Saturday, November 7, 2015

Novice Powerlifting Training - Dan Wathen

For some of Dan Wathen's writing on periodization, see here:

Powerlifting is the most popular strength sport in the United States. It's popularity derived from the ease of performance of its movements and the application of basic powerlifting lifts in training for athletics and general fitness.

Most weight trainees, regardless of their inclinations, have performed the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift at one time as part of their training routines. The problem facing most novice trainees who decide to specialize in the powerlifts is how to embark on a training schedule that will allow them to make progress quickly and safely. Many elite powerlifters have meteoric rises to prominence and abrupt retirements due to injury. The careers of powerlifters seem to be dictated by the amount and severity of their injuries.

One of the most important considerations for the novice lifter is technique. In analyzing the top performers, we see a variety of styles in all lifts. In the Squat, some favor a wide stance --

-- while others prefer a more conventional shoulder width space often bordering on Olympic style --

Larry Pacifico, Anthony Ditillo and Dave Shaw have advocated the performance of the Olympic style squat early in the training of a powerlifter. In my coaching experience, I find this to be sound advice as the novice may not be able to adjust to the wide stance, bar low on the back style until a solid foundation is developed. It is easier to change to the Power Squat from the Olympic Squat and easier for the for the coach to instruct and for trainees to learn.

With the Bench Press, hand spacing is always a problem. Again, you find top benchers using a wide grip style --

- and moderate to close grip styles -- 

-- with equal effectiveness. From an injury standpoint, the wide grip tends to cause the most problems in this area, although careful warmup seems to be a key in preventing this and most other powerlifting injuries. I would recommend the moderate (medium) grip for novices, who can experiment with grip changes after a few months of training to find out which style is more productive. Louie Simmons trains alternating close and wide grip sessions with great success.

With the Bench Press as well a foundation needs to be laid before the trainee advances to experimenting with varying styles.

The Deadlift also has two schools, the sumo --

-- the traditional (regular) style --

Body structure will dictate the deadlift style most efficient for the individual, as it will in the other two powerlifts. A good foundation  is essential, but I have found that most individuals will gravitate to their best style through a trial and error system. It is up to the coach to point out and analyze body structures and style considerations for each individual. 

Proper form is of the utmost importance to the novice. Many injuries and long periods of unproductive training are often the result of a novice attempting maximum weights before the correct neuromuscular pathway is developed. 


This brings us to the next essential factor, which is proper technique through coaching. Any aspiring novice would find it well worth his time in terms of style development to seek out a good coaching influence. There are good coaches in every corner of the country. There may be someone experienced in your own gym who is willing to help you, and if not, a periodic trip to another locale with a competent coaching influence can save you years of almost unproductive training. 

Routines are a bit more cut and dried. Much study has been devoted to the best scheme of sets and reps to build powerlifting strength. It has been determined through both scientific and empirical investigation that, to build strength, sets from 3 to 5 and reps from 2 to 8 are the most effective. Loads must be maximum or near maximum (above 95%) once per week and around 70% two other days per week when seeking strength gains. The following is a sample routine that has been used by novice lifters with outstanding results.

Train Monday, Wednesday, Friday (or any three alternating days per week)

Day One:

5 sets of 8, 6, 4, 2, 2, working up to 95% of one-rep max. Example - 
Your one-rep max is 300 lbs. You would progress with 165 x 8, 215 x 6, 250 x 4, 275 x 2, and finally 285-290 x 2.

Day Two:

2 sets of 8 reps at 70% of one-rep max, after warmup set. Example - 
Again, 300 lb one-rep max. 165 x 8, 210 x 8. 

Day Three:

3 sets of 5 working at 80% of one-rep max, after two warmup sets. Example - 
165 x 5, 205 x 5, 240 x 3 sets of 5.

This method of training has been found to be as productive for strength gains as lifting near max all three training days of the week, and with far less chance of injury. Each lift can be worked in the same manner. Novices may find that they can work all three lifts in the same day with this scheme without undue fatigue or injury for some months.

Beyond this point, an intermediate program may need to be established to work on the weak points of a lift or lifts. Cycling and supplementary exercises may be introduced at this time. No routine, no matter how good, can be sustained forever, however. Change is necessary to impose new demands on the body so that constant overload can be maintained in some fashion. If new and greater demands are not made, strength will not increase. 

Lifting gear is a matter of great controversy. My recommendations are to purchase a good pair of leather training shoes or boots and a solid lifting belt. The 4-inch all the way around type gives excellent support to all phases of the viscera. Shoes are a matter of preference, but good quality leather will give support needed for heavy squatting.

I lump super wraps, suits, stimulants and steroids in a package of artificial lifting aids. 

In summary, the novice should attempt to find a proper coaching influence, develop a strong lifting background by strict exercise performance in the three powerlifts (if you squat high in training, you will squat high at meets), keep his workout sessions below 90 minutes (this means keep the supplementary exercises like curls, etc. to a minimum), do not rely on 'artificial aids' at least until you reach Class 1 status, and develop appropriate nutritional and rest practices. 

Go Get 'Em!

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