Credit to sheiko-program.ru
*For those wondering why there aren't totals for the 53s/43s classes, it's because those don't exist upwards of the Sub Junior age group*
Above is a table of the Russian Sports classifications for powerlifting, based on RAW/Classic three lift totals. I think it hits the nail on the head, so see how you stack up. It may not directly say so, but I'd rank anything in the 2 left most columns as advanced, the centre 4 as intermediate, and the right 3 as beginner. Again, the Russians have their own method of subclasses but for ease of writing I'm just going to loosely define those 3 groups.
Making the safe assumption that if you're reading this on the internet, we don't need to look at Maslow's hierarchy to find your start point. We're going to look at the top 4 things you allocate your time and funds to, more specifically where training and competing will fall in there. Most people will have something like this
Now it's time to work down a layer, we're going to look at some actual training and nutritional decisions. I've semi-joked that powerlifting is a sport you can win by attrition, you can literally improve your placing by being around longer than anyone else. Marc Keys called it a 'physical maturity sport' (check out his stuff here). Very apt, since it takes years upon years to develop into this sport, mostly due to the low skill set and minimal physical attribute requirements compared to almost any other sport. You just need to be brutally strong and unwaveringly technical, both of those don't develop quickly. I'll go first into some general advice for each stage of development for both training and nutrition, but each segment will get their own larger stand-alone article.
Beginner- If you're new to lifting weights, as well as competing you only have one focus, gaining as much muscle and quality technical work as possible. In general terms, bigger muscles are stronger muscles. This isn’t the one true answer, you can clearly get monstrously strong within a weight class, but this sport essentially boils down to how much muscle you can fit on your skeleton and be in your weight class. So, your training should include plenty of skill practice, have plenty of variation, and as much focus on hypertrophy as possible. Depending on your priorities, mainly funds, it would also be very prudent to hire a powerlifting coach. Ideally not a PT, a powerlifting coach, someone who understands the demands of the sport and the long-term planning required. It's invaluable at this early stage that you have someone to objectively find the techniques that suit you best and help with your initial dip into competition.
Intermediate- You may have noticed intermediate is the largest group on that table I linked earlier, it's also where the largest amount of people will give up and/or quit the sport. Your adaptations aren't coming thick and fast anymore, you've picked up a few pains or injuries, your total hasn't budged in a while, It's all incredibly frustrating. This is where you need the utmost resolve in your choices, your training needs to be thought out and well planned, generally you need to double down on what your good at, with some attention paid to weak points. This is not the time to drop squat or deadlift sessions trying to fix your weak bench, don't cut off your nose to spite your face, focus on what you've excelled at so far and use it to keep you going both mentally and in terms of improvement.
Regarding training structure, you may at this point need some reduction in frequency depending on how much weight you're lifting, also likely true if you're in a larger weight class. You should also try to keep a healthy but not ridiculous competitive schedule, you are not quite yet an old hand at handling the pressure it brings, you may also be in or close to national/international competition environments, which bring their own host of new challenges (flights/costs/time zone changes). If applicable, these should be your focus for competitions. The difference in competitors should provide a healthy dose of humble pie and hopefully extra drive to keep going through the monotony.
Advanced- You've made it, you have ascended out of the swampy middle over the course of years and are now in the elite, you might even have a fan page on Facebook. You likely aren't reading this either, you more than likely have a very good idea of what does/doesn't work for you in all aspects of your craft. While you have gained inhuman levels of strength, you also likely have an incredibly patient mindset, what some people would call wisdom. However, you're also under the most pressure to perform, likely needing to maintain a standard to make qualifying totals to go to top level competitions.
You may also have the external stress that notoriety brings, strangers may want photos with you, which is cool, but they may also baselessly and personally insult you on social media. While a lot of people ignore the trolls, it is worth mentioning as on the wrong day, somethings might affect people more than normal. It's also very important to mention, that it may be hard finding objective feedback on your training, people like to blow smoke. If you have a long-term training partner or coach who is ruthless but fair in their critique, you're in a great place.
Training wise, stick to what has worked, but now is certainly the time to hammer weak points, you need to fill in the gaps, bring up weak points. Frequency is likely super low, due to the weights you're moving, certain set/rep schemes are almost entirely unavailable to you purely due to the amount of weight lifted, even at low intensity. This is not the case for everyone at the top level, but as a general rule your frequency will likely be lower than when you first started and felt like you could recover in hours rather than days.
Beginner- This is where things get interesting, as par my recommendation in the training section you need muscle, and lots of it. However, if optimal muscle gain is your goal, you're going to need to be lean. The reason being, as stated earlier, this sport is about packing as much muscle as possible, it stands to reason that having as little fat as possible goes hand in hand with this. This doesn't mean being body building stage peeled and dry, but it also means not being fat. General guidelines are under 15% for men, and 25% for women and you're probably good to go. Ideally under 10% for men and 15% for women, but that's optimal. If you aren't sure, you probably need to drop bodyfat first. It may seem counterproductive, but I assure you it's easier to do it now rather than later. The rest of my advice is just to work on building habits and learning stuff. This is the time where errors matter the least and you can enjoy figuring stuff out by yourself. Then, most of your early career will be spent gaining muscle, which means calorie surplus, which means lots of food.
Intermediate- Depending or not where you are when reading this, you may or may not have taken the beginner advice. A lot of people will likely fall into the bracket of, have not done much nutrition stuff but trained really hard and got pretty good results, but things are now starting to drag. This is a great time to work on this stuff, the downside is you may lose some strength short term and possibly even change weight class depending on how much you're looking to cut. It is necessary though if you want to really advance high into the sport, the obvious exceptions being the 120kg+ class, since they have no weight limit. As much as some short-term steps back suck now, it'll be worth it in the long run, plus even if your strength holds the same it may even improve! At the very least your Wilks gets better.
Advanced- Now we're getting into the nitty gritty, as with training we're probably looking for the very small things that make 1-5% difference, but to guys at the top, that's gold. Gone are your days of eating nothing but chocolate milk and biltong, now you're looking for long term consistent meal prep, as well as considering correct supplementing over long periods. The quality of your food will likely start to make a difference, anything that may incur a loss of training time become a much bigger deal and the emphasis to control all possible variables becomes higher. It's not all doom and gloom, the sport is seasonal and you normally have everything well planned ahead of time, playing fast and loose far away from competition time is totally fine, just don't play yourself and make too much work come competition preparation.
To reiterate what I said earlier, I'll be breaking down each segment into the nuts and bolts and some example plans, these have just been some general guidelines on what you should be looking to do depending on where you are. As always if you have any comments or questions, leave a comment or get me @atsapproved on all social media.