It’s easy to fall into the cardio groove—with treadmills, rowers, and stair climbers getting the majority of gym love—but squeezing in time for powerlifting and strength training is essential, too. Also known as weight or resistance training, strength training helps strengthen bones while boosting balance and posture. Increased muscle mass also helps keep your metabolism up, which is especially beneficial as people age, since muscle mass starts declining after 30. The takeaway: Start lifting sooner rather than later—and maybe try powerlifting.
What is powerlifting?
“Powerlifting is a sport focused on the specialization of three particular lifts: the bench, squat, and deadlift,” says Steve Bergeron, CSCS, strength coach and owner of AMP Fitness. In competition, the strength sport is based on reaching maximal weight on these three lifts. However, you don’t have to wear a singlet to benefit from the movements.
“Even if you consider yourself an endurance athlete, strength is still important,” says Aaptiv Trainer Erin Sanders. “The three lifts in the sport of powerlifting are all multi-point functional movements. If you can learn to do these movements well, it’s a great starting point and base for your strength routine.” While not all lessons in fitness need to be based on feats of strength, a lot can be learned from those who powerlift.
Benefits of Powerlifting
Build mental stamina.
“Pushing your limits and going for your one-rep max is physically taxing, but it’s also mentally taxing,” Sanders says. “It might not take the patience and stamina of a long-distance run, but using every ounce of energy and strength that you have in one lift isn’t easy. Pushing your limits with training can translate to all areas of life. It takes focus, and sheer willpower.”
Know when to change your approach.
In life, we all hit roadblocks. Powerlifting can help prepare you for those and teach you how to navigate. “In powerlifting, you will plateau, and there will be days when you fail and feel weak,” Sanders says. “Those moments are frustrating. Plateaus can last for weeks or even months. When this happens, you go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan or take a new approach. What you have been doing isn’t working anymore, so you have to switch it up. That is also important in life: When you get to a point where no progress is being made, or you’re not happy with where you are in your career or relationship, take a new approach. “
Always show up, it’s essential.
In fitness, consistency is key. It’s important to wake up and show up, even when you don’t feel like it. “Not every day is going to be a PR (personal record), but you will have victorious days when strength comes out of nowhere,” Sanders says. “Those are the rewarding moments that let you know that all of your work was worth it and that you didn’t train in vain.” In life, even when things seem like they’re at a standstill, keep charging ahead.
Master one movement at a time.
Sometimes, simple is best. In a world where we’re constantly being pulled in multiple directions, powerlifting teaches form, focus, and mastery of one movement at a time. “People who engage in strength training often benefit from focusing on anywhere from four to six specific exercises and increasing the weight on those lifts, whatever the lift is,” Bergeron says. “Variety isn’t always necessary.”
Intimidated by the barbell? You don’t have to use one. “You can build the exact same amount of strength doing similar movements with less high-risk implements such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and sandbags,” he says. The biggest tip: Focus on form first. “Before adding weight, perfect technique.”