If you are an athlete, you might think that powerlifting and running are at odds with each other. But, depending on your goals, you can successfully incorporate both activities in your training program.
However, if you're looking to compete in extreme powerlifting, it won't benefit you to spend a lot of time running. In addition, if you're training for a long-distance running event, you'll want to minimize the heavy lifting for a period of time.
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Considering Muscle Fiber Type
Traditionally speaking, powerlifting consists of three strength exercises — squat, deadlift and bench press. Running can range from a casual jog in your neighborhood to running a marathon. While it's unlikely that an occasional jog will interfere with your powerlifting routine, distance running is a different story.
Powerlifting and running rely heavily on different muscle fibers. Your muscles contain both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers, as explained by the American Council on Exercise. Each person has their own makeup of these fibers, and this is determined by your genetics.
Slow-twitch muscle fibers are the first fibers to be used when your muscles contract. These fibers are primarily trained by engaging in endurance activities, such as distance running.
Slow-twitch muscle fibers can sustain physical activity for longer periods of time by producing their own energy — structures within the muscle fibers use oxygen to produce ATP, or adenosine triphosphate.
Fast-twitch muscles are activated during explosive movements, which are the basis for powerlifting. These fibers fatigue quickly and require longer rest periods to regenerate energy — at least 60 to 90 seconds between exercises.
Powerlifting is a high-intensity sport. As you train for this activity, you body makes functional changes in your musculoskeletal, endocrine and cardiovascular systems, as explained in an article published in September 2012 in the journal Sports Medicine. Growth of your fast-twitch fibers is one effect of powerlifting training.
Endurance training also causes functional changes within the body. According to a March 2016 article published by Free Radical Biology and Medicine, muscle fibers begin to rely more heavily on oxygen to maintain energy levels during endurance training activities, such as long-distance running.
Lifting While Running
While endurance running might not be the best option for powerlifters, researchers have also examined the effects of strength training on running. As pointed out in an article published in the March 2016 issue of PLOS One, heavy strength training can have both positive and negative effects on running performance.
The study included 19 female endurance athletes. All participants continued their regular endurance training, while one group also engaged in heavy strength-training activities. Strengthening sessions were performed twice a week for 11 weeks and targeted the lower extremities.
At the end of the study, heavy strength training did not have any effect — positive or negative — on running performance.
An older, but still relevant, article published by the Strength and Conditioning Journal in June 2010 also points out that strength training does not improve distance running performance — and significant muscle growth could increase body weight, making running more difficult.
However, strength training can help runners to become faster. Strength training increases power — which is the result of force combined with speed. Power training consists of lifting heavier weights at lower repetitions — typically three to six repetitions at 85 percent or more of your one-rep max. Increased muscle power translates into faster running.
The Strength and Conditioning Journal article explains that power training improves the muscles' ability to generate force more quickly. Power training exercises suggested in the article include squats and deadlifts — two of the three components of powerlifting. The authors recommend that power training exercises be performed on speed days during your running program rather than on your long-run days.
Another older study published in the July 2010 issue of the International Journal of Sports Medicine compared the effects of circuit training versus explosive strength training on running performance in recreational endurance runners.
The maximal, explosive strength training was found to improve muscle activation, strength and neuromuscular performance more effectively than circuit training. In addition, explosive strength training increased oxygen uptake during intense running.
Read more: 9 Essential Strength Benchmarks for Men
Designing Your Workout Routine
If you aren't a competitive powerlifter or training for an endurance running event, you can effectively combine both powerlifting and running into your regular workout routine.
While powerlifting might look straightforward, these movements are quite complex — and improper form can lead to injury. Seek instruction from a professional trainer if you are new to this activity.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Running is an excellent way to help you reach this goal.
In addition, strengthening exercises that target major muscle groups throughout the body should be performed at least twice per week.
Because powerlifting focuses only on three exercises — deadlifts, squats and bench presses — the muscles targeted will vary. For example, deadlifts and squats target both your glutes and hamstrings, while the bench press strengthens your chest and shoulder muscles.
If you are new to strength training and want to follow the twice-per-week workout recommendation, perform one exercise per muscle group, as advised by ExRx.net. For example, choose either triceps dips or triceps push-downs, but don't do both on the same day.
Add in some compound exercises — such as squats and deadlifts — that work more than one muscle group at a time for efficiency. These exercises also tend to be more functional than isolating one joint at a time.
Remember to leave at least one day of rest between weight-training sessions. This doesn't mean you can't be active. Consider programming your longer, more casual-paced runs on these days.
Be aware that some strength-training activities target the same muscles used in running, and inadequate recovery can increase your risk of injury. Consult a trainer for specific advice when you're designing your powerlifting and running exercise program.
- PLOS One: "Effects of Heavy Strength Training on Running Performance and Determinants of Running Performance in Female Endurance Athletes"
- International Journal of Sports Medicine: "Strength Training in Endurance Runners"
- Sports Medicine: "Unique Aspects of Competitive Weightlifting"
- American Council on Exercise: "Muscle Fiber Types: Fast-Twitch vs. Slow-Twitch"
- Free Radical Biology and Medicine: "Muscle Fiber Type Diversification During Exercise and Regeneration"
- Strength and Conditioning Journal: "Strength Training for Distance Running: A Scientific Perspective"
- Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- ExRx.net: "Designing a Full Body Workout"