Powerlifters are some of the nicest, hardworking, passionate, yet stubborn athletes you’ll ever meet. Despite the bad rap that powerlifting receives for being non-functional or unsustainable, there are many fixes and ideas a powerlifter can implement to become big and strong without being mentally and physically broken down.
Problem #1: Over-Specificity
We all know “that guy”. You know, the one that thinks he has more muscle mass than he actually does, the one that hops on specialized programs like Sheiko or Smolov Jr. three months into lifting. I knew that guy, well... I WAS that guy. Not only am I speaking from experience, but there are several good reasons why over-specific powerlifting programs can be detrimental for new lifters.
One of the biggest mistakes new lifters can make is exclusively performing the powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift) and ignoring other compound and isolation exercises. Don’t get me wrong, I know practice makes perfect, an aspiring powerlifter must practice the competition lifts but including a variation of exercises in your program as a lifting nooby is the best thing you can do. I can only count on 1 hand the number of lifters I know personally that can progress by only performing the big 3 day in and day out. Most of them have had an extensive training background in track&field / football as well as experience in the weight room prior to powerlifting.
The Fix: Building The Base
Besides improving technique on the Big 3, the top priority for an new lifter is to… pack on muscle. And I believe including a good variation of exercises is the best way to do this. To developed a well-balanced, stable, and resilient body, a mixture of unilateral, bilateral, compound, and isolation exercises should be included into a training program. This is what I like to call building the base:
Build an appreciative amount of muscle mass
Slowly increase bone density and muscle tendon strength to reduce future injury risk
Practice multiple movement patterns
Develop that mind-muscle connection (important for when you decide to target lacking muscles, or want to utilize internal powerlifting technique cues)
Problem #2: putting Too much emotional and financial investment into equipment Too early on
“Hey how many lbs does the new SBD sleeves give you?”
“Hey did you hear about the new lever belt?”
Equipment can definitely help and at the national and international level, it may be the difference between a podium finish and not placing at all. However, many powerlifters get too caught up with the equipment too early on in their lifting career. Obsessing over the newest knee sleeves, belts, shoes and wraps is a waste of time and money if you don’t already have a solid foundation. Avoid making equipment a mental crutch by becoming too dependent on it and avoid overlooking potential negatives that may occur if you're always using equipment.
The Fix: Change the Mindset
Powerlifting is a poor man’s sport, if you have that much money for equipment, maybe you should go play golf or tennis instead. Kidding… KIDDING.
The fix here relates to what I said earlier. Build a solid base/foundation before depending on knee sleeves and belts. Change your mindset. You can be strong without all the equipment. See equipment as a supplement to your training, not a necessity.
Problem #3: Constantly complaining about things and not doing anything to fix it
How many times have you seen people complain about having a #povertybenchpress? It's one thing to joke about it, it's another thing to post constantly complain on Instagram or Facebook telling your followers that your bench sucks. If you think your bench sucks, do something about it. Shut up and bench more, put some mass on your chest, put some mass on your triceps and shoulders.
The Fix: outline priorities and work on them
Using the bench press example: many people struggle to increase their bench because they have insufficient upper body muscle mass (I was and am one of those lifters). Most big benchers LOOK like they can bench a lot. Either that or they have a ridiculous arch + range of motion and they bench 5x a week. Speaking from experience, putting on muscle mass should be your first option. Leave the very high frequency training (4x a week +) for when you’re a more experienced, advanced-level lifter.
When it comes to putting on muscle mass to improve your bench press strength, periodize your training in a way so you train the bench 2-3 times a week.
2x a week might look something like this
1 strength focused session (1-5 rep range, long rests, focusing on bar speed and consistency)
1 hypertrophy focused session (5-12+ rep range, shorter rests, include lots of accessories like dumbbell bench press, incline presses, shoulder presses) don’t be afraid to bro out!
3x a week will consist of the workouts above + a low volume technique-based day that can be done in the same workout as squats or deadlifts.
Problem #4: Too afraid of Time-off
I get it, you want to be competitive. You want to keep up with the rest of the lifters in your division. BUT… continuing to train when you’re mentally and physically exhausted is a recipe for disaster. Mental burnout and increased risk of injury are common outcomes of not spending enough time-off and can hinder your progress in the long-term. Even the veteran lifter should take some time off their normal training routine and dabble in other forms of exercise or at least include a wider variation of exercises.
The Fix: a proper deload
I’m not talking about a one-week planned deload. I’m talking about 3-4 weeks of reduced-intensity lifting. For many powerlifters, this comes in the form of “bodybuilding”, while others will play a different sport or join a recreational sports team. The key here is NOT to completely eliminate all thoughts of powerlifting, but rather shift your focus elsewhere so you’re more refreshed the next time you enter a hard training cycle.
Interested in Powerlifting Programming and Coaching? Feel free to contact me!