How to Train for Powerlifting
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Moving from general gym goer to powerlifter can feel like a big leap. You may be the strongest guy or girl in your gym, but when you step onto the platform with other competitors in front of hundreds of spectators, it can be a daunting experience. This needn't be the case if you're properly prepared though. Plan your training carefully, learn the ins and outs of competition and have fun getting stronger.
Decide whether you want to be a geared or raw lifter. In geared powerlifting, you're allowed to wear special suits in the squat and deadlift and a shirt in bench pressing. These are all made of tight material that compresses your joints, offering more support and helping you to lift heavier. In raw powerlifting, the only extra equipment you're allowed is a weightlifting belt, wrist wraps and knee sleeves, though regulations do differ between federations.
Stick to one type of lifting, as there will be a transition period of six to eight months between switching from one to the other. This is because you use slightly different techniques and develop different motor patterns in gear than when lifting raw, according to strength coach and former world record-holding powerlifter Dave Tate.
Learn the lifts. You might think you've got perfect technique, but powerlifting competition judges are strict. When squatting, hold the bar across your back, descend until your hips are below your knees then stand back up. For the bench press, start with arms straight, lower the bar to your chest, then press it up until your elbows are fully extended. When deadlifting, you must lift the bar from a dead-stop on the ground to waist height in one smooth movement.
Familiarize yourself with the competition commands. You'll be given commands on every lift in a meet. These include when to start each lift, when to re-rack the bar on squats and bench presses and when to put the bar down on deadlifts.
Attend a powerlifting meet as a spectator. Before you've been to a meet, it's hard to imagine the atmosphere. By attending just to watch others compete, you'll get an idea of how a competition is run. This will take the pressure off when it's time for you to first take to the platform.
Train four times per week, advises trainer and powerlifter Jim Wendler, creator of the 5/3/1 powerlifting program. Two workouts should be bench press-focused, and the other two targeted to improving your squat and deadlift. Perform your competition lifts in the lower repetition ranges, using heavier weights to develop maximum strength and to get stronger over time. An example of this would be performing five sets of six reps on each exercise one week, going a little heavier for six sets of four in the next, then heavier still for three sets of two in week three. You would then take a week off, or train lighter, before going back to five sets of six reps but using 5 to 10 pounds more than in week one.
Add accessory exercises into every session. Accessory moves target the same muscles as your three main powerlifts, but the goal of using them is to build extra muscle mass, fix any weaknesses and improve your performance on the squat, bench and deadlift. Personal trainer and powerlifter Dan Green, proud owner of a 760 pound squat, 485 bench press and 835 pound deadlift recommends six basic lifts for accessory movements -- hack squats, weighted sit-ups, dumbbell bench presses, military presses, rows and stiff-legged deadlifts.
Perform these accessory moves for slightly higher sets with lighter loads. Pick two moves for each workout and complete five sets of 12 on each in week one, four sets of 10 in week two and three sets of eight in week three, going a little heavier each session. Take week four off, as with the main lifts, then go back to week one, using a bit more weight than the last cycle.
Deload the week before you compete. A deload involves training lighter to let your muscles, joints and nervous system recover. This is vital in the run-up to a meet. Coach and competitive powerlifter Jordan Syatt of Syatt Fitness recommends starting your deload six to seven days out from the contest and just performing a few light sessions encompassing chin-ups, pushups, core work and mobility drills.
Join a powerlifting club to learn from other, more experienced lifters.
Get full medical clearance from your health care provider before starting a powerlifting routine.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.