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How powerlifting changes your body [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Oct 10, 2019 9:30:00 AM

How powerlifting changes your body

How powerlifting changes your body

The main change will occur in your legs. They will become proportionately huge compared to the rest of your body. Same can happen for traps and triceps. The areas which will not grow as big as you might expect are the chest muscles and calves.
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What is your why

Before we go into the details of how powerlifting changes your body, let me ask you a couple of questions:
  • Why do you want to powerlift?
  • Why do you want to change your body?
  • What happens when you do?
  • What happens if you don't?
You might think that these questions are beside the point, but they will make all the difference between your success and failure. People who write down their goals and reflect on them are more likely to achieve them. When was the last time you found time to do this, if ever? Taking these four questions seriously is the start of a new you, who might even build something even more impressive than your current life. Many people go about their lives like this:
  • What do I want
  • How do I get it
  • Why do I want it
This is a pretty good way to get nowhere. What you want changes constantly based on what you see, hear, taste and smell on a daily basis. Your brain is hard-wired to chase your most immediate interest and leave the long term goals to the wayside. This is great to survive in the jungle but sucks when you want to build a 40-year plan for early retirement. You don't have to stuff your face anymore with all the food which is in front of you. You are way more likely to be killed by what you consume than some kind of Sabretooth tiger. Chasing what you want will spread your resources thin and scatter your time between too many activities. Something interesting happens when you flip the running order of these questions on their head:
  • Why do you want something
  • How do you get it
  • What needs to be done
This way your innermost drivers and desires will take the steering wheel of your life. Your thoughts and actions will become more connected and success will follow. If you want to know how this works on a psychological level read Daniel Kahneman's thinking fast and slow. Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle will change your life.

What is your goal

When you want to change your body it is good to know what your desired end result is. Have you pictured how you want to look and what you want to be able to do with the help of powerlifting? If not, maybe it is time to get a little more detailed around your goal set. Powerlifting is mainly good for two things:
  • Getting bigger 
  • Getting stronger
These two are not mutually exclusive but need certain adjustments in terms of daily routines.
Getting bigger also makes you stronger based on the law of physics. Still, if you want to compete in powerlifting you might have to adhere to a certain weight class. Getting bigger is about going into a caloric surplus and getting in more repetitions at a lower intensity to pump your muscles up. This is a very simplified way of looking at it, but that is the basics.
Getting stronger means moving more weight at the same bodyweight or the same weight at less bodyweight. This is what is at the heart of powerlifting. To achieve this goal you will most likely monitor your diet very tightly and plan your workouts with higher intensities at lower repetition ranges. 
If your only goal is to get bigger, bodybuilding might be the better sport for you than powerlifting. If it is all about the looks for you, skip the whole "I want to be strong and look like it" narrative. Unfortunately, in our modern Instagram and Netflix world, nobody cares whether your muscles are actually good for something as long as they look good on video. So you might as well focus on that. I personally just don't want to jump on that party bus as I do not want to take illegal substances.


Powerlifting is not about looks. If you look like the hunchback from Notre Dame and it gives you better leverage for the deadlift, great. It does not matter unless you want to get sponsored by a big company. The sport of powerlifting is all about the total. Your total consists of three lifts. These are the bench press, squat, and deadlift. For each lift, you get three attempts. The best attempts will be counted towards your total. Based on your total you will be ranked against the other competitors. 
A big difference to lifting in the gym is that you will be judged by three referees. They observe from different angles whether you have performed the lift according to the standards of the federation you compete in. Two out of three have to agree so that your attempt counts. You need a qualifying attempt for each lift to make it on the board. Otherwise, you are disqualified. 
Your total usually splits into 40/40/20. 40% will be contributed by the deadlift and squat each while the bench press usually accounts for roughly 20% of your total. Based on these numbers you already can get an idea of how a proper powerlifting template might change your body in proportions. 


I am not a fan of bringing genetics into the discussion as it often used as an excuse for not getting results. That being said your genetic predisposition will create a baseline of how your body will change when you start powerlifting. These is why women usually bench press quite a bit less than men even though some of them post some huge squat numbers. Why? Genetically the female physique is more predisposed to store fat than muscle in the chest area as babies like to drink milk instead of testosterone. If you think this is being sexist, I agree, nature is sexist. That is why there are male and female versions of most mammals around.

Chest and upper body

Powerlifting creates a bias towards your traps and triceps at the expense of your chest muscles. It also depends on how you perform the bench press. The wider your grip the more likely you will build a big chest vs a big triceps. My grip is pretty narrow and therefore my bench press is pretty triceps heavy. The result is a massive triceps compared to relatively poor chest development. Same goes for your traps. The deadlift and squat put more emphasis on building strong traps versus big lats. If you want to work on your latissimus you might want to incorporate more rowing and pulling motions into your routine. These can easily be neglected when focusing on the big three.


Powerlifting will train your back. Especially the upper section will grow from the deadlift. The squat will also help the stabilizing muscles to be strengthened and to grow. Still, not to extreme measures. Where you want to pay extra attention is your lower back, What many very successful powerlifters have in common is that they have abs on their backs. They have trained their lower backs so intensely that they are chiseled. That usually helps with being good at powerlifting but does not come just by banging the three big lifts.


A tricep heavy bench press will form the triceps into a massive slab of meat. To balance this out you should also incorporate some bicep work. The bicep gets undertrained in powerlifting. In extreme cases, this can lead to a bicep tear in combination with a mixed grip on the deadlift. Strength athletes also like to look down on the curl as some kind of inferior exercise for idiots. Don't make that mistake or be so ignorant. A strong biceps will balance your triceps, make you look better and more healthy compared to an unbalanced, dysfunctional mess.


Your legs will change the most with powerlifting. They will be massive compared to the rest of your body. If you do not believe me check out Dan Green. This man basically has no neck (remember what i said about traps) a tiny upper body and some kind of monster T Rex legs attached to that torso. I love when he pulls and check out his content. He is very laid back and philosophical about life. His physique is a perfect example f how powerlifting changes your physique. Larry Wheels is the exception from the rule. 


Your calves will also look a little underdeveloped to the rest of your body if you do not train them specifically. They do not at a lot to the three big lifts and therefore are there, but do not change a lot without some extra tender, love, and care.

How powerlifting changes your body 

In proportion to the work you put in powerlifting does not change your body a lot. Bodybuilding gets you more rapid results in optical changes if that is what you are after. The changes from powerlifting are more internal than external. Just know that before you sign up for it. 

Topics: Powerlifting