Why is powerlifting not in the Olympics? for now?
January 13th 2019
As I continue to strength train and get stronger, I often wonder - Why is powerlifting not in the Olympics?
In fact, the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) has submitted various proposals to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to be recognized as a sport in the future Olympics. Initially, it was rejected because there was not enough international interest. However, IPF’s recent proposal has been rejected for several reasons, some of which are: inequality of males and females on the EC (Examination Board), lack of participation in at least 3 multi-sport games, and lack of sport for all commission. While the IPF claims to have always been compliant with the IPF’s regulations, the IPF’s board will continue their mission to be recognized as an Olympic sport.
You can read more about the IOC’s critiques of the IPF’s proposal here. However, it looks like IPF’s president Gaston Parage is constantly working to improve powerlifting as a sport and to have its mark on the world. You can read his newsletter one year after the IOC’s rejection of powerlifting being considered an Olympic sport here.
But aside from the newsletter updates, here are a few more reasons why powerlifting is not in the Olympics yet.
Different rules among the different federations
There are many federations out there, each with their own specific niche set of rules. While that is attractive get more attention and athletes into your sport, you run the risk of having a too diverse set of rules across all the different federations.
One example is the feet placement for the bench press. If you want to compete in the IPF, both of your feet must be flat on the floor. In other federations, however, you are able to have your heels off the ground and to be on your toes. So, these small kinks should be settled and decided on.
And I could go on and on… two hour weigh-ins versus twenty-four hour weigh-ins. Deadlift bars or stiff bars? Using monolifts or not? There are a lot of different rules to appeal to different people.
While I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, it may be slowly poisoning IPF’s attempts to get recognized by the IOC. Being strict on rules and commitments will display strong leadership and a well-maintained sport. This is the right track to be on if the IPF wants to take their sport to the next level of recognition.
Doping has always been an issue in competitive strength sports. It always has some sort of media coverage for certain countries violating their agreements for Olympic weightlifting even in the last few Olympic games. And drug testing for powerlifting should be no different.
There are currently many different federations with varying stances on drug testing, some that do not test their athletes, some that strictly do, and some that allow both athletes to compete in the same competition. It is really up to the lifter to decide which meet he/she wants to compete in.
One specific example is the bench press command. In the IPF, there are multiple commands for the bench press. After getting the start command, once the bar has touched your chest, and is not moving for one second, you will receive a press command. This should last about a second. Once you bench pressed the weight, you should receive a rack command once the bench press has been locked out. In other federations, you will notice that the bench press command to move the weight is a lot shorter, sometimes almost even negligible. These disparities will need to be ironed out to figure out a system that can lead to the most consistency.
The sport is kind of boring
To be completely honest, nobody really cares if you are deadlifting 600lbs or bench pressing 405lbs. In fact, nobody even wants to think about it. It just is not flashy. Whereas in strongman, announcers and commentators can hype up the crowd by saying how many trucks, cars, monster stones, and tractors the athletes are moving. In weightlifting, it has been respected how powerful these athletes are and how explosive they need to be to go the clean and jerk and the snatch.
Olympic weightlifting is not even that popular and it is an Olympic recognized sport. Compared to soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, football, etc, powerlifting does not even come close in terms of popularity and attention. Highlighting powerlifting in a world-class arena might even be worth all that effort since it may never be as popular as some of the other sports.
There is no money to be made
To further add insult to injury, powerlifting is not where the big bucks are made. Sports that are more widely recognized and participated in can bring a lot more attention (and money) to their respective country. Sponsorships and big endorsement companies may not want to take the risk and market through powerlifting yet since the sport may not yield a profitable return for their investment.
Raw lifting vs Equipped
Powerlifting has been segmented into different cultures. There is the raw lifters and the equipped lifters. Further sub-divided, there are raw lifters with knee sleeves and raw lifters with knee wraps. Raw lifters with knee wraps use more material to further add to their squat max. The squat is the only lift that requires extra equipment and the bench press and deadlift are performed raw (without equipment).
In equipped lifting, there are two subcategories - the single-ply (polyester) lifters and the multi-ply (polyester) lifters. These lifters usually compete with a squat suit, bench shirt, and a deadlift suit.
For a single-ply lifter, a squat suit is made up of one layer of special fabric. For a multi-ply lifter, the squat suit is made up of at least two layers of special fabric. This fabric helps the lifter lift more weight than their raw total by having very elastic material that allows the lifter to “bounce” out of the bottom of a squat. For a multi-ply suit, this effect is even more dramatic as the squat suit is even more rigid and harder to put on.
The bench shirts are typically used to perform at a single-ply or multi-ply bench press. They are made of a similar material as the squat suit and aim to increase your bench press max by pushing the weight with you, releasing all the elastic energy stored when you brought down the bench press. In order to optimally use a bench shirt, someone else would need to help you secure it onto you.
Deadlift suits are made of a similar material as well. Deadlift suits have their elastic energy built up as you try to break the weight off the floor. So, the sole purpose of the deadlift suit is to help you initiate the lift. Deadlift suits are not known for helping you with any lockout portions.
Distinctions between weightlifting and powerlifting
Strength training, weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, bodybuilding, working out, all the same thing, right? If you have any weight training experience at all, you will know clearly within a few days that these are different terms used to describe different things.
As far as the general public is concerned, they could really care less. All these words describe you going to a gym that has weights and you then decide to lift these weights. To get stronger, to change your physique, to lose weight, all the same thing again, right? But we all know what is most important - “How much do you bench?” And your answer will always be “Tree-Fidy.”
Based on this lack of concern, there is no wonder strength training sports get little appreciation and attention. People just do not know how heavy and intense squats, bench presses, deadlifts, etc. are to complete. They do not see the years of dedication and hard work put in to accomplish these monstrous lifts. They only see about 5-10 seconds of strength displayed but never the blood, sweat, and tears behind that one lift.
Are Olympic weightlifters stronger than powerlifters?
While Olympic weightlifters compete to increase their snatch and clean&jerk maxes, powerlifters compete to increase their squat, bench press and deadlift maxes. While powerlifters have done bigger numbers in training and competition, that does not mean Olympic weightlifters cannot put up competitive numbers as well. World champions in both sports display some of the most absurd feats of strength and it is not comparable, just like apples and oranges.
Olympic weightlifters train more than just their brute strength. Technique, speed, explosiveness, and flexibility are also critical components to being a successful weightlifter. There are some powerlifters who attempt to focus on all these things but there are some rogue lifters who just display incredible feats of strength, even without proper training.
There are numerous aspects that really make both sports uncomparable. For example, in Olympic weightlifting, you really only have until age 30 to compete competitively. And even at age 30, you would be considered old for the sport. However, for powerlifting, age 30 is when most people start to really develop their strength and begin their reign dominant powerlifters. Powerlifters can continue lifter well into their 50s and still maintain world records that are not broken by most 20 year olds.
Powerlifting in Tokyo’s Olympics 2020
The only powerlifting movement that will be in Tokyo’s Olympics in 2020 is the bench press in the form of Paralympic powerlifting. Paralympic powerlifting is a modification of the powerlifting sport for people with disabilities. Participation in this event is open to all who fits the minimum level of disability and can fully extend their arms 20 inches during the bench press lift. The bench press in Paralympic powerlifting has been a part of the Olympics since 1984. For a full list of rules and regulations, the Paralympic website has all their rules and regulations about participation there.