1. Power Lifting

Date: 17 August 2022
Power Lifting

What exactly is Power Lifting?


Why do women not compete in sports that men are predominant in? Well, here is why!  This Blog is a 7- to 10-minute read.


Powerlifting is a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. As in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, it involves the athlete attempting a maximal weight single-lift effort of a barbell loaded with weight plates.






Classes and categories

There are various weight classes for men, women, and junior and varied age categories.



A powerlifting competition takes place as follows:


Each competitor is allowed three attempts on each of the squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, depending on their standing and the organization they are lifting in. The lifter’s best valid attempt on each lift counts toward the competition total. For each weight class, the lifter with the highest total wins. In many meets, the lifter with the highest total relative to their weight class also wins. If two or more lifters achieve the same total, the lighter lifter ranks above the heavier lifter.

Competitors are judged against other lifters of the same gender, weight class, and age.



In a powerlifting competition, there are three events: bench press, squat and deadlift.


The Squat

The lift starts with the lifter standing erect and the bar loaded with weights resting on the lifter’s shoulders. At the referee’s command, the lift begins. The lifter creates a break in the hips, bends their knees and drops into a squatting position with the hip crease (the top surface of the leg at the hip crease) below the top of the knee. The lifter then returns to an erect position. At the referee’s command, the bar is returned to the rack and the lift is completed.


The Bench press

With his or her back resting on the bench, the lifter takes the loaded bar at arm’s length. The lifter lowers the bar to the chest. When the bar becomes motionless on the chest, the referee gives a press command. Then the referee will call ‘Rack’ and the lift is completed as the weight is returned to the rack.


The Deadlift

In the deadlift, the athlete grasps the loaded bar which is resting on the platform floor. The lifter pulls the weights off the floor and assumes an erect position. The knees must be locked and the shoulders back, with the weight held in the lifter’s grip. At the referee’s command, the bar will be returned to the floor under the control of the lifter.



Training is cross-pollination of:
  • Weight training
  • Variable resistance training
  • Aerobic exercise

The Injuries: Some interesting reading:


The Most Common Powerlifting Injuries


  • Injuries of the body affect the three areas, most commonly injured during powerlifting are, the spine, the shoulder joint, the hip, and the knee.


  • Nearly all powerlifting injuries are joint injuries, although tendon and muscle tears also feature frequently among the bench press (pec tear) and deadlift (biceps tear) in particular.


Can You Avoid Powerlifting Injuries?


  • These injuries aren’t necessarily unavoidable for most trainees, but they may be more statistically likely for an athlete who pushes themselves. Even with perfect form, the deadlift mechanically induces some severe shearing forces on the spine, which can lead to overuse injuries over a long period of time.


  • While squatting through the full range of motion with appreciable resistance can strengthen the muscles protecting and supporting the knee joint, training under maximal load can risk damage to the meniscus and ACL joint, or cause patellar tendinopathy.


  • The shoulder girdle is quite fragile in humans, and in exchange for extreme mobility and freedom in the shoulder joint, the shoulder isn’t the most stable or strong joint. Even with proper precautions, high-frequency bench press training and heavy loads can stress the tendons within the shoulder.


Aside from overuse injuries, acute injuries can occur for any number of mistakes.

  • Not warming up properly,
  • misjudging a jump in weight
  • misgrooving a lift
  • slipping on the bench
  • or any other potential mechanical or human errors that can cause an acute injury to the knee, lower back, or shoulder.


Other common injury sites that shouldn’t be ignored include the hips (pelvic fractures and acetabular stress caused by deadlifts), tendon or muscle tears (during the deadlift and bench press, although a mixed grip can eliminate the risk of a biceps tear in the deadlift), and tendinopathy in the elbows (caused by squatting and bench pressing frequency) are some other common complaints among powerlifters.


Most Powerlifting Injuries Seem Minor

This sounds scary and all, but most of the time, these injuries do heal themselves. There are important exceptions. Total muscle tears and tendon tears are the scariest of all because they cannot be reversed without surgery. A partial rip or strain can heal itself as the tissue is still attached, just damaged – but a total avulsion of a muscle from its insertion on a bone requires surgery to reattach.

Other injuries, however, usually heal over time. That doesn’t mean that a bad knee or some lower back pain should make you go from pulling and pushing five times a week to becoming a couch potato. Active recovery, appropriate rehab, and a much-needed visit to a medical professional (ideally an osteopathic doctor or a sports medicine specialist) are all necessary to recover from minor and major powerlifting injuries.


Injury Prevention in Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a very exclusive sport with the main objective being to lift as heavy as humanly possible.  A lot of people will spend countless dollars on coaches, supplements and programs to be the best, however, there is very little emphasis on injury prevention.  In fact, the majority of powerlifters/weightlifters who have come to see us at Trained Physio have a completely reactive approach to injuries.  Meaning they wait until they have a problem and then try to fix it.


Injury Management for Powerlifting

Seeing a Physiotherapist for manual therapy, dry needling, stretching and mobilization work will help decrease muscular tension and lengthen soft tissues that have tightened due to training.

This will assist with circulation and lead to faster recovery time and decrease your chances of injury.   One of the main obstacles you will face as an athlete is an injury.

So why do so many people wait for an injury to happen and then take action? Why wouldn’t you focus and train just as hard towards injury prevention so you can perform at your optimal week in and week out?  Powerlifting is a physically demanding sport that requires time and dedication.


Take a look at these articles for starting Women:

Beginner Powerlifting Program for Women

Whilst there are women competing in Power Lifting, there are not enough compared to their male counterparts. Let’s find out why?

Muscular Strength in Women Compared to Men

Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage


By Cara Ocobock1 OCT 2019

As I walk into the gym, my nostrils flare at the smell of sweat and old iron. My eyes itch from the grip of chalk in the air. My body reverberates with the clangs of hundreds of pounds being dropped repeatedly on the floor. Regulars, almost all men, greet me with a wave and a “Good morning, Doc!” as I approach the squat racks. My lifting partner cracks a smile, and we get to work, with our concerns left at the door. This place is my sanctuary. But for a time, it was my hell.

As a biological anthropologist, I study how humans cope with extreme conditions and push themselves to the limit. I began powerlifting to get in shape for fieldwork studying outdoor enthusiasts in the American Rockies. It became a passion. But being a female powerlifter isn’t easy, and the difficulties rarely have to do with lifting.

Though female participation in strength sports is on the rise, powerlifting remains a hyper-masculine territory. The few women who dare to break in must navigate complex and taxing rites of passage. My three-year journey at a powerlifting gym pushed me to my physical and emotional limits. Eventually, with some help from the anthropological perspective, I recognized how this journey changed me and how I made small changes to the sport’s gendered culture, one person at a time.

In 2016, I started a new job in a new state, so I decided to switch from campus gyms and YMCAs to a serious lifting facility. When I arrived at this gym, I thought I had found my weightlifting sanctuary.

This was a banging and clanging gym, made for powerlifters. Shelves displayed a vast array of supplements, all promising to drastically boost strength and virility. The large weight room was filled with equipment marked by dents, chipped paint, and spots of rust—clear signs they had been subjected to heavy use and abuse.

I stepped into that room armed with a rigorous training program and dreams of hitting lofty personal records. However, I was quickly deflated, diminished, and demeaned. Instead of walking into a haven of heavy lifting, I entered a crucible of toxic masculinity. I was almost always the only woman there, and I endured a near-constant stream of unsolicited advice on my lifting form and comments about my body. Once, a regular came up to me and said, “You are built like a brick shithouse. Whew, if only I were a younger man.”

Sometimes I wanted to lift heavier than I was comfortable doing alone and needed a spotter. Despite my clear instructions (“touch only the bar, not the body”), men unnecessarily touched me. Or they stood so close that I could see—and smell—up their shorts. These interactions felt threatening because they were meant to be threatening. The posturing, inappropriate comments, and unnecessary touching are rooted in two paradigms familiar to many anthropologists: muscular Christianity and gendered spaces.

Muscular Christianity arose in the Victorian era as a response to the perceived feminization of the Anglican Church and expanding roles for women in the public sphere. The movement fathered organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). At the sinewy core of muscular Christianity is the idea that sculpting one’s body and building strength is a demonstration of masculinity and strong moral fibre. It is therefore almost a patriotic duty to display your superiority over those who do not follow suit.

This ethos has become so normalized in the U.S., wrote American anthropologist John MacAloon, that “it fails to stand out as anything unusual. I would suggest that not just the sports departments but the entire moral economy and discourse of American public schools … remain largely derived from the legacy of muscular Christianity and the games ethic.” Wrapped into this is the creation of gendered spaces in sports. Sports that demand strength (football, powerlifting, etc.) are traditionally meant for men, while those that rely on grace and callisthenics (dancing, figure skating, etc.) are meant for women.

Even territories within a gym are highly gendered. The weightlifting zones are male spaces; the aerobic areas are female spaces. The way these domains are constructed and used expresses attitudes about gender. In my gym, the area one might begrudgingly call the cardio room—where women might have escaped the macho vibes—held only a handful of threadbare and often broken treadmills alongside token, unused ellipticals. Entering the heavy lifting area of my gym meant I was trespassing on two accounts: I wasn’t built like someone who ascribed to the ideal of muscular Christianity, and I wasn’t a man. As such, I was treated as an outsider and regularly demeaned.

It got to a point where I asked myself, Do I want to lift heavy, engage with other lifters, and endure harassment? Or do I just put on my protective “f Of” headphones, lift light reps, and avoid inappropriate behaviour? Increasingly, I chose the latter. For almost a year, my progress and my mental health suffered.

Over time, I entered what I can now call—with a distant, anthropological view—a liminal or transitional phase. I wasn’t part of the gym culture, and I wasn’t on the outside either. There was still the occasional intimidating behaviour, but for the most part, the men ignored me, and I avoided them.

With less harassment, I started to find joy in lifting again. My strength was progressing but so was my isolation. This went on for months. Then things suddenly changed.

I was bench pressing and (sigh) needed a spotter. So, I asked Hannibal, one of the morning regulars, a huge guy who lined up a buffet of intra-workout supplements on the reverse hyperextension machine. Though Hannibal didn’t spot me the way I asked, he didn’t stand so close that I got a forced telescopic view up his shorts. I thanked him. Then something odd happened. Hannibal, who never said a word to me before, sat on a bench and struck up a conversation.

Not long after that, I was deadlifting a heavy weight for a fairly high number of reps. On the last rep, I dropped the weights aggressively. Max, another regular, asked, “Do you compete?” I coldly, perhaps even hostilely, responded, “No!” As I walked away, he said, “You should.” And that was it. He didn’t comment on my form. He didn’t say anything inappropriate. He treated me like a “real lifter.” From day one, that was all I wanted—and it took over a year to get it.

Later I asked Max and Hannibal: “What changed? Why did you start talking to me?” They both gave the same answer: I had put in the time and work. I had gone through some unwritten and undefined rite of passage that I wasn’t fully aware of, and I had come out the other side.

Max and Hannibal slowly became my friends. Conversations got longer and ranged in topic from books and movies, to what I taught in my classes, to the feasibility of using bee stings as a performance-enhancing drug we dubbed “Stang.” Trust also grew, particularly with Max, who became my regular lifting partner. I hardly ever wore headphones, and my strength and performance drastically improved. The gym was truly becoming a sanctuary.

Two milestones defined my social progression.

Milestone 1: Max asked me to spot him. Mind you, Max holds a very traditional, gendered view of weightlifting. Before I started spotting for him, he had said to me, “I would feel emasculated if my wife lifted heavy,” as though her strength (or that of any woman) might diminish his own. Max likely never saw himself asking a woman to spot for him, much less having a woman become his lifting partner. So when I first spotted for him, Instead of walking into a haven of heavy lifting, I had entered a crucible of toxic masculinity. I was beyond excited. I couldn’t believe I and my strength were trusted enough to be considered a suitable spotter. From that point on, we became invested in each other’s progress.

Milestone 2: During what I wistfully call the Summer of Squats, I decided to add 50 pounds to my squat in three months. It was a nearly impossible goal, and I worked incredibly hard. When the day came to test myself, I silently walked up to the bar. Max took up the spotting position behind me. Without my asking, the gym owner and another regular appeared on either side of me to form a triangle of unspoken support. I hit that squat. And when I re-racked the weight, I fell to the ground sobbing. (I’m welling up as I write this.) As I looked up, Max turned away with tears in his eyes. He may deny it, but he was as invested in that lift as I was.

From almost that moment on, I became an institution in that gym. Everyone greeted me when I arrived. No one commented on my form or made inappropriate remarks. People asked me for advice. They genuinely wanted to know how I was, and I genuinely wanted to know how they were.

What I experienced has been observed by anthropologists everywhere. British anthropologist Victor Turner noted that rites of passage are characterized by three stages: separation, a liminal phase, and communitas—fellowship and belonging. He described a rite practised by the Ndembu of Zambia in which an aspiring leader isolates himself in a hut (with one wife), endures pain and ritual insults, and then is welcomed back into the community with a newfound high status. In my case, I was ignored and isolated myself with headphones, endured pain and ritual insults while proving my worth through deadlifts, and finally achieved a form of communitas—bonding with gym bros.

Not all of my changes were good. Turner points out that people achieve communitas by adopting a group’s social norms. I firmly believe part of the reason I was accepted was because of my willingness, conscious or unconscious, to participate in some toxic masculine behaviour. I mocked people for not hitting parallel on squats and joined the group in laughing at a guy filming himself doing shoulder shrugs. I was territorial over my favourite squat rack and intimidated people away from it. I also found myself giving people unsolicited lifting advice. I am not proud of these things, and now I actively work to tamp down any urge to participate. That’s important because I am moving to an academic institution in a different city, and I will have to start all over again in a new gym. I became living proof—to both men and women around me—that women can be, and are, strong.

My profound sadness about leaving this gym forced me into a state of reflection. What changed? Why? Wait, did anything actually change?

I certainly changed. I have a negative body image, but in that gym, I came to see my body not as a collection of unsightly flaws but as a source of current and untapped power. I loved my body for what it could do, and it made me question the ideal female body type women are told we should strive to achieve. In the process, I became living proof—to both men and women around me—that women can be, and are, strong. There are countless examples of strong women in professional sports, but it’s easy to brush them off as freaks of nature. It’s much more difficult to deny—and to accept—women’s strength when it’s in front of you.

For that reason, female presence in hypermasculine spaces is critically important. After I began spotting for Max, I became a go-to spotter for a number of other men. One of them said he asked me because “I know you’re a for-real lifter. Some of these other guys, I’m not so sure.” That spoke volumes because it showed he was focusing on my abilities, not my gender.

My presence also helped the few other women in the gym. One newcomer was struggling, and I asked if she wanted help. She seemed grateful, so Max and I took her under our lifting wings. It took me over a year to have a positive experience with the gym’s heavy lifters, but because of my efforts, one woman was able to have a positive experience early on. But shifting these gender norms, given the weight of thousands of years of tradition, is slow work. As my impending move approached, Max complained about having to find a new spotter. I was ribbing him and told him he might find another female partner. “Not one that can spot for me,” he said. His response threw a bucket of ice water on my thoughts that I was trailblazing a better future for female lifters in that gym.

A study on gendered spaces proposed that macho men would eventually accept women and gay men in the gym because they would no longer see them as threatening strangers. The study posited that this would change attitudes toward women and gay men in general. However, I disagree that acceptance of an individual necessarily confers acceptance in a group. I hadn’t changed Max’s mind about women in strength sports; I had only changed his mind about me.

I hope future female lifters will be more readily welcomed into that gym because of the changes I made. But Max’s comment was a sobering reminder of the steep uphill battle women (and all marginalized groups) face breaking into traditionally masculine spaces. Change comes about slowly, one person at a time, like trying to tear down an age-old mountain one fistful of rock a day.


Please note: I do not take any responsibility for an accident, disability, death, public liability, third party, medical costs, destruction of property, damages to self or others, destruction of all equipment, disability, personal liability, general liability, self-harm, suicide, harm to livestock, harm to animals, harm to children and intentional bodily harm, for using any of the listed products and suppliers. Please consult with the manufacturers and instructors, when buying the equipment that is suitable for you.

If you wish to learn more about this sport and its history, just pop me a mail and I will send the information to you: info@tanyasworldofsports.co.za

When you are ready to take on those mounts, Please take a moment and bow to people that are disabled, that cannot take part in such sports.

My views, comments and content are strictly are of my own opinion and research and are not governed or influenced by any marketing of companies or brands. It is of my own free will to mention companies and brands that supply sporting equipment pertaining to the sport in the discussion.