What is the Difference Between Powerlifting and Weightlifting?

Powerlifting and Weightlifting

It’s a common question among gym-goers who are just getting into strength sports. What is the difference between Powerlifting and Weightlifting?

The fundamental difference between Powerlifting and Weightlifting are the lifts both sports are centered around. In Powerlifting, there are three main lifts; The Squat, The Deadlift, and the Bench Press. In Weightlifting there are only two main lifts; The Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.

Each lift in Powerlifting starts and ends with the bar in the same position, whereas each lift in Weightlifting starts on the floor and ends with the bar in the overhead position.

Similarly, the way the lifts are completed is quite different. In Powerlifting, each lift is slow and controlled, whereas, in Olympic lifting, the lifts are often much more dynamic and rely on momentum to get through certain portions of the lift.

The final key difference between Powerlifting and Weightlifting is that Weightlifting is an Olympic sport, whereas Powerlifting is not.

Let’s look at each of the lifts in a bit more detail to see the differences much more clearly:


As stated above, there are three main lifts in Powerlifting. The lifter starts and ends each lift in the same position and the movement is controlled by a judge who, depending on the lift, will provide set commands to signal the start and end of the lift. Because of this, the lifter needs to have the weight supported and under control at all times.

It is also common practice for spotters to surround the lifter in competition, ready to take the weight from the lifter if they lose control or fail the lift.

The Squat

In Powerlifting, the Squat is one of the three main lifts that are carried out in competition.

In the Squat, the lifter starts the lift standing tall, with the barbell on their back. The lifter will then break at the hips and knees and descend until their hip crease is at least parallel with their knees. The movement is then reversed and the lifter pushes through the ground to return to the standing position again.

The lift is started once the lifter un-racks the weight from a Squat rack. The lifter must then stand in position with the barbell completely under their control.

Once the main judge is satisfied that the lifter has the barbell under control, they will give the “start” or “squat” command, signaling to the lifter to begin the movement. The judges will then assess the depth of the squat to ensure they have reached at least parallel. Once the lifter has returned to the standing position, the main judge will then give the “rack” command signaling that the lifter has completed the lift and can now re-rack the barbell.

Throughout the entirety of the lift, the weight is completely supported by the lifter.

The Deadlift

The Deadlift is a pretty simple lift on the face of it. The barbell starts resting on the floor, and all the lifter has to do is pick it up (you could probably argue that this is the fundamental principle behind all lifts though, to be fair!).

Of course, in reality, there is a little bit more nuance to the Deadlift than it might first appear.

Firstly, you will typically see two types of Deadlift, the Conventional Deadlift, and the Sumo Deadlift.

The lifter can begin the lift in their own time, however must wait for a “down” command before lowering the weight again.

The Conventional Deadlift tends to be more popular in the larger weight classes, due to it suiting their larger frame more. The lifter will start the lift by placing their feet approximately shoulder-width apart. They will then grip the bar with their hands/arms outside their legs.

The Sumo Deadlift tends to suit smaller lifters more. In this variation, the legs are extended out wide with the arms inside the legs.

Regardless of variation, the lifter then only needs to stand up with the barbell hanging down at arm’s length. Depending on the federation, this could be all that is required and the lifter can drop the weight to complete the lift. Most Federations though, including the IPF, require that the lifter bring the weight to the ground with the bar still in their grasp.

Regarding commands from the judge, the Deadlift is pretty simple. The lifter can begin the lift in their own time, however, must wait for a “down” command before lowering the weight again.

Again, there are no fast movements here, the lift is slow and often the lifter is slowly grinding through the movement because it’s right on the limit of what their body can handle.

The Bench Press

The final lift in Powerlifting is the Bench Press.

In the Bench Press, the lifter will lie flat on a bench, they must then un-rack the weight and hold it above them with their arms fully extended. The lifter will then lower the bar until it comes in contact with their chest and then press the bar back to the start position.

The Bench Press requires a bit more involvement from the main judge than the Squat and Deadlift. The lift will begin with the “start” command once the main judge is satisfied that the lifter has the bar under control. Once the bar is in contact with the chest, the lifter must hold it here and wait for the “press” command from the judge, this is usually a couple of seconds pause here. Once the lifter’s arms are fully extended again, they must wait for the judge to give the “rack” command before re-racking and completing the lift.

The Bench Press is perhaps the easiest lift in Powerlifting to use momentum to complete. It’s common to see inexperienced lifters ‘bounce’ the weight off their chest to get the bar back up again. It’s for this reason that competition rules require the lifter to pause with the bar resting on their chest before pressing the weight back up.

Powerlifting In Summary

Its clear to see that Powerlifting rules don’t reward using momentum and the tempo of the lift is often quite slow and at the mercy of the judge, particularly in the Bench Press.

All three lifts also begin and end in the same position.

For more information on the sport of Powerlifting, you can check out the IPF website.


Weightlifting, or Olympic Weightlifting, to give its full name, consists of two lifts; the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.

Both lifts go through a complex of different movements and learning each lift often requires the lifter to learn them as individual parts first, before stitching each part together to master the full lift. Because of this, Weightlifting is seen by many as a much more technical strength sport than Powerlifting.

Both lifts start on the floor and finish with the bar extended above the lifter’s head.

In Weightlifting, the platform is empty aside from the lifter and the bar. No spotters are present so the lifter must also learn good technique to bail out of a failed lift without causing undue injury.

Weightlifting also requires a great deal of flexibility, namely in the hip and ankle joints, and large amounts of stability in the shoulders and back are required to control the weight above the head at the end of each lift.

The Snatch

The Snatch is the first of the two main lifts in the sport of Weightlifting.

The Snatch begins with the bar on the floor, the lifter will take up position behind the bar and squat down to grasp the bar. The lifter will then begin the lift by standing up, driving through the feet.

In some ways, the start is similar to the Deadlift, however, there are some noticeable differences:

  • The arms are extended out wide, with the grip often closer to the ends of the barbell’s handle.
  • The hips will sit much lower than in the Deadlift, in more of a Squat like position.
  • The initial movement is a lot more explosive than the Deadlift.

Once the bar moves past the lifter’s knees, the lifter will extend through their hips and knees to drive the bar up, almost immediately after this they will drop their body down into a squat position, allowing for the momentum from the hip/knee extension to drive the bar above their head. The lifter is now in a deep squat with the bar held above their head, arms completely extended. Keeping their arms extended, the lifter stands up to complete the movement.

The Clean and Jerk

The Clean and Jerk is the second and final lift in Weightlifting.

Technically, its two lifts, as the name suggests; the Clean and the Jerk.

The lift starts on the floor, pretty similar to the Snatch, except the lifter’s hands are roughly shoulder-width as they grip the bar. The lifter stands up and extends through the hips/knees and then drops into a Squat as with the Snatch, however instead of catching the bar above your head with arms extended, the lifter will catch the bar in a front rack position, or effectively a Front Squat.

Both lifts also start from the floor and finish with the bar overhead.

The lifter completes the Front Squat by standing tall, this completes the clean portion of the lift.

From here the aim is to get the bar above the head and is achieved in one of two ways; the Split Jerk or the Power Jerk. Either way, the lifter will perform a Push Press to start the movement.

In the Split Jerk, the lifter will extend one leg behind them while the other is bent in front of them, similar to a Split Squat. Their arms will extend up holding the bar aloft.

The Power Jerk, is pretty similar, except the legs stay in the same plane, side by side. The lifter will drop into a Squat with driving their arms straight up with the weight above them.

Both variations are completed by standing tall with the arms extended above the lifter’s head.

Weightlifting in Summary

Regardless of the lift, Weightlifting requires a lot more flexibility and dynamic movement patterns than with Powerlifting. The lifts themselves also require a bit more practice to master being that they involve a lot more components.

Both lifts also start from the floor and finish with the bar overhead.

For more information on the sport of Weightlifting, you can check out the IWF website.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, the difference between Powerlifting and Weightlifting is pretty clear to see. Both sports are excellent choices for someone looking to take up lifting, however.

The key points to remember are as follows:

  • Powerlifting is split into three main lifts; The Squat, The Deadlift, and the Bench Press.
  • Weightlifting is split into two main lifts; The Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.
  • The lifts in Powerlifting tend to be slower to execute and complete and require very little momentum or dynamic movement.
  • The lifts in Weightlifting tend to be a lot more dynamic and have portions that rely on momentum to move the bar.
  • Lifts in Powerlifting start and finish in the same position.
  • Lifts in Weightlifting always start on the floor and end in an overhead position.

A final consideration that separates Powerlifting and Weightlifting is the type of barbell used. In Powerlifting, a Power Bar is more common, whereas in Weightlifting an Olympic Barbell is preferred.

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