Long Term Planning for Powerlifting

[caption id="attachment_261" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Photo courtesy 9for9media.com Photo courtesy 9for9media.com[/caption] For as long as I’ve been lifting weights (and probably a lot longer than that), “Long Term Planning” has been eschewed and neglected by powerlifters – especially the typical non-professional-coach type, but even by some prominent professional coaches. The thing is successful coaches see the benefits (and also the limitations) of long term planning, so they put it in its proper place – much to the benefit of their athletes. I make it no secret that I greatly respect Norwegian Powerlifting coach Dietmar Wolf. In 2013, his most prominent lifter, Carl Yngvar Christiansen (CYC for short), placed 2nd at the IPF World Championships – only 12kg behind the winner. Now, by all accounts this is a fantastic performance, but some of CYC’s lifts looked quite easy. After the meet, there was quite a bit of discussion about, “why didn’t he go for it?” Someone had heard that CYC had a minor injury and the Norwegian coaches wanted to play it safe. Still some of my friends questioned the call saying, “When you’re there, you’ve gotta take the shot!” The thing is I see where they are coming from, but I also know Dietmar Wolf a little bit having spoken with him on several occasions. I know that he likes to consider the long term view of things. His goal is to take the athlete to their genetic potential, which is a 10+ year vision, not a 10 minute vision. Lo and behold, after playing it safe at the 2013 championship (and avoiding injury), CYC came back in 2014 to crush the competition by 200kg, set a World Record Squat and Total, and also hit the highest Wilks of any lifter in the IPF. Score one for long term vision. So if you accept that long term progress is what we’re really after, and that it requires long term planning, how do we get there? We need a plan – a strategy – for developing our long term training. And if you’re unfamiliar with strategic development, it comes in basically two varieties. [caption id="attachment_264" align="alignleft" width="500"]Photo courtesy 9for9media.com Photo courtesy 9for9media.com[/caption] In his book “How Will you Measure Your Life?” author Clayton Christensen (no relation to CYC) talks about Planned Strategies and Emergent Strategies. A planned strategy is one that is set out carefully in advance. Emergent Strategies are those unplanned opportunities that arise as a situation develops. It’s the improv jazz of the strategy world. You need both in order to be successful. This means when you get down to nuts-and-bolts, you need a long term plan that guides your development to the best of your current knowledge. You also need an understanding that we’re dealing with complex systems that are by nature unpredictable. So the plan should be flexible enough to bend with emerging situations such as injuries, unexpected improvements, unforeseen life situations, etc. Before you even get started, you need a framework to operate in. This is dependent on the training philosophy for the coach and his assessments of the athlete. An athlete who is injury-prone will have different considerations from an athlete who is robust and healthy. A high level athlete has different considerations from a mid or low level athlete. After the assessments are made and priorities are laid out, the coach should lay out the expected competition calendar for the next year. If he doesn’t have all the competition dates, that’s fine – he takes his best guess and will refine the plan later. This calendar will provide an outline for the development of the annual plan. Beyond that, you start to plan your strategy in broad terms. For the most part, a strategy is just a coordinated allocation of resources. In this case, our resources are mostly time and energy. To some extent money and equipment might come in to play, but that’s not typical for most annual plans that I write. If you have a long period of time between competitions, that’s time that you should spend developing whatever needs you assessed in the previous steps. If not, then preparing for competition takes priority. [caption id="attachment_265" align="alignright" width="500"]Photo courtesy 9for9media.com Photo courtesy 9for9media.com[/caption] This may sound like an obvious thing to do, but by doing it deliberately and in-advance, you can easily see where your strategy fails to meet your intent. For example, if you have an injury prone athlete that you assess needs to spend time on structural balancing, but they have a competition every month, then it will be difficult for the time spent to be on anything other than peaking performance. You may not realize this without the planning step. At a minimum, planning makes it easier to see. A tougher situation (especially one that you’re involved with emotionally) will have shortfalls that are harder to see – making this step all the more important. I’ve seen lifters who intend to go on a diet to lose bodyfat, but they never quite get around to it. This sort of intent-without-resources is just wishful thinking. A good coach will be more deliberate than that. For the most part, when I write annual plans, they are fairly generalized. “For the first three weeks, we want to do restoration work, followed by a six week hypertrophy phase, etc.” Then as each separate phase approaches, I plan it in more detail. This way, resources get allocated to the long term plan, but it’s not over-emphasized. This leaves room for emerging strategies. By not planning, say, the hypertrophy block until it gets near, we save time and can ultimately do a better job of planning. There are details about the competition calendar, the athlete’s condition, even equipment availability that can change even at the last minute. A coach’s philosophy will (should) continue to develop over the year as well. So saving the detailed plan for later helps to ensure that the detailed plan is as good as it can be. This framework has been about an annual plan. An athletic career is comprised of much more than one single year. And if an annual plan is a bit vague, then a multi-year plan bears little resemblance to a plan at all. Multi-year plans, in my view, is simply training philosophy applied. For instance, a coach who believes that “a volume increase is the best way to achieve continued overload” will have that belief manifest over the athlete’s career. It may not be obvious month-to-month, but over the span of several years, it should be. We will also see differences in how the coach believes a beginner should be trained vs an intermediate vs an advanced athlete. This too needs emerging strategy to be a part of it. An athlete may get injured, or the coach may simply see that the athlete doesn’t respond well to a particular method. This will shape how the coach coordinates the athlete’s multi-year plan.
A planned strategy is one that is set out carefully in advance. Emergent Strategies are those unplanned opportunities that arise as a situation develops. It’s the improv jazz of the strategy world. You need both in order to be successful.
Every year, RTS prepares several lifters for the IPF Classic World Championship (in 2015, we had EIGHT of our lifters make their various national teams – more than any other private coach I’m aware of). The World Championship is the biggest event of their competition year. So when we set out the planning for these lifters, we know that we need a big performance peak for this event. But we also need good-sized to very-large performance peaks for National championships (depending on the country’s qualifying procedures and competitiveness of the lifter’s weight class). One or two other meets can have some peaking, but any others will be developed as “train thru” meets. That provides our framework for annual planning. What’s more, some of our lifters are Masters lifters. Their annual plans take form a bit differently from our Junior lifters, who still have a lot of development to do in their multi-year plans. Oh yeah… of our eight lifters, four were gold medalists in their weight classes. One was a silver medalist. Imagine how we would have done if Team RTS was a country! Annual and multi-year planning is necessarily a bit vague. That’s how you retain the flexibility. But make no mistake, it’s definitely important. In my view, it’s what separates a serious athlete’s training from a recreational athlete’s shiny-object-program-hopping. We put significant effort into our annual plans and the results show on the platform.
About the Author Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.