CrossFit Vs. Powerlifting

Young adult man doing heavy sumo deadlift exercise in gym club.

CrossFit and powerlifting: Two sports that require maximum effort, grueling preparation and even a hint of fearlessness. Both sports provide their competitors with unique challenges that are unlike any other sport. They are united by their love for one piece of equipment, the barbell. However, CrossFit is one of the most generalized fitness systems out there, while powerlifting is one of the most specific.


Powerlifting is a competitive sport that consists of only three exercises: the squat, bench press and deadlift. During a competition, the exercises are performed in that order. Traditionally, the competitions are divided by weight classes to make them more fair for smaller people. The competitors get three attempts to lift as much weight as possible in each of the three exercises, according to the International Powerlifting Federation's rule book.

Powerlifting tests maximal strength. In each attempt at an exercise, only one repetition is completed, making powerlifting one of the purest strength sports in the world. In an entire competition with three attempts per exercise, only nine repetitions total will be performed. While this might seem like an incredibly small amount of effort, it's important to keep in mind that the competitors are putting all of their energy into lifting very heavy weights during those nine repetitions.


The exercises that powerlifters perform lend themselves to serious strength output. The squat is performed with a barbell draped across the lifter's back and held by their hands. They have to squat the weight down until their thighs are slightly more than parallel to the floor, then stand back up with the weight. This taxes the legs, core and even the upper body.

Bench Press

Next is the bench press, during which the competitor lies down on a weightlifting bench, holds a barbell over their body with both hands and lowers it to their chest. From there they have to pause with the weight on their chest, effectively killing any momentum that they had before pressing it back up over their torso.


Saving the best for last, the deadlift is a simple but brutal exercise. The powerlifter has to pick up a barbell, which is simply resting on the ground, and stand up with it before slowly lowering it back to the ground.


Training for powerlifting usually consists of practicing these three exercises with different weights and amounts of repetitions. Powerlifters also do accessory exercises, which are variations of the three competition exercises that work the same muscles but with slightly different movements, equipment, or repetition ranges. Some lifters attach resistance bands or chains to the barbell for a different form of resistance than the normal barbell and weights, according to a survey of elite powerlifters published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Muscular young woman flipping tire at gym. Fit female athlete performing a tire flip at gym gym.

The deadlift is one of three main powerlifting exercises.


Whereas powerlifting is an specialized strength sport, CrossFit focuses on general fitness. It is an all-encompassing fitness community, which you can participate in as a casual exerciser or serious athlete in international competition. One of the defining elements of CrossFit is its unpredictability. One day, you might be running laps around a track; the next day, you might be lifting heavy weights over your head.

There are also elements of gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, bodyweight circuits, and even swimming. The idea is to avoid specificity. Each day, a new "WOD" (workout of the day) is posted on CrossFit's website with unique challenges. The international CrossFit competition is also fairly unpredictable. The competitors don't even know what the events will be until they get to the venue.

One thing is for certain: Both disciplines require impressive amounts of mental toughness. Powerlifters have to remain calm while lifting hundreds of pounds. CrossFit athletes have to be able to push through their grueling and unpredictable full-body workouts. Neither sport is for the faint of heart.