Competing in powerlifting can be very draining on your body -- you run the risk of injuries, fatigue and burning out. So it's vital that you cycle your training, change the volume, intensity and frequency of your sessions, and train with a variety of goals in mind throughout the year so you can stay healthy and enter competitions in your best condition. A yearly powerlifting cycle should revolve around four phases, each lasting four to six weeks, with periods of active rest built in.
This is your conditioning and mass-building phase. According to Dave Tate, former elite powerlifter and owner of Elite Fitness Systems, the volume is high and the intensity low -- stick to three to five sets of eight to 20 repetitions, using no more than 70 percent of your one-rep maximum on all exercises. A basic body-part split, training chest and triceps on a Monday, back and biceps on a Tuesday, legs on Thursday and shoulders, calves and abdominals on a Friday, would work well here.
During the strength phase, intensity steps up a gear. Increase your weights to between 75 and 86 percent of your one-rep max, while dropping the volume to three to five sets of four to six reps. You may also wish to lower the number of exercises you do in each session to reduce fatigue, and switch to a more powerlifting type split, such as one day each for bench pressing, squatting, deadlifting and accessory work.
The power phase is extremely intense; it involves lifting weights that are between 86 and 93 percent of your one-rep maximum, for three to five sets of three to five reps. You should take long rests between sets to give time for recovery and allow for maximum weights to be lifted, and reduce your volume to just three or four lifts per session. Stick to a powerlifting- or exercise-based split.
The peak phase is the time when everything comes together, and you should aim to set personal bests on your squat, bench press and deadlift. According to Louie Simmons, former powerlifting world record holder and creator of the Westside Barbell Method, many lifters peak poorly and end up missing weights in their peaking phase, which can have negative mental and physical implications leading up to a contest. Your workout volume should be very low during the peak -- do your main competition lifts, trying to set a personal best on each one, then some very light accessory work. Do two to three training sessions per week.
Active rest, or deloading, is an integral part of your yearly cycle. Take a deload after the completion of every four-phase training cycle, or after a competition, advises strength coach and powerlifter Matt Gary. Your deload should last two weeks, and during this time you can still lift weights, but they should be no more than around 60 percent of your one-rep maximums. Use the time to do some extra conditioning work, cardio and rehabilitation exercises. When you've finished your deload, start back on a new hypertrophy phase. If you stick to each phase for four weeks, then have a fortnight to deload, you should complete three whole cycles during the year.