What Does a Powerlifting Physique Look Like?

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When most people think of a powerlifter’s physique, the words “ripped” and “abs” typically don’t come to mind. Instead, the majority of people think “fat” and “huge”. This probably has something to do with the exposure that powerlifting gets. The mainstream just doesn’t care about records unless they are all time world records. These are more often than not, set by the SHWs (super heavyweights) that weigh over 300 lbs.

But SHWs make up a small percentage of powerlifters, so they are not a good representation of what most powerlifting physiques really looks like. The fact is, the majority of competitive powerlifters are actually in very good shape. Most of the very best powerlifters are going to have a low body fat percentage, and probably look ripped with a good looking physique.

powerlifting physique
Dan Green, one of the best powerlifters of all time. As you can see, he does not look like your stereotypical powerlifter.

This is due to weight classes. The most common weight classes being 181, 198, 220, and 242. The goal is to be as strong as possible, while also being as light as possible in order to fall into the lowest weight class possible. Doing so will make you as competitive as possible. So having little body fat is definitely an advantage.

Another reason to have as little body fat as possible is to increase your wilks score. Wilks score is used to compare strength levels of lifters that fall into different weight classes. For example, a 1500 lb total might not be a lot for someone who weighs 270, but it’s a hell of a lot for someone who weighs 160. The wilks for the 160 lb lifter will be over 100 points higher than the 27o pounder. That is huge.

Why a Powerlifting Physique Generally Isn’t as Impressive as a Bodybuilders.

If powerlifters are stronger than bodybuilders, why do bodybuilders appear to be so much more muscular? If I can bench press 500 lbs, I’m surely going to look bigger than the guy who only benches 350 right? Not necessarily. The reason why powerlifters typically don’t look anywhere near as muscular and massive as bodybuilders comes down to training. Powerlifters generally train with low reps and bodybuilders train with medium to high reps. This has a massive impact on muscle hypertrophy.

Another reason, although slightly trivial, is the fact that powerlifters typically don’t focus on isolation exercises like bodybuilders, and mainly stick to basic movements like squat, bench, deadlift, rows, and overhead press. While good for building muscle, using machines, dumbbells, and cables, in addition to those lifts is much better for hypertrophy.

Should Powerlifters Care About Muscle Size?

YES. But wait, we already know that a bigger muscle doesn’t always equal a stronger muscle, especially when comparing bodybuilders and powerlifters, so why should you care?

Because studies show that the bigger the muscle is, the more powerful it CAN be.



What this means is that the most successful powerlifters are the ones with the most muscle. So it’s definitely worth it to throw in some hypertrophy training into your workouts. Not only will it make you look better, but it will make you a better powerlifter.

You now have an excuse to curl in the squat rack and work arms every day! Just kidding, or maybe not.


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