Powerlifting is a very simple sport. Our only goal is to squat, bench, and deadlift as much weight as possible. In order to achieve these goals, the majority of our training tends to be the squat the bench and the deadlift, or close variations of these lifts. This results in getting good at these lifts, but also at the expense of neglecting other movements, which may often lead to developing multiple weak points. If this continues, these weak points may lead to further risk of injury in our training.
A simple solution to this problem came to me while i interned at Cressey Sports Performance. One commonality between all their athletes programs was that they would work on weak points during their warm-up. If you are not familiar with Cressey Sports Performance, they mainly work with baseball players, and particularly pitchers. Therefore, rotator cuff strength was highly important in keeping these athletes healthy. In all of these players warm-ups was a few rotator cuff exercises, regardless of what they were training that day (Even on lower body focused training sessions). One particular athlete that comes to mind was a college football player. He tore his ACL a few months prior and was still recovering. In his program he had one set of glute-ham raises as a warm-up every day to strength his hamstrings, as lack of hamstring strength increases the risk for ACL injuries.
This got me thinking, why not bring this sort of mind set into powerlifting. I started implementing this into my athletes warm-ups and we have had no injuries occur since then (Knock on wood).
How i use this concept with my lifters
As mentioned previously, the majority of a powerlifters training program revolves around the competition lifts and variations of these lifts. The Squat, bench, and deadlift are all bilateral exercises, meaning you train both limbs simultaneously. By only training bilateral exercises this can lead to imbalances between limbs, since one limb might be doing more work than the other. This also can lead to lack of stability on each single limb. To combat this i have all my athletes perform unilateral movements (one limb at a time) during their warm-up.
Another issue with powerlifting is that we primarily stay within the sagital plane. Therefore, not only do i have my lifters perform unilateral movements during their warm-up but also unilateral movements that are performed in the frontal and transverse planes. Two common exercises i use for this are the lateral lunge and bowler squat.
Lastly, shoulder injuries tend to be common among powerlifters. I myself partially tore my labrum while bench pressing. This can be caused by a variety of factors, mainly improper technique or too high of training volumes, but i also believe lack of scapular control and rotator cuff strength can also play a role. In hopes of reducing the risk for shoulder injuries, i generally have my lifters perform some sort of rotator cuff exercises such as band external rotations or band Ws, an exercise for scapular retraction, such as a band facepull, and an exercise for scapular protraction such as a serratus wall slide.
Dynamic Warm-up Recommendations for powerlifters
Choose 3-5 exercises for upper body and 3-5 exercises lower body
Perform 6-12 repetitions per exercise
Primarily use unilateral exercises until you get to your specific warm-up for your actual workout
Try to use exercises outside of the sagital plane when possible during your warm-up
Choose exercises that target your specific weak points
Spend no more than 10-15 minutes in this warm up
In conclusion, i believe that by micro-dosing weak points during a warm-up each time you walk into the gym you may reduce your risk for injury and make yourself a more rounded athlete. It may seem trivial, but the volume accumulated from doing these exercises for weeks, months, and years can make a huge difference. I myself do 1-2 core exercises during my warm up each day, as core strength was major weakness of mine. In doing this, i have seen major improvements in my core strength, which have carried over to my competition lifts.