Interest in powerlifting as a complementary training tool for a particular sport, with its focus on high weights and short speedy reps, is growing among athletes from different disciplines – and some, like Dominic, 45, are even finding competitive success in both fields they train in.
Dominic, who did endurance events before becoming a World Masters and Commonwealth Open powerlifting champion said it makes sense because most sports benefit from simply being stronger in proportion to bodyweight.
“And this is the aim of powerlifting, unless you’re a superheavyweight.
“Take my trail running ultramarathons for example – with added strength you can be more resilient to injury, either from a trauma or overuse, and the energy cost and muscle strain of running up a hill with a four kilogram backpack will be less for me than someone who doesn’t do strength training.”
The proof came when Dominic decided to take part in a 350km running, kayaking and cycling adventure race in 2013. He had only been actively training in powerlifting and had only four weeks to prepare for the race.
“It had been years since I had ridden a bike before that, and I hadn’t been paddling much either, yet athletes who had much better endurance and much more specific training than I were in serious trouble with injuries mid-way through the race.
“I’m a big advocate of strength training for running. It’s not just sprinters who will benefit from squats, deadlifts and Olympic-style lifts – endurance runners will too. There’s a misconception that an endurance athlete should lift low weights for 20-30 repetitions of an exercise to help his or her running, but that’s not right. A runner lifts weights to get stronger, not to gain endurance – that’s what all the running training is for. Lifting weights should be complementary.”
Dominic says powerlifting has many advantages compared to other strength-focused activities.
First, it’s extremely measurable and comes with a very defined and precise set of rules. This is important because you can go to any gym and see people increasing the weight they lift or doing more reps in a set amount of time, not because they became stronger or more powerful, but because they find better ways to cheat. This clear set of rules makes lifting safer, too. Really, for the limits we take our bodies to, powerlifters have a very low injury rate.
Lifting heavy weights in such a precise and controlled manner improves your body awareness. Powerlifters know that the slightest change (intentional or by mistake) in technique changes the outcome of a lift. This awareness carries over into any other sport – I’ve become much more aware of what my muscles should be doing when I run since I began powerlifting.
The combination of speed, balance and the range of movement required in powerlifting training make it very applicable to a wide variety of sports, but they’re not prohibitive, either. This makes powerlifting training accessible for a very wide range of people and ages – I’ve seen many men and women in their 60s, 70s and even 80s powerlifting.
The combination of training required for the squat, bench press and deadlift produce a balanced musculature and good posture. You don’t tend to see gorilla-like rounding of the back, nor chicken-legs or ironing-board behinds, or chronic knee issues from unevenly developed leg muscles.
The style of training is very good for maintaining muscle mass (not necessarily increasing it) and making you stronger for your weight. This is important as you age, and also for many sports where extra power helps, but not if it comes at the cost of having more bodyweight to lug around.
For those considering bringing powerlifting into their training mix, Dominic provides the following tips:
Start slowly. Your body has to be conditioned to lift near maximal loads, plus even with experience you need to spend plenty of time warming up then working up to your work sets with short warm-up sets that increase weight in small increments.
Learn correct technique first. This will help prevent injury and speed up your gains. Don’t just copy someone. Even at the elite level, powerlifters have all kinds of variations in technique to suit their body – some people have longer thighs, or their hips turn out more, or they have shorter arms, and so on. A qualified powerlifting coach can suggest what will work best for you.
You can’t PB every session. Don’t try and lift maximum weights or lift to exhaustion every workout – it’s a great way to burn out or get an injury. Remember that speed and acceleration training (at much lighter loads) is also required, and this will carry over well into other sports, too.
Choose your focus. You can’t go hard at powerlifting training at the same time you’re training hard for another sport (trust me, I’ve tried!). Back off on one while you pick up the volume and/or intensity of the other.
Recover! Powerlifting places a different type of stress on the body compared to other sports, but it’s stress all the same. Get plenty of sleep, be diligent with your recovery eating and general nutrition, and look after muscles and ligaments through methods such as stretching, yoga, massage, foam rolling and wearing compression clothing after and in between training sessions.
Dominic plans to take part in a Powerlifting Australia event at one of this year’s Fitness & Health Expos. He is also training for a 175km trail ultramarathon in September.