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A biomechanical investigation of contemporary powerlifting training practices and their potential application to athletic development.

Swinton, Paul Alan



Arthur D. Stewart

Ray Lloyd

Justin W.L. Keogh


The contemporary training practices of powerlifters are presently being adopted by athletes from a variety of sports, seeking to improve their performance. The aims of this PhD were to: 1) identify the contemporary training practices of powerlifters; 2) investigate the biomechanical stimulus the training practices create; and 3) assess whether the training practices have the potential to improve the athletic performance of general athletes. The aims were achieved through the completion of five related studies. The first study employed questionnaires and interviews to identify the contemporary training practices used by elite powerlifters. The results demonstrated that elite powerlifters used a wide variety of training practices, many of which would not have been attributed to the group based on previous literature. The practices were categorised based on their underlying mechanical principles, so that the essential features could be investigated in the subsequent studies. A regression-based approach was used in the second study to identify the biomechanical variables associated with performance of common sporting tasks. Maximum force production, power, velocity and rate of force development (RFD) were shown to explain a large percentage of variation in performance of tasks such as sprinting, jumping and changing direction (adjusted R2 ranged from 0.43 to 0.86). These mechanical variables were then measured in a series of experimental studies to assess the potential of the contemporary powerlifting practices to improve athletes' physical performance. Assessments were based on a central paradigm in strength and conditioning, which asserts that improvements in the ability to express biomechanical variables (e.g. force and power) are best obtained with training practices that maximise acute production of the same variable. Based on the categorisation of the mechanical principles underlying the assessed training practices, three experimental studies were conducted that investigated: 1) the practice of performing traditional resistance exercises at maximum velocity; 2) the effects of manipulating the external resistance through the use of variable resistance material (chain resistance) and an unconventional barbell (the hexagonal barbell); and 3) the effects of altering the movement strategy used to perform the squat. The results of the studies clearly demonstrated that each of the practices investigated could be used to substantially alter - and, in most cases, enhance - the biomechanical stimulus created. The practice of performing traditional resistance exercises at maximum velocity revealed that all key mechanical variables were significantly increased (p < 0.05) compared with the standard practice of performing repetitions with a sub-maximum velocity. The results additionally demonstrated that, when performing a traditional resistance exercise such as the deadlift at maximum velocity, experienced resistance trained athletes could accelerate the load for the majority (75% to 90%+) of the movement. The second experimental study featuring the separate use of chain resistance and the hexagonal barbell to alter the characteristics of the external resistance demonstrated contrasting effects. The change in position of the external resistance when using the hexagonal barbell significantly (p < 0.05) increased the participants' ability to produce high force, power, velocity and RFD values across a range of loads in comparison with the same movement performed with a traditional straight barbell. In contrast, the results from the study evaluating the effects of adding chain resistance showed that, whilst force values were increased with the addition of chains, velocity, power and RFD values substantially decreased compared to standard repetitions performed with only barbell resistance. The results also demonstrated that the effects of the chain resistance were more noticeable with heavier chain and barbell loads. The final experiment investigated the effects of altering the movement strategy used to perform the back squat exercise. The results confirmed that changes to the movement strategy had a significant effect on a range of kinematic and kinetic variables. In particular, the contemporary techniques promoted by powerlifters resulted in substantial kinematic and kinetic changes at the hip and reduced kinetic output at the ankle joint. Collectively, the work from this PhD supports the selective use of contemporary powerlifting training practices for the development of athletic potential. Future research should build on the framework created in this thesis, progressing to longitudinal and ultimately implementation studies to increase the likelihood of transferring the results to practice.


SWINTON, P.A. 2013. A biomechanical investigation of contemporary powerlifting training practices and their potential application to athletic development. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 2, 2013
Publicly Available Date Aug 2, 2013
Public URL
Award Date Mar 31, 2013


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