Monday, January 28, 2013

Powerlifting vs Strongman vs Olympic weightlifting

I see a lot of debates on the internet on which of the 3 sports in the title can be considered the ultimate strength sport. Before I start let's remind ourselves(and teach some) what is the goal in each of these sports.

1. Powerlifting
Considered by many as the pure strength sport as the 3 lifts that you compete in require less technique than the Olympic lifts and you lift as much as weight as you can for a single rep just like in Olympic weightlifting. The three lifts that a powerlifter does at a powerlifting competition are, in the following order:
  • The SQUAT
You have 3 attempts on each lift, the best made attempt of each of the 3 lifts is taken and the sum of them is your total. The powerlifter with the highest total in his/hers weight category is the winner. If you fail to lift a given weight on your 3 attempts that means that you are out of the competition i.e. you bombed out.

2. Strongman
Considered by many as the most functional sport, combining strength, stamina and odd object lifting. How competitors are rated? In Strongman you have a list of events that vary from one contest to another. The events are powerlifts, Olympic lifts i.e. overhead variations, odd object lifting/running/holding etc in various combinations. For each event you are given points according to how well you did in comparison with the other competitors. At the end of the day the person with the highest score wins. The most prestigious Strongman competition is the World's Strongest Man where the top level Strongman competitors compete for the ultimate title. In Strongman you have lightweight(<=105kg) and heavyweight category(105+kg). Of course in small scale competitions you have more weight categories but the top athletes compete as lightweights or heavyweights.


3. Olympic weightlifting
Considered by many as the most technical strength sport that requires enormous explosive power and the granddaddy of the 2 previously mentioned sports. In Olympic weightlifting you compete in the snatch and the clean&jerk. Just like in powerlifting you have 3 attempts and the sum of the 2 is your total. The weightlifter with the highest total wins in their weight category.

So with the introduction over let's get started. Understand that this is my point of view and like all human beings I'm not right all the time. Maybe in a couple of years my way of understanding these things will change and mature and I'll laugh at the ignorance of the 22 year old version of myself.

You'll ask yourselves how is it possible to compare these sports? Well I've been thinking about it and it's not that easy if one tries to stay unbiased. The fact that you see a lot of people defending powerlifting, Strongman or Olympic weightlifting it's because they are/have been involved in the specific sport and they prefer it over the others. Though I've been powerlifting most of the time I'll try to present an impartial point of view.

Carryover - first let's look into the carryover from one sport into the other two.
  • Powerlifting carryover to Strongman and Olympic weightlifting.
    The squats, bench presses, deadlifts build a solid muscular, tendon strength foundation. Though deadlifts increase the grip strength powerlifters don't focus much on supporting grip endurance, something that is much needed in Strongman. Yes, a powerlifter that can deadlift 900 pounds will be able to hold a 500 pound barbell longer than a Strongman that can deadlift 650 pounds because of the surplus strength but today most of the top competitors in Strongman can deadlift 900+ pounds. In Olympic weightlifting you need that strong grip but just like in powerlifting you only need it for a limited time and there is no need for abnormal grip endurance. The majority of the powerlifters don't focus on their flexibility much, something that is crucial in Olympic weightlifting. That's why I see more people that compete in powerlifting/Strongman than in powerlifting/Olympic weightlifting. The stone lifting, partial deads for reps, power stairs, squats for reps events require a lot of back, leg power something that powerlifters get from their type of training. Strongman and especially Olympic weightlifting rely on overhead strength. The majority of the powerlifters do the majority of their pressing lying on their back and things like jerks(second portion of the clean and jerk), snatches do very little for the trio in powerlifting. But there is some carryover from all that benching to strict pressing or pushpressing, a 400 pound bench presser won't be pressing 150 pounds for sure. There are a lot of pressing events in Strongman so a powerlifter can utilize his/hers pressing strength and shift training towards more overhead lifting and it could turn out great. Regarding the squat some will say a squat is a squat, it's a necessity in all strength sports BUT the powerlifting way of squatting i.e. the bar placed lower on the back and wider stance is not that efficient when it comes to Olympic weighlifting because powerlifters compete in the squat and they try to maximize the leverage thus they use the low back more unlike in Olympic weightlifting where they use the squat as a tool to build thigh strength to be better at the Olympic lifts. Still a strong powerlifting style squat can be turned into a strong Olympic squat since the strength is there only a bit of specialization and patience is needed. Conclusion, powerlifting has the biggest carryover into Strongman and not so much into Olympic weightlifting. 
  • Strongman carryover to powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting.
    Strongman competitors must be able to move around fast, be efficient at medleys and so on, even the big 300+ pound guys. I know, I know, some of you will say "No you don't, look at Savickas." and you know what, Savickas is one of the exceptions because when it comes to brute strength events he could press you and your whole family overhead. And still he carries himself well, he is not that bad at the events that do require some sort of endurance like carrying sandbags. Strongman competitors work on their overhead strength a lot and that in my opinion makes them superior to powerlifters when it comes to Olympic weightlifting. The stone lifting, power cleans with axles, logs, power stairs, carrying heavy objects does work the back and grip A LOT. That's great when it comes to deadlifting and it's not a coincidence that Strongman competitors have, from a powerlifter's standpoint, sick deadlifts. There aren't a lot of squatting events and most of the heavyweights are tall guys so their squat is not something to brag about though there are really good exceptions(e.g. Savickas, again). The overhead training would have done them good in Olympic weightlifting if they competed prior to 1972 when the press was still an Olympic lift. Snatches and clean&jerks do require a lot of time spent practicing them until they become your second nature and Strongman competitors from what I see spend more time pushpressing and strict pressing weights overhead. Also their overhead strength will make them good benchers but not extraordinary since they don't spend much time pressing while lying on a bench. Conclusion, Strongman has the biggest carryover into powerlifting but they are not as shabby as powerlifters when it comes to Olympic weightlifting.
  • Olympic weightlifting carryover to powerlifting and Strongman 
Just like powerlifters Olympic weightlifters goal is to have a higher total. The first portion of the snatch and the first part of the c&j the clean require a lot of explosive and back power. The clean requires strong legs too because when the first movement of the clean is done you are in a bottom front squat position. Olympic weightlifters are known for their strong squats, Olympic squats that is but still that's a tougher version of squatting than the powerlifting squat so regarding the squat Olympic weightlifters are pretty decent. I've seen vids where they still work on some pressing variations like the awesome 105kg weightlifter from Mother Russia, Klokov, but in my opinion they aren't as focused on their pressing as they were pre 1972. That makes me think that their bench press is not something that they'll brag about. As always there are exceptions. Regarding the deadlift all those cleans, snatch grip high pulls can't hurt. I'm pretty sure that a lot of them have wicked deadlifts but I believe that their strongest powerlift would be the squat. The tons of push presses, jerks that they are doing is great for the overhead pressing events in Strongman competitions. Their squat strength just like with powerlifters would be a surplus and the grip strength from all those cleans and snatches is useful but Strongman competitions require a bit more grip endurance. A lot of people, including me, consider the Olympic weightlifters as one of the FASTEST athletes on this planet. I think there was a short sprint test and Olympic weighlifters beat SPRINTERS, acceleration madness, of course sprinters will leave them eating their dust when it comes to a full race. That kind of explosiveness is useful in some of the events in Strongman. Conclusion, Olympic weightlifters would give powerlifters a run for their money when it comes to the squat and they are solid deadlifters, in Strongman they will have great success in the overhead pressing events. Olympic weightlifting has the biggest carryover into powerlifting but they'll perform solid in Strongman competitions.
Money - though it's materialistic to think about the prize money, money play a major role in every sport, whether we like it or not. So let us look into that and we won't consider endorsements and shit like that, only prize money.

  • Powerlifting - with all those funky federations it's not easy to find info on the highest paid meets but last year MHP were offering 1000 $ for the overall winner, 1000 $ for the biggest squat/bench/deadlift, extra 1000$ if they lift a new world record etc etc. So powerlifting obviously is not a sport you could live off. Plenty of the strongest powerlifters have normal jobs.
  • Strongman - the 2012 Arnold Classic Strongman prize money were, 50000$ for the winner, 20k for 2nd place, 15k for third.....1000$ for 10th place. Pretty good...if you are JENKINS.
  • Olympic weightlifting - it depends on the country where you are from, gold medalist from USA can get around 25 grand while from Singapore the amount that they are giving to their gold medalists is around 700000$, yes you read that right. So get a Singaporean citizenship and become a gold medalist, HA fucking HA.

 Looks(body) - now you are thinking "Wait a minute, WTF is wrong with Orde? First money now looks?!?". Well we are not discussing only pure strength cause powerlifters win in that aspect(speaking of being impartial) or Olympic weightlifters from the past when they competed in the clean&press cause the press is one of the purest forms of strength a man can do. That's just my 2cc's. Looks are an important aspect of life whether we like it or not(I hate that but that's life).

  • Powerlifting - despite a lot of people bashing on powerlifters for being fat and being concerned only with 1RM's powerlifters in the lower weight classes are pretty ripped. Top level athletes in heavyweight classes(except in superheavy) are ripped too thanks to the immense ABUSE of anabolics, hgh, insulin and peptides that we have today in sports.
  • Strongman - where else would you see ripped 300+ guys?
  • Olympic weightlifting - ultra ripped except for the 105+kg weight category.

Brute strength - as I said powerlifters, because squats and deadlifts are the most basic movements that showcase brute strength. For the upper body bench presses and overhead presses are the shit. And from those 4 lifts powerlifters excel in three of them.

Injuries - let's see what each of these sports brings to the table when it comes to injuries

  • Powerlifting - all that focus on the bench press will ruin your delts if you use a wide grip unless your tendons are ultra resilient, squats and deadlifts could fuck up your spine and knees. Mixed grip on deadlifts make you prone to tearing biceps. Wide stance squats/sumo deadlifts could fuck up your groin. Of course you could tear any muscle but these are the most common injuries that could happen in powerlifting.
  • Strongman - bicep tears from stone lifting, dropping heavy objects/stones on your feet sounds awfully painful, fucking up the spine from all those demanding events like cleaning heavy logs, knees from all that running with heavy stuff in your arms.
  • Olympic weightlifting - knee problems from squats and torqued front squat booty to the ground position they found themselves when cleaning a heavy weight, spine problems from handling such weights overhead and lifting huge weights off the floor in a fast, jerky motion. Sprained ankles, wrists, shoulders from the flexibility that Olympic weightlifting demands.
 And the winner is................................Mikhail Koklyaev because he is the ultimate powerlifting/strongman/olympic weightlifting hybrid. (Got ya!)

Seriously, all of these sports deserve respect and while they are connected in a way they are also very distinct and unique. There is no ultimate strength sport.

1. The powerlifting representative:

2. The Strong(wo)man representative:

3. The Olympic weightlifting representative:


  1. I had written a similar article to this (minus the strongman), but yours is way more in depth. I enjoyed it. I might should link to this for "further reading"!

    1. Thank you! I read your post and it's true, a lot of people don't realize that there are barbell differences as well as being different strength sports that test the athletes with a barbell.