When joining a gym and determining a goal or focus, how do you decide what you want to pursue? While both lifting styles are demanding on the body, they are very different in movements, purpose, and preparation.
Powerlifting for Overall Body Strength
If you use weights at a gym, there is a good chance you are familiar with the big three powerlifting exercises of bench, squats, and deadlifts. While you might not actually lay on a bench and press a bar up or stand in a rack with a bar across your shoulders and squat downwards, you probably do a variation of these exercises.
- Bench press: In the bench, the lifter lowers the weight to the chest and then presses it back up. The bench press can be done with a bar, dumbbells, or bands. This exercise helps develops upper body strength and an alternative is push ups.
- Back squats: For the back squat, the lifter places the bar across the top of the back, lowers towards the ground, and then drives back up. Squats can be performed with weight on the front, overhead, or at the waist. Barbells, dumbbells, and various machines, such as the belt squat can be used. The squat is great for core and hip activation as well as lower body strength. Alternatives include box squats, body weight, and air squats.
- Deadlifts: For deadlifts, the lifter lifts a loaded barbell or bar off the ground to the level of the hips and then lowers it back to the ground. Deadlifts are a great posterior exercise that can be performed with bars, dumbbells, and bands. Alternative exercises include hip thrusters and kettlebell swings.
Powerlifting exercises are very muscle power focused. These exercises are easily adaptable to accommodate or adapt to individual needs. For example, if someone is weak in the hips or glutes, a box squat can help. Alternatively, if someone is weak on one side, these exercises can be modified to single leg or arm to isolate and strengthen. If someone is very strong using two legs or hands, these exercise can easily shift to one leg or arm to challenge stability.
Weightlifting for Strength and Flexibility
Weight, or Olympic, lifting includes many lower body-focused exercises. While the lower body does the bulk of work, a weightlifter also requires a strong core and shoulder complex. The common exercises in weightlifting include:
- Snatch: For the snatch, the lifter takes the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in a single motion. This exercise involves power from the ground, through the feet, and all the way through the body. The ankles, knees, and hips start flexed, are quickly extended, and then flexed again. The elbows stay fairly straight, while the shoulder, or rotator cuff, is the joint action (shoulder extension and abduction) that takes the weights from the floor to over the lifters head. While there aren’t alternative exercises for the snatch, it involves the snatch deadlift, rows/high pulls, and overhead squats.
- Clean: For the clean, the lifter moves the barbell from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids, without resting fully on the clavicles. Similar to the snatch, the ankles, knees, and hips start flexed, are quickly extended, and then flexed again. The wrists and elbows start extended and then flex as the bar settles across the deltoids. The shoulder, or rotator cuff, is the joint action that takes the weights (extension) from the floor to rest (flexion) on the delta. While there aren’t alternative exercises for the clean, it involves the traditional deadlift, rows/high pulls, and front squats.
- Clean and Jerk: For the clean and jerk, the lifter moves the barbell from the floor to a racked position across the deltoids, without resting fully on the clavicles and then presses the bar overhead. In addition to the joint actions involved in the clean alone, the jerk adds shoulder abduction as the lifter presses the bar overhead. The military press, traditional deadlifts, high pulls, and front squats are used to build this exercise.
While all of these exercises might not sound overly difficult, every joint from the wrist to the ankle is used, with a high amount of force pushed through the body. As mentioned above, preparing the body for these types of lifts requires lifters to complete powerlifting exercises including front squats, snatch deadlifts, and military presses.
Supporting Both Styles
Regardless of which lifting path you choose, do not neglect your joints! Additional exercises, such as external shoulder rotation with bands or light weight shoulder movements can benefit all powerlifting and weightlifting exercises. Air squats are great for warming up the hips and lower body, while lateral lunges warm up the knees and stretch the hip joints laterally.
45 degree front raises
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