Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Training for Raw Powerlifting

I always thought that training for powerlifting seemed easy enough, and straight forward.  

At the competition you squat, then bench, then deadlift.  Pretty straight forward.  Seemed to me that in order to get ready for such an event I would need to squat, bench, and deadlift and get as strong on those as I could.  

Apparently, I was wrong.  

I didn't know I had to breakdown every weakpoint in each lift, get bands and chains, worry about various "types" of training days, buy a bunch of strange looking bars, buy boards from the hardware store, and all sorts of other shit.  I thought I could just focus on getting strong on the 3 lifts then show up the day of the meet and see how I did.

Oh wait, I CAN do that.  

The internet has been both a blessing and curse to lifting.  Lifters get to read and learn about various methodologies, but then they usually bastardize and rape each one of them mercilessly.  This is, in my opinion, some of the dumbest shit I see on the net.  Westside/5x5 "hybrid" routines and shit like this make me shake my head.  There is no such thing.  Once you take two methodologies and combine them, it's not a "hybrid" it's just a training abortion.  

Most systems are put together because all of the components fit together to work in conjuction with one another.  Once you mix them together you don't have a "hybrid" you just have a cluster fuck of a training program with no reason behind why you are doing what you are doing.

This is the kind of thing that has caused younger lifters (either in age or in lifting experience) to wander from program to program.  They are looking for that holy grail of a training program.  The one that will turn them into a combination of Arnold meets Mariusz overnight. 

This is also why guys run around from board to board asking for powerlifting routines, when setting up a basic powerlifting routine should be damn simple.  Here, let me show you...

You're going to squat

You're going to bench

You're going to deadlift

Do something to supplement each one........OR DON'T!  

The following seem to be the most common questions regarding training for raw powerlifting.....

1.  "What about assistance exercises?"

This is pretty much the most common one.  This one usually is followed up by a board "guru" who tells said lifter to pick assistance work based on "weak points".  This is hogwash.  

The majority of raw guys are going to have sticking points in the same spots.  For the squat it's coming out of the hole, for the bench it's usually 3-4 inches off of the chest, and for the deadlift around midshin to below the knee.  Yes, there are variations that some guys have but that's going to be ball park for most guys.  The deadlift is the one I see with the most variation here, with some guys missing at lockout instead of below the knee somewhere.  

There is a very easy way to go about picking assistance exercises to help the main lift.  Just pick an exercise and as you progress on it, does the main lift move up with it?  If so, it's fixing something.  If not, drop it and try something else.  

The truth is the whole "fixing weak spots" is bunk.  People will tell you if your lock out sucks to do shit like close grips or board work, but it actually doesn't usually work.  Wendler talked about this here...

I found the very same issue.  I worked up to 425+ on close grips and my lockout was in the proverbial shitter.  Yet I see tons of guys talking about how you should do close grips and tricep work and boards and shit to improve your lockout.  Why?  If you are raw more than likely your sticking point is 3-5 inches off of your chest.  So why are you doing lockout work anyway?  I've never seen a raw guy miss a bench at a meet because he couldn't lock out the last few inches.  Common sense.

Same for things like locking out your deadlift.  I did rack deadlifts working up to 800+ pounds but it never helped my lockout or even my deadlift for that matter.  Not when I pulled above the knee anyway.  I did find that mid-shin pulling helped tremendously, i.e. I got strong when pulling from there and I noticed my regular deadlift went up.  This is how you work assistance to improve "weak points".  Because the fact is, you really don't know where your weak points are, and even some guru probably can't tell you.  Sad but true.

The point is, especially about assistance work, is to cover it, not smother it.  The meat and potatoes of your training should in fact be the big 3.  I won't and never will waiver from that.  Especially when you are in the weeks of preparing for the meet.  If you want to mess around with things when you are not preparing to compete, have fun.  But during a planned meet cycle doing the powerlifts themselves should be what your training is all about.  

2.  "Should I hit my numbers I'm going for at the meet in the gym?"

Personally, I say no.  The meet is for PR's.  Not the gym.  And this is coming from a guy who has never hit his PR's on the platform (that is going to change however).  Know what you need to hit in order to be good enough to have a realistic shot at a number.  So you know if you hit a double or triple with a certain weight, you're going to be good for X amount as far as a top single goes.

3.  "How should I setup a routine?"

Well aside from doing the squat, bench, and deadlift you should write down a realistic goal for what you want to hit at the meet, then you should decide how long it would realistically take for you to train to hit that.  The two key words in those sentences are "realistic".  If you have been training for 10 years and your best bench ever is 300 pounds, then don't plan on hitting 350 or 400 at the meet ok?  If you are close to 300 at the moment, setup a plan for 8-12 weeks to hit 310.  Set a plan up that allows you to succeed rather than fail.  

I remember seeing a kid at a meet in Oklahoma who drove from Jersey just to bench.  Bench only!  I asked him what he was going to open with and he said "365".  I asked him what his best bench ever was.  He said "365".  I was flabbergasted.  

"Dude you need to go tell them you want to change your opener." I told him.  I had three other guys behind me telling him the same thing.

He shook his head like we were idiots.

"No, it's fine.  You'll see."

He missed 365 all three times.  I wish I could go back in time to laugh in that guys face for a second time when he missed that third bench attempt.  Don't be a dipshit or fool yourself about what you are capable of.  The "no limits, I can do anything" crowd are just as big a bunch of dumbasses as the hardgainer microloading train two-times-a-month crowd.  In fact I find them even more annoying.  Don't fail because you set yourself up for failure by being stupid and egotistical.  Set yourself up for success through smart planning and putting your ego aside.  The people who do that surpass the "I can do anything" crowd more often than not.  

In part II I will talk about setting up a squat cycle, assistance movements, and other things related to raw squatting.


  1. Good article as always Paul, thanks again for putting these up, your knowledge and the time you put into these is appreciated.

  2. Great stuff-keep it coming

  3. Sounds like you've been visiting

  4. Gosh no. It's like that on almost every board though. However that place is pretty bad.

  5. Great Article Paul. Very interesting comment:
    'And this is coming from a guy who has never hit his PR's on the platform '. I would think the meet day adrenaline and crowd would have you leaving gym PR's in the dust.

    Thanks again for writing the post. We all need a reminder to stay grounded on the basics from time to time.

  6. Bigs - I have generally left too much on the platform. Either from a previous injury or underestimating what I was capable of.

  7. thats the best powerlifting advice I've ever read on the net.

  8. Perfect article . -

  9. Good advice much along the lines we coach in our gym. Incidentally my 3 PB's were all done on the platform. I find that doing maximum singles in the gym will guarantee me a poor platform performance.

    1. Always! You should always hit your biggest ones on the platform, not in the gym. Gym lifts don't mean shit.