The calm after the storm

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

-John Lubbock

Your competition is complete and regardless of how you did, it is behind you and the only thing you can do now is move forward. But what next? Do I start a strength cycle? Do I keep practicing my missed lift until something gives (that something in this case usually being a tissue in your body and not your hard-forged will). Do I go back to high intensity circuit training or Crossfit until the next time I decide to do a meet?

The answer is: depends on your goal

Was the meet just for fun?

Then go back to doing what you love and hit up some WODS until the next time you want to test your strength out.

*Note: By no means am I down playing Crossfit or high intensity circuit training, but these WODS are not going to make you better at power or weight lifting (at least number wise), so make sure you keep that in mind.

Do you want to hurt yourself?

Then by all means, just keep practicing that deadlift at 95-100% a couple times a week until you  either A) are walking around like you have been on a car ride with no restroom stops for the past 100 miles or B) get tired of continuously missing the same lift that you missed in competition.

Do I start a new cycle?

Most of the time, this is the best route to go (and by most, I mean this is the one I always choose for myself and my athletes). To be frank, your body needs rest after the long journey to competition. You are beat up, whether you feel it or not, and your body (and mind) need some down time to recharge and recoup  before getting back into the heavy weights.

So the bigger question, and one I recently talked about with a guest at the gym, is:

What is the proper way to do this so as to;

A) Still see strength gains in my lifts
B) Continue to recover
C) Enjoy my lifting
D) Still stay in my weight class

First comes the rest week

Not just a thing of myth and bro lore, but in fact it does exist, and for a good reason. This can be 1-2 weeks right after your competition where you take the volume and intensity of your lifts way down. For my athletes, I tell them 2-3 days of fun lifting. Do something you don’t normally do, maybe a WOD for my powerlifters and weight lifters, maybe a couple of fun bodybuilding training sessions to get a nice “pump”. Basically, start your recovery process from pushing the limits of your potential in competition and just have a good time (because that is what this whole journey is all about, becoming the best possible version of yourself and having a good time while you do it).

Second: Time to up the volume and decrease the intensity

Depending on your next competition, this time frame of hypertrophy can vary, for most you want at least 2-3, 5 week cycles of solid hypertrophy training (4 working weeks and a deload week).

So, what is hypertrophy, and why do I need it as a strength athlete?

Hypertrophy is an increase in muscle size through “high volume” strength training. This volume usually takes place (for strength athletes) around the 3-6 set range and 6-12 reps per set and the intensity of any given weight is usually around the 60-75% of your RM. Notice how low the percentage is, which is why this period, although still stressful to the body, it is stressful in a different way and can still help us continue to recover from the mental and physical fatigue of being up close to 85-95% of our RM daily.

The general idea of this phase is to develop the musculature needed in your given sport. A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle (at least the ways we want develop it as a strength athlete) so we focus to increase muscle mass and size in the given areas we need to, to increase performance in our chosen lifts.

Another consideration for this phase of training, and something I continually learn about,  mainly from Zach Greenwald of Strength Ratio, is to take into consideration the correction of slight injuries and imbalances during this phase. Basically, take some time to step back and become a complete and well-rounded athlete again before you go back into specializing for your sport!

During hypertrophy and corrective exercise phase, make sure to incorporate exercises that are variations or derivatives of your competition lifts for two reasons:

1) allow us to work individual weaknesses and stress the different components of our competition movements

2) break up the monotony of the same 2 or 3 movements and allow us to have a little fun with training (because who doesn’t enjoy “the pump?”).

Remember, since we have pulled away from our competition lifts, this is the perfect time to really emphasis attention to detail during the lift and control (the eccentric phase of the lift). No more cranking lifts out at a pace the flash would be in awe of, no more getting kicked out of planet fitness for dropping the mic on that 500lb deadlift. Take some time and use some tempo training to get the benefit of the eccentric contraction (the stretching or down phase of a lift), which has been shown to be very useful in overall strength gains (imagine that, the louder you are does not mean more strength gains, it usually just means less friends). Take into consideration a 1:3 tempo, 1 second up/ 3 seconds controlled down, try it, and give some feed back on how you feel (note this should not be done everyday, just pick a day, maybe a day you are working on your weaker lifts).

Although no one wants to acknowledge short coming or downfalls in their strength game, this is the time to suck it up and do a little self reflection. Where can I get better? What is my strength? What is my weakness? Where did I struggle most in competition and what do I need to work on to get better? These are all valid questions that need to be asked and talked about between you and a your coach, because even the best in the world can get better at some minute detail.

Third: Increase those calories and let your body repair

Maybe you decrease your calories to make weight. Maybe you have been on a “diet” for far too long, causing your body to have a hard time healing from the high work load during your competition prep phase. Maybe you just feel fatigued and beat up. In any case, it is time to sit down and figure out what your calorie/macro break down needs to be to maintain weight for a little while. Doing this will accomplish a couple of things:

  1. Recovery from sessions, especially these high volume sessions, will be some form of witchcraft voodoo you are not used to
    1. Not saying you won’t be sore, but your mental fatigue and drive will be there, which is what you really need to get through high volume training.
  2. The start to correcting those injuries and imbalances is to make sure you have enough calories to allow your body to start the healing process
    1. During your competition phase, your body is just trying to keep up and recover from your previous session, so how can it be expected to do that and fix all the small injuries you have accumulated?
    2. Take this time to not worry about the outside appearance (that will come in time), but instead give your body what it needs (because it just allowed you to lift the world, let’s take a second to give a little back).
  3. You get to be a little more at ease, which will further help that mental game
    1. If you have had to cut for competition, you have had to measure everything you intake (water, protein, carbs, fats, etc..). Let’s take a little time to relax, the measuring still happens, but we can chill out on trying to get those numbers to the the hundredth of a gram.


Last: Keep that recovery high by increasing those missed or long forgotten modalities

I understand, you were worried about you lifts, so you maybe skipped a couple (or a handful or a dozen or maybe more…) mobility sessions, maybe some auxiliary lifts, or maybe even a few corrective exercise/ recovery sessions–everyone does. However, now is the time to take a step back and make sure to include all of the above into your routine (and make sure you leave time in your training session to do so).

  1. Sleep
    1. For the sake of everything in the wide world of weightlifting, make sure you get sleep. This is the only one you cannot skip because above all, this is when your body heals the most! For the normal person 6-8 hours is the recommended time frame, but who that trains is normal? Try and get 8-10 hours (does not have to be at one time) of restful sleep (you know, maybe calm your mind a little and focus on recovery and less on all the things you have to do).
  2. Stretch, Roll, Massage, Chiro, etc..
    1. IF YOU HAVE AN INJURY, DO NOT JUST COMPLAIN ABOUT IT, FIX IT! I understand injuries, they are frustrating, and you have every right to feel down. However, if you have not done everything in your physical (and financial) power, then maybe refrain from complaining about your injury if you have not done everything you can to help yourself (sorry, but had to lay a little truth out).
  3. Meditation
    1. To calm the mind is to calm the body. Stress does much more to your body than you may know. You can do everything physical you want/need to in order to recover, however, sometimes if you are mentally stressed, these modalities will do little to no good.
    2. My advice: Find a true yoga class or research meditative breathing and practice these a couple times a week. The goal, learn to calm yourself, not only physically, but also mentally.

This first phase can be somewhat of a challenge for those that tend to want to push as hard as they can every training session. This phase is not a down phase by any means, because, you see we are just trading high weights for high volume. We spend a little more time on correcting the small issues we tend to overlook during our competition prep and spend a little more time building up some mass in order to see larger gains in the future.

The road you travel is paved on hills. You must go through the peaks and valleys (different phases of training) in order to get to the mountain top you desire to be on (your PR lift at competition).

Next week, we will touch on the next two phases:

  1. Strength Phase
  2. Competition Prep


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