Powerlifting and Weightlifting are both fantastic sports, and fundamentally they both have the same training goal: lift the most amount of weight possible.

With that said, there are some crucial differences when it comes to training, and that’s what we’re going to be discussing today, with the aim of maximising the effectiveness of our training.

1) Frequency of Main Lifts Training

It’s completely normal practice in powerlifting programmes to train the squat, bench and deadlift 1-2 times per week. Generally speaking, this allows for solid strength development across the three main lifts.

With weightlifting, however, it’s far more usual to train the snatch, clean and jerk 2-4 times per week.

There are a couple reasons for this…

  • Weightlifting movements have more complex motor patterns, so the skills need training more regularly in order to perfect
  • The weightlifting movements are lighter, faster and have no eccentric component, so they can be trained more frequently without damaging recovery too much. 10 heavyish snatch singles 3 times per week, very manageable. 10 heavyish deadlift singles 3 times per week, basically a death sentence.

So since the weightlifting movements NEED to be trained more frequently, and CAN be trained more frequently, it makes sense to do so.

weightlifter training

2) Speed and Timing Qualities

Generally speaking, there are a far broader range of acceptable bar speeds within powerlifting than within weightlifting. It doesn’t matter if your last deadlift attempt takes 1 second or 10 seconds, so long as the bar keeps moving upwards you can make the lift.

With the weightlifting movements, you’re done in less than a second, and there’s no way to successfully make a slow lift.

What this means for training is that powerlifters can more frequently use slower reps. 3-5 Sets of 5 reps where bar speed drops considerably by the last rep are not only acceptable but probably necessary for maximising strength.

With weightlifting training, though, it would likely make more sense to break this work down into smaller sets, performing 6 to 8 sets of 3 reps, and maintaining a much higher bar speed with each rep. It might not be as ideal for top-end strength, but the speed qualities of the lift will be preserved, so the carryover will be better.

weightlifter training

3) RPE-based Training Doesn’t Work as Well For Weightlifters.

I love utilising RPE-based training for my powerlifters. The ability to rate sets based on reps from failure and prescribe so accurately is fantastic. It allows for better autoregulation and makes the athlete really think about their training.

RPE training set

*Credit to Mike Tuchscherer of RTS.

Weightlifters don’t really have this option, because with weightlifters the RPE scale looks more like this…

RPE 1-5: Super easy, light and snappy
RPE 6-9: Fairly easy, moderate, still snappy
RPE 10: Missed the lift

There’s no gradual reduction in difficulty, it’s literally a good lift, or it wasn’t a lift at all.

What this means is that weightlifting training often revolves more around percentages, or simply by the ‘feel’ of the athlete on any given day.

4) The Value of Upper-Body Strength

Let’s be honest, powerlifters, on average, tend to look more jacked in their upper bodies than weightlifters (chinese weightlifting team notwithstanding)

And that’s because the bench press is a competitive lift within powerlifting. Having a bigger, stronger chest directly correlates with success in the sport.

weightlifter being spotted

For weightlifters, though, upper body training doesn’t really provide all that much of a benefit. The main overhead movement (the jerk) relies primarily on leg strength, and the shoulders only play a role in holding the bar once it is already fixated overhead.

What this means is that whilst it’s common for powerlifters to have 2 or even 3 days dedicated wholly to upper body training, this would be a huge waste or time and recovery resources for most lifters.

Now, this doesn’t mean that weightlifters should never train upper body. Pull-ups, dips, overhead press and bench press are nice additions to actually look like you lift. They just have to be given far less priority.


And those are pretty much the major differences in training between powerlifters and weightlifters…

  • Frequency
  • Speed Qualities
  • RPE Versus Percentage Programming
  • And the Importance Given to Upper-Body Strength

Hopefully you’ve found this article useful, and if so feel free to share it with your fellow lifters (especially if their training doesn’t quite suit their sport)

As always, you comment below with any thoughts or questions, and you can chat about joining the Character Strength Team by booking a quick chat here.

‘Til next time