Lessons Learned From An “Unconventional” Powerlifting Meet Prep

In the first part of this series, I explained the basics of my approach to last-minute peaking for the US Open. In this and in articles to come, I’ll talk details: what I did, what mistakes I made, what I learned, and how I’m going to improve moving forward.

This article looks at the bulk of my off-season, when I was training entirely for bodybuilding: using high reps, training muscles and not movements, and relying very heavily on accessory and isolation exercises. There are pros and cons to this approach, and I think they’re worth taking a second look at!

The Pros of Bodybuilding-Style Training for Powerlifting

As I explained in my last article about the US Open, the off-season is your chance to address your weaknesses. Because I have avoided volume training (for the most part), I reasoned that my work capacity was a major weakness, and that I could address that weakness by training with a high-volume program. I also hoped that that volume would bring with it a good amount of muscular size, which would, in theory, translate into better strength.

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First, let’s take a look at one of my typical offseason workouts. This one is for chest, shoulders, and triceps (I trained each muscle group twice per week, except for legs):

  1. Pec Deck: 2 sets of 12 reps, working up to 200 pounds.
  2. Cable Crossover: 3 sets of 15 reps with 35 pounds.
  3. Flat Dumbbell Press: 2 sets of 12 reps, working up to 60 pound DBs.
  4. Incline Dumbell Press: 2 sets of 12 reps with 70s.
  5. Incline Flyes superset with Incline Dumbbell Press: 30 pound DBs on the flyes and 60s on the presses for 2×12 each.
  6. Lateral Raise superset with Machine Shoulder Press and Cable Lateral Raise: 3 total supersets, 15 reps per movement, using 20 pound dumbbells, 180 on the machine, and 25 on the cables.
  7. Reverse Grip Pushdown: 2 sets of 12 with 80.
  8. Overhead Rope Extension: 2 sets of 8 with 100.

Well, it’s certainly a lot of volume… but guess what? No flat benching. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Really, it shouldn’t have been surprising that my bench strength dropped a tad from this style of training (although not nearly as much as you might expect).

My Mistake

This one’s obvious: by not practicing the competition lifts in competition style during the off-season, I lost a little bit of the groove and a little bit of strength in those particular movements. Now, had I allowed myself a bit more time for meet prep, I probably would have been able to recover that groove and translate my extra volume work and muscle into better strength, but I didn’t afford myself that time. As a result, my performance suffered.

What I Learned, and What I Will Change

I touched on this in the last article, but it’s worthwhile to go into a little detail here, too. Don’t get it twisted: there are major benefits to including bodybuilding-style training as part – not all – of a powerlifting off-season. However, it’s important to also practice the technique of the competition movements, albeit with lower intensities than what should be used in the later stages of meet prep.

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Let’s take a look at my first training session of my tribute off-season. It involves the same muscle groups, but focuses on the bench press, not the chest, shoulders, and triceps as individual muscles:

  1. Competition Bench Press: 70% for 6 sets of 3 reps, followed by 70% xAMRAP.
  2. Seated Overhead Press: 2 sets of 6 using 60% of the weight used in the bench.
  3. Seated Row superset with Flat DB Flye and Weighted Dip: 3 total supersets using 20 reps on the row, 12 on the flye, and 8 on the dip.
  4. Standing Cable Crunch: 3 sets of max reps with 100 pounds.

While this session involves lower volume than the bodybuilding one, it still contains about 25 reps of competition lifts, a second heavy compound movement with good carryover to the bench, and 12 sets of about 150 total reps for important muscles involved in the bench. It covers all my bases: technique practice, volume for work capacity and muscular growth, and it’s short enough in duration to allow for slightly better recovery than the previous example.

Will this approach work better than the one I used for the US Open? I have absolutely no doubt it will. But keep in mind, my mental state plays a huge roll as well. While I was doing the Open in large part to help create some momentum for future training, in this prep I’m riding that momentum wave, and I truly believe that will result in a phenomenal difference in my results. We’ll explore that a bit more in the next part of this series, along with taking a closer look at the duration of my prep.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

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