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Aside from proper programming and consistency, I believe training environment is a vital factor in a powerlifters road to success. I personally train at both a powerlifting gym and a commercial gym, so I’ll go over what it’s like training at both.
Training at a Powerlifting Gym
There’s no better place for a powerlifter to train than a powerlifting gym with other powerlifters, whenever possible. The kilo plates, competition benches/squat rack, platform, and powerlifting training partners will make a big difference in your training sessions. As many of you know, I train at the Power Pit in Belle River, Ontario. Lots of powerlifters train here such as Kelly, Ron, Shawn, Jay, Greg, Jerry, Luke, Jake, Mo, etc.
Photo credit: Loaded Bar Media
I love training at the Power Pit for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s just awesome to train with likeminded people who have similar goals as you and compete as well. If your squat is high, they’ll tell you, unlike someone at a commercial gym that doesn’t know what IPF depth is. Your training partners can give you tips and pointers, they give great lift-offs and spots, and they are the best company. My second favourite part about training at a powerlifting gym is that no one’s heads are turning when you’re warming up a squat with 225 lbs and you aren’t being praised after a work set (unlike what sometimes happens at commercial gyms). Now don’t get me wrong, if I’m doing a big important set and it goes well, sure it’s nice to hear “awesome set” afterwards. On the other hand, if I’m doing a big set and it doesn’t go as planned, I want my training partners to be honest and tell me if it was slow, if I leaned forward, or whatever the situation may be. Everyone needs encouragement, but it’s just a lot different with your powerlifting training partners compared to acquaintances or strangers at a commercial gym.
Photo Credit: Loaded Bar Media
Training at a Commercial Gym
I’m going to be honest, IN GENERAL I’m not a fan of training at commercial gyms. I like to do my squat, bench, and deadlift days at the Power Pit, and my accessory days at a commercial gym. For any powerlifter who’s ever trained their squat, bench, or deadlift at a commercial gym, you know what I’m talking about. About 75%+ people in the gym are staring at you if you’re lifting anything even slightly impressive. Then sometimes when you have your headphones in, they’ll come up to you and ask you questions and want to know what your max bench is, if you compete, how often you compete, etc. It’s just not an environment that’s ideal for improving as a lifter. Think about it, we all have competition out there. How can you expect yourself to give a training session your all, have a good spotter, and stay in the zone if you have strangers approaching you and staring at you during your training session? I personally don’t like praise like that. Of course, compliments are nice, but I don’t want to be complimented after every work set that I do. You’re in the gym to work, not to be stared at like a fine work of art in a museum. Another issue with commercial gyms is that in general a lot of them aren’t too powerlifting friendly. By that I mean some don’t allow the use of chalk, people might complain if you deadlift because it’s “loud”, you might scare someone unintentionally just for being intense while doing a set, etc. It’s also very hard to find a good spotter at a commercial gym that won’t touch the bar while you’re benching and all that other stuff. I stopped deadlifting at a commercial gym officially a few months ago, (it’s also much easier using the easy lift at Power Pit lol), and now I try to only do a bench or squat session there if I have a partner with me. I do prefer these gyms for accessory work though, because I’m really serious about keeping all that stuff up and the commercial gyms have a lot of variety.
I highly recommend for any powerlifter that’s serious about improving to train at a powerlifting gym. Now obviously not everybody can, as some people don’t have a powerlifting gym in their town/city. However, if there’s one even a 30 or 45-minute drive away from you, I highly suggest to even try training there once per week. Just to be in that environment and have likeminded people around you while training will make a difference. You’ll most likely put more effort into your sets, receive constructive criticism, and you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to train with people that want to be successful in the same sport as you. If there isn’t a powerlifting gym anywhere close to where you live, then I would suggest trying to train with a partner whenever possible so that you can have proper spots (which makes a big difference alone) and someone to critique you.
Sara Cowan is an 84kg Junior powerlifter in the CPU/IPF. She started competing in 2014 and recently won her division at the IPF Classic World Championships in 2016. You can find her on Instagram at @saracowan95