If you don't have a coach to guide you in powerlifting, you have to determine your own direction. Maybe you're getting ready for a meet, or maybe you have a few weeks or months before it's time to start training for the next meet. In either situation, a lot of lifters don't have a plan, and instead, go to the gym and make decisions based on how they feel. Instead of having an exact number of sets and reps, and a planned amount of weight to lift for each session, they go into the weight room, work up to a heavy number—maybe a triple, maybe a double, or maybe even a single—and then do some accessory work.

This isn't the worst thing if you know what you're doing. Steve has trained this way plenty of times: he would go to the gym and work up in weight, sometimes even up to a single, and then back off. But even the heaviest lifts would be lower than 85%, and this was key. Steve would start by working up to a lighter single in the first week, and then progress it in the following weeks. Week by week he would go 85%, then 87%, 90%, 92%, and so on. This worked because even though he was going to the gym and working up to a single a lot of the time, he wasn't pushing 100% every single session. Everything was based around the idea of starting at a light single and pyramiding up over time.

If you simply go to the gym and push as hard as possible, week after week, without incremental adjustments over time, you're not going to reach your goals. You don't always have to do the maximum number of weight or the maximum number of reps possible. Steve recommends using a percentage chart, maybe something like Prilepin's chart, and making decisions on weight, sets, and reps from there.

Can't figure out how to make this work yourself? Hire a coach who can help you get stronger and stay injury free. Not only will this help you improve in the short term, but it will also teach you a better approach to training in the long term and save you years of lost training time.

Approaching the Bar: What Motivates You Before A Heavy Lift?