A Guide to Strength Training and Powerlifting

Strength training is quickly becoming a much more popular form of exercise than it used to be! A big reason for this popularity is the rise of strength training on social media and an increase in awareness of the benefits of strength training.

Studies have shown that muscle strength is an important predictor of health and mortality risk. Poor muscle strength in older adults can often cause falls, injuries and poor overall health, resulting in huge global healthcare and financial burdens.

However, it’s not just older adults who are affected, with poor strength becoming recognised as a risk factor in young adult health as well. In school-aged youth, strength training positively affects mental and academic performance, suggesting that it should be further promoted and adopted by both young and old.

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Strength and resistance training are crucial to your overall long-term health, especially your muscles and bones. As we age, loss of muscle can lead to falls and put everyday activities, such as housework, out of reach.

On top of building muscle, strength training can increase your endurance, improve your blood pressure and up your bone health. Strength training can look like lifting weights or powerlifting, using resistance bands, or doing bodyweight strength exercises like squats or sit-ups.

Read more about the benefits of strength training here.


Despite the benefits of strength training, less than 36% of Australians aged 18 or older get the recommended amount of strength training.

This drops to only 20% when we consider adults aged 55-64 years. So, why aren’t more Aussies strength training?

Often, strength training may be perceived as difficult to do properly or only for hardcore gym fanatics. However, there are more ways to get involved in strength training than you think (such as ‘powerlifting’ – more on this later), and the good news is people of all ages are taking part!


Whether you’re brand new to strength training or are getting back into it after taking some time off, it’s best to start off slow and only with the basic movements before using weights, machines or resistance tools.

Once you feel more confident, you can progress to kettle bells and machines or dumbbells and barbells where comfortable.

The best way to exercise correctly and safely with strength training is to chat to an Accredited Exercise Scientist or Accredited Exercise Physiologist to ensure your form and weight range is correct and that you’re doing everything possible to avoid injury or exhaustion.

Find your local exercise professional here.


Powerlifting is a strength-based competitive sport centred around lifting the most weight you can in three movements; the squat, bench press and deadlift. Powerlifting started in the 1960s, and the sport has recently grown rapidly as more males and females begin to participate. In fact, in the last decade there has been almost an 8-fold increase in competitors in Australia alone.

Competitors are separated into gender, age, and weight categories. Generally speaking, the individual in each category who lifts the highest summative score of the three lifts is deemed the winner (i.e., best squat + best bench press + best deadlift = total score). Competitor ages can range from as young as 12 to as old as 80+ in many federations.


Anyone can give powerlifting a go, there are no obligations to compete and almost anyone can get involved!

Any age and any gender: 

There is no age limit or gender limitations to powerlifting.

Some clubs even focus primarily on older adults. Take, for example, the Real Strength training facility in Victoria who focus on training individuals over 55. The world record for the oldest competitive powerlifter was set in 2021, with Edith Murway-Traina being 100 years of age!

Able and non-able bodied:

Powerlifting is also open to individuals of varying abilities.

For example, the International Powerlifting Federation supports competitors with intellectual disabilities through Special Olympic pathways. Additionally, individuals with congenital issues or acquired injuries that affect physical function can also compete in Para Powerlifting (a modified version of the sport where competitors compete in the bench press discipline).

Low injury risk:

Compared to other common sports, injury occurrence in powerlifting is 3-15 times lower. Importantly, because of the controlled nature of the sport, and with proper coaching instruction, training programming and progression over time, injury risk can be largely reduced.

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The good news is that strength sports such as powerlifting are accompanied by numerous physical and mental health benefits!

Physical wellbeing:

Losses in strength can begin as early as your 30’s. While those over 60 years of age can lose strength at a rate exceeding 1% per year, in a recent study of thousands of powerlifters, this strength loss was reduced by two thirds in males and completely reversed in females over 60.

The same study also showed that you can expect to see strength gains between 7.5-12.5% in the first year alone, and many individuals report substantially more than this.

So, powerlifting can help individuals meet strength training guidelines, develop healthy lifestyle habits, improve overall health and increase muscle mass and function.

Mental wellbeing:

Despite being an individual sporting activity, many powerlifting training facilities form close knit communities where people of all walks of life come together to train and/or compete.

Published work suggests that this helps promote emotional well-being, provide important social interaction, improve self-efficacy and provide a sense of community for many individuals.

In fact, a recent systematic review identified resistance training as a highly effective exercise strategy to manage symptoms of depression.


If you’re interested in trying powerlifting, it’s best to find a local powerlifting gym or club and chat with a qualified powerlifting coach. Many powerlifting federations have a list of affiliate clubs and coaches on their website.

In the early stages of powerlifting, it’s best to focus on movement competency, setting individual goals and progressing at your own pace. It’s also a good idea to attend, observe or compete in a local competition when you’re ready. These are often highly supportive and welcoming events.


Before beginning any new exercise or engaging in exercise that you’re not quite sure about, it’s a great idea to chat to an accredited exercise professional, such as an exercise physiologist or exercise scientist, especially if you have a disability, health problem, or any concerns about exercising.

These allied health professionals are trained to help you exercise right for your goals, ability, health condition, fitness level and wants and needs.

Find an exercise professional near you today. 


Written by Dr. Christopher Latella and Dr. Daniel van den Hoek. 

Christopher is a lecturer in strength and conditioning at Edith Cowan University. His research focuses on understanding neural contributions to muscle strength and the impacts of strength training (including powerlifting) on health and performance.

Daniel is a senior lecturer in clinical exercise physiology at the University of the Sunshine Coast. His research focuses on strength adaptations across the lifespan and analysis of sports performance and training practices.