T Nation

Safety: Olympic vs. Powerlifiting


Q: Generally, is Olympic lifting safer than Powerlifting?

I am asking this question regarding a person who wants to compete in and focus on oly or pl lifting, and is not just dabbling in them for their other sport.

[Personal Application: I have been pursuing PLing for 4 years, the last 2.5 of which I have been chronically injured. I have been told oly lifting is much safer, and would like to know if this is true. I am at a point where I am considering making the switch if it means I can be in the gym lifting rather than being injured all the time.
Yes, I have tried many, many approaches to fixing and preventing injuries. And Yes, I am at a point where I have access to people that could teach me proper form on the OL lifts.]


imo, yes it is. I used to dabble a bit into PL and such. I had all the stuff, wide stance squats w/ knee wraps, wide ass grip bench and a 7 second long deadlift PR. I also wasn't gaining on much besides my deadlift, which gains if I look at some iron.

I also came down with wrist tendinitis and knee tendinitis 3 months from my first meet. I decided then, after talking with many people and reading up on it, to switch to OL.

knees feel great, wrist hasn't hurt in months (been in OL for 6 months now).

I feel a ton stronger, I feel safer now that I know how to bail on squats and overhead lifts.

And from seeing all the other people who train at my club, old guys and younger guys as well, the only people injured are people who either did something stupid OR are genetically gifted in the acquiring injuries department.

think of it this way: squat full rom and strengthen the knee or squat to 90 degrees and put the knee in harms way. which would you rather do?

Also, once I got heavily into OL, I dropped a good amount of weight, just from the complex movements and such. Don't know if that'll help you get into as well.

And imo, how often do you hear of a PL'er getting injured? How about someone from OL?


I wouldn't say it was inherently safer. There are still plenty of opportunities to dislocate elbows, tear your shoulders up, drop a missed jerk/snatch on your head/neck/back, smash yourself in the chin/nose jerking, knacker your wrist with a bad catch.

Ilya Ilin didn't compete at the World's because he injured himself in training. Vanev dislocated both elbows and thus can't even straighten his arms anymore. Dimas had knee and shoulder surgery and screwed up his wrist. Chakarov had elbow problems. There were multiple elbow dislocations at this year's World's, plus a couple of back injuries. Injuries aren't uncommon.

Perhaps there is more of a tendency towards injury from technical errors than from general overuse, but this is just conjecture on my part.


Well your probably alot more likley to get hurt powercleaning 300 then deadlifting it.

Probably alot more likley to get hurt droping into a front squat where your knees come in than you are back squating. And with how long most people can bench before injury "years and years" you are probably more likeley to get hurt jerking the weight than benching it.

I dont realy know tho, all I do as far as olympiclifting is cleans.


I would guess O lifting is safer. but you're not seriously going to choose a sport based on what is presumably safer? sounds like this person is just going to end up getting hurt with that type of fear. Pick the sport based on what you enjoy more and find most fulfilling to your goals and lifestyle. Both sports pretty much require you to push your body to its limit and beyond. The risks are going to be there whether for OL or PL. if you're scared to get under the bar, your going to get hurt whether your squatting, jerking or whatever.


Says it all really. Great post.


Oh, I like this OP. Having done both at a pretty high level and having followed elite ones in both, it is interesting that PL's outlast OL's by far. But the ironic thing is that virtually all of these older PL's have plenty of injuries they are dealing with. OL no doubt puts a different kind of stress on the body, and it's demands become harder on the aging body, especially the deep squats on the knees and the overhead stuff on the shoulders. Benches are rotator ruiners in their own right, but these injuries can be fixed. OL's also peak at a younger age whereas some PL's miraculously post PR's after 40.
But all of this doesn't really matter, because you gotta do what you love. Doc


I've been doing the big 3 and the power variations of all oly lifts, and as far as "feeling safe" is concerned, I feel safer when I power clean than when I squat, bench and deadlift. However, I find snatches more dangerous than the others, and I think jerks are the most dangerous, especially if you miss a lift.

BTW, I observe that PL injuries involve more torn muscles or ligaments while oly injuries involve lots of broken bones. I also know more oly injuries than PL injuries, but that's just me.


agreed with the technical errors. Its easy to drop the bar on yourself. God knows in the last month I've knicked my chin 2x, dropped a snatch on my head once, and dropped a snatch on my lowerback once.

Didn't one of the Russian lifters break his elbow snatching at this years worlds?


Not break. Dislocate. In any case though, the way that took place was terrible, terrible.


If memory serves me, Hafiz Suleimanov broke his wrist at the World's in Greece in 1989 when he snatched a world record. He was then competing for the USSR, but after that performance defected to Turkey. He is an Azeri Turk, and changed his name to Suleymanoglu after defecting. But don't confuse him with Naim Suleymanoglu, formerly of Bulgaria and one of the greatest lifters in the history of sport.

As far as which sport produces fewer injuries, I would have guessed PL, since the movement patterns are much simpler, but apparently that is not necessarily the case. The simpler movements make it possible to push the limits of the body's strength more quickly.

Bottom line is that highly competitive sport is not conducive to health. The idea of competition is to push to limits and beyond them, and thus injury comes with the territory in most sports. I am not saying that injury is an inevitable aspect of competitive sport, but that competing necessarily puts the athlete at a higher risk of injury.


yeah, that guy has/had some great potential. I loved seeing him in 2004 and it makes me sad that this happened.


You're asking if one sport is safer than another with respect to someone who wants to seriously compete? As a soldier, I'm laughing in disgust.

Oly lifting may take one up to the competitive level of the Olympics where as PLing will probably never go anywhere near that. Oly lifting performance will naturally degrade due to speed loss in your late 20's where PLing will slowly improve throughout your 30's at least.
Does this person show promise in the Oly lifts? What's his 50m time? His vertical leap?

Finally, get him under the bar. After proper Oly instruction, which set of lifts does he fall in love with practicing?


Wow. What a great fucking post.


I'm not a soldier, but I'm pretty disgusted too. With your shitty attitude.

As for everyone else that has posted so far, I appreciate the responses. Based on what I am hearing, there seems to be plenty of injuries in OL too, enough that it is not significantly safer despite what physical therapists and such are telling me. There seems little reason for me to make a switch then.


Well... here is what I know.

Naturaly both sports have the potential to injure yourself. Each having some injuries that occur at a higher rate than the other. Now, which occurs more or less often I don't know.

However Olympic lifting demands a greater amount of flexibitly AND strenght at a greather ROM than Power lifting. This is because the movements involved are much complex and demand the body to be "well balanced" in terms of strenght of body parts.

For example:
--In PL you can preform any of the 3 movements with a tight upper back. Sure it may hurt ur lifts a little, but u can still do it. In addition you are more prone to create this condition on ur upper back due to benching and DLting. HOWEVER, in OL, it is damn hard to hold a heavy weight overhead when u have a tight upper back. This fact forces you to work on ur flexibility AND get strong at that new ROM too. Therefore you don't really see tight upper backs in OL (exept in bigginers like me). In addition, the movement itself (with a lighter weight & lot of repetitions) helps you increase your ROM and get strong at it too.

--A similar thing happens with the squat. U can have some tightness in ur hips/shins and still box squat heavy, but u ain't gonna back squat ATG even a fraction of that weight if u are tight. Let alone front squat. Is like taking a gym rat who always 1/4 squats and have him 1/2 squat 8-time-out-off-10 he ain't gonna do it.

To the OP (or anyone who thiks I am talking out of my ass) take 95lbs and box squat it, then back squat it (ATG), then Front Squat it (ATG), and finaly Overhead Squat it (ATG). You will see what I mean. (btw if u haven't overhead squated before try with the clean bar 1st).

Now.... in regards to going from PL to OL or not. I suggest you try OL for a while. Take the time to learn the movements, u don't have to stop PL u know. Then once u get the grove of it, start lifting some weights, know a little more about the sport, then make a choice.

Or hell... you can even use the Olifts as part of ur general PL training, it can't hurt (unless u get stupid at it).

my 2 cents...


I've competed in both, and I can say that neither is better than the other with regards to nagging injuries and dealing with overuse/over-training. It's sort like trying to pick between horse-shit and cow-shit.

The bottom line is this...if your'e going to commit to being competitive, there's a certain amount of risk that you put yourself up to if you're really pushing yourself and training hard. I'm not sure if diving under the bar during a Snatch or gearing up for a heavy squat is really going to be much healthier than the other with regards to injury prevention and such.


shit i forgot to fix my rush spelling, i hate it when that happens!


Coin flip. You have to do what you are passionate about or you are going ot be unsafe. The risk of injury is only worth it in anything if your passion drives you to excellence. My son does things on his skateboard and in Centerfield that would leave me crippled. His antics on that vertical wall and his running, diving catches are because his pride says he MUST get more extreme and MUST get that ball. If he got under the weights i get under he would die.

We are both willing to pay the price to go higher.

Because we want to! We have to.

Follow your passion or find a warm room and do yoga.


I agree with what you are saying and appreciate your input.

I feel I could also become passionate about Oly lifting as it is similar enough in purpose (get faster and get stronger) and type (individual sport).

Also, it is possible to have/develop passion for more than 1 sport. How many high school/college football players moved on to powerlifting? In most cases it is because they couldn't make it to the next level.

Does that mean that powerlifting is just a consolation prize, and they "gave up on their true passion"? Depending on how you choose to look at it, maybe. But does that mean they do not and cannot powerlift without the same level of joy and passion? I don't think so.

In my case, considering I have been dealing with injuries that interfere with my powerlifting for over 60% of my career (and counting), I am starting to wonder if I would be happier with Oly lifting. No injuries = more time in the gym lifting heavy weights, and letting my competitive and passionate spirit express itself, rather than doing 5 lb rehab exercises day in and day out and watching pride and passion degrade.

At what point does switching sports move from "giving up" to "being smart"? I don't know. But if I am injured 60+% of the time over the next 10 years of powerlifting, how much passionate enjoyment will I have really gotten out of the sport?

[This post is really for the sake of debate, please don't take it as picking a fight. I have been a fan of your lifting and have benefitted greatly from your sharing of knowledge on the boards and in articles.]