The one thing I have learned over the years (and actually started in the Marines) is that the amount of effort and time you put into the work-up, the more successful the mission will be, and the same is true with sports. The harder you work and push yourself in your off-season, the better and more productive your competitive season will be.

It's a mindset that not a lot of people understand. I hear it all the time, "I'll take it more serious when the prep starts" or "I just need time off to have fun and enjoy myself. I will focus more when the meet gets closer." These are the same people who don't progress much then blame everyone but themselves after it’s all said and done.

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I posted a video on how I gauge a successful off-season. I go over some of the things I look for in my off-season so that by the end of it, I can have a checklist of the things I did or did not accomplish. If you aren't tracking, then it can be very hard to progress in training and nutrition.

Before moving onto the meet prep, I just want to emphasize how important confidence is in the sport of powerlifting. It can literally make or break a lift, and confidence is built in the gym, under the bar, training.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but how often do you see lifters going in and maxing out or missing reps? Probably very often, and for every missed rep, it brings a little bit more doubt into your brain about what you will be capable of when it comes to the day of competition.

It is also the same scenario when it comes to chasing numbers. Just because you think you are capable of a number doesn't mean you should be chasing it every training day because if you have a bad day or two, things will spiral out of control quickly, and you will start to doubt yourself, and that will cause you to miss attempts in training and on the platform. Just take each day as it comes and build some confidence each week in small victories.

This leads me into the meet prep and how I like to do things going into the start of it and how I like to finish it. Like everyone, I have goals, but I don't let the goals dictate my training cycle. I have learned over the years to be patient and take what each training cycle gives you. This has led to better totals and fewer injuries.

You need to be very careful with how you pick the week-to-week progressions and when to push and when to back off. What I like to do is have an intent or range for the day at the beginning of the prep, and then as I get closer to the meet, I will have a better grasp of my numbers and where I am at. This is more of an auto-regulation style of training. I prefer this style because it allows me to become more aware of what my body is telling me and gives me feedback to let me know if I am recovering from training or not.

Let's say I have a 455-pound bench press planned for a triple. If it's a good day, I get all three; if it's an off day, I will hit three singles. Either way, I get my three reps in with no misses. If I am only able to get the three singles, this tells me something may be going wrong with my recovery or I may need to look at my programming and fix the gaps.

Your training will tell you everything you need to know as long as you allow it to. Learning how to feel things out and taking the lifts one set at a time will not only help with the lifting for that day but will also have a great carryover for learning how to pick your attempts come meet day so you can still go eight for nine, even on a bad day.

As far as my accessories go for meet prep, I tend to push my main to favor the law of specificity to drive specific adaptions both neutrally and skeletally. I find I need to lower intensity a bit on my secondary and other movements. In order to still elicit a positive training response, I pick exercises that mimic the main movement but at a degree of difficulty that requires me to use a significantly smaller percentage of my max load.

An example would be with my squat training. I am doing pause squats with a high bar. The high bar is not a good position for me, so I can't use as much weight and the pause makes it harder so that decreases the load, but by doing these more demanding exercises, I can still get a huge benefit out of them without having 600-plus pounds on my back. This will lead to better recovery week-to-week and less chance of injury.

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I also keep it within the same rep range, so if my top set of squats is three reps, then my secondary movements will be between three to five reps. I don't want to accumulate a lot of fatigue on these movements because the main goal is to allow it to help drive my main movements, and I am still within the same ballpark intensity as my main lift.

Finding ways to increase the intensity of the lifts without adding weight is a great way to stay fresh and injury-free while still making progress to your goals. This works for me mainly because I am pushing my main set to a near-max intensity every time out. Finding what works best for you is key.

Setting up numbers and reps takes some time, but if you had a productive off-season, you should have a decent understanding of where to begin. I feel like there is a mental edge when you know exactly what you are supposed to hit for that day. You start to think about it and visualize it so when it comes time to do it, you just do it without overthinking it.

Being mentally tough and confident is huge in the powerlifting game as soon as you start to doubt a lift you will inevitably fail that lift. Learning the psychology of developing mental toughness is something every athlete should look into.

I spend 20 to 30 minutes every day working on breathing techniques and visualization, not just about lifting, but about being successful and everything else that is going on in my life that requires better clarity. Thinking and visualizing about your upcoming lifts will not only help you build up confidence going into the lift, but it won't require you to think too much about it once you start the workout mainly because it has already happened in your head. The breathing I do just helps me get focused and is my way of getting fired up. I am not saying this will work for you; I am saying you need to find your method. The mental approach will help you in and out of the gym.

As I get closer and closer to my meet, I realize that everything needs an equal amount of attention to detail. It is one thing to come to the gym for two to three hours and give it your all, but the time spent outside of the gym is far more valuable to your actual performance.

You are willing to put countless hours into a 12-week training cycle from conception to actually doing it, and yet, you can’t get eight hours of sleep or an adequate number of calories or the proper supplementation to keep your body strong and fresh. Let’s dive deeper into how I am setting up all of this in order to be at my best come meet day.

First thing first is sleep and lots of it. The truth is sleep is an extremely valuable asset to reset your body from the rigorous day and will get you going in the right direction for the upcoming day. I wrote an article outlining the importance of sleep and how to improve on it, so I won’t bore you with a rewrite.

Nutrition in powerlifting is actually growing, and lifters are realizing its importance and have been taking it much more serious for the most part. You still have the McDonald’s guys that pound crap food and lift a ton of weight, especially in the 308 and higher weight classes.

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For all the other weight classes, you will see the top guys have a leaner physique, and the reason behind that is the more lean tissue you can have without a bunch of excess fat will help you maximize your potential in your weight class. Basically a bigger muscle will eventually become a stronger muscle. Now lean is not always best for certain athletes, but just living a more bodybuilder-like lifestyle and being as lean as you possibly can while maintaining performance is the goal for everyone.

I’ve outlined my thoughts on how to best achieve this in a few articles, but I just wanted to shed some light on how I approached things during a meet prep. I always approach my training and nutrition in a long-term perspective, meaning I don’t really care to put all my eggs in one basket for an upcoming meet.

If I am in the middle of my off-season trying to build up and put on weight, I will not abruptly stop it just to do a meet and cut back down. This is the number one reason I see so many people fail; it’s because they only care about what’s next or what’s cool and not what will allow them to be at their all-time best in three to five years and beyond.

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For my last meet I weighed in at a whopping 232 pounds while eating up until weigh-ins. After the meet, I made up my mind to focus on adding size and getting stronger. I know this seems odd to the majority of people reading this because powerlifting has become more about trying to cut weight to be more competitive at their next local meet instead of just worrying about actually getting stronger.

The purpose behind increasing calories and tracking everything during a weight gain phase is to know exactly how many calories one can eat to maintain the desired weight. The higher your calories get in a steady fashion during a weight gain phase, naturally, the higher they are when you start your diet.

For me, I normally diet around 3,000 calories to start dropping weight and now I am dieting around 4,500 calories. This is why it is important to take your weight gain seriously and not just eat crap. Now I am right where I need to be at 4,500 calories, which is huge since I’m going into a meet with an extra 1,500 calories to work with.

Key takeaways with nutrition:

  • If you are trying to gain weight, track your macros
  • Once you get to your weight, sit there for a minimum of one to two months with a maintenance calorie consumption
  • Diet using the highest amount of calories possible, so be sure to spend time building them up in the off-season

Supplements are an easy topic to cover. Don’t go overboard with them and save your money for food. With that being said, there are some good supplements out there that can have a big benefit to how well you recover from training, how well you digest food, and to overall help your body pass any toxins and keep you fresh. Now there aren’t many brands I trust so make sure you do your research before you blindly purchase the most popular brand or the one your favorite social media star is promoting. I personally enjoy True Nutrition; they test their products and post the results.

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The supplements I’ve used during this training cycle are whey isolate, highly branch cyclic dextrins, omega-3 capsules, creatine monohydrate, L-Leucine, NA-R-ALA, and L-Glutamine.

Creatine is a supplement that has been around for decades and has always been scientifically proven to work at increasing strength and lean body mass. Your body relies on creatine to produce action of the muscles when lifting weights, so supplementing your pre- or intra-workout with 5-10g of creatine will help with recovery time and allow you to squeeze out a few more reps. You can also get creatine from steak and all other red meats. This is a good supplement that will help you perform better in the gym.

I get a very basic creatine monohydrate. Since I weight 240 pounds, I take 10g during training and 5g on non-training days. Also, if you add a 1/3-teaspoon of baking soda with the creatine, it will magnify the results of creatine even more. I prefer any brand that is just a micronized creatine monohydrate. I get mine from True Nutrition.

Whey isolate is a fast-absorbing protein, which is great to drink pre-, mid-, and post-workout. It hits your bloodstream fast and is typically easy to digest so it won’t cause any gut irritation. When looking for a good whey isolate, look for something that is low in fat and carbs. A few brands that I recommend are True Nutrition, Natures Best Isopure, and Dymatize Iso-100.

L-Leucine, as a stand-alone amino acid, has been shown to have more of an increase in protein synthesis than any of the other ones, meaning that it’s more anabolic in nature. Leucine also activates mTOR, which manufactures muscle proteins to help in the building process. This is a must-have supplement while dieting as it has been shown to help you lose weight while maintaining muscle mass. Serving sizes can be anywhere from 3-10g depending on when you take it and with what you take with it.

L-Glutamine provides a third of the body’s nitrogen, which will help with nitrogen balance throughout the body, which helps you recover from muscle damage from workouts. It helps improve digestion as well as the absorption of food. Take around 10-15g per day and bump it up when in high-stress periods. I highly recommend True Nutrition.

Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrins or HBCDs are a form of simple carbohydrates that are ideal to consume for your peri-workout nutrition. This is a fast-digesting carb but what separates them from all the other fast-digest carbs on the market is not only do they digest and absorb fast, but due to their cone shape molecules, they have a higher uptake of nutrients and once they settle down into your stomach, they hold the nutrients longer, allowing for a longer absorption rate. HBCDs move through the body just as fast but they also allow your nutrients to be fully distributed before we get rid of them through waste.

Fish Oil is a great tool to fight off inflammation caused by hard workouts and will allow for better recovery. It has also been shown to help promote protein synthesis. It increases insulin sensitivity and cardiac output and stroke volume, which promote a healthy heart. Now Ultimate Omegas, Nordics, and Jarrow are three terrific brands.

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NA-R-ALA is a glucose disposal aid that helps shuttle nutrients, specifically carbs, to the muscle instead of fat stores. This is a great supplement to take if you are having a high carb meal. It also has a powerful indirect anti-oxidation method that rapidly regenerates other endogenous antioxidants.

As you can see, there is a lot more than training that goes into a meet prep if you want to be successful. You can also incorporate massages, active recovery, etc., to keep you feeling fresh and ready to go. It is a forever evolving process, so stay on top of it and ahead of the game.

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