Frequently Asked Questions

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  • 1. What’s the most optimal number of times to train per week for powerlifting?

    The answer in short is that it entirely depends on the lifter, how long they have been training, what their other commitments are (how much spare time they have to dedicate to training), how old they are, how far out from competition they are and several other factors. The things to consider though are that to achieve a goal you should preferably train at the optimal frequency to facilitate progress in your lifts, which is not the same thing as training as much as possible.

    If you can get good results from training 3 times per week then why train 4 times, other than for enjoyment’s sake. The problem with training more times than necessary (in too early a stage of training) is that you negate the possibility of adding to training frequency when you reach a sticking point / plateau with your lifts. Don’t exhaust all your avenues of potential plateau busting, before you actually need to use them. In short, take the simplest route to your goals, and don’t overcomplicate things. With all that being said, do not make the mistake of thinking that you do not need to spend some decent amount of time each week dedicating to learning technique and you of course need a certain amount of volume to be able to give enough stimulus to grow stronger. A good starting point is 3 sessions per week. Start with that and see how well you recover between sessions.

    Build up your session density (amount of work performed per session) and monitor your progress. If your progress starts to stall once you have tried a few options to allow more progression then you can look at one option of adding an extra day but always be aware that you must always ensure you monitor your recovery and check that you can handle the extra work.

  • 2. How do I ensure my training is relevant and specific for my sport?

    Firstly remember that no movement in the gym (unless you are a weightlifter, powerlifter, strongman or similar) exactly replicates or can even come that close to replicating your sport. The term sport specific training was hijacked by the personal training industry and gave a vast number of rather blinkered PT’s the seeming right to distribute a whole series of alternative exercises, whilst moving away from the tried and tested basics, in favour of overcomplicating movements to make them seemingly move impressive.

    Arguments were made for squats on a swiss ball and squatting on a boss ball being more relevant to a contact sport for example because it encouraged the trainee to ‘engage their core’. Quite frankly a vast majority of these arguments were invalid and made especially by individuals who had never lifted a heavy weight in their life. You try and squat double, 2 1/2 or even triple bodyweight or more and not ‘engage your core’ (a term I hate and would rather people simply used correct terminology and said ‘bracing’ or creating intra-abdominal pressure).

    The reality is that gym training, with the exception of certain strength sports, cannot replicate your sport and trainers should not pretend that it can. Gym training for an athlete is G.P.P (general physical preparedness), and should be used as a tool (one of many) to improve performance. With that in mind, gym training must utilise safe, effective, quick to learn exercises which utilise muscle groups in a way in which will be relevant to some SIMILAR movements performed in the sport.

    So for example an NFL lineman (American Football) uses a horizontal pushing movement frequently when driving his opposite man backward, because of this, horizontal pressing movements should be a staple in their training. Bench press, incline bench press, with regular or neutral grip bars would be appropriate here, and the strength qualities of maximal strength and strength-speed / speed-strength are relevant.

    Any ‘sports specific’ training programme (or more simply put, any programme designed for an athlete to improve their performance in their given sport) should consider the requirements of the athlete in their sport, looking at types of strength / physical qualities required by the athlete, taking into account energy systems used, duration of games, periods of play etc. A coach must look from a logical, methodical and scientific perspective and break down the sport and then should use a multitude of training tools available to assist in the development of the qualities required of the athlete, whilst always remembering that gym training can not, in almost all cases, replicate actually playing / practicing the sport in question.

  • 3. Can I simultaneously train for Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting and other strength sports at the same time and expect to excel?

    The answer to this is more complicated than you may at first realise.  It is true that there have been a few athletes over the years who have excelled in multiple disciplines, however it is usually very unlikely that they were at their peak in all of these disciplines at any one time.

    The phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ tends to spring to mind when people ask me if they can have a programme which incorporates olympic lifting, powerlifting and strongman into one convenient 3-4 days per week package.  It is not exactly impossible, however the approach to olympic lifting training and powerlifting training tends to require very different approaches.  It also depends on the experience of the athlete.  If someone is already highly proficient at both the olympic lifts and the power lifts, then I suppose there is the scope that they will have a good concept and understanding of the movements and will more likely be able to execute them well without, for example, blurring their deadlift technique with their clean pull technique (two highly different start positions for these lifts).

    In most cases however, if technique is anything other than perfect already in both style if lifting, then trying to improve strength, speed whilst learning these movements will most likely end up in very little progress in either.  To get well skilled at a movement pattern you must practice regularly and spreading yourself too thin goal wise is likely to mean you are not able to get enough training time in to develop sufficient technique to enable you to display any significant strength improvements.  Take competitive olympic lifters of the highest standard, many of them train 2-3 times per day 6-7 days per week (45-60mins per session) and have done for years (Chinese Weightlifting camps can start from as young as around 8 years old).  These athletes become strong and highly efficient because of the amount of practice they get, they are also genetically gifted individuals in many cases.  Do you really feel that dedicating 1-2 hours per week will enable you to excel?  Practice is the key when developing a new skill, and stimulus and recovery between sessions is the key to getting stronger.  If you spread yourself too thin then you are unlikely to be able to…

    1. develop the skill set required.
    2. dedicate enough training time to provide adequate stimulus to create an adaption.
    3. recover between sessions.
    4. have enough time to train all elements required for improvement (Squat, bench, deadlift, overhead work, cleans, snatches and all their various derivatives and accessory work).
    So to sum up, I would suggest that in the vast majority of cases it is not wise to expect the most out of both Olympic lifting and powerlifting training whilst training them simultaneously.  HOWEVER, if specific results are not required, and perhaps you are not aiming to compete and simply want to learn a new skill for funs sake then I would never tell someone they could not do it.
    I would just curb the expectations in terms of what they would be likely to achieve and would be cautious that they were not overloading themselves with too many new skills to learn at once.