What is powerlifting and why do I love it?

Theres a thing that every single person that doesn’t already lift does when they hear that I’m a powerlifter.

They all make a weird gesture with their arms in a mime of the few images they’ve seen of olympic weightlifting or crossfit.

After thinking, ‘here we go again!’ I then spend several minutes explaining what powerlifting is.

After I ended up doing that another couple of times last week I thought I’d spend a bit of time explaining what powerlifting is and why I’ve fallen head over heels for it. It might help some of you understand better what I spend all that time in the gym doing.

So….what is power lifting?

Power lifting is a sport from the weightlifting family. It essentially tests a persons overall strength by having them compete in 3 compound lifts using a barbell;

  • The Squat – Holding the barbell on your back, you squat down until the upper part of your leg drops below parallel and then you get back up
  • the Bench Press – Lying on a bench you lower the barbell to your chest and press it back up
  • the Deadlift. – Essentially you pick the barbell up off the floor lifting it up towards your hips until your body is upright.

Note in none of these do you end up holding the barbell up above your head…..

When you roll up to a competition the aim is essentially to lift as much as you can on that day. You get 3 attempts at each of the three lifts and you choose how heavy they are going to be.  At the end of the day you add up the weights of the biggest successful lifts for each to get a total, and the biggest total wins. You compete in weight categories to even things out as usually heavier people can lift more.

So why do I love it so much?

First, it is genuinely the most inclusive sport that I’ve encountered. I’ve tried out other sports over the years and non of them ever felt truly inclusive. Back in my school days I drifted off the netball team as everyone around me grew and I settled at 5 ft 1. When I was competing in Judo someone always had to loose to allow someone else to win so there was always a bit of an edge to any friendships you might make. When I trained as a yoga teacher I realised how hard it is to gain credibility as a plus size teacher. I have found powerlifting to be completely different. You see people of all shapes, size and ages at competitions all seeking to do just that little bit better than last time.

As I said you pick your own weights to hit at a competition, and regardless of what anyone else is hitting you are usually aiming to hit a personal best of your own. There is absolutely no judgement about what is on anyones bar when they walk up to it. Some people are good at one lift and not good at others, other people are at the very beginning of their journey and others are years into that journey. Everyone appreciates the work that it takes to make improvements and the guts that it takes to get in front of people to try and lift it. At a competition I was at a few months ago the deadlift I was hitting was considerably less than what the other girls I was lifting with were hitting but that didn’t stop people supporting me.

Even the way I interact with my body and appearance has fundamentally shifted while I’ve been lifting thanks to the level of inclusivity as I’ve started to think more about what my body can do than what it looks like. I have never felt judged for my size or the way I look while lifting either, in other sports environments I have time and time again encountered people that underestimated me because I was over weight but I have never felt that when lifting. I actually fell into powerlifting by accident. I had no idea what it was or if it was any different to other types of strength training. At the time I was in a very different head space to the one that I’m in now and I was desperately trying to loose weight thinking that I needed to do that before I could have any kind of life. I was lucky enough to find a coach that didn’t underestimate me an let me dig in to see what I was capable of, other wise I wouldn’t have found my way into it.

Secondly, its all about progress. I remember being struck at a Tony Robbins event when I realised the truth of what they were saying about it being progress and working towards things that makes you happy. Its not the achieving of things. Often we feel a bit lost when we get past a goal. But in power lifting, arguably, there is never a point where you run out of goals. There is always another number, another kg you can try and add to that bar. There may be records or qualifying totals that you want to chase, things that you want to win as time goes on, new bits of kit that you want to try. Theres always something. It won’t always be easy to make that progress but there will never be nothing for you to chase.

Its precisely because there is always something to reach for that lifting helped me as a way to channel myself to combat the difficulties that I have with mental health. Without that I would barely have made it out of the house at all in my worst moments, as it is if I am doing it for an end result it gives me something to cling on to.

The final reason that I have completely fallen for powerlifting is how amazing and supportive the community is. I have made friends for life with people that I have just run into a couple of times at competitions. Someone is always willing to help you out, be it with advice, to prod you to make sure you made it to training or just to give you a spot when needed. Even direct competitors are supportive of each other. It doesnt matter if you’re competing with someone later, each of you gets out there separately and does the best you can do on the day and everyone understands the consistency and commitment that it takes to get there.

So there it is that’s why I love lifting. I’d absolutely recommend having a go to anyone, you’ve got nothing to loose and everything to gain. I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for me as I keep moving forwards in the sport and progress off the toddler slopes.

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