From 2007 to 2011, I was a competitive powerlifter. I squatted 625 lbs, benched 460 lbs, and deadlifted 551 lbs at my best. I also lost 60 pounds going from 220 to 160 in 16 weeks from Jan - May 2009. I hired (now pro) bodybuilder Shelby Starnes.
During this time, I learned about the more fanatical ends of myself. I was willing to sacrifice personal time, friends, and family time just so I could train. Almost anything was secondary to progression of myself. Not an optimal approach to life. I did pick up some things along the way when I reflect back:
1. You push back hardest when resistance is greatest
I learned this early on. While doing some warm-up sets on squat, I found that I simply could not push the weight as hard when it was light. For example, I would warm up with 135 lbs for a set of 10, but each individual rep had maybe a force worth 185 lbs behind it. When the weight was 185 lbs, I was able to apply 225 lbs worth of force behind it. It wasn't until 315 lbs that I was able to apply 365 lbs worth of force to the weight.
This was the first concept to click in my mind when it came to the parallels of life and powerlifting. You can simply drift at what you do, go through the motions without ever fully applying yourself. However, once the stakes are high, the pressure is on, then you are able to perform at the best of your abilities.
2. Scheduled time-off = big gains
Both in and off-season, I trained using a 4 week cycle. It looked like this:
Week 1 - 3:
4 Days / week
2 Days Bench movements
2 Days Squat / Deadlift
Week 4 (deload):
3 Days -> Weights not more than 25-30% of week 3 maxes
I would string together these 4 week periods into a coherent 16 week training cycle, where intensity would increase for 3 week waves, with 1 week down. This would lead to week 11 being the absolute heaviest of the training cycle. Week 12 would be a deload, and 13-15 would be a decrease in intensity.
The span from week 11 to competition day following week 16 is known as delayed transformation
. You are actually getting stronger from the decrease in intensity between week 12-16 because you peaked at week 11 and your body is adapting to the training in delayed fashion. These principles are outlined in Mel Siff's Supertraining
, a book I highly recommend.
In my experience, this principle of scheduled time-off holds true for other abilities, such as learning, cognition and manual dexterity. In essence, you get better at things when you take the appropriate time-off. But this is provided you followed lesson #1.
3. Do what you suck at
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. To be a better chain, you have to strengthen that link.
Case in point: in late 2007, my bench stagnated in the high 200's. Whenever I tried anything above 275, I'd lose it completely about 3/4 the way up. My triceps were weak and I couldn't drive the weight any further, no matter the speed coming off my chest. For 2 months, I decided that I would heavily train the top part of the motion. This meant heavy (300 lbs +) board presses, adding bands, and more tricep work. By January 2008, I managed to increase my bench > 40 pounds and with my first 315 lbs bench press.
It's often difficult to identify what exactly are your weak points. Once you do identify them, it's sometimes difficult to accept that you have these deficiencies. But you get it done, and you'll be better off.
4. You can't succeed alone
In powerlifting, you need support. Support when you're training in the form of spotters and partners. Support in your friends who will show up to your meets. Support in your family, who will put up with your lifestyle. And as much as you receive this support, you are also expected to reciprocate this support in appropriate ways. No one made it to the top without a little help from some friends.