Well, it’s officially the month of the US Open, and I have to say, I’m pretty psyched. After my mishmashed foray into bodybuilding last year, I re-found my love for heavy lifting, and so far, the result has been my absolute best prep ever. Now, I think passion is by far the biggest indicator of success, but I’ve also implemented a few “unconventional” strategies this prep that have been paying off quite well.
Now, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you — but it might. I encourage you to check out these strategies, and consider giving them a shot. Keep in mind, too, that you don’t need to restrict these methods to meet prep. They can work in the off-season, too!
Strategy 1: Shorter Prep Times
I’ve written about the benefits of shorter prep times before, but I think it bears repeating: long preps are draining. I think 12-, and 16-, and 20+ week preps are popular largely because they’re so frequently used by bodybuilders. But bodybuilders are focused on dieting, not on strength, and in order to diet successfully, you have to take it slow (to avoid losing too much muscle).
When it comes to strength, I believe that long, drawn-out preps are counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong: the sad reality is that strength is slow to develop, and consistency is the name of the game. If you’re switching plans every other week, you’re just going to end up spinning your wheels, no matter how hard you push yourself in the gym.
But at the same time, it’s so easy to get burnt out when you’re pushing hard for long periods of time. I prefer using the minimum meet prep length because of how much flexibility it provides. Smaller preps can be more easily incorporated into the typical hectic schedule that most lifters have to deal with. In my experience, if you push yourself hard in the gym, you also push yourself hard outside of the gym, and that means you’re probably trying to balance a lot of different obligations, whether that’s family time, work travel, or something else.
When these obligations interfere with a training cycle, it can be really frustrating, and you’re left wondering how to adjust. With a 12-or 16-week plan, it’s virtually inevitable that life circumstances will somehow require you to alter your training schedule. Six-week programs are much easier to plan around. And, of course, your body remains much fresher with these shorter preps. As the next strategy explains, that’s crucial to success on meet day!
Strategy 2: Prioritizing Recovery Above All Else
In the past, I’ve prioritized my training over my recovery, to the point where I’d run myself into the ground before the meet. I didn’t neglect recovery: I did my best to get plenty of sleep, to get regular bodywork (massages and physical training) and take time to relax. But that’s not enough when you’re constantly training at RPE 10.
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Third #highvolume #legdayworkout in five days and easily added 40 pounds to my Yoke Bar squat — AFTER 4×20 on hamstring curls and leg press to failure 😬 And a good #injuryrecovery update: benched 135 for reps five days after the tear with zero pain, tightness, or any other symptoms. I have no bruising and no pain with daily activities, either. Still taking everything #slowandsteady. Can’t tell y’all how much I appreciate your support. (Knee sleeves are @elitefts, I alternate between those and @ironrebel.)
So, with this prep, I’m avoiding maximal-effort training as much as I possibly can. Instead, I’m spending that extra energy on recovery — and it’s making an enormous difference in my results. Here are some of the specific methods I’m applying:
- Sleep. This might sound ridiculous, but I’m sleeping a solid 10-12 hours per night. While this is difficult to incorporate into my schedule, I constantly feel fresh in the gym, my aches and pains have dissipated, and my strength is at an all-time high. Now, be careful with this one: there is some evidence that suggest too much sleep can be detrimental. However, there’s also evidence that shows more sleep can help reduce the risk of injury, and can be beneficial to athletes in particular.
- Diet. I’ve already explained how I’m working with Justin Harris on a new carb-cycling plan, so I won’t rehash that in too much detail here. However, I will say that focusing on an (extremely) high carb intake on my heaviest training days has vastly improved both my recovery and performance in the gym on those days.
- Mental Training. Again, not a totally new one for me, but I am trying some new strategies here. In particular, I’m embracing my fear of heavy weights, rather than running from it. Yep, no matter how strong you are, near-max weights are intimidating! But with that intimidation comes an extremely strong source of energy. I’ve realized that, as uncomfortable as it might feel at times, fear of the weights drives my success — as long as I’m willing to face it. I’ve employed meditation strategies and hypnotherapy (with a professional, Dr. Tim Horn, of Hypnoconsult in northern Virginia) to help with this.
Strategy 3: High-Frequency Training
In my Unf*ck Your Program series, I’ve explained the importance of the three major training variables: volume, intensity, and frequency. Now, most programs — if they address these variables at all — focus on volume and intensity. But some evidence shows that frequency is just as, and perhaps more, important than the other two.
So, I’ve been experimenting with very high-frequency training. I’m employing a 2 days on/1 day off split, performing the squat, bench, and deadlift every training day. It’s intense — I’m constantly sore! But my performance is nevertheless constantly increasing.
Now, if you are implementing higher-frequency training, it’s important to take it slow. Think about it: When you are adding volume, you can add one set at a time. With intensity, you can increase your weights by as little as 2.5 pounds a training session. But if you are increasing training frequency, you’re probably increasing your overall workload by a lot. Going from three days to four days per week is a 33% increase!
For that reason, make sure to keep your overall training volume and intensity constant (that is, the total amount of volume and average intensity over the course of a training microcycle) when increasing frequency. I also suggest implementing more light training days to help balance the recovery and training workload, like I mentioned in Strategy 2!
Again, I want to stress that while these strategies are working incredibly well for me, they won’t necessarily work for you. I still strongly, strongly encourage you to give them a try.
When it comes down to it, powerlifting is all about growth and learning.
Learning about your own body, how it responds to training, and how far you can push your limits. And it’s simply impossible to do that without trying new things.
Of course, remember also the importance of small changes. I suggest you start with just one of these strategies at first, give it a couple of weeks to see the results, and then implement the next. In this way, you can separate the results and identify exactly what’s most important for your body and your goals.
As always, Think Strong and Train Hard!
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from Igor Simanovskiy / Shutterstock