How I Peaked for the Kern US Open Using “Unconventional” Methods

If you follow me on social media, you know I decided to compete in the US Open this year. It was a pretty late decision to compete, for a few reasons. First, I’ve been focusing on bodybuilding – which I will continue to do – and many would argue that bodybuilding-style training isn’t conducive to gaining strength. Furthermore, I had a lot of stress going on in my life, mostly related to my doctoral studies at the University of Texas.

The idea of preparing for a major competition seemed overwhelming. But, a few weeks ago, I decided that that prep might also be a fantastic opportunity to get my mojo back after some career disappointments.

It might seem strange to decide to compete in such a prestigious meet with so little preparation, especially when most competitors have been spending 3, 4, or even 6 months gearing up for this meet. But I really didn’t think I’d be at a disadvantage for having used “unconventional” off-season training and kept my prep short. Here’s why:

Bodybuilding Is a Great Way to Get Stronger

Off-season is the time to focus on weaknesses – and, since I had avoided volume training for quite a while, my work capacity was absolutely a weakness that I improved significantly by using conventional bodybuilding training. Furthermore, remember this old adage: a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle.

While that’s not always true, it’s usually the case, and so if you focus on adding size to noticeably lagging bodyparts, there’s a good chance that that extra size will translate into added strength – strength which very well might carry over from isolation exercises like skull crushers and extensions to compound lifts like the bench press.

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Short Preps are Less Stressful

Perhaps even more importantly, I believe that most powerlifters overdo meet prep. Look: when you’re training for a particular event, you’re building expectations – and those expectations come attached to a lot of mental stress. Stress, whether mental or physical, will negatively impact your recovery.

That’s not all. While the lower-volume, higher-intensity training typically used during meet prep builds the skill necessary to demonstrate max strength, if that’s the majority of your training, you’re likely to progress at a much slower rate than someone who uses a better balance of volume and intensity in their programming. Some naysayers will argue that high-rep training isn’t “sport specific” enough for powerlifting, as long as you’re using good technique in the off-season, it really shouldn’t take more than a month or two to get comfortable handling loads of 90-100% with that same good technique.

What I’d Do Differently

Now, all that said, there are always improvements to be made – and, in this case, I obviously fell short of my goals, and I do believe I could have optimized my training significantly by planning for this meet farther in advance.

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The most important thing: I would increase the length of my prep while finding some way to manage the mental stress of preparation. I plan to do this by decreasing the intensity of my prep – staying very conservative in the first 8-10 weeks, and only really working into heavy training in the last 4-6 weeks. Last prep, I found that, even in such a short time frame, my mental fatigue really started to accumulate in the last three weeks. While I had a significant amount of stress from other areas of my life during that time, the reality is that life will never be easy, so trying to avoid all mental stress is pretty futile – and actually just cases more stress!

However, to account for that lower-intensity plan, I will also need to alter my progression scheme in the weeks prior, and use multiple sets of lower reps to give me more opportunities to practice smooth technique with moderate percentages of my 1-RM. While my technique is pretty darn good, it’s not perfect – and, at high levels of any sport, the difference between “pretty darn good” and “perfect” can be significant. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach for everyone, but it can be useful.

Even though the US Open didn’t unfold exactly the way I wanted, this prep and the meet itself was an incredible learning experience, and I know I’m a better lifter and better person for having pushed through it. And I’m MORE than excited to improve during this prep for the Tribute, too!

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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