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Powerlifting vs weightlifting for athletic performance [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Dec 3, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Powerlifting vs weightlifting for athletic performance

Powerlifting vs weightlifting for athletic performance

Generally speaking, weightlifting will be better for athletic performance. Specifically, you have to look at the size and body awareness of each athlete to determine whether you prescribe powerlifting or weightlifting to enhance performance. 
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What is your why 

Before we go into the details of whether to do powerlifting or weightlifting for athletic performance, let me ask you a couple of questions: 
  • Why do you want to lift 
  • Why do you want to change your body 
  • What happens when you do 
  • What happens if you don’t 
These questions are essential for your personal success and failure. Research shows that people who write down their goals and reflect on them are more likely to make them a reality. When was the last time you did this? Can you even remember? If you cannot it is time to get a pen and paper and start. 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 very good way of being miserable and unfulfilled. What you want changes constantly based on what you see, hear, taste and feel. You will immediately and instinctively respond to the inputs of your senses. Great to survive in the wilderness. Not so great to make it to early retirement. Humans do quite badly when the rewards of their behavior are delayed. They prefer immediate gratification. Read the book nudge if you want to learn more about how this works. If you follow what you want your resources will be spread thin and your time will be scattered between too many activities. The result will be misery and frustration. 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 you will focus on your long term goals. Your thoughts and actions will become more connected and success will follow. If you want to know how this works 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

Before you decide which form of training is best for you it is important to understand what your real goals are. Take some time to write them down and try to be as specific as possible. For powerlifting, you might want to become an elite lifter. There are very specific criteria you have to meet to do this. As an NFL player, you might want to improve the stats on the combine. Know what your goals are and especially why you want to achieve them. 

Athletic performance 

Athletic performance can be defined in many different ways. I will keep it broad for this article and assume that athletic performance will mean to perform well in the following: 
  • NFL
  • NHL
  • NBA
You could add baseball to the mix if you prefer that. For these sports, it is generally good to be fast and strong. The quicker you can move your body with force the more impact you will have on the field. I will leave technical prowess out of it is neither powerlifting or weightlifting will help you with catching a pass in any of these sports. 

Individual differences 

I think one of the biggest mistakes a coach can make is to generalize the training of the group too much. Everyone comes with individual differences. If you want to build a successful team it is your job to optimize each and every single individual to the absolute maximum to the benefit of the team. Individualized programs are a must to achieve this goal on a national level after basic requirements are met. 


Weightlifting has the advantage that it is a lot more about speed than powerlifting. In addition, there is also more of a technical part to it. Therefore weightlifting will help your athletes more to develop explosiveness and aggression on the pitch. Both desirable for athletic performance to jump higher and tackle harder. 
The downside of weightlifting is that it is harder to teach bears a higher risk of injury. You don’t want some of your athletes benched because they injured themselves in the lifting room. Then you have done explaining to do either to the parents or to management depending on what team you coach. 


Powerlifting will help your athletes with maximum strength or when they need to put on mass. It is also great for mental toughness as you have to grind through to be successful. Another plus is that the injury risk is a lot lower and the movements are a little easier to coach. 
The downside of powerlifting is that it does very little for spacial awareness and explosiveness compared to weightlifting. It is also often the sport of injured athletes from the NFL, NBA and NHL. 

Powerlifting vs weightlifting for athletic performance 

Overall I would say that weightlifting is the better choice for the the sports i outlined to increase performance. This assumes that the lifts will be taught and supervised correctly. The caveat is that you need to look at each individual. The bigger they get the more likely it becomes that powerlifitng might be a better fit for their strength needs than weightlifting.

Topics: Powerlifting