The Final Countdown: Strategies for Competition Week

What you do in the days leading up to competition is crucial for hitting your biggest lifts on the day.

The last week of training before competition is critically important, but is often given short shrift by athletes. Lifters are often tying up loose ends in their life before getting ready for an out-of-town trip, which means training can be of a perfunctory nature in this last week.

This brings to mind the old weight training dichotomy of balancing hard work and its necessary recovery. Lifters have vastly different opinions as to how much heavy training and how much rest they need during the last training week. How do we solve this eternal conundrum?

Let’s start with sport. Olympic lifters should not look for the answer to this question in powerlifting blogs or publications, since the two sports have different recovery needs. The power boys have a greater eccentric component to their training and move much more weight. Therefore, they need more recovery time between workouts of any particular exercise.

This is especially noticeable when you look at the squat routines of weightlifters and powerlifters. Powerlifters often train only once a week on the squat so they can take a full week to recover. Weightlifters often train the squat on every workout, but with significantly lighter poundages. Because of their lower eccentric component, weightlifters can train heavier as they draw closer to competitions.

Rest the Body or Ease the Mind?

That said, weightlifters still disagree on the ideal way to train that final week. On one extreme, many do their last heavy workout a week before their event and do nothing at all during the final week. The idea here is to overload the body in the second-to-last week and then recover completely. This strategy is popular with Masters age lifters, because the older you are, the longer a recovery time you will need. This method is more common with powerlifters, but some weightlifters also use it.

Successful lifts in your preparation week will program your mind for successful lifts on competition day.

At the other extreme we see lifters still training heavy up to the Wednesday or even Thursday before a Saturday meet. The reason for the unloading is mainly about getting the appropriate amount of work and recovery, but there is also a psychological factor to consider. Some lifters are especially anxiety-prone and cannot bear to sit around the last day thinking and stewing over their competition. In those cases, it might be best to hit the gym right up to the day of competition. The name of the game here is to alleviate some anxiety and get the lifter’s mind on more positive thoughts, not to lift heavy.

There are further psychological considerations. The weights handled in the gym are lighter during the last week. This helps ensure the lifter has little chance to fail on a poundage too close to his starting attempts. Making a number of successful lifts will set up the mind for success in the competition. You don’t want to be missing heavy weights at this stage.

A Constructive Compromise

In between the two extremes we have those who like to taper off their training. The previous Saturday will be the last heavy day, probably working up to starting poundages. Monday will be about 90 percent of normal with regard to intensity. Wednesday will drop down to 80 or even 75 percent. Most lifters will rest until the competition at that point, although some might try some snatches and cleans on the Thursday before.

Only snatches, cleans, jerks, and maybe a few squats are attempted in this last week. Those who feel the need to go a little heavier should do so on pulls, not the lifts themselves. This will ensure that no failures occur.

“You must get used to the idea of mobilizing everything during one attempt. There will no second inning to cover your mistakes.”

The last week is also time to stay off the reps. Do singles only because that’s all you will be doing on the platform. Weightlifters should think more like figure skaters than baseball players. Through you have three shots at it, they are all singles. You must get used to the idea of mobilizing everything during one attempt. There will no second inning to cover your mistakes.

Try Them All, Pick What Works

Ultimately, there is no one ideal way to spend your last week of training before a competition. It all depends on the shape you are in, the stage of your career, the state of your anxiety, your schedule, and a number of other factors. Novice lifters should try a number of final week regimes to see what suits them best.

Once that best method is discovered, be prepared to reassess and change it as your conditions develop over time. The lifter has to be aware of how his body reacts and also how it changes over the years.

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Photo courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.

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