Have you been a powerlifter for years, but recently something feels off? Are you a newcomer to powerlifting, wanting to soak up all of the information you can? Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been setting personal bests for a while, it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the essentials of powerlifting.
Here are some of the of the most common helpful reminders about powerlifting workouts including how to overcome obstacles and improve your overall performance.
Let’s start off with some important tips for performing the big three: back squat, deadlift, and bench press.
If you’re having trouble seeing progress with your back squat, the first thing to review is your form. Do a self-check of the following:
Chin Position: Where is your chin? It should not be touching your chest. Keep it at a neutral level to avoid throwing yourself off balance.
Breaking Parallel: Are you breaking parallel when you squat down? Assuming you have perfect form, strive to go lower than parallel. The result is better activation, execution, and performance.
Avoid Leaning: Are you leaning forward, performing the Good Morning exercise instead of an actual back squat? Take care not to let your chest fall forward as this will take the focus off of the quadriceps.
Powerlifting Belt: Are you wearing your powerlifting belt properly? A powerlifting belt is used to provide a wall of support for your abdominals to push off of. The bulk of the belt should be in the front, not the back.
For more tips on your form, read our article on how to master the back squat.
Next is weight progression. Are you still using the same weight you were weeks ago? Getting closer to that new personal best means you have to gradually increase the weight that you use. Whether that’s 2.5 or 10 pounds, try to increase the weight plates every week.
Finally, are you supplementing your workouts with other quadricep-dominant exercises? Squats may be king, but variety is the key to progress. Be sure to incorporate other exercises into your leg day routine including hack squats, Jefferson squats, and leg presses.
Just like with back squats, an issue with a deadlift usually begins with form. Give a rundown of the following:
Feet: Where are you placing your feet? See those smooth sections on the barbell? That’s where your feet should typically go.
Driving Force: Continuing with this idea of proper foot placement, pay attention to where you’re driving the force into the ground. Instead of focusing everything into your heels, you should aim for balanced coverage. This will ensure your toes stay down and you get support throughout.
Chest and Hips: It may seem strange, but these two have an important relationship during the deadlift. You want to bring your chest up, but avoid dropping your hips.
Keep it Tense: Which part of your body should be contracted and tense throughout the deadlift? The answer is your entire body. No muscle group or part of your body should slack or go limber when performing the deadlift.
To learn more about how to perfect your form and execution, read our article on the deadlifting checklist.
Form aside, it’s important to experiment with other deadlift-based exercises. Try incorporating one or all of the following into your leg workouts: Romanian deadlift, jump deadlift, and sumo deadlift.
Don’t forget to implement a thorough stretching routine. Hamstrings are notorious for getting tight – much more so than the quadriceps. If you want to avoid injury and improve your deadlift, be sure to use dynamic stretching before your workout and static stretching post-workout.
Need some recommendations on a stretching routine? Try out our Strongman stretches routine.
Everyone’s favorite Monday exercise can also be one of the most challenging exercises to progress. Just like above, let’s start with form:
Shoulder Blades: Before lying down, pull your shoulder blades together. This will reduce shoulder activation and place the focus on your pecs.
Elbow Flare: When you just start benching or if you’ve been letting yourself get distracted, it’s common to let your elbows flare out. This can put strain on the shoulders, taking the workload away from your chest. Keep your elbows close to your body, but not completely tucked in to your sides.
Grip Strength: As you perform your bench press, take note of your grip. Are you casually gripping the bar? Maybe you’re even letting your thumb float away? Whenever you’re benching, you need to have a strangle hold on the barbell. And unless you’re an advanced lifter using this technique for a specific training reason, don’t tuck your thumb under.
Abs and Glutes: Sure, this is a chest exercise, but your abs and glutes should be contracted to help keep you stabilized.
Want more information on how to pull off a perfect bench press? Check out our article on how to increase your bench press.
There’s no arguing that the bench press should be front and center during a chest-focused workout, but don’t forget to target the muscle from all angles. We recommend using the incline dumbbell press, decline barbell press, and one-arm flat bench press to strengthen your normal bench press.
Strengthening and improving muscle performance isn’t just about focusing on the target muscle, you should also look to the opposing muscle groups. Labelled as the antagonist muscles, they perform the opposing movement as the muscle you’re trying to target.
While your chest and triceps are busy pushing the barbell above you, your back and biceps are pulling to assist. Don’t neglect pull-based exercises such as pull-ups, rows, and lat pulldowns for your back and biceps.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I PRACTICE THESE LIFTS?
This all comes down to how serious you are about setting new personal bests and if you plan on competing. At the very least, you should be doing each of these lifts once per week. Ideally, you will bench, squat, and deadlift three times per week.
The more you lift, the more you can vary your techniques. For example, you wouldn’t want to go all out on the bench press three times per week. You could vary your workouts by focusing on all-out power one day, muscle endurance the next, and hypertrophy on the last day.
Keep in mind that the harder you push your body, the more you need to focus on recovery. This means you need to let your body rest while you supply it with the nutrients it needs to repair muscle tissue and help the central nervous system recover.
ARE THERE ANY SHORTCUTS TO ACHIEVING NEW PERSONAL BESTS?
Nothing worth having is going to be easy to obtain. Consistency is the secret to seeing the strength you want. You can’t dedicate yourself to a workout program for a few weeks then expect to never lift another day in your life.
There are no shortcuts that will give you the long term results you’re looking for. The muscle building process is going to come down to consistent hard work.
The decisions that you make about your nutrition can also play an essential part in your performance and results.
I HAVE NO ENERGY FOR MY WORKOUT – WHAT CAN I DO?
The first thing you need to take a look at is your meal plan. Are you eating enough calories? If you’re skipping meals or short-changing your macronutrients, this could be impacting your energy levels. It’s important to calculate your calories and eat that much every day. Most powerlifters who are just starting out aren’t eating enough.
Next, if you’re constantly in the gym, feeling fatigued, and not seeing gains, you may need to take a few days off to let your body recover. Under-recovery is far more common than overtraining. Be sure to sleep for at least eight hours each night, eat a healthy diet, and have a social life. Sports massages can also help to improve the healing process.
Finally, if you’re working out after a long day at school and work, then it’s understandable you’re going to be tired. We’d suggest trying to exercise in the early morning. If that’s not an option, you can always turn to coffee or a pre-workout supplement to support your energy levels. Be careful not to overdo it on the caffeine as this can lead to adrenal fatigue.
COFFEE RELEASES CORTISOL - WILL THIS IMPACT MY RESULTS?
Not if you use coffee responsibly. Coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant. Caffeine triggers our fight-or-flight system, prompting the release of certain hormones including cortisol. Yes, cortisol is a catabolic hormone. In other words, it likes to break things down. However, experts suggest that coffee or caffeine before a workout is okay.
The important thing is to avoid drinking several cups of coffee or using a mega dose of a pre-workout supplement. Stick to 150 mg of caffeine or less, which is what one cup of coffee typically has. If you drink too much coffee or consume too much caffeine, you may increase the catabolic environment in your body.
LATE NIGHT SNACKING
In short, late-night snacking is fine. Assuming that you don’t have issues with digestion and you’re not worried about mass or fat gains, then late-night snacking isn’t going to be an issue.
Some of the best late-night snacks to support your powerlifting goals are casein-protein supplements, chicken breasts, and cottage cheese.
If you’ve perused any powerlifting magazine or website, there’s a good chance that you’ve noticed the use of several pieces of gear. Is all that powerlifting equipment necessary? Here is the essential powerlifting equipment that you should invest in:
Powerlifting Shoes:If you’re serious about entering competitions, a solid pair of powerlifting shoes is a must. Don’t buy a pair from your local discount store; visit a legit gym store and chat with a pro. Always inquire as to whether the salesman is a powerlifter. It’s best to take advice from someone who is involved in the same sport you are.
Powerlifting Belt: We alluded to this above, but a powerlifting belt acts as a form of support for your abdominal wall. As you breath out and contract your core, your abs will need something to push off of, especially on those one-repetition maximum lifts. A solid powerlifting belt is necessary if you plan on setting serious numbers.
Knee Wraps:You probably won’t need knee wraps if you’re just starting out, but when you start pushing those larger weight plates, they will become a necessity. Knee wraps should be thick and durable as they’ll be supporting your knee during the squat.
Wrist Wraps:Pulling and pushing that barbell is going to place an immense amount of stress on your wrist. Stretches and strengthening exercises can only get you so far. If you plan on going to powerlifting meets, you need to support yourself with wrist wraps.
Resistance Bands:Remember how we discussed the importance of variety in your powerlifting workouts? Resistance bands are the ideal way to add a new challenge to boring exercises. By attaching resistance bands to the barbell, you can emphasize the eccentric portion of the lift as much as the concentric portion.
DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR POWERLIFTING WORKOUTS?
Have you had to troubleshoot your own powerlifting workout? What strategies did you use? Have questions on any of the advice listed above? Let us know on our Facebook.