Conditioning for Powerlifters

All 3XL’s unite! Although I no longer carry the excess pounds that I once had, I know your pain and live with the scars. I also am safe knowing that while some other skinny writers scoff and criticize us, their four lift total (this is the squat, bench, deadlift, and squat…again) doesn’t even come close to our one lift total (pick any lift…even a curl).

While they point their bony, weak fingers, I offer an open Shrek-like palm and congratulate you. It’s not easy being big and strong. You are constantly called “Big Guy” and are always challenged to wing eating contests at Hooters. Things could be worse though. You could be weak and collect comic books.

But, let me offer this to you. You need to stay in some kind of condition and doing eight sets of two reps on the squat is not going to get you there. You need some lovin’ for the heart. So, as a tribute to all you big men, I give you this—the conditioning guide for powerlifters.


How: This is pretty easy. I recommend 3–7 days a week for 20–40 minutes a day. If you have a dog, this makes your walk at least have a purpose. If a neighbor stops you, you don’t have to tell them, “I’m just conditioning.” For those of you who train in commercial gyms and have access to a treadmill, this is good to do after you train so that you don’t have to make separate trips to the gym on the off days. You don’t have to kill yourself when walking. On a treadmill, start at whatever pace you feel comfortable. You don’t need to be a speed walker, but 3.0 mph is a very easy pace.

This is especially good for heavier lifters and those that are very out of shape. If you find yourself out of breath when walking through the buffet line, then this is probably something you’ll want to do.

Positives: Walking is very low stress on the knees and lower back, both of which bother many lifters. In fact, walking is very therapeutic for your lower back. If you work inside all day, spending 30 minutes outside will do wonders for your mood. Plus, it’s some good time alone.

Negatives: It’s boring, especially the treadmill.

Overall rating: Three leg warmers, a headband, and one box of Snack Wells.

Walking with a weight vest

How: This is pretty much the same as the above (treadmill/walking). If you choose this option, I recommend doing so for a shorter period of time (20 minutes) to see how you do. I use a 75 lb weight vest when doing this.

Positives: This is much manlier than walking alone. You actually feel like you’re doing something.

Negatives: Again, it’s boring.

Overall rating: Three and a half lower back pumps with a side of “I look like Curtis Jackson.”


How: Like walking, you can do this 3–7 days a week for 20–40 minutes a day. You can use a stationary bike at the gym or at home, or you can invest in a bike (or use your old Huffy) and ride around the neighborhood. If you do have an old bike, be careful of popping wheelies. When I was in college, my bike (which was made during the Nixon administration) was my main mode of transportation, but it didn’t quite have the structural integrity that I desired. So, as I was attempting to show off for some girls on campus, my ‘wheelie popping’ quickly turned into ‘handlebar breaking.’

Positives: Riding a bike is pretty low stress on the knees and back. If you do this outside, you can get a little sun and relax.

Negatives: While it is low stress on the knees, I noticed that it can make tight hip flexors even tighter. Plus, it can be a little rough on the ‘taint-n-balls.’ And to make matters worse, you have to contend with cars and pedestrians. If you’re a heavier individual, riding a bike isn’t going to help your single life. So if you fall into this category, be sure that you are married before putting on the Lycra and helmet.

Overall rating: Two and a half numb prostates and a pair of Oakleys.

Dragging a sled

How: There are about a million different ways to pull the sled for conditioning. I’m going to clear up a few things first for everyone. If the sled is used for conditioning—and conditioning only—then the weight has to be light enough so it does NOT take away from your strength training. The biggest mistake people make when using the sled is to combine strength training and conditioning.

So, how do you know if it’s light enough or heavy enough? It’s simple. If you find yourself getting weaker in the weight room (and this doesn’t mean in just one workout), or if you’re getting sore after your conditioning, then you’re probably going too heavy. I recommend starting very light and working up slowly from there. You’ll know when it’s too heavy. Try starting with a 45 lb plate on the sled.

For conditioning purposes, I recommend doing this for time instead of distance. Since we all have different spaces in which to drag (some may have an open field while others may have a parking lot), I suggest that you start with a light weight and attempt 10–15 minutes of dragging. I have worked up to 20 minutes with 135 lbs. This was done with no stopping and at a very brisk pace. For some variety, I also recommend pulling forwards and backwards.

I recommend dragging the sled 3–5 times per week.

Positives: Because of the added resistance, sled dragging is a little harder than walking. Plus, it is easy on the low back and knees.

Negatives: There are two negatives with sled dragging. First, it’s a seasonal activity. If you live in a climate that has snow and ice, it’s obviously not a great thing. Second, the sled is still weight training, and some people need a break from the weight room. These people do NOT need to see a weight between workouts.

Overall rating: Three and a half “I use the term GPP and don’t know what it means.”


How: Pushing a car around is a good time. However, you need a car and another driver, and it’s almost impossible to vary the load. The Prowler is very similar to pushing a car, except that you’re a little lower.

Because it’s stressful, the Prowler is best used on your training days, not during your off days. You can walk or run with the Prowler. I prefer to run with it. Much of what you do with the Prowler is going to depend on where you can push it. When I’m at the compound, we have a nice 50-yard area to push it around. When using it at the high school, I have unlimited space.

I have never done the Prowler for time, as this would probably kill me. I generally do ten or more sprints of 30–50 yards each.

Positives: The Prowler is fun to do and a welcome change. It’s the #1 conditioning tool on the testosterone meter.

Negatives: Like the sled, you need to do this outside. So this is not a great option if you share space with polar bears.

Overall rating: Two buckets of puke and an “Atta Boy!”

Medicine ball

How: I got this from Bob Youngs. So if you don’t like it, you can blame him. It’s pretty simple to do. Take a medicine ball, throw it, walk to it, pick it up, and throw it again. Do this for 20–30 minutes. You can use whatever kinds of throws you want—forward overhead, backward overhead, chest pass, side throws, underhand, etc. The point is to be creative and keep moving. I used a 25 lb ball, but I think a much lighter ball could work as well.

Positives: This is a hell of a workout and is usually done outside. In the first couple of minutes, it’s fun to see how explosive you can be. This comes to a halt after 7–8 minutes.

Negatives: If you’ve never had the incredibly uncomfortable lower back pump, then you’ll know how it feels after about ten minutes of this. I wouldn’t recommend doing this before a big bench workout either. While not as boring as walking, the phrases “med ball conditioning” and “this is super exciting” will never appear in the same sentence.

Overall rating: Twenty minutes of heavy breathing and a headlock under Bob’s hairy armpit.


Now that I’ve given you some exercises, let’s see how we can use this in your training.

· Walking can be done every day. If this is your form of conditioning then I recommend a minimum of three days a week. These days can be training days or off days, whatever works best for you.

· If you choose to use a bicycle, stationary or real, it can be done every day. I think this is a good choice for those who are very heavy or are using many drugs. This is especially true for those who use many orals, as the lower back pump that one gets is insane. Walking may not be an option. If you must, use a recumbent bike. The important thing is to simply do something.

· If you choose to pull the sled, I recommend doing this on your training days, even if it’s an upper body day. The same goes for the Prowler. Do this after your training session, but don’t cut out your exercises.

· The med ball conditioning should also be done on your training days.

· The most important thing to remember is that when you condition, you don’t have to be gasping for air, although some of you might. Powerlifters and athletes have an on/off switch and nothing in between. You have to learn how to idle. Conditioning work should not be mentally and physically taxing so you don’t have to turn this into a workout.

· Remember that conditioning is not strength training. Strength training is for the weight room. You need to condition for your health and recovery, and for the ability to increase workload in the gym. After I began walking, I noticed a huge difference in all of these areas.