Unlocking your Strength: The Health Benefits of Powerlifting

June 21, 2024

Season-ending tournaments, championships, and gold medals can sometimes mask the journey it takes for athletes to actually get to that final moment; but at Special Olympics Massachusetts, there is one sport in particular that focuses on the path each athlete takes to finding success.

Powerlifting has proven to be a transformative journey for athletes that enhances both physical strength and mental bravery. Across various communities and age groups, the benefits of powerlifting for Special Olympics athletes are far-reaching.

Increases Physical Strength

Perhaps the most obvious of the health benefits to powerlifting is building strength. From deadlifts to bench presses to squats, athletes who participate in powerlifting are transforming a multitude of muscles and improving their own body physique.

“We’re helping the smaller kids get bigger and stronger. We’re helping the bigger guys lean down and get toned,” said Elliott Slade of the Andover YMCA Program. He explained that powerlifting isn’t targeted to just one body type—everyone can have the chance to participate and set specific, individualized goals.

Elliott Slade spotting one of his athletes during the bench press event at the 2024 Summer Games.

Improves skill in other sports

It’s not un-common for a Special Olympics athlete to participate in many sports throughout the year; and one trend that was uncovered from powerlifting is that it can actually help athletes perform better in their other sports.

For Joe Morrill of the Milford Hawks, powerlifting isn't just a sport—it's a strategic tool that amplifies his performance in basketball and flag football. "Powerlifting, it helps you with your other sports," Joe explained. "I joined powerlifting in the first place to help with basketball and flag football. And then it ended up becoming one of my favorite sports because I got really good at it. It gets you stronger and faster.

Joe Morrill participating in the 2024 Summer Games with the Milford Hawks.

Elliott echoed this sentiment when observing his own team in Andover.

“Some of our athletes are also swimmers, so I know helping to build muscle strength has been carrying over to their other sports. It just helps get them used to their heart racing and body sweating.”

Promotes repetition and commitment

While most Special Olympics sports are only offered seasonally, there are many powerlifting programs and teams who practice regularly throughout the year. This allows athletes to always have a means of working out, staying fit, and building strength, even if they are in an “off season” from their primary sport.

Karen Hurley of AIM Therapy underscores the comprehensive advantages of powerlifting for her own athletes.

“This is our first year that we have had a team, so we just started in January and we will be doing some form of powerlifting program in the fall, with our official training starting in January,” sha said. “They will be able to get so much stronger. Most of these athletes need more practice and repetition than a neurotypical athlete, and so having year-round practice will give them the skills, tools, and confidence to compete.”

Karen coaching one of her athletes at the 2024 Summer Games.

Being able to engage in a repetitive sport and commit to going to the gym regularly is also a benefit highlighted by Elliott.  “Learning to show up week after week is huge. Consistency for sure has been a big thing to help out our athletes,” he said.

Builds self-esteem

Above all, building one’s self-confidence is something that was highlighted by a myriad or powerlifting coaches.

"Mentally, it’s a great sport for athletes to have with the support of their teammates and those cheering them on. It also helps with confidence greatly,” said assistant coach, Bianca Burke from Cambridge. “It really gives them something to keep them active and something that pushes them to keep achieving their goals."

Cambridge program athlete sporting his gold medal with pride at the 2024 Summer Games

Elliott also emphasized the increased self-esteem that accompanies lifting weights. "One of the biggest benefits is that it’s a confidence booster for a lot of athletes," he shared. "Something I think we all really appreciate is after they hit a big PR, where they’ve got stronger than they’ve ever been before, walking around the gym with this newfound confidence and huge smile on their face."

Whether it's helping athletes excel in other sports, boosting confidence through personal achievements, or fostering a sense of community and support, the impact of powerlifting extends far beyond the gym floor. It proves to be an activity that carries into other sports and other facets of life—unlocking one’s potential and embracing the journey to reachin a new personal best.

Inclusive health content is sponsored by Tufts Health Plan a Point32Health company, the Official Health Insurance Partner of Special Olympics Massachusetts. Tufts Health Plan and Special Olympics Massachusetts are dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles through resources that support individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. To learn more, head to tuftshealthplan.com

Season-ending tournaments, championships, and gold medals can sometimes mask the journey it takes for athletes to actually get to that final moment; but at Special Olympics Massachusetts, there is one sport in particular that focuses on the path each athlete takes to finding success.

Powerlifting has proven to be a transformative journey for athletes that enhances both physical strength and mental bravery. Across various communities and age groups, the benefits of powerlifting for Special Olympics athletes are far-reaching.

Increases Physical Strength

Perhaps the most obvious of the health benefits to powerlifting is building strength. From deadlifts to bench presses to squats, athletes who participate in powerlifting are transforming a multitude of muscles and improving their own body physique.

“We’re helping the smaller kids get bigger and stronger. We’re helping the bigger guys lean down and get toned,” said Elliott Slade of the Andover YMCA Program. He explained that powerlifting isn’t targeted to just one body type—everyone can have the chance to participate and set specific, individualized goals.

Elliott Slade spotting one of his athletes during the bench press event at the 2024 Summer Games.

Improves skill in other sports

It’s not un-common for a Special Olympics athlete to participate in many sports throughout the year; and one trend that was uncovered from powerlifting is that it can actually help athletes perform better in their other sports.

For Joe Morrill of the Milford Hawks, powerlifting isn't just a sport—it's a strategic tool that amplifies his performance in basketball and flag football. "Powerlifting, it helps you with your other sports," Joe explained. "I joined powerlifting in the first place to help with basketball and flag football. And then it ended up becoming one of my favorite sports because I got really good at it. It gets you stronger and faster.

Joe Morrill participating in the 2024 Summer Games with the Milford Hawks.

Elliott echoed this sentiment when observing his own team in Andover.

“Some of our athletes are also swimmers, so I know helping to build muscle strength has been carrying over to their other sports. It just helps get them used to their heart racing and body sweating.”

Promotes repetition and commitment

While most Special Olympics sports are only offered seasonally, there are many powerlifting programs and teams who practice regularly throughout the year. This allows athletes to always have a means of working out, staying fit, and building strength, even if they are in an “off season” from their primary sport.

Karen Hurley of AIM Therapy underscores the comprehensive advantages of powerlifting for her own athletes.

“This is our first year that we have had a team, so we just started in January and we will be doing some form of powerlifting program in the fall, with our official training starting in January,” sha said. “They will be able to get so much stronger. Most of these athletes need more practice and repetition than a neurotypical athlete, and so having year-round practice will give them the skills, tools, and confidence to compete.”

Karen coaching one of her athletes at the 2024 Summer Games.

Being able to engage in a repetitive sport and commit to going to the gym regularly is also a benefit highlighted by Elliott.  “Learning to show up week after week is huge. Consistency for sure has been a big thing to help out our athletes,” he said.

Builds self-esteem

Above all, building one’s self-confidence is something that was highlighted by a myriad or powerlifting coaches.

"Mentally, it’s a great sport for athletes to have with the support of their teammates and those cheering them on. It also helps with confidence greatly,” said assistant coach, Bianca Burke from Cambridge. “It really gives them something to keep them active and something that pushes them to keep achieving their goals."

Cambridge program athlete sporting his gold medal with pride at the 2024 Summer Games

Elliott also emphasized the increased self-esteem that accompanies lifting weights. "One of the biggest benefits is that it’s a confidence booster for a lot of athletes," he shared. "Something I think we all really appreciate is after they hit a big PR, where they’ve got stronger than they’ve ever been before, walking around the gym with this newfound confidence and huge smile on their face."

Whether it's helping athletes excel in other sports, boosting confidence through personal achievements, or fostering a sense of community and support, the impact of powerlifting extends far beyond the gym floor. It proves to be an activity that carries into other sports and other facets of life—unlocking one’s potential and embracing the journey to reachin a new personal best.

Inclusive health content is sponsored by Tufts Health Plan a Point32Health company, the Official Health Insurance Partner of Special Olympics Massachusetts. Tufts Health Plan and Special Olympics Massachusetts are dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles through resources that support individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. To learn more, head to tuftshealthplan.com

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