Its assumed by most that powerlifters are not typically very fit. Compared to the common perception of fitness – being lean or skinny, with the ability to run, swim or cycle for hours – I guess its true. Aerobic or anaerobic endurance seems to be the main criteria for how “fit” an athlete is. But while there are people out there who have impressive abilities in this regard, the true nature of one’s fitness is really a measure of how well they cope with their chosen sport.
I should note here that this article is focused on the competitive individual, not those who participate for recreational reasons. People who use sport purely for enjoyment, or staying in shape will tend to place their health ahead of their performance, or the results they get in competition. But in the words of Dave Tate “There is no such thing as a healthy competitive sport”. Serious athletes push themselves past healthy limits in order to achieve as much as possible. Health is still important, as we can’t compete or train without it, but it is secondary.
Getting back to the fitness part of this discussion, we need to look at what the athlete requires for his or her given sport before judging their level of fitness. An example I use a lot with lifters who get caught out with too much aerobic work, is that I am a powerlifter. I can not run a marathon (I’d be shocked if I could walk it) but I can train 6 days a week, and do 9 true max effort lifts plus all the warming up on the day of a meet. This is all the fitness that I need. A marathon runner could not do the same unless he had tremendous natural talent. He might do 9 lifts but they would not be close to his true max. This is like a powerlifter who finishes a marathon by walking.
The similarity between a competitive powerlifter and marathon runner (I mean the men and women who actually run to place as highly as possible, not those whose aim is just to finish) is that neither athlete wants or needs a healthy level of fitness. The results of both would suffer if they did.
Non-competitive people probably rate the endurance athlete as being healthier due to their cardiovascular endurance. Which is fair enough, however a powerlifter can have excellent cardiovascular health, minus the endurance. Easy or moderate aerobic training has benefits for strength athletes just as strength has benefits for endurance (or any other) athletes. A good lifter knows this and makes it a part of their training program.