Author: Andrew Richardson1 (corresponding author) and Dr Mark Chen2

1 School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law, Teesside University, UK
2 School of Health and Life Sciences, Teesside University, UK


Andrew Richardson
Campus Heart, Southfield Road, Middlesbrough
TS1 3BX, Tees Valley

Andrew Richardson is a Chartered Heath and Activity Practitioner & PhD student at Teesside University with his doctorate researching sedentary lifestyles in the Tees Valley. Andrew’s other research interests include body image, performance enhancing drugs, transgender sport, esports and public health.

Dr Mark Chen is a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Teesside University and is a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS). Dr Chen’s research interests include psychological consequences of sports injury and attentional aspects of sports performance.

Female Competitive Powerlifters relationship with Body Image: Utilising the Multidimensional Body Image Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ)


Purpose: There is growing evidence to suggest that competitive female athletes in certain sports that over scrutinize their body image may experience undesirable mental health outcomes. However, limited research addresses this issue in strength sports with weight class requirements. One such sport is powerlifting, which comprises the squat, bench – press and deadlift. Methods: This study used the Multidimensional Body Image Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ), which recruited 174 female participants across the following subgroups. Powerlifters (P) (n = 66), Active Subjects (AF) (n = 50), Body Image sports (BI) n = 23) and Other Sports (OS) (n = 36). Results: One–way ANOVA showed significant (p < 0.05) results between all groups across seven of the nine MBSRQ subscales. Bonferroni comparisons revealed that there were ten other significant results between these groups. Conclusions: Overall, the results showed that female powerlifters expressed healthier and lower perceptions of negative body image concerns. Furthermore, female powerlifters did not present scores consistent with controlling bodyweight or fixating about being overweight. Instead, these results showed a focus on performance and health improvements. Active subjects presented the most fixation on their body weight and appearance. Applications in Sport: The study concludes that female powerlifters present healthy body image perceptions compared to the other female sporting/active groups. This may be due to the objective outcomes of the sport not relying on socially subjective assessment for validation.

Key words: Powerlifting, Body Image, Weight Classed Sports


Body image can be defined as “relating to a person’s perceptions, feelings and thoughts about his or her body, and is usually conceptualized as incorporating body size estimation, evaluation of body attractiveness and emotions associated with body shape and size” (41 and 67. Initially, body image research focused on women and young girls with eating disorders (19). The research covered eating disorders such as bulimia (9 and 10) and anorexia nervosa (55). There has also been extensive work conducted between males and females comparing their body image with a range of demographic factors such as sexual orientation, online engagement, sporting interests and health statuses (39, 58, 76 and 96). Cash and Pruzinsky (21) stated that there are five dimensions of body image, which all work together to create an overall body image. However, these dimensions fail to mention the broader cultural and social contexts. Petrie and Greenleaf (63) from Murphy (2012) (64), put forward that body image is affected by sociocultural factors. Their work investigated athletes dealing with sporting and societal pressures, leading to adverse outcomes such as an eating disorder or a negative perception of their body image. Powerlifting is one sport where athletes are not scored on appearance, but rather on objective performance measures. The sport has seen a rapid increase in popularity within the last twenty years, particularly among females (68).

Background of Powerlifting 

Powerlifting is a competitive strength sport comprising three techniques, the Squat, the Bench Press and the Deadlift (47 and 78). The aim is to lift the most weight possible across the three movements for nine attempts (75). Sports akin to powerlifting include judo (5), weightlifting (57 and 75), boxing (69), mixed martial arts (MMA) (13) and wrestling (48 and 89) due to the physical requirements for participants to make weight to compete (15 and 71). Depending on rules of the competition, this weight requirement may be evaluated on the day of competition or twenty-four hours prior to the event (77). Weight classes help ensure fairness in competition and increase the pre-competition demands of participants to enter the weight category that maximizes their advantages. Experts argue that making weight can place psychological demands on athletes who may be inclined to make drastic weight cuts to gain a competitive advantage (65 and 69). 

Methods of Weight Loss and Psychological Implications

Tactics to cut weight may employ the use of laxatives (35, diuretics (16), sauna (23), sweatsuits (72) or similar methods (5 and 29). Regardless of the technique used, there are risks when competitive athletes purposefully cut weight from both a physiological and psychological perspective (33). For example, drastically cutting weight can cause short-term and long-term health complications such as impaired psychological and cognitive performance (36). Losing weight quickly is known as Rapid Weight Loss (RWL) and can produce a loss of 2-10% of one’s body weight (6 and 70).

There are many protocols and strategies that athletes use to achieve some form of RWL including but not limited to; restricting food intake, restricting fluids, increasing training sessions, using saunas to sweat more, training in a hotter environment, wearing a sweatsuit or more layers, increasing water and or salt intake, spitting prior to a weigh in, self-induced vomiting, ingesting diet pills and or other diuretics (35 and 70). The goal of losing weight for competitive powerlifters is the hope of improving their overall score (78). Within powerlifting, one such psychological demand related to weight cutting is the effect on one’s body composition, which can directly influence goals and confidence within the sport. Other potential psychological effects of RWL include decreased vigor, a loss of concentration, lower self-esteem, and the onset or increase of confusion, depression and/or isolation (28 and 97). Participants in sports with weight classes where lean muscle mass is positively associated with performance are at a greater risk for disordered eating than individuals competing in sports without weight classes (90 and 98).  Attempting to make weight for a competition can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and potential disordered eating defined as “including a spectrum of maladaptive thoughts, emotions, attitudes and behaviors related to eating and the body” (10).  

Disordered Eating and Body Image

Disordered eating among female weight class athletes can lead to conflicting ideas of a “feminine body for society” versus “an athletic body for their sport” (79). This dynamic is evidenced across female bodybuilding (59) and collegiate sports such as rugby and cricket (84). Powerlifting is traditionally seen as a masculine sport associated with strength, power, and performance. It also requires a muscular body and aggressiveness towards the barbell (11, 43, 51 and 54), contrary to desirable feminine attributes.

Therefore, females participating in powerlifting could be rebelling against a traditional societal body and role (59 and 98).  Female powerlifters negotiate their bodies in two different environments, one expressing their femininity in powerlifting (53 and 54), then another for feminine conformity within society (3, 7, 20 and 45). Sociocultural theory (89) is a framework to help understand how potential cognitive dissonance relates to body image perceptions. The model states that perceived pressure concerning appearance from conflicting sources may challenge body image perceptions. This may be derived from family, sports competitors, coaches, sport performance ideals and weight category sports (93). 

There has been limited research into the body image perceptions of females who partake in strength sports (12 and 87). Despite this, there has been very few dedicated solely to the sport of powerlifting. Notable studies that have covered this topic are all qualitative and include the works of Foyster et al (34) and Vargas and Winter (98). It is unknown to what extent these influences may be buffered by positive perceptions of physical image and health (54). The association of the physical body with sports competition achievement may reduce the potential for internalization of negative body image and peer pressures associated with disordered eating and instead lead to more realistic expectations (40). Therefore, this idea can be generalized to body image, as the same factors (i.e., societal ideals, internalization, peer pressure) that may lead to disordered eating may also influence body image (17, 38 and 85). 

Research has found that female athletes’ competitive experiences instils an athletic body perception. Krane et al (54) found that female strength and power sports (Track n = 2, Gymnastics n = 2, Softball n = 3, Rugby n = 1, Ice Hockey n = 2 and Hockey n = 1) enjoyed their levels of strength and hard-earned bodies which provided a sense of empowerment and rebellion (59).   Powerlifting is a very demanding sport on the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems, and it is essential to keep one’s joints and body healthy to have long term success in the sport. If not, injuries are likely to occur (88 and 91). 

Krane et al (54) researched female athletes and perceived body image and found distinct themes of hegemonic femininity, athleticism, and physicality. The athletes in this study (n=21) reported that being feminine contrasted with being athletic and was perceived differently from regular women. Regardless, they enjoyed their levels of strength, fitness which provided them with feelings of empowerment. This would imply a low cognitive dissonance (42 and 99) as their sports self-image would be consistent with their societal one. Vargas and Winter (98), looking at disordered eating in female powerlifters and found their participants (n=17) described a paradox between a “powerlifting body” and a “societal body”. 

However, age may be a factor, as Peráčková et al (73) found in a sample of active (n=105) and inactive (n=49) adolescent girls that ‘ body image was not significantly different between groups (by their activity or inactivity). This indicates that feelings of empowerment due to physical activity, strength and power gains may be more likely in young adult females (58). In addition, within non – sporting populations, Depcik and Williams (29) provided a strength training program for body image disturbed collegiate women which yielded positive results within the sample, such that 41% of the participants made such a significant improvement they were no longer classed as body imager disturbed. Finally, Seguin et al (86) found that their strength training program aimed at rural middle to older aged women lead to significant improvements within several aspects of body image, health – related quality of life, satisfaction, comfort, and physical activity behaviors.

This study aims to compare the body image of female powerlifting athletes against other subgroups of female athletic participation. The aim is to examine if female powerlifting athletes express different body image dissatisfaction with their weight compared to subgroups of active and or sporting females.

Aim and Objectives of the Study


To compare the body image differences of female powerlifters against a range of female athletic subgroups.


  • To determine if powerlifters present negative associations with their body image
  • To determine if powerlifters link their body image toward performance-related goals or other factors.
  • To compare MBSRQ subscale scores between powerlifters and a range of female subgroups (Active Subjects, Body Image sports and Other Sports) to examine   differences in perceptions of body image.


Participant Information

A convenience sample of 174 females was recruited via social networking sites (SNS). Participants were recruited by using SNS such as Facebook and Instagram, SNS messenger applications, and online message boards such as Reddit. Finally, email and public forums were used to circulate the questionnaires across the web to potential participants. The recruitment period lasted three weeks and all participants were divided into one of four subgroups based on their respective sporting activities: Powerlifting (P), Active subjects (AS), Body image (BI) and Other sports (OS).

Powerlifting (P) subjects (n = 66) included females that defined themselves as competitive powerlifters while active subjects (AS) (n = 50) included anyone who engaged in regular and structured exercise but did not participate in a sport. The Body image (BI) subgroup (n = 23) included females who were judged based on their appearances, such as bodybuilding, bikini modelling, and fitness modelling. Finally, the Other sports (OS) group (n = 36) included any female entering a sport who did not meet the criteria for the Powerlifting or Body Image groups. (See Table 1.0 for participant training history and their anthropometric information and Table 4.0 for a detailed list on the range of sports covered within the subgroups of BI and OS). The study was conducted after obtaining ethical approval from the university ethics committee.


Multidimensional Body Self Relations Questionnaire (MBSRQ): The MBSQR measures Body Image divided into cognitive and behavioural components. Items are ranked within a 1 to 5 Likert scale, where 1 = Definitely disagree, and 5 = Definitely agree. The MSBRQ subscales include Appearance Evaluation (AE), Appearance Orientation (AO), Fitness Evaluation (FE), Fitness Orientation (FO), Health Evaluation (HE), Health Orientation (HO), Illness Orientation (IO), Body Areas Satisfaction (BASS), Overweight Preoccupation (OWP) and Self-Classified Weight (SCW) (18). Illness Orientation is not included as a separate subscale, as it is already reliably accounted for under Health Orientation (18). The MBSRQ is significantly evidenced in Body Image research (30) as a well-validated measure (14) through comparison with other tools of Body Image.

The MBSRQ has a proven reliability and validity record for body image research (20). The composite reliability was calculated using an SPSS Omega Macro (44) and is within the acceptable range (Cronbach’s omega = 0.79). The primary author constructed demographic questions to collect information about the participant’s background. These questions included (but were not limited to) gender, age, height, weight, and the number of years spent training.

Table 1.0 Participant Anthropometric Data and Training History  Participant Information	P Group (n = 66)	AS Group (n = 50)	BI Group (n = 23)	OS Group (n = 36)  Age (years)	 31.59 (± 9.98)	 34.80 (± 10.66)	 31.78 (± 10.38)	 30.53 (± 8.59)  Height (cm)	 162.05 (± 15.24)	 162.58 (± 6.81)	 160.67 (± 22.70)	 158.36 (± 36.03)  Weight (kg)	 67.88 (± 13.00)	 75.18 (± 24.30)	 64.72 (± 10.32)	 70.95 (± 15.72)  Trained less than a Year 	 9 (13.64%)	 23 (46.00%)	 5 (21.74%)	 15 (42.00%) Trained between than 1 - 5 Years	44 (66.70%)	20 (40.00%)	7 (30.44%)	14 (39.00%)  Trained between 5 - 10 Years	 9 (13.64%)	 6 (12.00%)	 8 (34.80%)	 3 (8.33%)  Trained between 11 - 20 Years	 3 (4.60%)	 1 (2.00%)	 2 (8.70%)	 2 (6.00%)  Trained more than 20 Years	 1 (1.52%)	 0 (0.00%)	 1 (4.40%)	 1 (3.00%)  Table 1.0 Means and Standard Deviations (SD) for all four participant groups across height, weight, age and years of training. Across all participant groups, their heights, weights and ages are all similar with overlapping means and standard deviations. Significant differences can be seen when comparing training experiences across the groups using the P group as a reference point when compared against the three other groups of AS, BI and OS groups.


Both the MSBRQ and Demographic Questionnaire were developed using Google Documents. Data gathered was stored under the General Data Protection Act (80). Participants were assigned to groups 1.00 (Powerlifters – P), 2.00 (Active Subjects – AS), 3.00 Body Image Sports – BI), and 4.00 (Other Sports – OS), based on their answers from the demographic questionnaire.

Participants were given no monetary or external incentive to take part. Participants read the pre-questionnaire information, participant information form and questionnaire instructions. Once read, participants were prompted to check a box that confirmed their consent to the study. All participants completed the questionnaire individually and received no communication from the researcher during data entry. A glossary was provided for technical terminology. Demographic questions were formatted as a short answer, rating scale, and multiple-choice. Participants were informed they could opt-out anytime during the study for any reason. In total, the questionnaires took about 10-15 minutes to complete.

Data Analysis

An independent groups design was used to investigate the differences between the MBSRQ scores of the four. The dependent variables measured the differences in body image between the groups across nine subscales. All data were analysed using Microsoft Excel version 2016 and Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) Version 27. Means and Standard Deviations were calculated for all the subscales. Data were checked for equality of variance between groups and assumptions for the one–way ANOVA where the alpha value was set at 0.05. Post hoc tests were calculated to compare the powerlifting group with the other three groups across the MBSRQ subscales. The post hoc alpha values were corrected for type one error rates using p < 0.01. To estimate the effect size of post hoc, mean differences between groups, the Cohens d statistic size was interpreted using the following guidelines: .00-.2 (small), .40-.79, (medium) and .80 + (Large) (18) and 95% Confidence Intervals (CI) were reported. The Hedges g statistic was used if one or both groups being compared had n < 20, otherwise Cohens d was reported.


The descriptive statistics associated with the MBSRQ scores across the four groups are reported in Table 2.0. It can be observed that the powerlifting group was associated with higher and more positive body image scores in comparison to the other three female sub-groups. Seven of the nine MBSRQ subscales reported p-value below 0.05.

Table 2.0: Means (SD) for P, AS, BI, and OS groups per MBSRQ Subscale MBSRQ SUBSCALES	 P Mean (SD) 	AS  Mean (SD)	 BI Mean (SD) 	OS Mean (SD) APPEARANCE EVALUATION (AE)	3.20 (0.82)	2.57 (0.88)	3.20 (0.94)	2.79 (0.84) APPEARANCE ORIENTATION (AO)	3.42 (0.77)	3.53 (0.68)	3.74 (0.69)	3.30 (0.68) FITNESS EVALUATION (FE)	3.42 (0.80)	3.18 (0.62)	3.70 (0.92)	3.63 (0.67) FITNESS ORIENTATION (FO)	4.24 (0.53)	3.69 (0.56)	3.96 (0.55)	4.02 (0.61) HEALTH EVALUATION (HE)	3.76 (0.66)	3.30 (0.67)	3.49 (0.89)	3.72 (0.74) HEALTH ORIENTATION (HE)	3.50 (0.56)	3.46 (0.56)	3.69 (0.61)	3.42 (0.63) OVERWEIGHT PREOCCUPATION (OWP)	2.95 (0.85)	3.47 (0.95)	3.08 (0.61)	3.10 (0.87) SELF-CLASSIFIED WEIGHT (SCW)	3.30 (0.53)	2.98 (0.73)	2.76 (0.39)	3.00 (0.66) BODY AREAS SATISFACTION (BASS)	3.21 (0.64)	2.76 (0.69)	3.29 (0.72)	2.98 (0.73)  Table 2.0 Means and Standard Deviations (SD) for all nine MBSRQ subscales across the four groups. These can be seen for AE, HE, FO, OWP and BASS when P is compared against AS. Most considerable differences can be seen when using P as a reference point when compared against the AS and BI groups.

To protect against type I error during multiple comparisons, the post-hoc pairwise comparisons p value was p < 0.01. This was of interest as there was only four post hoc comparisons were of interest between the powerlifting group compared to the AS group and the Powerlifting group compared to the BI group. There were five significant subscales for the Powerlifting group compared against the Active Subjects (AS) group. These results are shown in Table 3.0 below (marked by an *) and in Figures 1.0 – 9.0 comparing each of the MBSRQ subscales across the four participant groups.

Table 3.0: Significant mean difference, effect size and 95% confidence intervals in MBSRQ subscales between powerlifting, active subjects and body image groups SUBSCALE	GROUP	CONTRAST	MEAN DIFFERENCE (SE)	EFFECT SIZE	95% CI AE	Powerlifting	Versus Active Subjects	0.63 (0.16) *  	0.34	[0.102, 1.142] AE	Active Subjects 	Versus Body Image	-0.63 (0.22* 	0.31	[-1.329, -0.103] FE	Active Subjects 	Versus Body Image	-0.51 (0.19) * 	0.31	[-0.859, 0.093] FO	Powerlifting	Versus Active Subjects	0.55 (0.11) * 	0.46	[0.215, 0.889] HE	Powerlifting	Versus Active Subjects	0.45 (0.14) * 	0.32	[-0.883, -0.019] OWP	Powerlifting	Versus Active Subjects	-0.51 (0.16) * 	0.27	[-1.033, 0.005] SCW	Powerlifting	Versus Active Subjects	0.32 (0.11) * 	0.25	[-0.041, 0.687] SCW	Powerlifting	Versus Body Image	0.54 (0.15) * 	0.43	[-0.926, -0.158] BASS	Powerlifting 	Versus Active Subjects	0.45 (0.13) * 	0.32	[0.039, 0.866] BASS	Active Subjects	Versus Body Image	-0.52 (0.17) * 	0.33	[-1.083, 0.028] Table 3.0 shows the mean differences, between the groups, effect sizes and confidence intervals. In total there was 3 significant effects (AE, FE and BASS) recorded for the Active Subjects group against the Body Image group. 6 significant effects (AE, FO, HE, OWP, SCW and BASS) recorded for the Powerlifting group against the Active Subjects group. Finally, 1 significant effect (SCW) record for the Powerlifting group against the Body Image group. The following scale denotes significance level * p < 0.05, **p<0.01

Below are the graphs of the nine subscales from the MBSRQ presented to showcase the differences in mean scores for each domain of body image.


This study aimed to compare the body image differences of female powerlifters with a range of sporting and active female groups utilising the MBSRQ. All groups expressed similar heights, weights and ages within acceptable standard deviation ranges. Most participants were in the early thirties, ranging between 65 – 75kg in body weight and standing around the 160cm mark. This study has collected a unique age–group population for discussion with a mean age of 32.31 years old. Compared to other literature, it is ten years older than Vargas and Winter (98) sample and younger by nearly twenty years for Foyster et al (34) sample. The results suggest that female powerlifters have a healthy relationship with their physical body compared to AS and BI groups.

     A significant effect size difference was observed for appearance evaluation, with the powerlifting group showing more robust thoughts towards physical attractiveness than the AS group. The powerlifting group showed stronger satisfaction with their physical attractiveness. However, the AS group indicated unsatisfied perceptions and unhappiness for their physical attractiveness. The analysed data was supported even further by the large effect size reported on the body area satisfaction scale. When these scores are taken together, these results imply no association of negative perceptions of appearance for the powerlifters. These results support the powerlifting group reporting contentment with their appearance, each aspect of their body and overall satisfaction. They also did not express extreme fat anxiety or eating restraint as reported within the overweight preoccupation scale and this score produced a small effect size.

Placing these scores within the competitive environment of Powerlifting, there is no objective or subjective scale that assesses the athlete’s appearance in competition unlike in Bodybuilding or other aesthetic sports (50 and 92). Irrespective of this, these results confirm that female powerlifter’s, enjoy their look in their sporting environment. They are there to compete and their appearance is not a measurement in this environment. However, for aesthetic-based sports this is a key performance indicator in their setting.

In addition, this study implies that the powerlifting group focused on improving their skills and strength for their sport. It suggests that the powerlifting group placed a significant amount of time and planning into being athletically fit. The high effect sizes support this interpretation in health evaluation and fitness orientation of the powerlifting group compared to the AS group. The powerlifting group had perceived themselves as feeling physically healthy and free from illness. However, powerlifting may require some health sacrifices for performance gain, i.e., weight cuts and or joint inflammation from heavy loading on the spine. It should be noted that this study found the powerlifting group as healthy and with high levels of muscle mass, muscle tone, lean muscle mass and well above average strength levels. These adaptations are productive for the body as indicated by self-reporting their weight as ideal. With the powerlifting group reporting their weight as “ideal” this also reflects a consistency of maintaining their weight or being within competition weight throughout their training season.

 Gee et al (37), looked at rapid weight loss (RWL) techniques within regional, national and international powerlifters and found that 96% of their sample (n = 51, 33 males and 18 females) engaged in some form of weights loss pre – competition. However, this is a less aggressive approach as compared to combat sports (22). Importantly, most of the participants were influenced by other powerlifters (65%), coaches (56%) and internet sources (50%) when cutting weight. There is an increased pressure to make weight if an athlete is rapidly fluctuating from weight extremes pre and post competition (60). This is not healthy and can lead to negative psychological outcomes (13). Sports where there are significant weight cuts and weight gains post events occur in MMA (23 and Boxing (81).

A powerlifter’s key performance measurement is their strength and getting stronger within their weight class. Firstly, by increasing their strength, they are unlikely to be cutting extreme amounts of weight pre or post competition, as it would harm competitive performance.  Secondly, they don’t want to be gaining a significant amount of weight as it will make them less competitive in the next weight class. Thirdly, strength improvements when done correctly present themselves in the form of neuromuscular strength adaptations (56 and 95) so there would be little, or no weight gain presented. Therefore, elite level powerlifters or weightlifters, are lifting considerable amounts of weight which are three, four or five times their own bodyweight per lift (31 and 32).

These findings do not suggest the current sample engaged in rapid weight loss (RWL) techniques, as Nolan et al (70) found. This study shows that the participants within the powerlifting group are more performance-focused than image-focused, thus supporting the findings of Peráčková et al (73) that differences in female physical activity may not be body image-based. The appearance and health evaluation and orientation differences support previous findings (54) that powerlifters have positive perceptions of their physical image and health. These results are perhaps due to competition achievement and social reward within the community based on tangible athletic goals (38 and 39).

The findings also indicated that the powerlifting group had significantly stronger feelings and dedication towards being physically fit. The powerlifters value fitness and are actively involved in activities to enhance their fitness, compared to the AS group. The powerlifting group viewed their fitness level as good, being in shape and physically fit on the one hand and intensely invested in being physically fit or athletically competent. Fitness may be interpreted as general fitness and health within their daily lives for powerlifters. The significant effect size for fitness orientation can be explained by the intense and high physical preparation demands of powerlifting. Fitness is highly valued, and participants must work hard to enhance their fitness to compete.

It should be mentioned that within the powerlifting group, being solely focused on the goal of getting stronger is emphasized, irrespective of an individual’s weight class and or time spent in the sport. All the powerlifters would be in a similar style of program as they have to revolve around the competition lifts (squat, bench – press and deadlift). However, the active subject’s group are just training to be active without a real purpose or goal in mind that can be compared to others. Many of these active subjects would also be subjectively comparing themselves to others as a form of social and physical comparisons which will affect their own perceptions of their image. Hence, it is crucial that those engaging in a physically active lifestyle have a plan to follow and objective measurements to track and work towards. Hockin – Boyers and Warin (46) supports this viewpoint when using a weightlifting protocol for 19 females in their eating disorder recovery. The participants noted the beneficial shift from appearance and aesthetics to watch their body transform in line with their functional ability and strength gains. The participants also noted and explained a desire for structure and routine to help move away from the eating disorder pathology and towards normalization and their recovery journey.

Active females should move away from training for a sexualised body image or comparing themselves to their peers (2), as this isn’t a realistic, healthy and or an achievable goal. An individual should not be comparing themselves to another individual with regards to their body image for the following reasons. They may have a more advanced training program, longer training experience, a personalised diet for their health needs, the individual’s goals may be different and finally, they may even be using performance enhancing drugs to assist in their body image development (83).  Whereas, in sporting groups such as the powerlifters, their sport is objectively measured and the athletes train to be better performers not to be better looking. An additional benefit of their hard training is a hard earned, strong, muscular and toned body that they appreciate as their body has a purpose beyond just looking appealing (34, 98, 100 and 101). 

Returning to the comparison of results between the analysed groups. The powerlifting group showed a significant effect size for self-classified weight, compared to the BI group. This result implies that the BI sports group had lower and negative perceptions of their body image than the powerlifting group. This is based upon the number of appearance-based sports, such as bodybuilding n = 12, Bikini Competitor n = 8 and Fitness Modelling n = 3 within the group would have contributed to this effect. For the BI group, the results indicated a fixation and preoccupation with their weight (particularly their body fat for competition). Reiterating the previous sections of the discussion on how the powerlifters are objectively focused. There is an abundance of literature out there that shows athletes who engage in appearance-based sports, may present with aspects of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) (8) and or muscular dysmorphia (known as bigorexia) (62).

 Nevertheless, the literature is not saying that all athletes who engage in bodybuilding or any appearance-based sport have some form of a psychological defect with their image. The sporting demands of appearance – based sports come in the form of, weight cutting, reducing salt intake and extreme dieting to be the leanest (or “driest”) on stage (61 and 102). Which for some athletes, it increases the risk of using performance enhancing drugs for lean muscle gain, recovery from training and or reducing body fat percentage (82). There is now a growing concern of female bodybuilders, bikini models and fitness models using performance enhancing drugs to improve upon their image (4). What was once a male issue has now spread into the sub – culture of women’s physique due to a range of personal, societal and sporting pressures to win and be more competitive (52).

The AS group reported two medium effect sizes against the BI group. They were in the appearance evaluation and body area satisfaction subscales. These results are interesting as the powerlifting group scored significant effect sizes against the AS group within these categories, demonstrating happier and better perceptions of themselves. This shows that the females within the BI sports group also express similar subscale scores to the P compared to the AS group. This may be due to a number of factors. First, as the AS group is not training for a sport or an activity, they are just training with no specific objective goal in mind. Therefore, they are heavily more critical of themselves as they are subjecting themselves to internal criticism and seeking improvement when there are minimal changes from regular physical activity. On the other hand, the BI group has some sort of subjective measurement as they compete with others who follow the same assessment when competing in their respective sports.

Smolak, Murnen and Ruble (90) found that some sports are protective against eating disorders regarding their body image. However, this depends upon the mode of activity as engaging in appearance-based forms of exercise such as dance, aerobics and exotic dance has been shown to lead to more negative body image and self-criticism (24). Research has shown that women who move towards resistance style training and more functional training styles generally lead towards a more positive body image (94). Walters and Hefferon (101) found their sample of female athletes reported enjoying seeing the quantifiable and visible results that resistance training yielded for them. As it “offered an objective measure of progress and allowed them to develop a sense of mastery and self–efficacy“. In addition, they reported subjective measures such as feeling more assertive, more confident and more control over their body which created a deep sense of accomplishment. 


Firstly, the study only used the MBSRQ, which does not explicitly measure disordered eating or eating disorders within sports or general activity. Despite this, it does give a reliable and valid measurement of body image scores. Secondly, the powerlifting group is centred around one sport (powerlifting), whereas the BI and OS groups comprised a diverse range of sports. These sports have varying levels of body image perception within their respective activities (25, 26, 27 and 99), which would have influenced their scores. Furthermore, the powerlifting group had a higher proportion of participants trained for longer than one year than all other groups. Therefore, the powerlifting group recorded higher scores on fitness and health subscales. This may be partly due to more extended training experience, which will influence participant responses.


In summary, the positive findings of female powerlifters (within this study) in terms of health, fitness, appearance evaluation and orientation does suggest a stable relationship with strength training on their perceptions and evaluation of their own body image. The work of Vargas & Winter (98), Foyster et al (34) and Walters and Hefferon (101) supports the objective performance measures in powerlifting, as it promotes and provides beneficial body image physiological and psychological benefits to the female athlete. Furthermore, these results can also be applied to non – sporting populations of females who utilise strength training as a method to improve their lifestyle, reduce body image dissatisfaction and increase confidence, self-efficacy and physical activity (1, 29 and 86). Finally, this research is the first type of methodological design to objectively measure female powerlifters’ body image. This study found that powerlifters did not express extreme or negative perceptions of their body image, despite competing in a weight class sport (66 and 79). The results state that female powerlifters have a performance mindset around improving their health, lifestyle and skills for powerlifting. The objective performance standards of powerlifting have psychological consequences that can help buffer the possibility for negative body image. As quoted by one of the participants from Vargas and Winter (98), who stated that it allowed themselves to see their bodies having a purpose. This comment neatly summarizes the benefits of using strength training from the sport of powerlifting to help counter body image dissatisfaction within female athletes or non – sporting females.


Nearly all the previous research on female athletes with body image concerns was in the context of aesthetic sports where appearances and being thin have some performance advantages (28 and 54). These research findings demonstrate it is not the case for female powerlifters, even though their body is just as visible in a powerlifting singlet. To better understand an athlete’s body image mindset, researchers and coaches should look to conduct the MBSRQ alongside semi-structured interviews to document methods and attitudes toward weight cutting. This will build a holistic profile of an athlete’s mental state through a multifaceted and thorough approach for their body image for competitive ventures and social beliefs.

Within the context of powerlifting as reported by Gee et al (37), cutting weight is not an extreme or dangerous behaviour. Nevertheless, many of the athletes participating in these weight cutting behaviours is down to following or listening to fellow athletes, coaches or internet sources. The focus should be on participation, competition and enjoyment of the sport. Unless the athletes are going for world records within a weight class then engaging in RWL techniques should not be encouraged. Furthermore, at the very elite level of powerlifting (40), they found that these athletes lose the least amount of bodyweight pre – competition (2.1kg) as compared to regional (4.5kg) or national lifters (3.5kg) on average. The evidence provided from this paper demonstrates that to be competitive in powerlifting, you do not need to seek drastic weight cuts in order to be competitive. The focus should be on long term strength developments and becoming technically proficient in all three competition lifts (squat, bench – press and deadlift), rather than going for the short – term high risk approach of losing bodyweight. Where, in this approach you may risk injury, significant loss in strength and a reduced performance outcome.


Andrew Richardson: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, Data curation, writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing, Project administration. 

Dr Mark Chen: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal analysis, writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing, Supervision, Project administration. 

Conflict of Interest Statement: 

The authors declare that have no conflict of interest when writing and or submitting this manuscript for peer review publication to The Sport Journal. 


No funding was sought or requested for the formation of this manuscript 


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