Training vs Competing

Something that I learned a long time ago but has taken me far too long to adhere to is the difference in lifting weights to train versus lifting weights to compete. In order to explain exactly what I mean by this let's take 1 lift as an example.... Squats.

To get better at squatting we all know that consistency is key (Well if you didn't, now you do). Progressively overloading paired with an appropriate diet and recovery regimen is going to be the best way to eventually lift heavier. However, how do you decide when to lift a potential 1rm or when to drop to 8 reps for a 7/10 difficulty and focus on the technical elements of a lift. In order to answer this we need to think about what we define as training and what we define as competing and what we can learn from each.

Competing -

In most gyms across the country you will see plenty of people desperate to grow stronger and in their pursuit of this they are always seeing how much weight they can lift. They may go in with a plan to do 5 reps but only manage to get a bit heavier for 3 (Not 5) and are chuffed with the big weight they've lifted. This simply doesn't make any sense within a programmed strength development cycle. This is competing not training! What is the maximum weight I can lift? Isn't something that is going to aid in the development of a lift when overused as a training method. There is nothing wrong with competing but it has to be periodised and learned from. Otherwise we fixate on moving a bar up and down irrespective of technique where really we should be using the bar in order to make a bodyweight movement pattern more difficult.

Step 1 is always develop perfect movement patterns with no weight. Then I would suggest safely finding out what it is that you can lift. What you'll find is that as you get closer to a weight that you can just about lift (RPE10). Individual areas of that movement will start to fail. It could be that your lower back lacks strength and looses stability, Your Legs lack strength, you notice a particularly slow section of the squat or lack of activation in your glutes causes internal hip rotation. What's important is that we learn from this and when designing a training program we emphasis strength development within these areas through correct exercise prescription.

Training -

This is what should make up the bulk of a training regimen (the clue is in the name). Having diagnosed what was going wrong when competing and programming to fix this, there are certain protocols that must be respected within a training phase.

  1. Real time form corrections are going to be your best friend. I'm not saying don't lift heavy. I'm saying lift heavy but only to the point where within that lift your able to fix issues within that movement and can be actively conscious of pursuing good form. Having a head explosion and thinking "ARRGH!! JUST GET THE BAR UP" is not a rep your going to learn from outside of a competing phase and rather than taking the time to eventually come back and smash a PB your back to square one, annoyed at your slow rate of progress.

  2. Scale reps appropriately. After you compete think about the effect that this will have had on your body. You will need to recover. So reflect this in your programming for your build to another competing stage. At the beginning of your training block put the reps up, bring the weight down and/or slow the movement. Week by week build back towards that competing phase. 10 reps drop to 8 and then 6 to 4. Speed of the reps move from slow controlled eccentrics to pauses with a powerful concentric and eventually controlled powerful reps.

  3. Recovery is part of training. As your volume, intensity or load increase this will need to be reflected in your rest and recovery protocols. As you build up to another competing phase remember that you may want to drop to a much lower RPE for the week preceding your competing week in order to get your body in the best possible condition.

The circle of training -

After all of this.... You start again. Hopefully from a better starting point. But now your body is starting to throw up more complex issues and is getting used to the training stimulus you give it and you find you need to vary up your training in order to chase consistent progression. But that's a whole different blog!

I hope your all keeping safe during lockdown.

Thank you for reading.


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