powerlifting

The Complete History of Powerlifting

A History of Powerlifting

Whilst it’s largely impossible to cover the entire history of powerlifting in one diagram, I have tried to best summarise all of the sport’s key events.

Legendary figures like Eugen Sandow may have missed the visual cut so to speak. But the major federation inceptions, key national and international championships and drug testing all made it through the preliminary rounds.

A 'brief' history of powerlifting
A ‘brief’ history of powerlifting

Sources:

Wikipedia Powerlifting

A History of British Powerlifting

British Powerlifting History

Powerlifting Federation History

A history of Powerlifting in the United States – 50 years after York

Powerlifting: How it all Started

Breaking down the History of early Powerlifting

Now clearly strength training is a time honoured and noble tradition. The Ancient Greeks boasted a series of mythical and real life strongmen.

You might remember Atlas, who was forced to carry the sky on his shoulders.

Atlas carrying the sky on his shoulders
Atlas carrying the sky on his shoulders

Have you ever wondered where Atlas stones got their name? It’s actually because the first event with them was held in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, but nevermind.
Essentially the world’s longest and most arduous pause squat.

I imagine only to quarter depth though. No sense being in the hole for that long.

But it’s more apt to discuss the beginnings of powerlifting as a modern day sport.

Else we’ll be here forever.

In the late 19th century, the entertainment culture exploded. The masses wanted to see shows and oddballs. They craved performers of all kinds – and strength athletes fitted the bill.

The great unwashed wanted to see who could lift the heaviest and the highest. They wanted freaks with physiques to match.

Eugene Sandow may be the most famous strongman of this era. But it was Professor Atilla(likely Louis to his friends) who owned the gym Sandow trained at.

Eugen Sandow posing in sandals and a singlet
Sandow had an extraordinary physique for his era

It was Atilla who trained early strongmen, boxers and fathered the strength training movement. With great success.

In Britain in the mid-19th century, it was Professor Harrison who championed and popularised the use of heavy weights.

In America, it was the Harvard doctor George Windship who seconded Harrison’s opinion. Strength training began to take off in a way no-one could’ve expected.

Weightlifting competitions became the norm from the 1890s onwards.

In 1896, weightlifting was a part of the Olympics for the first time in a truly competitive sense.

olympics 1986 medals

The medal table of 1 and 2 handed lifts from the 1896 Olympic games
The medal table of 1 and 2 handed lifts from the 1896 Olympic games

And thus the movement became legitimate.

A History of British Powerlifting

1910BAWLA established and the British weightlifting movement gained strength.

1926Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club founded

1928YAWWA formed – now known as the Yorkshire and North East Powerlifting Federation

1933BAWLA held competitions in over 30 lifts. Like you I’d argue that’s too many. Enough to use the one handed deadlift as an actual event anyway.

1950s – The Society of Amateur Weightlifters was founded, to cater for lifters not interested in BAWLA or the Olympic lifts.

1958 – First British strength championship took place.

1966 – The first BAWLA powerlifting competition was held.

1966 – The Society of Amateur Weightlifters rejoined BAWLA. The bicep curl was dropped and replaced with the deadlift. This was the formation of powerlifting as we know it today.

1968 – France and Britain had it off in the first international and cross-channel powerlifting competition. Britain won. Obviously.

1969 – France and Britain met again. Interestingly at the request of the French, the deadlift didn’t feature in either competition. When squatting, all competitors had to formally pause when ‘in the hole.’ Brutal. Britain won again.

1970Britain Vs The USA. A team of 8 Brits travelled to LA.

1971 – The rematch takes place on Bob Hoffman’s birthday at his request. Which seems wildly narcissistic to me, but oh well. The participants were largely all American, plus 1 West Indian and 4 Brits, which meant this was coined the ‘World Powerlifting Championships.’

Bob Hoffman
Bob Hoffman in his prime

1972 – The second ‘Powerlifting World Championships‘ takes place.

1972 – The IPF is launched. Fucking launched. Founded obviously. It’s not a ship.

1975 – World Championships held in Birmingham, England. The first time they were held outside of America.

1981BAWLA hosted the first ever Women’s British Powerlifting Championships.

1985 – The World Games was held at Wembley, with the highest televised audience of all-time.

2008An amicable separation of weightlifting and powerlifting took place and the Great British Powerlifting Federation (GBPF). The IPF remains the global governing body. Still not a ship.

2010 – The English Powerlifting Association is founded.

2016 – The GBPF becomes British Powerlifting.

A History of American Powerlifting

Late 1800s – The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) was founded, which became a catch all for American sport and funded a lot of weightlifting.

1920s & 30s – The legendary Bob Hoffman took up the mantle of promoting weightlifting across the USA.

1949Bob Peoples deadlifted 729lbs as a 181lb man. At the age of 40. With no internal pressure and a round back. Extraordinary.

1949 – A national powerlifting event was held alongside weightlifting and bodybuilding. The lifts involved weren’t the big 3, but the continental clean and jerk. Which I believe was to encourage Olympic style lifters to join in.

1950s – As the great unwashed pushed for a change, Bob Hoffman and the AAU continually pushed back. They didn’t feel that powerlifting as we (roughly) know it today was worthy of its own sport.

1964 – The first national meet was held at York Barbell Company as Hoffman and the AAU relented. 21 competitors took part the sport was born. This was called the ‘Powerlifting Tournament of America.’

1965 – Following Hoffman’s success, the AAU agreed to endorse a powerlifting competition. 47 competitors entered an event in York, Pennsylvania. This meet was the first of its kind to solely use the bench press, squat and deadlift.

1970Britain Vs The USA. A team of 8 Brits travelled to LA.

1971 – The rematch takes place on Bob Hoffman’s birthday at his request. Which seems wildly narcissistic to me, but oh well. The participants were largely all American, plus 1 West Indian and 4 Brits, which meant this was coined the ‘World Powerlifting Championships.’

1972 – The second ‘Powerlifting World Championships‘ takes place.

1972 – The IPF is launched. Fucking launched. Founded obviously. It’s not a ship.

1973 – John Inzer invented the first bench press suit.

1994 – The AUU hosted the first ever raw powerlifting meet in the states.

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