Women’s Powerlifting – Advice, Tips, Tricks, and Getting Started

Women’s Powerlifting – Advice, Tips, Tricks, and Getting Started
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Weight lifting as a whole has become increasingly popular in recent years. One thing I personally love to see is women’s powerlifting on the rise. More and more women are becoming interested in competitive weight training, which is fantastic. 

 

Throughout this article, I will be providing you with key information about powerlifting, and how you can get started as a woman. There will also be some helpful hints, tips, and tricks that you can take note of. The number of female powerlifters has increased by 100% since 2015, so there is no better time to start your journey.

The Basics

If you’re new to the sport, you should know that powerlifting focuses on three main lifts. The bench press, deadlift, and squat are of the utmost importance to a powerlifter. Before you enroll in a competition, you should master these three lifts. 

 

That means: 

 

  • Touching the bar to your chest on the bench press

  • Doing a deadlift from ground level 

  • Squatting at least to parallel 

 

Essentially, having proper form for all three of the main lifts is all you need to worry about. As stated in the USA powerlifting rulebook, you only need to lift the barbell itself to be able to compete. Deadlifting just the bar from the ground can actually be more difficult because you can’t get your feet under the bar. For this reason, you should be able to deadlift one plate on each side before deciding to compete. 

 

If you’re capable of lifting the bar itself on all three lifts, then you’re already more than halfway there. With a few months of consistent training and preparation, you will be on your way to placing in competitions.

Women's Powerlifting Age Groups and Weight Classes

You should also know that powerlifting meets are divided by gender, age, and weight classes. There are five different age groups and eight different weight classes for women’s powerlifting. Perhaps the best thing is that women of any weight can compete, there is absolutely no weight limit. 

 

Age Groups: 

 

  • 8-14 years old (Youth)

  • 14-20 years old (Teen)

  • 20-24 years old (Junior) 

  • 40+ (Masters) 

  • Open, 14+ 

 

Essentially, there are four age groups and one open division. Anyone over the age of 14 can compete in the open division. Winning the open division is basically the same thing as winning the entire meet. Enrolling in your age bracket in addition to the open will increase your chances of taking home a prize. 

 

Weight Classes: 

 

  • Less than or equal to 43kg (Younger Lifters Only)

  • <47kg

  • 47.01kg-52kg

  • 52.01kg-57kg

  • 57.01kg-63kg

  • 63.01kg-72kg

  • 72.01kg-84kg

  • 84.01kg + (no weight limit)

 

As you can tell, women’s powerlifting is very inclusive when it comes to weight limits. You can be any size and still experience the joy of competing. The same can be said about age, it is truly never too late to get started.

Getting Started

Now that you have some of the background information, it’s time to think about getting started. The following procedure will help you get on the right track to start powerlifting. 

 

  • Have experience performing the bench press, deadlift, and squat. These are the three lifts that powerlifting judges will be looking at during competitions. Take your time in the gym to really master these lifts, and get them as strong as possible. 

 

  • Identify a good powerlifting program. Having a good program makes all the difference in the world because it takes away the need for a coach if you’re doing things right. When you’re first starting out, I recommend a beginner strength program like Ivysaur 4-4-8 or the Untamed Method. Once you find a program you like, stick to it. 

 

  • Figure out when you’re going to train. Selecting a program is just one part of the equation. You now need to figure out which days to train if you truly want to be consistent. Shoot for 3-6 training days each week, depending on what your body and personal life allow. 

 

  • Watch a powerlifting meet. Before you actually start competing, it’s a good idea to get a feel for how everything works. You can often find powerlifting meet live streams on YouTube, or watch reruns of past meets. Watching a meet before you compete is a great way to learn more about the sport. 

 

  • Work on getting stronger. The whole idea behind powerlifting is that you should always strive to get stronger. A good program will have you training in a way that is designed to build strength on a regular basis. Setting goals for yourself is a great way to monitor your progress. This will also help you prepare better for your first competition. 

 

  • Register for a meet! Once you’re confident that you’re ready, it’s time to get the ball rolling. It’s best to start with a local powerlifting meet which you can find at PowerliftingWatch. These are generally amateur competitions and they are great for getting started.

Recommended Equipment

Powerlifting Suit

 

 You might be familiar with the tight-fitting singlets that a lot of men wear for competitions. These suits help maintain intra-abdominal pressure and are required at a majority of competitions. Unfortunately, a lot of powerlifting suits are designed with men’s sizes in mind, but they are still unisex by all means. 

 

Inzer is a great brand for women’s powerlifting suits. As a unisex suit, they run small in size, but even the largest sizes are suitable for up to 340 pounds. These suits last long and are great regardless of your experience level. 

Knee Sleeves 

 

Although not necessary as a beginner, you will definitely need knee sleeves or wraps as you progress. These will protect the integrity of your knees particularly when you’re squatting heavyweight.

 

 Most competitions allow knee sleeves or braces, but it is up to you to decide whether you need them. If you have bad knees, you will likely need knee sleeves earlier in your career. I recommend Nordic Lifting knee sleeves if you’re looking for a quality option.

Wrist Wraps 

 

There’s a difference between wrist straps and wrist wraps, and only wraps are allowed in powerlifting competitions. Straps directly help you pull more weight, while wraps are used solely for wrist stabilization. 

 

Wraps are not completely necessary, but they are good to have as you start lifting more weight. If you notice your wrists start to get wobbly while bench pressing or deadlifting, then it’s time to get yourself some wraps. There are several good brands for lifting wraps like Tuff and Rogue. 

 

Chalk

 

Honestly, you will benefit more from chalk than straps or wraps. Chalk is a necessary accessory for all powerlifters because it gives you a better grip on the bar. By using chalk, you’re taking away all the moisture from your hands, thus creating a non-slip grip. 

 

A lot of people find that using chalk positively correlates to hitting personal records. Chalk is one of those things that any powerlifter can have, regardless of experience, because it makes a huge difference. 

 

Ammonia (optional) 

 

You have probably seen elite-level strength athletes sniff ammonia before attempting big lifts. Ammonia caps give you an adrenaline-like rush and superior focus right before a lift. Although they are not required, they could definitely give you an edge.

Tips and Advice

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there about women’s powerlifting, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Keep the following tips in mind as you embark on your strength training journey. 

 

  • Be mindful of the underwear that you wear. For competition purposes, you should wear full-coverage satin underwear. Full-coverage implies that the underwear covers your bottom, and this will make it easier to put your suit on. 

 

  • Always bring extra socks, underwear, and any other clothing items you think are necessary. 

 

  • When you order meet apparel, you always want to have the clothes fitting as tight as possible. Order a size down from what you would normally wear. 

 

 

  • You should always wear a pad while lifting heavy. If a competition or lifting session is near the start of your menstrual cycle, it is best to avoid any complications.

 

  • Avoid lotion or any sort of oil based products on your hands prior to a competition. Oily products can negatively impact your grip and cause slippage.

Inspiration

If you’re a woman who wants to start powerlifting, there are several women to look up to for inspiration. Stefi Cohen is arguably one of the best women powerlifters. Not only does she have 25 world records, but she is also a doctor of physical therapy.

stefi cohen
A photo of Stefi Cohen, via her Instagram

With a little bit of research, you can find plenty of great athletes to look up to. Some other greats are LeeAnn Hewitt, Bonica Brown, and Kimberly Walford. 

 

The following are the current world records for women’s powerlifting: 

 

Squat: 705 lbs – April Mathis

 

Bench Press: 457 lbs – April Mathis

 

Deadlift: 622 lbs – Chakera Holcomb 

 

Highest total: 1703 lbs – April Mathis

 

A woman is capable of lifting a total of 1703 lbs of weight across the three main lifts. This is amazing and should definitely be seen as inspiration because it’s more than 95% of men. With solid training, good nutrition, and inspiration, the sky’s the limit for your training.

Nutrition and Supplements

Whenever you start doing intense resistance training, you’re going to have to make changes to your nutrition. If you have a weight class to adhere to, then you must be conscious of your caloric intake and the types of food you’re eating. Losing weight means you have to burn more calories than you consume, while gaining weight means consuming more. 

 

In addition to strength, weight training is also going to build muscle mass. After each training session, you will have small tears in your muscle fibers that need protein to recover. For this reason, you will likely need to increase your protein intake as a powerlifter. 

 

Supplements are not completely necessary, but there are certainly some beneficial ones. Whey protein and creatine, in particular, are two supplements that directly promote muscle recovery and strength. If you’re getting enough protein from your diet alone, then a whey supplement is not necessary. Also, if you choose to take creatine, make sure you are drinking more water. 

 

Keeping your nutrition clean should always be a top priority. There’s an old saying that you are what you eat, so of course you want to keep it clean. You will feel better and perform better in the gym with a balanced diet full of whole foods.

Conclusion

It’s great to see that more people are becoming interested in women’s powerlifting. One of the best things about the sport is that it’s very inclusive. You have people as young as 8 and as old as 75 years old competing. It is one of those sports where everyone is very supportive of each other, no matter where your strength levels stand.

 

Although I’ve covered a majority of the rules and information you need to know about competitions, you can always check out the official USPA website. There are various types of competitions, so make sure you read the rules and regulations for a certain competition before signing up.

 

I must stress that becoming a powerlifter does not mean you have to devote your life to the sport. Instead, view it as any other sort of hobby or activity. You’re not required to compete regardless of what anyone recommends to you. 

 

There is no doubt that you will get stronger if you’re following a proper powerlifting program. After all, that is the main goal. Regardless of the prizes or trophies you take home, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are physically stronger. 

 

Before starting any sort of resistance training or partaking in a competition, you should visit your physician to make sure everything checks out. If you’re healthy, you’re officially good to go and make some gains!

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