Powerlifting can be a phenomenal tool to increase strength. Which is why you see many people back squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting to get stronger. However, there are different ways in which you may want to utilize these lifts depending on your goals. While a Powerlifter and a general athlete may both be using these lifts to get stronger they may be using them in different ways. At Force Barbell, our view is to train these two types of athletes differently. For Powerlifters, it is appropriate most of the time to squat, bench and deadlift in ways that are specific to the sport. For field sport athletes looking to use the lifts for general athletic development we will utilize the lifts in a way that may look different than a Powerlifter using the lifts. For a Powerlifter, the end goal is to be able to lift as much weight on the bar as possible because that is what they will be judged on in competition. For a field sport athlete, the goal is to gain strength in good quality positions so that the strength that they develop will transition to them being a stronger, faster, and more powerful athlete on the field.
Differences in the Back Squat
These two videos highlight the main differences when using the back squat to improve the lift for Powerlifting compared to using the lift to develop general athletic performance. The main difference is that for the sake of general athletic performance it is best to keep the back as neutral as possible and get good range of motion through the hips. This is what is going to help an athlete the most in improving at the characteristics of their sport. An excessive arch in the lower back makes it harder for an athlete to get good quality range of motion through their hips and develops bad motor patterns, such as lack of rotation through the hips, which doesn’t carry over well when performing general athletic tasks. A Powerlifter will want an arch in their lower back because it is going to help her or she lift the most weight possible, which is their ultimate goal.
Differences in the Bench Press
The main differences in the bench press are much in common with those of the back squat. A Powerlifter wants to arch the back as much as possible to decrease how far the bar has to go to complete the lift. This arch not only has implications on the hips and pelvis as mentioned above, but also on the shoulders as well. Excessive arching of the lower back on the bench press can result in shoulder blades that are stuck in depression and retraction and lack the ability to upwardly rotate. Essentially what you get is arms and shoulder blades that don’t move well with each other. This can have some strong implications on athletes that have to throw things or be in strong positions overhead. Such sports include baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis, diving, swimming, and javelin tossing just to name a few. Powerlifting bench press technique is really good for Powerlifters that don’t have to be able to move their arms very well and just want to develop a heck of a lot of strength in that position.
Differences in the Deadlift
The differences in the deadlift might not be immediately apparent. The biggest thing we teach at Force, which may be uncommon, is to set athletes up in their most athletic position. We like to use, “where you would jump the highest” as a general guideline to help them find the sweet spot of that position. We teach athletes to keep their butt down a little bit more than you would typically see on a deadlift because that is the position they will be at in their sport the most. Hips up, like a Powerlifter, is almost universally a “no-no” in field sports. This is going to help an athlete develop strength in an athletic position to help them perform better on the field. A Powerlifter usually takes a set up with their hips higher, feet close together and most of the time with their upper backs a little rounded. This helps the Powerlifter not have to move the bar quite as much and puts the position of their chest and shoulders closer to their center of gravity, which helps them lift the weight a bit more easy. This isn’t a super detrimental position for athletes looking to increase general performance, but putting them in a more athletic position that they need to be in on the field will have more benefit to improving their performance in their sport.
The back squat, bench press, and deadlift can be incredibly great tools to develop strength and force production. However, how you perform these lifts will decide how much you get out of it. If your goal is to improve general athletic performance it is best to perform the lifts in a way that is conducive to that goal. If your goal is to just get as strong as possible to improve your total in Powerlifting, then perform the lifts in a way that will help maximize that outcome. Hopefully, the biggest takeaway is that it has come to your realization that there are some major differences in the way a powerlifter lifts and how you should teach an athlete to lift. Even if it is the same lift, they’re not all created equal. How you perform the lift is the deciding factor as to how much you’re going to get out of it.