Strength Training, Powerlifting and Weightlifting – What Are The Differences?

Most of us know that resistance training is important for optimal health.

We also know that resistance training builds strong bones, helps us develop better muscle tone, endurance and overall strength.  All of these benefits are important for both men and women, preteen and teenagers.

But do you know the difference between strength training, powerlifting and weightlifting?


  • Strength training –Strength training involves lifting weights and using other resistance methods (medicine balls, bands, body weight, sledgehammers, kettlebells,etc.), to improve athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Powerlifting –is a competitive sport in which the lifter tries to lift as much weight as possible in one repetition.  The 3 main exercises include: bench press, deadlift and squat.
  • Weightlifting – is a competitive sport in which the lifter tries to lift as much weight as possible during one exercise.Exercises include: snatch,clean, jerk, squat and variations of each.


In order to determine which type of training you should pursue, the first step is to determine your goals.  If your goal is to lift as much weight as possible in the bench press, squat and deadlift then powerlifting is your choice.  You may not be as functionally fit as you’d like but that is often the tradeoff if you’re looking for sheer brute strength.  It can be beneficial to pack on the extra bodyweight (fat, water, muscle) in order to increase leverage when going for personal records on the 3 lifts.

If your goal is to improve functional strength, build a strong upper and lower back, become explosive and athletic then weightlifting is a good choice.  My advice is start off slowly, master the basic body weight exercises first and then progress to the various weightlifting exercises.  If you rush into weightlifting exercises without first having built a base of strength through bodyweight exercises (push ups, squats, situps, etc.), the risk of injury is high.  I know from a personal standpoint.  I’ve been training for 30 years.  A year ago, I decided to experiment with weightlifting.  My normal training involves strength training, bodybuilding and powerlifting.

Master the basics first

I rushed into hang cleans, clean and jerks and the snatch too quickly.  As a result, my right shoulder bore the brunt and I wound up having to take several weeks off of any sort of overhead lift.  Now that it’s healed, I will definitely include these lifts in my routine but will focus on going much lighter as well as focusing on just one lift for 3-4 weeks.  This will give my body a chance to adjust to using the different muscles involved, build up their strength, while perfecting my form.

Strength training has always been my preferred choice.  With strength training the goal is to improve coordination and overall performance.  Bodybuilding gives your body balance.  If done correctly, all of the muscles are developed with balance in mind.  Strength training then builds upon that with more of an athletic approach.  Strength training allows one to use tons of different equipment.

Examples include:

  • Medicine balls
  • Ketllebells
  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Sledgehammers
  • Resistance bands
  • Suspension Trainers
  • Chains
  • Sleds
  • Climbing ropes
  • Machines
  • and body weight exercises

Not only does a well planned program improve strength, it also decreases the chance of injury.  High school athletics are only getting more competitive.  Whether it’s due to social media (“Hey, look at me!” or “That’s my kid!”!), more publicity or due to rising college costs and the hopes of a college scholarship, or a combination, the competition is always growing.


I love training athletes.

Correct that.

I love training athletes who WANT to improve.  I know athletes who will travel from Austin to get the proper training (30 miles away).  When I was competing in bodybuilding and lived in Dallas, Texas, I would drive from North Dallas to Central Dallas just to train with one of the top amateur bodybuilders and powerlifters in the state.  Nothing could deter me.

When I moved, I sought out the biggest, most knowledgeable person that I could find in order to continue to improve.  It was all about commitment and dedication.  And that’s what I’m looking for in my clients.


Once that piece of the puzzle has been established, the next step is to determine his or her goals.  Let’s say I’m training a 15 year old in season football player.  Once all of the red tape has been completed (health history, waiver, permission, etc), I need to find out what level of conditioning the athlete is currently at.

To do this, I might put them through a Crossfit style workout like “Fight Gone Bad”.

Fight Gone Bad consists 3 rounds of 5 exercises performed back to back with no rest until all 5 exercises have been completed.  At the completion of the round, 60 seconds rest is given.  Repeat for 2 more rounds.  The exercises are:

  • Wall ball, 20 pound medicine ball, 10 foot target (reps)
  • Sumo deadlift high-pull, 75 pounds (reps)
  • Box jump, 20″ box (reps)
  • Push press, 75 pounds (reps)
  • Row (Calories)

Count the reps and calories over the 3 rounds to get a total number of points.

Once the points have been established, you’ll get a real good idea of what kind of shape the athlete is in.  This is a challenging workout and most people will not have the endurance (mentally or physically) to complete all 3 rounds.  A high school athlete however, should be able to complete at least 1-2 rounds and perhaps even 3.  This workout is a great test of cardio and strength.

Once I know what the current level of fitness is, the next step is to design a comprehensive 3-4 week program based upon their goals and current capabilities.  Next time, we’ll continue down this path with a sample of a balanced strength training program that I would prescribe.

Until then, I’m in the gym…






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September 04, 2014 at 05:09 PM

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