Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Preparing a Novice Lifter for Her First Meet

by Gwyn Brookes | March 23, 2017

saki squats in her first strengthlifting meet


Saki came to me in March 2016 wanting to get stronger in order to improve her climbing. When she first started lifting, she trained with me once a week and on her own twice a week. However, her weekend climbing schedule soon made it necessary for her to train only twice a week. While this was not optimal, especially since her second training day was not the same day every week, a two day a week schedule proved to be practical and sustainable.

I suggested that Saki sign up for the Starting Strength Fall Classic. I believe that novice lifters should compete. A competition is a test of performance, and training specifically for a meet requires a lifter to develop a more focused relationship to her training, which can become a very beneficial basis for making the long term commitment to training that every strength athlete needs.

Six weeks out from the meet, Saki was still running a linear progression, but was not able to progress every single training session, especially with her press. Saki was starting to struggle with form creep on her squat, her press was not getting enough volume since she was pressing once a week and benching once a week, and she suffered a hamstring tweak while climbing that proved to be a slight setback on her deadlift. However, since she was only training two days a week, recovery was not an issue. Saki was still a novice lifter.

What she needed was close attention to her technique on the squat, more exposure to the press, and a slight deload on the deadlift while she recovered from the hamstring tweak.

Saki was able to make good progress leading up to the meet. Up until the week prior to the meet, the only non-standard addition to her linear progression (other than the extra press volume) was the addition of a slightly heavier single that preceded her work sets. Novice lifters are still learning how to produce a maximal amount of force, and this makes the addition of a heavy single prior to work sets a useful tool to help them get ready for a meet.

Squat: Programming, Improvement, Changes

Monday, September 19th (six weeks out) – Squat 115x3x5

Friday, October 21st (one week out) – Squat 140x1, 130x3x3

During this time period, Saki started to squat a touch high as a result of not sitting back enough at the beginning of her descent. She was able to squat correctly on her warmup sets, and with high-decibel verbal encouragement on work sets, but when she trained on her own she would revert back to squatting high. This was not a recovery issue.

However, a 10% drop on the intensity of her work sets on some of her solo training days proved to be helpful. I also dropped her increments of increase from 5 pounds to 2.5 pounds.

Press – Programming, Improvement, Changes

Monday, September 19th – Press 54x3x3

Friday, October 21st – Press 60x1, 52.5x3x3

Saki’s press had progressed well during this time, but hit a snag two weeks prior to the meet. She had started pressing twice a week, and was making half-pound jumps on her sets of three.  Saki added five pounds to her triples on the press, but two weeks out from the meet, she had a bad training session due to technical (bar path) issues. Normally under these circumstances a novice lifter would simply repeat the weight at which she failed at least twice before deloading, but since Saki was two weeks out from the meet, I took just enough weight off the bar so that she could compete with full confidence.

Deadlift – Programming, Improvement, Changes

Monday, September 19th – Deadlift 175x5

Monday, October 17th – Deadlift  200x1, 190x5

Saki had a hamstring tweak about eight weeks prior to the meet. I deloaded her deadlift by 10% (it was not a bad tweak), and then added five pounds a session, as well as adding a very light day on her solo training days, to get her back to her previous working weight. Once she started to hit PRs every week, I dropped her increase increments back to 2.5 pounds.

Week Before the Meet

Most of the meet preparation for a novice lifter involves performance. Novices are still making progress on a session to session basis, so they don’t need to periodize their training. They are hitting PRs every training session. However, a performance event needs to be approached differently than a training day, and this does require some practice.

Bay Strength usually runs a mock meet one week prior to the main event. This helps new lifters get exposed to some of the facets of a meet that differ from a training session. Saki could not make our mock meet, so instead, during the last training session she had with me prior to the meet, we ran her warmups, her openers and her second attempts. Running second attempts is not usual practice before a meet for most lifters, but with a novice lifter it can be very helpful.

Saki had an “A” plan and a “B” plan. Her more aggressive third attempts were her “B” plan, and she would pick “A” or “B” depending on how her second attempts went. Running them the week before helped her confidence in gauging her own performance. Saki’s next training session was on her own and I had her do a very light training session – 80% of her openers on the squat and press for 2x2, and no deadlift. This light training session was just to prevent her from detraining, and also served to reinforce the technique corrections Saki had made in previous training sessions.

Meet Results

Bodyweight: 50.8 kgWeight class: 52 kg
Lift1     2     3     Best  

All in all, these are decent results for a novice lifter at her first meet. Saki did not go 9/9, as her squat still needed more attention in order for her technique to stay solid under all circumstances (the 3rd attempt was red-lighted for depth), but 8/9 was a fine result. Saki may not choose to compete again, because her real focus is climbing. However, training for a single performance event is a very useful tool, and has kept her training focused on a tangible goal. Because of this, she is still lifting and her lifting continues to improve.

Current Training

After the meet, Saki took a break to go on a climbing trip, and injured her shoulder. When she returned to lifting, she started with a big deload and now only does one regular day a week with me and one light day on her own. She makes weekly progress, and her progress is still linear. She is currently setting PRs on her squat, press and deadlift every week for sets of five.

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