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Powerlifter trying to also be a Strongman. 90ish kg IG @the_iron_rook

By Drew Spriggs 

I’m going to call it straight off the bat – I absolutely despise cardio. That being said, given the number of strongman/powerlifters/strong mofo’s who have died an early death due to “unknown heart conditions”, I decided that after competing at GPC Worlds in Las Vegas this year I’d step my cardio game up purely for cardiovascular health reasons. This has had a few awesome side-effects that I was not expecting:



*it basically gets rid of all DOMS instantly. Had a hard squat session? A solid bike ride the following day will fix it.

*increased work capacity. Normally a high volume session would wreck me for 3-4 hours post training, exacerbated by needing to eat/nap to help me recover. I can now go from training straight to coaching with no side effects.

*increased strength. This might be a coincidence, but after regularly going on rides my unbelted squat strength has gone through the roof, even coming off a hypertrophy block straight to a max single with no deload.

*increased hypertrophy. It’s no surprise that riding a bike or rowing will lead to some solid hypertrophy. You only have to look at the size of Robert Forstemann’s legs, or Jeremiah Brown’s upper body to see that despite what every bro will tell you, endurance training will result in an increase in muscle mass.

With the explosion of the ‘Hybrid Athlete’ (ie. being able to combine something ridiculous like ultra-marathon running with ridiculous powerlifting numbers) and relevant scientific papers out there now, the age old adage of ‘cardio making you weak and interfering with gains’ has been clearly demonstrated to be bunk.

– This is Alex Viada of Complete Human Performance, directly after running 51km. Clearly he went catabolic and lost all his gains. You can pick up his book The Hybrid Athlete HERE

All of that being said, I am ultra-meticulous with programming and needing a ‘goal’ to hit every session to keep me on track. Given that a simple 20 minutes of steady-state cardio daily was never going to cut it, I needed to come up with an approach that would:

*keep me interested. Breaking down cardio into daily goals and outcomes with variety is a number one priority

*not interfere with my strength training. Having the ability to train twice daily, approximately 9hrs apart means that with that limited period of time between both sessions, I needed to be able to recover enough for maximal strength in the afternoon, regardless of whether I had a nap or not.

*be easy to track. I’m a stickler for knowing what I needed to do exactly each session, and knowing how many calories I expended means I could stay right on maintenance calories (using my favourite post-workout drink, homemade chocolate milk or iced coffee).

*fit into a 6 session weekly ‘cycle’, and not hit the same areas as I was training in the afternoon (ie. no rowing on a morning where I would press). This was designed to allow maximum recovery between sessions, and fit everything into an easily manageable microcycle

 

Given those criteria, I came up with a conjugate-style program that is immediately applicable to anybody else who is looking to add some cardiovascular work in. I have limited it to two different forms of exercise, and due to availability and a sketchy ankle I chose an upright bike and rower – I believe these two forms of cardio have the best ‘carryover’ to strongman (who doesn’t want more endurance in their legs and upper back?), however you could essentially choose any modality you like. For more variety you could easily cycle between pairs of exercise in 2 month blocks, as this should allow you to build a decent level of fitness in each before changing approaches.

Sessions/Day Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Strength Training Squat Press Deadlift Off Squat Press Off
Cardio Training Row Bike Row Bike Row Bike
Type Distance Calories Time Distance Calories Time
Example Goal 3000m 250c 10 minutes 20km 150c 25 minutes

 

The way the program is structured is simple – each day you hit a various measurable outcome of that exercise modality. For example, on Monday I row for 3000m total (and record the time and calories I burn doing so). These values are arbitrary and just happened to be what I guessed I could do for my level of fitness – these are easily adjustable. This cycle continues with the next session aiming for total time spent rowing (again, tracking the other data) until it cycles through all 3. The same thing happens for the alternate exercise, however it’s structured so you don’t hit two of the same goals on adjacent days.

 

This microcycle can be extrapolated to form a mesocycle based around 8 weeks of training. From there you could repeat the process, or start again with 2 different exercise modalities. How it’s structured is shown below.

Week 1 Set baselines data
Week 2 Exceed baselines using base goal (ie. increase calories burnt in 10 minutes)
Week 3 Increase goal by 10%
Week 4 Exceed new baselines using updated goal (ie. decrease time to row 3000m)
Week 5 Increase goal by same figure
Week 6 Exceed new baselines using updated goal (ie. decrease distance to burn 250c)
Week 7 Increase goal by same figure
Week 8 Exceed baselines with base goal

 

For example, taking the first day of rowing for distance the 8 week progression might look like:

Week 1 3000m – 14m30s – 168c
Week 2 3000m – 13m12s – 182c
Week 3 3300m – 14m47s – 197c
Week 4 3300m – 14m00s – 210c
Week 5 3600m – 15m02s – 218c
Week 6 3600m – 14m32s – 231c
Week 7 3900m – 15m16s – 240c
Week 8 3900m – 14:47c – 251c

 

This example structure has a few great advantages:
*not wrecking yourself every session – being able to stick to 50-70% of MHR every session won’t interfere with heavy training or limit recovery.

*easily knowing your goals for each session and being able to track progression in a manner that’s easy to interpret.

*rotation fits in perfectly with most training cycles

 

While I’m no expert in the matter of cardiovascular health, even this 20 minutes a day is making a massive difference to my training and health, so for 20 minutes a day it’s definitely worthwhile doing.

Featured Image @RunningStrongman

Drew is a competitive powerlifter and strongman, who realized that strength training had a massive positive effect on other areas of his life. After realizing he was much better at teaching others how to be lift than lifting himself, he decided to step down off the platform and create Dreadnought Strength – an online and in-person coaching business that dedicates itself to allowing regular people to experience the trans formative power of strength training. He is available for online coaching from  Starting Strongman

You can follow Drew & DreadNought Strength on Facebook & Instagram

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