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Regardless of whether powerlifting interests you or not, there is no doubt that you’ve seen footage of the sport on TV or social media. Many people involved in fitness confuse powerlifting with bodybuilding. In this article, I will define powerlifting to the best of my ability while also mentioning some of the best powerlifters of all time.
Powerlifting dates back to ancient Greek and ancient Persian times when incredible body strength was necessary and highly valued. Nowadays, according to Men’s Health, powerlifting is defined as a sport that tests brute strength through three main compound lifts. As I mentioned in my women’s powerlifting guide, the bench press, deadlift, and squat are crucial to powerlifters.
The weights of a competitors three heaviest lifts (for bench, deadlift, and squat) are added together at the end of competitions. A high total is the goal because a competitor with the highest sum wins the competition. There are several weight classes, and competitions are also divided by sex and age for fairness purposes
A Growing Sport That's Not Just For Men
Although most people tend to associate powerlifting with men only, it’s a very inclusive sport that transcends labels and discriminates against no one. As mentioned in “Powerlifting to Win“, people of all ages and weights take part in and train for competitions. For both males and females there are approximately 10 weight classes. They range from 114lbs/52kg to 308lbs/140kg+ for men, and 97lbs/44kg to 198lbs/90kg+ for women.
As of today, powerlifting is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Hitting the gym is more popular than ever, and the fitness craze is real. Now that you have a little bit of background information about the sport, we will take a look at some of the more popular names in the powerlifting community.
Best Powerlifters of All Time
There is a wide variety of different powerlifting federations which organize and regulate different events and championships. In line with this, each federation has its own rules or interpretations of the rules. The most well known federation is the International Powerlifting Federation, or IPF, founded in 1971.
Because of the numerous different federations and standards in powerlifting, it would be difficult to single out one person and crown them the best powerlifter of all time. However, there are a few names that we need to mention when talking about this sport. Taking inspiration from Sports Show’s rankings, we will go over three powerlifters that really stand out.
First up, we have Mikhail Koklyaev from Russia, born in 1978. Besides powerlifting, he is also a strongman competitor and a boxer, quite the combination. Koklyaev’s raw total at the Chelyabinsk regional championship was 2,221lbs or 1007.5 kg. A raw total implies that he did this with little to no additional equipment. He is most famous for being the second man in history to clean and jerk 501lbs with the barbell used by Vasily Alekseyev.
The next incredible powerlifter that I’d like to mention is Andy Bolton, an English powerlifter and strongman. He won his first powerlifting competition at the age of 21, and he is currently the World Powerlifting Organization world record holder for his total. Bolton was the first man ever to lift over 1000 pounds in the deadlift.
Finally, I cannot forget the great Ed Coan. He is an American powerlifter, and one that I’m a little biased to say is the greatest of all time. I train at Quads Gym in Chicago and Ed also trained there during his glory days.
Ed Coan is an American powerlifter and considered by many to be the best of all time. Coan has set over 71 powerlifting records and is the lightest person to join the 2,400 lb club in powerlifting.
Although these men have accomplished some truly amazing feats, none of them can actually be called “the strongest man ever”. That title is currently held by Louis Cyr, a French Canadian strongman. He demonstrated remarkable strength from a very young age, and among his many achievements, the most notable are lifting 500lbs with one finger and backlifting 4,337lbs.
As I’ve already mentioned, powerlifting is an inclusive and non-discriminatory sport. Even though it might be more popular amongst men, we must not ignore that women have significantly contributed to the sport’s growth. Below are some picks based on Bar Bend’s article discussing 12 of the strongest women in 2018.
First we have Isabella Von Weissenberg of Sweden. She holds multiple records at different championships, with her heaviest total lift being 1,070lbs/485.5kg. At the Arnold Powerlifting Grand Prix, she squatted 440lbs/200kg which was both her personal life goal as well as a huge milestone in the sport.
Also worth noting is Kimberly Walford of the United States. She’s quite similar to Von Weissenberg in the sense that she has many enviable achievements. Most notable is her two IPF deadlift world records, as well as the world record total in her weight class.
Last, but certainly not least, is Jennifer Thompson, who is best known for crushing the 159lbs/72kg IPF world record for the bench press with a lift totaling 317.5lbs/144kg. This lift was later named the “greatest feat of strength of all time”. Pretty remarkable if you ask me.
And, just like we did for the men’s category, we will also mention who is considered to be the strongest woman of all time. This title is awarded to Becca Swanson, an American professional powerlifter and pro-wrestler. She is currently the only woman ever to squat 850lbs/380kg, bench 600lbs/272kg, and deadlift 683lbs/309kg. Alongside these crazy numbers, she is the only woman whose lift total exceeds 2,000lbs/907kg.
If you’re a woman who is interested in learning more about the sport, I invite you to check out my in-depth article on women’s powerlifting. It’s never to late to get started with building strength.
Throughout this article, I defined powerlifting as a strength-based sport that primarily focuses on the three main compound lifts. Participants often go to competitions or meets where they strive to get the highest total they can for bench, deadlift, and squat.
Perhaps the best thing about powerlifting is this inclusivity. Notice that every single one of the best powerlifters of all time have something unique about them. I hope that you found the information here insightful, and if you haven’t started powerlifting yet, it’s never too late to give it a try!