Powerlifting is a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. As in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, it involves lifting weights in three attempts. Powerlifting evolved from a sport known as "odd lifts", which followed the same three-attempt format but used a wider variety of events, akin to strongman competition. Eventually odd lifts became standardized to the current three.
In competition, lifts may be performed equipped or un-equipped (typically referred to as 'raw' lifting or 'classic' in the IPF specifically). Equipment in this context refers to a supportive bench shirt or squat/deadlift suit or briefs. In some federations, knee wraps are permitted in the equipped but not un-equipped division; in others, they may be used in both equipped and un-equipped lifting. Weight belts, knee sleeves, wrist wraps and special footwear may also be used, but are not considered when distinguishing equipped from un-equipped lifting.
There are several organizations that oversee powerlifting competitions. There’s the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation, http://www.powerlifting-ipf.com), the USPA (United States Powerlifting Association, http://uspa.net), the USAPL (USAPowerlifting, http://www.usapowerlifting.com), as well as dozens of others. They vary in the qualifications lifters need to meet. Some allow equipment to be worn and some do not, some allow drug use and some test the purity of their athletes, they even go as far as to limit the use of a length and style of bar being used.
The three main lifts that are powerlifting are also utilized in Olympic weightlifting as supplemental lifts to help increase the full potential of your snatch, clean, and jerk. Their application in the world of fitness is necessary for muscle gain and strengthening of some of the most important muscles in the human body. Some people may not see the point to powerlifting, but after you proceed to try, do, and succeed in these lifts, you can all but see where the addiction comes from. The feeling of power and pride that overcomes you as you test what your body is physically capable of handling is addicting.
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