A few people have asked if I am now giving up on strongwoman to be a powerlifter, and for me to share my thoughts on the similarities and differences between competing in the two.
To answer the first part of that succinctly: hell no! I’ve watched a lot of men and women compete first in strong(wo)man to only be lured away into the world of powerlifting. I can promise you I won’t be one of them and I will continue to compete in both for the foreseeable future. I can’t ever see myself being a competitive powerlifter and I also just find strongwoman competitions more fun, as you will probably be able to tell from my observations below. (Keep in mind that I have only done one powerlifting competition, so I am naturally biased towards strongwoman!)
Powerlifting is simple: you are given three attempts to squat, bench and deadlift as much as possible for one single repetition. Every strong(wo)man competition will vary, but it will usually include a deadlift and overhead event to measure strength. This will occasionally involve a one rep max (you will usually have three nominations, as in powerlifting) but it is more commonly a set weight for maximum repetitions over a specific time period (usually 60 or 75 seconds), or even a medley involving three to four different weighted implements that have to be lifted or pressed.
The main reason Alanna wanted me to compete in powerlifting was because I suck at these types of events and need to improve my absolute strength.
Once the static lifts are out of the way, strong(wo)man events vary between loading medleys, truck pulls, Conan’s wheels, atlas stones, sled pushes, shield carries, tyre flips, endurance holds and countless other fun things.
The general consensus is that a strong(wo)man competition is more nerve-wracking, as there is more chance of something going wrong. In powerlifting, you generally have a pretty good idea of what you will be lifting. You will likely be attempting a personal best and, provided you have trained and recovered properly, you should be able to get it.
In strong(wo)man, there are lots of things that can go wrong! Events can change on the day due to a myriad of reasons such as the weather, time constraints and equipment going missing, competitors frequently drop weights and/or fall over, and injuries seem to be far more abundant.
On a positive note, things can also go right: I’ve hit huge rep PRs on competition day that I have never come close to in training. I just don’t think it’s as easy to hit a huge and unexpected PR in powerlifting, but I haven’t done enough competitions to make an accurate statement about that.
I felt very nervous in the week before my powerlifting competition, but strangely calm the day before and day of – except for right before my final deadlift. In contrast, I generally feel calm leading up to a strongwoman competition but nervous between each event.
Both types of competition last a ridiculously long time. My powerlifting meet ran for almost 10 hours, with seven hours passing between my first and last lift. My flight itself only took 20-30 minutes for each lift, which meant hours of sitting around waiting.
All of my strongwoman competitions have taken around six hours on average, but there are usually six events which means you’re lifting something about once an hour. I find this easier in two respects. Firstly, you don’t have to warm up so thoroughly before every single event, and secondly, it’s easier to stay focused and not want to fall asleep!
Although Sunday was the first time I’ve competed in powerlifting, I have watched several meets before. I can safely say that strong(wo)man is a much better spectator sport. Yes, it’s awesome to watch some of the bigger guys lift massive weights in powerlifting, but it gets old quickly.
In strong(wo)man, you also frequently have competitors going head-to-head, so it just seems more exciting overall.
Drive to win
A lot of my (non-lifting) friends and colleagues wished me luck for the weekend and told me to “win it”, but the competition wasn’t about that. I didn’t even know if there was going to be anyone else in my weight class until the day of the comp (there wasn’t). My goal was very personal. Firstly, I wanted to do something I never thought I’d ever do (even once I overcame that combined physical and mental fear of competing to start strongwoman, I was adamant that I wouldn’t compete in powerlifting because I was too weak).
Secondly, I wanted to qualify for the British. I had numbers in mind I wanted to hit, and it didn’t matter what anyone else was doing on the day. It’s not like I can just pull a 30kg deadlift PR out of the bag because the person next to me is lifting heavier.
I’m not shy in admitting that in strong(wo)man, it’s all about winning! Yes, it’s a great personal accomplishment to compete at all, but you would be lying if you said you didn’t want to win. The competitions are also set up in a more competitive way, as you are constantly made aware of your placing.
If you watch back my videos from Sunday, note that I am smiling at the end of every single one, as I know I have just hit a PR and achieved absolutely everything I wanted to going in to the competition. It is rare to see me smiling in any of my strongwoman videos – well, not the ones from competition! – as I am usually cursing myself for not moving faster or squeezing out one more rep, and I can’t be prematurely excited before knowing how I am placed.
So perhaps powerlifting is the happier sport after all?
My favourite subject! I found it much easier to eat at a powerlifting competition. Because there was such a large break between each lift, I could treat each like a normal workout and eat a substantial meal afterwards. I managed to avoid all sugary foods completely until right before deadlifts.
It’s much harder to eat at a strong(wo)man comp, as you don’t really have a great idea of when you will be lifting again. Some events are completed very quickly while others take longer, and often a “15 minute break for lunch” will turn into an hour. I will never forget when I once ate a huge tupperware container of pasta and then was immediately called up to do a Hussafel carry (which involves having a massive weight pressed against your chest and stomach). I’m impressed that I didn’t hurl it all back up!
My strategy for both is to eat a huge breakfast and prolong eating as long as possible. I eat more sugary stuff in strongwoman as I need faster-digesting carbs, but I am able to eat normal foods such as chicken and rice during both provided I am able to portion it correctly.
It’s much easier to train for a powerlifting competition! All you essentially need is a barbell, a rack and some solid programming. For the final four weeks, I was only training three times a week with reduced volume, so my workouts were only taking about 75-90 minutes.
You can easily train for strong(wo)man five days per week. Most competitors follow a standard powerlifting style program and then have an additional day to train events. If you have access to a gym which has strongman equipment, this isn’t a big deal. For me, it usually involves an entire 7-8 hour training day including travelling time to practice events.
The good news is you can manage with just three or four events training sessions in the lead up to a competition, whereas it would be crazy to assume that you could do a powerlifting competition after three or four squat sessions, for example.
Most of the big guys only start training events six to eight weeks out of a competition, but they follow a powerlifting style of programming year-round.
This is based on my own personal coaching but, in the week leading up to a strongwoman competition, I complete three light workouts – with the last occurring just two days before the competition. And I am usually back in the gym four days after a comp.
I took nine days of complete rest before my powerlifting competition, and I am having another week off post-comp before returning to the gym (Alanna wanted me to take two weeks off, but we reached a compromise so I wouldn’t go stir-crazy!).
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much difference here. Competition entry fees are pretty similar across the board, and the only real difference from an administrative point of view is that I had to sign up for a GPC membership in addition to paying an entry fee.
In the past 12 weeks I have spent £700 on training. It’s not cheap! Half of that is what I pay to train with Alanna and then you have my new shoes, wraps, singlet, t-shirt, entry fee, federation membership, hotel stay, train tickets, and food for the day.
When I was preparing for my first strongwoman competition, I also had a coach so I paid a similar amount for training. I think I only bought wrist wraps and chalk, so my expenditure was minimal.
But, apart from a powerlifting singlet and t-shirt, none of this stuff is essential. You don’t have to buy weight lifting shoes or fancy belts. But competing is my passion, so I don’t mind making the investment.
Have you ever competed in powerlifting or strong(wo)man? Which would you rather do? Let me know if there is anything else you would like me to discuss!