Most powerlifters claim they do not need “cardio”, while others may run, which is counterproductive to lifting. Cardio-respiratory and cardio-vascular conditioning may not be one of a powerlifter’s main concerns; however it should be! Has anyone ever seen a lifter warm up with 135 in the squat and then sit down huffing and puffing for minutes? This is not healthy! The deaths among older and heavier strength athletes due to heart failure confirm this. Doyle Kanady, Lee Moran, Chuck Braxton, Bill Cook and O.D. Wilson are just a few who have passed on due to heart problems. If the passing of just one of these fine athletes could have been prevented by a different training program, it would have been well worth it. To explore this issue we need to look at the need for cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular fitness, traditional routines, the make-up of a powerlifter, cardio-powerlifting routines, and their results. I am no expert like a Fred Hatfield or a Louie Simmons. I am a lifter who has lifted weights for over 30 years and if God willing would like to for another 30. Slight changes in a routine may make a big difference in life, and if this article based on opinion, observations, and known fact can make a difference in just one person, it is well worth it. My father passed away at 63 due to a heart attack and both grandfathers in their mid 60’s due to heart attacks . I am a heavier lifter and am heavier than my father and both grandfathers were so I could be at risk. When I started back training at age 45 after almost 9 years of inactivity, I recognized the need to do something as I felt like I was slowing down. I could not walk around the block without huffing and puffing In my younger days I had never been in bad shape and had always been a repper, but had never concentrated on cardio. I would breathe heavy on maybe 315 for 10 squat, not too bad, but there are lifters who squat 700 and would suck wind on 135 for 10 ! I realized that I had to do something if I wanted to be a heavyweight and live past 65 !!! Since Powerlifting is not an aerobic sport and does not require a great deal of “cardio” we must alter out routines so that we work our most important muscle, the heart. After all without the heart, all the quads, glutes, pecs, and erectors would be of no use. So I set upon a program that would work my heart and lung capacity and went from having trouble walking around the block to three miles in foot deep snow hardly breathing and 400 for 20 reps in the squat. Now I did suck wind on those squats, but I’m sure anyone else would too.
Here’s what I did. First, I started out with a routine using 15 in the squat and 10’s in the bench. All my assistance exercises were done in 10’s also. Now , take as little time as possible while warming up, but do the big sets with a rest before but push the big set to the limit. The key to it all is now take all other sets down in rapid succession, and then superset all the assistance exercises or rapid fire them . My bench assistance routine sure will make me breathe heavy and get my heart pounding. Once I get my heart rate up I keep it up the entire workout. As I approach a meet I of course lower my reps in the power three, and even assistance, but I still pay attention to keeping my heart rate up and the time down between sets of assistance. It is a well known fact that to achieve good effects of exercise one must achieve a good target heart rate. Powerlifters often make the mistake of letting their heart rate go back down between sets. Sure I recognize the fact one can’t have their heart pounding and be sucking wind while attempting the big set or single. You use the big set to get the heart rate up and then keep it up by the frequency of sets and the number of reps. As the workout progresses each exercise is less intense as less effort is needed to keep the heart rate up. The big muscles get worked first , get the “motor” running and as one exercises the smaller muscle groups are worked in turn, and the heart rate stays up.
Now, just what kind of routines are used? Have you ever looked as Louis Simmons tapes and followed their workouts. Notice the short intervals between major sets and the even shorter intervals between assistance exercises. That’s kind of what I do except I often use high reps in crude forms of the power three. For example I often work up to 10-15 reps in the bench and 20 in the squat. One set of 20 in the squat and then it doesn’t take much else to keep my heart rate up for the remainder of the workout. I recently worked out with a lifter who merely worked up to singles in the lifts and did very little else. All that lifter would have to do is to add reps after the big sets and to do more assistance in a fast way. No one would think of a bicep workout as a cardio workout , but it can be ! Do your sets one right after another and see just how much you will feel it. Any routine can be modified . Pulling a sled can be good for your heart as well as your squat. Just pull a sled after any workout and keep your heart rate up.
Powerlifting routines can be used for “cardio” , but what about other forms of exercise ? Running is out for lifters as it puts too much stress on the knees. Treadmills can be hard on the knees also. The one piece of equipment in the gym I found is the elliptical machine, and I have often used it. Bicycling and swimming are good also. A good martial arts routine also is good and will give benefits in other areas. If you haven’t been on a “cardio” type lifting workout you may need to explore one of these forms of exercise before you do the kind of workout I recommend. Just 15-20 minutes on the elliptical machine a couple of times a week will get you on the right path. I usually do that after a workout , but have actually tried it before. If you do not have “cardio” equipment or are too heavy , then a brisk walk will do. I take many a mile or two walks .
I will now take you through a couple of my workouts. you do not have to do things exactly as I do but this is just an idea. Bench workout : warm-ups then 4 sets of 5 with bands done with 1-2 min rest most between sets, then directly into inclines 2-3 sets of 5-8. I move right away to lat pulls.. 3 sets with almost no rest between sets. Next I superset side raises with seated dumbell press with almost no time between sets. Now I am really huffing and puffing and my heart rate has been up since the first big bench set and I’m not going to let it go down just yet. I still have bi’s and tri’s and after that ab work. Squat workout : I warm up fairly quickly then do my big set which will get me huffing and my heart rate up. Then I waste no time in getting my other sets done one right after another. This really gets my motor going! After I finish my squats, I work shoulders and upper back , then abs and during that time I do not slow down at all.
This workout strategy keeps me in good shape and my heart and lungs going . Now I am no cardiologist and nothing takes the place of a low cholesterol diet and regular check-ups. I just want to make the point that powerlifting can be made healthier on the heart. you can see that it will not take any real drastic changes in one’s routines to make powerlifting a healthier sport.
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