Powerlifting for women – what is it exactly? To put it simply, it is a sport that tests your maximum strength in three compound exercises, namely squat, bench, and deadlift.
In a powerlifting competition, you will have three attempts to test your one-rep max in a span of a minute. Athletes typically take around 6-12 weeks to peak for their max-out day.
Does this sound confusing? Fear not, we have guest writer and powerlifter Sophia Khan to break it down. Find Sophia on Instagram.
In this article, Sophia will cover:
- Her powerlifting journey
- Is powerlifting realistic for women?
- The benefits of powerlifting
- Factors to consider when selecting a powerlifting coach
- The seven key steps to becoming a powerlifter
Powerlifting for women: My story
Before I begin, I would like to share a bit about myself. My name is Sophia Khan, and I am a 53kg powerlifter.
I am fortunate to be part of the Hong Kong professional powerlifting team. I competed in my first powerlifting meet in September 2019 as a junior and set a Hong Kong deadlift record for both my age and weight class.
After that, I competed internationally in an Asia Pacific powerlifting meet in December 2019 as a Hong Kong athlete – it was a real honor to be representing my home city.
Sophia Khan – Why I wrote this story
When I was competing, it was slightly saddening to see the male to female competitors’ ratio; there were just so few women powerlifters.
I wanted to write this article to help women understand that the powerlifting sport is accessible to women. There’s nothing to be afraid of; you can expect to find a warm environment awaiting you. But perhaps a little more info would help?
Powerlifting for women: is it possible?
Fortunately, the popularity of powerlifting amongst females is increasing both in Hong Kong and around the world.
In my 2 years of powerlifting experience, I have noticed more and more women taking up the sport as more gyms open up and people realize the benefits of lifting. Professional strength coaches can help both beginners, and advanced athletes progress further.
Some of the women nowadays lift as much, or even more, than men. This sport does not make you masculine but rather empowers you to feel strong and is a great confidence and ego booster.
It’s never been a better time to be a female powerlifter. Are you striving for self-improvement and greater strength? Female Powerlifting deserves consideration.
What are the benefits of powerlifting for women?
Where do I start? There are just so many benefits of powerlifting. I can honestly say I am a much happier and healthier person thanks to powerlifting, but I will try to break all my experiences and feelings into key three points:
1. Great tool for fat loss and body re-composition
Powerlifting is considered a great caloric intensive sport due to the amount of strength and energy expenditure needed to perform the lifts. The lifts require a high-intensity burn throughout the body, thereby burning large amounts of calories. Consequently, your metabolic rate will improve as well.
Your body ends up absorbing more food a day to get in sync with your energy levels. Even if you gain weight, it will be muscle weight rather than fat if you are eating right and not in a caloric surplus.
2. Endorphins; you will simply feel great
Building and testing your strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding feeling. Your hard work can be measured numerically, and you can see the growth and improvement as you progress in the sport.
Developing strength requires sacrifice, discipline, and determination, but it will all be worth it when you lift a weight that was previously just a dream. This sport requires a specific training style, and once you meet your expected numbers, the satisfaction and pride you will feel are simply indescribable.
3. A great platform to meet new people
In Hong Kong, the powerlifting community is relatively small but incredibly tight-knit. Personally, I have met some of the most humble individuals in this sport. The energy and support that I receive from this community are incredible.
Everybody is highly encouraging. I personally have never had the experience of being looked down on by someone just because they lift bigger weights. It is well-understood that everyone needs to start somewhere.
Find a powerlifting coach.
It may be worthwhile getting a coach to ensure your form is right. I think it is a great idea to get a coach right when you start powerlifting training to ensure your training and form are optimal. Only once you become sufficiently familiar with training could you then start some online training programs.
When deciding on a powerlifting coach, the most important thing is to try out several different coaches. This will enable you to check various teaching styles and different powerlifting techniques. Also, it’s important to find a powerlifting coach with a personality that is complimentary with your own.
However, if getting a coach is too expensive, training with a friend that is more experienced in lifting, alongside filming your training and comparing the movement with professionals, will also help.
How to start powerlifting? 7 key steps
Powerlifting is truly an incredible and humbling sport, and it is my honor to share some points to encourage Savvy in HK readers to take up the sport.
So how can you begin? Well, I’ll break down the powerlifting journey into seven key steps.
1. Join a gym
If you have never lifted a weight before, the first step is to join a commercial gym. Home workouts are great, but working out at home can make it quite difficult to overload your muscles. There are numerous gyms in Hong Kong. If you would like something more affordable, go for the Physical Fitness chain – they have various locations across Hong Kong.
Like Physical, if you want something more flexible and open for 24 hours, 24/7 is great due to its vast coverage around the city. Some other common gym chains include Goji Studios, Pure Fitness, Fitness First, etc.
I personally go to Go24 Fitness because of the atmosphere and incredible equipment. Most gym-goers there are either powerlifters or bodybuilders, and they are all very serious about their training.
Going to a gym motivates you to work harder as you will be able to enjoy a great environment, the type of environment that cannot be replicated in a home workout.
2. Powerlifting for beginners: Find the right program
Find the right program that suits your needs and schedule. Do not just start with a 6 day per week program if you are just starting to train, as it may be overwhelming, and it will be hard to stick to.
As a beginner, try to work out 3-4 days a week. That way, you will maintain consistency and can expect to make reasonable progress. You may increase the days later on but remember to have at least one rest day where your body recovers from the week.
There are many programs to choose from, but most powerlifting programs include squatting and benching twice a week and deadlifting around once or twice a week. These big three exercises– squat, bench, and deadlift are known as compound movements. These types of exercises work out multiple body parts and are considered to be strenuous exercises.
After you have performed your compound movements, you will need to do several accessory movements (known simply as “accessories”) as well. Accessories refer to working specific body parts to refine their look, e.g., bicep curls, dumbbell rows, etc.
3. Hypertrophy first
As a new lifter, it would actually be best to train for size rather than strength first. Most powerlifters start off doing some bodybuilding work as it helps build a solid foundation and helps familiarizes the body with the new sensations.
Hypertrophy refers to training around 8-12 repetitions in a set. This gets your body more comfortable with movements and eases you into a gym routine.
While training for hypertrophy, you will naturally get stronger over time and will be able to increase your weight in sessions. As time goes on, when your body adapts more to lifting and recovers faster, you may transition over to powerlifting style training.
4. Perfect the Basic Lifts
While training for hypertrophy, do not neglect the three core compound lifts. You should master the fundamentals of squatting, benching, and deadlifting.
Watch a lot of training videos, record yourself, and compare your form to professionals, and so on. If you do not build the basics, you will risk facing injuries, and those setbacks will be highly demotivating.
I strictly followed this process when I was a beginner, and it really paid off. Do not be scared to do compounds because they may be more “technical.”
We all start somewhere, and if you are really nervous, do not hesitate to ask someone at the gym to check your form or demonstrate a particular exercise. Most people are very friendly and helpful and will be willing to assist you.
5. Attend a powerlifting HK meet
Once you get more comfortable and familiar with powerlifting, the next best thing to do is attend a local powerlifting meet – a “meet” is a competition. Watching meets online is excellent, but nothing beats the atmosphere of when you see it in person.
I was really skeptical about competing but decided to volunteer to assist at a meet in May 2019. I fell in love with the whole environment, and the powerlifting community truly felt like a family. Everyone was so supportive and encouraging, and it was a surreal experience.
Competing in a meet will help you understand the key rules for competing – it is an experience worth trying. If possible, try to attend a meet as either a spectator or a volunteer before competing. This experience will mentally prepare you for what is to come when it comes to actually compete for the first time.
6. Consider competing as a female powerlifter
It is worth competing at least once in this sport. If you are serious about competing, hiring a coach is highly preferred as experienced individuals will ensure you are on the right track. They can write a program for you, and all you have to do is lift the prescribed weights.
I have been training with my coach since August 2019, and it is incredibly worthwhile. You should not worry about how good your numbers are and whether you will win or not. Regardless of how heavy you can lift, just give it a go.
It will be truly memorable, and you will not regret a minute of the journey. You will meet incredible individuals, and it will let you know what new targets to set.
7. Just train!
The fundamental key is to step into the gym, pick up the barbell/dumbbell, and train. Consistency is critical, and although it will take a while, patience and hard work are essential.
I have been going to the gym for almost 4 years and have been powerlifting for around two years. To stay motivated, make going to the gym a part of your everyday schedule and not let any excuses get in the way. Go before work, after work, or squeeze in an hour during lunch.
What are the top 5 recommended products when starting powerlifting?
If you’re just beginning powerlifting, you don’t need to buy special equipment, but over time, and as you gain experience, some essential products to consider are:
- Knee sleeves: knee sleeves are great for squatting especially when you start to lift heavier weights. This gives your knees a brace and protects them greatly. You can buy knee sleeves that are specifically designed for powerlifters. Knee sleeves offer powerlifters stability, joint protection, and warmth. If you’re serious about your squats, try Stoic knees for powerlifting. They are made of neoprene and provide a great level of support.
- A belt: once you start lifting heavier, you will need extra support to keep your core braced. A belt can also protect your back. However, I would not suggest grabbing a belt too quickly in your workout. It is good to strengthen the core first without a belt, and once the load feels too hard to lift, a belt is suggested and comes in handy. You can try out the ProFitness belt; it’s great value and is made out of genuine leather.
- Wrist wraps: many powerlifters eventually use wrist wraps and wraps to keep the wrists sturdy when squatting and benching. It also gives one peace of mind knowing wrists are intact. You can try Rip Toned wrist wraps, which are professional grade and come with thumb loops.
- Squat shoes: especially helpful if you have butt wink. This can somewhat help with form and gives you a stronger base when squatting due to its flatness.
- Deadlift slippers: I love Notorious lift deadlift slippers because of their no-slip feel. They have made my deadlifts significantly stronger, and they just look great as well!
How do you ensure you get enough protein?
- I take regular whey protein by MyProtein. It also has great nutritional content, various flavors and is incredibly affordable. Also, you can enjoy at least 20g of protein in every scoop. It is a great way to hit your protein limit for the day. Just add a scoop into 200-250ml of water and milk, shake it to dissolve the mixture, and simply drink it. Very tasty and convenient, and that is the only brand I have been using ever since I started powerlifting in 2018.
- If you want to ensure you are getting enough protein and other macros, check out this super useful tool.
HK powerlifting for women FAQs
What is powerlifting?
Mirafit has a superb detailed answer to exactly what powerlifting is. But in essence, in a powerlifting competition, you will be given three attempts for each of the main powerlifting moves (squat, deadlift, bench press). Your heaviest weight for each exercise is recorded, and the total weight you have lifted across all three movements are added together to give you your total score.
How is bodybuilding different from powerlifting?
Firstly, bodybuilding is very different from powerlifting. Bodybuilders are competing on physical appearance whereas, powerlifters are judged on their strength. Bodybuilders place a huge emphasis on their diet, and their diet will change enormously depending on whether or not they are competing.
What are the main powerlifting moves?
– Bench press
What foods do female bodybuilders eat?
Bodybuilders go through two phases; a bulking phase and a cutting phase.
The bulking phase involves putting on mass to help you lift as much weight as possible. Whereas the cutting phase, which people do before a competition, involves severely limiting food intake to achieve a lean physique with maximum muscle and minimal fat.
During the bulking phase, body lifters will eat a high-calorie protein-rich diet. During the cutting phase, body lifters will munch on food such as spinach, mushroom, and broccoli.
How much should a female beginner deadlift?
Generally, a female beginner should be able to deadlift approximately 100% of their body weight. Advanced female powerlifting can deadlift around 160% of their body weight.
But as we said above, don’t worry about how little or much you can lift. The key is consistency. You can start anywhere; as long as you’re consistent, you can expect to get stronger and stronger.
What should I do after my powerlifting workout?
Like other workouts, after you’ve completed a power lift workout, you should cool down, stretch, and rehydrate.
Are you interested in powerlifting for women? We can all make it happen if we want to. Make sure you set realistic and achievable goals, and once you achieve them, those small milestones will motivate you to push yourself even harder.
The powerlifting for women journey is truly rewarding, and I am confident you will not have any regrets. Do feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @ Sophia Khan if you have any queries. It will be my honor to guide you on this new journey.
If you are interested to learn more about fitness, check out our guide on fitness in Hong Kong. We cover the best gyms in Hong Kong; we review F45 and find the best yoga studios.
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