Powerlifting is an amazing sport. If you want to be strong in a practiced bar path, with the very same equipment you train in every day, it’s the best sport in the world. The best.
However, if you dare step outside the gym, you may be a big ole lumpy easily injured mofo.
How to not be a big ole lumpy easily injured mofo
There are three aspects to this
- Making your hulk like strength functional
- Making your hulk like strength not injure you
- Building muscles that look pretty – so your lumps are even
During the DBS peak – all I did was train powerlifting. While getting respectable lifts, it made my rear delts look tiny compared to my front. My upper pecs shallow compared to my lower. My quads lacked sweep (yes, I care about sweep) and my calves non-existent.
Shallowness aside, when I started back racing mountain bikes, I was constantly injured. Constantly. I would pull my groin weekly (and get odd looks when asking for massage). I would tire through my core in minutes, and the lower back pumps were so hideous I would lie on the ground and whimper.
Does it Matter?
If all you want to be is strong, then no – you don’t need to change your plan. Aesthetics may be low on your list, and you may have zero interest in sports outside of powerlifting. That’s fine and dandy.
You may have deep seeded insecurities like me, and worry about having tiny calves, or you may want to engage in a competitive sport – so you can wear a singlet without looking like a dork.
More and more – DBS members have taken a more balanced view – that working on the aesthetic has little (if any) detriment to strength – all the members are yoooooked in accompanying photos.
Some suggestion for Fixes
I don’t think you have to give up on the core movements – but I do think a plan to optimise the ole human rig is desirable. Here are some ideas
Main Movement – Squat
Modify – High Bar, higher reps, narrower stance
Why – The biggest reason, to reduce the load. It will also put you in a less likely to get injured area. Low bar, wide stance has two scary moments. Getting tipped forward, or getting squished below parallel. Narrow will also include a little more quad, and a little less shear force on the hips
Include – Adductor and abductor training. Yes, you will look like a giant weirdo – but the fact is, your very strong quads will be held back by weak adduction and abduction. I’m lucky enough to have one of those groin machines at my gym, so I bust out 3 sets of 25 each way after each leg session. If you don’t, you’ll need to use a low cable, and rig up something to swing your legs out and in.
Include – Walking lunges. If you sit all day, and you squat heavy, it's more than likely your psoas and hip flexors are all wacked out. If you have been squatting for a while, more than likely one leg will be stronger than the other. I actually hate lunges more than squats. I’m terrible at them, and have no stabilisers – but they have helped my injury rate lower massively. Do you warm ups with your hand over your head if you can (ie, holding a plate). Grab dumbbells when you go heavier.
Bonus – Seated and standing calf raises. Team no calves is lame. Let seated super duper stretch out your tight Achilles, and slowly come out of the stretch position.
Main Movement – Bench
Modify – Narrower grip, less arch, more reps
Why – I get arching hard is a skill, but having yoked pecs is also skill. When people get better at bench, it become more anterior delt, tricep and even lat than a traditional bro bench. The arch also is placing more stress on the lower pec. I arch just enough to get my shoulders retracted, and that’s it. Bonus points, it only took around 6 weeks to get my ‘flat’ bench back to the same level as ‘hard out’ arching
Include – Incline flies. Light. More than likely, if you have been benching a long time, flies will irritate your shoulders if done to heavy. I suggest a weight that you can do for 25 – and do 5 sets of 15/20 with that weight – minimal rest between and try to squeeze at the top.
Include – A lot of volume for rear delts / rhomboids. These include face pulls (try to end up in a double bicep position – shoulders retracted) – Bent over flies, rear delts on the pec dec backwards and rows to the upper pec (wide). Do not just rely on bent over flies, because you probably cheat lots, don’t bend over enough – and use lots of medial delt.
Bonus – Hammer curls. Easier on your wrist and elbows – give you giant popeye forearms and build grip strength. I recommend run the rack up one set, then down the next. Just grab a pair of light bells (like 5kg) do 10 reps, then go up to the next set of bells until you can’t do 10. Wait a few minutes, start at the heaviest bell you got to, do 10, then go all the way back to the 5kg bells. This takes less that 5 minutes – you can do it any time all the dumbbells are on a rack.
Main Movement – Dead
Modify – Double overhand (straps if necessary on heavy sets), wider, slow descent
Why – Traditional PL deadlifts focus hard on force production and getting the bar to fly up. Then returning in a hurry. My unscientific view is it builds low endurance qualities because the time under tension is pretty minimal. A set of 8 deads, with an actual descent, is so, so, so much harder than a triple dropping the weight.
Include – lame core and glute stuff. After deadlifting, I recommend lying on the floor and doing the following
- 20 glute bridges – squeezing something between your legs (roller works perfect)
- 20 crunches, lifting knees back – trying to get belly button to the floor
- Roll over, plank till tired
- Lie on face for a little while, do another 3 times
Include – Rotational or side loaded work. Depending on whats available in the gym, I’ll do farmers walks with just one arm at a time, the torsonator, single arm KB presses or some lame rotations on the cables. Just something that will engage the muscles that help keep you straight and stable.
Bonus – Lots of lat pulldowns. I recommend grabbing a weight that is hard to do wide grip for 10. Complete 10, then go straight into reverse grip, shoulder width – you should be able to do another 4 or 5. Do that three times.
All the inclusions can be done after your accessories – or in replacement where appropriate. Lots of recent studies show that reps under 30 are fine (and as effective as 10-12) – so I like the 15-25 range – purely for less weight on joints, and some resembles of cardio.
Give it a try, and let us know your thought in the comments. #dbswillneverdie
About the author
Andrew Jansen is the co-founder and a director of DBS Barbell.
He has competed in equipped and raw powerlifting, and in Strongman comps.
His current best lifts are raw 237.5kg squat, 172.5kg bench and 290kg deadlift at 105kg bodyweight.
You can find DBS on facebook.com/DBSBarbell or instagram.com/dbsbarbell/