Updated: Jun 10
What is powerlifting? Let's start from the most rudimentary information. Powerlifting is a strength sport that is globally popular. It has been in existence in the United States since roughly the 1950s and continues to gain respect among the world of strength athletes. The lifts featured in powerlifting are basic: the back squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Step 1: Get medical clearance for strength training. No, really. You should do this. Make sure your doc says it's okay to begin an intense strength training regimen. If she/he says no, honor the advice and wait until you do get clearance. The barbell will be there when your body is ready.
Step 2: Find a gym. Or buy your own equipment. A gym membership is a lot cheaper and since you do not yet know if you're going to love powerlifting, there's no point in investing in equipment this early in the game.
Beware many large commercial gym chains do not allow powerlifting or any kind of serious barbell lifting. When looking for a gym, be sure to look for the following equipment:
Power rack/squat rack: You will use these for squatting and bench pressing.
Free barbells: Many commercial gyms only feature smith machines. While you can build a fair amount of strength on the smith machine, it does not replicate true powerlifting and will limit your progress. You should also seek barbells with removable plates as opposed to "fixed weight" barbells.
Deadlifting platform: Many gyms have an area reserved for deadlifting that features some type of protective flooring, often rubber mats or a wooden platform.
Step 3: Learn the lifts. There are tons of great online resources for learning safe technique on the Big Three, however NOTHING beats the attention of a good coach. If you're unable to work with a coach right now, I highly suggest trying a gym with a drop-in group coaching option. It is imperative that you use safe technique when learning to lift and it's very helpful to have a professional set of eyes on your form when you're first starting out.
ONLINE RESOURCES FOR LEARNING THE LIFTS I'm a big fan of the content Juggernaut Training Systems puts out and relied heavily on Chad Wesley Smith's expertise when I first started specializing in powerlifting. JTS has a great beginner series for each of the main lifts on YouTube. Here are the links:
The Bench Press Bench Pillar #1 Foot Placement & Pressure Bench Pillar #2 Upper Back Positioning Bench Pillar #3 Gripping the Bar Bench Pillar #4 Breathing & Bar Placement Bench Pillar #5 Leg Drive & Bar Path
Step 4: Purchase your gear.
Shoes Let's start from the ground up; You MUST have appropriate footwear to train for this sport if you want to optimize your lift technique. Every powerlifter is a little bit different in their shoe preference. These preference are often based on anatomical variations. Some folks like to wear the same pair of shoes for all three lifts. Some people like to squat in flat shoes (like Converse Chuck Taylors) and some like a slightly raised heel (like the Adidas Adipowers). Deadlifting is most often done with very flat shoes or deadlifting slippers. I often train my deadlift in bare feet. The bench press tends to vary depending on limb length and flexibility, though it is most often beneficial to wear squat shoes with a raised heel for the BP.
Wraps/Sleeves Depending on what federation you want to compete in (and if you'll never compete, this is totally up to preference) you may be allowed to wear knee wraps, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and elbow wraps/sleeves. I firmly believe it is best to train the way you compete so check with your federation's permitted equipment list before deciding if you want to try these out.
Belts You can begin training for powerlifting without a belt. The purpose of a belt is to secure proper bracing via the Valsalva Maneuver to cultivate stability throughout the trunk. Purchasing a quality belt requires several important decisions and anatomical considerations. Take your time deciding what kind of quality you want as a great belt can be a hefty financial investment but a huge asset in injury prevention.
Step 5: Get STRONG! Pick a powerlifting program to try or hire a coach to customize programming for you. Spend the bulk of your focus on mastering technique rather than piling weight on the bar. You want to train with safety and longevity as your primary goals -- if something causes you pain, stop immediately.
Powerlifting is a skilled technical sport that involves optimizing your physical attributes to support the most weight possible. This sport can be extremely dangerous if not performed with correct, healthy, and safe techniques. It is highly recommended to work with a coach as you start out this new journey into the realm of powerlifting.