T Nation

Injuries in Weightlifting vs. Powerlifting

As someone who is interested in both disciplines, I can’t help but notice that severe injuries seem much more common in powerlifting than in weightlifting. Do others also get this impression? If it is accurate, why? I have an idea, that is, that in weightlifting, unlike in powerlifting, strength is not nearly as likely to be the limiting factor in a lift, so muscles, tendons, and ligaments aren’t as likely to be pushed beyond their load limits. Other things like technique, speed, and timing are as likely as strength to be the limiting factors in weightlifting. Moreover, even though weightlifters squat, they squat as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, so they use more moderate poundages; there is no point in having a go at a 700 lbs squat if it isn’t going to help your snatch or C&J, so weightlifters don’t do it. Other thoughts?

Hi, I’m Flappinit. I’d like to introduce you to Bench arches, sumo deadlifts, and wide-stance squats.

In powerlifting, you can legally bench, squat, and deadlift with an ROM that’s less than a foot. With weightlifting, there is no way to cheat getting the weight from the ground to overhead. Weightlifters at the highest level all have insanely good technique - the limiting factor is almost always strength.

I also personally feel as if powerlifting cues like “sit back”, “don’t let knees go over toes”, and “pack the scaps” - which aren’t used by everyone, of course, but are frequently perpetuated - are responsible for most of these injuries, but that’s a whooooole other can o’ worms.

4 Likes

Weightlifting requires a necessary degree of coordination and athleticism in order to participate, and, in turn, tends to be a young man’s game AND a sport that draws people with athleticism.

Powerlifting is a sport featured in both the special AND para-olympics. It’s approachable to pretty much anyone.

This means you’ll have MORE people participating, so larger pool to draw injuries from, AND a greater percentage of people that are such physical goobers that they’re going to be injury prone.

4 Likes

There can be no doubt that powerlifting is far more inclusive and attracts people of much more widely varying levels of fitness and ability than does weightlifting, but let’s look just at the top lifters in each sport for a second. Even at the elite level, it seems that powerlifters get hurt far more often that weightlifters. Just about every top PLer I can think of has had something go badly wrong at some point - a muscle tearing off the bone, herniated discs, severe joint damage, and so forth. And these guys usually find powerlifting after spending time in another sport - football, shot put, wrestling, etc. - so they’re coming to powerlifting from athletic backgrounds that presumably prepared them for some level of rigor. I’ve not heard of weightlifters, elite or otherwise, suffering these kinds of catastrophic injuries.

Because, once again, weightlifting is a sport that attracts athletes (its in the Olympics) and powerlifting is an activity that attracts guys who weren’t athletic enough to play a sport.

2 Likes

This is a poor way to make generalisations in populations.

For my own personal experience, I’ve been powerlifting for years with a handful of injuries, I did an 8 week block of weightlifting and got two. Personal anecdote is also a poor way to make generalisations though.

1 Like

Another factor to consider in addition to those already discussed:

  • A lot more social media coverage of powerlifting. The amateur nature of the sport and its accessibility means every participant is active on instagram or the like, and at least half of those are posting training updates regularly. For most people all they see of weightlifting is a few videos here and there otherwise it’s what they see at the olympics, which already filters out all those who got injured. Perhaps weightlifters are more secretive of what they are doing in training?
2 Likes

I addressed this. Most elite powerlifters are athletes who already competed in football or other sports where they engaged in intense strength training. For reasons we’ve discussed in other threads, highly gifted young athletes rarely gravitate toward powerlifting at first, since there are no scholarships or social prestige in it (one could say the same about weightlifting). But once their football, track, or wresting days are over, those who like strength training often find their way to powerlifting. There may be some exceptions, but I think this pattern accounts for most top PLers. So while it’s true that “powerlifting is an activity that attracts guys who weren’t athletic enough to play a sport,” those aren’t the guys at the top.

Yup, and they were either not good enough to play at the highest levels OR they got injured/old, washed up and went to powerlifting. Something I already addressed with weightlifting being a young man’s game :slight_smile:

I get the impression there is a particular answer you want to hear that you are not hearing.

I have seen a lot of workout fail compilations. About a quarter seem to be from the snatch. Then about half is from crossfitters attempting weightlifting. The other quarter are squats, bench and kipping pullups mostly (by crossfitters and teenagers for the most part).

On a serious note, this has been studied a bit. Here is the key finding:

Here is the study that shows that they actually have similar injury rates.

https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/4/211

1 Like

I only know one high-level Olympic lifter and he’s the best 40+ year-old athlete I’ve ever trained with. The only injury of his I know of in the last decade came on the jiu jitsu mats, not the platform. We were actually discussing this very topic a few weeks ago. We mentioned failed reps and how I could count mine on both hands as a general strength trainee, whereas they are commonplace in Olympic lifting training. It seems like anyone who goes anywhere with the sport will quickly learn to get out of your own way when it is time to bail on a lift. Clumsy oafs won’t take to it in the first place.

I know a lot more powerlifters than oly lifters and my opinion of them has changed a bit over the years, largely due to my simple observations of serious preventable injuries. Not to mention steroids, which obviously increase the forces in play. To be clear, I’m talking about the local guys I know and have trained around, not the broader community. Maybe the rest all train like geniuses.

The local guys who seemed like strength gods to me when I was a novice lifter now look more like man children who broke their bodies for the sake of lifting more weight, absent any tangible reward. I also got shit on for running 5/3/1, but guess whose whose body (and endocrine system) still works just fine? There are a few who are killing it and not killing themselves, but once you start looking at the 35+ crowd you see a lot of guys who seem to be severely limited in what their bodies can do. Sure, squatting with a fused spine is impressive, but I’m a lot more impressed with someone who can get to that age and strength without the avoidable spinal fusion.

It must be worth it if you get to call yourself a world record holder in whatever obscure powerlifting federation you choose to compete in. I never understood the appeal, but I’ve also never had high-level athletic aspirations of any kind. Humans do all kinds of strange things, powerlifting is far from the strangest.

I’ve been doing snatches almost every day for the last two weeks, but with DB’s and kettlebells because I’m an unathletic goon. So far, so good on the injury front.

2 Likes

I am not sure this argument makes sense. It is possible to get stronger in powerlifting for a long time (many peak in their late 30s). That isn’t true for weightlifting. Most hang it up before 30. If they were to continue their sport (probably getting worse over time), I think they would have a similar percent of broken bodies.

I think one advantage is most weightlifters have coaching (or a higher percent than powerlifters). This likely keeps some of them from maxing out as often, or pushing reps to failure, which probably reduces injury.

Could be, my sample size of training with exactly one masters weightlifting competitor is rather small. It is probably true to see many more powerlifters in their late 30’s and above compared to actual weightlifters (not Crossfitters), so there is a bit of a numbers game to take into account.

I still agree with @T3hPwnisher’s notion that weightlifting will self-select for better overall athletes, and I would guess that this remains true in all age divisions. These are people who will naturally move well and control their bodies because doing so is a baseline requirement for participating in the sport. If they can’t, powerlifting remains available for participation by nearly everyone.

If the same group of local powerlifting goons I know in their 40’s and 50’s tried to take up weightlifting it would probably not go too well for them.

Contrast that idea with an idea of people who were weightlifters in their 20’s and 30’s taking up powerlifting in their 40’s and 50’s and my money will be on the weightlifters to have a lower rate of injury than whatever’s baseline for the powerlifting population.

1 Like

I am a bit skeptical on this.

Powerlifting is closer to the strength training that is done for most competitive athletic endeavors. If weightlifting made one better at football, I would think they would do more of that and less powerlifting? The balance seems to be highly tilted towards powerlifting lifts with a few things like power cleans added in. I think many powerlifters get into it because they were former athletes who were familiar with the lifts from sports training. I think this increases the average athletic abilities of the powerlifters.

Additionally, when we look at cross over to other sports / competitions. it seems as if powerlifting has produced far more WSM competitors / winners for example. Where are the weightlifters? There were some early on, but the PLers moved odd objects better (assuming this takes athleticism) better than the weightlifters.

It’s interesting you say you are skeptical and then go on to be in complete agreement with me…

This is the age thing I’ve brought up. Guys that didn’t make it to the highest levels of sport, got washed up, and ended up in powerlifting. Fully agree.

And I’m not at all shocked to hear that top tier powerlifters would want to go from a sport no payout to a sport with A payout (strongman) whereas top weightlifters wouldn’t want to go from a sport with a BIG payout (gold medals and state sponsorship) to a sport with significantly less payout and government support.

In much the same way we’re seeing more and more strongman gravitate to MMA and professional wrestling. Far better money to be had.

I think you and I are disagreeing on what it means to be “athletic”. There is no doubt that powerlifting produces great powerlifters among people who have played other sports as well as those who have not. The overlooked point is the composition of that population in the first place.

I’m talking less about strength, especially top-end powerlifting strength, and more about total package athleticism. If there’s one thing I learned very quickly in jiu jitsu, it is the limitations of barbell strength in producing athletic outcomes that don’t involve moving barbells. Barbell strength still matters, just like it does in nearly every sport, but it is far from the best expression of athleticism.

1 Like

Sure, who is more athletic your average weightlifter, or your average college athlete who couldn’t make pro?

I think a distinction needs to be made here. Average powerlifters have a lot of former athletes among their ranks (I know a few, including a D1 football player). Average weightlifting doesn’t have that.

I agree with you on high level, not on average.

The discussion was on top tier guys though, no?

That said, your average college athlete is doing college athletics: not powerlifting. They end up in powerlifting after that career runs its course, which is the point I’m making.

No; but with all respect, I remain skeptical that the explanation is that elite weightlifters are skilled athletes and elite powerlifters are not. So a football player plays at a D1 school but doesn’t get drafted by the NFL, and he goes on to have some success at powerlifting; that makes him unathletic? To the extent that “athleticism” is a thing, surely college athletes (and probably the better high school athletes) have it as much as those who find their way into weightlifting, and probably much more so. As we’ve discussed before, what athletic American kid would choose weightlifting over football or basketball? Never going to happen. But those same football players may find their way into powerlifting later on. In fact, in the U.S., weightlifting is probably more of an esoteric nerd endeavor, like mastering chess or studying Arabic; the athletic kids who want to be popular and get girls will play the popular team sports.

1 Like

Sure, but this brings up level of athleticism of the group.

I thought the argument was on weightlifting filtering out the less athletic guys?This is the argument I believe that started this off, no?

I don’t think this is true as on average. I think powerlifting has more athleticism even if it doesn’t require it for the sport. I think it is common that higher level athletes enters the sport from other sports (I don’t think this happens often with weightlifting).

If we didn’t have the former athletes gravitating more towards powerlifting, and it was just general public entering both, I think weightlifting would end up with better overall athletes as the sport demands it.

Maybe arguments got mixed up along the way with you, myself and two jar.