Does having more competitions under your belt result in more success on the platform? Let’s consider the results of the 2017 Canadian National Championships to find out.
We’ve all witnessed one competitor who shows up to their first competition and out-lifts everyone in the class – even the veterans.
I have often wondered how powerlifting competition experience and success on the platform correlated with each other. For the purposes of this article, we can broadly refer to a powerlifter’s experience as the number of competitions completed. My hypothesis is that the more experience you have in powerlifting, the stronger you are, which allows for more success on the platform.
The focus of this article will be on the experience levels of athletes competing at the 2017 Canadian National Championship and how it compares to their success on the platform. I recommend that you read my latest competition analysis blog to get a more comprehensive understanding of the various metrics used to measure competition results. You can do that by clicking HERE.
Before jumping into the analysis on ‘competition experience’ and ‘success’, lets quickly review some basic statistics on the 2017 Canadian National Championships. Below I’m using a three-year average of the results from the Canadian National Championships as a comparison to help us better understand the 2017 results.
*Only includes Open Classic 3-lift competitors
After analyzing this table, only two variances stood out to me. All other ratios were in line with the benchmarks.
1. Goodlift Ratio was 5% higher at the 2017 Canadian Nationals than the average. This tells us that the Championships are becoming increasingly more competitive and making more successful attempts is essential to winning.
2. Squat Goodlift Ratio was 10% higher at the 2017 Canadian Nationals than what is normally achieved at these Championships. This could mean that athletes competing at these championships are more experienced and/or making more intelligent attempt selections on the squat.
I collected the competition history data on every athlete from the Canadian Powerlifting Union and used this to calculate the number of 3-lift Classic powerlifting competitions that each athlete had completed. Remember that classic powerlifting is relatively new, so there was only data ranging back to 2012.
The two tables below include the results of both the male and female Open Classic divisions, from the 2017 Canadian National Championships. The purple bar on the right represents the total number of competitions that each athlete has ever completed. The bar length represents a percentage out of 21, which was the highest number of competitions completed (life to date) – by Connor Lutz (74kg Open Champion).
The data shows that powerlifting competition experience results in success on the platform.
This may seem like common sense but most powerlifters come from a strength training background, usually from another sport. Therefore, it would be realistic for a new powerlifting competitor to excel very quickly in the sport. However, to come out on top at a National event – experience on the platform is crucial.
After sorting through all the data, I noticed that top athletes had plenty of competitions under their belt and accumulated these in a short time frame (~5-6 years). The data is suggesting that the more competitions you have done, the more success you will have on the platform. While this may hold some truth, we must also consider the frequency in which these competitions are completed.
What is the optimal number of competitions that should be completed in one year to achieve the most success?.
Certainly, if you compete every month for one year and accumulate 12 competitions under your belt, it’s not the same as someone who has completed 12 competitions over 5 years. There must be a point of diminishing returns on the number of competitions that are completed in a year for a powerlifter. As we all know, training, peaking and the competition itself is very taxing on the body. We need to allow adequate time for the body and mind to recover before jumping onto the platform again. Otherwise, you feel beat up, become injured, or plateau on making any improvements.
I used the Canadian Powerlifting Union database to analyze the number of competitions completed on average each year, separating the data into cohorts based on highest Wilks scores.
This graph tells us that lifters who have a Wilks score of >500 points are competing on average 3 times per year. Following that, lifters with a 499-450 Wilks score only competes on average 2 times per year on average. Lastly, lifters with a <450 Wilks score only compete once per year on average.
From this population of data, the strongest lifters (based on Wilks scores) are competing at the optimal frequency of 3 times per year. This does not mean that if you compete 3 times in one year that you will achieve a Wilks score of +500. This takes several years of competing at this frequency to achieve. In the next analysis, we will get a better understanding of the lifetime accumulation of competition experience for a powerlifter and how it relates to their performance.
This graph summarizes the total number of competitions completed by the same Wilks based cohorts. As expected, the data tells us that the more competitions a lifter competes in, the higher Wilks score they can achieve.
However, take a look the large gap between the ‘500+’ and the ‘499-450’ Wilks score cohorts. In the lower Wilks score ranges (0-449) the gaps between each cohort are small ~1 competition in the difference. In the higher Wilks score cohorts, it becomes increasingly more difficult to increase your Wilks score and on average is taking ~4 incremental competitions to move from the ‘499-450 range to the ‘500+’ range.
The stronger you become, the harder it is to improve at the same rate – this phenomenon is seen across all sports. As athletes train closer to their biological potential, small increase in performance require a disproportionate amount of work. At the beginning of an athlete’s powerlifting career, they are building on basic skills and techniques, resulting in moderate performance increases. Then, they experience significant growth once they begin to develop advanced skills, work capacity, and decreased recovery times. Once the athlete reaches their maximum potential, their performance stalls for an extended period – this can be referred to as maturity. Unlike other plateaus experienced during the early years of an athlete’s career, the maturity stage is something that lasts for a longer periods and usually cannot be overcome with moderate amounts of work. In order to continue seeing progress, athletes need to carefully consider volume, intensity, relative intensity, frequency, and other training metrics. At this stage of maturity, athlete’s performance might even decline.
Like anything, everyone’s lifecycle curve will be different – this is only an example of a common scenario. The purpose of showing this diagram is to visually display that performance is achieved much quicker in the early years of an athlete’s lifecycle. Once they reach the latter end of the growth stage, performance starts to slow and becomes increasingly harder realize improvement.
To recap, using data we were able to show that competition experience plays a huge role in success on the platform. Over 60% of the lifters who placed first at the 2017 Canadian Nationals had the most competition experience in their respective weight class.
We then used the entire dataset of the Canadian Powerlifting Union’s results history and concluded that the optimal competition frequency in a one year period is 3.
If your goal is to Wilks over 500, the data tells us that it requires the lifter to have on average at least 10 competitions under their belt. This is possible for a new lifter in 3-4 years if they stick to a plan of hard training and competing at the optimal frequency of 3 competitions per year.
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