Recently I decided to participate in my first powerlifting meet. It was as easy as it comes for a first timer, non-sanctioned, took place in my home gym, all of my buddies were competing, and my boss/good friend ran the event. That being said, I took it as a serious opportunity to work towards something other than aesthetics or seeing the number on the scale go up. When I decided to compete I was 8 weeks out from the meet and needed some serious adjustments in my style of training. I was working hard but not hard enough and I had a general idea of what my goals were but no central focus. These are some of the things I learned in those 8 weeks of preparation:
Volume, Volume, Volume - This was one of the biggest issues I had. Anytime I worked to a heavy number on the big three, the volume it took to get there was nonexistent. To prep I gradually increased my workload each week, a simple yet very effective means of growing your total. I would do 3 sets of 4 with an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) on the 4th set. As the weeks went on and the weight increased, my rep ranges decreased.
Your mind will give out before your body - I know it’s bit of a cliche but it’s quite true especially in powerlifting. This was something I struggled with before I knew what I was capable of. I had squatted 520lb before but doing 415lb for 16 reps? There wasn’t a shot in hell, until I actually did it. Your mental barriers, in most cases, will hold you back before your physical ones do.
Have a plan - This seems so obvious but still needs reiteration. Having a plan, day in and day out, mini goals so to speak, will ensure execution. I had numbers, rep ranges, and workouts that needed to be done. They were part of the plan and I wasn’t going to sell myself short. Whether having a good day or a bad day, I knew what I needed to do to better myself each week.
Know your weaknesses - And work on them! That’s what accessory work is for, I learned this the hard way. Some of my weaknesses, especially on bench, weren’t addressed because I did lifts that I enjoyed doing instead on the ones I needed to do to build my bench. With that said, the best thing you can do to build the Big 3 lifts, are doing the Big 3 lifts.
Some days are better than others - Know your body, know your mind. I knew my left knee couldn’t handle anything more than squatting heavy once a week. Nothing more or less than my Wednesday squats. Understand your body and the stressors you’re putting on it. There were a couple bench days that I just couldn’t find my grove. On days like that, cut your losses, avoid injury, and fight like hell next time. Sometimes I would walk in and walk right out after a couple attempts only to have a great bench day the following the day. Programs are great, but understanding your body can be your best strength.
Find what works best for you - At this point in my life and training, this style works best for me. I trained hard for three days a week because that’s what fit my schedule best between home and work life. I’m a big quality over quantity guy when it comes to training but even three days a week was an adjustment for me. That being said, no time in the gym was wasted. You can’t control your genetics and what talents you possess but you can always dictate how hard you work. No one should outwork you if you’re really plotting for success.
Sleep - Sleep is everything. If you’re moving two or three times your bodyweight in some instances and expect to recover with 5 hours of sleep, you’re sadly mistaken. I would feel hungover after some squat days from lack of sleep. Phone down, tv off, and nothing too crazy food wise before bed. Snag that 7-9 hours and watch your recovery excel and numbers grow.
Your training should build confidence, not crush it - This played a big part for me. Towards the end of my training cycle I adjusted some numbers to help build confidence. This adjustment flourished in my squats and destroyed me in my bench. I missed lifts on my bench that shouldn’t have even been touched but did a triple with my previous PR in squats. Come meet day, I planned around those missed lifts in the bench and ended up selling myself astronomically short, my last attempt potentially should have been my first. However with my squats, I opened up 25lbs heavier than I was initially anticipating because of the confidence I built in training.
The work is done, don’t overthink meet day - I had to remind myself that there wasn’t some magical food that I was going to eat that was going to add twenty pounds to each lift. I brought my signature pop tarts, some Super Carb, a little pre-workout for deadlifts and called it a day.
Prehab - I feel like I’m in that stage in my life where rolling out and stretching isn’t the end all, be all, but it’s pretty damn close. Use the bands, find that lacross ball, and grab the roller and go at it. There comes a point in your life where those little details will make or break how well your training progresses or whether or not you can train at all.
These are some of the important things I learned and will apply to my powerlifting training moving forward - like an emphasis on heavy compound movements, whether training for powerlifting or not. With just a simple change in training style and attitude I was able to PR my squat and deadlift by 25lbs and 10lbs respectively in just 8 weeks. I plan on continuing my training over a longer period of time while continuing to tweak little things as I learn more about the sport and how my body reacts to it.