by Tony Bonvechio
You put so much time, effort and thought into training for your powerlifting meet. Hundreds of hours and thousands of reps all come together for just nine attempts on the platform. But how much thought have you put into what happens after your competition?
While it’s nice to bask in the glory of your accomplishments at the meet, the first few weeks after your competition are crucial for setting the tone for your next meet. And assuming your last meet wasn’t actually your last meet (if Black Sabbath has taught us anything, it’s that a farewell tour isn’t actually what it sounds like), you’ve got plans to hit bigger numbers the next time you strap on the singlet. Why not get started towards those goals right away?
Recently, several members of the Strength House family competed and performed exceptionally well, setting PRs and winning their respective weight classes. But now, everyone’s back at it, training hard and getting ready for the next competition. Here are six training considerations to optimize your training after your latest powerlifting meet.
- IDENTIFY YOUR WEAKNESSES
Hopefully while training for your meet, you utilized two important tools: a training log and a video camera. Post-competition is the perfect time to sit down, study your training log and watch video of your training and competition lifts. Just like a football player watches game film and studies the playbook, you need to examine your pre-competition training cycle and identify your weaknesses so you can adjust accordingly.
Start with your competition lifts, which hopefully you were able to capture on film (assuming you’ve joined the 21st century and updated from your old iPhone 4 that dies during every big lift). How did your successful attempts look? Did you miss any attempts? Where did your technique break down?
Then, analyze your training. Where did you make the biggest improvements? Did you respond well to high frequency (performing the competition lifts often)? Did you make gains with submaximal training? Did you bounce back with newfound strength after deloads? Did you miss reps during training?
Answering these questions should direct your future training. If your technique only broke down during heavy attempts, perhaps you should handle heavier loads in training next time around. Or if you consistently had to grind through a specific sticking point, target that area with special exercises. Be objective and ask your training partners/coaches for feedback.
- INCREASE VOLUME
Guys like Greg Robins, Jamie Smith and Adam Pine have truly opened my eyes to the benefits of block periodization for raw powerlifters. It’s super simple and not that sexy, but gradually shifting from high volume/low intensity to low volume/high intensity is a tried-and-true way to prepare for a meet. So logically, your first training cycle after your meet should crank up the volume.
Prilepin’s Chart is a fantastic guide for structuring your training, and starting on the higher end for volume (about 30 working reps per main exercise) is ideal for post-meet training. You’ll reduce the weight on the bar to give your nervous system (and brain) a break. You’ll increase time under tension and spur some muscle growth. And finally, you’ll improve work capacity so you can increase total tonnage (weight x sets x reps) over time.
So if you followed a well-designed training program, you likely were handling heavy weights with very low volume (sets of 1-3 reps for fewer than 10 total reps) just before your meet. Now it’s time to perform higher reps, more total sets and build a base for future training cycles.
- FOCUS ON REP MAXES
Piggybacking on the previous point, now is the time to shift the focus away from the almighty 1-rep max and start chasing rep-maxes. If you’ve kept a detailed training log, look back and find your best-ever sets of 2-10 reps and set your sights on improving those numbers.
The law of specificity tells us that the more reps you do, the less impact it will have on your 1RM, but the many benefits of improving your rep-maxes justify the means. Increasing your 3RM or 5RM is still heavy enough to directly improve your 1RM, while turning your old 8RM into a 10RM will surely be accompanied by some much-needed hypertrophy.
Finally, rep maxes take away the stress and pressure of always abiding by the 1RM, which, if you’ve spent any reasonable amount of time in this sport, moves excruciatingly slowly as you get more advanced. Rep maxes help you see continual progress, keeping your confidence high.
- INCREASE VARIETY
Adding more exercises to your program can increase volume, target weak points and give you another metric to focus on besides the competition lifts.
Variety should always decrease as you approach a meet. There’s no need to do five different types of squats or a bunch of dumbbell exercises when you’re competing in a few weeks. But immediately after your meet, feel free to experiment with exercise variations you haven’t tried in a while. Just make sure they accomplish a worthy goal, such as adding muscle or targeting a weak point.
Dave Tate talks about having “indicator exercises” that drive up the main lift. For example, he said he always knew his competition bench would go up if his floor press was increasing. Similarly, using more exercise variations can help you find exercises that directly impact your competition lifts.
And while specificity is important for skill acquisition (i.e. you have to be good at the main lifts if you want to be strong), sometimes you have to reach beyond the main lifts to fix a weak point. For me, front squats and safety bar squats helped resolve some nasty technique issues with my competition squat that couldn’t be fixed with more back squats. Identify your weaknesses and choose exercise variations that specifically target your issues.
- CHOOSE JOINT-FRIENDLY EXERCISES
Quite simply, powerlifting beats you up. As Charlie Weingroff recently tweeted, “Long term health and maximal performance in a strength sport are fairly exclusive. You can’t have both.” But to make sure you have a long, fulfilling lifting career, take some time after each competition and use exercises that don’t rough you up so much.
Long term health and maximal performance in a strength sport are fairly exclusive. You can't have both.
— Charlie Weingroff (@CWagon75) March 29, 2015
Sore shoulders? Opt for front squats, safety bar squats and neutral-grip presses. Achy elbows? Try high-bar squats and fewer grip-intensive exercises. Banged-up back? Try block pulls or sumo deadlifts instead of conventional deadlifts from the floor. There are lots of options to reduce the wear-and-tear that’s inherent to our sport.
This approach isn’t limited to exercise selection. Weight on the bar will greatly impact how pissed off your joints get, so lighter loads are a necessity from time to time, especially if volume is high. That’s why self-limiting exercises like front squats, incline presses and Romanian deadlifts are great – they force you to take some weight off the bar.
- IMPROVE YOUR CONDITIONING
It has to be said – now that your meet is over, it’s time to start moving around again. And chances are if the only running you’ve done the past 12 weeks is to the fridge and back, you could stand to improve your conditioning.
Hopefully by now you understand that aerobic training is not the mortal enemy of maximal strength that we thought it was. Sure, concurrent training isn’t optimal, but neither is having such a poor aerobic base that you need to rest 10 minutes between every set. Remember, all recovery is aerobic, so if your conditioning sucks, it’ll put a low ceiling on your maximal strength potential.
There are lots of ways to improve your conditioning without detracting from your strength training. Miguel Aragoncillo gives some great examples in this article. But ultimately, you have to dial back a bit on your lifting to make room for your conditioning, and immediately after a meet is the best time to do so.
Start with 1-2 sessions of low-intensity conditioning such as tempo runs or dragging a sled. Twenty to 30 minutes should suffice at first. Using a heart rate monitor and staying below 80 percent of your max heart rate is ideal, but you can easily use the talk test – if you can’t talk somewhat normally during your conditioning, it’s too intense.
Once you can do light aerobic exercise for 30 minutes without wanting to keel over, then you can add some high-intensity work such as sprints (preferably with a Prowler or on a hill), bike intervals or kettlebell swings. Pick exercises with as little eccentric stress as possible (box jumps, barbell complexes and burpees are poor choices in this case) and program your toughest conditioning days after a lower body day so you’re not squatting or deadlifting with Jell-O legs.
ON TO THE NEXT ONE
The beauty of powerlifting is that you can compete entirely on your terms. You can compete again as soon as you like, whether it’s next weekend or next year. But between now and then, adhere to these training considerations to ensure your next meet is full of PRs and white lights.
Tony Bonvechio is a coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. Tony is also someone I am excited to bring on board The Strength House as regular contributor and is currently accepting online coaching clients via this platform. You can find out more about Tony by visiting his site —> BonvecStrength.com