Louis-Alexis Gratton |
Conditioning for Powerlifting: What is Necessary?
Two factors mainly determine powerlifting success: maximal strength and hypertrophy. And then again, hypertrophy only matters because the amount of muscle mass an individual possesses influences the potential he has to develop absolute strength.
The task that needs to be accomplished in powerlifting in regards to conditioning is expressing maximal strength on the platform, and be able to use maximal force for nine attempts, having properly recovered between each attempt, with an allotted recovery time of about 8 to 15 minutes. Hence, the energy pathway used in a powerlifting competition is the ATP-PC system, which means that there is no positive correlation between cardiovascular fitness and powerlifting performance.
Now, for a competitive athlete, it is important to keep in mind that everything that is done in training must have a direct positive impact on the ability to properly execute the sport tasks come competition day. Anything else will not only be a waste of effort, but a nuisance to the recovery and adaptation process. The human body has a finite capability for adaptation and recovery: if you do too much at once, it will adapt poorly to all the presented stimuli  .
In regards to powerlifting, the need to develop endurance through the use of low intensity/high duration exercises is completely absent. Not only is it absent, but the use of such methods for maximal strength development is actually counterproductive  . As we mentioned, on the platform, the effort is extremely short and the recovery time very long: normally 2 or 3 seconds against 10 to 15 minutes. The implication of the cardiovascular system in such a set-up is extremely marginal, and it absolutely does not need to be the focus of training through the use of special methods.
The use of devices such as the sled and prowler are better suited for endurance development, and are poor tools to develop hypertrophy, because they elicit limited ranges of motion and eccentric actions.
As a matter of fact, the simple use of higher reps sets (8-10 reps) and slightly shorter rest periods (let’s say under 5 minutes, which is probably at least half the time allotted in competition) will establish all the conditioning you need for powerlifting, all the while inducing hypertrophy. Using variations of the competition lifts with greater ranges of motion such as olympic squats, deficit deadlifts and close grip bench presses will usually accomplish both of these tasks very well.
The use of devices such as the sled and prowler are better suited for endurance development, and are poor tools to develop hypertrophy, because they elicit limited ranges of motion and eccentric actions. However, in the case of injury prevention and especially injury treatment, when the options might be limited, they can be used as low impact exercises. Otherwise, sticking to the basics is a much better use of your training time. Understand that when you are doing a certain exercise, you have to be sure you know why it is there, and comprehend that if it doesn’t directly translate to a better performance come meet day, you are hindering recovery and adaptation from the useful exercises in your training. If it’s a trade off you are willing to make for health or aesthetic reasons, so be it, but be aware of the impact on your performance.
For more information on when and to what degree it is acceptable to train in a less specific manner, we encourage you to look at our articles on powerlifting periodization and on exercise variation and training transfer.
-  For more information on this concept, take a look at our article on directed adaptation. ↑
-  […] athletes who participate in sports that rely on High Intensity Exercise Endurance should not undergo Low Intensity Exercise Endurance training, because this training impairs anaerobic performance capacity.’’ Bompa, Tudor. Periodization: Theory and methodology of training, 5th edition. 2009, Human Kinetics p.299 ↑