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Beyond the Barbell: Why Cardiovascular Training is a Game-Changer for Powerlifters


Having good cardiovascular fitness is as equally as important as being physically strong. What good is being able to deadlift 300 kilos if you can barely get up a flight of stairs without ending up doubled over winded sucking air like you life depends on it.

Cardiovascular fitness is important for powerlifters because having a base level of aerobic fitness can be highly beneficial. Analysing and combining competition and training demands with physiological concepts of how the body utilises and produces energy can help to understand the importance of cardiovascular fitness for powerlifters. Regularly engaging in cardiovascular activity can improve lung capacity, decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS, burn fat and calories, lower the risk of heart disease and increase work capacity.



How Does Your Body Respond to CV work?

When you think of cardio exercise you think of running, swimming cycling, rowing etc. All these aerobic actives involve large, constantly moving limbs. You will quickly notice how you start to breathe differently (faster & deeper) whilst your heart rate will start to increase. From this you’ll get an increase in oxygen in the blood and an increase blood flow into your working muscles and lungs. When this happens your capillaries will widen to be able to delver more oxygenated blood to the working muscles and allow the waste products like CO2 and lactic acid to be removed from the body.


Benefits of adding CV work:

This may seem obvious, but it’s something that a lot of lifters take for granted. But the risks of chronic diseases likes obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke to name a few, are greatly reduce as cardiovascular health improves. This happens because your heart will be stronger, it’ll be able to work more efficiently (Resting HR is lower). Body fat and visceral fat will be reduced. So your arteries will be free to deliver blood effectively and your internal organs won’t be getting crushed from the added body fat mass. Also you work capacity is increased allowing you to perform more training volume and still recover from it. This is essential as you progress as a lifter as we need to use increasing volume and intensity to continually drive adaptations.


Different Types Of Cardiovascular Training?

If we simplify it, there are 2 types of cardiovascular training. Aerobic training and anaerobic training. With or without oxygen.

For aerobic training you’ll want to aim and maintain a heart rate of between 65-85%. (if you’re training for something you should consider having a set % to hit and not go off the base zone). The intensity for this type of exercise is low to medium. It generally takes over as the dominant system from the 2 minute mark and will keep you going for hours. Things like jogging, swimming, cycling or rowing can all be utilised for aerobic training. Developing this will enhance your body’s ability to utilise oxygen and allow someone to sustain higher intensities before dropping off.


During anaerobic training you will want to aim for a heart rate of 85% depending on what you are doing and what you want to achieve. The intensity will be medium too high. It will last between 10s - 90s and often utilised in any team sports or short explosive track events like 100m sprint. Another great tool for athletes to develop their fitness and improve their game.


Use training systems like continuous, fartek, interval, circuit or tempo to help develop your cardiovascular fitness. I find being able to mix it up really helps with being able to consistently do it.


(Just to clarify - we have 3 energy systems: Anaerobic Alactic energy system, Anaerobic Lactic energy system and Aerobic energy system. 2 Systems without oxygen and 1 with oxygen. But for the sake of this blog I wanted to keep it simple and we will go through these different types of energy systems in a later blog.)


Conclusion:

Anaerobic and alactic energy systems can be taken care of with your traditional powerlifting training. With low volume heavy singles primarily working the Alactic system, and you're back down represents allowing you to work in the anaerobic system. So the CV work I'd be interested in adding into the training of powerlifters or strongman would certainly be aerobic as I believe this will be most valuable in developing their health and fitness as well as the base work capacity.


Because your main goal as a lifter is to be a strong as possible you do not need to Obliterator yourself with aerobic work but simply allow it to enhance your training and improve your fitness. I would suggest looking to add one to 2 hours per week of aerobic work and if you're interested in holding onto as much muscle mass as possible choose activities such as cycling and swimming over running. As these were shown to have lower impact on muscle loss.


Dean Collins


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