The Aasgaard Company Logo Starting Strength Book Cover Practical Programming Book Cover Strong Enough Book Cover Mean Ol' Mr Gravity Book Cover Starting Strength DVD Cover
Friday, March 22, 2013

Is Powerlifting Undergoing a Resurrection?

After years of disintegration, malfunction and fractionalization, gear-free, grass-roots powerlifting is suddenly wildly popular

by Marty Gallagher


Page 2 of 2 :: < 1 2

Even after we lost the TV contract, powerlifting still rolled on strong. With ever-increasing momentum the unified sport garnered and gathered more and more respect – true athletes recognized and understood that pure powerlifting was the truest test of pure strength: a prestigious place in the pantheon of strength modes: no single mode or method trumped powerlifting as the ultimate strength system – flawed as the sport might be.  Mike Lambert was full of passion back in those golden days, and it came through in his informative retellings:

“The greatest demonstration of bench pressing in the history of the sport (written in 1986) occurred when Mike MacDonald sweated himself down to 181 pounds and opened with a 473-pound bench press – a world record on his 1st attempt. He then jumped to another world record on his 2nd attempt, a success with 488. He then became the first 181 pounder to break the 500 pound barrier with his successful 3rd attempt bench press of 501. Mike capped an already perfect bench press day with a successful 4th attempt with 512. Four attempts, four world records. How do you top that?

Rick Weil nearly matched MacDonald’s feat (done a decade later) when in December of 1985 the 180 pound Weil bench pressed 512 on his opener. He set his first world record with a 540 pound 2nd attempt, Rick followed with a 545 3rd attempt for his second WR. He finally hit a 551 4th attempt success, three world records on four attempts. Ironically Weil’s lightest bench press, his opener of 512, equaled Mac’s once unassailable world record best. Weil commenced, literally, from where MacDonald left off.”

When there was a lone federation nationally and a lone federation internationally, powerlifting thrived. The judging was uniform and strict and everyone was getting better and prospering – and then we opened the Pandora’s Box of performance enhancing drugs. The once happy, prosperous, powerful and unified sport of powerlifting splintered, shattered, exploded into a thousand pieces as competing federations arose, each taking a differing stance on drugs, drug use and drug testing. At the one extreme were the anti-drug faction and at the other extreme were the steroid apologists.  Each faction immediately set up organizations. The USPF attempted to stake out a middle ground by instituting competition drug testing. The testing was deemed insufficient for the anti-drug faction and way too much by the pro-steroid faction. Monies previously used to fund US teams traveling to world championships were now diverted to lawyers defending the organization from lawsuits arising out of drug testing.  Rebel organizations sprang up from within other rebel organizations and with the each new federation powerlifting became weaker and more diluted.

I wrote in an article decades ago, “Powerlifting as a craft will never die … proper squats, bench pressing and deadlifting have incredible athletic applicability and for these reasons the lifts themselves will live on in perpetuity – the sport, with its innumerable splinter factions, ridiculous supportive gear (what % of a lift is attributable to the man and what % to the gear?) could well kill itself.” That prophecy came to pass: powerlifting self-immolated, set itself on fire, it became the sports embodiment of the biblical Tower of Babel. When the lone organization disintegrated, like ancient Rome, the Dark Ages descended on powerlifting.

In 2012 Mike Lambert threw in the towel. As it turns out, he may have just missed what appears to be a potential powerlifting rebirth, a resurrection that is occurring on a grass-roots level. For some strange and apparently inexplicable reason, powerlifting of a certain type, the so-called “raw” powerlifting – powerlifting that disallows supportive lifting gear (other than a weightlifting belt) – is experiencing an unexpected explosion in participatory popularity. Events that two years ago might have attracted 25 lifters are now attracting 150+ lifters; regional and national level events are cutting off raw entries at 350 to 400 lifters. This explosion appears to be nationwide and worldwide.  USAPL competitions in every region are packed to capacity.  Why this completely unexpected explosion in powerlifting popularity? The surge in lifters has nothing to do with any genius promotional ideas arising from within the powerlifting establishment; they are left scratching their heads, as clueless and surprised by this recent turn of events as the rest of us.

There is a veritable stampede of new lifters looking to compete in the classical three-lift power format. And they want to do it raw, i.e. without knee wraps, without a squat suit or a bench shirt – and no need for the expensive Monolift device that eliminates the walkout phase required of a classically-performed squat.  It is as if some mysterious fitness oracle whispered into the ears of tens of thousands of trainees, “Hey! You people should train for and then enter a powerlifting competition!” And the mind-numbed robots then did exactly what they were told by the oracle. One illustrative example: at a recent power competition in my neighborhood, Columbia, Maryland, an upscale community and hardly a strength hotbed, the local promoter cut entries off at 100. He filled up his quota within 30 days. He then turned away another 100 lifters that had waited too long to sign up.

This particular competition catered to both raw (no gear) and geared divisions. Of the 100 entrants, 83 were raw and 17 were geared. This disproportional imbalance appears consistent on a nationwide basis. On the national level, big raw meets are routinely drawing upwards of 400 lifters. Because of this new influx of interest in raw lifting, organizations are rethinking their approach towards the sport. The rumor mill has it that the IPF, the International Powerlifting Federation, is seriously considering dropping geared lifting all together and jumping on the raw bandwagon.  If the popularity trend continues it will spell the rebirth, the revitalization of a fabulous sport: fabulous when practiced in its purest, most pristine and precise way. Strict judging and no gear means we will once again be able to compare lifts, one to another, federation to federation. With an infusion of participants, powerlifting could become viable again: in our era of cable TV there is no reason why a well-run national or world championship of raw lifters could not draw excellent ratings. Seeing gigantic musclemen handling gigantic poundage in pristine fashion is always exciting. It is a fantastic turn of events when national organizations conducting national championships are cutting off entrants at 400.

If the powers-that-be are smart, they will take the time and trouble to trace this newfound popularity back to its source. Is there a lone endorser so powerful and influential that tens of thousands heed their advice? Perhaps power’s popularity is traceable to a combination of unrelated events. It would be wise to find out and if possible, bottle it.

Let us not fumble this opportunity.

Marty Gallagher has been a national and world champion masters powerlifter and is widely considered one of the best writers in the iron game. Since 1978 he has written over 1000 articles published in a dozen publications. He has authored more than 100 articles for Muscle & Fitness magazine and produced 230 weekly live online columns for the Washington Post. Gallagher has coached some of the biggest names in powerlifting and witnessed some of the greatest strength feats of the last half century. If you like his style pick up a copy of his masterwork, The Purposeful Primitive.

Page 2 of 2 :: < 1 2

Back to top Articles page

Vimeo YouTube


February 13 Training Camp (Deadlift & Clean) : Farmington, MI

February 27 Training Camp (The Squat) : New York, NY

March 11-13 Starting Strength Seminar : Houston, TX

March 12 Training Camp (The Squat) : Atlanta, GA

March 13 Training Camp (Press & Bench Press) : Baltimore, MD

March 19 Training Camp (Press & Bench Press) : Lansing, MI

March 26 Training Camp (Deadlift & Clean) : Atlanta, GA

April 8-10 Starting Strength Seminar : Brooklyn, NY

May 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Westminster, MD

August 5-7 Starting Strength Coaches Association Conference


Sign up for our newsletter for weekly "Best of the Forum" gems, a heads up on new content, upcoming events, and other news. (Your email address is never sold or shared.) View Archive


starting strength seminar button    starting strength training camp button
  • “I was never taught like this before in 6 years of high school football, 3 years of college and 13 years in special operations. Would have been good to have at age 20ish.”
  • “Great three days! I love how confident I feel about my lifts now.”
  • “I have been to multiple seminars and certifications (NSCA, ACSM, etc.) but have never actually been taught how to position the body correctly. You’re right that the barbell moves much differently than PVC!”
  • “Worth the price of admission for day 1 alone- and for Rip’s sense of humor.”
  • “Well worth the money! Learned more in 3 days than I have in the past 3 years.”
  • “It has been a real eye-opener to learn that most of my previous education has been wrong.”
  • “Very complicated ideas and processes were made simple to understand and apply- Quickly!”
  • “Great time under the bar and lecture. Better than any other seminar on lifting.”
  • “The seminar will significantly reduce the amount of time I will need to teach the lifts to anyone.”
  • "I have learned the most this weekend than in any other educational seminar/schooling I have been involved with.”
  • “Perfect extension to “the book”…Direct, honest- no “bullshit” or “sales”...and Rip made me laugh.”
  • “Every coach needs to attend this seminar. You may think you know these 5 lifts, but what you discover is you don’t!”
  • “Learning about strength, the how’s and why’s of getting strong has fundamentally changed my opinion and knowledge of the subject in a profoundly helpful and life changing way.”
  • “The best thing for me about this is that I feel as though it will be possible to translate these teaching progressions to my staff and realistically expect them to apply it to clients.”
  • “Actual value for money – very rare in any industry.”
  • “In 25 years, the most satisfying workshop I have attended.”
  • “Appealed to all types of learners – Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.”
  • “I loved the simple processes to coach each lift, and the platform coaches were all excellent.”
  • “Great background lectures followed by concise point-by-point instruction for coaching/performing the lifts.”
  • “Great seminar with thorough discussion of all movements, biomechanics, and physics behind them.”
  • “The Q & A session was great and brought out several interesting discussions.”
  • “I liked the format of analyzing the lift, teaching it, then practicing.”
  • “All the coaches were professional and demonstrated superior knowledge of the lifts, and did a great job. My ability to coach has improved because of them.”
  • “Coaching section was very valuable- it was nice to hear someone verbalize good coaching practices.”
  • “Out of all the different certifications and seminars I’ve been to, this one has had the greatest impact on my ability to coach.”
  • “This seminar should be the gold standard to which all others are compared”
  • “The depth of material presented was refreshing. The content allows understanding of the why’s and the mechanics behind the movements.”
  • “I am looking forward to the continued application of these concepts to enable me to drive adaptation progressively and consistently. Thank you!”
  • “I’ve never been to a similar seminar. This one set the bar pretty high.”
  • “Outstanding experience with not only doing the movements but also coaching experience. Thanks to all the staff!”
  • “The individual attention was amazing, not only as a coach but as a lifter.”
  • “Thoroughly enjoyed it. I came to learn and accomplished that.”
  • “This seminar was at a different level than others I have attended. Much more educational.”
  • “The subject matter was as detailed as it could possibly be and easily understandable as well. Great seminar.”
  • “I liked different platforms, different groups, and different coaches. The variety is effective and different perspectives/eyes on the movement is helpful.”
  • “Best mix of hands-on and lecture setting. Worked well for an uncoached individual”
  • “The principle-based approach creates a very valuable training experience beyond merely the five basic exercises covered.”
  • “I really liked the depth of the material, the consistency of the SS Model and its general applicability. The staff was very knowledgeable and approachable.”
  • “Very impressed with how a relatively complex subject was broken down into easily digestible bits of information that are immediately applicable to improving the exercises."
  • "The seminar was very hands-on. The Staff Coaches were very effective at improving lifters’ technique faults, despite having relatively few sets to do so.”
  • "The seminar is on par with undergraduate and graduate coursework I have taken, in its clear building of a topic: from model to practice to mastery. All lectures and 'labs' were presented in an extraordinarily logical way."
  • "It is so refreshing to see some integrity and excellence in this field! No nonsense, simple, and effective information delivered thoughtfully and in depth!"
  • "Compared to other fitness certifications, this has been the most informative and thorough."
  • "The quality of coaching, deep knowledge of the staff, and accessibility to high quality experts is amazing and very useful."
  • "Exceptional coaching. All questions were answered in depth, with explanations, and practical examples of good and bad form."
  • "It’s clear that a tremendous amount of thought has been brought to bear on the design of this seminar. This includes not only the core content, but also the manner in which it is communicated and delivered."
  • "Each individual gets specific feedback, and it is invaluable to see the coaching that other lifters receive."
  • "This is the second SS Seminar I have attended and I am finding it difficult to express how valuable to my training it has been because there is so much fantastic information provided. The 3 days will provide months of return on the investment."
  • "It is apparent that Rip and the Staff have put a great deal of thought into developing the model, presentation, and practical application of the seminar."
  • "Very well organized. Great to start with mechanics and physics and build from there. The coaches are very knowledgeable and communicate very well."
  • "This was one of the best educational experiences in my life of two Master’s degrees and a partially completed Doctoral degree. Fantastic and accessible presentation of biomechanics. Please come to my school and fire the biomechanics instructor."
  • "This seminar has set me up for a lifetime of successful, productive strength training. Great coaching and technique demonstrations, with a good coach-to-athlete ratio."
  • "The coach to attendee ratio is great. Each athlete receives feedback and no one is overlooked because a coach is trying to supervise too many lifters. The information presented is well thought out and delivered in a way that all can understand."
  • "Content was thorough and very clearly presented. As a coach, the teaching models and clear, concise, and direct coaching method is so helpful and effective. Being coached by the different seminar staff, each with their unique feedback, was extremely beneficial. The practical sessions broke up the seated lectures very well so there wasn’t down time or fluff."
  • "I’m a graduate student and this was easily one of the best educational experiences I’ve had. 100% graduate level or higher."
  • "Well, I’m not sure what a ‘similar’ educational experience would be…this was pretty singular. It was a whole lot to take in, but very well organized."
  • "The level of detail and reasoning was well beyond many, if not all, certifications and undergraduate classes I’ve experienced. The material is well laid out and applicable. I learned a lot as an athlete and as a coach."
  • "I enjoyed the entire seminar, but what stood out most were the coaches. All the coaches were great at what they do; I received great feedback on my lifts and coaching."
  • "The seminar is similar in nature and quality to graduate/doctoral level education. The staff coaches provided exceptional coaching, feedback, and academic discussion."
  • "The seminar was superbly organized and well presented. Great combination of hands-on experience with academic grounding using a variety of learning and teaching styles with superbly knowledgeable instructors."
  • "The difference between the seminar and the coaching on the lifts I received in high school is incredibly vast. What you guys do is remarkable. How much I learned in three days is incredible."
  • "The expertise of Rip and the coaches was incredible. It was obvious that it takes a lot of effort to put this seminar on, but the staff made it look very easy. GREAT STAFF!"
  • "Compared to Crossfit Levels 1 & 2, Oly, Kids, Football, Endurance etc… Rip is more knowledgeable and experienced than anyone I have trained under."
  • "The seminar was extremely thorough and clear. Although the material was very complex, it was demonstrated and taught simply, making it easy to learn."
  • "A wealth of information, clearly presented. It was an honor to be a part of this and to be instructed by such profoundly knowledgeable people. Thank you. I will not only recommend this to anyone who will listen, but I will also advocate for a Starting Strength Coach in Pittsburgh."
  • "Excellent organization, information, and communication. Rarely do Strength & Conditioning seminars hit those three aspects well."
  • "I learned so much about technique that will greatly improve my lifting, and I learned the “why” behind it. The depth of content was amazing."
  • "The whole seminar was exhaustive and thorough, and truly an incredible value in terms of dollars per hour."
  • "This was the most fun and educational seminar I’ve been to. Finally some people that have a clear knowledge of physics/mechanics of the lifts are, and the ability to convey it. Much more effective instruction than other seminars I’ve attended."
  • "Every person involved with this seminar helped me more in two days than I’d gotten in the previous two years."
  • "The staff was excellent and very helpful. It was definitely worth traveling from Sydney, Australia for!"
  • "The depth of information and attention to detail were great."
  • "I’ve been to every seminar and conference known to mankind, including at least 4 from USA Weightlifting. The justification of the rationale (for performing the lifts this way) was bulletproof. Anytime I speak, I like to give people things they can use and why. This seminar was the standard in that respect!"
  • "The intimate attention of the staff at each station to better your communication as a coach and as a lifter was fantastic. The rotation between coaches allws you to experience different styles and personalities to see a variety of coaching."
  • "This seminar was by far the best I’ve attended. There was more information in three days of this seminar than I got in four months of a certification course I took at a community college. The attention and professionalism of the staff will make me a better coach and athlete."
  • "The depth that all the coaches had when evaluating our lifts was extremely helpful."
  • "Worth every penny! Will highly recommend attendance to anyone interested. Great instruction, great staff, and fun."
  • "By far the most content and quality of any similar educational experience I’ve had."
  • "It was a pleasure to be coached and educated by such a knowledgeable staff. Lots of good laughs, too. Thank you."
  • "I was really scared to attend because I didn’t think I would belong or have any business being here. However, I felt totally welcome and it was just an amazing, almost life-changing experience. Thank you all SO much. Seriously."
  • "This was the single best strength-specific seminar I’ve attended. I just wish it was a day or two longer."
  • "Cheaper than college, and learned more."

starting strength book cover practical programming book cover strong enough book cover mean ol' mr gravity book cover Starting Strength DVD Cover starting strength tshirt