The Origins of strength in the sport of powerlifting

By: Wade Johnson

Based on the reading, it was not uncommon to see feats of strength part of bodybuilding contests going back to the 1950s. Events included would be the squat, bench press, and deadlifts like today’s modern Powerlifting and strict curl, one-arm snatches, and many of what they called “odd
lifts” back then. However, we must go back to the late 1800s for the first world weightlifting championships. 1891 for the first world meet and then 1896 before its inclusion in the Olympics. Early in weightlifting, three lifts were part of the competition. Snatch, clean, and jerk, and the
clean and press. In 1972, clean and press were eliminated, stemming from athlete safety concerns and the judging of the form used to complete the lift as it had gone away from a shoulder press.

From these
days in weightlifting, Powerlifting had its humble beginnings.
In the 1950s and 60s, “powerlifting,” as we know it today, was part of bodybuilding shows that were very popular here in the United States. Great Britain did something similar with curl, bench press, and Squat. Some modern-day powerlifting federations have Power Sports: the Strict curl, bench press, and deadlift with no supportive equipment. Established by Rich Peters of NASA, Natural Athlete Strength Association, Strength Sports with the Curl, Strict press, deadlift via the APA, American Powerlifting Association, and Scott Taylor. I have seen strict curl in
the Southern Powerlifting Federation, SPF, and then the WNPF, World Natural Powerlifting Federation, organized by Jesse Rodgers and Troy Ford, respectively. It would be the mid-1960s before Powerlifting would have a national championship. 1964 was the first
unofficial championship. It would be followed by Australia in 1965 and then Great Britain in 1966.
The international competition started in 1968 with a meet between Great Britain and France and thus began the process of a world championship. It would be 1972 when the IPF, International Powerlifting
A Federation was formed. They would hold their first championship the following year. 1980 would be the first women’s championship. Drug testing came in 1982, and that is when we saw the division in the sport
begin. Many federations came about. Too many to list, but each had the basic historical rules with different rules on tested or non-tested, equipped and unequipped, single-ply, double-ply, and unlimited equipment. This is happening currently today as there is a plethora of federations and organizations to compete in.

Traditionally, in my opinion, we have had three mainstays in strength sports with what we know as Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, and Strongman. With the advent of Crossfit, we saw an influx of
athletes begin training with barbells and implements at an extremely high rate that previously had not. You also saw high-level athletes begin in CrossFit and then explore other sports. Crossfit borrowed from
the big 3 sports; thus, a new crop of high-level lifters was born. We had seen athletes choose strength sports as “their” sport as opposed to when I came up and those before me that were athletes in other sports like football, baseball, wrestling, etc. Now, they become strength athletes or use it as part of their training for sports they compete in. As a result, several athletes come to the gym to get stronger for the sport they compete in and eventually compete in a strength sport.
Personally, Powerlifting has always been my primary sport. I watched it as a kid on TV in the 80s. I was exposed to lifters of what was considered the “Golden Age” of Powerlifting.
Mike Bridges, Larry Pacifo, Bill Kazmaier, and Bev Francis. I watched Vasily Alekseyev break world record after world record in Olympic weightlifting. I watched as bodybuilders, Olympic Weightlifters and
powerlifters, ex-football players, and the like began competing in Strongman as we know it today. This inspired me to want to be big and strong as a kid and stayed with me into adulthood.

I have tried all 3 and have been fortunate enough to be successful and make lifelong friends and continued to inspire me to build my own private gym where all three sports are trained. So if you are interested in Powerlifting and the like, try them all. See what fits and what inspires you, and maybe I’ll see you too at a strength event.

Until next time,
Lift heavy, Train Smart & Eat More Pizza
Wade

 

WADE JOHNSON is the founder of The Ogre Compound and one of the most accomplished strength athletes of his time. He began his powerlifting career in 1999 and has since won national and world titles in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman. In 2012, he totaled 2400 pounds and was the the number one Super Heavy Weight with a 1,040 pound squat. Check out his website 

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