A Case for Sanity and Powerlifting, Part 1

TAGS: Dustin Starer, bar weight, training for a meet, powerlifting meet, preparation

Keep it in the Gym

Despite popular belief, meets aren't well designed for finding one-rep maxes. You may (or may not) be in peak condition to do so, but the traditional ‘full power’ powerlifting format doesn't allow for adequate feedback and progression on lifts.

It’s often necessary to make small increases in bar weight to find a one-rep max. Because powerlifters are only allotted three lifts per discipline, it’s nearly impossible to find a true max without the risk of missing a lift or bombing. In addition to having a limited number of attempts, environmental conditions, such as short rests and/or logistical mistakes, can spell disaster for a lifter with an overly-aggressive outlook on meet performance.

The basic goal in powerlifting is to attain the highest total possible in nine lifts. While this may seem to work in unison with lifting at or near failure, it has been proven time and time again that the greatest lifters rarely miss lifts and thus don’t seem to ever push their strength threshold on the platform. This doesn't mean that personal records (PRs) can't be or are rarely achieved at meets. Naturally, the only way to increase a full power total is to set new bests in one or more lifts.

I like to view powerlifting meets as a mixture of chess and gambling. Chess is about positioning yourself to carry out a multi-move plan. A well-executed plan of attack often reaps rewards. Sometimes an unforeseen difficulty may be introduced as a result of your negligence or environmental changes via your opponent. The opponent in powerlifting, especially at local and state meets, often isn't an actual lifter. It is you. More specifically, it’s a malfunction in a lifter’s preparedness or expectations.

Any strong positioning strategy will incorporate a level of risk appropriate to one’s specific goals and experience. Whether an athlete is after his personal bests, another lifter, a qualifying total, or a federation record, having a plan that fits is the key to success. As in betting, large risks on the platform may yield epic lifts. They may also leave you busted, injured, disheartened, and depressed. It’s up to the lifter and his coach to determine what he can handle physically and emotionally.

A well-prepared lifter can and will reach his goals if he chooses the correct strategy. Regardless of one’s condition or strength, the platform at a powerlifting meet isn't any place to “max out.” Instead, work with an experienced lifter or coach to develop a game plan that suits your desires or needs. If you want to max out, do it in the gym. In the gym, I promise, you’ll be infinitely more successful in that particular endeavor.

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