Your First Meet: Part II Getting Diesel

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In part one of this series, we covered how to develop goals and find a meet that will work for you. In part two, we’re going to cover the actual training program and other aspects of a successful training regimen.

Developing a training program

While I could easily write a series of articles on all the different training methodologies out there, I don’t think this is the time or place to do that. Quite simply, whether you choose a Westside style template, a volume based Sheiko routine, Korte’s 3 X 3, or anything in between is irrelevant. Everyone starts from different points, everyone has different training backgrounds, and everyone is a little bit different from top to bottom. Instead, I’d rather discuss some things that will make ALL training methodologies work a little bit better.

Plan backward

Once you’ve determined what meet you want to lift in, start by planning your cycle backward. Let’s say for instance your meet is in 12 weeks.

Here’s how you might plan:

Week 12: Unload, mobility work, warm up to 50 percent

Week 11: Heavy gear #3/openers/start taper mid-week, work up to opener with commands

Week 10: Heavy gear #2, 1-2 X 2, full gear

Week 9: Heavy gear #1, 2 X 3, full gear

Week 8: Unload #2, 2 X 3 at week #2 weights

Week 7*: Intensification #3, 3 X 3

Week 6*: Intensification #2, 3 X 5

Week 5*: Intensification #1, 4 X 5

Week 4: Unload #1, 2 X 4 at week #2 weights

Week 3: Base Cycle #3, 3 X 6

Week 2: Base Cycle #2, 2 X 8, 2 X 6

Week 1: Base cycle #1, 4 X 8

*Feel free to start adding in gear throughout this cycle (belt, wraps, suit bottoms).

The goal here is to figure out when the meet is and plan backward from there. This way you figure out exactly how much time you have and what training protocols will work within that timeframe.

If you have longer to prepare than 12 weeks, you could do a few things to fill in the extra time. If you need to flat out get stronger, add in another base or strength cycle. If you need to acclimate to gear, add an additional four weeks where you slowly increase the usage of your gear.

It could look something like this:

belt à belt and knee wraps à belt, wraps, and suit bottoms à full gear

Hopefully, you get the idea. I never liked doing a meet without at least 12 weeks of lead time to prepare. Some people like the idea of “just lifting,” but if I lift in a meet, I want it to mean something and I want to hit PRs.

Unload every four weeks

This is one of the simplest things you can do to stay healthy and constantly see progress. I’ve always been a big believer in dropping volume by approximately 40 percent and decreasing intensity 10-20 percent.

However, in reality, everyone is different. Some guys need more time off. Instead of every four weeks, they need to unload every three weeks. Some guys only need to drop volume. Others drop volume while maintaining, or even increasing, intensity. I can’t tell you exactly what will work for you. If you want more information on this topic, be sure to check our Eric Cressey’s e-manual, The Art of the Deload.

I can say with a clear conscious that if you start to plan recovery into your training cycles, you’ll generally stay healthier and get stronger over the long haul. A wise man once stated, “Fatigue masks fitness.” This is the exact reason why you taper before a meet—to display the strength gains that you’ve accrued over the course of your training cycle. Don’t just leave it to meet week though. Planned recovery is an integral component of long-term progress.

Allow time to get into your gear

If you don’t use gear or lift in a RAW federation, feel free to skip this section. If you do plan on using gear in your first meet, make sure you allow yourself time to train in the gear during your training cycle.

In my first meet, I was using all hand-me-down gear from other lifters. The worst, however, was my squat suit. To give you a mental image of this, imagine a 181-lb, 5’11” guy fitting into the suit of a 5’7”, 148-lb guy. I felt like a stuffed sausage each and every time I tried to put that damn suit on. I only got in the thing once before my first meet because it was so freaking uncomfortable. However, this almost caused me to bomb out. I wasn’t acclimated to the stiffness of the gear, and it made hitting depth much more difficult.

The bottom line is this: If you’re going to lift in gear, you need to spend time in your gear during training. Read on.

Getting used to gear

After you’ve developed your training program, you need to figure out how long you want to spend training in your gear. When it comes to gear, I like to follow this simple rule: the more gear you compete in, the more time you need to spend training in gear.

So if you lift raw with only a belt, you will need minimal time to acclimate to your gear. If you lift in a single ply federation, you’ll need a little bit more time than the raw guy. And if you lift in a multi ply federation, you better be willing to spend some time learning your gear before you hit the platform.

Ideally, as a beginner, you should have been spending the last couple of months/years developing a raw strength base. When it’s time to turn your focus on lifting in a meet, you need to practice like you play. I think for most beginners lifting in a single ply federation, 3-4 weeks of geared training should be enough to get used to the changes in performance. If you lift in a multi ply federation, it’s probably going to take the better part of two cycles/two months to get in the groove and break in your gear. I haven’t lifted in multi ply meets myself, but this seems to be adequate given what others have told me.

Let’s be honest. You can spend your entire powerlifting career tweaking and learning to master gear. It’s definitely NOT going to happen in your first meet. Regardless, spending some dedicated training time in your gear prior to your meet will help you stay healthy, improve your performance, and hopefully allow you to hit some PRs.

Training partners

Good training partners may be the most integral component of your future success in the sport of powerlifting. Guys like Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, Eric Cressey, and a host of others have talked about how switching gyms made a profound difference in how they approached training.

The goal is simple. Regardless of who you’re training with now, actively seek out those who are stronger than you. What good does it do you to constantly be the strongest person in your gym? If you seek out those stronger than you, you’ll be constantly reminded of what it takes to move to the next level. If you have even a shred of competitive nature in your body, you’ll want to work your hardest to be stronger than them. Being the strongest guy in your gym may be a great ego boost, but it will do nothing for your numbers over the long haul.

A good training partner (or group) can provide several benefits:

  • Push you to your limits
  • Provide spotting on big lifts
  • Provide coaching on various aspects of technique
  • Shift your attitude/approach to training

There’s a training adage that goes something like this—“I’d rather have a great training atmosphere and an average program than a great training program with an average atmosphere.” Quite simply, by surrounding yourself with other strong, like-minded individuals, you greatly increase your chances of success on the platform.


That wraps up part two of the article series. In the final installment, we’ll talk about meet day and strategies to help you perform at your highest level. If you don’t follow some of these simple rules, you can successfully ruin the last 4-6 months of training.

Until then, train hard and get stronger!


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