Dealing with the Psychology of lifting – An armchair meathead’s guide to not freaking out.

 

I’m going to start off this article by stating I am not a qualified psychologist not even close I took some sport psychology modules as part of my undergraduate degree and have read a fair amount of popular psychology books.  However, a qualified mental health care professional I am not.  I want to talk about the psychological aspects of lifting as a coach and lifter as it’s something I have a wealth of experience working with from this aspect.  What I am not going to talk about is the positive aspects of lifting the sense of empowerment, community and health that people get out of training with a personal trainer, group of lifters, on their own or as a club.  The positive side of lifting is definitely there and pretty well documents on social media by all the people who love it.

What I want to talk about is the difficult side of it, the hard-nosed reality of lifting that people either struggle to confront or they try to ignore.  There are a lot of aspects in life I struggle with on a day to day basis I am a fucking horrible procrastinator and I have a tendency towards excess with food and alcohol yet with lifting it’s like I have a split personality.  I’ve never failed to get myself to the gym when I can’t be arsed, I don’t struggle to silence myself doubt when I need to and my confidence has been consistency good for my 12-year lifting career.

Here are four common Lifting downfalls and some advice on how to deal with them.

 

 

I’m scared of that weight / lift – I think this one is the most common it’s definitely more common in weightlifting because that shit is scary as fuck if you’re not up for it.  For powerlifting, it’s really only squat that causes the fear in my experience.  The best way round this one is good old exposure therapy.  The more you do it the better you will be at quieting the little shitty pants voice in your mind.  An example from my past I used to shit myself when I loaded on 4x blues a side, 180kg.  Which to me is hilarious now as it’s a comfortable bench press weight but at the time it was big time, 4 slabs or beef, 4 wheels, nearly 400 solid ass lbs.  I was scarred.  The cure.  3x a week Mon-Wed-Fri I put 180 on the bar and squatted it as many times as I could in 30 minutes.  During this month I went from 180×2-3 to 180×7-8 squat and wasn’t scared of it anymore.  The more you do something the less scary it is.  The cure is action, starve fear of its oxygen which is time.

I’ve got performance anxiety when it comes to competition or a big session – first you need to understand some kind of stress or anxiety is natural and actually should be something you want to feel.  It’s a sign that you care about the outcome of what your about to do.  The trick to dealing with this aspect of your thoughts is learning how to use it as a friend and to not let it take over all of your though processes or lead to some sort of mental spiralling.  First thing to do is to be aware of the fact that worrying makes LITERALLY NO difference to the outcome.  Once you realise that stress isn’t really useful when it is interfering with the useful things like sleep than you can start to begin a mental shift towards understanding the pangs and flutters are a natural process of competition and performance but not to be indulged.  Some stress and anxiety is good as it ensures good adherence to positive behaviours such as making sure you go to training, eat correctly and try to get your sleep in as best you can.  You just need to tame it and make it work for you this is a long process of self-mastery were not going to cover in a few paragraphs.

I haven’t set a Personal best in x time frame! – Okay Ray Williams time to take a seat and understand a few things before you start changing everything in your life to add another 5 kg to your novice total.  Powerlifting is a strength sport and strength sports are what should be called physical maturity sports.  Literally every kilo you get in each lift is built on the progress you have made in the past.  You can’t squat 400kg without one day having to train to squat 300kg and likewise you can’t squat 300kg without one-day training to try and squat 200kg.  The fact that how good we are as lifters is there for everyone to see from the amount of weight on our backs and in our hands is both the best and worst thing about powerlifting or lifting in general.  Most people in lifting suffer from impatience or envy of other’s total’s it’s fine because it’s part of what makes people competitive and helps them to push themselves.

Again self-awareness is your friend.  Look I get jealous of seeing the people I train with progress and I have numbers and lifters I am chasing and I don’t want it to happen tomorrow I want it to happen yesterday.  But I am also tempered with experience and time I squatted 200kg for the first time in 2008.  It’s now 2017 and I am just on the cusp of squatting 300kg for the first time.  This isn’t a straight forward sprint from A to B.  It’s a long old slog so try not to fixate too much on the actions of others.  Always run your own race it’s cool to use other people as motivation but don’t fixate on them don’t let them change your programme of rule your actions.  And when you start to get a bit too green round the gills from envy remember what you used to lift 2 years ago and chill the fuck out Ed Coin.

Everything is going to shit, I suck, this sport sucks – disaster thinkers are some of the trickiest folk to deal with when it comes to training, I should know I’ve been going out with one for 10 years.  If you are a training partner or coach of someone who goes straight into panic mode when adversity rises, it’s ugly head you just need to be reassuring and patient.  Adding more pressure or trying to be overbearingly rationale isn’t a good stratagem I’ve tried it before just adds fuel to the fire.

If you are one of these kinds of folk the first thing to do is to try and maintain a sense of perspective or scale.  It’s not the end of the world more often than not it’s probably not even a big deal.  Remember powerlifting is a hobby, one we are lucky to have the use of our bodies to enjoy.  Just like everything else in life you’re going to have good times and you’re going to have bad times so don’t just get caught up in the bad times.  The best thing to do is to seek out what actions you can take to rectify the problems.

You see with a lot of the things that ail people in life when it comes to the mental side of things is due to a lack of action.  A couple of good books to check out would be the “5 Second Rule” and “Be Obsessed or be average” both have their flaws but are definitely worth checking out.  If you tend to think the worst all of the time just – get context, get perspective and take action towards resolution.  Thinking about it isn’t going to change anything and it’s just going to feed into your own spiral.

Hope this article has given you some ideas on how to deal with some of your minds shittier tricks when it comes to lifting.  This is by no means the only things you’ll ever deal with but the most important thing is to one recognise a problem and then two trying to confront it with a solution.

Marc

How to manipulate volume and intensity as a powerlifter to ensure you are getting stronger.

When it comes to programming there are a whole bunch of variables to consider some of which can lead to massive gains in a very short period of time when it comes down to things such as your technique or your exercises selection.  However, the big hitters in the programming world are volume and intensity pretty much everyone gets stronger for the longest amount of time by manipulating these two variables.

 

Understanding volume and intensity and how they interact.

I’m not going to go into a 12 chapter book into what training intensity, training volume and volume load are in terms of planning training but we need to cover this off before we can pursue a more meaningful discussion on how to manipulate them.

Intensity – Intensity is the % of your maximal capacity for the lift, this is measured in simple terms by your one repetition maximum (most you can lift for 1 rep in that lift).  There are other relative measures such as RPE or other objective measures such as bar speed but they all pretty much end up meaning the same thing in the long run.  If your 1 rep max is 200kg and you lift 140kg your set is at 70% of 1RM and that is the measure of intensity that matters.  You can look at session intensity by using relative intensity (average % of all sets of an exercise, session, week or month) or you can use INOL (intensity by the number of lifts) which can provide a measure of exercise, session or week intensities.

Volume – Volume is simply the total number of lifts you perform for a certain exercise or as a gross measure of all lifts done through a session, week or block of training.

Volume load – volume load is a way of quantifying training intensity and volume into a more representative measure of fatigue.  It is very simple volume load is intensity (or weight lifted) x volume (number of reps completed).

There you have it in it’s very limited but most effective definition volume, intensity and volume load.

Creating overload and allowing for recovery using volume and intensity.

Now that you should be on board with what these terms refer to when we talk about strength training the next piece of the puzzle is to understand the stress they put on the body and thus the adaptation they provide.

Intensity – is more related to the skill of lifting heavy things.  In simple terms practising lifting heavy weights makes you more efficient and skilled at lifting heavy weights.  The co-ordination, timing and local muscular tension required to perform a good 98% single is different from performing the same task with a 20-30% load.  When the weight increases the margin for error reduces dramatically.
A lot of the adaptation from the intensity of effort come from a mixture of neural factors (motor unit recruitment, inter/intramuscular coordination, switching off of inhibitory mechanisms i.e. Golgi tendons and the like, amongst other factors).  This is an overly simplified way of looking at this however it is intended as so since it’s not important for the outcome.

Volume – The more practice you can do and recover from it the better your going to become.  The more intense the practice is, however, the less you can do and the more likely you are going to burn out.  A lot of the benefits of volume come from the ability to perform more of the task and work on general co-ordination or bringing certain concepts or skills learning from conscious thought into the realm of subconscious action.

A lot of the benefits of volume of effort are to be had from what can be termed as mechanical factors such as muscle size, bone density and other improvements to connective tissue and overall body conditioning.  Again this is a gross oversimplification but is sufficient an understanding that you can utilise it in your programming.

Volume Load – volume load is a good overall marker of how stressful a training session or week is since it takes into account the two biggest independent factors.  Any programme that just ramps up volume load of training will eventually lead to overreaching and eventually overtrain which can be desirable when applied at the correct time.

First things first separate the two variables.

In general terms or in blocks where the goal is progressive overload without leading to an overreach or a lack of fatigue management separating volume and intensity into siloed sessions, weeks or months can be a good idea.  A lot of periodization gets its main idea from this core idea.

Linear/Classical – tends to start with high volume and low intensity and over time crossfades from a focus of one to another.

Block – tends to put an emphasis of one variable while downplaying the other to try and create phase potentiation or flow from one training block to the next.  An easy example of this is the use of volume to better work on the lifters overall conditioning and work capacity followed by a block of overload using a mixture of higher intensity lifts at volumes that produce and overload stress.  The use of high volume in the first block leads to the ability to better perform high workloads and to recover from them.

Daily undulating periodization – DUP usually splits workouts into focuses one where the focus on higher intensities, one where the focus is on higher volumes and one which is either a mixture of the two or one that acts as a lighter or recovery workout.

What we can learn from these three “periodisation” examples is that there is something to separating the two training variables that lead to a better recovery profile or else people wouldn’t organise their training like this.

What if we just indefinitely flip-flopped between volume and intensity?

One of the cornerstones of my average training block is the change of focus from week to week.  I appropriated this idea (stole) from the Boris Sheko seminar from 2016.  Boris basically produces a random overload scheme in his blocks and he uses volume as his main marker of load or number of lifts.  Although I could see the general aim of what he was doing I am nowhere near experienced or intelligent enough to directly steal his method.  So I stole the idea of week focus.

What I do now change the focus of training from week to week to either be a volume focus or an intensity focus.  In general, these can be defined as thus.

Volume focus week – 250-500 total lifts (spread over the three powerlifts and their variations), Relative intensity of 55-70% and the focus is really on the quality and intensity of execution.  Look to have lifters displaying as close to perfect technique as they can muster and to really focus on the concentric speed of the concentric effort.

 

Intensity focus week – 90-200 total lifts (spread over the three powerlifts and their variations), relative intensity of 70-85% and the focus is to try and maintain the technical execution of the lift under more duress and load.  I am willing to accept some breakdown in execution and bar speed to allow the lifter to get an overload or stress response from the training.

When we flip flop from one to the other it then becomes about how do we ensure the lifter is making progress and not just going round in circles in some kind of endless technique focused round about.  You need to keep your eyes on the main measure of progress for the training or stress – volume load.

For volume load, I like to think of it in terms of accumulation of meaningful volume.  Meaningful volume is defined by me as a volume of exercise done with intention and deliberate execution will lead to an increase in top end capacity or performance.  Non-meaningful volume is exercises, assistance work or intensities/sets that don’t have a direct carry over to the goal at hand.  For a powerlifter, DB shoulder press will always be non-meaningful volume because it does not convey a direct performance benefit to the bench press.  I find this lynch pin to be of incredible use when programming for any goal or person since it immediately prioritises what is going to achieve your bottom line results.

Now we can split meaningful volume into our two subcategories of volume based focus and intensity based focus with the understanding that they are working on two general aspects of maximal lifting as a skill and also conveying other beneficial training outcomes.

Now hopefully you are clear on the classification of Volume and Intensity as variables in training and how they work/interact to produce overload.  Now we must discuss how to utilise meaningful volume as the underlying factor to ensure

  • We are making progress.
  • We are not unintentionally inducing an overreach
  • We are allowing for low weeks in the training for recuperation.

Tracking Meaningful Volume.

 We will now go through an example of a 24 weeks training block for someone with a maximum of 220kg, we would expect a better outcome than 105% but the peak at the end is more for demonstration purposes.

 In general terms, we have 3 phases of training here.  There is an accumulation phase from weeks 1-8 working at 80% where we are ensuring that the volume load per week is going up in this zone week to week, to the point where we are expecting you will need to back off.  Then you have a recuperation week.  Followed by a transition into the next accumulation phase week 14-16 working at 90% of RM following the same line of thought, followed by a recuperation week and then a peak.

The start of the training cycle in gross terms is much higher in volume load and lower in intensity and at the peak of the block intensity peaks and volume drops away.  What we will go through now is why tracking the volume load or “meaningful volume” is more representative of what is actually going on than tracking the volume alone.

If we put the two together on the same graph and different axis you can see they match up pretty evenly what if we take volume and volume load and plot them both against intensity?

 

If we look at the volume on its own or even against intensity it becomes difficult if not impossible to get a true representation of what is happening in the bigger picture.

This is again an overly simplistic way of looking at it but I want you to grasp the key concepts  

  • Volume and Intensity have generally speaking different effects on the body.
  • Contrasting them against each other allows for longer periods or progress and overload.
  • Accumulation of meaningful volume is the real money maker when it comes to getting stronger.
  • Always keep your mind on the bottom line – Accumulation of meaningful volume.
  • Don’t plan for overly elongated periods of this training as it will lead to overreaching and overtraining.
  • Deliberate practice during periods of lower intensity and higher volume can really give this training carry over and a focus.
  • Periods of very low intensity and higher volumes are good ways of building in recovery into your training without detraining or losing a week.
  • Finally, you need to have detraining built into your programme not randomly thrown in. Plan weeks off during the year to allow your body to catch up to the constant overload.

Marc

Whole ass it! Stop pussy footing around your life and fucking get after it.

I just wrapped on episode 115 of the onlinestrengthcoach podcast.  A podcast that I think I will be rebranding under the cast iron strength brand although I will keep the back catalogue in the feed.  In the episode, I discussed a few of the things that are on the horizon for me how I was going to be moving into self-employment for the foreseeable future and how I was going to be me online and stop dancing around subjects or issues.

I’ve not been terribly guarded in my writing but there is always a little gnat at the back of my head second guessing if I can say that in a public forum or if it’s possible for me to say that thing and not piss off people in my life who I don’t really want to piss off.  Well those day are over when you read something or hear something from me in future let me just put this to you – “I won’t lie, I won’t pull any punches and I won’t hold back any information” you will get an honest appraisal of what I believe and how I believe it.  That’s not going to say I’m going to be correct because fuck me I get things wrong, I get things wrong every day but what I try and be is open and honest about this and always willing to readdress and issue when I am wrong.

What I can guarantee is I am going to piss people off and I am going to step on some toes but you can’t make and omelette without breaking a few eggs and I intend on smashing a few cartons.  I’m not going to troll anyone or just be annoying for the sake of it, I am not here to provide satire like Infinite Elingentensity what I am here to do is to provide a reality check a place where you know you can go and get information that isn’t biased or looking to make a buck by selling you something.

I will never take on sponsorship or partner with a service unless it is something that I believe in the fucking core of my being.  Which probably means I’m not going to be making a boat load of cash through affiliation because I don’t really believe in a lot of shit, Audible if you’re reading this right now hit me up!

You should hopefully be seeing a lot more of me in the coming weeks, months and years so I will move forward with the intention of this article.  Other than to be a letter of intention it’s also to try and speak to a few people who read this blog.

If you are currently in a state of flux in your life or you’re unsure of yourself on some aspects let me tell you something decide on a course and get stuck into it.  There have been two similar sorts of instances in my life where this has been the case one time I jumped the other time I was pushed.

  • In 2013 I was working at the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Institute of sport. The way things panned out towards the back end of 2012 I was put in a position where I had to choose between a full-time salary with good security and reasonable pay in a role I didn’t really want or a part-time salary with little security that I wanted.  I choose the riskier option and what came out of that ultimately my online coaching business and the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do which was work in professional rugby.
  • This year something similar happened my business was getting to the point where financially it made little to no sense to stay where I was on a full-time basis and looking to open LIFT gym in Edinburgh would have made full time work an untenable option. After having interviews, conversations and what, not the end result was I wasn’t offered a contract renewal as my skills were no longer complimentary to the S&C Team.  It was a bitter pill to swallow as I love every day I work with Edinburgh Rugby but life does what life does and it’s forced my hand into the decision I should have made myself.

I have no doubt that this next part of my life is going to be the most successful and most enjoyable having had the experience in 2013 there are so many positives to being your own man.  There are negatives and pitfalls I have learned form and intend to correct.  What I can say however is I am 100% sure both changes are for the better.

If your in a position where you are trying to decide on one course of action or another and what is holding you back is some perception of security or need.  Don’t let your brain fool you there is no such thing as security in life it doesn’t exist.  The only way you can be secure is to generate enough abundance to be able to have a cushion or diversify your income to shield you against uncertainty.  Yet we are all but one catastrophic event away from money and property being completely meaningless.

What I can say is find your passion and pursue it with every fibre of your being don’t get caught up by people trying to pull the wool over your eyes keeping you “grounded” or your feet in “reality”.  Your reality is your own and if you’re not happy with it take action to change it right now, don’t think fucking do it.

Marc

 

 

Let’s not get it twisted all periodisation is linear.

There is a theme that underpins all training programs that are of any quality it is as simple to say as it is difficult to put into action.  All sports training, when put into the context of your goal and the time frame, are linear.  You can have the most random fucking process in the world but if your program produces a certain result in a time frame then it is in essence linear.

You have probably seen the following meme/picture used on Instagram, facebook or wherever you spend the majority of your time at work.  If we look at it in the process of programming then it very much is accurate.

The path a is just straight from A to B and path B is the same beginning with the same end goal but how you get there is longer, wider and more drawn out.  This sums up programming and periodisation in a nice little nutshell.

When you see someone trying to push one form of “periodisation” or another be it 5/3/1, Cube method, Non-linear, Daily undulating periodisation be cognisant of the fact that what you have in front of you is a loading cycle nothing more nothing less.  All 5/3/1 is or the cube is a 4-week loading cycle it isn’t a periodisation method it’s a training block.  Daily undulating periodisation is a week of training, the “Westside method” is a week of training.

You can’t have a periodisation without a period of training.  You see with no context, no calendar or competitions then you can’t really set out a routine all you can do is slap together training cycles.

What we have in training is someone who is at point A or in a current state of training or fitness who wants to get to point B which is a certain level of training or fitness.  How we get them there is down to the discretion of the coach, the ability/training age of the athlete, the time frames we have to work with…. Etc.

What are the time frames involved in periodisation?

Let’s get the terminology correct before we go any further with my explanation or I try and put across my point.

The macrocycle[edit]

macrocycle is an annual plan that works towards peaking for the goal competition of the year. There are three phases in the macrocycle: preparation, competitive, and transition.[6]

The entire preparation phase should be around 2/3 to 3/4 of the macrocycle. The preparation phase is further broken up into general and specific preparation of which general preparation takes over half. An example of general preparation would be building an aerobic base for an endurance athlete such as running on a treadmill and learning any rules or regulations that would be required such as proper swimming stroke as not to be disqualified. An example of specific preparation would be to work on the proper form to be more efficient and to work more on the final format of the sport, which is to move from the treadmill to the pavement.

The competitive phase can be several competitions, but they lead up to the main competition with specific tests. Testing might include any of the following: performance level, new shoes or gear, a new race tactic might be employed, pre-race meals, ways to reduce anxiety before a race, or the length needed for the taper. When the pre-competitions are of a higher priority there is a definite taper stage while lower priority might simply be integrated in as training. The competitive phase ends with the taper and the competition.

The transition phase is important for psychological reasons, a year of training means a vacation is in order. A typical weekend warrior might take three months while a professional athlete might take as little as two weeks.

The mesocycle[edit]

A mesocycle represents a phase of training with a duration of between 2 – 6 weeks or microcycles, but this can depend on the sporting discipline. [6] A mesocycle can also be defined as a number of continuous weeks where the training program emphasize the same type of physical adaptations, for example muscle mass and anaerobic capacity. During the preparatory phase, a mesocycle commonly consists of 4 – 6 micro-cycles, while during the competitive phase it will usually consist of 2 – 4 micro-cycles depending on the competition’s calendar.

The goal of the plan is to fit the mesocycles into the overall plan timeline-wise to make each mesocycle end on one of the phases and then to determine the workload and type of work of each cycle based on where in the overall plan the given mesocycle falls. The goal in mind is to make sure the body peaks for the high priority competitions by improving each cycle along the way.

The microcycle[edit]

A microcycle is typically a week because of the difficulty in developing a training plan that does not align itself with the weekly calendar. Each microcycle is planned based on where it is in the overall macrocycle.[6]

A micro-cycle is also defined as a number of training sessions, built around a given combination of acute program variables, which include progression as well as alternating effort (heavy vs. light days). The length of the micro-cycle should correspond to the number of workouts – empirically often 4-16 workouts – it takes for the athlete or fitness client to adapt to the training program. When the athlete or fitness client has adapted to the program and no longer makes progress, a change to one or more program variables should be made. – Wikipedia 2017

Putting together blocks of training

You see what we are presented with as lifters or people online is usually a stand-alone macrocycle or mesocycle which on it’s own isn’t really much of anything.  If we were to put it into another context where we have a year of training (macro-cycle) and the first 6 months of that are 2×12 week training cycles which follow a similar thread of thought.  This might look something like this.

You see here we have a top-down look at the 24 weeks of training you can see we have the goals and generalities outlined in the flow chart above and you can see in more detail how that looks from a week to week view using intensity and volume as our measures.

Those lines don’t look very linear though? 

This is where people get confused and where some people jump off the deep end and think that whatever training cycle they have made up somehow warrants a method or an ebook.  If I pull out block 2 from that example block we can see what it looks like for one exercise.

Week 5 6 7 8
Sets 6 6 5 6
Reps 6 3 5 3
Intensity 70% 80% 75% 85%
Volume 36 18 25 18

You can see a very basic pattern here where the weeks flip flop between volume and intensity this isn’t some world shaking idea it just changes the primary stressor from week to week.  This means we are loading the body in a more gradual but no less systematic or planned way.  Now I could take this idea out and claim it to be the #castironstrengthmethod but that would just be silly.  All it is, is a split of volume and intensity.  Nothing more nothing less.

This fluctuation is good for all lifters but really good for more trained lifters as it stops them hammering the same nail all of the time.  Yet from week 1 to 24 there is a linear trajectory even though the lines are wiggly, that is a linear program it’s not a weekly undulating program it’s just a planned out 6 months of training.  Which could be for a lifter 6 months of preparation, or specific fitness.

The Conjugative system is a straw man. 

A lot of people have made a lot of money off the back end of the Westside system and its shoot offs.  The internet was and still is a wild and crazy place where fat men can squat high as fuck in bionic suits and claim to be something other than a side show.  No actual method of training worth a fuck just does one kind of muscular contraction or energy system on its own it doesn’t happen.

  • Maximal strength
  • Hypertrophy
  • Muscular Endurance
  • Work Capacity
  • Technique

No strength or powerlifting program should be without these elements at any time there is no such thing as this sets x reps for power, this for speed or that for size.  It’s a moronic and overly simplistic form of thinking, biological systems don’t all of a sudden switch their reaction due to a number of reps done.  Your biceps don’t sit and count reps, okay lads we’ve stopped at 3 THIS IS A STRENGTH WORKOUT.

Muscle contraction, adaptation, and stress all occur on a spectrum, biology is analog strength doesn’t all of a sudden turn into the size and then eventually endurance by some artificial barrier of an arbitrary statement made by some melter with a sports science degree.

Your body will respond appropriately to the stress applied and to the magnitude of the stress applied.  A progressive volume stimulus applied to the biceps over time will lead to hypertrophy of the biceps.  A mixture of volume, intensity, skill accusation and maximal contraction will lead to better performance in a specific lift but the stress being applied needs to be specific to the lift you’re trying to improve at.

Get your head out of this way of thinking there is no such thing as a hypertrophy rep range or a strength range.  There is only muscular effort, intensity, volume, frequency, variation, and specificity.  How we play with these variables to provide systemic, systematic and appropriate overload over the training life of a lifter or athlete determines their success (all other factors being equal).

The best programs produce great results without undue stress or breakdown, finding this line with lifters and athletes is about fine tuning your methods to their physiology and psychology.

Sum all this shit up in 4 sentences.

There is no one size fits all solution.

All progress on a long enough time frame is linear.

Biology and the human body aren’t simple.

Be clear on your training objective at all times and never stray from it.

Marc

In Defense of Specificity

Ready for anything at any time is the call of the generalist trainer or those who have somehow gotten into their heads that the best way to progress forward in fitness or in training is to be shit to mediocre at a range of physical attributes.  This was the manifesto of the newest brand of strength sport “CrossFit” when it came onto the scene in the early 2000s it has since gone from being a figure of ridicule on internet forums to being the single biggest strength sport via popularity.

Crossfit has brought a lot of people into strength sports who otherwise wouldn’t have touched a barbell I know through my own experience the number of female lifters and talented female lifters at that who come through my training ventures due to an introduction with CrossFit has increased dramatically in the past 10 years.  We can all agree that CrossFit has had a huge impact on the fringes of the fitness world for good or for bad you can choose your own side on that one.

However, what CrossFit hasn’t done is change the rules of human physiology or impact on our understanding of training science.  You see cross-training and circuits have been around for a whole lot longer than any CrossFit box.

The ideas behind cross training suggesting that athletes should maybe lift weights to try and help develop muscles they don’t use in their sport or that they should utilise methods such as running or bodyweight training to increase overall fitness has been around for centuries.  The idea of circuit training was brought

The idea of circuit training was brought to the fore in the 1950s by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Adamson of the University of Leeds.  The concept behind circuits is to improve muscular strength, endurance and aerobic fitness by including them all together in one workout.

Where this leaves us is what does this mean for performance, after all the concept of general health and fitness pretty much just means getting up and getting active.  Doing something rather than nothing or just improving your general well-being.  This isn’t something that causes me great interest and not a problem that requires a lot of thought.  All of the ideas and methods described so far will achieve this goal and do so in a time efficient and effective manner.

“It should always be remembered that all forms of circuit training are largely suited to the average non-athlete or competitive athlete during the early preparatory phase of training. The constant progression in a circuit from one exercise to another without completing all sets with one exercise to prescribed maximum number of repetitions before moving to the next exercise does not permit one to adequately develop the different types of sport specific strength. Even with interval circuit training on machines, it is not possible to train with the medium heavy, near maximal or explosive loading which is necessary to develop qualities such as muscle hypertrophy, speed-strength, strength-speed, static strength, flexibility-strength, explosive strength, and acceleration strength. The length of the interval between successive sets of the same exercise depends on the number of stations in the circuit, so the larger the circuit, the less its ability to significantly develop any of the major sport-specific strength-related qualities.”
Mel Siff (2000 Supertraining)

What we need to realise is that if we are training for performance, be that sports performance, CrossFit performance, powerlifting, weightlifting etc.  Whatever the task we are training for we need to have that task in the forefront of our minds at all times when we are designing a programme or training method to better prepare us for the demands of our specific task.

Training Specificity is king

No matter how much those who want to believe in the Generalist’s dogma or have the approach where they are ready for any task at any time, the bottom line in training is if you want to exceed at something than the most important training principle you can ever pay attention to is specificity.

Specificity is the principle of training that states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.

In sports training or training in general training specificity can mean either

  • Sport specific training – where we are directly practising the sport or aspects of the sport that we want to get better at and improve our competitiveness at.
  • Sports specific physical training – where we are developing the muscles, energy systems and movements involved in our sport specifically so we can better compete in the sport at higher tempos or be more competitive, quicker, more powerful or last for longer.

Specificity doesn’t mean that the training has to mimic the sport we can perform a great rugby specific weights programme without once touching a ball or hitting a sled.  The important thing is to understand the aspects of the sport that we need to train and then taking them out in components and using the best training tools available to use to develop these specific physical capabilities.

The best CrossFit boxes and athletes figured this one out a while ago.  You see there isn’t much point in doing some random assortment of barbell, bodyweight and conditioning tasks with no underlying periodization or plan.  You will get to a level of proficiency in these tasks and then stop progressing.

Eventually, if you want to compete at the highest levels you need to develop some Sports Specific Physical Training for CrossFit this means

  • Weightlifting/Barbell training separately and before your conditioning training.
  • Gymnastics/bodyweight movement training separately or before your conditioning training
  • Conditioning training specifically aimed at the aerobic system, longer duration simple modality workouts such as swimming, biking or running.
  • Overloaded work capacity related workouts – WODs done overloaded or under more extraneous conditions.

If you watch the training of the top boxes or athletes you will already see this.  Because as soon as it becomes competitive or there is money on the line people will move away from philosophical grandstanding and move towards the methods that get results.

These same observations are true of all training and sports if you find yourself in a professional sporting environment and get a chance to move around you will see that the training looks very similar from place to place.  There is a reason for this, competition breeds pragmatism and when you’re being pragmatic you should have no time for fluff or sentiment.

Understand your sport and work your training programme around it

Don’t go into developing your programme or a programme for your athletes with predisposed ideas of what training should be like and then mould the sport or the training of those athletes around your own views.  The only place this leads to is a terrible designed programme that at best won’t hinder your athlete’s goals.

The reason you go to university as a strength and conditioning coach isn’t to learn a bunch of scientific facts.  You are going to develop an understanding of physiology, biomechanics and critical thinking that should allow you to pick apart a sport or activity into it’s component parts and then determine the best methods or tools available to you to overload and progress the training so you can better prepare your lifters or athletes for the demands of competition.

You might start a new fitness phenom with the idea that by training random things in random amounts your creating a paradigm shift in physical training.  Only a decade down the line to have the best athletes in your sport proving your predisposition incorrect by winning your prize money using a compartmentalised sports specific training programme.

Stranger things have happened….

“To me, the sign of a really excellent routine is one which places great demands on the athlete, yet produces progressive long-term improvement without soreness, injury or the athlete ever feeling thoroughly depleted. Any fool can create a program that is so demanding that it would virtually kill the toughest marine or hardiest of elite athletes, but not any fool can create a tough program that produces progress without unnecessary pain.”
Dr. Mel C. Siff

The Bottom Line is Consistency

If I look at anything that I have done well or that has been a success in my reasonably short tenure on this planet it has been the things, I have stuck with through thick and thin.  When it comes to lifting I decided a long time ago that all I really cared about was how much I could squat, bench and deadlift these are the only lifts I have made progress in for the past 12 years that I have been lifting.  I got distracted for times like the hilarious period where I tried to take up weightlifting as a former rugby player with a 180 kg bench press and destroyed shoulder joints this adventure was far from inspirational.

The same is true in either business or my social life, I used to be pretty handy at Tekken the video game because I used to come home from school and play it for 3-4 hours non-stop for the guts of 2-3 years.  I’m still pretty reasonable even though I didn’t really play for the past 10 years, I got reasonable at StarCraft in 2011-2014 I was never really any good but it’s difficult to become good at a game where the standard is so absurdly high literally hundreds of thousands of players almost treating it like a full time job it’s pretty hard to stick out.  The aspects of what I do for a living – strength programming, coaching and writing probably first and foremost (although I make nothing out of writing) are the areas in business where I hold good strengths.

What all these avenues or areas of my life have in common is that I do them come sunshine or rain.  If you want to be really good at something you need to stick at it for a long time not in the order of months but in the order of decades if you want to be genuinely good at something.  It’s not enough just to show up every day although that is the starting point.

You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone on an almost daily basis.

Consistency of challenge is one of the things that definitely separates those who are successful vs those who just take part.  In lifting or sport if you don’t want to vomit or get scared even thinking about a workout or competition coming up chances are you are stagnating.

The worst thing you can do in any area of performance is become comfortable.  Comfort breads complacency and competition treats complacency with the contempt it deserves.  You catch yourself just going through the motions then you need to do something to shake yourself out of what you are doing.  That’s not to say that you need to be red lining it 24-7 as discussed in previous articles this is a terrible idea.  Being out of your comfort zone can be doing exercises that you don’t like but benefit from or making it to all of your training sessions no matter what.

The cliche (and actually not very factually sound saying) – steel sharpens steel – is true if you want to progress or better yourself you need to put yourself in harms way or train in an environment where you aren’t allowed to coast or just show up.

 

You need to be your harshest critic every day. 

The people who post up shite about loving yourself no matter what aren’t the ones out there doing big things in the world have you ever noticed?  Either that or they are mouth pieces who are famous for having abs or pushing their tits out in Instagram.  Telling yourself you’re a strong independent women or the strongest man that no one has ever heard about is going to do fuck all for your performance in the real world of sport and objective outcomes.

In the real world of outcome based measures and performance based outcomes your subjective well-being means nothing.  Realise that this might not be a healthy attitude or might not be the best mentality for everyone in every situation but if you want to be a healthy person or do what is best for your mental state then trying performance sport or trying to be the best you can be isn’t really for you.

The people who always ask more of themselves or who are never content with their lot are the ones who go on to become the best athletes or lifters whom I have coached.  The folk who need consistent reassurance or seek praise fall by the way side 99% of the time if you want a fun environment to be in join a support network not a sport.

You need to consistently expect more of those around you.

Great athletes, coaches or lifters drag the standards of those who they coach or train with up.  Shit athletes, coaches or lifters pull the standards of those who they coach or train with down.  It doesn’t matter if you are physically lifting with the group it’s about how you interact with each other, how you apply praise and how you expect those around you to act and deliver.

If someone does something that lets them or you down in a training session a good athlete or lifter will call them out and make sure that they address what is wrong.  An also ran or someone who isn’t destined to become good at what they do will let it stand unaddressed or won’t take the onus on themselves to take action.  If no one does this task which is quite frankly a pain in the ass then standards in your training group will slip and as a result the performance of the group will slip down with it.  Never let bullshit stand unaddressed not unless you want to wade through shit ever day in training.

You need to consistently suppress negative Nancy 

Everyone has that little cunt who sits on your shoulder saying whatever you’re doing isn’t good enough or who makes you stalk your rivals on social media to see what they are up to or how things or going.  You need to push this little person’s head under water and keep it there until they stop kicking.  You can’t entertain lots of self-doubt into your daily self-talk as a lifter or in any physical limit based sport because the sport and training will chew you up and spit you back out.

When what you do is consistently feedback as weight lifted on the bar or time to completion for an event you can’t escape your own capabilities it’s there for you to see every time you complete a training session.  The poor mind set will let the day to day swings in training define who they are or to affect their mind-set totally.  The strong mind-set will focus on the big picture and make the most of that session.

Even if the upswing of the session or competition was that the training cycle you just did was complete and utter dog shit and you need to learn from it.  The strong willed athlete or lifter will take the lessons the weak willed athlete or lifter will crumble into despair.

You need to consistently welcome critical appraisal, the harsh light of day and the acid test of competition. 

Competitions can be really fun places to be, they can be really shitty places to be as well.  They will expose you to the cold harsh light of reality, lifters who massage their egos in training and squat high in competition will scream and rile like the weak people they are when their lifts get turned down in competition.  The competitor or strong willed lifter will accept it for what it is and squat deeper in future both in competition and training.

If you want to go anywhere in life, never mind lifting or athletics/sport you have to expose yourself to the elements on a consistent basis.  That coach who doesn’t stroke your ego or that training partner who calls you out for being a shit house in training these are the people you need in your life.  If you have a business partner who only tells you how much profit you’re going to make or how awesome your business is going to be that person will sink you.  Always take care of the downside in your planning and periodisation, the upside takes care of itself.

I’ve lost count of the amount of talented lifters who I have come across who weren’t ready for competition because they wouldn’t win that’s a fucking weak attitude.  Players who have been told by coaches that they need to achieve x, y and z who go on to achieve nothing and then wonder why they aren’t starting week in and week out.

You need to consistently prove yourself to yourself every fucking day you train or go to work if you don’t then don’t expect to go anywhere worth caring about in lifting, sport or life.

Marc

 

Five Strength Training “Corner Stones” That are Actually Gimmicks in Disguise.

I’ve started listening to the stone cold Steve Austin podcast which is excellent by the way Stone Cold is probably the only person I reckon who is actually as cool as they come across on screen.  During the podcasts, stone colds talks a lot about wrestling (naturally) and he talks about the ins and outs of the business.  One of the topics he goes over quite a lot is the gimmick that a wrestler is turning at the minute.  For Stone cold, this could have been his WHAT? Stage.

Strength training isn’t without gimmicks you better believe that to be true!  Some of them go viral and take over the sport for decades at a time others go on to be multi-million pound industry while some struggle to make any traction in the world at all and die a death.

It’s not to say that bells and whistles don’t have their place in strength training far from it they can really add value to a sound and well-structured programme.  However, it can be detrimental to a newbie’s programme or even to some sports-based programmes where coaches let the fact that they are dealing with elite level athletes skew their thinking towards 1%ers.

1 – Accommodating resistance

Louie made chains and bands sexy, T-nation took care of the rest.  There is no question that chains and bands are useful tools in the strength training arsenal but they are far from essential to a programme.  Strength training is about training they body to be able to overcome external resistance.  To this end what we need to produce a world class or effective strength training programme is external resistance… i.e. weights.

There is a lot of low population research to suggest that band tension can lead to a lot of favourable acute changes in the kinematics of lifts (greater overload through the whole range, better force production profiles and a better PAP effect especially for maximal strength) be that as it may the inexact nature of accommodating resistance techniques makes them obtuse to programme for.

You can also guarantee that most strength coaches or S&C coaches who utilise them don’t really understand how to integrate them properly into their training cycles.  Where bands and chains are really useful is imitating the strength curve of an equipped lift as in the force needed to be applied is least at the bottom and increases quickly over the ROM of the lift.  Hence one of the reasons it’s has worked hugely well for the Westside barbell club as they almost all train and compete in equipment.

For Raw lifter or sports athletes, there are definitely uses for accommodating resistance but I wouldn’t say they were close to being bread and butter for a programme.

2 – Exercise Rotation

Got to vary your programme to confuse the muscles and to stop plateaus… in well thought out and targeted cases.  A lot of lifters cycle the ever loving shit out of their exercises adding in different bars, boxes, heights, chains you name it they have it involved at some stage.  This kind of lifting is probably very useful when you are training under the influence of steroids since it will allow you to put in a maximal voluntary effort in the same plane of movement but allow you lessen the overall stress due to the variance of the movement.  When you’re tripping the test fantastic you’re going to get stronger, people might spin you a line about how it’s not going to do all the work for you (which is true you still need to go to the gym and lift) but it takes a lot of the guess work out of it.  Apply a stress and you are pretty much guaranteed the result.

Where the variance can help is reducing the chance of getting an overload injury since it allows the lifter to do biomechanically similar tasks and stress the body under maximal load without having to use their joints and muscles the exact same way week in week out.  For a natural lifter your strength gain is MUCH more gradual as such you’re not going to get the same amount of stress doing the same movement week in week out.  Alongside this you’re not going to get stronger every week so can afford to spend more time doing the same exercises and honing your technique.  For me a lot of enhanced lifter’s results are way below where it could be because their technique is ropey from not spending time honing it.

3 – Velocity Based Training

Muscle lab, tendo unit and gym aware started it a good few years ago introducing the speed of movement as a variable in strength training.  Since wearable technology and software has improved in quantity and quality more VBT based gizmos have started to appear such as the PUSH bands, beast sensor and form collar.  Whilst it is a very useful metric and something I would recommend athletes use for their strength training it is very easy for the coach to apply the same form of feedback visually.

That set looked slow take some weight off it and move it faster.  That doesn’t cost 1400 GBP or require a software subscription to implement.  There are quite a few S&C coaches trying to carve themselves out as authorities in the space and fair play to them for niching down and finding somewhere where they can become an expert.  However, there isn’t anything that VBT can really give us (outside of the objective feedback) that a well-written percentage based programme backed up with some RPE feedback can’t really achieve on its own.

I do think that with better software and hardware VBT will kick off more and become a staple of training but at the minute it is very much in the nice to have bracket of training.

4 – Speciality bars.

Some of the speciality bars can offer a sports programme fantastic options for injured players, for instance, we use the safety squat bar, trap bar and football bar in our gym every day with different players who have different issues.  They can allow people with injuries or long term issues to work hard and not get hurt which is awesome.  However for powerlifters or general healthy trainers the variation… not really that necessary.

I’ve never really used speciality bars in my own training as a powerlifter I am by no means the greatest powerlifter of all time but I have achieved some reasonable lifts as a natural 290 kg squat (640lbs), 222 kg bench press (490 lbs) and 310 kg deadlift (682 lbs).  For me consistency on the implement that we compete with as a powerlifter namely a barbell and plates has been far the greatest payback I have gotten from training.  I have noticed little to no carry over from items such as dumbbells, bodyweight or kettlebells in my own training.

For me when it comes to strength as a powerlifter or weightlifter you really only need a barbell.  As an athlete or to a lesser extent as a strongman, some variance in your training isn’t a bad thing as strength training is just a means to an end, for a strongman more time spent on events and mastering implements might be time better spent than lifting a barbell.
At the end of the day if all comes down to specificity and some speciality bars as mentioned for athletes or injured lifters are life savers but for a healthy competitive lifter most of the time for my money they are an expensive distraction.

5 – Dumbbells and Machines

Every commercial gym has them and pretty much every serious strength facility has them and whilst they are essential for bodybuilding really for strength training they are at best important assistance but not a cornerstone of a strength training programme.  In terms of powerlifting or weightlifting, they are slightly useful distractions it is perfectly reasonable to expect to be able to get as pretty close to as far as you can with only a competition standard bar and plates.

They are very useful for building muscle and not having to worry about taking away from recovery, especially for the upper back and shoulders.  However, if you have access to a pull-up bar and barbell chances are you can get the majority of assistance exercise you require done for all of the major muscle groups through a mixture of barbell and bodyweight exercises.

Marc

My Five Biggest Strength and Conditioning Influences.

 

To know where you are going then you need to know where you have been.  Next year will mark the end of my first decade of professional strength and conditioning with elite athletes.  2017 marks probably my last year as a full time employed strength and conditioning coach.  The way my life is lining up currently self employment and business is where I am headed.  I love working with people whilst working with professional sports men and women and Olympic athletes is cool it’s the people that I like.  Rugby is special because there are so many good people involved in the sport, it’s cut throat and brutal on a regular basis because it’s professional sport but the people are spectacular.

What I want to do with this article is show how influence changes with time in a profession and explain some choices which will surprise a few folk who probably think they know me.  The one thing that I can say with certainty after my first decade of elite sport is be humble, the proud might rise quickly but they fall down even faster when shit hits the fan.

1 – Vladimir M Zatsiorsky

The science and practice of strength training was the first full proper text I ever read on strength training and today for me it is still heads and shoulders above the rest of the books available.  There are a lot of erroneous things in the original and follow up text the mechanisms for hypertrophy are hilarious in the light of modern knowledge.  The practical advice and outcomes when it comes to the design of strength training and the training of athletes is not only empirical and fantastically put across but practical!

There are a lot of other books out there on this subject there are popular books like 5/3/1 or starting strength that are incredibly shallow if you want to be anything other than a lifter.  Alternatively, you have texts like super training which are tombs of knowledge so horrifically written that it could send an insomniac to sleep.

The Science and Practice of strength training is for my money the best book ever written on the subject of getting stronger.  It’s not the best sports specific text ever produced but it does a fantastic job of putting across the important concepts in a way that can be understood but isn’t dumbed down.

If anyone ever asks me for a book to read if they are interested in strength coaching the science and practice is always the first text I recommend.

2 – Louie Simmons

The website that really captured my attention when I started to really get into S&C or strength training as a topic was T-Nation.  In 2005-2007 I read the entire contents of that website right from their very first post right up to the most recent articles.  I had them all saved on my hard drive as word documents and re-read a lot of the articles it wasn’t Louie’s work directly I was reading but it was his work that was being regurgitated for about 70% of the articles.

My opinion on Louie’s work has changed massively as I have aged and gained experience as a strength coach but I can’t deny his influence on my development.  I used the Westside template and derivates thereof for years in my training and still do steal methods and ideas from those programmes and templates.

The is a huge cult of personality around Louie in the strength and powerlifting world.  A lot of people who aren’t steeped in the strength training science or world think of Louie as some sort of god who produces the strongest lifters of all time.  There are a whole bunch of qualifying statements that need to be made besides these claims but Louie’s influence can not be denied.

For me, the biggest thing that I took away from these learning experiences is the need to be flexible and to look at more than one tool when you’re trying to solve a problem.

3 – Johan Pretorius.

I have had many mentors through my years as a strength and conditioning coach and they have helped me in many ways and have been generous enough to give me their time and attention.  But sometimes tough love is exactly what you need, especially as a type A personality with a know it all attitude.  I won’t shy away from it I am confident in my own abilities in the realm of strength and conditioning to the point where I might be considered an arrogant ass.

My time at Edinburgh rugby has easily been the most amount of learning and growing I have ever done in my life as a strength and conditioning coach.  I entered into the job as an above average strength coach and will leave it as a well-rounded strength and conditioning coach.

Johan came from a background which involved ultra-marathon and tri-Athlon and a strong Christian belief.  As an atheist powerlifter, this wasn’t going to be a match made in heaven.  Johan came into the programme that I was running rough shot over as an assistant and just ran his own show.  This stuck in my craw something serious I detracted from it and delivered it begrudgingly, which was pathetic from my point I should have been more professional.

Johan and myself had many heated exchanges and “debates” better termed as shouting matches.  A couple of frank conversations with the head coach and Johan showed me pretty quickly that I should get on board or fuck off, so I got on board.

What I learned during my short 6 months with Johan advanced me on leaps and bounds as a strength and conditioning coach, I learnt that strength training was only one small part of the puzzle and that specificity was the overriding factor in sports conditioning.

I still don’t agree wholeheartedly with everything Johan did but I can only thank him for the influence he had on me and the positive changes it made to me as a coach.

4 – Boris Shikeo

Boris Shikeo is one of if not the greatest strength coach of all time his results speak for themself.  The 8 hours that I spent in his seminar last year in February have been hugely transformational in my programming and in my programme delivery.

Showing that volume manipulation and skill learning can lead to all-time record achievements and god knows how many IPF and EPF championship medals can show a man that displaying strength in the gym doesn’t mean your building it.

The complexity and detail that go into his training cycles simply aren’t even close to being matched by anyone else who puts information out into the internet or books.  He is on another level when it comes to the understanding of training manipulation.
The concepts that he extols such as skill learning, exercise specificity and most importantly of all for strength and conditioning coaches the submaximal intensity applied with sufficient volume can be transformative to your strength programmes.  I have had a few of my strongest and most seasoned players put on 10-20 kg on their back squat by using a mixture of exercise variation and submaximal training.  All whilst increasing their speed times drastically and being a lot less fatigued from their training.

If you get the opportunity to see the man in the flesh it is money more than well spent.  I am considering learning Russian just so I could read/understand him natively.

5 – Ashley Jones

Ash is now a personal friend and he has been my boss and mentor for 18 months.  Ash is fantastic human being first and outstanding strength coach second.  Johan was hugely influenced by Ash’s work and the first book that he shared with me was Ash’s book Engineering Physical Performance.

What I learned from Ash wasn’t anything technical or practical (although I learned plenty of that) what I learned from Ash was to coach players as people.  It’s too easy to treat your lifters or athletes like machines who only job in life is to produce better outcomes in your spreadsheet this is the mark of a shit strength and conditioning coach.

Not everyone needs the same input from their coach sure some folk need to get stronger, some need to get fitter and some need to get faster but not everyone needs to do the same amount of the same stuff.  If you have open channels of communication you can easily tailor an athletes training to better suit their emotions, personality and needs.

If strength and conditioning coaches were fictional characters I would be Drago from Rocky, for me it’s about process and outcome.  Ash has shown me the outcome isn’t always just testing quite a lot of the time it can be the relationship and trust you build with a player or client.

This for me is the mark of a truly outstanding coach one who can affect change in an athlete but do so as a humanist and mentor.  Not just as a spreadsheet wielding ball breaker.

Marc

More Questions than Answers – How to avoid the two most common traps new and experienced coaches or trainers fall into all too easily.

The fitness industry, strength and conditioning, sports science and nutrition industry are funny places they straddle science and bullshit almost like no other field or industry.  On one side we have those who are bound by science and won’t lift a finger unless it’s been shown in at least one peer-reviewed study to be effective.  On the other side we have whole sections of people who deliberately muddy the water and pedal complete and utter bullshit like Herbalife or bulletproof coffees.  Only in the field of nutrition could someone become a millionaire by telling people to put butter in coffee and have them under the pretence that it’s in some way “healthy” if you can spin the right words people are absolute cretins when it comes to diet and exercise.

I think if you want to be effective or able to affect people at the elite level or help beginners or advanced lifters realise their potential with the minimal of effort or training stress than you need to have both theory and experience under your belt.  For me any trainer who is too much in one camp always ends up in one of the following traps.

More questions than answers.

This is a big problem I see with younger trainers or coaches who don’t have much of a practical background.  They put a lot, if not all of their stock in peer reviewed research or what can be shown objectively with metrics.  This can lead to a whole host of problems when it comes to putting together a world class coaching practice some of which you may run into if you lean too much in this direction

  • An Inability to just run with it – a lot of young S&C coaches who have access to a lot of good metrics like GPS, RPEs or heart rate outputs will let these run their programme for them. The GPS might be telling you that x player or person has reached your limit for the session but they haven’t achieved close to what is required of them from a technical perspective.  There is always a line to be tread when it comes to using metrics to feedback into your training.  Your programme should be based on strong principals of physiology and periodisation a lot of which has to be based on the science, however the best coaches will base it on experience in the sport and the best of the best will base it on their experience of the individual athlete.
  • Letting the numbers run your programme – some young conditioners or strength coaches will have a plan but then deviate from it completely because a couple of variables that they have singled out are telling them to do so. The best coaches aren’t reactionary but they are flexible.  You need to know what you want to get from each session for a physical perspective and know what they means from your objective measures if you have them.  What you don’t want to do is know what you want and then consistently not get it when your measures are telling you what to do.  The numbers should inform your programme to make it better and more optimal it shouldn’t run it.
  • The tendency to be too soft – people are capable of a lot more than you think when it comes to training. Now this isn’t to say you want to apply the maximal amount of training you can to get the same effect quite the opposite.  To become outstanding at something or to become extraordinary at something you’re going to have to do training that is out of the ordinary.  Sure the experts online are advising you to squat 1x per week, bench 1x per week and deadlift 1x per two weeks however if you expect to be better than anyone else you’re probably going to have to explore your boundaries.  That means you’re going to have to push yourself or the people you coach close to breaking every now and again just to see where that boundary lies.
  • Collecting Data to bring more questions – Probably the biggest issue with people who rely too much on objective feedback or peer reviewed research is that they use it to bring up more questions. What GPS metric should we use?  What Bar speed is optimal for this movement? Should we use average speed or max speed for this movement?  How much sleep do these athletes need to get optimal recover?  The questions are great but it’s the lack of answers that eventually stick in the craw of the lifters, athletes or coaches that you serve at the end of the day.  The job of a coach or mentor is to answer questions and provide leadership not to constantly shift goal posts and refuse to stick your line in the sand somewhere.  As much as you might not like it training is way more art than science when your starting to work with a population.  Eventually with enough factors controlled you can run a hugely scientific and well-controlled programme.  However when it comes to working with armature athletes or large teams your gonna spend more time treading water trying to get there than you will making progress if all you do is have your head stuck behind a screen rather than out in the wild interacting with and training your athletes or lifters.

More Answers Than Questions 

The other side of the spectrum is the coach who is either so successful or experienced that they have stopped to seek challenge or try to progress their training practices.  It can be very easy as a coach when you get comfortable producing a certain amount of success or results and can do so repeatable in distinct time frames to believe that you have nailed it and don’t need to worry about what the pencil necks or new kids are doing.  What can be even worse are the coaches who are former lifters or athletes who think they know the sport inside out and don’t need to reference the science or objective feedback.  The sort of coach who thinks that what they did to be successful 10 year ago is going to work for a different lifter or athlete with a different psychology, mentality and taking part in a sport that has moved on 10 years further from when they played or lifted.

  • Can’t see the Forrest for the trees – some coaches get so good at one aspect of training or they get their results from one method for so long that they can’t see the merits of other training methods or more to the point they can’t see the pit falls of their own methods. One of the most common pitfalls you will see from a lot of coaches who are former athletes is their over reliance on the sport or training that got them where they were.  It’s all too easy to find weightlifting coaches who think it is the best way to develop explosive power for sport, powerlifting coaches who think lifting heavy shit slowly and then doing a bit of jumping or running is going to cure all your ales or sprinters who think that everyone just runs with shit form and they should get that right before they should even think about lifting weights.  You’ll see strength and conditioning coaches using Westside barbell for team sports athletes, using equipped powerlifting methods that have questionable carry over into unequipped powerlifting to train multi-plane, multi energy system, primarily skill based athletes.

  • Actually convinced that the sun shines out of their own ass – you’ve met the coach or lifter who you know is really good at what they do because they will let you know before you have even asked. I for one am always wary of the coaches who are so quick to tell you of their accomplishments or the lifters who want to tell you about all the tin trophies they have one or “all time” records they have broken in completely soft and different conditions.  This my friends is just good old-fashioned insecurity.  If you really are that good trust me you won’t have to tell a soul about it, word of mouth is the best driver of business in a service based industry (which is what we effectively are) if you are good and you deliver the goods you will create a tribe of evangelicals who will spread the word for you.  The kind of lifter or coach who has to rattle off their list of accomplishments is the sort of person who needs constant external validation for their own existence.  They are also the sort of person who won’t seek objective or critical appraisal and so are highly likely to remain stuck in their own ways.  They are destined to remain the same level of competency until they break out of this vicious cycle or remain a shithouse for the rest of their coaching or athletic life.
  • Only use objective measure when it suits them – a good coach will look for when the data or the feedback fly’s in the face of what they are doing. When some stat or feedback tells me the direct opposite of what I am trying to achieve from my training then I sit up and take notice.  When RPEs tell me that people are tired during a conditioning block then I am getting information, I already know.  When it tells me that a session I thought would put these blokes in a hole barely touched the sides then I know there is something I need to dig deeper into and that I will probably learn something.  A coach who is stuck in their own ways or doesn’t have a growth mind-set will just look for metrics that are positive so they can once again show everyone what a good job they are doing.  Like a good scientist who looks to disprove a hypothesis a good coach or strength coach should be constantly trying to pick holes in their programming as it’s the only way you will get to the stuff that works and chuck away all the needless fluff.
  • The coach who has more answers than questions – these are the guys who make all kinds of money either as trainers or online experts because they have all the answers. They are also usually bullshit artists or snake oil peddlers.  You see there is a whole raft of shit that we do currently as strength and conditioning coaches or lifters that is a complete and utter waste of time.  For my money the vast majority of the rehab/prehab/activation/train your weakness movement in training is hogwash.  There is something to it no doubt but we are nowhere near to teasing out the useful information.  We are currently back stroking in a sea of meaningless bullshit and once in a while we catch onto a useful practical stick floating around in this cesspool of misinformation that we hold onto.  The folk that have went, head-long into this space spouting all sorts of mumbo-jumbo have went on to become very wealthy yet haven’t went on to produce world-class performers. 

I will finish this article on one of my favourite quotes

 

We want an open mind but not a mind so open our brains fall out. – Prof. Walter Kotschnig 1940

Marc

 

 

New year, New Goals. 2017 – Resolutions

2016 for me was a great year, lots of famous people I never met or whom never affected my life in any tangible manner died from drug abuse or old age.  The presenter of the American version of the appetence won a democratic election and triggered great swaths of the “free” world into crying about things that haven’t happened yet and the UK decided to roll the dice.

2016 was a busy year for social media politicians and real politicians but none of that affected me in any real way.  For me 2016 was about boiling away the shit in my training and trying to get into more depth on the parts that were working.  In February I went to a Boris Shieko seminar which was a hugely perspective changing shift for my training as a powerlifter.  That man is doing a lot of things right that I don’t think most lifters or coaches realise or catch onto, I have been trying to put my own spin on it for the last 10 months with both myself and my lifters with a mixed success.

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Sometimes the programming has worked like black magic and other times it’s not really worked or it’s worked in some way that made some people lose confidence in what I was doing because the return wasn’t obvious.  The return is there however and it is real for those who bought in and went with it.  For my strongest lifter and myself we both put on in excess of 60kg on our lifts both of us are highly adapted lifters and life time naturals so we aren’t exactly what you would call noobs.

I learned some new things, I applied them got some great returns but I also went away from other things that worked so well for me in the past.  It can be difficult for someone who is coaching and lifting at the same time.  I am 100% guilty of doing a programme or periodisation style that works for me great and then blanketing it across my lifters or programmes as the new age secret sauce.  This is something I want to adapt this year in my programming I want to put something in place that ensures I am providing systematic overload bottom line, and doing it in a pragmatic manner.  This will come into my own lifting first and then will develop into a more systematic version of my programming for other lifters.

I also got fat in 2016, it was intentional for the most part but I fell by the wayside and got lazy on a lot of things.  This something for my own health and well-being that needs to change, I’ve had spats where I have been fantastic with this aspect of my training life and other times when I have been terrible with 2016 being one of the most spectacular lapses in dietary ability.

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For 2017 I am not intending on getting mad cutz or sick serrations, the plan is to just be a bit healthier and sit at a more reasonable bodyweight for my muscle mass somewhere around 108-110 I will be just as strong but won’t be such a lardy piece of shit.  I’m just going to practice a bit of loose calorie counting and just stick to cooking my own food for 6 days out of 7 which should have the desired effect.

I am also keen to get back into the habit of going to bed at a set time regardless and getting up very early, my normal waking time in 2016 was 06:00-06:40 I want to push this back a minimum of 1 hour to allow me some time for writing and recording as although this isn’t really a big revenue driver for my business it is something I enjoy doing and something I would really like to make some more time for.

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For Lifting I just want to continue on and double down on the successful parts of 2016 so I am going to stop chasing rep outs and heavy weights almost entirely unless they are planned in post volume in the programme.  The strongest I was at all year was when I was just following the 4x per week Shieko inspired routine, I am going to try and refined this down as previously mentioned so it has a month to month progression whilst still not being massively fatiguing session to session as the later end of the year was for me from a training perspective.

Goals for the year are

310-320 kg squat

230 kg bench press

320 – 330 kg deadlift

Also to place top 2 in the 120 kg class at the British and hopefully put my hand up for selection.  The 2017 commonwealth powerlifting championships might be an option I look at as well since I failed to qualify for selection for IPF international meets this year as I didn’t compete in the 2016 British Championships.

From a business perspective I am looking to collaborate and bring a lifting focused gym the likes of which the UK hasn’t seen before this year.
Look to step back my employment to a part time / subsistence level

Grow out my online and in person coaching business so it can provide a good standard of living on it’s own without the need for me to devote more than 15-20 hours of my time a week.

Happy new year and hopefully 2017 can bring some good advances in your training and professional life.

Marc

 

The difference between knowledge and performance – Let’s talk about what it actually takes to become a better lifter.

 

The majority of this article is inspired by the frankly excellent book Peak by Anders Ericsson whose body of work is in skill learning and the achievement of expert status or mastery.  A lot of you will no doubt be familiar with the 10,000-hour rule that is the idea popularised by Malcom Gladwell’s book bounce.  In bounce Malcom takes from one of Anders Ericsson’s studies on German violin virtuoso that the ones who where to go on to achieve the greatest levels of master with the violin had to this point accrued an average of 10,000 hours of practice in the previous 10 years.

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This idea also went on to become a major thread in another popular and excellent work Mastery by Robert Green.  However, the simple statement that you need to spend 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something leaves out the most important factor, it is the type of practice that matters more than the time spent doing it.

You see not all practice is created equal you have no doubt took up a hobby or pass time where you have just spent time doing.  It might be table tennis, call of duty modern warfare, poker or chess to name but a few.  What you will have experienced is that after spending time just doing your hobby, you hit a glass ceiling in your skill/ability from where it becomes almost impossible to progress beyond.

What you have experienced is the limit of unguided or uncritical doing “practice” as a blanket term is what people normally think when you mention it in conversation.  However what Anders Ericsson has shown through more than 2 decades of research is that the type of practice is the important variable not the quantity (however be under no delusion this also plays a massive role in the process).

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Deliberate practice is what they referred to the process of actually breaking down a skill or activity into its component parts and critically appraising where blockages are and actively seeking guidance from those who have experientially achieved what you are trying to achieve either with themselves or others.

This is a topic I have covered briefly with other articles but with this article what I want to address is the difference between knowledge and knowing.  The difference between knowing what you should do as a lifter to increase your ability and the inherent and explicit knowledge of knowing how it’s done and how it should be done.  Thanks to the internet we are resplendent in those with encyclopedic knowledge of how you should train towards a certain goal, what the optimal ways of organisation are and so on and so forward.  What we are low on in the world of lifting are those true experts who understand what it actually takes to achieve mastery, practically how it should be achieved and how it can be achieved.

I would like to nudge you down the path on how to become the latter rather than the former so you can progress on as a lifter or as a coach/trainer to allow you to affect change in the areas your trying to advance.

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Create mental representations of what the ideal performance looks like 

Before we can create movement or manifest into reality the ideal lifting performance we need to first understand implicitly what that looks, feels, sounds, smells and tastes like.  It isn’t good enough to watch some mouth piece on YouTube who has never achieved with themselves or others what you are seeking because they don’t have the correct mental representation of what actual expert performance is.

A mental representation is your mind’s eye’s version of skill execution the better you are at this aspect of skill learning or performance.  The example of which is chess grand-masters who can blindly play 10s of games against multiple opponents at the same time and still win.  They can do this not because they have memorised every single scenario in the game and can execute upon these scenarios.  They can do this because they have expert mental representations they understand the scenarios, plays and possibilities from almost every connotation of the game.  This allows them to access a better mental shorthand than their opponent which allows swift, correct decision and action.

When it comes to lifting the more expert the coach the better they are at looking at movement understanding the key reference points that good or perfect execution entails and are able t use that understanding or mental representation to alter the execution of their lifter to move them closer to this perfect execution.  If you want to reach this expert level of understanding then you need to build up your mental representation of the skill or lift.

  • Watch as much lifting video of expert performers as you can in your spare time if you can do this in the flesh than it is much more beneficial. By doing this you can get a sense of the control, timing, key movements, demeanour, execution, set up and so on and so forward exhibited by expert performers this will better help you to develop your own appreciation for what expert performance looks like.
  • Seek the help of expert teachers. The single most important factor when it comes to achieving expert performance is to seek the help of those who are experts at teaching experts.  It’s no use hiring someone who is an expert in lifting as your coach if they have no experience of coaching as they don’t understand for the most part what the key elements to helping other achieve what they themselves have achieved.  An expert coach will understand the road blocks when it comes to becoming the best lifter possible and the best ways to surmount them.  When you hit a plateau they will help to individualise and target the feedback at your bottle neck and help you to fit through it.  There will come times when you outgrow your teacher or you need to seek the help of another expert in a specific problem this is natural in the process and should be seen as such.
  • Watch yourself lifting back as much as you can use video feedback and seek the feedback of others as much as you can. The feedback you receive from others should always be critical and based on where you need to improve and if you can it should be sourced from those who are more skilled than you or ideally from someone who is skilled at teaching.
  • Immerse yourself in the skill you want to become an expert at. The more you read, speak, watch and listen on the subject the more ideas and models you can put to the test in reality.  No man is an island and the best don’t become the best in isolation as such you should try and spend time with like-minded individuals and take advantage of the internet and spend time in taking ideas and knowledge of lifting to help you to develop, test and hone your own mental representation.
  • PUT IT INTO ACTION! Knowledge does not become performance without action the only way we can advance in a skill is through execution so you should be looking to execute as much as is feasible and using the tools outlines above to better help you develop a deliberate practice routine and mental representation that will lead to progression towards your target of mastery.

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Understand the realities of mastery and skill development.

Before we continue on and describe the practicalities and requirements of achieving mastery as a lifter, we need to understand some realities and required attributes to achieve mastery we require

  • Commitment – there is no way about it, this will be a time consuming and at time all-consuming endeavor.
  • Time – you need to spend the allotted practice time to realise your improvement this typically takes upwards of a decade of sustained and targeted deliberate practice.
  • Motivation – you need to be internally motivated to pursue this task as it is going to be frustrating, degrading, boring and relentless so to see yourself through you will need the steel or motivation to see it through.  This motivation is also external which we will cover in environment.
  • Humility – feedback can sometimes be galling and you will spend a lot of time second guessing your ego and needing to realise that you are not as good as you think you are this means you need to be humble enough to accept this reality and do the work that is needed to improve.
  • Mentorship – you will not achieve mastery in a field where expert performers already exist without mentorship. It can be possible to be the best at something no one has done before on your own steam but if you are trying to become the best you can in a field where people have been trying to improve for some length of time (10 years or more) then you are going to require a coach or mentor to achieve the highest levels of performance.

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Seeking or creating the right environment to achieve mastery.

When you know how to develop the right mental representation and the methods or key principles you need to adhere too to allow this development.  The next part of the puzzle is to create or to find the environment or place where this can become reality.  

The correct environment for practice is probably the most important factor when it comes to getting better as a lifter.  Those who want to get better at a sport or task will initially seek help from those who are local or financially feasible but for those who really want to go on to achieve what they are capable of they will be willing to travel and pay for the people and location that has what they need to succeed as a lifter or athlete.

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What follows is a list of the key ingredients

  • Seek out the best coach you can afford and whom it is feasible to train with – there is no doubt that this is the most important part of creating the correct environment it is incredibly difficult to know exactly what sort of practice you should be engaging in never to worry about what you need to concentrate on and also to individualise that to your own situation. The coach is there to structure you practice, individualise that practice and to provide the correct feedback which is the life blood of improvement.  Ideally, this coach should be present in the living breathing flesh as real-time feedback can expiate the process.  Sometimes the quality of the coach or the lack of options can make remote coaching an attractive and best option.
  • Seek out somewhere where people are better than you – At some stage in your lifting career you’re going to need to seek out others who are better than you or who are working towards the same goal. Preferably the ideal environment should contain both of these aspects whilst it is possible to progress well with only an excellent coach or teacher the added incentive of competition amongst peers is something that should not be underestimated.
  • Find a supportive or adversarial environment that motivates you – you can’t keep yourself motivated to perform or practice at your best via internal drive alone it is not feasible to do so. You need to find a group of lifters or a gym that provides the best kind of mixture of support you can find.  It is important to have friends and rivals in any sport as these play together to push you on and motivate you.  Sometimes these people are the same person, when you’re down or when you’re wondering why you are spending so much time doing something it is important to have someone to pull you along.  When you do something good it is important to have someone recognise the accomplishment and to provide praise and stroke the ego.  When your being soft or stupid it is important to have someone to provide a good kick up the arse or reality check when it is needed.  This is why even in an individual sport such as lifting it is incredibly important to have a group that provide this for you.
  • Don’t spend all your time with people you like – with the above being said having the positive reinforcement and support in your life is incredible important. What can be even more important is to have the negative relationship or the acidic support of people who will hold you accountable and accept nothing but your best foot forward.  This can come from your coach, your lifting buddy or that lifter who you hate at the gym but is better than you.  You should spend time in environments that scare you and that ask more of you.
  • Don’t spend any time in your comfort zone – the place where you are going to achieve the best performance or the best results. The place that leads to the best gains in performance is the place you don’t like being.  It is one of the key tenants of deliberate practice as concept that you should be spending as much time as possible at the limit of you comfort zone as it is the only way to improve.  If you find yourself not dreading workouts or getting anxious about spending time with your coach in a session than chances are your stagnating and need to shake things up.
  • Find somewhere that produces results – it matters not a jot what accolades, degrees or nice things to say a coach or trainer has, the only thing that matters are the results that he/she or their environment produces. If you like a coach because they are nice and make you feel good, then you’re probably not spending time with someone who is going to make you better.  Competition and the real world are harsh places and you should seek those who understand this and as a result produce those who thrive in these environments.  If you are looking for a gym that is local, cheap, has nice changing facilities, has music you like… you’re not looking for a performance facility your looking for a leisure facility.  The only thing you should be looking for when seeking your environment are the champions who have been there before you.    

Marc

How to be a better strength athlete. Powerlifting Advice that will never get old.

 

Apologies for not writing to this blog for a while I have been somewhat snowed under with other time commitments since pre-season hit in July of 2016.  Now the dust is starting to settle from 2016 I see where my future path is lying in terms of business and work so I can begin to start funnelling my efforts a bit more appropriately.  At the time of writing I am working with about 120 lifters and athletes either directly controlling their programming and training/coaching in person or consulting pro-bono or helping them train for their sport.

As you can probably guess some of these people just go from strength to strength whilst others stumble from pillar to post and wonder why it isn’t a straight-forward path or road forward.

I do genuinely try my best to help everyone I work with get better, it causes me physical pain and frustration when one of my athletes or lifters doesn’t success or progress from training cycle to training cycle.  When you work with so many people especially for prolonged periods of time you begin to develop more of a top down view of training.  Similar to trying to navigate a city without the top down view (map) it can be excruciatingly difficult to tell if the path you are following is leading anywhere.

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Understand that training is a long-term process.

You need to understand that when it comes to fitness, strength or exercise when it comes to getting better or making progress there is no such thing as an easy lunch.  When you make a short and sharp gain in fitness then that means you have done something new or novel to produce that gain.  These sudden increases normally carry some baggage a lot of which can be pretty negative if you’re looking to perform in something other than lifting or you are preparing for a meet.

If you are doing a program such as Smolov, for example, you are overreaching for 3-12 weeks depends on the cycle or the length of the cycle you complete.  For a lot of people this will represent a huge increase in volume and volume load, and it will probably result in a big increase in 1 RM strength but not forever once you have realised the fitness gain from your adaptation or super compensation, after which you will revert back to the level of your training which is usually not smolov.

 

On the other hand, if you spend your time looking to progress from week to week using training cycles you can carry out all year long the gains you achieve in strength will be easily repeatable all year round assuming you don’t get injured in the process.

If you are concentrated on increasing your strength incrementally through the year and also concentrating on the many layers to strength training (technique, variation, frequency, application, bar speed etc) then you will find there aren’t really many plateaus.

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Injury is the number one detractor of strength and fitness stay healthy

A lot of the injuries that lifters or athletes pick up come from trying to do too much or trying to change up your routine too much.  What will be counter-initiative to a lot of lifters and even athletes is that excessive change is a hugely negative thing especially when that change comes in the form of loading.  For lifting we can quantify loading very easily using volume load (number of reps x weight lifted) we try to quantify it in sport using metrics like RPE (rate of perceived exertion) x time to create a measure of load AU (arbitrary load) or GPS and heart rate systems to view a more objective or black and white measure.

It is starting to emerge from sports science that any change of 50% either way (under or over) to your normal weekly workload puts you at significant risk of injury.  This means doing 50% or under or 150% or over of your average workload this can be applied to pretty much any training as the logic is sound (it has been shown mainly in field sports).

As lifters, we have seen this all of the time, your mate or you read a John Broz article decided that squatting everyday is totally logical and don’t know why you haven’t been doing it this whole time.  Then you go from 1x per week squatting to 7x per week and increase your workload by 500-800% and then pick up an injury blaming the concept of being stupid but not appreciating that you went about the whole process cock headed.

Think about what your planning on doing before you do it and see how it stacks up to what you have done before.  Don’t just blindly program hop from this to that and wonder why you’re constantly stiff and sore.

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Concentrate on what gets results and let the lesser lifters and athletes get distracted.

When it comes to training there is a core of activity that gets you return from your training investment and there is a whole host of activities that waste your time and effort.  Smart trainers who keep logs and understand their own performance can tell what is affecting their bottom line.  They know the time spent on an activity or exercise and can see the worth or return gained from it.  Less savvy training investors diversify their time into a whole host of time sinks that are doing nothing for their bottom line.  Out of the following 6 training activities see if you can pick out the elements that every weightlifter who has ever medalled at the summer games had in their program

  • Snatch
  • Foam Rolling
  • Clean and Jerk
  • Squat variations
  • Chains
  • Bands

If every person who had ever achieved the goal that I want to aspire for all had common and key elements in their training or approach I would make sure I had it in mine!  It is easy to get distracted by big words or cool videos in today’s information overload age but if you knuckle down on the basics you will see the best return from your efforts.

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Professionals don’t panic.

The programme isn’t working I haven’t increased my 1RM in the past 6 months!  Just take a second to look at what the lay of the land has been for the previous 6 months.  It might be that the goal of the training was to improve your technique or to help you overcome an injury.  Not all of training is about getting better at training or improving your bottom line.  Sometimes you need to go backwards or sideways before the obstacles that are in your way allow you to go forward.

As an example; in 2013 I suffered a bad flare up of Glute Med Tendonitis that left me unable to train squat and deadlift for the best part of 8 months.  When I came back to training at the start of 2014 I decided to concentrate on volume and how the exercise was completed.  I made little progress really from 2014-2015 a lot of my training was concentrated on getting my training right and trying to work on my technique.

From there I set a good platform from which I could push on from the October of 2015 to October of 2016 I have went from 260-290 in the squat, 200-222 in the bench press and 292-300×2 in deadlift.  Huge progress for a lifter who has been training for the best part of a decade and who trains hard and consistently, and my progress shows no signs of slowing or halting as of yet.

There were a lot of bottlenecks in my technique and training patterns that where stopping me from pushing through to the next level.  A similar case study Ali probably my strongest lifter was stalled at 320 kg squat (705), 210 kg bench press (465) and 330 kg deadlift (725 lb) since then he has went onto squat 330 kg x 3 (325), bench press 220 kg (485) and deadlift 340 kg x 3 (750lb) all of which has been done by reducing his average training intensity significantly.

The secret is to get lost in the process, focus on the goal and not to panic and change when things aren’t going your way.

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The only place for Ego is under the bar.

Lifting is a solo sport which shows you constantly how good or shit you are in an objective and black and white manner, it can really kick your ass if you let it.  The way to not have your ego hurt or bruised is to try and not to have one.  Every good lifter has an ego or has a high level of confidence it’s an important part of the psychology of being good at something.

The secret is to learn how to make it a positive, when you’re stepping up to an attempt in a meet confidence is life, it is the blood that feed your success, self-doubts and negative self-talk don’t lift weights.  When it comes to taking advice from your coach or looking at your own training it is the single biggest pit fall you can imagine.

 

Ego and over confidence leads to short cuts, it leads to people not doing the correct thing at the correct time because it might mean seeing yourself in something other than a positive light.

 

The best way to progress or to go forward is to be honest with yourself and try and get as many reality checks as you can on a regular basis.  The less you are open to this process the more likely the reality check is going to come along where you want it least on the platform or in competition.  It’s better to suffer in training and be within yourself so when it comes to the platform you can just enjoy the moment and be the cocky, arrogant person who lifts the best lifter trophy.

New Fads and Fashions in Strength Training that can get fucked.

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1 The intellectual meathead.

Lifting is a verb and verbs by definition are doing words, Rene Descartes is famous for his quote “I think therefore I am” which in a philosophy is a perfectly valid concept the same link of though seems to have invaded lifting circles “I think therefore I lift” well no bro you still don’t lift.

One of the best sport or performance based acronyms is covered high school – Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS).  If you want to get better at the three powerlifts start with first principals using squat as an example.

1 – How often do you currently squat?

2 – How often could you squat and recover from it?

3 –  How often do the best lifters in the world squat?

4 – What programmes have given me the best gains in squat?

5 – What volume of lifts in a week work best for me?

6 – What average intensity works best for me in that lift?

If you can’t answer any of these questions then you have absolutely no need to read the journal of strength and conditioning.  Lifting and nutrition for all the articles and references in the world are mainly experiential informed processes at the deepest levels of understanding.

Good training is framed around good physiological and training science knowledge but putting these on a pedestal above experience is putting the cart before the horse.  We get it you are totally counter culture you are small, skinny fat and wear glasses but you also lift weights!  Fucking brilliant maybe you should stick to lifting weights to the point where you can total something above a novice level then maybe start putting your opinions out to public tender.

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2 – The caffeine “junkie”

You drink coffee we get it for some reason it’s not just the reserve of people who are tired or hungover rambling into work at 7am in the morning it’s now essential apparel for “lifters”.  Like a lot of things that is wrong with the world today it can be reverse engineered back to Jon North walking around sipping on his muckle Starbucks before shagging a bar 25 miles out in front of him and spiking it into the floor.

It is possible to drink coffee or caffeine and not be an overzealous overbearing cunt in the process.  Try drinking your coffee before you leave for the gym in the morning or maybe even drinking it in between sets without making a huge song and dance about it!

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3 – The SBD clad fashion victim.

I made team GB so I’m going wear my sponsored singlet to every fucking training session for the next decade.  Making the team that pays to go to the Masters or Junior Europeans out of their own pocket via being the only person in your class does not make you an accomplished international lifter and SBD sponsored “athlete”, it makes you a lifter in a class of one who has deep pockets.

Even outside of those who have managed to make an international competition and been lucky enough to get lots of SBD swag there are still plenty of lifters who pay plenty of money out of their own pocket to look like a billboard.  The SBD knee sleeves are a quality product you got that one damn right.  Their T-shirts are just t-shirts, their singlets are just singlets…

If you have been lifting for the princely sum of 3 months and have finally managed to break 2 wheels on squat then you could maybe you should hold off on that purchase of 250 quid to get the belt, knee sleeves, t-shirt and belt ensemble and maybe pay for some coaching to sort out your horrendous technique.

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4 – The Athlete page 

Mo ‘Farah has an athlete page and so does Usain bolt they also grossed millions of pounds in sponsorship in the past year.  If you have paid to take part in a competition as a powerlifter, strongman or weightlifter awesome glad you joined a strength sport and have an awesome time doing it.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news this does not make you a high profile athlete or public figure.

Taking part in a strength sport is normally a hugely positive thing for most people it raises their self-esteem and helps them to make a positive connection to exercise in their lifes, bot of these are fantastic and positive changes.  However, the narcissism trap some people can get caught up in is less awesome.  Athletics or sport is 100% a meritocracy if you’re not famous or successful generally it is because you’re not good enough to be famous of successful.

Who came third in the first quarter-final for the 2016 Olympic games 100m?  Chances are you don’t know, chances are you also don’t know who came 4th or even 3rd in the Olympic final.  But you know Usain Bolt won the gold because the world of athletics is merit based and Usain Bolt is one of the all time greats who happens to be in his prime during our life time.  He affects the lives of millions of people which allows him the fame and fortune that he enjoys.

Your friends and family might care that you came third in your first competition but the rest of the world does not give a fuck.  When your time comes to be worthy of putting yourself out there as a public figure based off your achievements as a lifter you will know, you will probably also not want the attention.

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5 – The veteran lifters who have been lifting for 2 years.  

Lifting has become a lot more popular in the past 10 years, like A LOT more popular when I started the only places to lift where in two lads garage gyms (literally gyms in their garages) and the only place you could get information on how to start and what programme to do where on internet forums or shambles of websites like t-nation or bodybilding.com.  The world of lifting was hyperbole and to be honest it was nice to have a hobby that just about no one knew anything about.  When I went to university in Preston (a shit hole industrial town of 90,000 in the north-west of England) there were only two gyms that had squat racks both were bodybuilding gyms and one was weird and one was awesome.
I trained in a place called ultra-flex where the staff were cool as fuck and the gym was a bodybuilding gym through and through.  No one did snatches or cleans and no one was clean.  It was a great place to train now somewhere like Edinburgh has at least 8 CrossFit boxes each as samey as the next.  All resplendent in rubber floor and shitty bars and coaches that only started lifting 2 years ago.
It takes a long ass time to get good at lifting and someone with less than 5 years of lifting and competing experience has around about the sum of fuck all business teaching others.  It’s not something you can pick up quickly it takes a very long time to just become a competent lifter never mind help others become competent lifters.

You can have all the qualifications you want but the only one that means fuck all is time under the bar or time around the sport.  All your degree and diplomas add up to the grand total of fuck all when it comes to coaching.  The ground swell in lifters is absolutely awesome and it has allowed me to touch a lot of people in my local area and hopefully a lot more through the internet but please for the love of god don’t just listen to your “coach” because the chances are they are a grade A Fuck nugget.

Marc.

How to be an awesome intern – things you should do if you want to stand out as a strength and conditioning intern.

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Strength and conditioning is busting at the seams with people in their early 20s who have come out of some degree programme but haven’t seen the inside of a gym or sports performance facility.  I have probably had 30-40 interns in my time as a strength and conditioning coach and I have only been in the field since 2008.  If your reading this and want to leave the dream as a full-time strength and conditioning coach the first bit of news I have for you is you better really want to be an S&C coach because full-time jobs are not easy to come by.

You’re not going to get in via the application route either as much as most of these employers want to pretend to be fair and equal opportunity employers the vast majority of people who end up in these roles either have been recommended by someone who the person hiring trusts or they are being promoted from within.  It’s not nepotism it’s just the reality of a unregulated and flowing discipline sure we all adhere to the same rules of physiology but one head S&C coach can have a completely different philosophy to another on a whole bunch of issues.

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The team dynamic with in a professional sports team is massively important I think the best saying I have ever heard of in professional sport for the team dynamic comes from a quote in Alistair Campbell’s Excellent book “Winners – and how they succeed” – FIFO (Fit In Or Fuck Off) being a key to Burnley FC’s policy.  A group without cohesion is not a group that is going to achieve anything in the cut throat world of Professional sport.

Where am I going with this?  Realistically you are going to have to work for free to stand any real chance of getting a position within an organisation and not only will you have to work for free for maybe 1-2 years but your also going to have to a great job.  I think it is important for students or people looking to switch career that this isn’t an easy field to get into, you’re going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and engage in a lot of self-learning If you even want to just be employed in the field never mind be a good strength and conditioning coach or lead a world class programme.

Now that I think I have expounded upon the realitieis of getting into strength and conditioning as a profession I think we can start to look at how to be a good intern.

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Finding an internship.

The first thing you should consider is what kind of strength and conditioning coach you want to be it might not be apparent to most to begin with but learning how to train an athlete for a certain discipline or sport isn’t just plug and play.  The dynamics and important aspects of a professional rugby players programme are not even close to being the same as a professional hammer thrower even though both athletes are professional speed and power athletes.

You should single out the sport or kind of organisation you want to specialise in early as it will give you a big leg up getting it clear where you want to end up a few years down the track.  Once you have decided upon the sport or type of organisation you want to get your experience in or work in the next thing is getting some connections in the professional teams or institute that are commutable to you or one you can realistically move to or is in close proximity to your location of study.

How to make your connection is the real art in this whole process, sending speculative emails isn’t a lot better than doing nothing but take it from someone who is on the other side of the fence it is also a very quick and easy way to get your email put into the junk mail folder.  If you can approach people in an endearing manner you will find it very easy to get into the internship or programme you most desire.  The easiest way to get yourself into these positions is to know someone who knows someone, ask around you never know from 2-3 degrees of separation the lead strength and conditioning coach or physio in the performance programme you really want to get into might be your uncle’s best mate.

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Outside of knowing someone you might find that the lead coach or assistant coach of the team there are a few ways of courting favour without resorting to cold calling or emailing at random.

  • Conferences and open days – if you have the opportunity to attend a support staff or strength and conditioning conference it can be a great way to meet and network with a whole bunch of different coaches. Once you have met and talked to someone you would like to work with just follow it up with a polite email conversation or call chances are you will find this route very easy.
  • Courting them on social media – a lot of strength and conditioning coaches are active on social media either twitter (seems to be the big one), linkedin, facebook or youtube. Some even keep blogs and youtube channels (ahem!) it is very easy to reach out to people like this and flattery will normally get you everywhere especially into an intern position!  Don’t be a sycophant but a bit of well-meaning discussion and some light complements can open a lot of doors.

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How to conduct yourself after you have gotten into an institution.

The most difficult part of this process is finding the right institution or sport that you want to go into.  Now you have successfully identified and managed to secure an internship or shadowing opportunity you should be making every pain to try and extract everything you can out of it.

  • Tread the line between curious and annoying. Every strength and conditioning coach I have ever met loves to talk about their programme or to expunge at great length their own opinions or display their knowledge in theory or practice of strength and conditioning.  You can easily use this to indulge their egos and learn from them as they talk.  What you don’t want to do is to become like an annoying 5-year-old child who wants a why for everything and asks it at any opportunity.  Push the boundaries initially with questions but note the tell-tale signs of when someone is getting annoyed or agitated (clenched jaw, deliberate aloofness, lack of eye contact etc) and back off at this point.  When you know their limit when it comes to questions you know your boundaries, stay within them and you will not only stroke their ego but also keep them onside.
  • You have two ears listen twice as much as you talk. You are here because you want to learn either from their experience or you want to gather your own experience, by far the best thing to do in this position is to allow your mentors or seniors to drive the conversation not only will you be more likely to get more out of your interactions as you will be exposed to new opinions and experiences but you will leave a pleasant taste in the mouth.  Nothing is better for making friends then letting people talk about themselves.
  • Don’t be a silent recluse. There are more than two ways of social interaction whilst it might be better on the balance to be seen and not heard one of the worst things you can do as an intern especially in a team sport is to not interact with coaching, support or playing staff.  You don’t have to be the life and soul of the party but being able to hold polite conversation and even show some genuine interest in what others have to say will go a long way to endearing you to the staff.
  • The ability to work on your own devices is a godsend from an intern once you have been given a task if you can ownership of it and even over deliver you will become a very useful addition to the team and in some instances you could even make yourself indispensable. You should still seek help when you are stuck but try using some problem solving first it will be great for your development and will save your head coach a lot of headache.
  • Be humble and competent. No better mixture of character traits will get you further in life than being humble enough to take advice or come across well in social interaction but also backing this up with a high level of competency will see you go far anywhere in life not only your internship.

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How to ensure you get the most you can out of your internship.

You know how to make an outstanding impression and how to secure your position now you have ensured that you are going to be of great use to your lead coach you need to ensure you’re not wasting your own valuable time.

Be clear from the outset what your learning and experience goals are from the internship and communicate them.  Sit down with your mentor and lay out what you would want to be able to achieve at the end of your tenure as an intern if that is being able to run an excel data set or if you want to be employable as a strength and conditioning coach in the area you need to make this clear.  Once you have the headline or the end goal set out you need to come up with stepping stone goals and put into action how you are going to achieve these stepping stone goals and the time lines you need to achieve them.

You will need to drive these aspects of the programme unless you are in an academy situation or in a very well organised intern programme these elements are almost always ad-hoc and can often fail to materialise if your not forthright in securing them.  Strength and conditioning departments are incredibly busy places there is a lot to be done so you shouldn’t be insensitive in your requests but you are due some time investment especially if you are doing the internship as a voluntary position.

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You will no doubt get a lot of hands-on time with the sports science side of things if you work with in a professional set up which is good if you want to work as a sports scientist or data analyst but here are a few things you probably won’t get as an intern that you can learn from your mentors.

  • Putting exercise physiology into practice
  • Planning conditioning programmes
  • Planning strength programmes
  • Integrating strength and power into game or sport specific transfer activities.
  • Man management and relationships.
  • Building a repor with those you work with.
  • How to interact with the physiotherapy staff.
  • Planning an integrating the elements of the programme.
  • Prioritising the important things.
  • Where to decide when to compromise and for what reasons.
  • Exercise technique and coaching.
  • Gait analysis and coaching.
  • Return to play or reintroducing injured athletes into training.
  • How to sequence training correctly.
  • Utilising sport science and monitoring to make informed and accurate decisions.
  • Statistics and interpreting data.
  • Data management.
  • Culture creation and how to drive top down and bottom up initiatives.
  • How to create an environment where only the optimal outcome is acceptable.

Etc – strength and conditioning is a very deep and nuanced field one where science and practice can aid each other or hinder each other.  As an intern you will get time in a professional environment probably with some very talented and astute people.  Hopefully this article can tool you up to not only secure the internship you want but also to get the most out of it.

Marc

 

Strength and Conditioning Research the TL;DR Version – June 2016

Does getting stronger make soccer players faster?

William Styles et al looked at the effect of 6 weeks of strength training utilising the squat exercise (2x per week utilising 80-95% RM) had on 5,10 and 15 meter sprint performance.  They trained 25 professional soccer player who played for a professional english club.

After 6 weeks of training the players realised a significant gain in 1RM squat strength (125.4 kg to 149.3 kg on average), relative strength (1.66x BW to 1.96x BW on average) and sprint times 5m (1.11 to 1.05 on average) 10m (1.83 to 1.78 on average) and 20m (3.09 to 3.04 on average).

The programme was also performed during the competitive season.

TL;DR – Soccer player are weak and slow.  If they lift weights for 6 weeks they become a lot less weak and a bit less slow.

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Effects of cycling vs running on endurance performance in Inline speed skating.

Sixteen high level inline skating athletes where assigned two one of two programmes both of which involved training at an intensity of 52% vo2 max until they had burned 500 kcal of energy.  Before taking part ing the study all athletes took part in fitness testing utilising both inline skating and running (on a treadmill) or biking (on a cycle ergometer).

Both groups performed the same intensity and volume of training 2x per week for a period of 8 weeks.  After the training all groups increased significantly on all fitness parameters measured.  Neither cycling or running showed a significant improvement over the other intervention.  Both groups showed a drop in technical efficiency when they went back to inline skating.

TL;DR – If you are only training for increases in aerobic fitness then running or cycling seem to be as equally effective.

BRISBANE - AUGUST 22: Shane Warne of Australia performs bicep curls during a weights training session for the Australian cricket team held today at the Brisbane Grammar School in Brisbane, Australia on August 22, 2002. (Photo by Jonathan Wood/Getty Images)
BRISBANE – AUGUST 22: Shane Warne of Australia performs bicep curls during a weights training session for the Australian cricket team held today at the Brisbane Grammar School in Brisbane, Australia on August 22, 2002. (Photo by Jonathan Wood/Getty Images)

The relationship between speed and power with throwing velocity in Elite Cricket players.

Freeston et al looked at 17 elite cricket players and performed a cross sectional study design where they tested for a host of strength and power measures and juxtaposed it to a measure of throwing velocity with a cricket ball (from a stretched position utilising a 3 meter run up).

Following on from what must be commended as a thorough statistical analysis they found that.  Lateral to medial jump (on the dominant leg), internal rotation strength on the throwing arm and medicine ball rotation throw and medicine ball chest pass distance all correlated significantly with throwing performance.

Possibly of more interest from a strength and power training standpoint was the lack of significant relationship shown for bench press, back squat, vertical jump and non dominant leg or arm measures.  All exercises that are typically thought to be the most useful strength and power exercises for a sports performance programme, specificity of training who would have thought it!

TL;DR – training like a powerlifter or weightlifter is not a good idea if you’re a cricket player.

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Effect of Pre-Exercise creatine ingestion on the performance of healthy middle aged men.

Baker et al wanted to look at the acute effects of creatine on a middle aged healthy male population (average age of 54.8).  9 men took part in the trial where they were randomly assigned to one of two conditions taking either a 20g serving of creatine 3 hours before exercise or a placebo.

After taking the creatine or placebo all of the participants then went to do 3 sets to figure both on chest press and leg press utilising 70% of their 1RM.  The study showed no significant difference between creatine or the placebo on total reps performed.

TL;DR – Creatine has no acute affect on muscle performance in middle aged men.

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What kind of training is best for getting faster? 

Rumpf et al performed a review of the training literature to try and establish what category of training best resulted in increases in linear speed.  They looked at three training categories Specific (sprinting), non specific (lifting, plyos etc) and combination (non specific training paired with specific sprint training.

The oinked together 48 studies which amounted to a cohort of 1485 subjects.  From their statistical analysis they concluded that

  • Specific training is the most effective over all distances
  • Non specific training appears to be most useful over distances greater than 30 meters.
  • Combined training appears to be the best for 0-10 meters.

TL;DR – If you want to get fast running in a straight line, run fast in a straight line.

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Muscle size vs Muscle Density for determining strength

52 subjects took part in the study (26 men and 26 women).  During the study they had their body composition determined by DEXA scan (seconal MRI of the body and the gold standard), they also has their muscle cross sectional area and density determined using a technique called pQCT (peripheral quantitative computed tomography to it’s mates).

Knee, ankle and grip strength were all measured as well.  The size of forearm or leg muscle accounted for 69-79% of the variance in measurements whereas muscle density only predicted for 18% of the variance.

These findings show that muscle size not muscle density (as commonly banded around in bro science circles) is the important factor for force production.

TL;DR – if you want to be strong get bigger muscles. 

The 5 biggest mistakes Powerlifters make come meet day

I’ve done a lot of competitions in my time but I was out of competitive lifting for a couple of years between 2013-2015 due to a combination of injury and training back up to what I would consider a competitive standard of strength.  I spend 2 days at the 2016 Scottish classic at the weekend and was being reminded a lot of some of the silliest or biggest mistakes that I have made in the past being made again and again by lifters.  Here are 5 of the easiest to avoid mistakes that can ruin your meet.

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1 – Not knowing the equipment regulations!

It doesn’t matter what federation your compete with you can easily find the rule book online.  Each federation has it’s own rules when it comes to the Apparel you can wear or the level or manufacturer of supportive equipment you can use.  There really isn’t any reason why you should fall foul of these rules or regulations other than ignorance or a lack of preparation.  Read and understand your rule book so you are ready for the meet.

The lifter opening up in squat before me at the weekend timed out of his squats because he slipped on his SBD knee sleeves over the top of his socks and wasn’t allowed to take his opener until his sleeves and socks weren’t touching.  That is utterly ridiculous I can hear you saying in your head.  Think as you may rules are rules and if you want to lift in a certain federation you should know and abide by them.  The lifter in question ended up missing out on one of his squat attempts because he couldn’t pull his socks down in a timely manner.

Two lifters also rocked up with Adidas singlets which they weren’t allowed to wear.  They then went around asking if other lifters had spare singlets.  On my check list I always bring a spare set of kit for idiots who can’t read [/sarcasm].

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2 – Eating like a Pig because it’s meet day.

Powerlifting is not a high energetics sport, the metabolic demands are very low when it comes to a meet if you don’t believe me take a look at the superheavy weights at the next competition you do if powerlifting had a high energy demand then there wouldn’t be so many fatties!

Where a lot of lifters end up thinking they need to bring the contents of tescos with them normally stems from them cutting weight or crashing down to weight over the week leading up to the meet.  Hungry people tend to buy a lot of stupid shit that’s why you should never go grocery shopping when you are hungry because you will buy a lot of stupid shit you don’t need.

You should eat like your doing a normal training session doing so will provide you with even energy through the meet (instead of crashing horribly in the bench press warm up), avoid any nasty bloat and stop you making the toilet into a horrible mess.  Instead of brining 3 birthday cakes and a loaf for your meet nutrition think of bringing some caffeine, some sports drinks, some fruit and plenty of water you can eat like a pig after you have finished your meet.

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3 – Cutting weight for no particular reason.

As soon as a sport has weight classes it seems developing absurd eating habits and even borderline obsessions and disorders becomes the norm.  The amount of lifters I have seen running around in big bags or suffering horribly at the start of the meet because they have put themselves through some retarded water cutting protocol is crazy.

If you lift in a tested federation you weigh in 2 hours before lifting starts in a best case scenario, if you lift in an untested federation you have 24 hours from where you can replenish your fluids.  That is some difference if you don’t compete in a federation that has a 24 hour weigh in you can forget about cutting that 5 kilos in water weight because it’s gonna make your meet a lot more stressful than it needs to be.

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4 – Not bringing a friend to handle the attempts card.

If you don’t have a coach then it can be pretty annoying having to remember to get your pen and attempt card ready for post lift so you can hand it into the table on time.  Luckily this can be easily avoided by bringing a good friend or partner along to your meet and have them worry about writing down your attempts and even taking your videos.

If you haven’t had someone along to help you with this when you finally have a coach or friend taking care of these small details you will be astonished at how much easier the competition is when all you have to worry about is the lifting.

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5 – Opening heavy and trying to YOLO their third attempt.

I heard something on social media or at the meet from the weekend the direct quote is “leave nothing on the platform” this to my mind is the worst advice any lifter could follow.  Ideally you should be setting personal bests on the platform and smoking them from attempt 1 through to 3.  It is a delicate balance you need to strike from meet to meet and with your own training but if you can get the balance right the momentum and confidence you can build is by far better than any programme, piece of equipment or supplement you will ever come across for you performance.  Nothing leads to great performance than and unflappable certainty in your own ability.

My advise would be to open with something you can hit for a comfortable 3 rep set.  Take something you could hit for a balls out double on your second attempt and then look to dominate a smooth single on you third attempt.

If I am coaching in a flight of lifters nothing makes my eyes light up more than someone struggling with their second attempt as it makes beating them very easy since they are effectively only taking 6 lifts (or in the case of monumental efforts or great performances 7-8).  If you opponent is making their second attempt look like another warm up then attempt selection become extremely difficult because you have no idea what they are capable of!

Powerlifting is a sport where the person who accumulates the best total in their weight class wins not the person who makes the best YOLO personal best on one of the three disciplines.  Undercook yourself a bit and you will start to see the joys of momentum from meet to meet.

Marc

Solving Poor Lock out in the Bench Press – Part one getting swole.

Most people find that when they fail in the bench press that they will fail about half ways up or just towards lock out as the load goes from the chest and lats transferring onto the triceps.  It is common knowledge in the powerlifting world that a big bench means strong triceps this knowledge stems from equipped lifting and especially multi ply lifting here the ability to lock out the bar from the chest (assuming you can touch your chest!) is the difference between a massive bench press and not being able to use a shirt.

When it comes to unequipped bench press where someone fails are hugely individual it basically a combination of how your body is put together and how you have your grip on the bar.  Typically, a wider gripped lifter will tend to fail further down whilst a closer gripped lifter will tend to fail higher up.

If you are a lifter who fails at lock out (which means pretty much everyone!) then this article is for you.

Defining “Lock out”

Before we address the solution I would like to define the part of the bench press that I am singling out so we are all on the same page when it comes to thinking out the solution.  So we will only be talking about the concentric portion of the bench press (from chest to finish).

Initial Press (Chest to Sticking point)

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Major Muscles – Lats, Chest and Shoulders

Secondary Muscles – Triceps

Lock out (post sticking point)

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Major Muscles – Shoulders and Triceps

Secondary Muscles – Lats and Chest.

When I say major muscles these are the muscles or groups doing the most when it comes to lifting the weight through that range and secondary muscles are still involved but in a reduced role this is primarily down to the biomechanics of the movement so can change when grip or range of motion is changed.  For example, if a lifter uses a board then the chest never becomes a major muscle or if a lifter goes to a very close grip then the triceps become relatively more important to the lift and provide a greater percentage of total effort.

What I will go over now is a 12-week plan designed to take you past your bench press plateau and especially if that plateau is based around the top half of your bench press I will discuss during the process the rationale behind these changes.

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Stage one getting Swole (week 1 – 6).

The first thing you should be looking at when it comes to your lock out or lack there of is your muscle size and more importantly the muscle size of your important muscle groups (triceps and shoulders), this isn’t going to be a quick solution it is something you will need to address throughout your lifting life however to begin the process of this programme a period of high volume is essential as it will

  • Increase cross sectional area of your target muscles which will increase your force production potential (read max strength).
  • Increase the work capacity or lift specific fitness of the muscles and also movements we will be utilising in this programme which gives you a greater opportunity to overload later in the programme.

For your bench specific training I would recommend following a normal training routine that also went along with more of a volume based approach (such as 5/3/1 or 5-4-3 programmes).  Triceps assistance will take part second in the programme as it is concentrated on a hypertrophy and work capacity outcome and not direct performance.

The primary methods we will be using during this part of the programme will be geared towards inducing high volume and muscle fatigue.

  • 15-20 reps – using this set and rep protocol you will take your 20 RM and do it for 3 sets if you fail to make 3 sets of 20 then you should keep the weight for next week.  If you manage to make 3 sets of 20 reps, then you should hold increase the weight for next week.
  • Heavy 5 followed by rep outs.  For the heavy 5 you should be looking to lift a 5 rep PB in the movement and try to increase this week to week.  This should be a token heavy 5 on week one that you look to build on during the 4 weeks of the programme.  After your 5 rep you will then perform 2 sets to failure utilising 90% and 75% of the original weight used for the heavy 5.
  • 12/10/8/6 – this involves 4 sets looking to hit as heavy a weight as you can for each set.  In practice this means week one of the programme you should look to perform a set of 12 reps, a set of 10 reps, a set of 8 reps and finally a set of 6 reps.  If you manage to hit that weight for all reps, then that set should increase by 2.5 kg – 5 kg for the next week.  The first week should be set starting with your 12-14 rep max and then increased by 5-10 kg per set meaning you should make every set in the first week.

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Week 1 – 3

Session 1

Follow Diesel crew shoulder warm up

Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.

DB Shoulder press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Close grip bench press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Rolling Triceps Pushdown – Heavy 5 followed by rep out.

Bench Row or “seal row” – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Session 2

Follow Diesel crew shoulder warm up

Incline Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.

3 Board Press – 12/10/8/6

Barbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

JM Press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Bench Row or “seal row” – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.

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Week 4 – 6

Session 1

Follow Diesel crew shoulder warm up

Paused Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.

Close grip bench press – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs

Barbell Shoulder Press – 12/10/8/6

Rolling Triceps Pushdown – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Bench Row or “seal row” – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs.

Session 2

Follow Diesel crew shoulder warm up

Decline Bench Press – Follow 5/3/1 or 5/4/3 template.

3 Board Press – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs

DB Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

JM Press – Heavy 5 followed by rep outs

Bench Row or “seal row” – 12/10/8/6

This 6-week programme will definitely hammer your shoulders and triceps setting you up for the next stage of the programme working on specific drills and exercises working towards building a new bench press max.

Marc

 

Strength and Conditioning Research the TL;DR Version – May 2016

TL;DR

  • Chain deadlift is lighter at the bottom and heavier at the top and heavier loads lead to greater muscle activation… thanks science.
  • The trap bar high be better for athletes as it shows better force characteristics and the straight bar deadlift is better for training the posterior chain.
  • If you train for sports performance in a ground based sport you definitely should be squatting instead of leg pressing. 
  • Sled sprints utalising 75% of bodyweight potentiate bodyweight springs after 8-12 minutes of rest. 
  • Resistance training exercise causes increased calorie expenditure, heart rate and lactate increases regardless of implement.  Resistance training could also be potentially used to induce cardiovascular adaptations.   

EMG and Force Plate Analysis of the Deadlift Performed With and Without Chains

Ramsey Mijem et al looked at the effect of adding chains to a deadlift exercise on muscle activation (EMG) and force characteristics versus the traditional deadlift exercise.  13 resistance trained men took pair in the study on Day one of the test they performed a 1 rep max test.  On day 2 they performed two sets of 3 reps of 85% of their maximum one with chains and the other without chains.  The 85% of max in the chain condition had approximately 20% of it’s load coming from chain resistance.

There weren’t many differences reported the no chain condition resulted in greater glute activation, the chain deadlift resulted in less ground reaction forces and didn’t affect rate of force production.  And for both variations erector spinie activation was greater at the bottom of the lift when compared with the top of the lift.

TL;DR – Chain deadlift is lighter at the bottom and heavier at the top and heavier loads lead to greater muscle activation… thanks science.

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Muscle activation and power characteristics of trap bar deadlift vs straight bar deadlift

Kevin Camara looked at the effect of the trap bar deadlift vs the straight bar deadlift utilising EMG and a force plate to look at muscle activation and force characteristics of both lifts.  20 men took part in the deadlift they performed 1RM deadlift testing on both variations and showed little difference between the two types of bar straight bar 181.4 trap bar 181.1 on average.

Subjects then performed a set of 3 on a force plate using 65 and 85%  of 1 RM.  The EMG showed that the quadriceps where activated more in the trap bar sets whilst the lower back and hamstrings where more active during the straight bar deadlift.  The trapper showed greater levels of peak force, peak power and peak velocity compared to the straight bar deadlift.

TL;DR – the trap bar high be better for athletes as it shows better force characteristics and the straight bar deadlift is better for training the posterior chain.

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The Impact of Back Squat and Leg-Press Exercises on Maximal Strength and Speed-Strength Parameters

Klaus Wirth et al looked at the effects of the back squat exercise and leg press on both the countermovement jump and squat jump.  78 students took part in the study and where split into two groups Leg press and Squat groups.  Before the intervention they took part in pre testing and then took part in an 8 week training programme utilising either the back squat or leg press.

Post testing showed greater performance gains in both jump tests for the squat jump 12.4% vs 3.5% and for the counter movement jump 12% vs 0.5%.

TL;DR – if you train for sports performance in a ground based sport you definitely should be squatting instead of leg pressing. 

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The Acute Potentiating Effects of Heavy Sled Pulls on Sprint Performance

Paul Winwood et al looked at the effects of a 75% bodyweight 15 meter spring and 150% bodyweight sprint over 7.5 meter on subsequent 15 meter body weight sprint performance.  22 resistance trained rugby athletes took part in the study they performed 2 bodyweight sprints the performed one of the two weighted sprint conditions.  After 2 sled pulls they performed another 15 meter sprint at three time intervals 4 minutes, 8 minutes and 12 minutes after the last sled effort.

Only 75% of bodyweight showed an increase in sprint performance and the best increases of sprint performance came at 8-12 minutes post sled sprint.

TL;DR – sled sprints utalising 75% of bodyweight potentiate bodyweight springs after 8-12 minutes of rest. 

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Acute Physiological Responses to Strongman Training Compared to Traditional Strength Training

Nigel Harris looked at the pre and post levels of blood lactate and salivary testosterone levels of both strongman and traditional strength training sessions both lasting approximately 80 minutes in length.  During the session heart rate, calorie expenditure and substrate utilisation where measured.  10 healthy men took part in the study and had 7 days of rest between sessions.

The strongman training  consisted of sled dead, farmers walk, 1 arm DB clean and press and tyre flip utilising 30 second bouts of maximal effort.  For the weight training they worked up to 75% of 1 RM using the squat, deadlift, power clean and bench press exercise.  Both training sessions showed elevations in all measured parameters apart from testosterone.  Both methods produced similar responses.

TL;DR – resistance training exercise causes increased calorie expenditure, heart rate and lactate increases regardless of implement.  Resistance training could also be potentially used to induce cardiovascular adaptations.