The biggest problem with most lifters is that they don’t have a strong base of knowledge about what to do when they start training. They are just starting out and want to get stronger so they can compete at their next meet or even better, get married! While it’s true that strength is always beneficial, there are many other factors involved in getting stronger than someone else. For example, if you’re competing in a sport where speed and agility are very important then strength will definitely come into play. However, if your goal is simply to become a more proficient weightlifter then you need to focus on developing all aspects of your game.
In order to achieve this goal you’ll need to learn how each part of the lift works together. You may not realize it right away but once you understand how certain movements work together, you’ll never go back. I’m going to give you some tips on how to prepare yourself for your first competition.
Before we begin let me say that I am NOT a professional coach and this is my own personal take on things. If you feel like something needs to change, then please contact me directly and we can discuss it further. Also, keep in mind that these are general guidelines only; individual situations will vary greatly depending upon the athlete and what type of program they choose to follow.
Step 1: Training Program
The first thing you’ll need to do is decide how you’re going to train for the meet. This will be different for everyone but there are several key components that are needed in order to ensure your success.
1) Strategy – You should have a basic outline of what you plan to lift and when you plan to lift it by.
This also ties in with your eating plan which we’ll discuss later.
2) Structure – You need to outline your weekly plan for what lifts you’re going to work on, how many times a week and the amount of volume you’ll be doing.
This is mainly related to the exercises themselves but it also involves your weekly schedule. Again, this comes back to the question of whether or not you have time for all of this extra stuff.
3) Volume – This is the amount of reps and sets you do each week.
If you’re a powerlifter this should be higher. A bodybuilder would be lower. Most people will fall in between.
The last thing to keep in mind is that you need to take everything in moderation. There are many lifters who are either too aggressive or not aggressive enough with their volume. You also have those who think more is always better and those who think less is more. The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle.
Step 2: Lifting Toolkit
Now that you’ve decided on a training plan, you need to figure out what exercises you’re going to do and how many times a week you’re going to do them. As I mentioned before, it’s very possible that you won’t have time for everything you want to do each week so you’ll need to prioritize and choose which exercises are the most important.
Here’s a basic list of what you’ll need to be doing:
Squatting – This is your main leg exercise and one of the biggest lifts in powerlifting. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most taxing which is why you’re only allowed to do 4 of them per meet. Most people will either use an Olympic style squat or a powerlifting-style squat. The distinction between these two is based on knee position.
In the Oly-style squat you’re allowed to drift backward and have a more upright torso. In a powerlifting-style squat your knees can only travel forward and you have to keep a more crouched position.
Bench Pressing – This is your chest and arm exercise but it also works your front delts, shoulders and even a little for your triceps. Most of your big lifts will involve this in one way or another so it’s important to be strong with it. There are two types of bench you can do, a dumbbell press and a traditional barbell bench. Most people will be stronger with one over the other so you’ll have to decide which you want to emphasize.
Deadlifting – This is the biggest back exercise and again, one of the biggest lifts in powerlifting. Some federations don’t even allow squats to be done because the deadlift is considered so essential. You have a few options here. You can do straight sumo style where you never switch your grips and your knees come almost straight across each time.
You can do conventional which has a wide stance, narrow stance or somewhere in between and you switch your grip from hand to hand. You can also do a mixed grip where you use one hand over and one hand under for extra grip strength.
Pulling – This is back training but it doesn’t necessarily involve the same muscles that the deadlift does. Because of this, some pullers will do these on their light days or as an assistance exercise. You can do these from several different bars or machines (often in the form of a lat pulldown) and they’re all pretty much the same.
Lower Back – Because you’re deadlifting and pulling heavy, you’ll inevitably end up with some sore lower back. Most people will either do some sort of body weight exercise like sit-ups or use a machine for this.
That’s about it in terms of exercises. Obviously, there are things you can do like curl bars, overhead presses and such but most powerlifters will fill those in based on their own preferences.
So here’s what a basic training week might look like:
Day 1 – Lower
– Lower Day 2 – Pulling
– Pulling Day 3 – Rest
– Rest Day 4 – Bench Assistance
– Bench Assistance Day 5 – Upper
– Upper Day 6 – Legs
– Legs Day 7 – Rest
Now you just need to fill in the exercises. Remember, this is just a sample template. If your gym doesn’t have some of the equipment you’d like to use then switch it up and use something else. This goes for barbells, dumbbells and even machines if need be.
And if you REALLY hate doing an exercise, then replace it with another one as long as you’re still targeting the same area and getting a good muscle pump.
To fill in the exercises you have a few options and this is where your workout plan needs to be specific to YOU. If you’re a beginner, then sticking with the basics is a good idea. If you’re more experienced then throwing in some stuff like dropping the weights for speed sets or doing burnouts is a good idea.
Basically, here’s what I do:
Day 1 – Lower
Exercise Sets Reps Barbell Squat 4 8-12 Leg Press 3 15-20 Dumbbell Lunges 3 15-20 Each* Glute/Ham Raises 3 12-15 Each*
* – Not all gyms have these machines but if they do, they should be included. If not, just switch them out for another exercise.
Day 2 – Pulling
(Same as “Lower Day 2”)
(Same as “Upper Day 6” but substitute it with barbell rows)
Day 3 – Rest
Day 4 – Bench Assistance
(Same as “Upper Day 5” but substitute it with bench press)
(Same as “Lower Day 1” but substitute it with close grip bench press)
(Same as “Upper Day 6” but substitute it with shoulder press)
(Same as “Lower Day 2” but substitute it with deadlift)
Day 5 – Legs
(Same as “Lower Day 1” but substitute it with squat)
(Same as “Upper Day 2” but substitute it with lunges)
(Same as “Upper Day 3” but substitute it with leg curls)
(Same as “Lower Day 2” but substitute it with stiff leg deadlift)
(Same as “Lower Day 3” but substitute it with leg extension)
Day 6 – Rest
Day 7 – Rest
Again, you’ll need to switch some exercises around if you don’t have access to the gym I do. Also keep in mind that this is just a template. You can make adjustments as you see fit based on your goals and experience level.
Lastly, if you have trouble with core, just substitute an ab exercise on “Upper Day 6” and “Lower Day 2”. I like using weighted crunches or weighted chair sit-ups for these.
And that’s about it. Like I said, this is a very basic powerlifting routine and template and there are many, many ways to switch it up.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Sources & references used in this article:
How We Learn by J Pilotti – breakingmuscle.com
Comparison in muscle activity between the back squat, Romanian deadlift and barbell hip thrust during hip extension by J Delgado – 2017 – ro.ecu.edu.au
The identification of hip and knee dominance in professional football players using various gym based exercises by JA Mulroy – 2016 – research.stmarys.ac.uk
ARM-Related Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and Tethered Balloon System (TBS) Operational Requirements and Approval by AO Bendure, G Fadel, J Ray, PJ Washburn – 2019 – osti.gov
METHODS FOR TIME-COURSE MEASUREMENT OF THE FIBER TYPE-SPECIFIC AMPK ACTIVATION IN SINGLE FIBERS FOLLOWING ACUTE HIGH INTENSITY … by I TOBIAS, J AREVALO, R MCMANUS, J BAGLEY… – journals.lww.com
Bike racing 101 by K Wenzel, R Wenzel – 2003 – books.google.com