“I’ve been going for a 315-pound deadlift and missed it last year. I really want to get it this year, but my problem is I have sports ADD and can’t train just for powerlifting.”
This was Rachel Cosgrove’s response to me in a recent email discussion regarding her upcoming powerlifting meet. Having started down the powerlifting path myself last summer, I had inquired about her goals. While I cannot wait to hear about her hitting that 315 (she will), I can also sympathize with the issue of an unwillingness to fully commit to one style of training. Now, don’t get it twisted: You won’t catch me running any further than few hundred meters at a time (at full tilt, of course), or going for a speed faster than what can only qualify as “leisurely” on my beach-cruiser bicycle, but you’ll find me tinkering around with just about every strength modality there is, from powerlifting to kettlebell training to calisthenics.
A few weeks ago, I competed in my fourth powerlifting meet in just six months. As I sat in a seat in the hotel ballroom where the meet had just wrapped up, I reflected on my performance: I went nine for nine on my attempts, and took home meet PR’s in the squat and deadlift, as well as the best overall female lifter award. The truth about this past training cycle, however: I had also missed quiiite a few heavy lifting sessions because I’d been happily ensconced writing materials for Lift Weights Faster 2. The workouts are written year-round, and tested on clients, training buddies, and myself, but writing the support materials for the program — the user manual, new exercise descriptions and the like always gets me in the mood for more fast-paced conditioning workouts. With this meet looming, it wasn’t a great time to lose focus, but I rolled with it, doing mostly circuits and sprint workouts because that’s what I was feelin’ and writing about.
So I wondered: Can circuit training and sprinting – clearly not wholly focused on “the big three” (the squat, bench, and the deadlift) — help you maintain or even improve your strength?
Very likely not long-term, of course, but the body is tricky. I’d been doing so much powerlifting-specific training in the months prior that my body was clearly craving more variety. I credit the many planes of movement I include in my conditioning sessions with healing up niggling pains that were starting to crop up, and I felt fresh going into the meet.
Another potentially relevant snippet: According to an October 2013 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, hefting weights at a maximum velocity – meaning generating as much speed with the weight as you can control (ahem, lifting weights faster) — has a hormonal impact, increasing testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) in the body. Testosterone builds muscle and boosts energy, while HGH improves your immune system, spikes your metabolism and supports muscle growth, as well. As you adapt, your body clears lactic acid from your muscles more quickly, readying you for another bout of exercise more quickly.
It’s important to note that including an appropriate amount of variety in your regimen is one thing, while program hopping is quite another. Your body needs time to adapt and get stronger to whatever stimulus you apply to it. Whether you’re training for a sport or exercising for general health, one key factor cannot be overlooked, and that’s progress. Keep your training fun and interesting by focusing on doing a little bit better in every workout, whether it’s by picking up a heavier weight, moving a little bit faster, or squeaking out an extra rep or two.
Strength is a funny thing – it can’t help but expand into any activity that calls upon it. And you don’t need to be training for competition to benefit from short, fast conditioning circuits: Lifting weights faster also improves your strength, power, and coordination, thereby preventing spills and their resultant injuries. This means that as you improve in the gym, you get even better out of it. Daily tasks, such as hefting boxes, bags, and children, become oh-so-much easier, too.
Another side benefit to lifting weights faster? You don’t have to labor for hours in the gym to get stronger. Workouts can last anywhere between ten and thirty minutes, blending quite nicely into any busy schedule. Pair this with proper nutrition, and you’ll become a physically denser version of yourself: lean and mean and thoroughly capable. On or off the platform.
To get you started, I’ve got a special workout for you, hot off the presses of Lift Weights Faster 2. Ballistic movements like the clean and squat thrust make an appearance here, so once you’re super square on form, I invite you to experiment with a challenging-but-doable weight and move speedily with crisp, clear reps.
Name: The Mean Machine: Chug through it.
Suggested Equipment: Just your bod and a couple of kettlebells.
Instructions: Complete three rounds of this circuit as quickly as possible. All weighted movements should be performed with two kettlebells (thought you can modify it to use just one and split up the reps). Take breaks as needed (but try to take them at the bottom of the round).
Suggested Time: 20 Minutes or Less
Kettlebell Double Clean
- To start, place two kettlebells on the floor out in front of you, gripping a handle in each hand with your butt high in the air and knees bent in an athletic stance.
- Hike the kettlebells up between your legs, slightly straightening your legs as you do this.
- Quickly stand up, explosively extending your hips. Use the power of your hips, hamstrings, and glutes to “float” the kettlebells up.
- As they rise, keep your upper arms tight to your body and rib cage and bend your elbows to keep the kettlebells close to your body.
- Loosen your grip to rotate your hands so your palms face one another, allowing the kettlebells to swivel around to the outsides of your forearms. (Open your grip at the top to avoid knocking the handles together on your knuckles.)
- Quickly rotate the elbows underneath the kettlebells so that your forearms are vertical as the weights come to rest on your wrists and forearms in the double racked position.
- Reverse the movement to lower the kettlebells into the bottom of a double swing, re-gripping as you hike the kettlebells between your legs once again.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. When you’re ready to stop, pause at the bottom of the swing portion, gently parking the kettlebells on the floor in front of you.
Kettlebell Double Suitcase Deadlift
- Stand tall between two kettlebells, with feet no wider than shoulder-width apart (some people find nearly all the way together more comfortable).
- Keeping your chest up, push your butt back and bend your legs until you can grasp the kettlebell handles.
- Stay wide across the shoulders with your spine in neutral alignment — someone across the room should be able to read the writing on the front of your shirt. Your hips should not shoot up before the kettlebells leave the floor. If the hips are moving, the kettlebells should be moving.
- Stand up with the weight. Stand tall with your shoulders back and your chest up at lockout.
- Reverse the movement, lowering the kettlebells under control to the outsides of your feet. Repeat.
Bodyweight Knee-to-Elbow Plank
- Start in a straight-arm plank position with your body elevated between your hands and toes.
- While holding this position, lift one leg and draw the knee up and around toward the elbow on the same side.
- Lower your leg and return to the starting plank position. Repeat on the opposite side, bringing the opposite knee to elbow. Alternate legs to complete the set.
Kettlebell Front Squat
- Rack two kettlebells at your shoulders, then initiate the squat by pushing your butt back and bending your knees. Take care to keep your torso upright and support the weight with your forearms. (Keeping your torso upright with the bells racked on your shoulders may feel challenging to your core.)
- Keeping your knees in line with your toes, lower yourself as far as you are comfortably able. (If it’s not very far, play with foot position, and try turning your toes slightly outward, but don’t force anything.)
- Again keeping your knees in line with your feet, stand up and return to the starting position. Repeat.
Bodyweight Squat Thrust
- Stand tall with your arms at your sides.
- Squat down quickly and plant both hands on the ground just in front of your feet.
- Once you’ve securely planted your hands, quickly hop both feet back to a straight-arm plank position.
- Immediately after your feet touch the ground, hop them back up to your hands.
- Stand up completely and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Get Lean and Mean
If you’re looking to amp up your conditioning in creative and productive ways, I’ve put together a mammoth 180-workout pick-and-choose library called Lift Weights Faster 2. Complete with a full exercise glossary that includes written descriptions and photographic demonstrations of nearly 270 exercises (from classic moves to more unusual ones — the Jefferson deadlift, anyone?), a video library that includes coaching on 30 of the more technical lifts, 10 challenge-workout videos, plus a dynamic warm-up routine, I’ve combined my training and athletic experience with my long background in magazine publishing to create a clear-cut, easy-to-use resource that you’ll want to turn to all the time.
Every workout is organized by the equipment you have available and how much time you’ve got, with options that last anywhere from five up to 30 minutes.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I teamed up with my husband, David Dellanave, to create a strength program companion resource called Get Stronger Faster 2 to help you take your strength level to the next level. This completes the total workout package and helps you get results, faster.
For more info, click HERE.
Jen Sinkler, RKC II, PCC, PM, USAW, is a longtime fitness writer for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis. Jen talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website, www.jensinkler.com.