The goal of any competitive powerlifter is to be at their strongest on the day of the meet. Although this seems like a relatively simple plan, there are a number of mistakes that can dramatically impact performance on meet day; unfortunately these issues extend across both experienced and novice lifters. The general success of any meet can be attributed to the successfulness of the “peaking” cycle. A peaking cycle is a preparatory block of training designed to enhance athletic performance; in the case of powerlifting, athletic performance can be defined as muscular strength. For simplicity sake, this phase of preparation will include the highest level of intensity and the lowest level of volume and usually include some form of active recovery and rest. This article will outline 3 common mistakes that could hurt your chance for that PR!
Select the correct training intensity at the start of the meet prep.
So how does one go about picking the correct training intensity? Well, in short, it depends. Depends on the length of your training cycle, the intensity of your previous training block, and how quickly your body can recover in time for the meet. The length of a peaking cycle can generally vary between 4 and 8 weeks, and can include varying intensity throughout the cycle. Why is the starting intensity so valuable in designing a peaking cycle? For one, based on the length of the cycle and the initial intensity will dictate the week to week progression. For example, if you have designed a 4 week peaking cycle which includes a “deload” or recovery week, with a goal to stay below 100% of your max and increase no more than 10% from week to week. Here are a few examples of what these could look like:
Example 1. With 10% increments.
WK 1 70%
WK 2 80%
WK 3 90%
WK 4 50%
Example 2. With 7% increments
WK 1 85%
WK 2 92%
WK 3 99%
WK 4 50%
Example 3. With 5% increments
WK 1 85%
WK 2 90%
WK 3 95%
WK 4 50%
As you can see there are a number of options that you can choose from and each has pros and cons. As mentioned earlier, the choice is not as simple as just picking one. Remember along with the length of the cycle you must also recall the intensity of the previous training cycle and evaluate on how well your body will recover from the training. The difficulty and intensity of the prior training cycle can provide a large amount of information about how well the future peaking cycle will go. When switching into a new block or phase of training, intensity and volume should be altered in order to prevent overtraining and/or risk injury. In my own training, I have found that I am generally more successful come meet day when I choose higher intensity initialially, with small increases, especially for a short training cycle. In addition to analyzing the prior training block, one needs to have foresight to predict how they will recover from the higher intensity training in preparation for the meet. The initial training intensity and weekly progression can have a significant impact on the final intensity. This brings us to our second point, selecting the final intensities of the training cycle.
Selecting the appropriate final intensity of the meet prep.
This is where most good lifters fall victim to their ego and punish their totals which ultimately lead to missed attempts and failures at the meet; like before, the final intensity is not as simple as selecting a number between 90 and 100%. First off, what number should you base the intensity off of? In short, there is some ambiguity as to whether you should select the intensity off of a training max or a true max; if we refer back to the previous examples we see that the final intensity ended with:
Now if we apply that an individual who squatted 700 pounds at their last meet, it will look like this…
WK1 @ 630lbs
WK1 @ 695lbs
WK1 @ 665lbs
But say we based the intensity off of their training max ~90-95% of max (665lbs or 95% for this example)
WK1 @ 600lbs
WK1 @ 660lbs
WK1 @ 630lbs
Although the differences seem relatively small as percentages, we can see that these ending points can vary almost 100 pounds. Unfortunately a majority of lifters, myself included, will fall victim to the iron bug and want to go for a new max towards the end of the meet cycle, which in reality is great if you get it but at what cost. Often this new “max” is at a much higher effort than you wished and you exerted more effort than what was programmed, which could lead to you peaking to early or pushing your body to hard and not giving it enough time to recover. I personally prefer to be more conservative with my training intensities later in the meet prep. For example, for my squat during my last 4 weeks of training, the heaviest (intensity wise) weight that I used was 635 pounds. Two weeks out from the meet I tripled 635 pounds, which was 2 pounds over my opening attempt. Ultimately I ended with 677 pounds for my third attempt and believe I left a few pounds on the platform. In this example, I selected a lower final intensity which yielded great outcomes come meet day.
Specificity of the Movements
Often times, individuals will tend to structure their program with specialty movements; these are generally designed to enhance a weakness, for example pulling from blocks is generally used to help improve your lockout or from a certain position. This is a common practice and generally accepted in most training regimens. However, as the date of the meet approaches and the training intensity and effort rise in parallel, technique becomes increasingly more important. Unfortunately specialty movements have the potential alter your mechanics in a negative manner. For example, if you squat against bands for the majority of your training block, your body will become used to the bands pulling you down and creating a false loading pattern. Thus when you squat at the meet your body will be unable to recall the correct loading pattern since the bands are not loading the bar. Although, variable resistance and specialty bars are great alternatives to traditional movements and have their place within a specific macrocycle, it is important that you understand you do not use the specialty bars and training styles in competition. One way to enhance technique would be trying to reduce the variability of the movement; whether it is bar path or angular kinematics, a reduction in variability would great improve the efficiency of the particular exercise.
Minimizing the differences between the main lift and secondary or specialty is one way to keep the correct the loading/motor pattern while still improving athletic performance. For example:
Competition Lift Good Alternative Bad Alternative
Squat Pause Squats Banded Squat
Bench Board Press Floor Press
Deadlift Block Pull Paused Deadlift
Here are few examples of movements that will be more effective in maintaining a proper motor pattern when preparing for a meet.
In general there are a number of factors that can influence your training cycle and we have only scratched the surface of what we can do to better prepare for a meet. The takeaway from this article should be that preparing for a meet may not be as simple as it seems. If you are a novice with limited peaking experience or veteran powerlifter that often suffers from a lack luster meet performance, take a step back and evaluate your training cycle and determine if your training suffered due to one of these common mistakes.