My first meet as a professional powerlifter was Boss of Bosses 3, held by Dan Green and Animal Pak in Mountain View, California. It was a hugely important meet to me for personal reasons: besides being my first high-profile meet, I’d lived in California before I started powerlifting competitively, and it was not a great time in my social or professional life.
So I saw the meet as a sort of “homecoming,” a chance to sort of redeem myself for all the opportunities I didn’t take advantage of years earlier.
As a result, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well at the meet – in fact, way too much pressure. It wore on me, and on my friends and family, and, unsurprisingly, I underperformed. But I learned then that I really need to account for the mental stress of meet prep as well as the more obvious physical stresses. That’s something I did really well until the US Open, when I once again struggled with the mental side of meet prep.
Short Vs. Long Preps
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I usually rely on short preps to help mitigate the stresses (physical and mental) of training for a meet. And short meet prep cycles have a lot of advantages:
- Shorter cycles mean less accumulated fatigue. Some lifters believe that they can train all-out, all the time, but here’s the objective reality: the type of hard training that goes into a good meet-prep cycle is going to take a toll on your body. You are going to physically feel beat up, run down, tired, achy, and all sorts of other painful stuff. The longer you’re prepping for a meet, the more run down and beat up you’re going to feel.
- Short preps are easier to program. This one’s pretty obvious, although it’s really only relevant if you write your own training programs. Having less time to plan means less time spent planning.
- Short preps still provide sufficient time to prepare for a 1RM. Your body can adapt to heavy loads surprisingly quickly. A few weeks of 90%+ intensities is more than enough to prepare for the physical stresses of prep.
The big drawback of shorter preps, however, is that they give you less time to practice the competition lifts. During the offseason, when you’re probably using higher reps and lower intensities, it’s easy to grind through reps using inefficient technique (although this isn’t a practice I recommend). With lower reps and higher intensities, though, even a small technical flaw can result in missed lifts. Because even elite lifters need to practice, there’s a lot of value in starting to prepare 8, 10, or even 12 or 16-weeks before a big meet.
The Mental Challenge
The big challenge of longer preps, in my opinion, is mental. It’s so easy, as soon as you start thinking about a powerlifting meet, to get wrapped up in thoughts about how you screwed up your last one, or to start stressing about how your work schedule going to screw with your future training. But when you do, you’re doing yourself a disservice, because your body can only handle so much stress – and it doesn’t differentiate all that much between physical and mental stress.
When you’re focusing 100% of your being on training, you not only miss out on life itself – you also undermine your training. I don’t care who you are, what you can lift, or how many meets you’ve won: if you push too hard for too long, you’ll get injured, or burn out, or just get really freaking unlucky, and things will take a downturn.
So the mental challenge of longer preps involves balance: the ability to focus on a meet without getting wrapped up in it, so that you can enjoy your life outside of the gym and make smart, clearheaded decisions inside of it.
The Importance of Support Systems
For me, that means relying on support systems: friends, family, training partners, coaches, and even fellow competitors. You probably do the same, even if you don’t realize it. In fact, if you’ve ever felt stressed or unmotivated, you know that even the idea of taking a PR attempt or performing at your best in a meet seems impossible. That’s where support systems come in. Whether you’re talking about your problems or just getting together with some buddies to watch the big game, social interaction is going to be a huge stress reliever.
So, while I’ll be using a longer meet prep to get ready for the Tribute, I’m making that possible by trusting my support system to help me manage the stresses associated with longer preps. In fact, that’s the single-biggest change I’m making in my training. While you might not think of talking as having any relation to training, the truth is, everything you do to manage stress is part of your training, and this one is hugely important to me.
My meet prep cycle for the Tribute will be 14-weeks long (in contrast to the 4-weeks I prepped for the US Open). Now, I’ll be using fairly moderate intensities for the majority of that prep; I only plan on really ramping up the poundages in the last six weeks. Still, I’ll be (enthusiastically) focused on the meet that entire time, and my training will be centered around the competition lifts, so despite the conservative approach, it’s very much a meet prep.
If you struggle with needing lots of practice for the competition lifts, don’t be afraid to try a longer meet prep plan. And if you start feeling off during that prep, don’t be afraid to turn to your own support system. And if you don’t have a support system, start building one – now. It’s not all about asking for help: reach out to others, give back to the strength community, and I guarantee that you’ll have friends you can rely on when you need them.
Just like everything else, there’s no right or wrong. You’ll need to experiment with the lengths of your preps to really determine just how long you need to prepare. But regardless of how (and how long) you decide to train leading up to a meet, you need to make sure to account for both the mental and physical stresses in your life. If you can’t do that on your own, ask for help. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness! On the contrary, it’s a sign of mental strength and awareness – and you’ll be a stronger lifter for having done so.
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.