You just had a competition. You smashed weight, you feel confident, you want to continue training hard, and you’re seemingly ready to jump into another meet. However, you understand the following: your nervous system is shot, your muscles are tired, your body is desperate for recovery, and quite honestly, you could use a burger or a beer. So what’s next? How do you remain on top of your game when you are months out from your next meet?
Sure, your passion and drive will move you for a while, but soon enough you will feel the stress and fatigue of training. Not going anywhere near your maxes will frustrate you and confuse you. You must trust in your coach, yourself, and your program, all with the uncertainty of whether or not you will see results and find success. Outlined below are a few key points to help you remain under control, driven, and focused months out from your next comp.
1. Create smaller, attainable goals.
If you’ve ever been in business or education, you already know this. SMART goals: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Sure, it’s great to shoot for the stars and say, “in X amount of time from now, I will be able to do A, B, and C.” But how are you ensuring you’re getting there? If you have no short term goals, you will not be able to measure your success throughout your program and you will not be mentally engaged in your lifts. Creating goals that are specific, measurable, and achievable is imperative to your programs success. For example, if your goal as a 145 lb. female is to squat 330 lb., you need to set goals on your front squats, pause squats, and back squats within your 6 week training cycle. If you do not have a realistic goal that challenges you but is attainable, you will not feel confident in your progress.
2. Find your routine.
We all know them: the yo-yo lifters. DO NOT be one. You are a monster, a future legend, and people look up to you. You cannot look at your program and determine that more days off is fine because you have more time. To ensure you are getting yourself to the gym, you must create a solid routine. I understand this is basic, but becoming great is not a one-time deal. You must live the lifestyle of your passion or you will not find the success you are aiming for. Delineate time and create a schedule that will help you get to the gym, to the doctor, the PT, the massage therapist, the grocery store, and will give you time to catch up on emails with your nutrition or strength coach. By creating these “appointments,” you are making sure you are 100% ready for training and recovery: the two main components for any successful athlete in the off-season.
3. Surround yourself with motivational people, and release yourself of the shitty ones.
This one is self-explanatory. If someone is not encouraging you and helping you reach your potential, they are most likely parasites that need to be extricated from your life. Surround yourself with people who will support you and push you to enjoy your training days and recovery days. This is a great time to seize the opportunity to travel to other gyms where you have powerlifting or weightlifting friends. Meet up with them, train, share advice, and learn a thing or two along the way. This might also be the time to delve a little more into social media. Near a meet, you should not be obsessing over Instagram posts or freaking out because your competitors just tested their maxes. However, months out of a meet, it is not a bad idea to catch up on competitors lifts, look for comps you can attend to watch others lift, or simply just look at what people in your weight class are doing to light that fire under your ass. Do whatever it takes to get you going mentally and keep you connected to the athletic community of which you are a member.
4. Focus on technical work.
The offseason is a crucial time for fixing technical errors in your lifts. Whether your issue is stability or mobility, this is the time to fix it. You must use the time off to analyze and critique yourself. Recording your lifts, watching them, and comparing them to competition lifts is essential to the betterment of your technique. By doing so, you can address weak points and identify strengths. Knowing and understanding both of these will help you build a stronger off-season program. Recently, I myself have identified a few issues that have to do with my spondy (spondylolysthesis – fractures in the vertebrae of the spine and sliding of the vertebrae). With the help of my coach, Ryan Gleason, and Chad Smith, I reached out to JTS’s own, Dr. Quinn Henoch, and Northeastern Powerlifting Coach Zac Cooper to help me address these concerns. Their combined knowledge is helping me open up my hips, relieve my lumbar spine, and have a more stable, neutral back position (while also helping me get out of pain – yay!). You cannot get under the bar and fix these issues come competition day. It’s like someone who always squats high in the gym and thinks they will go below parallel in comp. You won’t. You’re going to be high. If you always lift with bad form, you will continue to have bad form. Bad form means poor performance and lack of confidence. This can throw off your entire mental game for many meets to come. Practicing proper form and technique has to happen consistently, and especially in the off-season. By addressing these issues you can keep yourself focused on becoming better, and you will therefore be that much more excited to lift and train come peak cycle.
5. Assess your progress.
The final takeaway to maintain mental strength is to assess your progress. Take before and after photos. Keep a training log or journal. By having something to look forward to day in and day out, you will be keeping your brain on edge. This will also hold you accountable for your own training. Taking biweekly progress photos will help you stay motivated nutritionally, and keeping a training log will help you stay motivated physically. By writing down your exercises, sets, reps, what you ate, how you are feeling, how much you’ve slept, and what time of day you are training, you are allowing yourself to analyze your own biomechanics and progress in a very simplistic way. It also exposes how hard of a worker you truly are. If you know your workout should take roughly 1.5 hours, yet you’re in the gym for 3, maybe you spent a little too much time taking gym selfies. For a more concrete example, think of those who train using RPE rather than more traditional, percentage-based means for training. If you are supposed to be hitting an RPE of 8.5 and you complete the lift, feeling like it was a 7, but stay at the same weight, you are really cheating yourself out of improvement. Being able to track your progress and analyze your own training can help you become more in tune with your training cycle and help you focus more on maximizing your off-season lifting. Even these minor and easy ways to assess your own progress can keep you on your toes, and help you peak your mental game in the off-season.
Ewa Januszkiewicz was born in Goldap, Poland, and moved to the US at 5 years old. She attended Smith College, where she earned her B.A. in Neuroscience. After playing soccer at Smith, tearing both of her ACLs, and suffering a back injury, she pursued powerlifting and has since squatted 308, benched 154, and deadlifted 402 raw in competition. Ewa currently holds the American record in the squat and deadlift in the 63kg Junior class of the USAPL. Ewa is coached by Ryan Gleason of Gleason Performance Training in Derby, Connecticut. She serves as a Teach for America Corps member, where she teaches high school Physics. During her down time, Ewa enjoys spending time outdoors, perusing neighborhood restaurants with friends, and traveling.