Written by Travis Pollen
There’s nothing better than hitting a new PR on a big lift in competition. There’s also nothing worse than training up for the big day for months only to bomb.
Why do good lifters miss lifts in competition? There are really only a handful of reasons. Usually, it’s because they’re either inappropriately aroused for their temperament, over or under confident, or just plain underprepared.
The good news is that these errors can all be avoided through proper physical and mental preparation.
Train Not to Miss
Your ability to hit the big lift in competition starts with every single rep you take in training. Whether it’s warm-up or a heavy double, treat every rep like it’s your 1RM. That means laser-like focus, full-body tension, and utter certainty that you’re going to make each and every rep.
But how can you know for sure you’re going to make a lift? Well, if you think there’s even a chance you might miss it, don’t bother trying. That is, attempt only the reps you’re positive you’re going to hit. Made reps in training reinforce made reps in competition; missed reps reinforce misses.
This may seem obvious, but missing lifts includes not achieving a complete lockout. If it doesn’t count in competition, don’t count it in training. If you’re always able to get the bar moving but have trouble finishing, identify your weaknesses and eliminate them using accommodating resistance and other accessory work.
Whether you’re fresh as a daisy or feeling like you just got run over by a tractor-trailer, strive for perfection on every rep. Make every approach to the bar, set-up, and execution perfect. For repeatability, also work to streamline each of these processes.
Avoid too elaborate of a pre-lift routine, and cut down on the amount of time you hover next to the bar, especially with your hands on it. (Think “grip and rip.”) Focus on just one or two important cues like “push yourself away from the bar” or “push the floor away.”
This practice of engraining flawless technique, especially when fatigued, allows you to go on autopilot come competition day. Of course, your form will drop off slightly on a true max lift, but you’re far more likely to make the lift if the technique drop-off is from perfect than from already subpar.
Finally, don’t be a gym class hero. If you’re feeling stellar during a training session, feel free to up the volume or load slightly, but don’t go for broke with a twenty-pound PR attempt on any given Tuesday. Save the PR’s for when they count.
Get Your Head in the Game
Getting a little nervous for a competition is normal and even advantageous. But if you’re someone who gets absolutely sick to your stomach, devote some time to rehearsing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mental imagery, and positive self-talk so you can break them out when you need them for competition.
Because powerlifting meets can last several hours, it’s also important to practice under competition-like conditions. To do so, block off an entire morning a few weeks before the big day, pack some snacks, and hit the gym. Every forty-five minutes, warm up and hit an easy single. If you’re especially detail-oriented, pump in some crowd noise to really simulate the competition environment.
During this exercise, it’s also crucial to determine where you fall on the performance-arousal spectrum. In order to get hyped up, some lifters need to beat their chest, howl like a wolf, and get slapped in the face before approaching the bar. That’s the upside down ‘U’ on the right in the figure below. Others perform better after listening to some classical music. That’s the curve on the left.
During the familiarization process, try out several different approaches, both at and in between the above two extremes. The key is to get amped up just enough to hit your lift, but not so much that it saps your physical and mental energy for subsequent lifts.
Rest for Success
Because residual fatigue from hard training can impact performance for a week (or more), spend a minimum of seven days leading up to competition focusing on recovery. Cut down on training volume, stay well under 90% of your max, and spend a little extra quality time with your foam roller. Eat well, stay hydrated, get plenty of sleep, and avoid stress as much as possible.
If you’re worried about losing your edge during this time, don’t be. The extra rest allows your body to supercompensate for all the training stress you’ve subjected it to over the last few months. Trust your preparation. By resting, you stand only to gain strength, not lose it.
When the day of the competition finally comes, don’t try anything fancy. Stick to your normal routine. Go to bed the same time you always do, eat what you always eat, and drink what you always drink. What about that new pre-workout that’s guaranteed to increase your strength ten-fold? Save it for another day.
When you arrive at the venue, get an idea of the schedule for the day in order to time your warm-up and food intake. For warm-up, once again, do what you always do, which is hopefully some general dynamic stretching, movement preparation, light plyometrics, and ramp up sets on the competition lifts. Do just enough but not too much.
When your number is called, avoid overthinking it. Visualize hitting the lift, approach the bar, and let if flow – just like you do every day in training.
- Missing lifts teaches you nothing. Strive not to miss in training.
- Train with perfect form so the same perfect reps show up automatically in competition.
- Focus on recovering and getting your head right the week leading up to competition.
- When the big day arrives, don’t overthink it. Approach the bar with complete confidence and let her rip.