I have accepted my nomination to compete in the Asia Pacific Classic Bench Press Championships - Open 93kgs division. Previously I was a junior competitor, but now that I am 24 have to move up to the Open division.
For those of you who aren’t followers of Powerlifting in Australia, this does not make me the best bench presser for my weight in Australia as there has been an ugly split in the powerlifting community.
There are now two Australian Powerlifting federations in Australia. I represent the Australian Powerlifting Union (APU), which is the Australian body recognised by the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). The reason I chose this federation is because I wanted to compete in the IPF World Bench Press Championships and the APU was the only federation that could send athletes to this competition.
After competing for APU in a couple of competitions now, I feel I have made the right choice as I have been more than happy with my treatment and the competitions.
There is understandably a bit of mud being thrown between the two federations. So, take any reports with a grain of salt. I have been banned from the other federation, Powerlifting Australia, for competing in the World Bench Press Championships.
It was my last year and last chance to compete in a World Championships as a junior. The open divisions these days are extremely tough to qualify, therefore it might have been my last chance ever to compete on the World stage. Most people in my shoes would have made the same decision. I thought Powerlifting Australia would have taken this into consideration.
As a person who loves to compete in Powerlifting, it would be great if I could compete in any event, regardless of the federation. I believe that bodybuilding in Australia has the same political issues. Australia is such a small country and strength sports are a niche. To make the most of the available talent we all need to get along to offer the best competitive environments, to forge the strongest athletes.
Following my last article, both my existence and my credentials to offer advice were questioned. You can verify both by referring to the Australian Powerlifting Union’s team for the upcoming Asian Pacific Classic Bench Press Championships on the Gold Coast.
Given the scrutiny over my credentials I just thought I would carefully explain this political situation. I am just the representative for APU – not Australia. I have finished 5th in the World in 93kgs Juniors. Although I am far from an expert, I have trained under many when I lived in Lithuania. I have so much to learn about training, and in these articles, I will share with you the lessons I am learning from training and competing.
Compact Comp Prep
It was a late decision to commit to the Asia Pacific Bench Press Championships. The lead up to the Festive Season is not the ideal time to commit to a rigorous training regime – so I did what I do best and procrastinated!
As of right now I have approximately ten weeks left until I will step on the platform. Meaning I have 9 weeks to get back to my old form and hopefully slightly improve.
There are quite a few issues which I need to address in order to bring my top form to the stage. I have made quite a few modifications both in my training and diet. I am motivated as ever to step on the platform wearing the Green and Gold once again.
Nine weeks might not sound much, but it should be enough for me to get back to my top form – which I feel I have never truly demonstrated on stage. Hence the reason for competing. Ideally, I can recapture my best form. Best case I could even add a few extra kg’s to my pb in the process.
This would also be the main difference between general strength training and competition training – limited time frame. You do not have the luxury to lift when you feel you are ready. You need to devise a plan which will take you to the weight you need to be competitive.
This will require certain lifts to be made on specified days. If you fail these lead up lifts, you won’t reach your required goals.
Overtraining is Real
Looking back at 2018, I was a bit too eager to compete. Knowing that it was my last year as a junior, I wanted to take it all, before I must compete in the Open Class.
Preparing for three competitions back to back wasn’t the brightest idea. Even though I did improve significantly, I have severely overestimated my recovery time. Which has left me with quite a few issues which I had to fix.
I pushed myself to a point where my body wasn’t recovering from training, but I would still push and try to hit the numbers which I’ve set out to hit.
This led to pain in my right wrist and problems in extending my right elbow. This affected my training significantly. The weights were going up as easy as I would have liked. This leads to sloppy form.
Probably the biggest impact though was the psychological impact. When you are not performing as good as you know you could be your spirits drop. This really impacts the motivation to hit the gym.
Which leads to further poor performance. A classic downward spiral.
This can clearly be seen by my result in the Australian National Bench Press Championships. Even though I won and the had biggest bench press in the Juniors and Open categories (93 kgs weight class), 175 kg wasn’t really what I was aiming for. In the past I have done doubles with this weight.
After the Nationals, I took some time off, healed up and now I am feeling better than ever. When you go stale in the gym, sometimes it is best to have a break to freshen up the body but also the mind. The hunger to lift heavy has returned.
Or if you are the type of person who stops training and goes AWOL for months, then taking an extended break is not for you. Maybe have a week or two off and return to training. Not your normal training, but something completely different and something that you like.
Do some shorter workouts. They might just be light weight and high reps, just chasing a bit of a pump. Or it might be cardio or conditioning work like kettlebell training. Once you feel refreshed, then hit the heavy weights again.
Road Map to Success – Hopefully!
At the moment I do not have a coach. When it comes to training plans I devise them myself, based on advice I have received in the past, and from my training experience.
What has worked for me, may not work for you, so it is very important to analyse what works whenever you are training to a plan.
My formulation of a training plan is not rocket science. I just work out some basic goals and make a structure that work towards these benchmarks.
The goals of my current training cycle are as follows:
- Beat my competition PB of 182.5 kgs.
- Focus on eliminating muscle imbalances.
- Gain a few kilos of muscle. I am sitting at approximately 92 kgs after the holidays. No training plus eating crap equals a higher bodyfat percentage that what is required.
- Clean up my form so I would not have any issues during the competition.
Currently I am undergoing the hypertrophy phase. The goal of hypertrophy is to get some extra muscle mass back without overloading the joints.
This also allows me to practise the lift with perfect form. Developing a good habit takes time, so to think that I can do that in 3-4 week’s before competition is a bit too arrogant. Especially with a heavy weight.
In around 4 weeks’ time I will start lifting heavier weights and decrease the number of reps I am going to perform. From day one of training, I am going to emphasise a pause when benching. This makes the weight a lot heavier but will give some additional explosive power at the bottom of the movement.
I am also addressing the muscle imbalances which I have developed from my bench focussed training. The boys give me a lot of flack about this. In the past leg day might have involved some hardcore smith machine squats with 70kgs! So, who could blame them.
For this program I’ve incorporated some extra deadlift and squat sessions into my training regime. Previously these would have been an accessory exercise for me – hence the use of the smith machine and only 70kgs. This program however I am looking at building some genuine progression in the weights.
Squats and deadlifts have a significant impact on muscle growth stimulation. They will make your whole body get stronger.
My aim is eventually to bench press over 200kgs. I have board pressed this weight before. Just holding 200kgs requires your whole body to be tensed. You must drive your feet into the floor with all the force you can muster.
An improved squat and deadlift will make my body stronger and give me a much stronger platform from which I can press.
Bench Press, Bench Press and More Bench Press!
My training will still involve bench pressing three times a week. You are probably scratching your head at how I can bench press so often without wearing out my joints. Firstly, some bench only trainers hit bench five or six days per week. My previous program involved four days per week.
Secondly, what benefit is gained from just bench pressing so many times?
The reason why I bench so much is to strengthen and condition my body to extreme pressing. You must build your tendons, muscles and joints to handle such weight.
Also, you don’t just do plain vanilla bench press. It is broken up into flat bench, board press, close and medium grip bench. Plus, I will also vary the intensity of some of these exercises – some workouts will be lighter and just focusing on firing the target muscle.
Running Out of Time
Since my competition is in approximately 9 weeks (I still don’t know the exact date of when I am going to step on the platform, as the final nominations haven’t been released).
To compact the training program, I’ve given myself minimal rest during this training cycle. I will only have one de-load week throughout the whole training period. I will also work with the heaviest weights in the training cycle one week before competition. Normally I would aim to have up to two weeks of de-load/resting period!
My theory here is that since it is a shorter training cycle I will not accumulate as many aches and pains. Therefore, I will not need as long to freshen up prior to competition.
This is the part of training that interests me greatly, and I hope you learn from this process too. Right now, on paper, this sounds like the perfect training plan. But I will not know for sure up until the competition day.
You never know, a shorter training program with a shorter rest prior to competition might be the secret sauce I have over looked over the years.
Diet – Time to Get Clean
I’ve made some modifications to my diet as well. In the past I did some things I am not proud of, some things that looking back were stupid!
Once of my dirty confessions is that I dabbled in some bulking up with pizza, burgers and cheesecake couple weeks before competition. Just so I could fill in the weight class and utilize every single gram of my bodyweight to my advantage.
No more dirty bulking, and I am not saying that because Christmas was just a couple weeks ago and some of us might have added a couple of centimetres to our waistline. But because dirty bulking did not bring anything good. Eating junk food makes me feel like junk.
My current diet consists of more protein which comes from lean meats. I’ve cut down on fats and sugars (which means no more pizza or pastries from my favourite coffee shop).
With less fats and sugars, I have decided to increase the amount of carbs I am having, since I do need that extra bit of energy. Even after being in Australia for years, I still struggle with the heat in summer. In Lithuania it took forever to get warm this time of year. Now I am sweating and feeling drained before I even hit the gym.
In another trial, I’ve ditched a can of tuna or handful of almonds as my pre-lunch snack. In the new, revised diet, I’ve switched to a protein shake with a banana. It has lower calories, better nutritional value and it is far easier to digest!
Over the course of the training program I will keep you informed of my progress. No doubt there will be some curve balls thrown at me that I haven’t anticipated. This will have me questioning my plan. Do I change? Or do I stick to the plotted course? I will talk you through these scenarios.
Plus make sure you are following the Sam’s Fitness Instagram and/or Facebook pages as I will post videos of different parts of my training. If you have never competed before maybe you might decide to give it a try. Alternatively, if you have been in a rut, why don’t you make 2019 a year to hit the weights again. Not for competition, just for the love of the iron and steel.
I would love to hear about what you are planning for 2019 too..