Two months into the year and the season has started. Not the season of giving. The season of comps
(=competitions but hey we <3 our abbrevs). Within the strongman circles, we have seen the qualifier competitions for the Arnold Classic Australia within the country (and check out the results so far – strong AF women around the country! The comp season has kicked off for most powerlifting federations as well. The GPC affiliated powerlifters are well and truly in the midst of prepping for their respective state comps and nationals (*full details outlined here: www.gpcaustralia.com).
There’s also the big one, you know – Proraw 8. Big numbers are expected here, and similarly at the Arnold Strongman Australia (both on the same weekend). So yeah, the Arnold Classic Australia is set to a pretty pretty big event on 18th – 20th March.
If any of this has made sense to you, it’s likely that you’re knee-deep into a training program with the goal of hitting some decent PBs at your comp of choice. I’m in a similar boat (competing in Proraw 8 and GPC Victoria States) and as the weeks get closer and closer to comp, the nerves kick in 0.0001% bit more.
"Curls don’t get the girls; big deadlifts do"
I’ve watched heavier weights start popping up (eek!), conveniently avoided certain lifts (sorry coach, secret’s out) and watch the program focus predominantly towards the main lifts, with selected accessory lifts thrown in to help on weak points. But even then, the accessories decrease as comp day gets closer and closer. And there are logical reasonings for the latter – programming reasonings. From what I’ve gathered, to allow the body sufficient recovery and to maximise #gains, the focus is shifted towards getting more skilled and stronger in the main lifts (as opposed to getting really, really good at curls 2 weeks out from a powerlifting comp). Curls don’t get the girls; big deadlifts do.
But seriously, don’t take my word solely for it, check out what some of the guys in the industry have said on programming (*Nb: focus is on powerlifting): Juggernaut Training Systems, Chad Wesley Smith & Strength Theory, Greg Nuckols
It makes sense though, as you get closer and closer to D-day, the focus should be on getting stronger and more skilled in the very lifts that you will be tested for. So, whilst accessory lifts have their benefits e.g. variety, strengthening weaknesses, the aim of any program should be for the athlete to execute the main lifts better than when they started, and to have the stronger results show on comp day.
In my circumstances (powerlifting comps), the goal within the next few weeks is to (back) squat, bench and deadlift heavier weights for my 1 rep max on the platform come comp day. Not a front squat, not a rack pull, not a slingshot bench, and not an AMRAP. Personally, I have found that as the tonnage increases week by week on the main lifts, recovery is pushed to the limits even further. I can’t afford to be sore and fatigued from doing (insert accessory work) when I need to be fresh my heavy squats later in the week.
In the initial weeks of a training program, a heavier volume on accessory work isn’t such a bad idea. Especially if it’s for a 3 lift comp, then a bit of variety at the earlier stages really doesn’t hurt when one is to be benching, squatting and deadlifting week after week for 12 weeks. (Yes it can get a bit monotonous...). But as comp day approaches, I find that there’s enough to focus on the main lifts itself – weight attempts, equipment (monolift, fat squat bar etc), little technical details (form, cues etc), that anything else risks being a distraction to the end goal.
Time generally isn’t on my side as well... 11pm din din times are what I have to deal with and then to get up at 5am for work and repeat that several times a week. With limited time and recovery such a precious commodity, I’d rather have more time (and energy) to focus on perfecting my squat, bench and deadlift, staying injury-free vs. getting extra reps on my pullups (and I love doing pull-ups, so that says a lot)
Don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not trying to give accessories a bad rep. Actually, there are some accessories that I’ll never let go even as comp day approaches. My people accessories.
People accessories? Because powerlifting and strongman are competitions where athletes compete as individuals, but (in my opinion) thrive in the respective sports with a solid people support system. Coaches, physios, massage therapists, myotherapists, ostepopaths – and the most important of them all, training crews/partners. These folks assist me greatly in the commission of the crime of getting stronger.
I’m starting to realise that part of becoming stronger in strength sports is being able to handle “breaking” and allowing growth from those “breaks”. Break apart. Break down. Break through. And getting through those “breaks” solo can be difficult, frustratingly slow. The physical “breaks” – pushing the body a bit further each time (e.g. muscular strength) so it can grow, and the not-so-sexy mental “breaks”. Mental breakdowns can be really rough, depending on the root cause (e.g. injury, emotional/work/financial stress) and speaking from experience, the people accessories have done more than they know to help me push past through those “breaks”.
It’s comforting to know that there are folks who understand the highs and lows from training and competing, and can offer support and or advice. That I can have a good laugh about squatting to depth from all angles, or the woes of perfecting that bench arch (shorten ROM yo) or mutual agreement that bench-driven shoulder immobility is a sacrifice to pay when trying to put on the bloody bra. That there are 5 (or more) other people willing for you to push past that sticking point in your squat/bench/deadlift - is truly a great feeling. When you invest so much in a sport where pushing the body (and mind) is essential, the right ‘people accessories’ can truly help you enjoy and learn the most from the lifting journey. It can feel vulnerable, placing some form of reliance on others, so pick your ‘people accessories’ wisely.
So with just over 6 weeks to Proraw 8 and 8 weeks to GPC Vic States, here’s the program: less pullups and curls (sad face), but I’ll be continue to keep special spot for my people accessories.
*FYI some of the best ‘people accessories’ in my book in Melbourne are as below:
Melbourne Myotherapy & Remedial Massage (Chris Heddle & Shaun Bostock)
Functional Strength Rehabilitation (Andrew Lock)
Doctors of Osteopath (Abbas Din)
PTC South Melbourne