How to Start Powerlifting as a Woman – A Beginner’s Guide

Powerlifting as a Woman

Powerlifting, an exhilarating sport where strength is the star, has seen a transformative shift, with more women participating than ever before. 

This empowering sport revolves around three key lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

It’s not just a demonstration of brute strength but a display of technique, power, and determination. 

In this guide, I’ll discuss powerlifting for women, outlining the steps to start, improve, and excel in this sport.

Key Takeaways

  • Start with the Basics: Understand the minimum lifting requirements and master the fundamental lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift.
  • Follow Structured Training: Progress through training phases, from Stabilization Endurance to Maximum Strength training, as per the NASM OPT Model.
  • Nutrition and Recovery are Crucial: Ensure adequate nutrition for performance and prioritize recovery for muscle growth and overall health.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Establish attainable strength goals and track your progress using tools like BodySpace or BodyFit.

The Basics

bench press

At its core, powerlifting, not to be confused with Olympic lifting, is about lifting as much weight as possible in a single rep across three fundamental lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. 

It’s a sport that tests the limits of one’s strength and mental fortitude. Competitors are divided into categories based on gender, age, and weight, ensuring a level playing field.

Why Powerlifting?

Imagine the sport as a journey, where each lift is a landmark of personal achievement. It’s not just about physical strength but also about cultivating resilience, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment.

Where Do I Begin?

starting powerlifting

1. The Minimum Requirements

Before you start this journey, it’s crucial to understand the minimum lifting requirements: 55 pounds for squats and bench presses and 121 pounds for deadlifts. 

These numbers are not just arbitrary figures but stepping stones to your powerlifting journey.

2. Training Phases

According to the NASM OPT Model, powerlifting training is categorized under Phase 4: Maximum Strength training. 

This phase emphasizes 4-6 sets in the 1-5 rep range at 85-100% intensity. However, it’s essential not to leapfrog into this phase. 

Start with Stabilization Endurance training, then move to Strength Endurance training.

Think of it as building a house; you start with a solid foundation before constructing the walls.

What Does a Training Session Look Like?

power lift training

A typical training session in powerlifting focuses on either one or all three of the big lifts. The structure often includes:

  • A warm-up to prepare your muscles
  • The main lifts
  • Accessory exercises to build strength in muscles used in big lifts
  • Cool-down stretches

How to Master the Big Three Fundamental Lifts?


  1. The Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed out.
  2. The Descent: Keeping your chest up, lower your body as if sitting back into a chair.
  3. The Ascent: Drive through your heels, engaging your glutes and quads to return to the starting position.

Bench Press

  1. The Setup: Lie back on a bench, eyes under the bar, feet flat on the ground.
  2. The Descent: Lower the bar to your mid-chest, elbows at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. The Ascent: Push the bar up, focusing on using your chest muscles.


  1. The Setup: Feet hip-width apart, bar over mid-foot, grip the bar just outside your legs.
  2. The Pull: Keep your back straight, push through your heels and lift the bar, keeping it close to your body.
  3. The Lockout: Thrust your hips forward to stand up fully with the bar.

What Does it Take to Compete?

  • Hiring a Coach: A knowledgeable coach can provide tailored guidance and feedback.
  • Choosing a Meet: Select a meet that’s 8-12 weeks away, giving you ample time to prepare.
  • Joining a Community: Engage with a community of fellow lifters for support and advice.

Nutrition and Recovery


What Should I Eat?

Nutrition in powerlifting is about fueling your body for performance and recovery. Your diet should include:

  • Adequate Calories: Enough to support your training intensity.
  • Carbohydrates: For energy during workouts.
  • Proteins: For muscle repair and growth.
  • Fats: For overall health and energy.

Why is Recovery Important?

Recovery is when your body repairs and strengthens itself. It includes:

  • Rest Days: Vital for muscle recovery and growth.
  • Sleep: Essential for overall health and performance.

How Do I Set Realistic Goals?

Setting goals is like plotting a course on a map. It gives direction to your training. Ensure your goals are realistic and attainable. 

For example, aiming to add 5 pounds to your squat every month is more achievable than aiming for 50 pounds in a month.

Tracking Progress

Keeping a training log can be incredibly motivating. Tools like BodySpace or BodyFit can help you track your workouts, monitor progress, and adjust your training as needed.

The Powerlifting Community

Powerlifting Community

Imagine powerlifting as a solo journey with a communal spirit. Being part of a community offers support, advice, and camaraderie.

Attend local meets, join online forums, and engage with others who share your passion.

Do I Need Special Equipment?

While not essential, certain equipment can enhance your training. This includes:

  • Weightlifting shoes for stability.
  • A lifting belt for lower back support during heavy lifts.
  • Wrist wraps and knee sleeves for joint support.

How to Overcome Common Hurdles?

Powerlifting, like any sport, comes with its challenges. Overcoming these hurdles is part of the journey.

Common challenges include plateaus in strength, managing recovery, and balancing training with life’s other responsibilities.

The key is to stay consistent, be patient, and seek advice from more experienced lifters or your coach.

What if I Fail to Lift a Targeted Weight?

Failure is not a setback; it’s a teacher. It shows you areas that need more focus. Analyze what went wrong, adjust your technique or training plan, and try again.

Remember, every successful lifter has failed at some point – it’s part of the process.

Advanced Training Techniques


How to Break Through Plateaus?

As you progress, you might hit a plateau. This is normal. To break through, consider:

  • Adjusting your training routine.
  • Incorporating new exercises or variations of the big lifts.
  • Increasing the intensity or volume of your workouts, carefully to avoid overtraining.

Is Specialized Training Necessary?

As you advance, specialized training becomes important. This might involve focusing more on weak points or adjusting your training split.

For example, if your deadlift is lagging, dedicating a day to the deadlift and its accessory movements can be beneficial.

How to Train Safely?

Safety should always be a priority. Ensure proper form and technique to avoid injuries. Gradually increase weight and listen to your body.

If something feels off, don’t push through pain. Seek advice from professionals if needed.

What are Common Powerlifting Injuries?

Common injuries in powerlifting include muscle strains, joint pain, and back issues. Most of these can be prevented by proper form, balanced training, and adequate recovery.


Do I need a gym membership to start powerlifting?

While a gym membership is beneficial for access to specialized equipment and a supportive environment, it’s not mandatory.

You can start with basic equipment at home, like a barbell and weights, and progress from there.

How long does it take to see progress in powerlifting?

Progress depends on various factors like your training frequency, nutrition, and genetics.

Generally, noticeable improvements can be seen in as little as 3-6 months with consistent training and proper nutrition.

Can powerlifting help with weight loss?

Yes, powerlifting can be an effective component of a weight loss program. It builds muscle, which in turn can increase your resting metabolic rate, aiding in fat loss.

Is powerlifting safe during pregnancy?

It’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before continuing or starting powerlifting during pregnancy. Modifications may be necessary for safety.

How often should I train each of the big three lifts?

A common approach is to train each of the big three lifts 1-2 times per week, allowing ample recovery time between sessions.

However, this can vary based on your overall training program and goals.

Can powerlifting cause joint problems?

When performed with proper form and technique, powerlifting is not inherently harmful to joints. 

However, like any sport, there is a risk of injury, so it’s crucial to listen to your body and not ignore pain signals.

Final Words

Going on a powerlifting journey as a woman is not just about physical strength but a path to empowerment, resilience, and self-discovery. 

With the right training, nutrition, and community support, you can not only meet but exceed your strength goals.

Keep in mind that every lift is a testament to your power, not just as an athlete but as an individual.

Powerlifting is a journey, not a destination, and every lift and every training session is a step on the path to discovering your true strength.

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