What is the difference between Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting and Strongman Competitions

When people first get into a fitness regimen using weights or weight-training equipment, many questions arise and some of those questions concern the various competitions that involve lifting heavy weights. The three most popular events of this type are Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and Strongman competitions, and each differs from the others in several key ways.


Olympic Lifter Squat

Olympic Weightlifting


Weightlifting and powerlifting are the most similar of the three strength sports in this comparison, so it is easiest to differentiate between them before taking a look at strongman. The most basic difference in these sports is that the lifts used in Olympic weightlifting are both quick, overhead moves: the snatch and the clean and jerk. In powerlifting, the moves that are judged are the bench press, deadlift and squat, none of which are overhead moves.


Taking a closer look at these lifts shows that they are actually very similar because the major extensions in each are in the hips, knees and ankles. However, they have further differences that go beyond the lifts, including speed and the specific type of strength that is being measured.


Chalk up Lifter


Olympic weightlifting is considered to be the most technically challenging of these three sports because it requires not only strength but also speed. In the snatch lift, the initial power comes from the legs, but once the bar is at waist height, the lifter must quickly shift the weight to his or her arms, core and upper body until he or she is standing straight with the bar overhead. The clean and jerk also requires speed, but the point of the weight shift is at the chin rather than the waist.



In contrast to weightlifting, powerlifting is purely based on strength, and lifters may sometimes take quite a while to complete their lifts. In fact, powerlifting is often referred to as slow lifting. With the bench press, deadlift and squat, the bar really only has to be moved a short distance rather than from the ground to overhead.


The deadlift is the only move in powerlifting that doesn’t use a rack, but it only requires the lifter to bring the weights from the ground to waist height and back to the ground again.




Strongman Competitions


Strongman, and strongwoman, competitions are unique in that the lifts and moves are not traditional, and many of them are based on real-world activities. This sport originated underground, but in the past several years, its popularity has grown to where many competitions are being televised. Strongman requires a great deal of strength, but to excel at it, you also need overall athleticism and mental fortitude.


Another unique feature of strongman is that the competitions are not all alike. Each competition includes four or five events on average, which are pulled from a long list of traditional events and those that have been newly created. A few of the most popular are as follows:




  • Tire flip – Tractor tires weighing 1,000 pounds or more are flipped end to end.
  • Atlas stone – Large boulders or concrete balls are lifted over a bar or loaded onto a platform.
  • Fat bar – This overhead lift features heavy plates on a super-thick barbell that cannot be gripped in your hands, which is terribly awkward.
  • Farmer’s Walk – Heavy weights or objects are picked up in each hand and then walked as quickly as possible to a finish line.


Guest Post by: Tina Lockwood for Strengthshopusa.com