2. Power Lifting – Another Story

Date: 17 August 2022
Power lifting Part 2

Power Lifting

By Oprah Daily US


I take a deep breath as I look around the warm-up area at the Mr. Olympia Pro Powerlifting Competition in Las Vegas. Well, actually, I look up—because everyone around is about a foot taller than me. I can almost hear the “Sesame Street” song teasing: “One of these things is not like the other.”

I’m the smallest powerlifting competitor by 40 pounds. I’ve never been an athlete (I used to hide in the locker room during gym class), and I’ve never competed in a sport before. I’m a 40-year-old mom and legally blind book nerd. I clearly don’t fit in.

And I’ve never felt more at home.

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense that I’m competing for a world record in powerlifting, a strength sport that measures your maximum single lift of the squat, bench press, and deadlift. But below the surface, this is exactly what I’ve needed all my life to heal my past, escape the social constructs that have haunted me, and re-find my true self.

Holy heck, I am terrified.

Deep breath. I remind myself why I am chasing that fear: Heavy weight has given me myself back. My power.

Women are constantly told to shrink, take up less space, diet, be quiet, be smaller, smaller, smaller, smaller. Cut it off, suck it out, don’t get bulky, be a lady, cross your legs, shh, lift to “tone” (if you must) but don’t get “too big.”

Powerlifting defies this. It demands you take up space and grow. It measures your strength, not your weight or fat percentage. It encourages women to be bigger—and not just physically. The barbell doesn’t care how sexy you are, or if you have stanky armpits, scars or untamed hair (check, check, check). You can either lift the weight or you can’t. And you can’t get stronger without confronting discomfort and failure upon failure. So many lessons and they all extend beyond the platform.

Everywhere I turn, other women echo this.

“I started powerlifting during a dark period in my life,” says Christina Leonatti, who’s at the Olympia to pursue bench press records. “I wasn’t sure why I needed it so bad, or what I was trying to prove. But ultimately, it didn’t matter. Lifting gave me hope and eased my suicidal thoughts. It became my therapy.”

Leonatti’s not just in Vegas for herself. She’s also raising money for Pull Your Heart Out, a nonprofit she founded to pay for other women’s gym memberships and competition fees. The money raised today will sponsor two young women (in a family of eight kids) who just lost their mother in a motorcycle accident.

“Lifting, too many of us, is our grounding. It saves us from depression, anger, and complacency. The iron is a reason to live and a reason to keep going,” Leonatti says.

The barbell is healing me, too. I have suffered multiple abdominal traumas and even clinically died due to blood loss, but I have fought my way back to life and to health. I am also a survivor of domestic violence. As a naturally small woman, my size has been used as a weapon against me—to shrink me and terrorize me.

I am the weapon now, I remind myself as I tighten my belt. Today, I take it all back on the platform. I will not be small anymore. We will not be small anymore.

I am a symbol of a growing trend of women sick of shrinking.

Powerlifting among women is surging. USA Powerlifting has seen a boom in female membership from 21 to 35 percent between 2011 and 2018, and there are increasingly more powerlifting training programs specifically for women, like Colorado-based Corvis Strength Co.

Worldwide, the increase is even bigger. Powerlifting meets have nearly doubled in participation between 2014 and 2018, from about 59,000 competitive lifters to more than 101,000, according to the OpenPowerlifting project, which tracks global powerlifting data. In that time, the number of women competing in powerlifting has nearly doubled. Men’s rate of growth hasn’t kept up.

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Needless to say, the gap between men and women is quickly closing. In 2014, only about a quarter of competitive powerlifters were women. Today, one-third are.

There is a growing shift in society’s perception of what it means to be a woman, and the sudden surge of powerlifting is a natural expression of this change. You can see the evolution on social media, in things like the Instagram page you.look.like.a.man, which makes sarcastic memes out of things people say to female athletes. If you’re going to lift that much weight, you need to smile while you do it. Aren’t you afraid of getting bigger? Just don’t get to be too much.

Women are now speaking up about things they used to hide in shame and seeking out things that used to be “for men.” And then rising to the top of those things. As of fall 2019, the top five best powerlifters, according to the Wilks Calculator—a coefficient used to measure powerlifters’ strength, despite size—were not some giant Russian man with a “power belly.” They were all women.

Stacy “Bama” Burr hit No. 1 in March of 2019. When she began powerlifting in 2014, she says it felt like a different era. Back then, she says she was kicked out of a gym for being too loud.

“People laughed at me and picked on me because I was a girl and I was too raw and too aggressive,” she says.

Today, people pay Burr to visit gyms around the country to be her too-much self. She is a motivational speaker, and a coach and runs a podcast, The Champion Mindset.

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Behind the stage at the Olympia, I’m on my last warm-up set. I catch Leonatti’s eye, and I remember what she said a few nights ago when I told her I felt like an imposter: Outcast is just another word for trailblazer. Whenever you feel like you don’t fit in, that’s an honor, because it means you are doing something different.

Burr calls it a “new era of femininity.”

“It’s whatever roles we want to create,” she says. “Femininity now is so raw and powerful and everything and nothing all at the same time. What is feminine? I don’t think it exists anymore. This has not dulled down what it means to be a woman. It has expanded it.”

I hear the announcer call my name and the world goes blank. It’s just me and the barbell. For a moment, my initial motivation runs through my veins: the desire to unwrite my past and feel free of society’s expectations. But that dissolves and leaves me with only this moment. Hands-on the cold bar. Inhale and brace. Three white lights.

I get that world record, for the deadlift in my age and weight class. But I also get something much more.

The satisfying weight in my hands drains all thoughts from my mind and with them all past and all future. It’s like the most bizarre, shaking, sweaty, chalk-covered meditation. I feel my power, and it feels like me. No words, no labels. Just me. My own un-definition of femininity.

Why is Power Lifting not at the Olympics

Powerlifting is the ultimate test of full body strength, and is an opportunity for lifters all around the world to prove that they are the strongest athletes – so how come it isn’t in the Olympics yet?

Powerlifting is not in the Olympics because the sport has yet to reach the criteria set by the International Olympic Committee, it requires more international participation, and it has many federations and disciplines that need to be standardized.

Although it may be discouraging that powerlifting has not yet been accepted into the Olympics, all hope is not lost!  In this article, I will discuss what changes we can make to improve the likelihood of powerlifting being in the Olympics and comment on how soon we could expect to see changes. Editor’s Note: In this article, we mention the IPF, which is the International Powerlifting Federation.  While there are many powerlifting federations, this is the governing body for powerlifting that aims to receive IOC approval.


8 Reasons Why Powerlifting Isn’t In The Olympics

  • Prevalence Of Performance Enhancing Drugs In The Sport
  • Inequality Of Male To Female Members On The Executive Committee
  • Insufficient International Interest 
  • Lack Of Participation In Multi-Sport Games 
  • Inadequate “Sport For All Commission” 
  • Multiple Equipment Divisions
  • Multiple Federations With Different Regulations
  • Long Duration Events


1) Prevalence Of Performance Enhancing Drugs In The Sport

The presence of performance-enhancing substances in powerlifting will affect the likelihood of the IOC accepting the sport into the Olympics. While no sports in the Olympics are 100% drug-free, there have been more issues with barbell sports than other sports.
The IOC is currently having issues with Weightlifting, the only barbell sport in the Olympics, because lifters have been competing using performance enhancers. As a result, they have threatened to eliminate Weightlifting from the upcoming Olympics, if no changes are made.

Powerlifting will need to demonstrate that they are making efforts to comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s regulations and that they are making an effort to keep the sport clean, as the IOC has proven that they will not tolerate the continued use of banned substances.


2) Inequality Of Male To Female Members On The EC Board

The most recent feedback from IOC concerning the International Powerlifting Federation’s last application was that the executive committee for powerlifting needed to have 50/50 male to female representatives. The IOC values inclusivity and equality; therefore, the IPF will need to demonstrate that these values are just as much a priority for them going forward.


3) Insufficient International Interest

While powerlifting has been considered a sport since 1972, in past years it has not been popular enough internationally to gain recognition from the IOC.  The lack of international participation in the sport, and especially female participation, has been a limiting factor in the past but may be changing as the sport continues to grow.


4) Lack Of Participation In Multi-Sport Games

The IOC has stated that before Powerlifting can be accepted into the Olympics, the sport must first be present in at least 3 multi-sport games.

The IOC had suggested that powerlifting aim to be incorporated into the Commonwealth Games and University Games in addition to the World Games.

Participation in these major events would prove that there is growing international interest in the sport of powerlifting and the success of the sport in these competition settings could be determined. Without participating in these events, the IOC may not be convinced that powerlifting is worth the addition. Even though powerlifting isn’t in the Olympics, some powerlifters have found a way to make money in powerlifting.


5) Inadequate “Sport For All Commission”

In the most recent application for Powerlifting as an Olympic event, the IOC stated that the IPF did not meet the standards of the Sport For All Commission (a movement aimed at promoting that sports are for everyone – regardless of race, gender, or social class). This means that in the past, the Olympic committee has felt that powerlifting did not demonstrate that they encourage sport as a right for everyone.


6) Multiple Equipment Divisions

There are two main equipment categories in Powerlifting known as Unequipped (Raw), and Equipped (Single-Ply, Multi-Ply), which may complicate the recognition process. The committee must decide whether both divisions would be incorporated into the Olympics or if only one division would be approved.

Would the committee accept the sport and incorporate all divisions, or reject the sport as a whole because of the multiple divisions? It is difficult to say.


7) Multiple Federations With Different Regulations

As powerlifting participation has increased, there have been many different federations that have formed to compete in the sport. With many federations, come many different competition rules and procedures that each federation adheres to.
An example of this is the foot positioning in the bench press – in some federations, the lifters may bench with only their toes connected to the ground, and others with the whole foot in contact – and differences in 24-hour weigh-ins versus 12-hour weigh-ins across federations.
The dissimilarity across the federations in powerlifting is just another variable that must be addressed before powerlifting can be accepted into the Olympics.


8) Long Duration Events

Powerlifting meets to take a long time, as there are 3 disciplines and 9 weight classes for men and women. It would be an even longer event if both unequipped and equipped lifters were to compete.

Will the length alone deter the IOC from recognizing powerlifting as an Olympic sport? Maybe not, but it is definitely something to consider when thinking about keeping the general audience (who may not value relative strength) engaged – especially if all divisions and weight classes were to be included.


How Can Powerlifting Get Into The Olympics?

Here are the 4 ways that powerlifting can get into the Olympics:

  • Comply With The IOC Requirements For The Sport 
  • Grow The Sport Internationally
  • Develop Concise Judging Criteria and Competitive Categories
  • Continue Promoting A Drug-Free Sport Environment
  • Comply With The IOC Requirements For The Sport


The IPF has listened to feedback from the IOC and implemented changes accordingly, in an effort to establish powerlifting as an Olympic sport.
The IPF President states “In a vow to keep up our good governance structures we have further promoted the integrity of our sport, the safeguarding of our athletes, the sustainability of our events and the positioning of the youth appeal of powerlifting.”

That being said powerlifting must still participate in at least 3 multi-sport games – of which we have currently only participated in the World Games. However, future participation in The University Games and The Commonwealth Games is being discussed.

The balance of the Executive Board for powerlifting is also not yet equal in terms of male to female representatives; however, this ratio has improved since the IPF’s last application to the IOC.

The IPF must continue promoting powerlifting as a sport for everyone, and make a conscious effort to improve their outreach through social media to encourage more youth participation in the sport. Although, the 2020 annual report stated that youth participation is the highest it has ever been meaning that the sport is heading in the right direction.


  • Grow The Sport Internationally, especially for women

We must focus on recruiting more participants through social media and marketing with a special focus on youth as they will be the ones to carry the sport forward.
It is also worth mentioning that the IPF does participate in the Commonwealth Powerlifting Federation, which helps encourage more international participation in the sport.


  • Develop Concise Judging Criteria and Competitive Categories

In order to further the process for IOC recognition, we need to have standardized criteria by which we judge a lift.  Because the application to the IOC has been submitted by the IPF, it would therefore be their rules that would be implemented in the Olympics. If other federations want to take part in Olympic level powerlifting, they would most likely have to adapt to the IPF standards.
We would also have to consider the number of weight classes that would compete for both male and female lifters. Currently, there are 9 weight classes for both male and female powerlifters; however, as we’ve seen in Olympic Weightlifting, we may have to pick a select number of weight classes to compete (maybe only 6 or 7 classes instead of all 9).

If the length of the events is an issue for the IOC to include powerlifting in the Olympics, it is likely that only raw lifting would be included. The reason for this would most likely be, that raw lifting would be more accepted by the general public than equipped lifting.


  • Continue Promoting A Drug-Free Sport Environment

Powerlifting must continue to be diligent with drug testing in and out of competition and ideally return less confirmed cases of performance-enhancing substances to prove that it is possible to keep the sport relatively clean.

With the only barbell sport in the Olympics already under scrutiny because of the number of athletes testing positive for banned substances, we must do better to comply with WADA regulations to have any hope of IOC recognition.


  • When Can We Expect Powerlifting In The Olympics?

While it is difficult to say for sure, it is possible that powerlifting may attain IOC recognition within the next 5-10 years.  However, it could take longer.
We do know that the IPF is constantly making improvements to attain this recognition, and has made it clear that Olympic participation is their ultimate goal.


  • Why Is Weightlifting In The Olympics And Powerlifting Is Not?

Weightlifting was recognized as a sport in the 19th century and has more international participation than powerlifting, and is generally viewed as more athletic since it is a display of strength and speed – making it more entertaining for the general public.  In addition, Weightlifting only has 2 disciplines (the snatch, and clean & jerk) and requires only 1 command from the judges (signalling the down command), which takes less time to complete than powerlifting would – as it has 3 disciplines all with different commands.
Weightlifting also has 1 category of lifters as there are no equipped versions of the sport and they have 1 federation (the IWF) at the forefront of the sport, rather than dozens of federations as powerlifting currently has.


  • Is Para-Powerlifting In The Olympics?

Para-Powerlifting has been in the Olympics since 1984, and athletes compete solely in the bench press discipline.

The Para-Powerlifting competition is comparable to the Bench-Only division of the IPF, where athletes have 3 attempts for the bench press and the winner is the lifter who lifts the most kilograms relative to their body weight.

The competition follows similar rules to the IPF, including receiving the bar at arm’s length, bringing it down to the chest until the bar is motionless, and pressing the bar back up to a locked out position.


  • Final Thoughts

While we are certainly making progress towards getting IOC recognition and achieving Olympic level powerlifting, we are not there yet. With the continued efforts being made by the IPF to comply with the IOC standards, we are well on our way to achieving this goal.


Take a look at these broad based very interesting articles: 

Gender Equality in Sport – Proposal for Strategic      Actions 2014-2020

Women and Sport Progress Report 1994-2014 – Best      practices



Where to purchase equipment for this sport?

Most sporting goods stores will have the necessary equipment for this sport


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If you think you have what it takes to compete in this sport and for the love of the game, consult with your clubs and governing bodies. They will provide all the answers you need to get started.

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 this hectic sport, Please take a moment and bow to people that are disabled, that cannot take part in such sports.

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