Short answer: It’s not.
There is a very common misconception about powerlifting that is best illustrated with the below diagram:
But the truth is actually the exact opposite:
It has become an inaccurate colloquialism to treat most/all strength training that involves these lifts as though it is the same as training to compete in the sport of powerlifting, because:
- One Rep Maxes are a very convenient (but also very limited) way of measuring progress
- The squat, bench, and deadlift (and variations) are very prevalent in the most commonly used and recommended strength training programs
It’s important to understand that powerlifting is a sport with very specific goals – to lift the most weight, in total, with the squat, bench, and deadlift for a single repetition, within the rules of the federation you’re competing in. Note that this is not just “being the strongest” – it is moving the most weight, which is an important difference. While actual powerlifting training does involve training to get generally stronger, it will almost always have two key differences from general strength training – a greater frequency in training the three lifts, and a focus on not just improving strength but also on refining technique. It also involves meta-components that have very little to do with general strength training, such as peaking and tapering, which are almost entirely irrelevant for non-competing trainees.
Getting back on track – The major point to understand here is that just because a set of programs feature the squat, bench, and deadlift does not mean they are powerlifting programs. These lifts are common in strength training programs for the same reason that hammers, saws, and screwdrivers are common in carpentry – they’re some of the best tools available for the job. In reality, there isn’t a single program in the Recommended Routines section that is actually a powerlifting program. They are all for general strength and muscle growth.
You might be asking – What is the point of having this FAQ question? Isn’t this all just semantics?
It is, and it isn’t. Over the years, there have been a sizable number of people who have come to r/Fitness and felt turned off from the community and its resources because a misconception about powerlifting versus strength training made it look to them like they had come to the wrong place, and that the community was going to try to turn them into a powerlifter that they didn’t want to be. It’s important to correct this misconception so such people can know that they came to the right place.