Powerlifting Vs Strongman


By Dr. Brad Neitzel

Now that I’m strong enough (if there is such a thing) to be a big fish in a little pond in both realms of powerlifting and strongman, a common question I get is “which one do you like better?” The best equivalent I can give is to ask this question, “Are you a butt or boob person?”  I’ll wait here for an answer as you have an internal debate trying to choose just one. I do enjoy competing in both sports for different reasons, otherwise I wouldn’t train for a sport I wasn’t passionate about. I’ll lay out what I think are some of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed having been competing in strength sports for almost a decade.


Powerlifting can be very tiresome to train for year round. Your main focus is on 3 movements and the only goal is to lift as much as possible for one rep. In comparison I have competed in multiple strongman events over the last 5 years and I have never done two contests that were exactly the same. Something is always different in strongman, even something as simple as deadlift can change every time. In powerlifting a deadlift will always be on an approved bar from the same height and will always be the last lift. In strongman there is no such thing as ‘approved’ equipment. Whatever equipment the promoter has lying around is what you will deadlift with. This could mean a stiff bar, deadlift bar, axle, frame, car deadlift, etc…it could be for a max or for reps from various heights. So if you are person that gets bored easily in the gym doing the same thing over and over, you may want to give strongman a try. Oh and while we are on the topic of deadlifts, sumo is definitely cheating in strongman.

In powerlifting you will always have control over your attempt selection, trying to push the limits to create the largest total possible on any given day. In strongman you will rarely be able to choose what weight you lift, you just pick up (or attempt to) the implement loaded in front of you.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve lifted that weight a dozen times in training or never lifted it once, all that matters is if you lift it that day. Some of my favorite moments in strongman are seeing a competitor step up to a lift that is scored by reps, focus, grind out a single and walk away celebrating. Not because they won that event or even placed in the top half of the field… but they stepped up to a challenge they’ve never done before.  That right there should earn the respect of everyone at the contest because I guarantee you there were others that didn’t even sign up because it was “too heavy.” This is where powerlifting and strongman are similar. Everyone is just trying to be stronger than their last contest.


consistency is the key

I know one thing to be true in strongman and that is you can’t out lift a shitty event. For years I could out deadlift a poverty bench and still do well in powerlifting because all that matters in powerlifting is your total, not how it is added up.  The average strongman consists of five events and your placing in every event, not how much you lifted, is averaged out to determine the overall winner. If you out-deadlift everyone by 200lbs or 5lbs, you will still only get first place points in that event. If in the next event you get out lifted by 200lbs placing last, you get last place points. Just like that after two events you are sitting in the middle of the pack. To do well in strongman you need to be balanced at everything. You don’t have to be the best at everything or even anything to win. In fact, you can win a contest having never won a single event as long as you place well enough in every event and it averages out in your favor. No one remembers your impressive ‘circus lift’ after the event is over if you suck at everything else.

Let me finish this by ranting about something I have touched on briefly and that is the possibility of zeroing an event. I have met many people that will literally not sign up for a contest that is 12 weeks away if they can’t already do ONE of the events. I have zeroed events in competition before. My first trip to nationals I got one rep on an axle overhead press for reps and zeroed a circus dumbbell for reps…two of the five events were not strengths of mine. And you know what? That one rep on the axle was an all time PR. Now don’t get me wrong and say “Brad said I need to sign up for contest weights I can’t do yet.” If you are a beginner or haven’t been competing a long time, there will be contests that are unrealistic for you to enter right now and there is nothing wrong with that. That is called being smart. But, if you pass up a contest due to one or two events being too ‘hard’… you may want to go back to powerlifting so you can keep lifting the same weights every competition you enter and blame it on the fact you didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

At the end of the day, the strongest person will win. So be strong or get stronger.
“Nobody picks on a strong man” – Charles Atlas

Brad Neitzel, D.C.
Iron Range Performance
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