Training a Masters III Novice Female Lifter

Training a Masters III Novice Female Lifter

Nov 17, 2013

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After having traveled with me to over a dozen of my competitions and working through my injuries, one day I said, “do you ever want to compete?”  Branka said, “sure, someday.”  So, being the enthusiastic guy that I am, I signed her up for the December 8, 2013, Chicago Raw Challenge meet.  Following the inevitable discussion, the training began – 7 weeks out from the competition with virtually no powerlifting training other than the bench and some moderate squats and deadlifts.

To put this into perspective, Branka is about 120lbs, thin, with a metabolism that does not quit, and had been subjected to exercise ‘boot camps’ and commercial trainers for years.  She spent her entire life either swimming in the Adriatic Sea, in the ocean and lakes in the USA as well as swimming pools, a lot of walking and jogging, and basic gym exercises.  No stranger to fitness, she puts on muscle quickly under the bar.  However, past practices at commercial gyms put her at a disadvantage.

What I mean is that the practice in commercial gyms by ‘trainers’ is to fill up the clients’ time with as much movement as possible making them feel like they have worked out by leaving them breathless and tired.  Basically, a lot of movement that often doesn’t make sense.  At the time I was going to the same gym and watched a the trainer would run her through what we would refer to as accessory exercises BEFORE doing the core lifts such as the bench, or squat, or deadlift.  At the time, Branka would be excited if she benched 25lbs and squatted 30lbs.  If I got involved – whoa boy!  The trainer would get upset and tell me that he knew better and she couldn’t handle anymore weight than that!

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So, one day after that (in 2012) I brought her along to a Team Stone bench training session and we got her up to a 45lb bar.  She was amazed!

Of course, the previous training had her thinking that these weights were too heavy.  A lot of the training, in addition to hitting weak spots, involves proving to her that she is a lot stronger than she thinks she is.  This is pretty normal for most lifters that are entering the sport.

The first part of this is an assessment.  In this case, the history is something I was familiar with.  It was also important to understand that Branka would be continuing to attend a ‘boot camp’ exercise program at work and using a personal trainer at a commercial gym until a week and a half before the competition.  The commercial gym trainer, Rachael, and I had a discussion about her training for the competition and what training would be happening with the powerlifting team.  The next part of the assessment was physical – Branka’s job results in many hours sitting as well as some work required on her posture – a small slouch (which has been rapidly going away during training!).

We also to go through warming up for each of the lifts.  We are mixing squats and deadlifts on the same day (Sunday) and bench training on Fridays.  For bench day there is lower back and shoulder rolling, band pull-a-parts for the back, and neck stretches.  On squat days there is foam rolling of the legs and back and hip flexor stretching (because of the amount of sitting).

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The primary purpose of the initial work is to develop form.  The amount of weight is not important, but number of repetitions are.  So, work on foot and back position for the bench.  Control of the weight and proper bench technique.  Because the weights are lower, and lighter bars are available, we started with lighter 30lb bars for warm-ups of sets of 6 and 8 before moving up with lighter weights.  Squat and deadlift also required reviewing form and depth.  With Branka’s long legs, and general height (about 5’5″), and low body fat watching for leg caving and other weak spots related to the back is very important.

Due to the additional exercise/training within the ‘boot camp’ and commercial gym, team training is kept relatively short with focus being only on the main lifts and specific accessory work related to obvious weaknesses.  Additional good news is that she does not have a problem with speed through a lift – there is no hunting in all lifts.

Snapshot - 69

Because of the short time to the competition, the first four weeks of training involved 5×3’s on the bench and squat and doubles in the deadlift.  Each of these also included finding a 1-rep max.  Beyond that, no formulae were used, just an observation and each week a challenge to bring the weight of each lift up a little more.  This week the squat day was dropped back to a de-load, as will next Friday’s bench session, followed by one week of heavy singles and then the week before a set of lifts to openers with commands.

Prior to this week, the bar would move around during a bench press and the legs would cave in, even with just the bar, on squats.  This week the legs kept pushed out and the bar was under more control.

For the bench accessory work would include face pulls, shoulder work, tricep work, including pulldowns.  Each of these would be for sets of 12-20 reps.

For the squat: good mornings (few reps); hip work with orange and red bands (3 sets of ten held for ten seconds); sleds; and, hip thrusts (sets of 20 using cables).

As of this week Branka’s gym PRs are: Bench – 50lbs 3 reps to chest, 60lbs to a 3-board; Squat – 60 lbs double below parallel; and, deadlift – 88lbs.  As I know she will read this (yep, I am in trouble!) and we are working more on the mental aspect of the lifts right now, I am not going to post her expected openers for the meet.  However, I expect that they will be pretty cool



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