When your goal is to improve performance in a sport, practicing that sport, just as it performed in competition should be of utmost importance. Let’s take for example the shot put, a track and field event we can all relate to because some of the training they perform is similar to powerlifting. Shot put athletes practice…..throwing the shot! And practice throwing it often.
How often do powerlifters practice their sport, just as it is performed in competition? Sure we back squat, bench press, and deadlift pretty often, but how often do we perform 3 heavy singles for each lift, all in one day? For most of us I am willing to bet not often. I think we can learn a lot from our brother’s and sister’s in other strength sports such as track and field and weightlifting, who understand the importance of practicing their sport. The concept of sport practice in powerlifting is becoming more popular, and I am going to share with you why and how you should incorporate it into your training.
WHY INCORPORATE SPORT PRACTICE?
1. Improved technique in competition movements
2. Obtain realistic expectations of your abilities for meet day
3. Decreased time need to peak for competition
4. Increased transfer of training from developmental and supplemental exercises
I personally have fell victim to the points mentioned above and have also witnessed many other lifters do the same. Maybe our technique wasn’t on point on meet day, we bombed out due to unrealistic expectations, our peak time was too long or too short, or our great performances on other lifts didn’t transfer like we thought to meet day. Incorporating sport practice into your training can go a long way towards avoiding all of these pitfalls and improving your performance on meet day.
WHAT IS POWERLIFTING?
I know this may seem a little silly, but before we can practice a sport, we must define exactly what that sport is. As mentioned above, powerlifting is three heavy singles in the back squat, bench press, and deadlift, performed all in the same day, with the goal of reaching the highest possible total.
We must also determine what physical qualities need to be trained in order to improve performance in the sport of powerlifting. When I say physical qualities I am referring to the force velocity curve, which includes maximal strength, strength-speed, power, speed-strength, and speed.
When you compare powerlifting to other sports the number of qualities we are trying to improve is very minimal, exactly one as a matter of fact, maximal strength. To use the same example as above, shot putters may need to improve the entire force velocity curve in order to improve their performance; powerlifters just have to improve one. Sure powerlifters may have to increase hypertrophy to continue to gain maximal strength, but the goal is always maximal strength, nothing else.
Now that we have defined exactly what the sport of powerlifting is and what qualities need to be improved we can develop a plan to incorporate sport practice into our training.
SPORT PRACTICE FOR POWERLIFTING
Before I go any further I should mention that I work entirely with raw lifters, so all of these concepts are geared toward improving performance for the raw lifter. While some of these concepts could definitely be incorporated for the equipped lifter, I would probably do it a little differently that I will outline in this article. Now that we have got that out of the way here are the three ways to incorporate sport practice into your training.
1. Practice the Competition Movements Every Week
Train the squat, bench press, and deadlift, every week, just as they are performed in competition. If you compete in wraps, you should squat in wraps every week. If you wear a belt on the bench press, you should wear a belt on the bench press every week. If you pull sumo in a meet, you should pull sumo every week. You get the idea. The only possible exception is during some sort of a restoration or recovery block.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t perform other movements throughout the week, just make sure you perform the competition movements every week. For example if you compete in wraps, squatting in sleeves is a slightly different movement. Performing the competition movements every week will help you really tighten up your technique for meet day.
2. Practice Heavy Singles Every Week
Notice that I said heavy, not maximal singles, with the competition movements. To compare to another track and field sport such as sprinting, very rarely do 100 meter sprinters perform an all-out 100 meter sprint in training, and powerlifters should follow this advice. Save it for the platform. I’m not saying you can’t try for PRs in training, but if you are a competitive lifter there is no reason to perform all out grinders in training in the competition movements.
Most of us are now familiar with RPE or rate of perceived exertion. When incorporating heavy singles, most of them should be performed at an RPE 8 and with the rest no more than an RPE 9, and they should be done before any volume work. An RPE 8 would mean performing a single with a weight that you could triple. An RPE 9 would mean performing a single with a weight that you could double. Because you are using auto-regulation the weight of those singles could vary from week to week depending on fatigue, but most likely you will find you can use the same weight nearly every week and work to increase that weight slowly overtime.
Let’s look at an example day of training for the squat. Maybe your training calls for 5 sets of 3 between RPE 8 and 9. Before performing any of that volume work, build to a heavy single at RPE 8, or a single with a weight you could triple, before dropping down to complete the rest of your sets. Often an RPE 8 is a weight that would roughly be your opener. Imagine how confident you would be if you hit your opener every week for 10 plus weeks in training. You would also have a pretty darn good idea of what you would be capable of on meet day, not to mention performing heavy singles is the most specific technique work you can perform.
I know I said incorporate heavy singles every week, but it’s a good idea for 4 to 8 weeks out of the entire training year to not perform heavy singles. This would be a great time to incorporate more of a restorative style training block and work improving any nagging injuries you may have. How long you go without performing heavy singles will depend entirely on the lifter and what kind of injuries they might have.
3. Practice Competitions in Training
This means performing the back squat, bench press, and deadlift for three heavy singles each, all in the same day. Depending on how often you compete and how experienced you are, perform a practice or mock meet in training every 4 to 8 weeks. The more experienced you are the longer you should go without a practice meet.
As a matter of you should practice the entire meet week, just like you would for a meet. In other words whatever you would do to get yourself ready to perform on the Saturday of a meet, you practice that throughout the week, from what you eat, to how you train, to how you sleep. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend is that if you are person that cuts a decent amount of weight for a meet, as that can be very stressful.
Remember the point from above about heavy, but not maximal singles. This should be applied to practice meets as well. Always plan to go 9 for 9 in practice meets. This doesn’t mean you can’t try for PR’s, but you shouldn’t try for a PR that you aren’t 100% certain you will get. If there is even a thought that you will miss the weight, you shouldn’t attempt it. The point of a practice meet is to practice the sport and prepare you for meet day.
Even if you don’t perform maximal, grinding singles in these practice meets, they will give you a great understanding as to the effectiveness of your training, help prepare you for the fatigue you will experience on meet day, as well as realistic expectations of your performance. I have seen it time and time again, lifters think because they went through a “peaking cycle” that they will magically be that much stronger on meet day and huge PRs. More often than not it doesn’t work out that way. Let your training tell you what you are capable of on meet day.
POWERLIFTING IS EVOLVING
The sport of powerlifting is definitely evolving in front of our eyes with the resurgence of raw competition, not just at the local level, but at the national and international level as well. Because of this many training theories are also evolving, one of those being the concept of sport practice. If you truly understand your sport and the qualities that you are attempting to display on meet day, incorporate sport practice into your training is fairly simple to improve your performance on meet day.