Weightlifting competition seasons: planning ahead
5 min read
How do you plan a competition year in weightlifting, and what can you learn from other elite athletes? We'll be talking abuot the off-season, recovery, bodybuilding, and GPP - and how you pack it all into a single training and competing year.
There’s no official ‘off-season’ in Weightlifting. We do it all year round.
Come rain or shine, we’re there lifting, bitching, and complaining. Or maybe that’s just me?
Some of us are lucky enough to have heated and air conditioned facilities, others freeze in the winter and melt in the summer. That’s the fun of warehouse facilities, garage gym weightlifting, and dungeon gyms that put your fees towards something other than cooling you down when you need it.
We’ve all been there.
Yearly Planning in Weightlifting
The problem with our annual competition calendar here in the UK is that there’s competitions all year round. Great for general accessibility of the sport, but the onus really is on you to plan your year ahead of schedule.
You don’t get a set off-season, you’ve got to build one from scratch: pick a “big” comp, a few smaller ones, and a period of time off. Off-season refers to that last bit. The time you put aside to heal up, build strength for longer periods, and (usually) let those annoying injuries heal.
The Risks of Poor Yearly Planning
Poor yearly planning is a challenge we’ve run into with several of our intermediate athletes.
As a beginner, the more competitions you enter the better. We cover the benefits of competition in our previous articles. But once you get to the intermediate and advanced level, you can’t just hop from competition to competition when you get bored.
Well.. you can. But don’t expect to progress your total each time.
Once your training gets to a certain level of proficiency and you start closing the gap between strength and classic lifts, the smart thing to do is plan competition cycles ahead of time.
3 month ‘build-up’s’ are great, but you need to plan some rest ahead of time also. That’s why we’re talking about the “Weightlifting off-season” today.
Weightlifters Don’t Like Time Off
Two or three days recovery after a competition are better than nothing, but it’s easy to keep trudging on and never take any substantial time off. This can add up to a year of training, or several years of consistent training where your only time off is injury.
This is the key lesson: if you don’t schedule time off, you’ll be taking “unscheduled time off” for injury. Your body needs rest and, if you don’t provide it, it will come in the form of some tissue giving you major pain and limitation.
Every now and then our bodies need an extended period of time to recover, recuperate, and de-stress. It’s not only healthy to do so, but necessary to keep you motivated and relatively injury free in the long run. At the very least, you need periods of low-pressure training where you can shift gears and focus on more general health and structural development.
Over our years in the sport of weightlifting and coaching S&C the common theme we’ve seen in that it’s better to take these extended breaks from training before they take you.
Get Ahead Of The Issue: Preventing Injury with Off-Season GPP
Scheduling in a few weeks completely free of training and periods of ‘rehab’, ‘prehab’, and lower intensity bodybuilding training lets you do so on your schedule rather than it occurring at a really inconvenient time because you pushed your body to the point of injury.
Let’s take rugby for an example. We love the sport, we’ve played it competitively, recreationally, and worked with several players on their S&C regimes.
The skill lies in planning the competitive ‘season’ and timing periods of training around the competitive (match) season. You can’t blast a player with a squat cycle in the middle of a tournament, and you need to let a player recover from the trauma of match impact before loading them up with more strength straining.
There’s a clearly defined off season. The point is the year is structured by the fixtures players play. We have a pre-season, the season, and then the off-season for rest (mental and physical) and general training before getting back into the more intense and specific pre-season training.
The system works well. So, what lessons can we bring into our Weightlifting?
Plan Your Year In Advance – Even Vaguely
Whilst not everyone will be aiming for national championship level competitions, but we are all looking to get better. And elite lifters do the things they do because they’re the best way to get better.
These “seasons” are a useful marker as they’re typically hosted at similar times each year. If you have set completion dates, you can reverse engineer your annual program. We’re not talking about the nitty gritty % and exercises, we’re talking overall training objectives.
From meaningful rest, General Prep, Strength Phase and Competition Prep, we'll cover how to structure your training another time. Stick around. Maybe even sign up to our email list? We'll be sure to alert you to new articles as soon as we remember what our email password is.
Work Backwards from Comp
If the peak of your competitive season is likely to be August, and you typically need 6 week to build up and taper. You can back date your competition prep to start on the 1st of July, and before that you can drop in a strength block and a GPP block to get your body ready for this 6-week build-up.
See, that’s not so hard. What’s hard is fitting in all the stuff you need before the comp prep.
You’re probably working on strength and technique. So that’s another 8-12 weeks of your year if you’re going by the classic program durations. Add a week’s rest after the strength block and you’re already back down to Mid-End of March.
Not a lot of time remaining considering you’ll likely need a qualification event of some sort early in the year.
Qualifier Competitions: A Useful Tip
Leaving qualification to the last minute is a risky tactic.
The benefit is you get the longest possible time to prepare and put up the best total you can, also leaving no time for your competitors to better it - and you go into the competition with the added confidence of knowing what total you need to hit.
But if a singular thing goes wrong you’ve cocked up your entire annual plan - you have a bad day, an injury, you’re sick, or the competition gets cancelled for whatever reason. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and it only takes one.
You might just get a flat on the way to the comp and have to spend the whole day on the roadside. You wouldn’t be the first.
Qualifiers Are Good Competition Practice
So - Adding one or two qualification events to the first quarter of the year, say January and March means you’re preparing since November - December time (allowing for some time off to eat all the calories possible over Christmas and New Year).
With your competitive season the year before peaking in mid-August, and a good General Physical Prep (“GPP”) likely taking 6-8 weeks. You’re already back at the start of September?
So, if your big comp of the year falls in mid-August, you may only have two weeks to rest before it all starts again.
So where is the off season? There isn’t one. You have to sculpt this time out of the GPP and strength blocks discussed above. That’s because the off-season isn’t about not training – it’s about prioritising non-weightlifting stuff that will help your weightlifting later.
You don’t take time off the sport, you shift gears to work on bodybuilding, GPP, strength, and offsetting any issues you’ve run into over the past competitive year. Take a look at the best of the best, and how they prepare…
Lessons From Olympians: The Olympic Quad in Weightlifting
Olympic athletes plan 4 years in advance.
1. An entire year might be dedicated to ‘casual’ training and GPP, with a dedicated period of time off at the start of the quad – especially after a prior Olympic games.
2. A year to refining technical performance, making adjustments, and strengthening new or weaker positions in an athlete’s performance
3. Third year could be an ‘all-out’ qualification attempt by attending every international possible, building points, or hitting required totals for national team considerations
4. The Olympic year splits in two: 2/3 for Olympics prep, and 1/3 completely off
For ‘hobbyist’ to ‘national-level’ lifter, that’s probably a little over the top. But the general consensus is the same: you need to make time for everything you need to do.
Let’s use the car metaphor. Pushing on the gas all the time leaves you with an empty tank far sooner than economic driving. You might get there quicker (if you make it to the destination in the first place) but you’ll likely come up short along the way.
Running on an empty tank also leaves you not only with an empty tank (which needs re-filling) but with air in the fuel line needing an expensive trip to the mechanic and time off the road. That’s the analogy for jumping from comp to comp, pushing back your GPP and rehab, and leaving yourself empty every single time you compete.
You’ll have no time for the general bodybuilding training, recovery and some good old R&R. You’ll either break yourself and have a forced few months out with injury or grow to resent the sport and potentially never fall in love with it again. Alternatively – and horrifyingly – maybe you take so much time off that you only come back too late to compete at the level you want.
The Take-Home Lesson
Just like days of training need days of rest, so do months or years of training require weeks or months off.
Not trying to put a downer on your ambitions. We’re also not proclaiming the need for ‘balance’.. because you can’t achieve anything great with ‘balance’, You need to be focused on what you’re doing and give it you all. What we are trying to say is that you need to plan and work smarter, not harder.
You can’t be focused and on the throttle all year round; you ned to take time off so you have the beans (technical term for performance resources) to give it your all in comp preps.
You can get away with a maybe a year of hard pushing, but know that comes at a cost of how much ‘work’ you’ll be able to do the following year.
Remember That You’re Going To Pay Eventually
Don’t fall for the trap of borrowing from your future self. Your future self should be lifting bigger weights than you, and thus needs that extra recovery and resource. Get a well thought-through plan and just be willing to integrate the logistics of your life and lifting into a big plan.
You need to account for things like weddings, holidays, and other events ahead of time so you’re not accidentally cancelling your most important prep block for a week in Zante.
Rest is productive to your training when its planned in advance much like heavy training on a sore body is productive when it's done for a short period of time and for a specific reason.
The overall competition plan is what makes sure you’re not going too far either way and risking your health and wellbeing. That’s where your coach steps in.
Need some help planning your next few competitive years? Drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org