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Seneca, or Your First Powerlifting Meet: A Guide For Success

Disclaimer

Previous to my education at Western University I attended Canadore College. While I was the president of the powerlifting team we won best team award at three OPA College/University Meets. This guide is to give everyone who is a part of the team going to Seneca an idea of what to expect. Naturally there will be some things you may disagree with, however, in the best interest of the club gaining recognition by winning best team, I would respectfully ask you keep your opinion to yourself and mess up at another meet. Put aside your ego and take advantage of this great opportunity to be coached by extremely knowledgeable individuals. They will ensure you have a great first experience and put together a solid total on the platform.

Heed this advice: this is a once in a lifetime lifting opportunity-- very seldom is a collective effort like this made at a powerlifting meet to help new competitors succeed. If you don’t want to follow this advice because you feel we won’t allow you to accomplish your goals, ultimately it’s your meet. You can at any time take your attempt cards, do your own warm ups, and pick your own attempts.

You’ve Registered, Now What?

Besides training your asses off you will need a few pieces of equipment. Before purchasing anything be sure to double check the “IPF approved equipment list”. If you google this, you will find a comprehensive list that includes everything you can wear on meet day.

These rules are strictly enforced

Singlet

You will need to buy a singlet which are available at Inner Strength or Titan Canada. Do not buy a singlet from elsewhere as usually they have international shipping charges and can often take weeks to months to ship. They are not cheap but it’s a necessary expense you can’t lift without one. Order them early!

Long socks

You will need socks that go up to your knees for deadlifts. Soccer socks work but I personally buy mine at Ardene’s. They have great socks there that are really cheap.

 

Underwear

Women probably won’t need to worry about this too much. Underwear cannot have any leg aspect to them at all; they need to be your traditional tighty whities or a thong. They cannot be boxers or briefs and don’t think they will not know what you’re wearing. Just buy the pair of underwear because they do look for this and if you’re caught all your lifts will be disqualified.

 

CPU card

Print out a copy of your CPU card before hand. You are allowed to use a picture of it on your phone, but having a paper copy on the day of is always best. Make sure your CPU card is not expired at the time of the meet or you will not be allowed to lift.

 

Student card

Have a copy of your student card on you at the meet since they may ask for it when you enter weigh ins.

 

Chalk (optional)

All meets provide chalk for athletes in both the warm up area and platform area.

 

Baby Powder (Optional)

For your deadlifts! It looks funny but it does help.

 

Shoes

There are little restrictions on footwear, but make sure they don’t have giant holes in them.

 

Knee Sleeves (Optional)

Check the IPF approved equipment list and if your kind of knee sleeves are not allowed you cannot wear them.


Belt (Optional)

Check the IPF approved equipment list and if your belt is not on there you cannot use it. Odds are if your belt didn’t cost you over $100 it’s not allowed. Inzer belts are not marked but all judges know what Inzer belts look like so you don’t need the markings.

 

Wrist Wraps (Optional)

Check the IPF approved equipment list

 

Food

Bring some food to eat before and after weigh ins. Bring food to snack on between squats, bench, and deadlift. Bring lots of food, but not stuff that is super heavy – go for snacks that will give you lots of energy. There’s tons of junk food in the warmup room. It’s light on the stomach and digests fast to give you lots of energy. Do not count on the fact that there will be food on site, though.

 

****************************   DO NOT CUT WEIGHT **************************

There’s a big difference between cleaning up your diet and losing weight through eating healthy food and intentionally going in a caloric deficit. Do not cut weight! No one doing this meet is going for any national or international records. Odds are your Collegiate records will even be broken within a month because there is another Collegiate meet in Ottawa, so why risk injury in order to lift in a certain class? No one cares how much you weigh -- all that matters is your total.

For example, let’s say you want to hit a 400kg total at this meet. You cut weight and you struggle to hit your 400kg total, but you hit it. Instead of cutting you actually eat properly and because of this you hit your 400kg total with ease fully knowing you have another 20kg to add to your total next meet. Is losing that 5lbs really worth it?

If you do weigh over the weight class you’ve signed up for you will just be moved up to the next weight class; you will not be penalized for this. So don’t worry about your weight and just eat.

Attitude

Leave your attitude at home since it will not be tolerated by coaches, refs, or fellow lifters. If you have a problem save it for later.

DO NOT SWEAR ON THE PLATFORM: if you do you will be disqualified from the meet!

Do not get upset with the judges! They are there to help you succeed not to make you fail. If you fail, it’s your fault not there’s so don’t take it out on them. You chose to lift in the strictest federation of powerlifting in the world. In order to even pass the Level 1 Provincial Ref test you need 90% or better so remember that.

If you argue with the refs or are disrespectful you will find yourself kicked out of the competition.  

Meet Weekend

Figure out a way to get to the meet however you would like. I would highly recommend not driving on the day of. If you miss weigh ins you will not lift. You’ve already paid close to $300 for this meet -- why risk it for the sake of an extra few bucks? Not to mention, lifting after a 3 hour car ride is horrible.

When you arrive, the first thing is to find the weigh in area. Then sit down and wait patiently until your name is called. Weigh ins start two hours before the lifting is scheduled to start. When you go in there will be a ref sitting there who will request to see your CPU card. They will then ask you strip down to your underwear and socks and weigh in. They will record your weight and ask you for your opening attempts in kilograms. The coach will provide you with these openers, which will be light and for a good reason.

After you weigh in, find the equipment check area where a ref will be sitting to check all your equipment you plan on wearing on the platform. Any equipment that is not checked in cannot be used during the meet. As mentioned earlier you will be disqualified if caught.

Equipment check list

Singlet

Shoes

Socks

Underwear colour

CPU card

Wrist wraps

Belt

Knee sleeves

 

You can have more than one piece of equipment i.e., a pair of shoes for squats and another for deadlifts.

After this go and get your rack heights for both Squat and Bench. Wear your proper bench and squat shoes when getting your rack heights. There will be people there to assist you in getting your rack heights.

After these three things are done go and sit down. Eat and eat and eat some more get your body ready to lift but don’t get too full. Stop eating about 45 mins before the start of lifting.

Warm-ups/Lifting

When to start warm ups and how many warm up attempts you will take will be at the discretion of the coaches.

Do not hang out in the warm up area if you are not lifting in that flight. This helps keep the warm up room congestion-free. As you will see, traffic during lifting will be super annoying.

The referees will have a clinic where they go over the three lifts and say exactly what is expected, going over all the rules and commands.

Attempt selection will be at the discretion of the coaches

For the first-timers any attempt you make will be a meet PR. Gym and competition lifts are completely separate things.

The individuals coming out to coach are taking time out of their lives and spending money to come help you, so respect that by trusting them 100%. They are there for the singular purpose of helping you be successful, so when they say I’m loading this even if it’s 25lbs off your max, don’t argue with them about attempt selection. There’s a reason they chose that weight. Those who argue about attempt selections will be given their attempt cards and will be responsible for coaching themselves for the rest of the competition. This may seem harsh but it all boils down to respect for the coach’s time.

Flights

Lifters are placed into weight classes and then placed into flights; usually the flights include 8-14 lifters. Each lifter in the first flight will take their first attempt before moving onto the second attempts. The weight is loaded on the bar from lowest weight to the highest weight for each attempt. This is the same set up for second and third attempts. So if you start first in the flight then you will have to wait until every other lifter in your flight has done their first attempt. This same order repeats itself until all lifters have done all three attempts. Then the second flight of lifters will start, in this exact same order, until all flights for that individual session are finished.

Usually the day is broken up into two sessions, with the female weight classes and lighter men in the first session of lifting. The second session is usually the remainder of weight classes. However, this changes from meet to meet depending on entries. The meet director will include the layout of the flights before the meet.

So for example, if the morning session has two flights of lifters, the first flight will do all three of their squat attempts. Then the second flight will do all three squat attempts before moving onto bench. Then both flights will do their benches in this same order, then the same will happen with deadlifts. Usually there is about a 10 min break between each lift to prepare the platform crew and refs for the next lift.

Attempt Selection at future meets

Typically, you want to open with a weight you know you can hit very easily. This is because usually on meet days you’re very nervous before your first attempt and strict judging can mess up how you lift. You want it to be an easy lift so it will boost your confidence. I usually open with a weight I can do for an easy triple. It should be a weight you can hit any day of the week no matter how tired or sick you are.

Once your first attempt is on the board you’re in the contest and can start adding some weight on the bar.  The second attempt is usually dictated by how well your opening attempt moved. Usually what I like to do is pick a number that is fairly close to my gym 1RM, roughly around 95-97%.
The third attempt you can use to either build your total by taking a smaller jump to a weight you know you will hit, or you can go for broke loading on 105-110% of your current max. Contest adrenaline can make you hit some crazy numbers.

After each attempt you have 60 seconds to get in your next attempt selection, so have a plan before hand and make sure all your attempts are in kg.

Peaking Programming

Regardless of whatever style programming you are following, each one will have the same basic layout. When you’re about 12-6 weeks out you will be doing a high volume of total reps at a moderate intensity. When you’re 6 weeks out your intensity begins to increase and your volume lowers slightly.

The week before you should be doing doubles at 70% early in the week 7-4 days out and 4-1 day out you should be doing 70% singles for very few sets 3-5.

Here is a very simple linear progression to demonstrate this:

Week 1: 4x10

Week 2: 4x9

Week 3: 4x8

Week 4:  4x7

Week 5: 4x6

Week 6: 5x5

Week 7: 6x4

Week 8: 7x3

Week 9: 8x2

Meet Week: 3-5 sets and 70% doubles (early in week 7-4 days out) and 70% singles (late in week 4-1 day)

Typically, I like to test my lifts by doing rep maxes e.g., finding out your max for 3 repetitions. If you can figure this out before hand and provide this information to the coaches, they will have a good idea of what your max is. This helps reduce injuries before a meet as 1RM take much more out of your body than rep maxes.

I like testing my deadlift rep max roughly 21 days out, squat 14 days out, and bench roughly 7 days out. Do not just sit around and not train on your meet week. These sessions are to simply keep the movement pattern well rehearsed. For a more individualized peaking program please contact me privately as I am offering peaking programs for a heavily discounted rate for those doing this meet.

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The Bench Press: A Guide

by Tyler Wareham, a kinesiology student at Western and a coach at Apex Power and Performance. He recently won his weight class at the Seneca College Open Powerlifting Meet with a 732.5kg total and 417.9 wilks. And, obviously, he loves benching!

The bench press is the only universal lift that everyone off the street recognizes, yet it is still one of the most misunderstood lifts in powerlifting. Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is a very technical movement –- it’s not just simply a push up with a bar in your hand. If you want to build a big bench you have to become a master technician of the lift. So then the next time someone asks you “yo! how much do you bench [bro]?” you’ll respond “whatever I want.”

So you want to learn to bench?

It’s important to remember when trying to learn new things your current max will temporarily go down. And it’s is important to note that changing some of these things will be extremely beneficial in the long run. Do not try to overdo it by trying to change 17 things all at once. Keep it simple and try to change one thing at a time; each small change will accumulate into an increase in your 1 rep max. The accumulation of all these changes will result in a drastic increase: it’s like I always say, “100 small steps overtime will get your much further than one giant leap.”

Hand placement

This is very often the first mistake people make when benching. The concept that using a wide grip is best because of the reduced range of motion is not necessarily ideal for everyone. Most individuals are not anatomically built to handle that kind of stress on the glenohumeral joint. Ed Coan (the greatest powerlifter ever) has found an easy solution to figuring out your ideal bench width. Simply do a push up and as you lower yourself tuck your elbows into your body as if you would in a bench. Try out a few different hand positions and you will quickly learn which one feels best. The one that feels best is the width you want to bench with.

From the hands down

Another common mistake people make is not using their forearms during the bench press. You can quickly see this when someone’s wrists look like they are about to snap backwards the second they take the weight out. This is a horrible position to do anything in let alone try and press a weight off your chest. When your wrist is in extreme extension it puts you at a major mechanical disadvantage; it inhibits your ability to transfer the force into the bar while pressing it. The key to fixing this is to maintain a neutral wrist position while benching. The way to accomplish this is to tighten up the muscles in your forearm by squeezing the bar as if you’re deadlifting a new max. In this position the bar will be in line with both the radius, ulna, and elbow, which allows you to better transfer the force generated by the shoulders, pectorals, and triceps during the press. Limiting wrist extension is why we wear wrist wraps during the bench press. While wearing them, however, you still need to forcefully grip the bar to help transfer that force.

Your arms are too small?

Triceps are the key to a big raw bench press. While paused on your chest your elbows are slightly adducted and flexed, in this position your triceps are the prime movers responsible to get your elbows back into extension. After you receive the press command your pectorals initially move the bar due to the stretch reflex. Your triceps then take over as the primary movers for the rest of the movement. While benching it is important to keep your elbows tucked (slightly adducted) in order to recruit your lats on the descent and utilize your triceps during the press.

If you think you’re training your triceps correctly, think again, because you probably aren’t. According to Mckinley and colleagues (2016) triceps are primarily made up of type IIa muscle fibers. Therefore, you need to be doing low rep, heavy explosive exercises. These reps will be in the 3-6 range and should be performed with a focus on overloading the eccentric portion of the lift. The concentric portion should be fast and explosive and the eccentric portion should be controlled and slow. By only doing high rep (10-15) “bodybuilding” style training you will gain size but you won’t see much of a carryover to your max bench. The best style I’ve found working with clients is to use both rep styles in combination. Remember, do your low rep heavy exercises first.

Biceps are misunderstood when it comes to the bench press. People in the powerlifting community tend to think of training biceps as a bit of a joke, when in reality it plays a role in a strong bench. The biceps and triceps form a force couple in the elbow joint and if one muscle group is pulling too much it will cause problems over time. Biceps also help to build more tissue around the elbow joint which help with pressing (Smitley, 2016).

Shoulders: overrated or essential?

The anterior deltoids don’t really do much. They do assist the pectorals during the initial movement off the chest during the stretch reflex (Smitley, 2016). That being said, during the offseason it is a good idea to train your anterior deltoids, but during competition prep you should be doing more bench press volume instead.

The lateral head of the deltoid is not very important when it comes to bench press, however, you should still train them a bit to maintain muscular balance.

The posterior deltoids play a much larger role in the bench press. It is important to work the posterior deltoids and the external rotators of the arm (infraspinatus and teres minor) as they are a part of the anterior-posterior force couple. Working these muscles will prevent internal rotation of the humerus, which can cause impingement issues if left untreated.

Upper back

 Working the muscles in your upper back is extremely important since you do rely heavily on your scapular stabilizers during the eccentric portion of the lift. You’re also building a bigger base to press off of (Smitley, 2016). You want to build a huge upper back by destroying your trapezius and rhomboids to help stabilize the scapula.

A very important aspect which is often overlooked is the importance of the mid & low trap muscle fibers which are rarely trained properly. Shrugs and deadlifts work these fibers but they do not isolate them enough to help stabilize the scapula. This is important because while training for a big bench press you will build super strong latissimus dorsi. These muscles will pull down on the scapula moving it out of position, so you need to work your mid & low trap fibers and rhomboids to help maintain proper scapular position. As you’re benching you will be retracting your scapulae very forcefully, therefore you need to really strengthen the muscles mentioned above as they’re your primary scapular retractors.

The mid and low trapezius and rhomboids should be trained every single bench workout you perform. These muscles can be trained at a high frequency and you will be using lighter weights for high reps for these as they are primarily postural muscles.

Pec flyes make you good at hugging

If you’re in pursuit of giant pecs like Arnold, you might be in the right place. Building your pectorals is very important while benching. They are the primary muscles responsible for breaking inertia off your chest after receiving the press command. You don’t want to train them solely the way bodybuilders do because you’re not just looking for size. You’re looking to build strong pecs that can maintain a solid isometric contraction then contract hard and explosively. Rather than doing endless amount of pec decks or flyes for your pectoral accessory work, you should practice different types of bench press variations or even push ups. Some great examples of this include the Spoto press, incline press, floor press, and wide grip bench.

The latissimus dorsi- it’s time to fly!

Along with the triceps, the lats are extremely important for building a big bench. Building big, strong lats is essential for all three of the powerlifts and should be programmed with as much priority as the main 3 lifts. To bench big weights, you need big lats, it’s just that simple. Lats are extremely important during the eccentric portion of the bench press. As you’re lowering the bar onto your chest, your lats are playing a big role in stabilizing the humerus. This will help you to maintain your elbow adduction angle (elbow tuck), which will allow you to utilize your triceps properly during the press. While you’re lowering the bar to your chest your lats should feel like they’re doing the majority of the work.

Think of benching like loading a spring – if you load the spring fast and release the tension quickly, you won’t release much power. If you load a spring slowly and build a ton of tension over time, when you release that tension quickly you will produce much more force.

 As you’re lowering the bar to your chest your lats should be taking the majority of the load. It’s also much more advantageous to lower the bar slowly in competitions with long pauses (IPF) in which judges reward lifters who control the eccentric portion of the bench. They are rewarded because the bar is almost stopped by the time it touches their chest, so they get a quick press command.

Learning to activate your lats is different for everyone and must be learned while performing accessory work before you’ll see a carry over onto your bench. Personally I found visualizing my elbows being attached to my hip by one big muscle worked best for me. As I pulled my body up I imagined I was shortening that muscle and that seemed to work for me, but everyone is different. The main thing to think of is retracting your scapulae into the bench then trying to move your scapulae in a downward direction by engaging the lats. A cue that has worked for my clients is push your shoulder blades into the bench and try to bend the bar by pulling your lats down. As you perform this motion you will notice your elbows will automatically tuck – this means you’re on the right track.

The day after you do a bench session and your lats are super sore is when you know you’re benching correctly. So as far as training your latissimus dorsi, you can train them at a high frequency, meaning multiple times a week. For at least every pressing motion you do you should do a minimum of one pulling motion for your latissimus dorsi. When performing these movements change up the exercises frequently and experiment with different rep ranges. Don’t be afraid to do a heavy set of 5 with bent over rows or lat pulldowns. You want to build size as well as strength in your lats so you should do a combination of high reps and low heavy reps.

Programming

When building a program for bench you will be able to have a higher frequency than your squats and deadlifts. This is because overall there is a lot less muscle mass utilized during the movement and the weights are much lighter compared to squats or deadlifts. The body can handle many more bench sessions in a week – this can range anywhere from 1-9 sessions in a week. The key with bench training is to find the right amount of frequency/volume for you.

With a higher volume per session you will want to program fewer bench sessions with less frequency. With a higher frequency of bench in a week you will want to program a lower volume per each session.

That being said as a beginner you want to very gradually build up your frequency. You could progress your frequency by adding an extra day and slowly building the volume on that day over the course of weeks to months.

You want to become a master technician of the lift in order for it to improve. Like any other thing in life how can you expect to become a master of that craft by practicing it once or even twice a week?

When programming your goal should be to build more muscle mass in the muscles I have described above. The goal is to be very well rounded, thick, and strong. You don’t see many lifters benching big weights with small upper bodies.

General points

Every single rep you do for bench you want to take in a massive breath of air, really fill up your lungs and belly. This will help increase your intraabdominal and intrathoracic pressure, which will help you transfer force from your lower extremities. This will also help the lifter maintain tightness throughout the lift.Which brings me to the next point…

Benching properly is not a comfortable thing at all. You have to be maintain your tightness, so prepare to feel very awkward.

When arching the key is more to arch your upper back rather than your lower back. You want to decrease the range of motion and you accomplish this best by arching your upper back.

When arching you make sure you continually fire your glutes and quads to maintain tightness. As you throw the bar off your chest after the press command drive with your legs and glutes trying to push your hips up and back towards your head. After the press command, really push your head and upper back into the bench. Don’t think of it as pressing the weight but rather trying to push away from the bar. Push your head and upper back very forcefully into the bench while you’re pressing the weight.

When pressing you want to push the weight back towards your starting point. Some people prefer a straight up and down motion, but working with clients I’ve found that pushing the weight back towards your face (to the starting point) allows you to overcome sticking points a bit easier.

When trying to find your ideal starting position take the bar off the rack and play around with the position a bit. Move the bar back towards your face and then down towards your belly button. Once you find the spot where the weight feels light you’ve found your starting point.

Try to fix one thing at a time. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel in one session. These changes take time so be patient.

Becoming technically proficient with this lift is very important but you also cannot neglect your accessory training. Being technically efficient will improve your max in the bench press but once you hit a plateau it’s your accessory work that will take you to the next level.

 

References

McKinley, M. P., O’Loughlin, V. D, Bidle, T. S., (2012) Anatomy & Physiology: An
Integrative Approach (1st ed.) Chapter 4, New York: McGraw-Hill Education

Smitley, B. (2016, October 6). Building the Raw Bench Press. Retrieved January 24, 2017, from https://www.elitefts.com/education/building-the-raw-bench-press/

 

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