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GPP and Conditioning for Strength Athletes
There are a lot of strength athletes that are out of shape. I am mainly talking about weightlifters and powerlifters in this article. They like to practice the competition lifts, hit a few accessory movements, and then hit the road. This is a bad idea for several reasons.
We like to use general physical preparedness exercises to increase work capacity. The athlete that has the ability to perform the most work will usually finish on top. Yes we use increase the volume of the competitive movements, but I can’t necessarily use those movements to maximize work capacity. I don’t want the movement of the competitive lifts to break down, so I use exercises that are less complex to increase work capacity.
There is another reason that I like general physical preparedness. I want my athletes to be healthy when weightlifting is over. The habits that they form will stay with them through life. I want to see my athletes healthy when they have families and careers later in life.
Not all conditioning/GPP is created equally for strength athletes. I love CrossFit, but those short highly anaerobic workouts like “Fran” aren’t a good choice. I am already breaking my athletes down with squats, presses, and pulls. They don’t need more muscular breakdown.
I like to use movements with little on no eccentric contractions or the lengthening phase of muscular contraction. It’s the eccentric phase that causes the most fiber breakdown, so I am trying to avoid that during conditioning with strength athletes.
1. Good Choices of GPP
• Sled Pulls
• Prowler Pushes
• Farmers Walk
• OH Axle Bar Carries
• Yoke Walks
The keys to programming these movements is to think about all the ways to increase volume:
• Weight used
• Variations (unilateral farmers walk, prowler push high or low, DB OH Carries, backwards sled pulls, etc)
Volume needs to increase over time with these movements. I would look at these in terms of a full year. Just like any other aspect of training, I would implement deload weeks periodically.
Here’s an example:
Sled Pulls Sets
Week 1 135lb for 6 x 30 yd
Week 2 135lb for 7 x 30 yd
Week 3 160lb for 6 x 30yd
Week 4 135lb for 4 x 30 yd
Unilateral Farmers Walk Sets
Week 1 70lb 3 x 30yd each hand
Week 2 70lb 4 x 30yd each hand
Week 3 85lb 3 x 30yd each hand
Week 4 60lb 3 x 30yd each hand
Start with two days like the one that I just explained, and then over time add another one. Once again, this process is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. The isometric contractions of the famers walk will definitely increase strength and stability.
The strongman exercises will always be my number one way to strengthen the core. The unilateral movements are awesome for strengthening the obliques and quadratus lumborum, which actually makes the hips much more functional and healthy. All the other carries strengthen the musculature of the entire spine and pelvis, while encouraging the correct posture. Keeping the torso vertical is the number one job of the core, and that’s the most important aspect for the powerlifter or weightlifter.
There is nothing wrong with some basic low intensity cardiovascular work as well. Alex Viada has proven that with his 750lb back squat and his 100-mile foot races. I like to perform one or two days of 20-40 minutes of cardiovascular work per week. This can be performed on a bike, rower, or heck go out and take a short run. The key is to stay right around that Zone 2 mark or 75% of maximum heart rate.
Most people don’t understand that cardiovascular work doesn’t compete with the energy systems used with strength training. After talking to Dr. Andy Galpin, I am convinced that small amounts of cardio won’t make you slower either. If you have been doing primarily fast twitched activities for your entire life, your muscle fibers have taken on those fast twitch characteristics.
The moral of the story is that 30-minutes on a rower once or twice per week won’t make you weaker or slower. It will increase strengthen your cardiovascular system, which will aid in recovery. It will also get you moving in the right direction for health throughout your entire life.
I am a coach that wants my athletes to perform, but I want much more for each and every one of them. I want them healthy for the rest of their lives physically, mentally, and spiritually. The Olympics would be cool, but seeing them healthy and happy with a solid family later in life would be cooler.
In conclusion, stay away from Fran and all of her naughty friends when trying to maximize strength. However embrace the sled and his other studly strongman allies. The rower is your friend and not your enemy. I want all of you to reach your God-given potential, but more importantly I want to see you all happy in your God-centered homes one day.
Love you guys!
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