Review of Factors Impacting Powerlifting Performance
Researchers provided 160 Russian powerlifters (80 male, 80 female) with a questionnaire that included a series of confounding factors. The lifters were told to rank the factors in order of importance, to determine which stress inducers had the greatest influence on the athlete. Participants were asked to complete the rankings for general training as well as in a competition setting. The questionnaire was completed by lifters with a wide range of competitive powerlifting experience (1-34 years).2
The 3 Most Stressful Factors in Powerlifting Training
1. Injury (In Training)
The primary concern of these powerlifters during general training was injury. If there’s one way to bring progress to a standstill, it’s an injury that prevents the ability to train. A study of Oceania powerlifters found that on average competitive powerlifters sustain about one (~1.2) injury per training year that causes them to miss training sessions or a planned competition. In this same study, it was found that an average of 4.4 of these types of injuries occurred per 1000 hours of training.1 This will certainly vary across the board based on each lifter’s biomechanics, training intensity, and technique. As coaches, we can play a role in our athletes’ health with smart programming, nutrition, and technique refinements.
2. Physical Fatigue
This is an inherent part of progressive training, but fatigue will certainly affect training on a day to day basis. When a new training stimulus is introduced or total volume is increased, there will be an increase in accumulated fatigue. This is one of the reasons why it can be important to taper volume prior to competitions so that the athlete feels less physical fatigue and is able to fully express their capabilities of strength. Other variables such as sleep and nutrition will also play a role in fatigue management.
3. Social Factors
The most difficult factor to control comes from our social life. This includes situations at work, financial issues, problems with family, troubling relationships, interactions on social media, etc. Although training can be a great stress reliever, it can sometimes be difficult to separate ourselves from the stresses of everyday life. Researchers mentioned they were surprised that social factors ranked as such a highly stressful factor for powerlifters.2 Perhaps it's a reflection of the information age as we're constantly in touch with both positive and negative social situations. There can also be mounting pressure in the fitness industry to perform at a high level while being barraged with meet videos and training clips.
The 3 Most Stressful Factors in Powerlifting Competition
1. Emotional Stress
Managing stress in competition ranked as the highest concern for competitive powerlifters. This is certainly understandable when put under the pressure to perform your best on a specific day in front of spectators, athletes, and a panel of judges.
2. Injury (In Competition)
Injuries in competition can be more common than in training due to lifters pushing their physical limits and inherent form breakdowns. However, the emotional stress of competition still ranked as the highest concern for powerlifters under meet conditions. One of the more interesting findings of the injury study of Oceanic powerlifters was the higher rate of injury for the national-level athlete (5.6 per 1000 hours) compared to international-level athletes (3.6 per 1000 hours).1 Perhaps the refined technique of the international lifters allows them to avoid picking up injuries as frequently as less-skilled athletes who tend to have more frequent form breakdowns.
3. Level of Competition
No matter the skill level, there will always be personal and social pressures to perform at your best in competition. There will be different levels of competition throughout an athlete’s competitive season, leading to varied states of readiness and excitability.
Top 3 Ways to Overcome Confounding Factors
(These 3 factors ranked the highest for both training and competition settings)
1. Coach's Assistance
The Russian powerlifters agreed that the assistance of a coach was the most helpful variable in overcoming the stresses of training and competition.3,4 The coach can affect the athlete's motivational status, mental cueing, and overall direction of training. On the day of competition, the coach can reduce athlete's mental stress by assisting with rack heights, timing warm-ups, and making attempt selections. When the coach handles these variables, the lifter can place their sole focus on executing the competition lifts.
2. Mental Attitude
The mental attitude in training and in competition can have a direct effect on performance. In training, a strong mental focus will allow the athlete to train effectively during times of physical fatigue. In competition, visualization and confidence are key to a successful performance. If the lifter approaches the meet with uncertainty, or is over-excited, this can affect technique under a heavy weight and ultimately affect the outcome of the lift. Many of the Russian lifters who were interviewed mentioned visualization being a valuable tool prior to successful attempts in competition.4 The psychology of high-level athletes is something we'll look at in future articles.
3. Instructional Techniques
This factor ties together the coach’s assistance and the athlete’s mental attitude. The coach and athlete need to develop cues for consistent technique in training, and also for reducing emotional stress during competition. Every coach-athlete relationship is different and it may take time for an athlete to find a coach that suits their personality. It’s important for any technical cues to become habit far away from competition to prevent information overload deep into meet preparation.
While it is important to strive for balance and remember that powerlifting is simply a hobby that we enjoy, there is no denying that there are stressful factors involved in making progress as a competitive athlete. The aim of this study was to find the highest concerns of powerlifters in competition and in training, and how those lifters handle those concerns. Coach’s assistance, mental approach, and instructional techniques appear to be the most helpful factors in alleviating athlete stress and improving competitive performance.
-Eric Bodhorn, CSCS, The Strength Athlete, LLC
1. Keogh J, Hume PA, Pearson S. "Retrospective Injury Epidemiology of One Hundred One Competitive Oceania Power Lifters: The Effects of Age, Body Mass, Competitive Standard, and Gender". Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 20.3 (2006).
2. Ljdokova GM, Razzhivin OA, Volkova KR. "Confounding Factors in Sport Activities of Powerlifters". Life Science Journal, 11.8.(2014): 410-413.
3. Ljdokova GM, Razzhivin OA, Volkova KR. "Powerlifters' Ways to Overcome Confounding Factors at Competitions". Life Science Journal, 11.11(2014): 477-480.
4. Ljdokova GM, Razzhivin OA, Volkova KR. "Ways to Overcome Confounding Factors in Powerlifters' Training Workouts". Life Science Journal, 11.11(2014): 481-484.