Conditioning for Powerlifting

20 minutes.

Just 20mins between my first and last squat attempts at USAPL Raw Nationals 2016. It felt like as soon as I was done with one attempt my name was being called for another. This continued with bench and deadlift and ended up being the fastest meet I had ever done by the end. I had struggled to recover in between attempts and get ready for the next one and by the time 2nd attempts on deadlifts came around, with my back locking up and feeling like I had been hit by a truck, I knew there was a glaring weakness in my training.  I was not as conditioned as I needed to be and that wasn't going to cut it if I wanted to be competitive nationally.

There is a train of thought amongst a lot of powerlifters that conditioning is not practiced or needed for powerlifting. Phrases like “cardio- is that Spanish” or “anything above 5 reps is cardio” are thrown around a lot. This couldn't be further from the truth. Powerlifting, just like any other sport, requires a bare minimum of conditioning which can be broken down into 2 components- Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) and General Physical Preparedness(GPP). Specific Physical Preparedness is the specialized exercises or training that an athlete does for their sport. In powerlifting, training the squat, bench press and deadlift would be an example of SPP. The trouble is that this is the only type of training some powerlifters focus on, completely neglecting GPP. General Physical Preparedness can best be described as a general fitness and movement quality level. Being able to run a mile or climbing a flight of stairs without begging for your life would be examples of GPP. Powerlifting is a sport that requires a lower level of GPP than a more cardiovascular tasking sport, such as cross country, but is still needed for recovery in training and recovery between attempts on meet day.

So the question is how do we increase GPP in a powerlifter who would rather flip a treadmill then run on one? Well, luckily there are a lot of different ways to do so. For conditioning, Ihave separated different protocols into 3 categories to make it easier for programming for both myself and my athletes. I picked the following conditioning protocols based off of carry over into powerlifting and ease of access.

Category 1: High Intensity

This category is going to be made up of protocols that are short, hard and jacks your heart rate up. These conditioning protocols are the hardest to recover from and need to be programmed intelligently so the rest of your training is not affected. Also, most of these conditioning protocols shouldn't take more then 30mins. If they do, it probably means you aren't pushing yourself hard enough.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

Sprints- 20-100yards 6-20reps Rest 40-90secs

  • good for speed and power
  • develops hamstrings and glutes
     

Bike/Rower/Treadmill 6-20mins 10-30secs max effort 30-90secs low effort

  • ease of access
  • Rower is a huge favorite of mine as it doesn't cause muscular strain to my lower back
     

Sled/Prowler

  • very easy to set up and increase difficulty
  • very versatile
  • develops quads, glutes and hamstrings
     

Tire Flips 3-5 sets of 3-10 reps or Every Minute on the Minute Reps

  • strengthens lower back, gluten and hamstrings
  • Carries over into deadlifts

Jumps - timed intervals 15-30secs on 30-60secs off or reps 3-5sets of 1-5reps

  • Develops explosive power
  • strengthens quads, hamstrings, and glutes

Complexes

  • can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, Kettlebells or bodyweight

Tabata

  • can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, Kettlebells or bodyweight
  • very good for when short on time or at the end of a workout

 

Category 2: Medium Intensity

This category is going to be made up of protocols where your heart rate is elevated to about 70-80% of your max heart rate and stay there at a steady state.

Bike/Rower/Treadmill 6-20mins

  • pick a speed and stick with it for a set time

Circuit Training 3-4 exercises 3-5sets

  • can be incorporated in weightlifting workout by doing main lifts paired with accessories I.e bench press, 1-arm row, incline plank
  • can also be done separately to work on weak points or muscles that aren't hit as hard in training such as calfs, forearms and traps

Jumping Rope total reps or time I.e 100 reps or 5mins

  • easy to include in workouts
  • easy to do anywhere

Abdominal work

  • if you don't have a chance to work on them directly on your training days

  

Category 3: Low Intensity

This category is made up for just general movement that will be used as active recovery. These are really meant for relaxation and to burn a few calories along the way. These will typically be the longest in length and most frequent in training program.

Walk 10-60mins

  • preferably outside in nature, to get sunlight and relax

Pool day

  • preferably with friends so you can at least spend a little time not on your own grunting and slamming weights

Bike Ride

  • low effort just around the neighborhood

Light body weight/Band/ Dumbbell circuit

  • just focus on blood flow, not any where close to a burn

Yoga

  • light intensity, stick to more stretching and breathing focused ones

Stretch

  • an oldy but goldy

 

Programming

All three categories should be used during training but depending on where you are in your training cycle the frequency of each will vary. Typically in the offseason, directly after a period of deload from a competition, is when I am going to use the most amount of category 1 conditioning workouts. This is time when it is good to really get your conditioning down to prepare you for the next training block leading into a competition. As you get closer to a competition, or your weight training intensity goes up, your conditioning intensity is going to need to go down or else this can lead to Overtraining and injury.

 

Offseason: Cat 1:  1-3Cat 2:  1-3Cat 3: 3-7

Example:

  • Day 1 Upper Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 2 Lower Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 3 Cat 1 Sled Push 10x25yards,Cat 3 Pool day 60mins
  • Day 4 Upper Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 5 Lower Body. Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 6 Cat 1 Rower 15secs on 45off 10mins Cat 3 Stretch
  • Day 7 Abdominal Work Cable Crunch 5x15 Cat 3 Yoga

 

In Season: Cat 1: 1 Cat 2: 2 Cat 3: 3-7

Example:

  • Day 1 Upper Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 2 Lower Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 3 Cat 1 Sled Push 10x25yards,Cat 3 Pool day 60mins
  • Day 4 Upper Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 5 Lower Body. Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 6 Cat 2 Jump Rope 100reps Cat 3 Stretch
  • Day 7 Abdominal Work Cable Crunch 5x15 Cat 3 Yoga

 

Meet Prep/ Deload: Cat 3: 3-7

  • Day 1 Upper Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 2 Lower Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 3 Cat 3 Pool day 60mins
  • Day 4 Upper Body Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 5 Lower Body. Weight Lift, Cat 3 Walk 30mins
  • Day 6 Cat 3 Stretch
  • Day 7 Cat 3 Yoga

 

Conclusion

By including purposeful conditioning in your training this can lead to better performance in training and more importantly on the platform. Additionally conditioning can help with body weight management allowing a lifter to go down or stay in a certain weight class. Most recently I competed in my first Strongman competition, the second to last event included a 515 conventional deadlift. After putting a lot more effort into conditioning the last 6 months of training I was able to recover in between events and pulled the 515 more easily than I had in October at Raw Nationals. I definitely attribute this to my conditioning levels as I felt the least worn down after this contest then any previous one before. So if you are wanting to take your training to the next level then conditioning needs to be an important building block when designing your program.

 

Ethan McElroy is a North Carolina based powerlifter, strength coach, highland athlete and strongman. He is the owner of Iron Guru Fitness and Performance. When he is not training others or competing in competitions of strength he can be found spending time with his wife, two dogs and cat.

Follow Ethan McElroy on Instagram or Facebook 

For questions or inquiries for online coaching please email ethan@ethanmcelroy.com

Ethan McElroy