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Becoming a powerlifter - training for gains

Continuing in adventures in powerlifting,  today we are looking at training. I've really enjoyed chatting to other people in powerlifting training and the way they train can be very varied. Some train 5-6 days a week, some less. Some to other sports alongside. Some train all the lifts every session, some split them. Some do their own programming, some have a coach, some follow an off the peg programme.



While previously I was managing all my own programming (with a bit of CrossFit to throw me out of my comfort zone), my meet preparation is mostly outsourced. 

I started Jen Sinkler and JVB's Unapologetically Powerful programme before I made the decision to compete, because I wanted to see how JVB worked in terms of balancing accessory movements and building strength over a relatively short, focussed period. The best way to understand a programme, is to train in it.

The programme is based around 3 lifting days a week, each one focussed on one of the competition lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), but with complementary exercises that bring benefits to form, work the synergists and make the whole programme more well rounded.

There are multiple exercise options for most sets, and you get to choose using biofeedback testing - or sometimes I find I have to eliminate an option for lack of the right equipment or convenient space (like avoiding doing a superset where the exercises are at opposite ends of the gym and putting away and reclaiming equipment would interrupt the flow).

So that's my heavy lifting sorted.

Of course lifting alone isn't a balanced programme. It's important to do a bit of cardio as well. To compliment my strength training I tend to focus on short, anaerobic intervals for one session a week. So I do CP sprints (10 second sprints that rely heavily on energy from creatine phosphate - the same source as heavy lifts). Alternatively I do a session of Tabata training - usually 3 or 4 rounds - in my studio. I love Tabata because a single round takes less than 5 minutes, so there's no excuse for not fitting it in. When I do several rounds I tend to fit it in while lunch is in the oven!

Then I have my optional "vanity workout". The mysterious 4th workout which traditionally might have been used for aesthetic work (because bicep curls don't tend to figure into a powerlifting programme). I usually take this as a functional movement workout. Animal flow, kettlebells or I might get to a cheeky CrossFit session. I don't do this every week, only if I feel twitchy on the weekend - sometimes I just walk or dance instead.

I do a lot of walking, usually with the dog, and I am still dancing, which helps to keep me moving on rest days without stressing my body too much. I try to have 2 days a week where walking is my only exercise. Balancing dance training and strength training is tricky, but I've been able to drop my conditioning and focus solely on technique drills and rehearsal.

I have found that this plan, along with my classes and personal training sessions, feels challenging, without being too much. Only doing the main lifts once a week allows for plenty of recovery, which is vital for my health, but having the assistance lifts that echo those movements within the other sessions means I'm not timing out for too long.

The one thing that UP lacks, is deload weeks. I find it really helps me to take a week off heavy lifts on a regular basis. The good news is that I have a few "spare" weeks in the run up to the competition, which will allow me to deload on my own terms. For those weeks I will likely to back to Unapologetically Prepared - the mobility and form introduction that comes as part of the UP package.

I'm pleased with how things are progressing. The first 4 weeks of UP don't involve any very heavy lifts at all (it's all in medium length sets) and I was a little dubious about this. But after 6 weeks off heavy (2 weeks preparation, 4 weeks main programme) I walked into the gym on week 5 and lifted my previous best single rep for 4 sets of 4, so it must be working!

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