There have been a lot of programs popularised in the media from a simple linear progressive program to the 5/3/1 (8) and Eastern European programs.
If you are training for your first ever competition, or indeed if you are just entering in to a pure strength training program, you will want to keep it simple and consistent.
Focusing on the ‘big 3’, which includes the back squat, the bench press and the deadlift, is key, as would be starting light and working on your technique before you begin to add load in the form of weight to the bar.
Developing a good technique is the most important aspect to a beginners lifting career, and this may take up most of their initial few weeks of training before they can add loads (weights) (1, 2). Working solely with a wooden or plastic technique pole developing movement patterns so that the neuromuscular system can familiarise itself has been shown to have immense amounts of benefits to novice lifters when they start to add load to their movements (1).
Keeping to a simple linear progression can be the most effective manner of allowing the body to adapt successfully when increasing load over time. This can be in the form of a 12 week structured load progression and volume (sets x reps) reduction, such as 4 weeks of 5 sets of 5 repetitions (REPS) on each exercise, separating the week in to a squat day, bench day and deadlift day. This would be reduced to 3 sets of 3 reps per exercise for 4 weeks and completed by 3 sets of 2/1 for 3 weeks.
This last 3 weeks is termed ‘tapering’ and is used when loads of near maximum are being lifted to ensure recovery is optimal for the muscles, the neuromuscular system and the central nervous system. (3, 4).
During a tapering phase, you will also start removing any auxiliary, or assistance, work you were doing to enhance the movement and ensure the body receives the recovery it needs.
Once the tapering phase is complete, a rest period of between 2-5 days is necessary before competing. This will ensure that any small aches and pains receive time to heal, and will allow your body to regenerate in time for maximum effort (4).
On competition day, a minimum amount of work is required to ensure the balance of muscular readiness is achieved but fatigue levels are not detrimentally increased.
Proficient coaches will ensure their athletes are warmed up thoroughly but not fatiguing, and are physiologically and psychologically ready to perform at their maximum.
Strength athletes that have been training and/or competing for at least 1 year may find they need to start altering their basic progression and begin another effective yet simple program such as the 5/3/1 (8). This program bases its progressions over 4 weeks i.e. 1 week of 3 sets of 5 reps (3×5) on each exercise, followed by 1 week of 3×3 then a week of 1 x 5/3/1. This is followed by a lighter ‘de load’ week of 3×5. The entire program is based on percentages and is easy for intermediate lifters to follow.
This program also finishes with a tapering week before competitions, as do all programs to ensure there is ample rest and recovery before you attempt to lift the maximum your body can.
Eastern European programs have become very popular for elite and long standing lifters because they consist of high volume multi lift structures that train each exercise several times a week. Such programs include Smolov (7), Sheiko (6) and the Bulgarian weightlifting program that has been adapted for powerlifting.
These programs follow an undulating progressive nature, training each exercise every training session under various loads and volumes often utilising high volume low weight technique work alongside low volume high load force development before the program alters in exercises used after 3-6 weeks, depending on the program.
These programs are only recommended for those who have been regularly training and competing for over 2 years as the strain on the muscles and neuromuscular system is immense.
For lifters who have been training and/or competing for under a year focusing on simple progressive programs that develop good technique is the most recommended protocol. Once a lifter has developed their techniques and ability, moving on to a still simple but more varied program can enhance the progress the lifters achieve in their competition weights.
Finally, for very experienced lifters it is recommended that high volume varied lifting programs are adopted, such as the Eastern European powerlifting programs (6, 7.) or Western European programs such as the Norweigan Powerlifting Program and Synthesised Training System.
If you would like to download this article, please click on the link below:
- Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W., & Wathen, D. (2008). Resistance training. In T.R. Baechle & R.W. Earle (Ed.), Essentials of Strength & Conditioning (3rd ed.). (pp. 381–412). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Häkkinen K. Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations during strength and power training. A review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1989 Mar;29(1) 9-26. PubMed PMID: 2671501.
- Israetel, M (2014). Peaking for Powerlifting. Found at: http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2014/08/12/peaking-powerlifting
- Pyne, D., Mujika, I. & Reilly, T. (2009). Peaking for optimal performance: Research limitations and future directions. Journal of Sports Sciences. Volume 27, Issue 3, 2009, pages 195- 202. DOI: 10.1080/02640410802509136
- Rippetoe, M., Kilgore, L. & Pendlay, G. (2008). Practical Programming for Strength Training. Found at: http://www.richard-pye.talktalk.net/practicalprogramming.pdf
- Sheiko, B. (2014). Found at: http://sheiko-program.ru/forum/index.php?topic=313.0
- Smolov, S. Found at: http://stronglifts.com/how-to-add-100-pounds-to-your-squat-smolov/
- Wendler, J. (2009). Found at: http://www.t-nation.com/workouts/531-how-to-build-pure-strength