When someone mentions powerlifting, your first thoughts might be of big hairy brutes in tight leotards, grunting and looking like they're about to explode while lifting phenomenally heavy weights. But powerlifting doesn't have to be like that. You can actually build lean muscle, burn fat and maintain your feminine physique while lifting heavy weights, getting stronger and even competing at powerlifting meets if you so desire.
Main Exercises and Competition
Powerlifting consists of three primary exercises -- the squat, bench press and deadlift, in which lifters compete to see who can lift the most weight on each. In a competition, you have three attempts at each lift, and the highest score on each lift is taken and added together to make your total. The person with the highest total is the winner. Competitions are divided into weight classes, according to London-based strength coach Sally Moss. This means you can compete at any weight you choose, so you can retain a svelte figure, and there's no need to bulk up to Incredible Hulk-like proportions.
Perform two lower-body and two upper-body workouts each week. One lower-body session should be dedicated to deadlifts and the other to squats, and your upper-body workouts should be a bench press session and an upper-body assistance session, working on your shoulders, arms and upper back. But rather than doing the same exercises every session, you should rotate your lifts, advises world record female powerlifter Jean Fry. This means instead of always doing regular squats in your squat session, switch between conventional squats, squats to a box or front squats. The same goes for deadlifts and bench presses -- use wide-stance sumo deadlifts, or deadlifts standing on a platform, and close-grip, wide-grip or partial bench presses.
Sets and Reps
Powerlifting is a little different from your generic "three-sets-of-10," weight-training routines. You should split your training into blocks. Phase one, the accumulation block, lasts four weeks and is fairly easy -- perform all exercises for three to five sets of 10 to 15 reps with relatively light weights. In phase two, the intensification block, reduce your sets and reps to five sets of six to eight, but increase the weight you're lifting. This also lasts four weeks. The phase three, or realization block, is only two weeks long, but it's where you aim to set your personal bests. Cut your training volume down, but aim to set personal records on one squat, one deadlift and one bench press variation. Take a week off, then begin again at phase one, but using slightly heavier weights than before.
Use powerlifting simply to add a little muscle mass, burn fat and put guys in the gym to shame, or start with the aim of entering competitions. There are no qualifying standards for local competitions -- you can just turn up and give it your best shot and use it as a way of challenging yourself. You must eat according to your goals, too -- if you want to lift in a heavier weight class and build strength quickly, increase your calorie intake to allow for this. If, however, you'd rather burn fat or stay in a lighter weight class, keep your current diet the same and adjust it if you need to.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.