How Long Should You Rest Before a Powerlifting Competition?

Key Points:

  • A new study found that neither three nor five days of rest affected isometric squat strength.
  • Isometric bench press strength was unaffected after three days but decreased by 2.4% after five days of rest.

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Preparing for a powerlifting competition often includes some form of taper or peaking.

Generally, this peaking includes at least two elements:

  1. Practice at lifting heavy weights.
  2. A decrease in training volume.

As for the second part, some lifters like to do this in form of a complete training cessation (i.e. resting) for the last few days before a competition.

Two or three days of rest from training is probably most common, but four or more days is not unheard of.

But how many days of rest is best?

That’s what a new study, straight outta Gainesville (not kidding!) sought to find out.

Four Weeks of Powerlifting Training Followed by 3 or 5 Days Training Cessation

For this study, the researchers recruited 22 powerlifters from the University powerlifting club. Three dropped out, leaving 19 on the lab table: 16 men and 3 women, with an average age of 24 years.

Some of the participants had already competed in powerlifting; others had not, but were in powerlifting-style training. The group was decently strong, sporting a Wilks score of 332 on average, or an average 2xBW squat, 1.3xBW bench press, and a 2.2xBW deadlift.

At the beginning of the study, the participants underwent tests in:

The isometric tests were done standing or lying (on a bench on top of) on force plates while pushing against an immobilized barbell, fixed at a height corresponding to a knee angle of 90° in the squat, and an elbow angle of 90° in the bench press.

The participants were split into two groups, pair-matched for strength. For the first four weeks, however, they all followed the same training protocol.

The Training

The training program lasted four weeks and was intended to match a typical powerlifting program, with three workouts per week:

Workout 1 & 2:

  1. Squat
  2. Bench Press
  3. Close-Grip Bench Press
  4. Barbell Row

Workout 3:

  1. Squat
  2. Bench Press
  3. Deadlift

They did 4–5 sets of 3–5 reps of every exercise, starting at 80% of 1RM in week 1, and ending at 92.5% in week 4.

The Testing

At the end of week 4, they retested their 1RMs in the three powerlifts and also re-did the isometric strength tests of the squat and the bench press.

Then, they rested for either three or five days, before redoing the isometric strength tests.

Here is the timeline of tests:

T1 = before training:

  1. Isometric squat and bench press test.
  2. Mock meet (1RM tests in all three lifts).

T2 = after four weeks of training:

  1. Isometric squat and bench press test.
  2. Mock meet (1RM tests in all three lifts).

T3 = after either three or five days of rest:

  1. Isometric squat and bench press test.

So T1 is before the four weeks of training, T2 is directly after the training, and T3 is after resting for either three or five days.

Honestly, I’m a little confused as to why they did the mock meet at T2. Since they didn’t redo it at T3, it doesn’t give any information regarding whether the training cessation helped or not. It simply showed that the participants got stronger from four weeks of training.

It seems to me that it would have been more insightful to only do the isometric tests at T2, and then redo the isometric tests plus the mock meet at T3. That way, we could have possibly gleaned some effect from the difference in cessation length between the two groups.

In addition, anyone who has ever competed in powerlifting knows how draining it can be. While a mock meet is generally not as taxing, I still find it likely that the second mock meet (after the training, before the resting) might have affected the results. Since they didn’t use the information from the mock meets, I don’t see why they added in this factor.

Oh, well, it is what it is.

The Results

From pre- to post-training (T1 to T2), the participants increased their powerlifting total by 5.2%. Here’s the break-down:

  • Squat: 177.6 kg → 188.6 kg (+6.2%)
  • Bench Press: 119.3 kg → 125.2 kg (+4.9%)
  • Deadlift: 188.4 kg → 197.0 kg (+4.5%)

Curiously, they did not (at least statistically significantly) improve their isometric squat or bench press strength before and after the training (T1 to T2):

  • Isometric squat strength: +0.9%
  • Isometric bench press strength: +2.1%

After resting for either three or five days, the participants redid the isometric squat and bench press tests, with these results (from T2 to T3):

3 Days of Rest:

  • Isometric squat strength: -1.8%
  • Isometric bench press strength: -0.9%

5 Days of Rest:

  • Isometric squat strength: 0%
  • Isometric bench press strength: -2.4% *

The only statistically significant result was that the 5-day training cessation group decreased their isometric bench press strength by 2.4% after five days of rest.

The rest of the results did not reach statistical significance, which means that they neither lost nor gained strength after three or five days of rest. At least not to a statistically significant degree.

Practical Application and Take-Away From This Study?

One of the things that irk me the most about this study is the fact that while the training led to a 5.2% gain in the participants’ powerlifting total, it did not increase their isometric squat and bench press strength.

To me, that signals that the isometric strength test might not be a great tool for detecting performance changes in participants who are already very proficient in the powerlifts. And if that is the case, then we should be careful to draw conclusions about powerlifting performance from changes in isometric strength after training cessation.

An alternative explanation is that the participants got more skilled at the lifts during the four weeks of training, thus putting up 5.2% better 1RMs, but the training failed to improve their hardware: i.e. their muscle size and raw strength.

Still, we have to make do with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got are results indicating that (isometric) squat strength doesn’t decline to a significant degree even after five days of rest, but that (isometric) bench press strength does. But not after three days.

This is in line with common practice among powerlifters who often ease up on their deadlift training first (~7 days out), then their squat training (~5 days out), and lastly their bench press training (~3 days out).

There is, however, a difference between easing up on training and stopping training completely.

So, How Should You Taper and Peak for a Powerlifting Competition?

I don’t intend to make this a comprehensive guide on how to taper and peak for a powerlifting competition – that’ll have to be a future article.

I do, however, want to leave you with some general recommendations.

They are based on my personal opinions and experience from coaching and competing, and are also echoed by large parts of the drug-free powerlifting community in general.

I’ve broken it up in three parts.

1. It’s the Training That Makes You Stronger, Not the Peaking

Don’t expect the taper and peak to turn you from a weak lifter into a strong one.

Peaking will, at best, help you display your strength. It does not build it.

Your best bet for hitting some PRs in your next competition is to work yourself through a very productive, progressive training period, in which you’re noticeably getting stronger.

Then you simply taper and peak in order to best present your current strength levels.

2. Lower the Volume More Than the Weights

When the competition draws near, you should drop the number of sets and reps you are doing rather than the weights you are lifting.

How much and how far out from the competition will depend on your individual recovery rate, and also how hard you’ve been training in your last block.

  • If you’ve been doing low-volume training, then perhaps you don’t need to lower your training volume at all before the competition.
  • If you’ve been doing really hard high-volume training for a long time, you might need upwards three or four weeks of lower volume.
  • Most people, however, will probably make do with about 10–14 days of gradually lower training volume.

Keep lifting heavy weights throughout this period.

Because that leads into the last point.

3. Be Fresh, Confident, and Used to Handling Big Weights

When it’s competition time, you don’t want to be exhausted, aching, or fried from your training. You want to be fresh and reasonably rested, to the point where you are eager to lift some weight.

But you should also be confident in your ability and used to lifting heavy (85+% of 1RM) weights.

I like to do this by “building momentum” leading into the competition. Meaning, that you gradually lift heavier weights in your top sets in each lift every week, creating a trail of successful weight increases, all the way up to the competition.

This will not only serve as practice at lifting big weights, but it will also build your confidence in your ability. If you’ve been lifting a little more weight each week for a month now, surely you can do so one more time for this competition?

Finally, for the last week, training volume should make a nose-dive. If you compete on Saturday, perhaps the last week looks something like this:

  1. Monday: Medium volume squats and bench press, at 80% of 1RM.
  2. Wednesday: Low volume of squats, bench press, and deadlifts, at 60–70% of 1RM.
  3. Friday: Very low volume of squats, bench press, and deadlifts at a very light weight. Perhaps something like 2–3 sets x 3–5 reps x 50% of 1RM for each exercise.

Note that I don’t recommend a complete training cessation, like what was investigated in the aforementioned study.

Want to Get Stronger?

If you’re looking to get stronger in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, our app StrengthLog is made for you.

We’ve got training programs for the individual lifts, as well as complete training programs for powerlifting and bodybuilding – for all levels.

Or, just use the workout log to track your weights and write your own programs.

Download StrengthLog for free with the links below!

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

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Here are some more resources related to powerlifting:

Calculators

Guides

Training programs

Strength Standards

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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and lifters at the international level. Daniel lives in Lund, Sweden with his wife and three kids. On StrengthLog, Daniel geeks out about all things related to his lifelong passion of muscle and strength.