Powerlifting for endurance sports


In this episode, we cover the benefits of powerlifting for endurance-based athletes. Powerlifting can reduce your chances of getting injured. It can help you build stronger bones, ligaments and tendons that typically undergo a lot of strain and sprain during endurance based training. You will be pleasantly surprised by the benefits and performance outcomes that powerlifting can make to your endurance based training.

Most endurance based coaches will turn down any idea of powerlifting for endurance athletes with the argument that its not specific to the sport. You will learn that the benefits of powerlifting works synergistically with specific sports based training, to give injury prevention training as well as power to conquer hill climbs and faster performance times. Adding powerlifting to your current cardio program will give you strength, metabolic and power benefits you never thought possible.

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A triathletes training program with powerlifting added:

Day 1: 2-3km Swim + Upper body powerlifting
Day 2: Track + Core + glute strength
Day 3: 30km Cycle + 2-3km swim
Day 4: 30km Cycle + 5-7km Run
Day 5: 5-7km Run + Lower body powerlifting

A runners training program with powerlifting added:

Day 1: 5-6km run
Day 2: Sprint (track day)
Day 3: Full body powerlifting
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: 15-17km Long run
Day 6: Full body powerlifting
Day 7: Rest

Check out this episode!


Powerlifting for Endurance Sports

With Gabby

  • Listen to the previous podcasts in this series to understand the relevance of powerlifting and how it fits into the fitness series.
  • Powerlifting: can come in a variety of different modalities:

-Olympic: one-rep max

-Powerlifting: 3-5 reps



  • Repetitions: number of times you lift the weight in a row.
  • Powerlifting: less than 5 reps at a time with lots of rest between each set. Get the maximum amount of muscle force and weight lifted at any given time. We get metabolic and hormonal benefits and less chance of injury due to low reps. Burn lots of calories and train your fast-twitch muscle fibres (involved in power) to fire more rapidly which is great in power sports/activity such as hill climbs in cycling.
  • Offers more neural benefits in the form of motor unit recruitment (amount of muscle fibres in a single unit that fires at any one given time); the more fibres firing at any one given time means that the exercise that you’re doing doesn’t feel as hard. Analogy: 4 people trying to lift a table. If you have 2 people (or fibres) trying to lift the table it might be quite heavy but if you add an extra 2 people lifting the table then it becomes lighter for each individual person. If you add an extra 10 people (or fibres) then the table becomes extremely easy to lift. This is what motor unit recruitment is all about!
  • Power lifting is also great for balance, coordination, and flexibility and gets you ready for different sporting activities, reducing the risk of injury.

4 Reasons Powerlifting is good for everyone

  1. Powerlifting has a significant effect on the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs). The heart is a muscle and needs training and to be pushed so it can adapt and stay strong.
  2. Powerlifting uses the entire body. We get an even distribution of load and muscle toning all over when we do compound movements that powerlifting promotes such as squats and bench press. We typically use big muscle groups and stabilising muscle groups.
  3. With powerlifting it’s difficult to overtrain, as there’s no repetitive strain because the training volume is low.
  4. They’re short effective workouts. Only doing 3 exercises in powerlifting is enough to get you lean muscle tone, strength, adaptation for muscles and joints and cardiovascular strength.

Benefits for Endurance Sports

  • Strength training: training the body to develop more force in a movement at any one time.
  • Endurance-based athletes should powerlift to get stronger.
  • Not recommending that you swap your sports-specific training for powerlifting. But it may be beneficial to add it to your training if you have the time.


  1. Improve the joint integrity of the joints you use in your sport.
  2. Correct imbalances that have developed from your sport e.g. if you’re a runner and always using your quads and your glutes are not activating. This can also reduce pain caused by imbalances.
  3. Improve strength for small spurts of hills and hill sprints at the end of the race e.g. when a triathlon ends in a hill and you need the extra muscle power recruitment and power to get up the hill and finish the race.

Powerlifting and its ability to reduce injuries

  • Powerlifting is a complex movement and you need to learn the pattern of the movement, otherwise there is an injury risk.
  • Once you learn how to powerlift correctly, you can help reduce injuries in your chosen sport. This is because you will have stronger tissues, particularly ligaments and tendons and muscles surrounding the joint from the strength training. The joint structure will become more resistant to loads in training and will help stabilise joints so there’s less movement and less pain.
  • Strength training improves ligament and tendon strength and improves joint integrity. Compound movements such as squats places strain on connective tissue around the joint. The forces pull on the tendons and ligaments from the bone so these forces that the bone experiences causes cell activity in the bone and causes the bone to grow back stronger. You end up with stronger bones, reducing the risk of fracture from repetitive strain and you also end up with tendons and ligaments that are stronger and fire quicker when load is placed upon them.
  • There’s a lot of repetitive motion in endurance training so it can build one area of muscles mass more so than another, which can cause injury.
  • Do a fitness assessment first, see what muscles are stronger or weaker and then develop a strength-training plan to target the weaker muscles.
  • Strength-training loads up the muscles in the correct balance and in the correct way so it’s functional training. You have a full range of movement through the joints and imbalances can be identified and corrected.
  • Goal is to compliment your endurance training not to replace it.
  • Strength-training also has a performance benefit. It will increase power and help to prevent injury in your chosen sport.

Powerlifting & increasing power

  • It will increase power needed in the hard parts of exercise such as helping in tackles with football or hill sprints in cycling.
  • In order to lift heavy weights in powerlifting, your body has to develop strength in areas that you’re weak.
  • With a dead lift, squat and bench press you will increase muscle mass in your entire body that will help improve power when it helps the most e.g. trying to increase speed to overtake another competitor.
  • Positive correlation between muscle cross-sectional area and improved lactic acid clearance. Muscles work more efficiently when lactic acid is cleared.

What exercises should you do?

  1. Deadlift: You use core strength; lower back, glutes and core abdominals (which is good for general health and posture). Get good functional core benefits e.g. use a lot of core work when running and good technique in swimming comes from good core stability. A study released showed that strength-trained athletes had better core stability than pilates instructors. Putting the core under a greater load increases the strength of the core by recruiting more muscle fibres.
  2. Squats: It’s a functional movement, helps with flexibility of the muscles used.
  3. Bench-press: Use pecs and shoulders. Use these muscles when running and especially swimming. Having an efficient arm swing helps us propel forward more- swinging motion of arms affects speed of feet. It’s therefore good to have a strong upper body that’s strong and efficient in its movements.

How often should an endurance athlete lift?

  • Not too often because you’re not looking at building lots of bulky muscle, you’re just looking to build strength.
  • Once or twice a week so a powerlifting program and lift as heavy a weight as you can. Do 3 exercises (squat, dead lift and bench press) that use multiple body parts.
  • Periodise training so it’s not affecting your endurance-based training sets and make sure you leave time to recover.
  • Look at your total training program so you’re not doing junk training; make sure it’s efficient. If you want to be a runner then run 4 times/week, one session is a sprint, one is a long run and 2 other shorter runs. Have a days rest in between or pair 2 training sessions together with more rest days. Get speed and endurance training this way and will maintain fitness with the 2 shorter runs.
  • Every training session you do should have a purpose, particularly if you’re after a certain performance goal.
  • Swap out junk training sessions for powerlifting sessions.

What will the training volume be like?

  • When you powerlift, you use maximal effort lifts: high weight, low repetition lifts that recruit the most amount of muscle fibres. Up to 5 reps or less. Traditionally 1-2 reps maximum with the heaviest weight you can lift.
  • Always do these movements with perfect technique.
  • Not the traditional weight training program or circuit.
  • Power-lifters focus on 3 main exercises (deadlift, circuit, bench-press) and then add in other exercises around these.
  • One deadlift wont fatigue you so much that you can’t go running after.

A triathletes training program with powerlifting added:

Day 1: 2-3km Swim + Upper body powerlifting: bench press, chin ups, Olympic ring pull-ups, one-arm presses on a Swiss ball).
Day 2: Track + Core + glute strength
Day 3: 30km Cycle + 2-3km swim
Day 4: 30km Cycle + 5-7km Run: make sure you’re eating enough protein and carbohydrates to keep up with this training regime.
Day 5: 5-7km Run + Lower body powerlifting: squats, lunges, tricep dips and core work.

A runners training program with powerlifting added:

Day 1: 5-6km run
Day 2: Sprint (track day)
Day 3: Full body powerlifting
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: 15-17km Long run
Day 6: Full body powerlifting
Day 7: Rest

  • If you’re a weight trainer, endurance training can help you too because it improves capacity. Your muscles won’t shrink, you will build more efficient Type 2 fibres and improve metabolic health.
  • There are benefits from doing a range of different exercise techniques.
  • If you give your body new stimulus it will adapt and change.

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