Blog
22
03
2019

Peaking Powerlifters: Case Study – Sam Schepis

The following is an insight into the peaking strategy for JPS Head Coach and Australia’s number one u/77kg powerlifter, Sam Schepis devised by his Coach & JPS Director of Science, Lyndon Purcell.

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On Sunday, Sam competed in his first powerlifting competition for the 2019 at the Strength Fortress.

Weighing in at 75.5kg, he put together a total of 688kg (247/161/280). Although he did not PB his squat, deadlift or total, the day went 100% to plan.

But how can the day go to plan if he didn’t PB on two of three lifts you ask?

Whilst the objective for most competitive powerlifters is to set PB’s every single time they step on the platform, this wasn’t the objective for Sam in this competition.

The reasons the meet was so successful despite not hitting a PB are as follows:

Firstly, he enjoyed himself. A major component of sporting success is positive emotional response to their sport involvement.

Secondly, he didn’t injure himself. Another huge limitation for many elite powerlifters is injury.

Beyond that, Sam is a lifter who falls on the more advanced side of the spectrum, and has a national title to defend. This means that he has a periodised annual plan and as a result, won’t be at his absolute best all year round. 

We sacrifice peak performance at certain periods of the year in order to raise his level of absolute performance at later periods. 

Fundamentally, you can train or you can test. And the more accurate you want your test to be, the more time you have to spend away from training and improving on how good you COULD be. 

Of late, the majority of Sam’s time has been spent preparing him for his higher priority competitions later in the year. He hasn’t been doing any highly specific training, but that will change. 

In a 12 month period, we usually have Sam pick 3 competitions. All relatively evenly spaced about 3 months apart and with the last one being his major competition for the year. This dictates higher amounts of specificity later in the year and lower amounts earlier in the year, favouring training that will induce adaptations that will support his performance later in the year. 

Also worth noting; Sam only performs the competitions lifts for approximately 6 months of the year. This is both for physical and psychological longevity purposes, among other more complex programming considerations, like negating negative feedback loops and the efficiency at which an exercise can induce hypertrophy or technical improvements. 

Some rough guidelines for how his annual plan looks:

Leading into the first competition of the year, the goal is to get Sam’s body-composition in a position that will support him later in the year. Sam only spends about the final month before the meet using the competition lifts, and because the overarching theme of this phase is hypertrophy, the average number of reps per set he performs using the comp lifts is ~6. He also has a large amount of other accessory work contributing to both hypertrophy and fatigue during this time. The high fatigue, foreignness of the movements and lack of time under heavy weights all limit his performance. But fortune favours the prepared. Not the insecure, such as those who must try PB at every comp. 

Leading into the second competition, the focus is more general strength. We’ve built some more muscle tissue and now the training is focused on making it contract more forcefully. Sam uses the competition lifts for the final 2 months of this meet preparation, and the average reps per set with the comp lifts is ~4. Moderate amounts of assistance work are used to induce some hypertrophy and additional fatigue at this time. Performance around this time is about equal to his previous best. 

For the third and final meet of the year, specificity increases again in order to peak performance and cash-in on all the training that has been done up until this point. Sam

spends 3 months straight using the competition lifts and with an average of ~2 reps per set. This is very heavy training, to the point of being unsustainable, which is why we spend time away from it until it is absolutely necessary. However, the outcome of this training is high amounts of technical proficiency, and confidence, under maximal loads. 

The basic logic of the overall plan was to take Sam, make his muscles bigger, make those bigger muscles stronger, then use those stronger muscles to produce strong and technically correct movements. 

Another point to make about this final phase, is that Sam will typically hit very close to his 3rd attempts, while under large amounts of fatigue during this training block. We don’t look for massive amounts of super-compensation. This makes meet day much more predictable and gives him more confidence under the heaviest loads on meet day, as by that stage he is feeling peaked and fresh and knows he has overcome that weight (or close to it) previously. 

The fact that Sam can prepare in this manner is not at all a product of my coaching, but almost entirely down to 1) his approach, and 2) the training environment. 

To address point number 1; Sam is an athlete who takes massive amounts of responsibility for his actions and will do everything within his power to ensure he is ready to do what is required of him. 

Point number 2; The impact of the training environment cannot be undervalued during this time. The days when Sam has to squat 3x singles @ 255, 250 and 245 under large amounts of accumulated fatigue, are made possible by the support of everyone in the gym at the time, but particularly Jacob & Karl. 

The fact that experienced, strong and respected lifters such as Jacob and Karl watch, spot and scream at Sam while he gets under a bending barbell, while his body and mind are at near breaking point, is about the only reason that training in this way becomes possible. Getting Sam over the line is a team effort, but the fact that we can train him in this manner, sure as hell pays off. 

While everyone plays their part, the majority of the credit must truly go to Sam. He is dedicated, self-motivated, diligent and humble. And he is without a doubt, the most receptive lifter I have ever worked with. In training, if I tell him he’s not going above 85% before a meet, he doesn’t argue, even if he has doubts. On meet day, if I hand him a drink, he drinks. If tell him to sit, he sits. If I ask him to not hype-up for his second deadlift, he listens. 

It’s little things like that which make my job exponentially easier. And I would like to think that the trust and loyalty Sam has put in me, is one of the small reasons he is starting to establish himself as one of the best lifters in Australia. I’m obviously biased in saying that, but just wait… we have only scratched the surface. 

It was also very pleasing to hear so many people come up to Sam or I on the weekend and comment on how much of a composed lifter he is, when no less than 12 months ago, I was told by multiple people he had potential, but would bomb at Nationals because he had a reputation for failing to execute. How times change. 

Finally, I do just want to note, Sam deserves so much credit as not just a lifter, but as a person. I won’t say anymore than that, but thank you immensely to Billie & JP for recognising that. Seeing Sam congratulated  for all the good qualities he has, ones that extend beyond powerlifting, was my absolute favourite part of the day. So thank you both again. 

Looking forward to another hot Nationals competition later in the year, it’s going to be another tight one! And I couldn’t think of anything better

author: Lyndon Purcell

Lyndon is the Head Science Consultant of the JPS Health & Fitness team. Having completed his Bachelor of Exercise Science, Lyndon is a huge proponent of using science and evidence based methods to guide training and nutrition. Body composition (fat-loss and muscle growth) is his area of expertise.