How You Take Your Total From Novice To Elite

TAGS: peaking for a meet, supplemental work, speed work, accessory work, marc bartley, chains, bands, gear, dave tate

The primary aim of this article is to pass on some of the knowledge and information that I have obtained over the past five years of competitive powerlifting. My effort is to assist a novice or intermediate level power lifter seeking an elite total. The theories and ideas below have been passed along to me through the articles published right here on elitefts™ as well as training with Marc Bartley and recently spending a week in the gym with Dave Tate.

I’ve personally used and implemented these principles, and with them managed to increase my total well beyond the mark of elite. I truly believe that the overall training system should always be evolving. Now, while this article is primarily aimed towards geared lifting, it can also be applied to raw lifting (though some things will obviously have to change within the training). These ideas have also been implemented with some of our raw guys who have had great success.

Gear

In the interest of time I am only going to discuss the squat in this first article. I intend to submit several follow ups covering the other main lifts.

First things first, if you are an intermediate lifter or are just getting into gear and you want to take your total to the next level, you need to buy the best gear. For me, I was tired of getting my ass handed to me at meets as I was wearing cheap old gear and going against dudes that were wearing four plies of material. I sat down with Spud (Marc Bartley) after a meet in which I was disappointed in my total and he said “Dude, you need to get some real gear.”

Two days later I was on the phone with Jo Jordan and we were trying to make an educated decision on what Metal Gear I should purchase. After talking with Jo I was able to convince him that I should buy a Metal Ace Squatter as I wanted the best you can buy. The first time I used it I hit a 135-pound PR, and the next day I was on the phone ordering a pair of Metal Ace Briefs and a Metal Bash bench shirt to go with it. What I recommend when choosing the Ace gear is purchasing both the briefs and the suit a size bigger.

I recommend this for two reasons:

1. It will make the break-in period and learning curve much easier for you.

2. It will give you a reason to gain some freaking weight—two of the best things you can do to increase your total. If the gear fits too tight you can just wet the seams thoroughly and this will give you the right fit. Remember you need to embrace being uncomfortable while in multi-ply gear.

Training

Here comes the good stuff! Lately there have been a lot of articles published on this site on the use of the Westside system. I have read all of them and think that all of them are great. My training partners and I train on the Westside template and I think it is second to none as a training system. Now, I want to be very clear when I say this: I don’t train at Westside, I don’t know anyone at Westside, and am in no way the authority on this system or template. However, when it comes to meet training I believe it has to be specific to the skills needed to be performed on meet day. Also, I have no clue what is going on between those actual walls, so to say that you follow this system exactly as you’re supposed to means you actually train at Westside.

From what I have learned from some of the strongest power lifters in the world is that if you think you’re going to rotate exercises like good mornings or low box squats with the manta-ray on a barbell for your way to a huge meet PR, you’ve got another thing coming. I believe exercise rotation specifically in reference to max effort work should be changed week to week. When not training for a meet, this is a great way to manipulate your overall level of volume, bring up weaknesses, and keep your training from going stagnant. This may only apply to a more advanced lifter, as I feel the beginners and intermediate lifters can use two and three-week waves on max effort work and see tremendous gains.

As it pertains to meet training, I believe that from the 12-week out point, you need to begin to hone the skills in which are applied on the platform. These are going to be performed in full gear. So honestly I think exercise rotation should be selected carefully from the 18- to 12-week out point mostly done raw, with most of your actual skill and gear work being formulated and placed 12 weeks out from the meet. Now I’m not saying full gear 12 weeks in a row, but what I am saying is that some of the things that Dave Tate and Spud have really driven home with me are how important it is to go by feel when you’re doing your programming and that you really need to learn your gear.

 

Bands, Chains & Speed Work

Ah, the great debate as of late. My thoughts and feelings on speed work are simple: DO IT! Now that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t back it off as it gets closer to the meet, but when it comes to speed work I want you ask yourself two questions. Do you want to step out on a platform with 90 percent of your one rep max and absolutely crush your opener so fast that you pop up out of the hole with a nose bleed and the bar jumping off your back? Or do you just want to go out there give it the old college try, come up nice and smooth with a little stalling in the middle? I don’t know about you but I will take number one the first time, every time. Now, we can get into the whole force and velocity mess about speed work with a whole bunch of words that I don’t know the definition of and I sure as hell cant spell but who really gives a sh*t about that?

Bottom line: you can’t get stronger if you’re not getting faster. If you’re slow then you just suck and you need to get faster. Be the fat kid that wins the race and jumps on the 48 inch box.

Now, on to the chains and bands. Both great training tools, however, one should be wary of trying to over use these too close to a meet. I can tell you personally that this is something Dave Tate and I discussed extensively while he was on vacation. The bands change everything about a movement. They create tension from the bar all the way to the ground and will pull you down faster causing you to have to get up faster which is great to blast through a sticking point.

I can also tell you there is a large difference in unracking 900 pounds of weight with 400 pounds in bar weight and 500 pounds in band tension then unracking 900 pounds of straight weight. Based on Spud’s advice I have always done better with chains in the beginning of my training cycle on weeks 14-12 and then switching over to a two-week strength speed phase using a box and briefs on week’s 12-10. The two weeks of heavy band tension early on in the training cycle is really what I feel prepared me to go into the next couple of three-week waves planned for the cycle.

My two weeks of bands would look something like this:

  • The first week I would try to use about 70 percent in band tension on the bar and 30 percent bar weight. I would try work up and try to hit a number close to what I wanted to hit at that meet for a single.
  • The next week I would use about 60 percent in tension with 40 percent bar weight and work up to 5x2 trying to clean up my technique.

This is going to be different for everyone and you’re going to have to experiment and find what works for you. If you are more of a beginner I say keep the band tension minimal and if you’re more of an intermediate then I think that you would benefit from being under some uncomfortable band tension.

Peaking For a Meet

This is specifically what I used for my last couple 3-week waves of my training cycle. Now, rather than trying to mix things up, rotate exercises, and do all this fancy crap, my best totals and squats have come from simple 3-week progression waves which were just like practicing for a meet. These simple 3-week wave progressions took my squat from 840 pounds on 07/24/2010 to 905 pounds on April 9th, 2011, and then to 955 pounds on November 5th, 2011. The 955-pound squat also shot me into the top-10 for the first time in the Powerlifting Watch rankings for 2011 (I was later knocked out, but hey I was there at least once).

Again, the percentages will be different for everyone and it will take you some time and experimentation to find what works for you. Here is how Spud suggested I set up my training.

He first asked me what the goal was and what I deep down thought I could do at a meet and that is how we based the numbers. So, coming off the 840 squat my goal was 900.

The training went like this:

On week one I did my warm up routine as I would do it at the meet with my planned opener being 840. Training work sets were 735 for 3x1 full gear, no knee wraps, which would be the last warm-up I took before heading to the platform.

Week two was 785 for 3x1 working up the same way I would in the warm-up room until my top sets which had knee wraps on this time. This week I felt good so I went up for one additional set adding a reverse band and another 120 pounds.

Week three was my opener for 840 for 3x1. This day went terrible so after two sets I shut it down.

Week four I only did accessory and supplemental work with no barbell on my back. The next 3 week progression consisted of full gear doubles working up in a similar manner just like meet day.

Week five was 755 for 2x2.

The following week was 805 for 2x2, then I did a reverse band with 900 and then 950 for a miss. I used the elitefts™ grey band for reverse band sets. This was four weeks out from the meet and it was my heaviest squat day of the cycle.

The next week I was supposed to take 700 for 2x2 but I felt good so I went 750 for 2x2.

The Saturday before the meet, one week out, I did 50 to 60 percent of my opener for five sets of two.

As you can see I had set numbers, but some days some things were changed based on how I felt. Because of the way I trained I felt so comfortable in my gear that going through the meet was the easy part. I squatted 905 pounds without a problem and feel I left about 30 or 40 pounds on the platform. For my 955-pound squat I took the same template and just altered the numbers towards my goal.

Accessory and Supplemental Work

Last but not least, I feel it is important to use both your accessory work and supplemental work to keep you healthy and build your main lifts. During the previously mentioned three-week waves of meet training I would focus more on the accessory movements which kept me healthy while bringing up any lagging weak points leftover (there will always be some). I also dialed back my speed work to assist in the recovery and one month out from the meet I eliminated the use of any bands and chains for barbell movements.

The trick is to experiment with these exercises to discover which gives you the greatest carry over to the main lifts. My training partner Pat Flynn recently published an article on right here on elitefts™ titled, What I Learned from Dave Tate: How to Build Bigger Lifts. This article included a lot of the principles Dave laid out for us. I highly recommend reading it as it can shed some light on some of the things you can be doing. I can tell you that personally some of the most awful and hardest accessory exercises I have done have given me the greatest carry over.

I don’t think it’s because these movements equal automatic bigger lifts, but take for instance hyper extensions with a safety squat bar on your back. These are brutal especially after a big squat session, but they also helped my weak and lagging areas which in turn enabled me to have a better squat. So, do yourself a favor: pick something awful that you just hate doing. It’s probably going to be best for your competition lifts. If you’re picking accessory movements which are attacking your weak points at all angles, these will give you the biggest carry over to your main movements.

When attacking your weak points, you’re going to have to step back and find out where your lift is breaking down.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where does the bar slow down?
  • Where does my arch break?
  • Where does my back round over?
  • When do my lats lose tightness?

All of these can be identified through videotaping your lifts or training with people who are stronger then you, both of which I highly recommend. If you need some suggestions on how to bring up your weak areas poke around on www.elitefts.com. There are tons of information on how to bring up weak muscle groups.

Your feedback is greatly appreciate. Questions? Please fire away.

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