The difference between weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, and CrossFit: A primer

Today on “Pet Peeves of a Pedantic Autistic”: A primer on some of the main differences between weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, and CrossFit. Because I cannot stand when people mix these things up!!! THEY ARE VERY DIFFERENT THINGS!!!! As a weightlifter, I get particularly annoyed when people talk about “weightlifting” when what they mean is “powerlifting” or “lifting weights.” If you’re not snatching and cleaning and jerking, you’re not weightlifting!!!

The video below does a really good job of breaking down these four sports, and I appreciate that the host begins by noting that none of these four sports are bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is a whole different beast. The goal of bodybuilding is to sculpt—or build—your body to look a very specific way. The goal of weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman is to be the strongest athlete; the goal of CrossFit is to be the strongest, fastest, and most skilled athlete. Said another way: In bodybuilding, the goal is achieving a specific physique. In weightlifting et al., the goal is athletic performance.

The video is a quick (13-ish minutes) and easily digestible watch. I typed up some bullet points below it, if reading is more your jam than watching or listening. Full disclosure: I don’t know much about strongman, which means my notes about it below are lacking. I suggest watching that part of the video (it’s timestamped) to get a better feel for it.

Weightlifting

  • Two lifts: the snatch, and the clean and jerk (C&J).
  • Explosive and dynamic. Requires a high degree of technique and precision.
  • Still a niche sport in the United States. Very popular elsewhere in the world.
  • Of the four sports mentioned here, it’s the only one that’s contested in the Olympics.
  • The goal is to lift the most weight you can in both the snatch and the C&J.
  • Also called: Olympic weightlifting, Olympic-style weightlifting, Olympic lifting, and, sometimes, much to the chagrin of many weightlifters, Oly or Oly lifting.

Powerlifting

  • Three lifts: back squat, bench press, deadlift. Sometimes shortened to “squat, bench, dead,” or just “SBD.”
  • Less (but not zero) focus on technique and precision, more emphasis on raw strength.
  • More popular in the United States than weightlifting.
  • The goal is to lift the most weight you can in the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.

Strongman

  • Uses a variety of odd objects and implements, like atlas stones, logs, yokes and sleds, etc.
  • Shares similarities and overlap with powerlifting.

CrossFit

  • A branded workout regimen.
  • Combines elements of the three other sports mentioned in this post, plus gymnastics, calisthenics, plyometrics, cycling, running, rowing, swimming.
  • At the elite level, requires all-around athleticism—strength, speed, skill.
  • Also known (and trademarked) as the “sport of fitness.”
  • Annual culminating competition: The CrossFit Games.

*

In 2019 Brute Strength hosted the Brute Showdown series. Below is the first of five episodes that follow four women from different strength sports—weightlifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit, and powerlifting—competing against each other in a variety of workouts for fun. With a bodybuilder instead of a strongman/woman athlete, it’s not a precise 1:1 of the four sports outlined in this post and the video above. It’s pretty close, though! I really enjoyed this series when it first hit the internet, so I’m sharing it with y’all. As a treat.

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