3 reasons other athletes should train like Powerlifters

Do you even lift, bro?

Sure, that sounds like a joke, but really, do you lift? As an avid CrossFitter, I’ve spent a lot of years training my General Physical Preparedness. I’ve seen great progress, but I also noticed that one aspect seemed to be lagging: overall Strength. As a fix, I’ve added Powerlifting to my training cycle, focusing on becoming stronger in the core lifts of Deadlift, Back Squat, Bench Press, and Overhead Press. In two months, my working and maximal weights have improved an average 15% and my MetCon’s have become faster and stronger.

Here’re three good reasons you should join me in adding Powerlifting to your schedule.

1. Powerlifting is purely functional

The three main barbell movements tested in most powerlifting meets are Deadlift, Back Squat, and Bench Press. Most lifters also incorporate Overhead Press, Power Clean, Chin-ups, and weighted Dips in their rotation. All of these moves have one major thing in common: they work very functional movement patterns. Picking things up, squatting, and pressing weight away from the body are all things your body was built to do. The only factor is whether or not you’re training it.

For endurance athletes that primarily focus on running, biking, or swimming you can use the powerlifts to practice good range of motion in every direction. Surely no one would argue that being stronger in the squat will make you run worse? That’s just silly!

The same argument can be made for sport athletes like football or baseball players. When you move better in general, you not only perform better in your sport, you also reduce the risk of injury significantly.

For CrossFitters, we’re all about functional movement. The powerlifts have you practicing these under load for dozens of repetitions every week, which means everything based on those movements will be stronger and smoother. Want better Wall Balls, then practice squatting and pressing! Oh wait, those are powerlifting moves!

2. Strength is the basis for (almost) every other skill

In CrossFit we look at fitness partially as a measure of 10 general physical skills: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, & accuracy. While strength is (appropriately) one of the skills all by itself, it’s also a basis for several of the others.

The most obvious connections are Power and Speed.

Power is the ability to apply strength at high speed, or to apply maximal force in minimal time. The stronger you are, the more power you are capable of applying in any given moment. For example, a punch is just applying force fast with a closed fist. The stronger you are, the harder that punch will be by default.

Speed is the ability to do one movement over and over with minimal time between repetitions. In order to move, you need to contract your muscles, and the stronger you become the faster your muscles tend to contract. This isn’t always true, since you have multiple types of muscle groups, but it is true often enough. Think of a sprinter versus a long distance runner. The sprinter has to move the legs very fast, whereas the marathoner doesn’t, but they are both doing the same movement repeatedly. Their speed is inherently different, and I would bet a lot of money that the sprinter has a stronger back squat!

There are some less obvious physical connections as well to Stamina and Agility.

Stamina is the ability of the body to store and use energy. You can get energy from a few places, but the first line is the glycogen stored in your muscles. Stronger muscles tend to have more glycogen, which means people who engage in powerlifting tend to have more glycogen than those who don’t. If you have more energy readily available be default, then your ability to use it improves.

Agility is related to Speed but differs in that instead of repeating the same movement rapidly, you’re changing movement patterns rapidly. Using running as an example again, this would be a rapid direction change in the middle of a straight line run, with your Agility determining how well you handle the change. Since Agility and Speed are linked, it follows that Strength and Agility are linked as well. Another factor is your Strength determines how well you can handle torsional force, such as quickly twisting in a new direction.

Finally, there’s two connections many people never make between Strength and Balance/Accuracy.

Balance is pretty much the ability to not fall over when you bend in different ways. Very simply, the stronger you are, the better able you will be to extend your body out away from your center of gravity and remain in control.

Accuracy is usually thought of as being able to hit a target, but really it’s also about being able to control the intensity and direction of movement. Stronger people tend to know how to apply their Strength more effectively, because they’ve spent so many hours honing the mental connection between movement and result.

3. You’re not as strong as you think you are (or should be)

Many athletic people enter the gym ready to tackle any workout you throw at them. In general, they’ll be better able to handle that kind of challenge than someone who isn’t athletic, but athleticism is a broad continuum of the ability to meet many different challenges. Someone who has a 3 hour marathon time doesn’t necessarily have a 20 second 100-meter sprint, and vice versa. We’ve already seen how Strength relates to many other physical skills, so the importance of being strong should be pretty clear.

But here’s the rub: unless you’re already engaging in some sort of powerlifting training, you’re not as strong as you should be. I know this from personal experience as both an athlete and a coach. The athletes that I work with who have trained the major powerlifts prior to working with me perform an average 30%+ better (measured by time, rounds, or gross weight moved) than even the athletic people who didn’t train in the powerlifs. So too we see this tendency comparing the powerlifters to other CrossFitters who don’t train the lifts very often (outside of normal class attendance). Sure, the CrossFitters are impressively fit, but those who also powerlift to some degree tend to outpace those who don’t.

The solution, then, is to admit you can (and should) be stronger, and start powerlifting!