As soon as you start to get serious about powerlifting, things change. Maybe you start to pay a little more attention to your training program, and then you decide to set some ambitious goals — say, deadlifting 600 pounds or bench pressing 450 pounds. And maybe, when you’re getting close to those goals, you decide that it’s time to compete.
Competition changes the game, literally. While it may seem like you’re doing the same three lifts on the platform as you do in the gym, it feels a little different when you’re on the platform with the judges staring you down. And the training leading up to the meet feels different, too. You feel a little more pressure to make each and every training session better than the last. You start to accumulate little aches and pains from training hard and heavy, week in and week out.
Hopefully, all your hard work pays off, and you smash your goals on the platform. But nobody has perfect meets all the time, and when things go a little awry, you might look to your training leading up to the meet to understand what went wrong.
Now, everyone is different, and every meet prep is different, but I’ve noticed quite a few common pitfalls that plague many training programs. If you’ve ever run into one of these snags yourself, you know how frustrating they can be. The secret is to plan ahead, so that you’re ready for them. Here are the strategies I use to do exactly that.
Pitfall #1: All of a sudden, it gets hard.
That’s what she said! No, seriously: this is probably the most common problem with peaking programs. You’re rolling around, cranking out the prescribed sets easily each week, and then, from out of nowhere, you find yourself missing lifts — badly. What happened?
What happened is that you found your technique limit. If you’re pushing hard enough, sooner or later you will reach a point where the weight is so heavy that your technique starts to break down. For many or most lifters, when technique breaks down, they end up in a mechanically disadvantageous position — in other words, they no longer have the leverage necessary to finish the lift. Some lifters are able to grind through these technique limits, but they usually have to risk injury to do so.
The solution: Overwarmups.
Now, in the long term, the right approach to technique limits involves lots and lots of reps just below the weight where technique starts to fall apart. With enough reps and enough practice, that point will get closer and closer to 100% of your 1-RM, and you’ll find most peaking programs run much more smoothly.
But that can take years, so it’s not really a viable solution if you have a meet in the next 12-weeks. Instead, I recommend incorporating overwarmups into your training early in your peak. Overwarmups are single reps with a weight that’s right at that point where your technique starts to break down. You’ll do these before your lighter work. Overwarmups are great practice, but they won’t help you break through that technique limit any faster than the above approach. They will, however, help you to quickly develop the confidence to know that even if your technique starts to break down a little bit, you can still complete the lift. That’s a big deal when you hit those higher percentages later in the peak.
Pitfall #2: You feel burned out halfway through.
I’ve written a lot before about the physical and mental demands of meet prep. It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be easy. To a large degree, competition is rewarding exactly because it’s challenging. At the same time, if you’re constantly grinding away at near-max lifts, your body is going to start to fall apart. And if you’re constantly stressing about whether or not you’ll be able to complete those lifts, your mind might start to crack, too.
The solution: Light days.
So it’s very important to plan ahead for these stressors. The mental side takes a lot of work outside the gym, like setting aside for rest and relaxation, and practicing meditation. The physical side is a lot easier.
Simply by incorporating more light days into your peaking plan, you can give your body more time to recover from the stress of heavy sessions. And, by using more volume in those sessions, you can still make significant progress in terms of building muscle and preventing injury.
Pitfall #3: You can’t find a plan that fits your schedule.
Cookie-cutter programs are tempting because they make everything seem so simple, so cut-and-dried. But the truth is that our lives are anything but simple. The neat little 12-week plan you found online doesn’t seem so neat when your boss asks you to pull double shifts for the next two weeks, and you realize that you can’t even start training for your meet until you’re eight weeks out.
Or maybe you’re so busy that you can’t possibly squeeze 12 solid weeks of training in between your Thanksgiving trip home, your work retreat, and the annual ski trip with your best friends from college. Yeah, many schedule conflicts may simply be a question of priorities, but other times, they may be unavoidable.
The solution: training blocks.
In reality, though, it’s not so important that you follow a plan perfectly. It’s important that you have long-term consistency. That’s the biggest driver of success, and a good plan will reflect as much. By dividing your training for the meet into blocks — for example, a light block and a heavy block — you can give yourself time to be flexible. If something unexpected crops up, you can cut back on the light block. Or if you’ve got limited training time, you can make sure that the light block consists of movements that you can perform anywhere, even at a commercial or hotel gym.
Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good
At the end of the day, you need to accept that eventually, you will run into snags during your training. That’s okay. Don’t get so wrapped up in the idea of a perfect training cycle that you lose sight on the most important parts of success: training hard and staying consistent.
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One of the things I’m most excited about for my next meet: returning to the #181 weight class 😳 and having the chance to avenge this 800-pound deadlift miss at the 2016 US Open. I know it’s #controversial to attempt a big #weightcut, but I honestly enjoy the process, and I’m pretty darn good at it. For my last meet (the 2017 Open), I easily dropped from 214 to 193, and believe I could’ve gotten below 190 with no problem had I wanted or needed to. Since that meet, I’ve stayed right around 201-202 pounds, so while it’s still pretty #ambitious, I have zero doubt that I can do it, and I’m really looking forward to it (in a masochistic kinda way). And then who knows? Maybe the #classicphysiquedivision will be an option after all…
At the same time, though, if you’re mindful of potential pitfalls, and account for them in your planning, you might have a much more productive — and more fun — meet 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.