a two-part lift. First, you need to lift the barbell to your shoulders; that's the first move, and then lift the barbell overhead for the second part.

Just like powerlifting competitions, weightlifting competitions allow athletes three attempts at each lift and taking the highest score lift in each to determine your rank.

Weightlifting is the oldest and most universally practiced sport that uses barbells and tests the athlete's strength. It evolved as an international sport in the 19th century but was also one of the few sports at the first Olympic Games in Athens back in 1896.

Winners of Olympic weightlifting competitions can claim the title of strongest man and strongest woman in the world.

As with powerlifting, weightlifting is not recommended for children younger than 7 years old. There’s no age limit on the top end if you consider weightlifters like Paul Stone, who was still competing in his upper 70s. Weightlifting is available for both men and women as a competitive sport.

At a minimum, you are going to need a barbell and weights if you’re thinking of getting into weightlifting. There are belts, shoes, and singlets that are also recommended, especially if you plan on competing.

Related Article - Olympic Barbell Vs Standard Barbell

Pros And Cons Of Weightlifting


  • Weightlifting is an Olympic sport
  • Strong emphasis on form
  • Can minimize risk of muscle damage
  • Develops a more powerful core


  • Takes longer amounts of time
  • The moves are complicated
  • Can be costly
man preparing to lift weights

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Are powerlifters stronger than weightlifters?

Yes!  When comparing powerlifters vs. weightlifters, powerlifters take the cake. They are stronger because they lift heavier weights. Weightlifters still have a pretty solid amount of body mass.

Do powerlifters train every day?

No, most powerlifters train between 3-5 days a week, with 6 days usually being the max. There is no benefit to training certain muscle groups more than a few times a week.

Is Olympic weightlifting better than powerlifting?

One sport is really no better than the other when it comes to Olympic lifting and powerlifting. It all depends on what each individual is looking for in a sport. Olympic weightlifting is definitely more complicated than powerlifting and requires a certain level of skill to perfect technique with the amount of speed required.


Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting have more in common than not, and it ultimately depends on what you want to get out of the sport.

Whether you’re looking solely to build strength or focus on speed and technique, both weightlifting and powerlifting have a lot to offer as a sport!






Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website