Putting it all together
Setting up your weekly training
So now that you have the tools to get as strong as possible, what’s the best way to put it all together? Well, when putting together a weekly training plan, there are certain general rules to follow.
- Always have at least 48 (preferably 72) hours between a Dynamic Effort (DE) and Max Effort (ME) training day of the same type. For example, if you have your Dynamic Effort Bench Press day on Tuesday, then Thursday would be the earliest day you could have your Max Effort Bench Press session.
- Never have two days of the same type of training back to back. For example: Don’t train Max Effort Bench Press on Monday and Max Effort Squat on Tuesday. However, you can have a Max Effort Bench day on Monday and a Dynamic Effort Squat day on Tuesday.
Below is the setup I’ve been using for several months.
- Monday: ME Bench
- Tuesday: Deadlift/DE Squat
- Thursday: ME Squat
- Friday: DE Bench
Obviously, your schedule may dictate training on different days. However, as long as you follow the general guidelines above, you should be able (with proper diet and supplementation) to reap the full benefits of this style of training.
Getting ready for a meet
I understand that a majority of lifters reading this article likely aren’t planning on ever competing in a meet. However, for those that are, here’s a brief overview of how I’d recommend preparing in the crucial final weeks before stepping on the platform.
Two mistakes before a meet
- During the last four to six weeks, you cannot get significantly stronger. You can certainly, however, get weaker. Overtraining in the last few weeks before a meet is a common mistake for lifters at all levels, as you begin to worry whether you’ve done enough to prepare. Doing this will almost always result in coming into the meet burned out and ready to put up subpar weights. Trust that your training has prepared you sufficiently for the meet.
- As you get closer to your assistance lift, volume must decrease. This ties into the first rule. You don’t need to spend extra energy at this point in your prep – it won’t pay off on the platform.
Choosing your lifts
You should have chosen your opening lift at least three weeks before a meet. It’s important to choose realistic openers. In powerlifting, you get three attempts at each of the three lifts. If you miss all three attempts at any of the lifts, you “bomb out” and cannot finish the meet. Your opener on each lift should be something you know you could hit on your absolute worst day, after being up all night ill. A general guideline is that you should open with 85 to 90 percent of your max. This is heavy enough that it won’t be a dramatic jump for your second attempt, but light enough that there’s no doubt in your mind. Your opener sets the tone for the whole meet. Besides, only the heaviest of your squats, benches and deadlifts count toward your total. Your opener only gets you in the meet.
Training before a meet
Last few weeks before the meet: My general training changes quite a bit. I usually follow the breakdown below on my Max Effort Days – one for bench, and the other for both squats and deadlifts. My Dynamic Effort Days become assistance work-only, with the assisted work tapering off three weeks out.
3 Weeks Out: Work up to your projected second attempt on each of the big three. Begin tapering your assistance work off after this week.
2 Weeks Out: Work up to your openers on each of the big three.
1 Week Out: Work up to an easy, fast single on each of the big three. This may be your projected opener, and it may be your last warm-up. No matter what, make sure it’s fast and easy. I’d rather hit slightly under my opener and absolutely destroy it than go heavier and have it feel slow and heavy. You want to use this week to keep your confidence high going into the meet.
Week of the Meet: Nothing! During this week, don’t train at all. Light, steady-state cardio is fine, but don’t touch weights at all this week. Rest up, get some extra sleep and get ready for the meet.
Training with powerlifting gear
Up to this point, the program has been written under the assumption that you are training raw. If however, you are intending to compete in equipment, there are a few minor tweaks that need to be made to the program to allow you to be successful.
Understanding powerlifting equipment
Powerlifting gear is made of one or more layers (or plies) of a stiff material such as polyester, denim or canvas. It’s tight-fitting equipment that supports the lifter during the movement and increases the amount of weight a skilled lifter can lift. Now, many disagree with the use of powerlifting equipment, saying it’s ruining the sport and cheating. While it’s true that lifters can lift more weight with equipment than without, it’s not as simple as putting on a bench shirt and instantly benching 1000 pounds. Gear increases the natural strength of a lifter, similar to how track spikes increase the speed of a champion sprinter. Just as an average person cannot simply strap a pair of spikes on and compete against Usain Bolt, putting on powerlifting gear will not on its own make someone a world champion. At the end of the day, gear or no gear, the best powerlifters would still be the best.
Adapting the program for competing equipped
The first step is to recognize that gear changes the strength curve of a lift. As anyone who’s seen people at a commercial gym squat or bench will have seen, a vast majority will only ever move through the top half of the range of motion so that they can pack the weights on the bar. The reason they can lift more in the top half of the range of motion is that in the top half of the squat, bench and deadlift, the joint angles are more favourable to moving big weights. This is also why a weight will feel very heavy in the bottom before suddenly feeling unbelievably light after passing a certain point. Gear assists the lift most in the bottom half of the range of motion and less as the top. All of a sudden, the lift will feel heavier at the top.
To counter this, equipped lifters will overload the top end of the range of motion. This can be done in two ways. First, training with super-maximal weights over the top part of the range of motion can strengthen the muscles involved most, as well as train the lifter to handle the type of weights lifting equipped will involve. The second, and most synonymous with powerlifting, is what is referred to as the Accommodating Resistance method. This method involves overloading the top half of the range of motion with additional resistance. This can be done with either resistance bands or with chains. When using chains, the chain accumulates on the floor as the lifter descends, lightening the weight at the bottom. As the bar rises, the chain lifts off the ground, making the bar heavier. Bands do the same thing by relaxing at the bottom, reducing the tension and the downward pull of the bar, and stretching at the top, increasing the tension. Bands also create a downward pull on the bar greater than the force of gravity, requiring the lifter to actively slow the rate of descent and stay tighter.
Training for equipped powerlifting requires somewhat different preparation methods than training for raw meets and could be the subject of a series of articles in addition to the cursory mention it’s received above. If one were interested in training equipped, the best advice I could give would be to find an experienced crew of powerlifters to train with. Not only would they be able to teach proper technique and training methods far better than you could ever learn from an article, but it’s essential to train equipped safely.