Powerlifting Training for Sports

Today we have a guest post from Kelsey Reed, head strength & performance coach at Strength & Performance Training in Fairfax, VA.

Recently, I have been immersed in Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel. If you’re a strength coach and you haven’t read it, do yourself a humongous favor and do so. Your athletes will thank you.

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Dan and Pavel divvy up the types of trainees into four quadrants. Today’s post will focus on Quadrant III, athletes/clients that have a symbiotic relationship of strength training and their sport or goal in question. I’ll leave the other three quadrants as a mystery awaiting for your discovery.

Unless you’re working with elite athletes, Olympic hopefuls or professionals, the bulk of your clients will be in QIII. The mentality when working with said clients should be, they are ___ athletes (i.e. football, soccer, or fill-in-the-blank) who happen to lift, not lifters that play ____. This will not only ensure that you coach these athletes appropriately, but program for them too.

There are two types of training: general physical preparedness (GPP) and special physical preparedness (SPP). As strength coaches, our job lies more in the GPP realm than the SPP. The bulk of that training is derived from the basic human movements: push, pull, hinge, squat, carry/walking pattern. Those look remarkably like, bench press, rows, deadlifts, squats, and farmer carries.

Now, back to training QIII athletes. Nikolay Vitkevich, a full-contact black belt and world-class powerlifter, says:

You must clearly understand the difference between basic training and special physical preparation. [SPP] is different for everybody; one beats up on a tire with a sledgehammer, another does figure eights with a kettlebell, and someone incline presses. Basic training is roughly the same in all sports and aims to increase general strength and muscle mass. Powerlifting was born as a competition in exercises everybody does.
— Nikolay Vitkevich

Did you read that last sentence? Read it again and let it sink in.

Deadlifting, squatting, and pressing are exercises every athlete should perform. They are the money-makers of strength and conditioning. The number of muscle groups involved in the powerlifts allow higher poundages to be used, which in turn, stimulates the neuromuscular and endocrine systems in ways not found in other exercises. The effect is really strong people. And with everything else being equal, the stronger athlete will win.


Not that it’s impossible to become strong without the powerlifts, it just take much, much longer. You cannot beat the efficiency and efficacy of picking up heavy things in building powerful athletes.

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The powerlifts are also scaleable to each athlete’s strength and experience level. A 9 year-old can benefit from the squat while using a 5 pound plate as much as a 20 year-old with 200lb on the bar in the next rack over. That same little guy can deadlift with 15 lbs, while our older athlete has 300lb on her bar: both will increase the strength in their posterior chains. The 9 year-old may learn how to hold a plank (still a press), while the older athletes benches, again both are developing full body strength, building a solid foundation from which speed and power will spring.

The powerlifts are broad enough to apply to every sport and so effective at strength building, why wouldn’t you use them?

Athletes have a limited amount of time and energy therefore, exercises that require minimal amount of time are ideal. Most of their time should be spent practicing their sport; the weight room is meant to be a complement.