Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting – What’s the Difference?

Apart from bodybuilding, there are numerous other physique and weight lifting-related sports that fall under the fitness banner. Two of the more popular are those of olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. It may seem odd to the uninitiated, but these two sports, though both involving lifting, could not be further apart from each other. Not siblings, but rather distant cousins of one another, these two sports hold special places in strength training. If you are unfamiliar or just need a refresher, the team here at Ferrigno Legacy has a crash course in these two sports and what differentiates them. Today, we will explore Olympic weightl

Olympic Weightlifting

The most blatant difference between these two sports is the type of lifts associated with these sports. Olympic weightlifting employs the snatch and the clean and jerk, two moves that are completed with explosiveness and precision. The snatch is a move in which the lifter takes the bar from the floor to an overhead position in one motion. The clean and jerk is a compound move in which the lifter takes the bar and lifts from the floor to his or her shoulders in the first stage. The second motion requires the lifter to explode the bar from shoulders to overhead while going from standing straight up into a lunge position.

At first glance, these moves may seem dangerous. However, due to the technique and form required in completing these lifts, the risk is minimized when done properly. Ironically, olympic weightlifting is focused primarily on explosiveness, which one could easily associate with powerlifting instead. Olympic weightlifters tend to use leverage and functional strength to move the weight, focusing strongly on form and exact movements. This is important, because explosiveness is just as important as amount of weight when it comes to weightlifting.


The cousin of the Olympic competition, powerlifting employs three different competition moves to measure strength. Bench press, squat, and deadlift are the main components of a powerlifting regimen. The bench press requires a lifter to lie flat on a bench, grab a bar that is overhead, press it down to the chest, and push it back up in a continuous motion. Squats are the cream of the leg exercise crop. A lifter holds the weighted bar on his or her back and traps and bends the legs, crouching downward until the glutes and upper legs are parallel to the ground, then explodes back up. Deadlift, one of the ultimate indicators of strength, asks the lifter to pull a straight bar, while in a crouched position, from a dead stop on the floor to about halfway up the quadricep, and fully extend the back with the bar in tow.

These moves are vastly different from those used in Olympic weightlifting competition. Ironically, these moves are not as focused on explosiveness, but do still stress proper form. Rather, if these lifts are completed in one motion without any stopping or backtracking, and use good form, it is considered a success. The power notion comes from the sheer amount of weight, whereas in Olympic the power is measured in explosiveness.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences between these two weightlifting sports. Soon, we’ll take a look at exactly why the lifts are used in their respective competitions and what the preparation for each looks like. Ferrigno Legacy is proud to host USA Powerlifting competitions and welcomes any competitors who want to attend our next events. We love competitors and spectators from any and all strength and physique sports and look forward to meeting the entire fitness army! Take a look at our calendar and sign up today – we’ll see you soon!