Programming for powerlifting is widespread, plug in “power lifting program” into the Google Machine and you’ll find a variety of topics on which one is the best and why. Over analysis on which one is best and why often times takes up more energy than the working out itself. A good program is specific to the client. I always repeat to my clients that an optimal program is…
Training Specificity and Volume Over Time
Seems like a no-brainer, but amateurs AND pros alike often times fall victim to paralysis by analysis.
“How many sets should I be doing for squats?”
“Should I be doing close grip bench press too?”
“Why is there no band work in this program?”
This article will not go into these principles, it will be soon enough. But for now, try to avoid the “macro” issues outlined and I am confident you will be well on your way to being the strongest/healthiest you’ve ever been (health should always be a consideration as well!).
For now, use common sense approaches and stay away from these 5 common faults found in someone’s training program. Relatively speaking, EVERYONE gets sucked into these reasons to some degree. By falling into these patterns, you run the risk of stalling progress and/or injury.
Your Diet Sucks
Sabotaging your training starts off with an obvious one. But this goes much further than “making sure you eat enough protein”. At my most recent meet in Worcester, MA back in January, I am pretty sure the most common food I found in the warm up area and within the venue was not chicken, turkey, kale, spring mix, rice cakes, OR fruits. It was something much better (taste-wise).
Shout out to Heavenly Donuts for providing simply the most visually, and I’m sure most delicious donuts in the game today!
Now, I understand, donuts are pretty common everywhere. But within powerlifting circles, you would not believe the amount of snack foods you see stumble across the way within competitors diets on a daily basis. I once was heavily into the snack foods, as a means to “quick fuel”. The pain I had in my joints on a regular basis before/after a squat session were about as big as my ghrelin levels.
Diets that are heavy on processed carbohydrates, fats, and selected qualities of animal proteins have been shown to increase systemic inflammation throughout the body. Your body wants a good inflammatory response to exercise, but chronic systemic inflammation can prevent you from recovering optimally from your workouts over time, and put you at greater risk for injuries down the road. Plus, the lack of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in traditional snack foods will derail anyone’s long term training goals due to sickness. It’s hard to PR if you miss days at the gym because you’re running a fever!
Many athlete’s carbohydrate intakes in this sport are incredibly too high. Although they are helpful for high-intensity exercise as we do, dropping the numbers in favor of increasing monounsaturated fats should help with joint health and chronic inflammation over time. If you’re injured you cannot train optimally, plain and simple.
2. Your warm ups are non-specific.
When you come to train how many times have you walked in, foam rolled, maybe cycled for 10 minutes and then gone into your lifting right there? Non-specific warm up routines are a clear way to sabotage your progress down the road by limiting your “readiness” to do so. It is incredibly common to see this one. Hell, some people still just try to touch their toes, stretch their shoulders and call that their warm up. Stretching has a purpose but when it’s nonspecific you run the risk of never optimizing ranges of motion and “preparing your nervous system”, which puts your joints at risk of injury. Both of these can keep you from lifting heavy for the long haul.
A specific warm up routine needs to account for MANY factors. A basic, nonspecific squat warm up can go as followed (I cannot give specific unless you are assessed in person or via some outlet of communication).
Foam Roll Lateral quads/outer hips
General foam rolling provides blood flow to the hyper-toned tissues you’ll need for squats.
1/2 kneeling hip extension
This drill trains you to maximally contract your glutes for hip extension as opposed to going into lumbar extension to mimic the action.
Quadruped rocks against wall
This helps train your hips to sink into the hole of the squat to help train that pattern without added load on the spine.
Bench T Spine Mobility
A limiting factor for most people not just powerlifters with the squat is a lack of thoracic mobility.
3. You do not use variety in your training
Powerlifting is a sport in so many ways. Your ability to use your body to leverage, push, and pull weights up within the confines of the rules given is a skill all its own. In order to master this, presenting your body with a variety of means to do this will allow you to make progress over long periods of time. Change up your movements in at least 4-8 week blocks, especially when you’re further off from a competition. Examples can range from:
- Squats to Box Squats
- Bench Press to close grip bench press
- Conventional deadlifts to elevated deficit deadlifts or rack pulls.
It does not need to be drastic. But changing angles and accessory work over time is a key to longevity and making strength gains for the long term.
4. You take Very Little Rest
This goes beyond just taking “rest days”. Yes, you should take 2-3 rest days based on your phase and experience. But what is also SO overlooked is how you conduct yourself during the day.
- Do you work a hard, manual labor job?
- Do you get 6-8 hours of sleep a night?
- Is your job stressful?
- Do you meditate if your days are stressful?
- Are Saturday nights primarily spent at a bar until 1AM?
- Do you spend your rest days staying active or is it sedentary?
Your training should be dialed in, and if it is not, you are sabotaging your ability to push yourself in your training sessions. Less intensity and less volume mean less progress over time. Less rest can mean pushing yourself past where you should in order to keep up, which can equate to injuries. And referring back to reason #1 & #2, if you are injured that is the GREATEST hindering of progress. Not saying your whole life should be dedicated to only lifting, but if you find your progress stalling, look for answers, not excuses.
5. Not doing enough speed work
Dynamic effort training is lost in many athlete’s programs, across the board, not just power lifting. Weight is transferred through force… force is mass x velocity. Moving as heavy an object as you can is one piece to the puzzle. Increasing power output involves maximum speed. Being able to move a semi heavy object at maximum velocity. You cannot achieve training maximum velocity with heavy loads. If you can, then you must reassess your 1 rep max!
Speed work also limits fatigue on the central nervous system. So you can still give your body the volume it needs to get stronger over time with a limited amount of fatigue to the central nervous system that maximum effort training can do.
A simple guideline to speed work is take 50% of your 1RM on bench press and do this for 9×3.
Try adding weight to this each week within a training cycle of ~3-4 weeks. And then find a new variation depending on the phase of training (going back to example 3).
Optimal training is a specific endeavor. Reasons #1 & #4 Are lifestyle induced. Reasons #2,3, and 5 are program specific and tend to occur from a lack of education. Avoiding these common faults are a winning combination to longevity and a successful career in power lifting.
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