When you think of powerlifting, what do you think? Bodybuilders and super fit athletes pumping out reps at the gym? Not quite. In reality, powerlifting is for absolutely anybody. If you’re a complete beginner at the gym and want to learn how to lift with proper technique, a powerlifting class could be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re a regular gym-goer and feel like you’ve learnt everything there is to learn about lifting, you should definitely consider a powerlifting class. If CrossFit, F45 and team sports aren’t your thing, look up your local powerlifting gym and see where it takes you.
It’s normal to be nervous when you’re trying something you’ve never done before, but we’re here to help! Here is the ultimate beginner's guide to powerlifting.
What is Powerlifting?
Powerlifting is a world recognised sport where your maximum strength is tested in the squat, deadlift and bench press. Put simply, you are trying to lift as much weight as you can on these three movements. With correct form and technique, the main objective is simple; to become stronger than you were before. From novice lifters to advanced, there is room for everybody to improve and become better lifters than they were last time they stepped into the gym.
You don’t have to sign up to a powerlifting gym to practice these movements. You could be training like a powerlifter without even knowing it. If you’re training at a regular gym, you might already be familiar with the deadlift, squat and bench press.
Should you try a powerlifting class?
It’s totally normal to feel nervous when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Taking up a new sport and trying new things can be intimidating. If you book yourself a one-on-one class, your coach will cater the lesson to you. So, don’t worry if you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing! They will go through each movement in detail and go at a pace that is comfortable for you.
The fact that you’re reading this article, is probably an indicator that you’re at least slightly interested in trying a class. In that case, you definitely should! To help you prepare and not feel like you’re doing in blind, let’s go through the three movements.
Before you get taught any movement, you will be taught bracing. This is what you should do before any movement. All bracing means is getting your body ready to perform the lift. Using your breathing to engage your core and create a good foundation for the movement. Exercise: take in a deep breath and blow it out as hard as you can until all the air has left your lungs. Feel how tight your core becomes? This is what you want to achieve while bracing, without having to say bye bye to all of your oxygen. Practice tightening your core as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach!
You probably already know how to do a basic squat, because many of our daily activities already involve half of the movement. Standing up, sitting down, going to the toilet, you get the gist. Squats are super beneficial as they use almost every muscle group in the body. If you’re looking to build strength in areas that will help you perform day to day tasks, the squat could be a great addition to your work out regime. Go stand in front of a mirror or get your phone out to record yourself.
Watching back your form can be a great way to make improvements. When squatting, you want to make sure your entire body is stable and ridged. Tighten your core, upper body and build tension in your legs by pushing your quads outwards. Don’t continue to perform the squat with weights, unless you feel fully ready to go down into the movement. Technique is far more important than how much weight you’re squatting!
Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor, head and eyes forward in a neutral gaze. Tip: find something on the floor about 2 metres in front of you and keep your eyes on that. This will help you keep your balance.
Begin the squat movement, while keeping your core and legs engaged. Don’t worry if your squat isn’t as deep as you’d like it to be, this comes with time, flexibility and practice. You don’t need to squeeze your butt at the end of a squat. You might see fitness influencers do this, but it is not a necessary step in the powerlifting technique. Here is a video showing you the squat step by step: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3HlEF_E9fo
Many people steer clear of the deadlift because of its potential risk of injury. However, knowing how to properly deadlift can help you in your day-to-day life. Picking things up without hurting your back or taking out the trash. Practice deadlifting at home with a small weight or even a broomstick! The most important thing to remember when you’re deadlifting is to push through the floor NOT pull with your back. You will feel the difference greatly.
In a conventional deadlift, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and place your feet underneath the bar. The bar should sit above the middle of your foot or your shoelaces. Grab the bar with a tight grip and perform the movement. It’s much easier to view the movement, so you can see exactly what you should be doing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytGaGIn3SjE
In the gym, you might see people deadlifting a ridiculous amount of weight and think to yourself, why can’t I do that yet? Many amateur dead lifters will do a little thing called ‘ego lifting’. This is when you are lifting far more weight than you should be, typically sacrificing form and technique. If there's one thing to take away from this, technique is more important than weight...always!
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You might have seen videos of people performing a bench press and thought, what the hell? Why are their backs arched like that? Well, it will all make sense. When we’re standing, we have a natural arch in our spines. If you stand with your back against the wall, you should have a gap that doesn’t make any contact. During a bench press, we are trying to mimic this, to prevent any form of injury, especially to our shoulders.
You can practice bench pressing on the ground with small weights (or again with the trusty broomstick). Create an arch in your spine and keep your shoulder firmly placed on the ground. TIP: Unrack the weight and then brace for the movement. Take a deep breath, tighten your core and complete the bench press. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj_pzdeuHbw
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