Training

How to become an elite powerlifter. What does it take?

January 9th 2019

After a tough workout, I wondered to myself, how do I become an elite powerlifter? Like everything in life, I decided to find out the answer to this question.

 

To become an elite powerlifter, your powerlifting total, which comprised of your squat max, bench press max, and deadlift max, must be in the top 10 totals in your respective weight class. Elite powerlifters will usually win their local competitions and can do very well at their national competitions as well.

 

1500 total powerlifting

Totaling 1500lbs is a big milestone in the powerlifting community. But it also depends on what weight class you are in. Totaling 1500lbs at 165lbs bodyweight is a huge accomplishment. You would say that the person who totals 1500lbs at 165lbs bodyweight is a lot stronger than someone who totals 1500lbs at 220lbs.

 

So, before you dream about totaling 1500lbs, let's find out what an elite total would be for your weight class. Approximately 1% of all competing powerlifters will reach elite status. And of course, this is a general approximation based on years of data in powerlifting competitions. The top row is the body weight in pounds and the second row is the elite level total of your below parallel squat, paused bench press and deadlift max total for men:

 

If you have a master level total, you have hit the 10% mark of all competing powerlifters. You have been training for at least 6 years and can do reasonably well in local competitions. You may want to rethink competing in national level competitions, however.

 

If you have a class I level total, you have hit the 30% mark of all competing powerlifters. You have trained for at least 4 years and are significantly stronger than your average joe who lifts weight intensely.

 

If you have a class II level total, you have hit the 30% mark of all competing powerlifters. You have trained for at least 3 years and are stronger than your average joe who lifts weight intensely.

 

If you have a class III level total, you are stronger than your average joe. You have trained for at least 2 years. This is a reasonable total for teens and senior lifters (50+ years old).

 

If you have a class IV level total, you have just started to powerlift and likely only have at least 1 year of training experience. If you are interested in the source of the men elite totals, you can find that here.

Men Elite Totals

 

BW

114

123

132

148

165

181

198

220

242

275

275+

Elite

805

881

947

1124

1261

1396

1495

1587

1630

1710

1740

Master

741

811

871

1034

1160

1279

1375

1460

1500

1573

1601

Class I

660

722

777

922

1034

1148

1226

1301

1337

1402

1427

Class II

580

634

682

809

908

1012

1076

1143

1174

1231

1253

Class III

507

555

597

708

794

879

942

1000

1027

1077

1096

Class IV

443

485

521

618

694

768

822

873

897

941

957

 

If you keep track of the current powerlifting world records, you will find that being elite is not enough to break world records. You will need to continue to push towards greater limits.

SPF powerlifting elite totals

If you are interested in checking out SPF’s powerlifting elite totals, along with their pro, master, class I, class II, class III, and class IV totals, you can find that here.

 

But I’ll show you what their pro and elite totals are for this federation:

 

BW

114

123

132

148

165

181

198

220

242

275

275+

Pro

1045

1135

1225

1370

1500

1610

1700

1790

1855

1910

1995

Elite

960

1045

1125

1255

1375

1480

1560

1645

1705

1755

1830

 

So, I can see where the obsession for the 1500 powerlifting total comes from. In SPF competitions, totaling 1500lbs makes you elite if you weigh 181lbs or 198lbs bodyweight, which is very typical in Western society. In the other chart, a 1500 total makes you elite if you weigh 198lbs or 220 lbs. So, it is no wonder so many lifters aim to secure their rank as elite.

How long does it take to become an elite powerlifter?

The true answer to this question is that it depends. There are some lifters who total elite numbers on the first day in the gym. Others, it can take up to 10 years to get an elite total. So, to compare yourself with others is foolish. The only real metric you can use is your own progression - Are you getting stronger every training cycle? Every year? You really need to reflect on your training and whether or not you are doing the right things.

 

I have been strength training for over six years now and that leaves me at around a class II total. I still feel that I have a lot left in me so I want to continue getting stronger. According to the strength standards, it has taken me too long to reach numbers I should have hit years ago. But to be honest, I do not really care about those recommendations. My strength will come. There is no rush if you do things the right way and for the right reasons.

 

So, what can you do to become an elite powerlifter?

Have a goal

If your goal is to become an elite powerlifter, it is a great goal to aspire for. So, you need to break down this goal into measurable pieces. So, let's say you are a 180lbs male that wants to get a 1500lbs total to become an elite powerlifter. Great.

 

Well, what is your current total? Have you totaled 1200lbs? 1100lbs? 1000lbs? Knowing this information can determine what program you should be running. After all, running an advanced level program when you are a beginner is a waste of time since you are capable of doing much more.

Pick a program

Once you determined your total and your lifting experience, you are probably classified a beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate or advanced, based on your training experience and/or your Big 3, squat, bench press and deadlift, total.

 

Beginners or advanced beginners should run a linear progression program. I would recommend either Starting Strength or Greyskull lp. I have thoroughly reviewed both programs and have tried them both multiple times in my training career. I included monthly milestones I hit during the program as well as tweaks and modifications I could do if I ever decided to run a similar program in the future. If that peaks your interest, check out my in-depth review before you decide on a linear progression program. I have also included links to their books IF you do decide that these linear progression programs suit your goals. And if your goal is to total 1500lbs, I would say we have common interests.

 

As for intermediate lifters, you have an idea of what works for you and what does not. At this stage, you can decide to make your own program or to continue to find another one. From here, the lifter can make so many different choices. So, I would say you can try either Wendler’s 5/3/1 program or Johnnie Candito’s 6 week strength program.

Hard work and consistency

This is the part that everyone is impatient about. After you decide on a program, you must execute and work hard. If progress was easy, everyone would have an elite powerlifting total.

 

So, it will be a grind. Some days you will hate yourself. Some days will make you want to quit. Injuries can happen. It is all a part of the strength training journey. You continue to build more than just physical strength. You build mental strength. Friendships. You are a part of a bigger community and it is time to show your new friends how strong you are.

 

For some people, this can take a few years. For some, this can take decades. But to get a elite total is never a sprint. It has always been a marathon that you needed to take your time with. Focus on your own mistakes, strength, and weaknesses. And just work on continuously improving them. You will not be disappointed that you failed. You will only experience regret if you never even tried to break your limits.

Women’s elite powerlifting total

Now, according to this source, you can find all the master, class I, class II, class III and class IV level totals for women. But I will show you what an elite women powerlifting total should be, based on decades of powerlifting data. Also note, these are general standards for the average woman. If you are a teen or an older lifter, these standards may not apply to you.

 

BW

97

105

114

123

132

148

165

181

198

198+

Elite

535

573

611

665

703

756

813

839

859

918

 

Achieving elite level totals should put you in the top 1% of lifters in the country.

 

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