The Best Cardio for Powerlifting

Powerlifting training isn't just about pumping iron.
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You might not think that donning a leotard, throwing a load of chalk over your hands and lifting a barbell that weighs the same as a baby elephant is particularly feminine, but powerlifting can be good for women. The International Powerlifting Association has a women's division with weight classes from less than 47 kilograms to more than 85 kilograms. While powerlifting is predominantly about getting stronger on the three competition lifts -- the squat, bench press and deadlift -- you need to be fit too, meaning that you need to do cardio training as part of your routine.

Metabolic Circuits

    While the term might sound incredibly fancy, metabolic circuits are fairly straightforward. A circuit consists of a series of four to six exercises performed back to back with no rest in between. Metabolic circuits are a blend of strength training and cardio, according to trainer Jen Comas of, so pick movements that combine these two aspects. A sample circuit could include kettlebell swings, pushups, jump squats, sprints and lunges. Perform each exercise for 10 to 15 reps over the course of 30 to 45 seconds and rest only when you've completed them all. Do two to three sets, resting for 90 seconds in between sets. Or go for as long as it takes for you to stop puffing like a steam engine.


    Sprints are a staple in many powerlifters' conditioning routines. Forget your steady jogging on a treadmill or ambling along on the stationary bike for half an hour; sprints are where it's at. You can sprint around a track or try hill sprints. These involve sprinting up a hill as fast as possible and then walking back down to the bottom. These will strengthen your quads, glutes and calves, and the shorter stride length you use running up a hill minimizes your risk of hamstring pulls. Start with a 3- to 5-percent gradient and gradually increase the incline over time, writes trainer Joe Dowdell of Peak Performance, New York in "Shape Magazine."

The Prowler

    The prowler is a highly specialized piece of equipment that you won't find in many commercial gyms. It has a triangular-shaped base with vertical handles attached. You place weight plates onto it and either push the prowler forward or attach a rope to it and pull it by running backward. Unlike regular running, the prowler is geared much more toward strength-based cardio rather than just increasing your aerobic fitness. Don't worry if your gym doesn't have a prowler. You can replicate the exercise by putting weight plates on an aerobic mat on a wooden floor, such as in your gym studio, and pushing them along. Sprint to the end of the studio, turn round and come back again. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat eight to 10 times.


    Cardio is certainly important for powerlifters, but you shouldn't let it take precedent over your strength work. Base your training around the three main exercises plus ancillary movements such as lunges, chinups and overhead presses. Perform two cardio workouts each week, either after your strength sessions or on different days.

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