For those new to strength sports, it can often get quite confusing when visiting a new or niche gym, especially when you come across its various denizens and their approaches to moving barbells.
Some might be cleaning or snatching, powerful movements for sure, but no, that’s weightlifting. Others might be taking their sweet time and then deadlift a single rep, before swiftly undoing their belt and having a rest. Weightlifting you imagine to yourself, but no, it’s powerlifting.
Why? I’m no historian, so I can’t enlighten you. I can, however, tell you how to differentiate between them. In addition, there’s strongman, and of course, there’s lifting weights, which isn’t really anything, unless you’re a bodybuilder, which…isn’t really a sport. Of course, some might argue this point – possibly, say, bodybuilders – but they’d be wrong.
So, here’s a quick breakdown for those seeking enlightenment. I shall start at the bottom of the list, and work my way to the giddy heights of greatness.
This isn’t a sport, it’s just something you do. A hobby of sorts. This is mostly what you see at your commercial-style gyms. It isn’t necessarily uncommon to see woeful technique, somewhat…distinctive attire and those funny little belts made of faux suede. Cute. All jokes aside – training with weights (regardless of how you do it) requires a certain degree of form and technique to ensure you’re moving and progressing safely. If you’re truly new to it, speaking to a qualified trainer is a good place to start.
Next up is bodybuilding. The pursuit of aesthetics. This is sort of like figure skating: it’s still very hard, but it’s also very subjective, and the pointy end of competition time is horrible. I won’t discuss the differences between categories, as it’s kind of all the same, just with more or less muscles, fake tan and bikinis.
Next in line is strongman. This is kind of like doing heaps of garden work, but only the heavy stuff. Also, there are no clear rules; it’s pretty much just made up with whatever rocks and lumps of metal are lying around. Then you pick them up and carry them around, or throw them or whatever. Fun fact: Without checking for any truth, there has never been a strongman competition that hasn’t been sickeningly hot and sweaty.
Following on from strongman, we have weightlifting, sometimes called Olympic weightlifting, mostly to differentiate it from lifting weights. It NEEDS differentiation because it’s so far out of the realm of your average gym goer that you’re not even allowed to do it outside of a crossfit gym (or an advanced facility without noise restrictions, I know a place…) or the one dedicated weightlifting place in each capital city of the world. It’s quite a niche strength sport, and outrageously technical. You’ll want to get very good at your big lifts before you start thinking about heading down this path. Think speed chess mixed with defending against a knife attack, drowned in a constant stream of disappointment. Great sport.
Lastly, we have the pure, fundamental bedrock of strength.
There’s no hiding in powerlifting. You either get your squat, bench or deadlift up, or you fail (or you get it up but make a technical error and get 2 out of 3 reds and your coach complains to the judge but gets ignored). There’s more than enough technical skill in powerlifting to keep even the more cerebral among us entertained, and enough hard work to satisfy a reformed Crossfitter. It even gives you a desirable physique, if you’re into that kind of thing. The real goal though, is pure strength, and in this nothing beats powerlifting. It gives you constantly moving goals, short and long term, and a sense of achievement beyond the superficial, which is where the misguided ‘fitness’ industry falls short.
Is powerlifting right for me?
In reality, strongman, weightlifting and powerlifting are all different sides of the same impractical 3 sided coin, so whichever you’re interested in, you should go for it. If you need help, come to Below Parallel and we’ll provide.
We do offer a free week with coached sessions for anyone looking to start down the strength training path, or refine their technique and, most importantly, we always have lollies in the gym. You can pop in your details below if that floats your boat.