Incredibly muscular man with a shaved head, carrying dumbbells and chains

What are the Health Benefits of Powerlifting?

Is Powerlifting healthy?

Competitive powerlifting only includes three main lifts: the bench press, squat and deadlift.

These three compound lifts, especially the squat and deadlift, are incredibly taxing on your body and CNS so need to be monitored carefully.

These compound movements are ideal for gaining strength and size and should form the core part of any successful powerlifting or strength based program. If your goal is to build muscle, strength and improve your physical and mental appearance, then powerlifting can be a healthy way to do so.

Incredibly muscular man with a shaved head, carrying dumbbells and chains
But maybe don’t take it as far as this guy….

However there are downsides to this style of training.

Carefully periodised programs are designed to keep inflammation and injury risk to a minimum. The amount of volume you collect over 90% should be very low as the stress on your body is extreme.

Consistently training at (or above) your MRV (Maximum Recoverable Volume) is unsustainable and inevitably leads to injury or burnout – overtraining.

Working with heavy loads is a surefire way to increase your risk of injury and multi-joint exercises (like these compound movements) have greater technical demands and CNS proficiency.

An inexperienced lifter who suddenly starts regularly squatting and deadlifting will almost certainly overreach and be forced to suffer the consequences.

What does powerlifting do to your body?

Ultimately powerlifting will make you stronger. If you have a base understanding of hypertrophy and how to stimulate muscle growth you should also increase the size of your muscles and the density of your bones.

This is absolutely vital in old age when sarcopaenia can start to kick in. This degenerative loss of muscle (usually post the age of 50) can be as much as 1% per year.

The more muscle you build and the amount of protein you eat has a direct impact on this. Eating around 0.8g / lb of bodyweight is an optimal amount for an active individual whose muscles need to repair.

A 200lb man would need 200 x 0.8 = 160g of protein per day for optimal repair and growth

As you get older you need to maintain this amount even if you aren’t training to avoid sarcopaenia.

And the quality of your protein absolutely matters. Vegan or vegetarian protein sources don’t compare to good quality meat simply because they don’t have the additional nutrients or a comparable amino acid profile.

Simply put, you can’t utilise vegan protein sources as effectively as meat.

That’s not to say you can’t build muscle or size as a vegan, but all other things comparable, the meat eater would likely gain more size given the quality of protein available to them.

A beautiful chickpea dish in a ceramic bowl
Chickpeas and legumes can have 10g of protein per 100, but they aren’t as bioavailable or nutrient dense as meat

If you want to remain strong and mobile in your old age, then building size and strength when you’re younger is paramount – and powerlifting can be a great way to do so.

But you need to ensure proper form and work your antagonistic muscle groups to keep a healthy body and reduce the risk of injury.

But there are a multitude of studies that document the injury risk associated with powerlifting:

  1. A cross-sectional study of 104 powerlifters showed that 70% were currently injured and 87% had suffered an injury in the last 12 months
  2. This study highlighted the knee, spine and shoulder are most frequent and prevalent injuries suffered for powerlifters and weightlifters
  3. This study focused on lift specific injuries. Bench pressing injuries are typically tricep tendon, rotator cuff or pectoral related.
  4. Squatting injuries are usually quadricep tendon specific or minor ACL tears.
  5. Deadlift related injuries are lower back or lower extremity, specifically hamstring muscle ruptures

The top powerlifting health benefits?

  1. Increased strength: Heavy compound movements are the only way to build true strength. Using isolation movements or weight sub-70% of your 1RM might be an effective way to build size, but you need to express it with compound movements.
  2. Muscular gains: Low rep, high intensity work with compound movements might not be the most effective way to build muscle. But powerlifting is so much more than that. There’s an element of bodybuilding to it. You must utilise isolation exercises and work on your weak points so nothing holds you back when lifting. If you only conventional deadlift, you’ll never improve your weak points and that will always let you down. Driving volume is a surefire way to increase size and increase your 1RM propensity in the long-term.
  3. Bone health: Progressive resistance training is well documented to have a positive impact on bone strength. As you utilise progressive overload and your bones are forced to cope with heavier weight, they are subjected to increased stress. This forces them to heal and become stronger. Multiple studies have highlighted the positive impact weight training has on bone health, which is so beneficial for old age.
  4. Sports performance: This study on rugby players highlighted the potential benefits complex compound movement training can have on their sporting performance. The end result wasn’t so much that squats will definitively improve your 100m times. More that over time, the players may be able to utilise the potentiation squatting provides. Conventional deadlift’s explosive potential is well known and the positive impact on your vertical jump squatting provides is documented across multiple studies.
    1. In this study, football (proper football) players trained squats and vertical jumps to assess the impact they had on sprint times. The power production across both was a significant indicator of a player’s current power output.
    2. The potentiation squatting provides is clear across all short burst sports.
  5. Mental fortitude: Consistently getting in the gym and lifting heavy weights is mentally taxing. Tremendously so. Following a program to a T is equally awkward. You want to test your max, but you know when you do you’ll be setting yourself back if you do it too often. Powerlifting is progress over years, not weeks or months. You need patience to be great. Or even average to be honest.
  6. Core strength: If you want to lift heavy weight, you need to have a core that’s up to the task. Not only will it help you midway through all the compound lifts and help you look good on the beach. It will actively prevent injuries and make you feel like superman. Sort of.

What are the Pros and Cons of Powerlifting?

An infographic weighing up the pros and cons of powerlifting
Is Powerlifting actually good for you?

Now Read: The complete guide to powerlifting supplementation

Is powerlifting bad for your heart?

You’ll find lots of conflicting information on this. A lot of juiced up weightlifters may have heart problems, but we know that it’s not weight training that puts too much stress on their heart.

Lifting weights and resistance training in general has been proven to be good for your overall health. This study demonstrated that even an hour of weekly weight training can reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 40 – 70%.

The benefits of lifting weight aren’t just exercise related as they’re independent of any other aerobic activity.

Just lay off the drugs. Unless you you’re so body dysmorphic that steroids actually help you cope mentally. Or unless you want to be the strongest you possibly can.

Then just do them.

Is powerlifting bad for your joints?

We’ve essentially debugged the myth about lifting weights being poor for your bones above and the same can be said for joints.

Doing anything to an elite, or even just good, level will inevitably damage some part of your body. Runners can get bad knees, footballers concussion and weightlifters can get joint trouble.

But the science behind it doesn’t always confirm this to be true. This particular study of 25 professional weightlifters found that their joints were at least as healthy as the average man or woman. And they use considerably more weight than we do. And steroids – which are known to cause joint issues.

So if they don’t get joint issues then why the fuck would you or I???

A large part of joint trouble could be genetic. Do you have arthritis in your family or a history of joint issues?

You would think the squat could be a key cause of joint problems. The mechanical requirements of the lift places enormous stress on the body.

So you would think that the heavier the load the greater the strain.

But this study on powerlifters squatting above 2.5 times bodyweight didn’t at all prove this to be true.

The more you do it (with proper form), the more injury prevention work you do, the stronger your joints, tendons and muscles will become.

When done properly weightlifting is arguably beneficial to your joint health.

Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting for health

Aspect Comments Winner
Cardio Neither are cardio intensive, but to be show ready bodybuilders need some aerobic conditioning Bodybuilding
Caloric restriction To get ready for a show bodybuilders need to limit calories and they tend to have a better understanding of calories Bodybuilding
Conditioning Higher rep sets designed for hypertrophy are more conducive to bodybuilding and circuits are ideal for conditioning Bodybuilding
Injuries This study compared injury risks with strength sports. Bodybuilders only had 0.24 – 1 injury per 1000 hours of training. Powerlifters had 0.84 – 4.4. Bodybuilding
Psychological Preparing yourself for a 1RM or strictly following a program are incredibly transferable skillsets. Powerlifting

Does powerlifting make you gain weight?

No. Being in a caloric surplus makes you gain weight. If you’re looking to gain weight, then this guide to bulking for beginners is where you should start.

If the opposite is true then this guide to cutting for beginners will be more up your street.

Lifting heavy weights is draining and does require greater calorie intake. But if you prepare well, understand energy balance and your own caloric maintenance, then powerlifting won’t make you fat.

But it will make you strong if you do it properly. If you want a balance of looking shredded but lifting heavy weight, then may I suggest powerbuilding.

Is powerlifting good for weightloss?

It can be. But it also can not be. But it’s not powerlifting that determines whether you gain weight or not. It’s either your own pathetic levels of inactivity or your disgusting gluttony.

Or booze to be fair.

But combining some higher rep training for size and high intensity training for strength will fire up your metabolism and mean you can get away with a higher calorie intake whilst staying relatively lean.

A lb of muscle DOES NOT burn up to 50kcal / day as you might have read. It’s more like somewhere around 10. Muscle is far more efficient than fat at burning calories, but it’s not a magic potion

The mental benefits of powerlifting

Powerlifting preaches marginal gains. Working below your potential week in week out for 12 weeks or more is incrediblt draining and demands extreme consistency.

You begin to understand that progress isn’t a daily or weekly occurrence. And that doing anything at a 7/10 level for years is better than 10/10 for three months.

You can’t always go balls to the wall (unless you’re on steroids). In life, powerlifting or work. It’s consistency and the desire to improve over time that sets people apart in my opinion.

And that’s what powerlifting is. And that’s why you should take it seriously. Be the best you can at anything you do.

You lazy fucker.

Now Read: A History of Powerlifting

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