With Ragnar behind me, I’m moving my focus into training for the upcoming Twin Cities Open powerlifiting meet. This’ll be my second officially sanctioned meet, and it looks to be much more competitive than the MN State and Midwest Open back in February. I’m stepping up my game appropriately.
To effectively train for anything you need three things: your baseline (where you’re at currently), your goals, and a plan. These are the basic elements to any and every training plan. Take, for example, the eponymous “Couch to 5K” plans that litter the internet: “couch” is the baseline, “5K” is the goal, and the plan is, well, the plan for moving from baseline to goal.
Everything hinges on this. You can’t effectively set goals without knowing where you are currently. For me, identifying the baseline began with looking at my most recent meet results (squat: 198.4 lbs., bench: 126.5 lbs., and deadlift: 253.5 lbs.), along with recent lifts and a not terribly rigorous test of current 1 rep max (1RM). This ended in a baseline of:
225 lbs. squat
135 lbs. bench
265 lbs. deadlift
If you’re new to powerlifting, I suggest the following format for finding your 1RM baseline for each lift. Record your weights for the following repetitions: 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1. Increase weight at each set, with increases dictated by how the previous set felt. The 10, 8, and 6 rep sets are really your warm-up. Start light and relatively easy; you don’t want to burn yourself out at this point. At the 5, 4, and 3 rep sets, your weight should be challenging, but not absurdly so. This is where you really get your muscles firing. At 2 and 1 reps, the weight should be pretty damn hard up to nearly impossible. Rest for a minimum of 2 minutes and maximum of 5 minutes between each set. Your record will look something like this:
10 x , 8 x , 6 x , 5 x , 4 x , 3 x , 3 x , 2 x , 2 x , 1 x , 1 x , 1 x
You shouldn’t be working to failure on any set, save for the final single rep. If you don’t hit failure, add single reps with increased weight and 1-3 minutes of rest between each until you do. Your final rep before failure is your 1RM, and as such, the baseline for your training program. (Note: not everyone is down with the working to failure method of identifying a 1RM. However, I’m firmly in the camp of you don’t know if you’ve maxed until you are literally incapable of doing more.)
Goals are the second thing you need. Training without goals is just working out (not necessarily a bad thing, but you’re unlikely to make a ton of progress). Setting goals is so important that I fully intend to force some other member of the Almost Abs crew to write a post on how to set fitness goals. Probably Tim. Not me, anyway, because I hate setting goals and will jump through insane hoops to avoid it.
Goal setting is tricky in powerlifting (and probably Olympic (Oly) lifting; I’ll have to ask one of the people I know who train Oly for confirmation), at least for me. I’ve only been lifting seriously for about 9 months, meaning I don’t have a really clear idea of what is achievable for me vis-a-vis building muscle and increasing my weights. Rather than identify firm goals for each lift, I developed rough ideas of where I’d like to be based on an overall goal of a combined 700 lbs. (For those of you counting, that’s 121.6 lbs. more than I lifted in February.) Setting my goal on the big picture gives me some flexibility, so if my bench doesn’t progress the way I’m hoping, I can make it up with my squat, which seems to increase every time I look at a barbell. My goals are also the numbers I want to beat. I don’t want to squat 250 lbs., I want to squat more than 250 lbs. You get the picture.
Once you have your baseline and your goals, you can begin developing a plan and program. Those Couch to 5K programs have everything done for you, because running, particularly when starting at “couch,” can be easily standardized. If you’re just starting out in Powerlifting, there are a wide variety of programs that you can follow (this blog reviews a bunch of them), but in my opinion, you’re better off enlisting outside help. Working with a trainer or coach offers numerous benefits:
- Someone to monitor your form: In Powerlifting, form is EVERYTHING. Having the correct set-up, positioning, weight distribution, etc. will dramatically impact your progress. Working with someone who understands the nuances of proper form can turn you from an okay lifter to a good lifter (maybe even a good lifter to a great lifter).
- Safety, safety, safety: You do not want an injury. Trust me, they’re no good. An experienced coach will know how to increase weights safely, select weights appropriate to the number of reps you’re doing, and generally keep you from being crushed underneath a barbell.
- Someone to bullshit with between sets: Kind of self-explanatory, no? Those 90-180 seconds between sets can be a drag, and chit-chat makes the clock move faster.
- Selecting accessories to address weaknesses: Everyone has weaknesses. Even that super swole dude who can bench press three cars stacked on top of one another. Working those weaker areas can help prevent injury when you are working near your max, and (duh) increase the weights you can lift. Win, win, win, win, win.
- Captive spotter: This could fall under the “safety, safety, safety” heading, but I’m working on the assumption that you’re not stupid and will use a spotter at heavier weights, high-rep sets, or wherever failure is possible. Working with a trainer means that you don’t have to take precious gym time to go hunt down someone to be there just in case you need help.
- Cheerleader and ass-kicker: A cheering section (even a section of one) can help you make lifts you didn’t think possible. And having someone around to hold you accountable—or tell you to get off your ass and keep moving—helps keep you moving when you’re tired and want to give up.
I’m super lucky because my very good friend Shawn agreed to coach me in the run-up to this meet. In addition to being my husband’s co-worker, he’s married to one of my best friends and gets 97% of my jokes, even the ones other people don’t think are jokes. Shawn is also a long-time student of powerlifting, and as such, well-equipped to help me get to the next level. Let the meet prep commence!