Peculiarities of the pre competition training phase

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Credit Lifters life

The whole point of the planning of the training process of weightlifters is to make sure they lift the best they can on a given (scheduled) date. Unlike other sports (mostly team sports), sports like weightlifting (or boxing for instance) are defined by a long period of training that lead to one performance on a scheduled day. That is, you know how many weeks you have until the meet and your training volume, intensity and need for recovery can be planned and anticipated in order to show up in the best shape you can be. Here are some thoughts on competition planning – especially in regard to the pre competition phase.

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1. Know what is the purpose of the competition you will be taking part of.

There is a huge difference in planning between a competition that is a qualifier for another competition, a competition where you attempt true maxes (where you aim to do your best performance of the year), a competition that you are taking part in for the fun aspect of it and a competition where you aim to win with the smallest total you can do.

A qualifier is a competition where you need to do the required total for another competition. Many elite athletes are usually not bothered about winning or losing those events – They come in to do the standards and leave. Thus, they prefer to save themselves for the bigger competition they qualified for by not risking injuries and limiting fatigue and lost training time (most elite athletes don’t need to taper to do the required standard needed to qualify for nationals, for example). There is no point in doing your year best performance in a qualifier (unless it is to try and qualify for an event) when you could do your best performance at the event you qualified for. It is preferable for you to hit your best total at the Worlds and not at a provincial/state competition for instance.

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A competition where you aim to do your best performance of the year is a competition that requires the most planning. Everything needs to be dialed in and numbers have to be made in training at the right moment (many people forget that squat PR should be made in the early phase of training and not a week before a meet). More importantly, special attention has to be placed on recovery. It is important for you to know how you react to the removal of excess training volume. Some people need 3 days to feel alive again (let the fatigue go away) and some people need up to 2 weeks. It tends to differ amongst gender and weight classes as well.

A competition that you will take part of only for the fun aspect of it don’t require much preparation. They are usually seen like a test day within the planned program. There is no real need to taper hard for those meet. Some people attend them to test their power snatches and power clean and jerk when they are far from competition. These competition should not disrupt the main competition you are planning for. Taper and post competition lay off should not be employed.

Credit Lifter's life
Credit Lifter’s life

Here is an example of totals one could make during the year (Best total is 300) : Fun competition 270-280kg, Qualifier : the minimum (standard) to 290-295, main competitition 295 on an ok day to 305+ on a very good day. Of course, the human factor can’t be forgotten…. The plan must change according to injuries and how in shape the athlete is.

2. Understand how you react to pre-competition stress

Everybody is different and everybody cope with stress differently. As a coach, it is a great area of interest for me. Understanding how people react to stresses and how to deal with it is what make a successful pre-competition training phase. Adapting your methodology and plan to fit the psychological and physical needs of the athletes you are dealing with is extremely important. Too many follow a one size fit all pre-competition plan, and too many forget that this is the time to really individualize the training process. You have to adapt to the mental game and physical shape of the athlete in a way that will enhance it.

Some people have the desire to lift extreme loads all the way up to competition because they feel like they are going flat otherwise. I think this approach is not the best – although high intensity and low volume is preferred in the weeks leading up to competition. The main idea is that you should lift your best on the plateform. In other words, as a weightlifter, your competition PRs matter more than your training PR.

There is no point in lifting 10-15% more in training than you do in competition. If you are an athlete that really need the heavier weight to feel ready, I would suggest you stick to weights that are between 10% below your opening bars and your opening bars in the last 2-3 weeks of training. Recently, I saw somebody (not my athlete) snatch 10kg and clean and jerk 10kg more a week before Nationals than on competition day. This is poor planning.

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Credit Lifter’s Life

Some people feel stressed during every lifts they make during the pre-competition phase. These athletes will miss weights they usually don’t miss and sometimes in very dangerous ways. The technique becomes different and they just lift funny. In my experience, these athletes need to lift moderate weights during the week and on a day where they feel good, they should hit higher numbers. These tend to be athletes that don’t do well with extreme parameters. It’s safer to limit injury risks and do the bare minimum you have to do (Maintain shape as much as possible).

Some people don’t adapt well to high intensity training as well. Common periodization principles state that the pre competition phase should be a high intensity phase followed by a taper. Some people can’t withstand the high frequency of high intensity training.  In those cases, variability of the loads should be dictated by autoregulation. Alternate a high intensity training session with a light training session. The same is true for injured athletes that have to compete – Do the bare minimum you have to do in terms of high numbers before the competition.

Some people don’t do well when they drop the volume and the intensity during the taper and some people don’t do well when they keep the higher intensity during the taper. You have to find a strategy that works for you and stick with it. Some people will work up to openers a week prior to a competition, and slowly lower percentages across the week. Others will stick with the same % for every training day of the taper (Say 80% all week). The taper depends on how in shape you are and how productive your preparatory training was.

Credit Lifter's life
Credit Lifter’s life

3. Competition day

I won’t go in details here. One thing I really want to touch on is competition stress. So many people are stressed or afraid by the competition, or the crowd, or the number. Competitions should feel like it is a big fun party. On that day, you will snatch and clean and jerk – two movements you have done for thousands of reps and that you know very well. It is not like you show up ready to snatch and clean and jerk and learn you have to squat – competition are predictable and you have refined your mastery of the lifts all year long. By now, you are ready and it is time to have fun.

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Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

3 comments

  • Interesting read, definitely caters more to advanced lifters – do you have any particular advice for an intermediate lifter who is just on the cusp of being national level? In this case, the qualifying event must be considered more like a “best event” – for example, my best gym lifts are 6kg below the qualifying total for American Open. I am competing in mid-July, and will be competing again in late September if needed (submission date is early October) and the AO is in December. Is there a best practice for prioritizing and emphasizing training, tapering, and peaking given this timeline?

    • You would have to see how your training goes and what your coach thinks. 6kg below the total is a lot if your training is not going well (youre not hitting the target numbers in training) or it is little if youre training is going very well. The best idea would be to see meet by meet. If on your first meet you have an incredible day, go for it. If not, just use it to gather more experience – and vice versa.

  • Great post, JP. I completely agree and have always felt that competing should be about having fun. Of course, I’ve never been close to competing as a top competitor, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to be at that level. But I can say it’s always been fun for me to compete with my peers and talk to them and congratulate them on good lifts.

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