Jeff Pearson is a competitive strongman and powerlifter. He has been training in a variety of sports over the last 18 years and has been actively competing in powerlifting and strongman for the last 4 years. He has elite totals in raw, drug-tested powerlifting in the superheavyweight, 308, and 275 lb classes. He has qualified for Nationals in strongman for the past 4 years and has competed in more than 20 strongman contests.
As strongman season in the northwest quickly approaches, I felt it was a good time to go through the ways in which I prep and prepare for a contest. Disclaimer: Please note that there are many ways to prepare for a contest, and the following is just the way that I prepare. There is no "cookie-cutter" approach, and I recommend individualized prep for each of my athletes.
To "Peak" or not to "Peak"?
One of the fundamentals of my program, is that I train to be strong everyday. "Peaking" is a style of programming in which you plan your training around a specific competition, and program to be at your strongest (or to "peak") for that comp. Personally, I don't want to peak to be at the strongest I can be for just one day out of the year. My objective is to be strong and big all the time, so I don't peak. I train the same way basically year-round. The events and/or style of my lifting change, but I try to be ready to compete any day at any time. I feel this is the best way for my body to consistently handle heavy work loads and to be able to recover much faster from competing. My training style is constantly-varied and I rarely do the same workout twice. That being said, the week leading into a contest I back the weight off and work on more speed and technique refinement. This is to make sure I am rested and well-prepared for the contest.
As the event gets closer, I slowly add more of the events into my training. I take the bodybuilding style training out and try to focus on just the events I am going to be facing at the upcoming contest. The length of my workouts becomes longer as I try to mock the actual contest as much as possible. Generally speaking, I try to hit over contest weight at 3 weeks before a show. As it grows closer, I can back off on trying to hit the heavier weight and focus on just the speed of the movements. My thought has always been that you’re not going to get stronger in two weeks, but you can polish up your technique. There are two ways to be successful in a strongman contest. One is to be brutally strong and just do it. The second, is to be very proficient at the movements. Demonstrating a higher skill level in the movements will allow you to execute it more efficiently. Ideally a competitor is strong and has good technique. I try to build up strength with some work on technique until I grow close to a meet, at which point I shift and focus mainly on technique and less on strength building.
In terms of food, I try to overload the night before a contest. I basically eat myself into a food coma by consuming as much steak and as many sweet potatoes as possible. This does two things: First, it allows me to sleep the night before a contest and second, it gives me stores of energy so I don't need to eat the day of the contest. The day of the contest I only eat very light things to keep my energy levels high without filling me up. My diet typically looks pretty strange on contest day. For example, I will drink a coca-cola soda, eat spinach, and poptarts. I try to stay away from slower digesting foods as I want the energy immediately. I rarely take pre-workout the day of a contest. With the adrenaline pump that I get from competing, adding in pre-workout just makes me a little too wild and I find myself crashing too hard between events.
After a contest I will generally take the following day off. Within two day, I will typically be back in the gym training with lighter weights and doing more bodybuilding style workouts. The reason for this is that I've found that getting blood to flow back into the muscles allows me to recover more quickly. It also enables me to get ready for another contest at a faster rate.