Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Squat and Deadlift Training for Powerlifters

As a natural lifter with a pretty busy lifestyle I have always found it difficult to blindly follow some of the more established squat/deadlift programs out there.  I've burned out too quickly on the volume, feel like I got hit by a truck when I wake up in the morning, and didn't understand how certain things translated over to competition.

Anyway, I'm not currently training for a squat event any time soon, but still competing in the deadlift. Here are a few ruminations I've had over the last 6 months on squat and deadlift training for powerlifters...

  • If you compete in a suit, why would you ever train with your straps down? Squatting with your suit completely on (straps up) drastically changes your squatting mechanics.  Get as much practice doing what you do in competition.
  • On that note... If you do a single rep in competition, shouldn't a majority of your reps be singles? I understand you need repetition to practice, but you should repeat the activity you're doing in competition.  You don't do 2-5 reps in a row. For squat, walking the weight out and hitting depth on the first try will improve your competition squat more than performing multiple reps in a row.  It doesn't mean every rep has to be 90-100% load of your 1-Rep Max.  But if you were planning on doing 5 reps at a certain weight, break those 5 reps into singles.  Get as much practice setting up, walking the weight out, and hitting depth on the first try. 
  • Same goes for the deadlift.  Dead = no movement on the floor.  If you're doing multiple reps of deadlift in a row, you'll notice your first rep is typically the hardest... that's because you're pulling the weight from a dead stop and your body isn't preloaded like it is on the 2nd rep.  Try taking each deadlift as a single. Tense up, apply progressive force, lower, step back, then approach the bar and reset for the next single. 
  • Stay fresh and only plan to test yourself every once in a while.  One of the best sayings I've ever heard was "You can't play a Super Bowl every week."
  • Understand that volume and more muscle doesn't necessarily make you stronger.  With strength, sometimes less is more. Instead of bombarding your body with a lot of stress,  give it a small stimulus to adapt to and increase it slightly each training session (every couple days or a week depending on the load you are working with).  
  • Depending on your nutrition plan, and amount of work you're doing, you might just be adding excessive body mass for no reason. Remember efficiency is key in a sport of strength. 
  • When you aren't training for a competition, perform front squats, good mornings, single leg squats, zerchers, goblet squats, olympic squats, overhead squats, anything but the back squat & deadlift. Odds are 12 or more weeks of training in one fashion has created a TON of imbalances in your body... use your off time to get your body back in balance, train different patterns.  Let your body forget your competition movements so your next training cycle you are forced to start off lighter and build up stronger over the course of your program.  Trust me it will come back quick, your body will quickly remember how to lift heavy when you get back to training it. 
Now don't get me wrong, every program works to an extent and I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong if you train one way or another.  I've trained with reps, high volume, low volume, straps up, straps down, and every programming variation you can think of.  All of them have helped build my lifts.  Just offering a few options to mix into your training. 


  1. Thanks, glad you like. Next month I'm thinking about posting some "Back To Basics" articles on improving overal strength. Been re-reading a lot of great books that have made me rethink how I teach a few of the core lifts.

    Think it would be useful to new lifters as well as a good reminder to the more advanced athletes.

  2. Jason,

    Great points in your article. Fully agree with the concept of training singles in the competition lifts. Tiger Woods didn't get good at golf by taking batting practice. Every single is a chance to improve technique and imprint that motor pattern on the brain. After doing the planned technique work in the core lift, then beat the hell out of the body with tons of reps and volume with whatever comes to mind. Preferably, it's something you're not very good at. Find that lift you suck at, and work to not suck at it. You just improved a weakness.

    Nice read,
    David Muro

  3. Great addition Dave. Looking forward to seeing you back on the platform.