At its heart, powerlifting is all about building strength. But in order to build that strength, you need to pick the right exercises.
When it comes to choosing those exercises though, things can get tricky. Powerlifting is supported by a whole range of different exercises, but sometimes those exercises – and the subsequent workouts they’re grouped into – can support different goals such as size.
Today we’re picking for you and so we’ve chosen the best powerlifting exercises to incorporate into your workouts if you’re looking to focus on strength only.
What are the main powerlifting exercises?
Before we start it’s best to clear one thing up. Powerlifting predominantly focuses on a trio of exercises called, “The Big 3”.
The Big 3 are of course, the deadlift, the squat and the bench press.
In competitions, it’s one of these big 3 that a lifter will have three attempts at lifting maximum weight on, but just because these are the sole focus of powerlifting it doesn’t mean that other exercises can’t complement or support a lifters strength, stamina or endurance when it comes to performing one of them.
That’s because the main powerlifting exercises are compound exercises. Compound exercises work multiple muscle groups in your body, which means performing other exercises alongside them helps you to get better, faster and even stronger when it comes to any one of the big 3.
What are the best powerlifting exercises for a strength workout?
First up it has to be one of the big 3 – a foundation of any powerlifters workout.
Within the fitness community, bench pressing is seen as one of the most important lifts because it takes so much raw strength to be able to perform whilst building multiple muscle groups at the same time.
Bench presses in particular focus on cultivating strength in your chest, shoulders and triceps and different variations – such as the close grip bench press – will also shift the focus to particular muscles like the triceps or delts.
One thing to keep in mind with the bench press is not sacrifice your form or posture for more weight. Lifting lower weights whilst nailing your form is actually found to be more effective in the bench press because it increases the accuracy of the targeting.
Another one of the big 3, the deadlift is another foundational exercise that must feature in any powerlifters workout and especially one designed for strength.
The deadlift is particularly essential in a powerlifting workout designed to increase strength because it strengthens 9 different muscle groups. They include the abdominals and obliques, the erector muscles, the glutes, the lats, the quads and the traps.
Just like in bench pressing, form is everything in the deadlift and it will punish you if your form is anything but nailed on. You can read more about the correct form in my blog here.
Farmers walks are great accessory exercises for powerlifting strength workouts. Not only do they build overall strength, they also build grip strength which is an essential component of powerlifting.
Grip strength resonates through all of the big 3. It doesn’t matter how strong your back or legs are in the deadlift for example, if your arms and wrists aren’t strong enough you may still struggle to hold the weight.
Farmers’ walks cultivate strength in the abdominals, the legs, and the shoulders, making them a great overall body strength workout too.
The overhead press is another compound exercise and is a worthwhile accessory exercise if you’re looking to improve your powerlifting strength,
Just like the bench press, the overhead press predominantly works both your chest and shoulders to improve upper body strength and even refine your bench press.
Whilst the overhead press seems simple enough to do, you’re still lifting weight above your body so you’re still at risk of injury. To prevent this, make sure your form is good and that you’ve got someone in the gym to act as a spotter.
The Clean and Jerk
The clean and jerk is an exercise that allows you to harness strength and power. It works both the upper and lower body and can improve your speed, strength and sheer powerlifting abilities.
Clean and Jerks are also a compound exercise and they’re suitable for bodybuilders, powerlifters and weightlifters. Clean and Jerks incorporate the arms, back, chest, hamstrings and shoulders to build strength, improve balance and even enhance motor skills.
However it’s important to note that because the clean and jerk is such a complex exercise that involves quickly lifting significant weight overhead, you’re best to be spotted by an experienced coach to prevent injury.
Read more about why your lifting needs the clean and jerk here.
Finally it’s the third exercise that makes up the big 3 – the squat.
Squats are also a compound exercise and they’re capable of working and strengthening multiple muscle groups. Squats help to cultivate strength in your abdominal muscles, back and legs and they significantly increase your lifting strength which bleeds into your everyday movements too.
There are a number of different variations of squat that can be performed, such as the overhead or deep squat. These different types of squats can target different types of muscle groups to improve strength in particular areas – especially useful for powerlifters.
To wrap up
These six main accessory exercises can help powerlifters to improve their strength, speed and stamina when it comes to performing one of the big 3. If you’ve just started out as a powerlifter, or you’re looking for a new gym, why not drop into our strength hub? We run classes for all ages and abilities that are especially designed to help you build strength and reach your fitness goals.
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