Powerlifting is a great sport that was conceived as a pure test of strength. And it tests strength about as well as Olympic-Style Weightlifting. The sport that consists of three events: squat, bench press and deadlift. Powerlifters are very strong because they focus on developing that capacity exclusively. Overall, the strength of powerlifters very close to that of Olympic-style weightlifters. However, powerlifting is not an Olympic sport and it has multiple "federations" which govern it, so there can be multiple "world champions" each year (Olympic-style Weightlifting has only one international governing body and one world champion per weight class worldwide). Powerlifting is also not practiced as widely as weightlifting. For all these reasons, the level of competition tends not to be as high in powerlifting as it is in weightlifting, which is why competitive Weightlifters, as a group, have earned the right to call themselves the strongest athletes alive. More importantly, no other athletes approach the strength of weightlifters and powerlifters, as the men and women who compete in these sports are totally focused becoming the strongest athletes in the world. Moreover, they compete on measurable events which are standardized worldwide, so that performances can be reasonbly compared. You won't see these athletes flexing their muscles or lifting tree trunks on "pay-per-view", but they are quietly driving the levels of human performance to all time highs.
However, 3 unfortunate conditions exist in much of powerlifting today: the use of performance enhancing drugs, the use of performance enhancing equipment and the use of different rules for different federations.
Many powerlifting organizations do not drug test at their events and virtually none test their athletes all year round, in and out of competition. Consequently, many powerlifters use performance enhancing drugs, making it difficult for athletes who are clean to compete against them.
Another problem is the use of performance enhancing equipment. While only a handful of athletes in the history of the world have bench pressed in excess of 700 lbs. with something resembling a normal t-shirt. Yet today there are a number of athletes who have bench pressed in excess of 1000 lbs., while wearing a special "bench shirt". These athletes cannot out perform the 700 lb. benchers without a special shirt, so how does one compare performances? It is hard to say the least.
Finally, there are different federations with different standards. One may require an athletes to perform the squat with the tops of his/her thighs below parallel to the ground, while othes don't even require the bottom of the thighs to go below parallel. This huge difference in rules converts to huge differences in performance. Again, how does one compare?
Don Reinhoudt made a 2420 lb. total on the three powerlifts more than 30 years ago. A number of powerlifters today a closing on a 3000 lb. total, yet it is very doubtful that any could match Don in pure strength.
There have been some hopeful developments in powerlifting in recent years, with some federation conducting serious competition drug testing (though none have extended testing to out-of-competition throughout the year, and some organizations rely on lie detectors instead of urine or blood tests). Still others organizations have arisen which forbid the use of supportive equipment. We hope that these trends develop further so that powerlifting can be restored to the high ideal with which it began.