We all know the reasons why people do not compete: they want to get stronger first, they want to lose weight first, they want to have a block of time to dedicate to training first, and so on.
We also know the reasons why some people say they will never compete: it’s too intense, it’s too dangerous, etc. etc. etc.
If these or other reasons are why you are delaying or forgoing competition, then let me try to change your mind.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
1. Competing is efficient
Training for competition requires extra commitment, right? Yes, but extra commitment does not mean extra time. An athlete who trains to compete in powerlifting tends to focus on developing two things: strength and skill with respect to the three competition lifts.
This means jettisoning exercises and movements which do not effectively promote strength and skill. Consequently, an athlete who commits to training for a powerlifting meet will drop anything extraneous to that training, such as “cardio” (depending on where one is in a training cycle), calf raises, and wrist curls. Trimming such extraneous movements and activities actually saves time.
2. Competing is safe
Well, relatively. There are two logical reasons for this. The first, and obvious reason is that lifters are surrounded by spotters when they compete. The second, less obvious reason is a little more complicated.
Lifters who compete in powerlifting tend to train using programs based on periodization. That is, such athletes structure their training based on logically sequenced phases, each of which focuses on particular goals, with the ultimate aim of maximizing performance.
For instance, a competitive lifter might commence a training cycle with a hypertrophy block in order to gain muscle mass, then follow with a period in which he trains that newly acquired muscle to generate maximum force in a skillful manner, and then peak for competition by lowering volume and increasing the intensity in order to let fatigue dissipate while training the body to withstand heavy loads and execute competition skills.
Now, we’ve all seen that guy in the gym who comes in one day feeling extra good, and decides willy-nilly to go for a new personal best on the squat, bench, or deadlift. But training for competition teaches lifters that although there will be days when we feel amazing, feelings tend to be liars. Although the human body is a remarkable organism that can withstand tremendous punishment, it makes sense that the safest time to max out is when we’re tuned up to max out, rather than when “feel” like it.
People who decide to attempt to squat 110% of their current max when, for the past month they’ve been training with weights around 75% of their current max, are inviting injury. Proper training means accustoming one’s body not only to generating enough force to hit a new 1RM, but to withstand the force of the weight from a new 1RM.
Competing means following a program in which an athlete does not simply attempt a new personal best on a day he thinks he’s stronger, but rather doing so at a time in one’s training cycle when the athlete’s body is specifically prepared to handle maximum and supra-maximal weights. Logically, it is less risky to attempt a new personal best when you are properly trained and tuned up, rather than random days when your legs feel extra springy, and this is why competing is relatively safe.
3. Competing is purposeful
Here, an old adage comes to mind: failing to plan is planning to fail. If you go to a regular commercial gym, ask yourself how often you see anyone training pursuant to a program. How often do you seen someone writing notes after every set? And, what kind of progress have you observed such people enjoy?
By contrast, entering into a powerlifting competition necessitates that one adopts and adheres to a training program, or a plan. Having such a plan has many benefits, both physical and mental. In certain respects, the physical benefits are obvious. The psychological benefits, however, are ones that may be more difficult to understand until experienced.
These mental benefits derive from the sense of purpose that comes from training for competition. When a meet hangs over an athlete’s head, that athlete tends to hit the weights with a certain vigor that just doesn’t exist when one casually walks into a weight room for some exercise. Competing will give your training a sense of purpose.
[Read more from the author: Why powerlifting is a sport for nerds.]
4. Competing is educational
Too many potential powerlifters shy away from stepping onto the platform because they first want to get stronger. This is unfortunate because it neglects the reality that while they are getting stronger, so are the ones who are already competing. However, people who compete arguably get stronger at a faster rate.
Why? Not only does efficient, safe, and purposeful training tend to be more effective, but competing is in and of itself a great learning experience which lends itself to quicker progress. It forces a powerlifter to learn how to execute the squat, bench and deadlift according to measurable standards. It enables a person to broaden his horizons with respect to seeing what weights might be possible with continued dedication to the sport – indeed, it’s incredibly motivating to see in real life someone in the warm-up area throwing around more weight than what you hope to hit on your third attempt on game day.
Importantly, competing is a gateway into the community of powerlifters. It’s a chance to step away from learning from internet gurus, and witness as well as talk with real athletes and coaches. People form real, lasting friendships with those who they meet at competitions, and in the process, learn a lot from their fellow lifters.
[Learn more: 4 tips for choosing your squat attempts on meet day.]
5. Competing structures your training
Powerlifting programs tend, as mentioned, to incorporate principles of periodization. However, an underlying requirement for one to give life to a program is knowledge of one’s one rep max. For the most part, a person selects a training weight based upon what percentage that weight is of his one rep max. A person, for instance, will opt for lower percentages during hypertrophy, and higher percentages during a strength phase.
There is arguably no better way to determine a one rep max than actually attempting a new personal best on the platform, surrounded by impartial and qualified judges. Such information plays an important, arguably central role in structuring your subsequent training cycle since it provides a lifter with real baselines off of which to build his training program.
When Should You Start Competing in Powerlifting?
There are many people who probably should be competing, but have not yet done so. When, then, is it the right time for someone to start? There is no precise answer to this question, and there are likely many different viewpoints with respect to this issue. Arguably though, if an individual has achieved a degree of proficiency with respect to the three competition lifts, meaning that he knows how to perform the squat, bench, and deadlift safely and correctly, then the time might be ripe to step onto the platform.
Yes, there is a great deal more to powerlifting than simply knowing how to safely and correctly execute the big three. However, competition helps a lifter to learn the important nuances of powerlifting faster and more effectively. The rules, requirements, and pressures of competition force a person to accelerate the rate at which he masters technique and learns programming. Competing is a tremendously effective means of improvement, and not simply the end result of one’s hard work.
Tying It All Together
Competing in powerlifting forces people to be more efficient and purposeful in their training. Competing, moreover, functions to effectively structure a person’s training program, provides great learning opportunities, and counter-intuitively, creates conditions that are arguably safer than those which do not involve competition. The sooner one starts to compete, the sooner one will derive all of its benefits. Give it a shot. You’ll likely look back and wonder how you ever really trained without competition.
Featured image via @clifton_pho on Instagram.