Monday, 2 December 2013

Birthdays, Challenges and the Inman Mile

The Blog has just turned one year old and while i jave not always been able to give it as much attention as i would like it has helped me define my training philosy as something more than lifting to look good or to win. I have many plans for the future and lots of blog post ideas still to come. The training style has come down to develop maximal strength, develop relative strength, lift weights, lift your own body, lift awkward objects, do conditioning. Do basic compound exercises with barbells and Stive for progressive resistance. Start with basic bodyweight exercises like chin ups and dips and build up to more difficult skills such as one arm chins and handstand push ups. Lift and carry awkward objects, sandbags, kegs, logs, rocks, strongman equipment. Condition yourself steady state easy cardio like power walking and swimming and build up to more useful forms such as sprinting, fighting, and carrying things. To me this sums up being a good all rounder but with an emphasise on strength. This is not cross fit. You are always striving to make your body stronger in one of these forms.

Its good to set challenges for yourself these can anything from hitting a specific weight, bodyweight feat or doing a powerlifting competition. For example to long term challenges for me are to lift all the Scottish manhood stones outlined in the book Of Stones and Strength by Steve Jeck.

Another challenge I want to do is to swim the lake Ulswater in the Lake District as my Grandad swum this lake when he was younger.

A more recent challenge I have come across is the Inman Mile.
This is where you take 1.5xBodyweight on your back like a squat and attempt to walk a mile with it. Its never actually been done with the record standing around 800metres. There is a yearly charity attempt at this challenge held in Tiverton in Devon by Tiverton weightlifting club. Its held on the 4th May and next year I plan to compete. While the challenge is seen as a novelty I think it is the perfect kind of training to develop what I am after. Anyone who can complete the challenge would be an absolute beast. While you would possess incredible endurance you would also needs to be very strong as well. It personifies be strong to be useful.

How do I plan on actually training for this? Well I have no way of taking a bar outside for a walk and wouldn't be able to load it to my shoulders without help. I'm going to have to rely on gym work alone. Some useful exercises i've been thinking of are weighted lunges in the squat rack, hise shrugs for time with the working weight, good mornings and marching in place in the squat rack. I'm currently around 83kg sitting between 2 weight classes of 80kg or 85kg. The difference making me have to carry 120kg or 127.5kg. I plan to cut to under 80kg for this challenge. A lighter weight and better conditioning.

Challenges like this are not the sole reason or emphasise for training. It still comes back to getting stronger at barbells, bodyweight, awkward stuff and conditioning. They merely add fun and enthusiasm to your training and a sense of accomplishment to your life which carries over to other things. Find your own challenges and strive to achieve them. Use what you learn and apply it to the rest of your training. Revel in their completion.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Limiting Mental Factors

People struggle to make progress not always because of physical factors but sometimes because of their own mind. People can often hold themselves back due to their own mental barriers they create, barriers which don't actually exist. I have written previously about how people often read too much and suffer paralysis by analysis in my post Do you know the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

There are a few areas which I think lifters read too much into and think matter more than they actually do.

First of all we have genetics. Now this is as very broad term which doesn't say much about why people hold themselves back because they don't believe their genetics's are good enough. So let's break down genetics into individual factors people think are more important than they are.

Limb lever lengths. This one comes up a lot. People think that unless you are built perfectly for a lift you will never be strong at it. You must have long arms, short arms, short torso, short legs, long torso, big rib cage, 7.567480943 inch wrists for you to be a good deadlifter, squatter or bencher.  There is one thing which matters far more than any of these things. That is the strength of your muscles. Weight moves by the force your muscles apply to it. It doesn't matter how you are built if your muscles are weak you will not lift a lot of weight. What is far more important is to just focus on becoming as strong as possible. What's more comforting is when I attend powerlifting competitions I often see guys who look to be exceptions to the typical limb leverage rules. Long armed guys with big benches, skinny guys with massive squats etc. Now if leverages are based on physics and physics doesn't have exception it goes to show that there is more at play than simply how you are built for a lift. These guys exist because they are actually strong and don't hold themselves back thinking " I'll never have a good bench I've got long arms, its physics biggunz408 says so"

Body types. I'm sure everyone has heard of the three supposesed body types. The ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. Ectomorphs are the skinny hard gainers, endomorphs are the fat ones whose genetics area to blame for them being fat and mesomorphs are naturally muscular, lean and are amazing at everything. Some texts even go so far as to say a particular body type also has a particular personality and should only train in a certain way. Of course you're an ectomorph so you must be introverted and only lift in the 15-20 rep range. This is utterly ridiculous as if there are only 3 types of people in the world. No one really is an exact version of any of these and physical training and diet are what detetmines what your body will actually look like. So you are skinny, build muscle, you are fat lose weight, not paeticialy one or the other does that mean that every thing is given to you on a plate because you are a mesomorph? Just because you are not skinny or fat doesn't mean you find it easier to build muscle. It still comes down to training and diet. I wouldn't consider myself any of the 3. Before I started lifting I wasn't really fat or skinny or muscular I was just an average build. Now I'm more mesomorphic but wait, isn't that the point of training? To gain muscle and strength and lose fat? If you train hard and eat well you will achieve both of these things no matter from where you started. So if you are an ectomorph or endomorph you become a mesomorph through diet and lifting so in reality if those regimented body types do exist how is it then that you are able to change from one to another? Surely you can't change your genetics but you are able to change your body because lifestyle factors are bigger than genetic factors. So you think you gain fat easily because you are endomorphic. As you become leaner you make it easier to stay leaner. Insulin sensitivity improves, anabolic hormones increase, you build muscle which raises metabolism,  you become fitter and your work capacity improves meaning you can work harder and do more. Your body is making its self more favourable to becoming muscular and lean. What if you are a skinny hardgainer. lifestyle changes brought on by diet and training suddenly make it easier to gain, increased appetite from an increase in bodyweight, more nourishing food which you may have been lacking before, increases in anabolic hormones such as testosterone from dietry fat and heavy training with compound movements, improved sleep from all the hard work, getting stronger which in turn allows you to train harder and heavier causing greater muscle gains. Once you start building muscle it can have a cascading effect making your body more favourable at making greater gains. Don't hold yourself back thinking you have certain body type which will hold you back from making progress. The only thing to hold you back is you.

Muscle fibre composition. There are 3 types of muscle fibres, type 1 slow twitch, type 2a fast twitch and type 2b super fast twitch. It is thought that those with superior genetics for explosive events have prodominenty fast and super fast twitch fibres while those who are superior at endutrence events have predominantly slow twitch fibres. Most peoples muscles are about a 50/50 combination of type 1 and 2 with a similar arrangement among the type 2a and 2b. Amongst these muscle fibre type 2a are the most responsive to change. They have the ability to adapt towards slow twitch (endurance) or fast twitch (power) depending on the demands placed upon them (training).

Equipment. It's possible to get strong using the most basic equipment. Yet lifters seem to think they must train at Westside and if only their gym had bands, chains, a reverse hyper, a glute ham raise, a prowler, sled, football bar, safety squat bar, chambered bar, or whatever then they would be able to make progress. Now the thing is guy's have been getting strong for decades before all this specialised crap by just using the basic lifts. Guys like Ed Coan and captain Kirk got to world class level with just regular barbell lifts and a few simple assistance exercises. Look at old time strongmen. They had even less equipment avaible to them and still achieved incredible strength and physiques. Even crappy commercial gyms have barbells and most have a squat rack. What more do you need? Even one guy called Milo steinborn wasn't going to let something such as the squat rack not being invented stop him from doing heavy squats and would simple up end the barbell get underneath it and perform squats. He even did it with up to 500lbs.

Supplements. Sometimes lifters feel like supplements make such a huge difference to them that they are unable to make progress without them. They are following the Anacoda protocol with indigo 3G and MAG 10 pulses throughout the day and would be useless without their morning 11 pills of animal pak. They must follow the best peri workout nutrition otherwise their entire workout is useless. In fact I don't think "peri" is even a word. The concept that you must consume very specific fast digesting nutrients around your workout is relatively new. Going back to many old school lifters and strongmen many achieved great things without any supplements what so ever. Now the thing is if you consume the same overall macronutritions in a day from food as you would from including the latest pre, intra and post workout nutrition do you really think its going to make a difference? The supplements may be faster acting so get to work sooner but they are still going to take hours to digest. When you finish a workout its the pre digested food that is going to kick start your recovery not your post work out shake. Don't think that a pre workout shake will make difference either as it will still be long after your workout when its nutrients are utilised. When you are doing intense exercise digestion is all but halted as your body moves blood away from the stomach and into the muscles. If you were to eat the same macros from food while it might not digest as fast it will be sustained over a longer period of time keeping your recovery ticking over for longer.

I don't mean to say that all supplements are a waste of money but I feel real food is superior. And don't hold yourself back thinking you can't make progress without them.

There may be other ways lifters hold themselves back mentally but I think this covers the main ones. Just remember there are no excuses and your force of will is far stronger than your body is. Break walls down

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Problems with getting fat to get strong

There seems to be a trend that those involved in strength training or strength sports should simply eat as much a possible to get stronger. That getting fat is part of the game and a sacrifice you have to make to be big and strong. And you know the extra fat improves leverage or something like that. Worrying about your abs or physique is pretty boy bodybuilding crap and is looked down upon. The internet doesn't help with articles like This actively encouraging you to become as fat as possible.

I want this to change. Not only does fat not improve your strength it is massively detrimental to your health and self esteem.

Powerlifting originated in America as did strongman and I wonder whether the culture is partly responsible. In America everything must be big. Big cars, big trucks, big guns, big roads, big people, big eating, big lifting. Since strength sports are more popular in America and a lot of the information you read online is from american websites I wonder if this is at least some of the reason that strength athletes feel they have to eat their faces off to succeed. Now I'm not hating on America in many ways it is much cooler than the UK. But America knows it has an obesity epidemic and the UK is not far behind.

Strength sports are divided into weight classes. Even strongman has under 105kg and under 90kg. To be successful in any weight class sport you want to maximise your body composition. You want to have the most muscle and least fat possible in your weight class to give you the potential to be as strong as possible. If you have two lifters weighing 100kg, one is 10% body fat while the other is 20% who will likely be stronger? The 10% will have more lean body mass and so with have more potiential strength than the other, as well as a more impressive physique. Some people think you should just eat your way into the heaviest weight class. This is completely idiotic since any one can be an obese 140kg person. Unless you have the bone structure to be able to handle the higher weight classes the only way you will get there is become incredibly fat, in which case you will likely lose to the guys who are ment to be there. If you are a lean 80kg you are not going to gain 60kg of muscle to be a super heavyweight without using some serious assistance.

In the good old days of physical culture strength used to be synonymous with health. The first major muscle magazine was called strength and health. If you have ever read any old time strongman books such as The Way To Live by George Hackenschmit you will find that health is greatly emphasised probably more so than lifting is. While the advice might be outdated they were on the right track. This emphasis on health has been completely lost to either steroid abuse or guys gaining so much fat in an attempt to get strong.

 There are a multitude of health problems associated with being over weight. Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Since I work first hand with people with many problems like this let me tell you they are not pleasant. If these aren't enough there are a few problems of particular importance to lifters. Being overweight puts a lot of stress on the joints. Knees, ankles and back seem to be the worst culprits. Add weightlifting on top of this and your joints are not going to be in good shape. If you are injured and aching all the time and can't train was the sacrifice of all that weight gain really worth it.

Another problem is the hormonal shit storm being overweight creates. The hormone insulin which is responsible for shuttling nutrients into muscle and fat cells becomes less responsive due to being constantly elevated from poor dietary habits. This can lead to diabetes down the line but if health doesn't bother you it will also make it more difficult to build muscle and lose fat. If you body is constantly in fat storage mode there is little left to help you build muscle and therefore get stronger. Next comes testosterone and estrogen. Being overweight increases your estrogen levels while suppressing testosterone. Obviously this is not a good thing as it can lead to decreased muscle and bone mass, depression, Lack of sex drive and also potentially prostate cancer. Finally there is leptin. This is a hunger hormone which tells you that you are full. By constantly eating leptin becomes suppressed similar to insulin so that it takes more and more food for the body to realise that you are full. Many lifters recommend going on a massive bulk when you first start lifting. That you should follow a see food diet and drink a gallon of milk a day. They say you can easily diet the fat off later. But here's the problem. How many truely lean guys do you see? I don't mean on the internet but in the real world and in the gym. Often when someone becomes fat they end up staying that way. Its the hormones which wreck havoc with your system, making it more difficult to lose weight. The other problem is that they also make it more difficult to gain muscle as well.

Another factor at play is that of psychology. No one gets into lifting weights because they want to look worse. I understand not everyone wants to look like a bodybuilder myself included but I would argue everyone wants to have a good physique even if they area the most hardcore strength athlete. Human beings are essentially vain creatures doing the vast majority of things to try to appear attractive to the opposite sex. We associate strength with the look of muscles. When someone is fat they don't look strong because you can not see the muscles. Contrast that to someone who is very lean even if they aren't incredibly strong they see themselves looking in great shape which in turn makes them feel strong. When you can see every muscle and vain, when you can see how defined your back is looking or how thick your abs are looking from all the strength training it really gives you a psychological boost.

It was Jim Wendler who remarked that when he was a 275lbs powerlifter all he could do was woddle up to the monolith and squat. By becoming so overweight he had made his body only good at one thing: static strength. It seemed this sickened him as he soon embarked on improving his conditioning and losing weight. To the point where he could actually use his body for other things again such as playing sports and sprinting up hills. By letting yourself become fat you lose all aspects of conditioning, making yourself only capable of a one off specific strength test. There is more to being strong than just a one rep Max. Look at strongman. Not only do these guys have incredible static strength but also the conditioning and muscular endurance to back it up. I recall seeing Britain's strongest man a couple of years ago. It was down to the last event of two competitors. Jimmy Marku a 140kg beast who still manages to look lean and Glen Ross a typical fat strong guy who weighed close to 200kg. The two were close on points and it was down to a head to head loading race of heavy awkward shit. Things like giant anchors, massive metal changes used by tug boats, and heavy barrels. It was no surprise that the massive Glen Ross lost that day because he was gased out after the first implement. Marku had the conditioning as well as the strength to finish loading everything and be named Britain's strongest man. The thing is how strong are you if you can't apply your strength after I only a short period of physical activity. Even if you do powerlifting you still have 9 lifts to do which can take all day. How do you expect to put up a good deadlift if you are so exhausted from squats?

                                                Jimmy Marku
                                                  Glenn Ross

I have always encouraged the acquisition of useful strength. That is having strength to help yourself or others in any physical situation you may face in life. By becoming extremely fat you are specialising to such an extent as to lose any real useful strength. Your conditioning becomes so poor that you can't do anything beyond one lift. You weigh so much that you lose all athletism in your body. You can't lift explosively anymore. You can't lift your own bodyweight and even a pull up becomes impossible. How are you supposed to carry something heavy if you are puffed out after two steps. Really you are creating the opposite of what I want to achieve becoming strong and athletic. And is the sacrifice really worth it? All the health problems when you still probably won't be powerlifting world champion or a record holder. If you really are an elite super heavy weight powerlifter than I understand why you might do it but if you just want to become strong its perfectly possible while still being lean and healthy. Don't listen to the internet fat guys trying to justify themselves instead enjoy all lifting weights has to offer. I implore you to be strong but stay useful.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Beginner Nutrition

We all know the importance of diet when it comes to gaining muscle and strength or losing fat. But if you are used to eating the typical persons diet of sugar filled possessed crap it can be difficult to change to eat in a way that supports your lifting goals. This is where I feel many beginners slip up and fail to achieve much of anything because they do not have their diet homed in.

There are many problems beginners face in this area. Some simply pay no attention to their diet what so ever continuing with their takeaways and coke diet. Others eat what they think is a healthy diet consisting of cereal bars, musali, pasta and prune juice. There are those who hear they must go on a massive bulk to make gains because Ripptoe or whoever said so. They follow a see food diet eating anything and everything and washing it down with a gallon of milk a day. And of course there are those few who find there way into a GNC and think they must take every supplement that is sent there way by the salesman. It's a shame they don't seem to eat any actual real food though.

First of all let's clear something up. If you are a beginner you probably don't need to worry about bulking or cutting. You just need to make better food choices. Beginners have the unique ability to gain muscle and strength while losing fat. This should be exactly what you are aiming to do. No one got into lifting weights because they wanted to be fatter and look worse. The problem with going on an all out bulk fest is that it often leads to making you fat and keeping you that way. How many guys do you see in the gym who never look any different. They may well have been training for years but never sort their diet out. They may have some mass but are always carrying that extra layer of fat. You need to learn the habits of proper eating and dieting first before you bulk.

There needs to be a gradual process of changing your diet overtime much the same way you progress in lifting weights by adding small increments week in week out to add up to big weights. You don't go from a beer and crisps diet to a bodybuilders pre contest diet of 6 portions of plain chicken breast and broccoli a day otherwise you'll find you won't be following it for very long. so lets go through some basic nutrient information and some steps to get your diet moving in the right direction.

1. Eat more fruit and vegetables. This is pretty simple add more of these to your diet doesn't matter which ones for now just add them in. Fruit with breakfast, some salad and fruit with lunch, some cooked veg for dinner or something along those lines. The government says 5 a day so get at least that if not more. Make sure there is some veg and not just fruit and try to mix it up a bit. Fresh or frozen are best, it doesn't have to be organic and don't bother with dried fruit or fruit juices as they are just concentrated sugar.

2. Eat 3-4 solid meals a day. Many people lack a proper eating pattern, skipping breakfast, rushing lunch from a fast food place when they can and going nuts at night on ice cream and chocolate. Aim to have 3 or 4 proper meals a day at around the same time each day. Try to have breakfast otherwise you will get hungry later in the day and the urge to binge on crap is greatly increased. Yes i've heard of intermittent fasting but you need to focus of building good food habits before you worry about the finer details of meal frequency. Try to eat a satisfying lunch and dinner. Make the meals largish so you are not hungry soon after and end up snacking on things in between.

3. Eat more protein. Protein is used to build muscle. It also fills you up more than any other food source and requires more energy to digest helping you to avoid gaining fat. Go for meat, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, beef, eggs, and fish are good best sources. Aim to get 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for myself at 180lbs I get 180g of protein a day. Most meat and fish has around 25g of protein per 100g and one egg has around 7g. I found that when i achieved this number my diet was generally pretty good. Since this is likely a lot more protein than  you are used to eating you find that you diet improves greatly because there just isn't space for junk food because you are so full from all the protein you are getting. And since you are eating large amounts of meat, fish and eggs I've found my veg intake also increased because these foods naturally complement each other.

4. Switch to diet soft drinks. Cut out all drinks which contain calories as most are sugar filled which is a recipe for fat gain. This means all full sugar fizzy drinks, all fruit juices even smoothies. Just because it comes from fruit its still packed with sugar. You can still have tea and coffee but don't put sugar in them and don/t have all the frothy crappachino stuff. Drink water or sugar free drinks. Getting people to just drink water is pretty much impossible so stick with sugar free drinks as a replacement for now. I know they have artificial sweeteners but they aren't the end of the world and won't effect fat gain. The best ones to go for are flavoured waters. These tend to have less sweeteners than the big name diet drinks and tend not to have aspartame in which is the sweeter which causes the most health concerns.

5. Change your grains to wholegrain. There may be some despite about this but paleo probably isn't the best way to go for a beginner. It would be hard to stick to and a low carb diet is not a good idea when you've suddenly decided to take up an intense physical pursuit. Switch out white bread for brown, white pasta for can keep to white rice though.

6. Get some good fats. Not all fat is bad. And eating fat doesn't necessarily make you fat. You will get some from the protein sources. Nuts, olive oil, oily fish are your best bet.

7. Don't worry about low carb or low fat just eat decent healthy meals. When it comes to breakfast cut out sugary cereals. Your best bet is something you cook like meat and eggs with wholegrain toast or porridge perhaps with some fruit in it for flavour. For lunch maybe wholegrain sandwiches with turkey, tuna or peanut butter with some fruit after or maybe a chicken salad with a generous amount of meat and drizzled in olive oil. For dinner have a cooked meal of meat or fish with veg and some good carbs like potatoes or rice.

8. Cut out the junk. The worst offender for fatness is sugar so eliminate anything with sugar in your diet, soft drinks, fruit juice, sweets, chocolate, cakes, yogurts you get the idea. Don't eat fast food there are no healthy options no matter how much the company tries to convince you. Cut out heavily processed foods like baked goods sausage rolls, pizza, chips, crisps, cheese stuff like that. Also try to avoid foods which are disguised as healthy, cereal bars, fruit juice, dried fruit, smoothies, yogurts, breakfast cereals virtually anything labelled low fat and anything with a TV advert. No one ever advertises a bag of porridge oats, and no athlete was ever sponsored by steak and broccoli.

9. include cheat meals. This is where you eat whatever you want for a certain meal. I would not suggest doing this more than twice a week and once a week or every two if you are overweight. Always make it the last meal of the day if possible to remove the temptation of eating junk all through the day. This is a cheat meal not a cheat day. Eating junk all day can really mess up your progress when it comes to losing fat and building muscle. This is why it should be the last meal of the day. So you go to bed and start a fresh the next day. The first 2-3 meals should still be good and healthy before you have your cheat. If you keep your diet good for the rest of the time the 1-2 cheat meals a week will not affect your fat loss or muscle gain. You can achieve 100% of the progress with a 95% strict diet. But what about moderation? Surely I can eat whatever I want in moderation right? Wrong. How do you define moderation? A big Mac a day or once a month? You could eat a moderate amount of take away with a moderate amount of chocolate and drink a moderate amount of coke and still be consuming a hell of a lot of junk. Moderation tends to lead to binging. A moderate amount of something makes you crave more of something. Like I've written before who eats the suggested serving size of a tub of Ben and Jerry's? Its like 1/5 of a tub. You eat the whole damn tub. You are better off knowingly eating a tub of ice cream once a week than to try and eat a little bit a night which turns into a tub a night.
Here's an excerpt from The Peaceful Warrior a book I've mentioned before. This is when a wise man was asked about moderation

Moderation? It's mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise. It's the devil's dilemma. It's neither doing nor not doing. It's the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It's for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. lukewarm tea, the devil's own brew.” 
― Dan MillmanWay of the Peaceful Warrior

10. Supplements. These are really not important for a beginner and can lead someone down the wrong path very early on. First things first the vast majority of supplements have little noticeable benefit, have ridiculous unrealistic claims, aren't backed up by scientific research and are designed to just make you part with your hard earned cash. While not all supplements are bad you need to be very critical of anything you do take. As a beginner I would say avoid all supplements until you have good dietary habits in place first. Then start with the basics a protein powder, a multi vitamin, and fish oil. This covers protein intake and general health. There is nothing you can take that will turn you into a Hercules overnight. In fact if you don't want to take any supplements at all that is perfectly fine. I doubt it will effect you progress in a negative way if you eat very healthy but don't take supplements.

You need to make a gradual change with your diet and build good eating habits from the beginning. Give yourself one month to do this. Habits are not built overnight and initial motivation doesn't last forever. So over the course of this month you will go from your current modern diet to a simple healthy diet which will get you started on your way to building muscle and losing fat.

So the first week of the month you will pick 3 days in which you will follow a proper diet like I've outlined so far. You will start the day with either porridge and fruit for breakfast or meat and eggs. It doesn't matter for now which one. The only drinks you will consume on these days are diet or sugar free soft drinks, tea or coffee with no sugar or water. For lunch you will have either sandwiches with whole grain bread containing meat or fish or a salad with meat or fish. Make sure you have a liberal amount of meat. Add in a piece of fruit for afters and some nuts if you like. For dinner go for meat or fish with vegetables. Add some carbohydrate such as potatoes, rice or whole grain pasta. Again you can follow up with fruit for desert. Try not to snack in between these meals. This may mean that you have to increase the size of the meals so that you are satisfied after each meal. If this is not practical such as having a limited time to eat breakfast then just increase the size of the evening meal and resist the temptation to snack in between meals. Try to get as close as possible to the gram of protein per pound of bodyweight number without using supplements. Meat, fish and eggs are the way to go for this.
For the other four days of the week eat however you want. If you want to follow the diet plan for more than 3 days in the week then go ahead but you don't have to. In week 2 you will do the same except you will follow the diet plan for 4 days of week and eat however you wish for 3. The days can be in any combination they don't have to be consecutive. In week 3 you follow the diet for 5 days with 2 days of eating whatever. In week 4 you guessed it you follow the diet for 6 days with only 1 day being what would now be your cheat day. Make sure any junk food or drink is only eaten on this day. In week 5 you will change it from having a whole cheat day to just a cheat meal. The final meal of day 7 will be your cheat meal where you will eat whatever you want with the 2 previous meals still adhering to the diet plan.this will have taken you from a typical crappy diet to a healthy high protein one which will dramatically improve you progress in the gym and your body composition. Due to the gradual nature of the plan you have been weened off the bad stuff slowly with a once weekly outburst to keep you sane. This process make this plan much more sustainable in the long run that a complete and instant trasition to a strict healthy diet.

Don't worry you can still have your roast dinner

While this is the basic diet foundation there is room for further refinement in which I shall go into in later posts. For now stick with this plan and actually build some good habits with your nutrition.

But what about paleo, low carb, low fat, keto, 6 meals a day, intermittent fasting blah, blah, there is nothing wrong with any of these diet plans but for someone who is a complete beginner regarding diet and nutrition none of these are really sustainable. Most beginners who end up following one of these for a few days before crashing and binging out. Then they start a fresh with a new plan trying something else until they give in and fail at that. They have no consistency and therefore achieve no results. Stick to a plan and reap the rewards. No bulking, no cutting just eating for lifting.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

More About Be Strong To be Useful And The Ultimate In General Physical Preparedness.

Within the fitness industry in recent years there has been the fad of functional fitness. This is fitness aimed at helping you overcome physical tasks you may face in life. I have always liked the idea of that. I liked the idea of being ready for anything, of being able to save yourself or others from danger. To me its like being a hero whether that being able to fight off an attacker or carry an injured person to safety. The problem is in the way the fitness industry tries to apply this goal. Exercise balls, stability boards, lightweight kettle bells, trx bands, the vast majority of crossfit, lightweight power bags, rubber tubes, 1 legged everything and various other silly things. What they fail to do is acquire full body strength which carries over to virtually any other fitness endeavour.

This is what the fitness industry thinks functional fitness is.

                       Where as I was thinking more like this.

The phrase to be strong to be useful comes from Georges Herbert after he helped evacuate a town from a volcano eruption. This experience had a profound effect on him, and reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism. This is something I believe is fundamentally missing from the fitness lifestyle. Health, fitness, bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, are all seen as rather vain and selfish pursuits. Normal people view you as obsessive while you view yourself as elitist. just because you lift weights you are somehow a better person than someone who doesn't. Here's something for you, your worth as a person is not dependant on your physique or how much you bench its dependant on your morals and how you act upon them.

After his encounter with the evacuation. Georges began travelling. He remarked the impressive physical development and athleticism of the native tribes he encountered during his travels. He noticed that the tribesmen did no set exercise routine bit will merely a result of there lifestyle in which they would often have to run, climb, crawl, lift, hunt, carry and perform a number of basic human movements. This led him to develop an exercise system based around these movements and taking elements of gymnastics in a hope to emulate the athleticism of the native tribesmen he had encountered. He called this system Methode Naturelle or the Natural Method.

Georges was a pioneer of physical education and spread his method as well a becoming a teacher of physical education. He came up with the idea of using obstacle courses as a way of training and much of the military training came from his influences. Even childrens play grounds are based on some of his original training structures.

Fast forward to the 1950's and the beginning of a more modern devlopment from Georges teachings derived from a man called Raymond Belle. Raymond was an orphan who lived in a military institution. While the children would do daily physical training Raymond decided that he not only wanted to survive his time in orphage in what must have a pretty tough childhood, but wanted to excel. He wanted to be phycally capable enough to be able to defend himself from bullies. He began performing additional training at night such as sneaking out and playing on the obstacle course's and climbing trees. Raymond carried on training in this manner and when he grow up he was drafted into the French fire service where is physical attributes became a great asset.

Raymand Belle had a son named David. As a teenager David became bored with traditional sports and began discussing the training his dad had undertaken himself. Raymond taught David of training in a useful way, a way in which you can help others in an emergency and use your strength and fitness for something more than yourself rather than to just play a sport for entertainment or winning. Not only did Raymond teach David how to train but emphasised the attitude of Georges Herbert of being strong to be useful. David took his farther teachings and with the help of his friends began to develop his own discipline. What started out as games and physical challenges for one another developed into worldwide physical activity known as parkour.

      David Belle

The overriding philosophy of parkour as created by David Belle is similar to that of Georges Herbert's Method naturelle. The purpose of parkour is not to look aesticly pleasing by performing incredible stunts and flips but to move effiently and quickly through your envirment with the aim of developing this ability to help you in life, whether this be in escaping from danger, reaching someone in need or any situation where you need to get somewhere. Unfortunately this philosophy of parkour being something practical used to help yourself or others has been lost in an attempt to perform the most impressive stunt or craziest flip. While these things are impressive to watch they are missing the point of why parkour was originally developed. It has become commercialised by advertisers to promote irrelevant products and there are even competitions based on who can do the most impressive tricks. While there is nothing wrong with competition it is losing the original discipline of parkour. But there are those who are bringing it back to the teachings of George's Herbert about developing useful physical attributes to help yourself or others in need.

Check out MovNat a site run by Erwin Le Corre a man promoting method naturalle in its original form taking it back to the foundation of human movement and ability.

                                    Erwan Le Corre

Also check out his promo video

So why as a powerlifter am I promoting this method of physical training rather than just lifting heavy things? I want to promote the idea of useful strength. Taking the idea of being strong to be useful and applying it to weightlifting. Alot of weightlifting is fueled by ego and while this isn't entirely a bad thing I see training as something more. Just because you have an impressive physique or can lift a lot in the gym it doesn't mean you can do anything outside the context of the gym. I feel incorporating this kind of training where you are using your body in almost every athletic way will help to round out your strength. By lifting and carrying heavy awkward odjects such as rocks, logs, sandbags, barrels etc you build an odd kind of strength which you can't get from the gym alone. By learning to move through your environment you develop not only the functional and athletic ability but are also getting fantastic condition at the same time. The term general physical preparedness is used in powerlifting to describe any exercise that isn't lifting. Exercise designed to get you in shape and improve your recovery capacity so that you are better able to handle heavy lifting. Well I feel that method nataulle training might just be the best form of GPP for a lifter. It let's you train every physical trait while also enjoying nature and improving your functional ability for any physical situation. What I found interesting is check out this old videos of polish weightlifters:

Its looks pretty similar to method naturelle training to me and this is a top weightlifting nation using it for gpp on Olympic athletes. It will certainly take some time and creativity to come up with effective method naturelle workouts but here are a few ideas. First of all get yourself into nature. Woods and forests are a great start. Select a short course with obstacles. These can be trees you have to weave between, branches you have to duck under, fallen logs to jump or climb over or similar things. Now you will train intervals using this short course. You will train in both directions. Limit the length of the course to about 50-100 metres at most. You don't want to make it too long and turn it into long distance running.

Look for logs or rocks the heavier the better and practice clean and press, shouldering or deadlifts with them. Preferably train singles but this will depend on the weight of what you can find. Its also great to carry them for distance zercher, on the shoulder, overhead or any way you like.

The other form of training I suggest are movement challenges. These require creativity. The basic idea is to set yourself a challenge of getting somewhere in a difficult way. Some good ideas are climbing trees, balancing on logs, climbing rocks or bouldering that kind of thing. Try to get some ideas from the videos.

Work on developing your conditioning through moving through a varied enviroment as well as odd strength through lifting and carrying awkward objects. The possibilities are endless in terms of workouts and conditioning. I will begin to come up with more ideas, sample workouts and videos in due time on becoming strong to be useful.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Keep your chin up about chin ups part 2, achieving a one arm chin up

I have just recently succeeded in hitting a goal I've had for a long time. Being able to do a one arm chin up. I'll outline how I trained to achieve this goal for what I feel is the ultimate in relative strength exercises.

First of all you need a good base of regular chin ups. I would suggest being able to do around 15+ reps with your bodyweight before you start thinking of training for OAC's. The best way to achieve this is greasing the groove as I outlined in part one.

Once you have 15+ bodyweight chins its time to start adding weight to them. As I wrote about in the first instalment chin ups should be trained heavy with low reps like you would train a major compound lift. Doing a bunch of high reps to failure is not the way forward. And don't even dare kipping your chin ups. Weighted chin ups are the foundation you must build in order to be able to do OACs. Moving straight onto the advanced one arm exercises before you have this foundation is a recipe for injury and stagnation. So when it comes to training weighted chin ups start with a basic strength protocol such as 5x5. Then progressively add a 1.25kg or 2.5kg plate to your weight belt each time you train chin ups. You can train chin ups in this fashion up to 2 times a week and I wouldn't exceed that frequency. If you are doing a 3 times a week full body plan have 2 chin up days and do some kind of rowing on the 3rd session. One arm rows compliment one arm chin training very well and get you used to pulling with one arm.

 Back to weighted chins start with your body weight +5kg for your first workout and continue to progress in this way until you stall. When you can no longer hit the same weight for all 5 sets reduce the number of sets to 2-3 and continue to keep progressing. Rest 3-5minutes between each set. You will find that you burn out fast with chin ups if you don't rest sufficiently between sets. This is strength training not bodybuilding embrace the long rest period. When you start to stall with 2x5 switch to 5x3 and use you 5 rep Max as the weight for the first workout. Continue progressing by adding 1.25kg to the weight belt each session. What should you be aiming to hit on weighted chins before you try some of the one arm stuff? I would suggest being able to do 5 reps with half your bodyweight attached to you before you begin trying the more difficult exercises. This will take a considerable amount of time to achieve but I feel its best as it reduces your chance of injury by slowly letting the muscles and tendons adjust to the heavy demands placed on them. When I first read up about one arm chins it seemed elbow tendinitis was very common when training for an OAC. I managed to achieve one without getting tendinitis or any injury the entire time. I believe this is because I spent a long time slowly building my weighted chins rather than jumping straight to one arm exercises. When you stall at 5x3 drop to 2x3 and keep going. When you hit your 3 rep Max and can't progress further go back to 2-3 sets of 5. Use your previous 5 rep Max and continue progressing. You will find that the strength you built during the 3's has allowed you to move past your previous weights for 5's. Continue to alternate between 5's and 3's each time you stall in that rep range until you achieve the 5 reps with half your bodyweight attached standard.

Is it possible to achieve a OAC from just doing weighted chins? Couldn't you just progress until you are chinning with your bodyweight in plates on the belt? Well that may be possible but a oac requires learning the technique to do so which you would miss out on developing with this method. Also a oac is actually easier once you've drilled the technique than doing a bodyweight weighted chin. I can a one arm chin at 81kg bodyweight but my Max weighted chin is 70kg.

Now its time to try a one arm chin. Try it from dead hang. Try it from half way through with your arm bent at 90 degrees. You may find you can get half way up from hanging but can't lock out. You now find you can finish it from half way to the top but can't do it dead hang or you may find you don't have the strength for either yet. This is just to give you an indication of where your weakness lie. There are two main exercises you can use to get a one arm chin. Rope assisted chins and one arm negatives. To do rope assisted chins tie a piece of rope to a chinning bar. Hold the rope with one hand and the bar with the other and perform chins. This with emphasis the none rope arm. I feel these are best done for singles while using as little assistance as possible from the rope arm. You can emphasise the chinning arm further by working the assisting arm lower and lower down the rope. Train between 5-10 singles and consciously strive to use as little assistance as possible. As you get stronger you can use this exercise to assist with the weakest part of the range of motion. Say you can pull from a hang but can't lockout with one arm then start the rep unassisted then grab the rope as you start to struggles to help you finish the rep. Of course the opposite also works where you can let go of the rope once you are out of the bottom if that is your weakest area.

The other main one arm exercise you can use are one arm negatives. This is where you pull yourself up with two arms let go of one hand at the top and slowly lower yourself down with one arm. The good thing about these is that they can give you a feel of what a one arm chin feels like and let's you learn to control the twisting of the body. The down sides with negatives is that they can put a lot of stress on the tendons and are the main exercise responsible for elbow tendinitis. Also you need to be quite close to a one are chin to begin with to be able to do these with enough control to build strength and avoid injury. Just plummeting from a chin up bar with one hand will lead you nowhere but injured. This is the main reason I feel it is important to have a strong base in weighted chins before doing exercises like this, so that you actually have the strength and control to do them properly. Again use singles for these and try to make each rep last around 10 seconds slowly lowering yourself down to deadhang. Negatives are good if you can't quite finish the top of the one arm chin as more emphasis is placed on that part of the range of motion. With me personally I never spent much time training negatives as my weakness was always pulling from the bottom. I spent much more time doing rope assisted chins and only really did negatives to get used to hanging by one arm. This may also have been why I managed to avoid injury. As get stronger with negatives you can perform Isometric holds along the way down. 5-10 second holds work well and do them in the range of motion where you are weakest.

An idea I've had recently which I feel may help with recovery and avoid injury when training for one arm chins is to follow each oac training session with a very high rep set of light bicep curls. I don't mean 3 sets of ten here but more like sets of 50-100 reps with a light weight. I think the the ideal thing might be the poundstone curl challenge. This is where you take an empty 20kg Olympic bar and attempt to do 100 reps with it in one set. You may not be able to do this right away but build up to it over time. Just do as many reps as you can. The idea of this is to pump as much blood into the elbow muscles and especially the tendons as possible and this can only be achieved with very high reps like this. The increased blood flow should help the tendons recovery quicker and reduce your chance of injury. I didn't use this technique where training for a one arm chin as it occurred to me after so it is yet untested but it makes sense that it would help injury prevention.

After some time training with these exercises you may feel you are ready to try one arm chinning again. Try them from dead hang, try them from near the top, try them from half way through. What I found was that I couldn't pull up from a dead hang but could chin myself with one arm from the half way point up. What I then did was to include these partial reps in my training for singles. This helped me get used to the feel of a one arm chin and taught me to control my body during the pull. Overtime I slowly increased the range of motion by pulling with a progressively straighter arm. Its good to use a smith machine for this so you can very the height of the bar to get an exact arm position. (Yay! I found a use for the smith machine) I eventually built up to doing them all the way from deadhang using this method.

When it comes to the technique of a one arm chin you will have to start in a semi supinates position to start the pull. As you start to move turn into the bar so you are now in the position of a regular chin up and finish the pull that way. This is a strong position than staying semi supinated the whole time. Some people call this a one arm pull up. I did begin changing to doing partials in this position rather than facing the bar. This was to help me build the strength for coming out of the bottom before you turn to the bar. This was in the last few months of training and it worked to help me get out of the bottom.

Try to create as much tension as possible throughout your entire body. Squeeze everything in your upper body like your abs and none working hand don't just pull with the chinning arm. By doing this you can actually increase the force produced from the prime movers making you stronger. I will expand on this technique in later posts but for now just tense everything other than your legs to help you.

The one arm chin is a pretty advanced bodyweight exercise. It takes a high level of relative strength to pull off. It is most commonly done by very light guys such as gymnasts and rock climbers. It is less common for heavier guys and even guys my bodyweight. But I have heard of a few guys up to 100kg who are capable of one arm chins. It is important to get as lean as possible. Any extra weight you have is weight you have to pull up with. I'm not suggesting you don't train your legs or muscles not involved in the pull but you do want to limit your bodyweight by reducing any excess fat. I'm around 12% body fat and I would have thought one arm chins are not possible if you have much more fat that this. In fact if you are plateaued in your training for OAC's losing some fat may just kick start your training again.

A few final tips. Use singles on the one arm exercises focus of quality reps with as much emphasise on the chinning arm as possible. Use 3-10 sets. Avoid failure.  You are not training for a pump you training to build strength. Treat it as learning a skill. If you hit failure you are done for that session or are progressing too fast. Train oacs twice a week and limit your other upper body pulling exercises. I did a full body workout 3 times a week with the other session being one arm rows for 3 sets of 5-10. I did no bicep curls during this time. If you start to feel pain in the elbows back off and rest. Be patient don't injure yourself further. Your tendons need to get stronger and adapted to the stress. This takes a long time so don't rush the progression. If you are having problems with your grip then add in some one arm deadhangs after your chins. If you are weak at the bottom focus on rope assisted chins and one arm partials. You you ate weak at the top focus on negatives and isometric holds at the top.

Stay dedicated to your goal and you will achieve it.

What to do once you can one arm chin? For now I'm treating it the same as the other exercises doing it twice a week  building up to 10x1. From there just let this picture be inspiration to you.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Small Workouts for Recovery and Conditionong

I know what its like to want to train constantly. To always be in the mood for training . but sometimes there is a limit to how much and how often you train before you start destroying your recovery and progress. Here I present to you a way to improve your recovery and work capasity by adding small extra workouts to you routine. These can help quench your enthusiasm for training while actually improving your ability to recover rather than impeding it.

These workouts can be focused on upperbody , lower body or full body depending on what kind of routine you are following and work best the day after a hard workout for that body part. They will take around 30mins to complete and can be done at home or on the gym depending on what exercises you want to use. The good thing about them is that they are beneficial each time you do them. Its not something you have to do for a long time to see the benefit. It will help you from the very first session.

Here's what you do.
Pick 2-3 exercises for each body part and perform 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps with an EASY weight. This is very important. This is not the time to try and set pr's. You are just simply trying to pump blood into the muscle to aid recovery. You should not struggle with these sets in the slightest and you should not need to psyche yourself up for them. There are certain exercises which can work well for this. I would suggest you avoid the typical big lifts and work smaller exercises and muscles. Its also a good idea to include prehab/rehab type exercises here. The ones which are good for balance and injury prevention but which you never get round to doing in your main workouts.

If you are going to do these workouts at home its good to have resistance bands and kettle bells or dumbbells which should enable you to hit pretty much everything. Here are a few sample exercises to use

Lower body

Goblet squats with kettle bell or dumbbell
Bulgarian split squats (do 6-10 reps for these)
Step ups
Band leg curls
Glute bridges
Kettle bell swing
Band good morning

Same options as for home
Machine leg curl
Leg extension
Adductor/abductor machine
Pull through
Barbell Good morning
Back extension

Upper body

Press up
Band tricep extension
Kettle bell or dumbbell overhead press
Band rows
Band curls
Kettle bell or dumbbell row
Band pull aparts overhead
Band pull aparts across chest
Band lateral raise
Side plank
Lying leg raises

Same options as home
Cable curl
Cable push downs
Chin ups
Body rows
Face pulls
Pec Dec
cable crunch

Here are a few examples of full body recovery workouts

Goblet squat 3x12 with 16kg kettle bell
Kettle bell swings 3x15 16kg kettle bell
Band leg curl 3x20
Press up 3x15
Kettle bell rows 3x15 with 16kg
Band curls 3x20
Band push downs 3x20
Plank 3x30 secs

Bulgarian split squat 4x6
Pull through 3x20
Leg extent ion 3x20
Machine shoulder press 3x15
Face pulls 3x20
Lateral raise 3x15
Band pull apart overhead 3x15
Cable crunch 3x20

Lunge 3x20
Band good morning 3x20
Band pull apart overhead 3x15
Dumbbell press 3x15
Band pull aparts across chest 3x15
Push ups 3x15
Band curls 3x20
Band push downs 3x20

If you were to do a session aimed at increasing recovery after only working the upper body or lowerbody then you would do a few more exercises for those body parts for example

Upper body only session

Press up wide grip 3x20
Body rows 3x12
Dumbbell shoulder press 3x12
Band overhead pull apart 3x15
Pec Dec 3x12
Face pulls 3x15
Cable curls 3x20
Cable push downs 3x20
Cable crunch 3x20

Lower body only session

Goblet squat 3x12
Kettle bell swings 3x15
Lunges 3x20
Band leg curl 3x20
Glute bridges 3x15
Leg extension 3x20

I'm sure you get the most of how it works. Pick a few easy exercises for each body part perform 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps. Rest 30-60 seconds between each set. Make them easy you just want to get some blood in the muscle to help it recover and ease soreness. You are not trying to build muscle here. You should not create soreness the next day from doing these workouts. If you do then you have gone to heavy on these sessions ease up next time. a good way to judge this is that you should feel better when you have finished than when you started. But these sessions can be great to do if you are already sore. It won't eliminate it but it will help ease the soreness.

You can do this on in between days from lifting. If you are also doing  cardio then do the cardio first then finish up with one of these sessions. A typical routine might look like this

Full body

Full body lifting

Cardio 30 min power walk followed by recovery workout

Full body lifting

30 min power walk followed by recovery session

Full body lifting

30 mins power walk followed by recovery session

Full rest

upper lower split

Upper body lifting

Lower body lifting

30 mins cardio full body recovery session

Upper body lifting

Lower body lifting

Interval training upperbody recovery workout

30 mins cardio

This way you can train virtually everyday but still keep to a balanced routine of lifting 3-4 times a week. Your recovery and work capacity will improve and you won't destroy yourself by trying to lift heavy 6 days a week. Despite this you should not jump right into 3 recovery workouts a week. Start with one for 3 weeks and then add a session every 3 weeks until you reach 3 at the most. More is not better in this case.

You'll soon get the idea of how these sessions work and feel free to try your own exercise variations and combinations which work for you.

Try these small workouts and see what they do for your training and recovery and keep up the enthusiasm. Happy lifting!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Do You Know The Difference Between Knowledge And Wisdom?

Do you know how to sweep the floor? Wisdom is doing it.

For those of you who have read the Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Milman or seen the film will probably understand this point already. I'm going to write about the philosy of mindfulness and how it applies to life and lifting at a later date but for now I want to touch on wisdom.

Gandalf is wisdom in its most badass form.

Let's take two lifters, let's call them Bert and Ernie.

Bert is in his twenties. He's a personal trainer. He has a degree in exercise science which he studied for three years to get. He's a certified kettle bell trainer. He's done a weekend course on crossfit which cost him £1000. He reads t nation everyday. He owns an entire libiry of lifting books. When he's not reading a book he's surfing online lifting sites and forums about lifting. He has over a thousand posts on one lifting board. The guy can talk training for hours with his friends. He can argue the benefits of rest pause training combined with triple drop sets over high intensity training to failure and can recite several studies to prove his point. He has a GNC gold card and can't wait to see what the new post-work supp he just bought will do for his training. He heard its the one Ronnie Coleman uses. What's Berts problem? He weighs all of 140lbs and can't bench 225lbs. Also he doesn't seem to have any clients.

Ernie is 50 years old. He's a builder by trade and works long hours in a physically demanding job. He's been lifting weights since he was Berts age and was British Powerlifting champion in his thirties. He weighs a lean 200lbs and his last workout consisted of him dead lifting 5 reps with 500lbs. He hits the gym 3 times week for around an hour and a half. Its all he has time for at the moment because he has to help babysit his new born granddaughter. He enjoys his training, it gives him a chance to de-stress and put away the troubles of life. He doesn't worry about dis diet much. He's always been a steak and potatoes kind of guy. He's a quiet sort of person. He doesn't talk much when he's in the gym. Just a polite "hello" to the gym owner and an occasional "How much longer are you going to be with the squat rack."

What's the difference between our two lifters? Bert is clearly very Knowledgeable about training but Ernie is wise.

Knowledge is power. But it is only powerful if it leads you towards action.

Knowledge without action is nothing.

Knowledge is acquired through studying. Wisdom is acquired through action and experience.

Bert knows everything there is to know about lifting because he has read about it. Ernie has been training hard and consistantly for 30 years. He knows what works for him and what's bullshit. It took him a fair bit of trial and error but he ended up finding his own style of training which worked  great for him when he was a powerlifting champion and is still serving him well in his fifties.

Which lifter would you rather have coaching you?

Bert like so many lifters today suffers from paralysis by analysis. He simply knows too much that he can't decide on any path for any length of time. He is constantly program hoping each time he reads about a new latest and greatest program. He is inconsistent with his training because of this and as a result struggles to make progress. He is an armchair expert. He knows everything but has never got off the chair to do it.

Ernie goes to the gym gets his stuff done then leaves. He doesn't dwell on it every waking moment and he couldn't tell you any scientific studies or Russian super programs. But he knows how to get strong.

Now I am not saying that you shouldn't learn about lifting. Certainly a little knowledge can go a long way And I appreciate you reading this blog. but at some point you need to put what you have learned into to action. All the reading in the world won't build any strength or muscle. The truth is most sensible lifting programs can produce great results if you are consistent and work hard at them.
Lift more weight or lift the same weight for more reps. That's essentially all there is to it.

Find a program you like and stick to it! At least 3 months if not 6. At that point you know whether its working or not and what the problem is. Don't judge a program because you aren't world champion after 2 weeks. If the program is not working is it because it is inhertantly flawed or is it because you have not been working hard and consistanly at it? look at my beginner program I posted about recently. It invovles 3 different phases leading you up to 6 months of lifting. Repeat this again and there is a full year of sensible training which has taken you from beginner to intermediate. If you stick to it and don't start doing Westside this, and bodybuilding that, you will make progress. You will be much stronger than you were before.

Bert's problem is partly down to the internet. There is so much information out there which is only a click away. Its easy to get sucked in and keep scrolling for hours and hours. After a while you realise you've spent a massive amount of time but haven't actually gotten any stronger. I write about this because I have been guilty of it myself. Us weightlifters can certainly be obsessive people. Its easy for your whole life to revolve around lifting. Thinking about our next gym session, our next big PB, our next meal, whether we should try that new exercise, arguing the why's and wherefores of every supplement on a forum etc. Because lifting is constantly on your mind we end up spending an awful lot of time when we are not in the gym just reading about lifting or watching vids on youtube about it. We end up telling everyone on Facebook about our amazing workouts and I have even had people on my feed post up pictures of each of their meals through the day. I mean as if anyone gives a shit that you ate chicken and broccoli!

I know this seems like an impossible task. I know it would be easier to tie an Olympic bar into a knot but what you need to do is to stop spending so much time on the internet. Stop reading message boards so much. (Most of them suck anyway). Stop reading about the newest programs and stop changing things just because you read an article about something. Your muscles will not shrink because you didn't check out T Nations daily article. Now I'm not telling you to live in a cave but just to have a life. There really is more to life than obsessing over training. Just think what you could you do right this second to move closer to your goals? How about doing a small conditioning session? some foam rolling? Stretching? Preparing some meals for the week? These are small but productive things you could do right now. All of them are training related and all involved doing something. How did spending 3 hours on internet lifting boards move you closer to your goals? It didn't. Now my point is not that you should never read another book or lifting site again. I'd love you to continue to read my blog. But just don't spend so much time in the virtual lifting world. Spend it in the real world. Let's get real here. Gym training and food prep doesn't actually take that much time. So find other productive things you can do. Take up a new hobby, spend time with your family or even just try to fit in more of the little training things like conditioning or foam rolling.

To be strong to be useful is about developing a body that is useful in life whether to yourself or others. Why not find some useful things to do with it. Travel, play sports, hike a mountain, swim a lake, teach, help, compete, fight, fuck, lift, nurture, survive. You get the idea, progression through action.

So to summarise
-Knowledge is theory
-Wisdom is action
-Choose a program and stick to it for a long period of time
-Train hard and be consistent
-Have patience
-Learn what works for you
-Stop spending so much time on the internet and reading about lifting
-Use your time productively. Think what can I do right now to move closer to my goals.
-Enjoy and experience life.
-Be strong and useful and wise.

Judging by The Thinker's physique he's clearly been putting his thoughts into action

Friday, 19 April 2013

Competing in Your First Powerlifting Competition

Powerlifting is a fantastic sport. It pits the strongest athletes in the world against each other in a pure test of strength and muscle.

But even if you are not a lifting behemoth there are still some
fantastic advantages to competing in powerlifting even if you have no desire to ever try and compete against the best in the world. I would advise just about every serious gym lifter to have a go in at least one powerlifting comp.
Having a set date in which to be ready for gives you a sense of urgency about your training. It makes you accountable. When you train normally there are no time limits. It doesn't matter if you don't achieve your goals or not. When you have a comp round the corner you will have more motivation to train because you know you only have x amount of weeks before you step on the platform. "Shit I'm competing in 6 weeks I better get my ass in the gym!"

Many lifters remark about how they can always lift more in a comp than they can in the gym. The adrenaline boosting effects of competing, the crowd, other lifters etc can all help a lifter psyche up much more than they can in the gym. Simply being in a comp can lead to PRs.

Competing can also help you improve body composition. Powerlifting is a sport of weight classes. If you compete and want the best out of yourself you are going to have to fit nicely into one of these classes. This may mean bulking or cutting depending on where you are. This can be a strong motivater for change. No one wants to be a kilo short of their class and end up with a massive weight disadvantage. Simalary no one wants to be the smallest guy in the class because they decided not to try and grow into it. Again having a deadline to be ready for can certainly ramp up your training sometimes more than the " I want to be cut by summer"  or "I want to bulk over winter" business.
Having other lifters to compete against as well as encourage you can   certainly bring out the best performances in people. I mean who doesn't like winning? You may find you exceed your own expectations simple because of the great atmosphere at a competition.

So I may have convinced you to compete but how do you go about doing this? Your best bet I is to try and find an experienced powerlifter in your area and ask for advise. Train with them and have them guide you through a competition. Most people don't have this luxury though.

The first thing to do if you want to compete is to join a powerlifting federation. There are 4 that I know of in the UK all with different rules on the use of gear and drugs. I have only competed in the GBPF the British version of the IPF. I also have plans to compete in the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association (BDFPA) both of these federations are drug tested and run plenty of raw or unequipped competitions. I only compete raw because I think powerlifting gear is overly complicated and retarded. Even if you want to compete in gear I would suggest to get some experience in raw comps first before you invest in gear. You need to learn how a competition works and to see if you liked it before you shell out on the latest Inver suit of armour. Look for a competition labelled as unequipped or classic. These will let you wear a belt and wrist wraps. In the GBPF you can also wear knee sleeves ( not wraps). I consider these a much truer test of strength as well as a lot simpler to compete in and prepare for. If you want to compete in gear I suggest you find someone knowledgeable about it and train with them. It seems you can't really train in gear by yourself you need training partners. The other 2 powerlifting federations that I know of are the BPC and the BPO. Neither one focuses much on raw lifting and tend to like the million ply suits and stuff with no drug testing. I never plan on getting into that kind of thing but if that's you then by all means have at it.

Once you have your membership sorted to one of the federations check out the events calenders on their websites to find a comp in your area. You will compete as part of a division depending on where you live in the country. Check the federations websites to see what division you come under as it may be different for each of them. Look for divisional championships in your area as this will allow anyone to compete and may give you a chance to meet other local lifters. To begin with you will be unable to compete in national or international events as these require you to achieve a qualifying total at a previous event. Competitions will be displayed on your federations website so look for ones in your area. Depending on your age you may be divided into catogaries so you are competing with similar lifters. There is juniors (under 23) seniors (23-39) and masters (40+)  so you may want to look for competitions aimed specifically at your age group. Often a competition will have multiply catorgries so you will always be competing with similar lifters.

Powerlifting is divided into weight classes. These may vary depending on the federation but most are 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 67.5kg, 75kg, 82.5kg, 90kg, 100kg, 110kg, 125kg, 125kg+ for men and 44kg, 48kg, 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 67.5kg, 75kg, 82.5kg, 90kg, 90kg+ for women. 2 years ago the IPF decided to distinguish its self from other federations by changing its weight classes to 59kg, 66kg, 74kg, 83kg, 93kg, 105kg, 120kg, 120kg+ for men and 47kg, 52kg, 57kg, 63kg, 72kg,
84kg, 84kg+ for women.

For your first competition I would suggest just competing at whatever you weigh rather than worrying about trying to cut weight. You will be nervous enough at your first meet you don't need extra pressure to make weight as well. You're there for the experience and to try and get PR's. Don't worry about being ultra competitive just yet. Some federations give you a 24hrs weigh in period before the comp. I personally think this is retarded as you have some guys cutting like 10kg of water weight and then gaining it back before they lift. So the lifts being done are not by guys that actually weigh what their weight class is. You have 90kg guys competing at 82.5kg and such nonsense. In my opinion you should compete at what you actually weigh not what you weigh after you have forgone all food and water, spent a day in a sauna and bought a chemist out of laxitives.

The only comps I have done have a weigh in before the actual lifting giving you around 2hours at most before you compete. The GBPF and the BDFPA both run their comps like this. These make a lot more sense and doesn't require a ton of preparation.

I would suggest getting to the venue early to weigh in as you may have to wait a while due to the number of lifters at the meet. While your there scope out the warm up room and platform, talk to some people as power lifters tend to be quite friendly. Talk to the judges or organisers if you are unsure about anything. Try to leave enough so that you can get some food and drink down you. You will have to find out your rack height for the squat before you weigh in if possible. There should be someone going through this with everyone. When you weigh in you will also tell the organisers your opening attempts for each lift.

It is important to study the rules of your federation before you compete. They can be very strict about certain things you may think are only minor. There may be variations between Feds but I can only speak from doing GBPF competitions.

Make sure you wear Y fronts and not boxer shorts. I know this seems rather stupid and you may think why are the judges interested in my underwear choice? This is to ensure that you are not wearing powerlifting briefs under your singlet. If you use a belt make sure it is non padded and no thicker than 13mm. Make sure you wear long socks that can be pulled up for dead lifting. You can get proper powerlifting ones but I just use football socks. These are too ensure you don't cut your shins dead lifting and get blood on the bar potentially risking cross infection between lifters.
If you wear wrist wraps check in your Feds rule book online to make sure they are the right type and correct length. To compete you will also need a singlet. The reason for wearing a singlet besides making you feel sexy is to better allow judges to gauge squat depth between your knee and hips and to ensure your glutes stay on the bench during the bench press. Baggy joggers would make it harder to judge. I also think its partly traditional to wear a singlet kind of like how old time strongmen used to wear them for their acts. There are really only 2 places in the UK to get hold of powerlifting singlets. Also the only 2 places to get hold of anything powerlifting or strongman related. Strengthshop or Pullumsports with strength shop generally being the cheaper option. You can also get belts, wrist wraps and any thing else you might need for lifting. You can wear a belt and wrist wraps during all the lifts I but personally see no benefit to a belt when benching or wrist wraps when dead lifting.

Find out what time you are lifting. You may be in a large group of lifters with serveral weight classes lifting at once. Plan your warm ups in time for lifting. You want to leave around 15-20mins to warm up before you lift. Try to warm up in the same way you do in the gym. If you like to foam roll before you lift then bring your foam roller with you. If you like to stretch, do mobility exercises whatever then by all means do them. Don't worry if no one else there warms up that way. Get yourself to one of the warm up bars and don't be afraid to work in with people. There may be a lot of you between only a couple of bars. Try not to rush the warm up you want make your last warm up weight a few minutes before your first attempt. You don't want to be waiting ages to lift and start cooling off. And please don't be one of those retards who does their openers in the warm up room. Jesus what is the fucking point of that? If you are not confident about your openers them pick a lighter weight. Your last warm up should be around 10kg less than your opener.
So what weight weight should you open with? Most suggest a weight that you can easily triple. I would suggest a weight that you can do for 5 reps. You should open very light because of the nerves and inexperience you have. You opener is a weight that gets you on the board and stops you bombing out. Its not what wins you the competition. I have seen serval lifters bomb out where they are disqualified for failing all 3 attempts at a weight. A simple result of opening too heavy. So drop the ego and open light. You have 3 attempts at each lift so you might as well use them. There is no point in opening heavy then missing your 2 other attempts. Generally the person with the lightest opener will lift first and the bar will increase in ascending order until everyone has done there openers. It will then cycle back to the lightest second attempt and continue from there. This means that the order you lift in may change depending on the weights people select on their second and third attempts so pay attention for your name being called. Typically they will say who follows each lifter when their name is called so you have time to prepare. When your name is called wait for the referee to say "the bar is loaded". This means you are ready to go and the spotters are ready. Don't step onto the platform until the referee has said this as it measns the spotterrs aren't ready or are still loading your attempt on the bar. Once you've had your attempt go and tell the announcer what you want for your second attempt. If you fail a lift you can repeat a weight as one of your 3 attempts but you cannot take a lighter weight.

Now to the execution of the lifts. Probably 90% of the lifts you see in the gym would not pass under powerlifting conditions. So I'll run through the main points of each lifts as well as the judges call signals. Each judge has a light or Ballard of either red or white. White means a good lift red means no lift. You can have 3 whites or 2 whites and a red for your lift to be counted. 3 reds or 2 reds and a white means no lift.

For the squat go up the bar and unrack it. Get your stance. Raise your head and stand still. Wait for the judge to say "squat!" Do NOT squat until the judge says this otherwise you will automatically get no lift even if you lift the weight. A good rule of thumb is to take your big breath of air and hold it after the judge has said squat. Then begin. You have to squat down until your hip joint is lower than the top of your knee. This is likely lower than you think. The judges will be very strict on this. They will red light you if you do not go deep enough. It doesn't matter if it is your first comp or you are world record holder. Do not use YouTube videos of geared lifters to gauge your squat depth. There are many more than questional lifts online.

What I use to gauge it is when my hamstrings touch my calves. Now I know this is actually too deep. Or deeper than necessary but I have never failed a squat due to depth in competition and it puts no doubt in the judges minds. Also it shows complete dominance of the weight. Take this advise or leave it. OK so you squatted deep enough and now you have strained to squat up with the weight. Now you must stand still. Wait for the judge to say "rack" before you walk the weight back in. If you rack the bar straight away before the judges signal its an automatic no lift. Even if you just lifted a world record. If you move your feet or stumble before the judge says rack its also a no lift. This may seem very strict but ensures proper lifting and control of the weight. Its really not that difficult with a little bit of discipline. Just stay still and listen to the judge.

After your 3 squat attempts its time for the bench. This is a little more complicated than the squat. When your name is called for the bench and the bar is loaded get yourself set up on the bench. It good to say "ready" to the spotters to let them know to give you a lift off. If you want to pull the bar off yourself then tell the spotters before you get set up on the bench. If you get a lift off say "my bar" when you have control of the weight this let's the spotters know its safe to let go. Now wait. The referee will say "start!" Then unlock your arms and lower the bar to your chest. As with the squat if you start the lift before the referee gives the signal you will get no lift. So you have lowered the bar to the chest. Now pause the bar there. Stay tight and wait for the referee to say "press" do not touch and go or bounce the bar on your chest wait for the signal before you press the weight. This is the biggest difference between benching in a comp and benching in the gym. You may have to pause the bar for several seconds before you get the press command. This means you are esentaily pressing from a dead stop with no stretch reflex. This will effect the weight you can lift. Its is different for everyone but expect to lift 5-10kg less when you pause the bar like this compared to touch and go. So take this into account when you choose your attempts. When you are pressing keep your legs in place and your glutes flat on the bench. If you bridge you glutes off the bench then it is a no lift. If you move your feet during the lift it is a no lift. When you have locked your arms out stay still and hold the weight. Wait for the judge to say "rack" before you put it back in the rack otherwise you guessed it no lift. This may take some practise to get right so it is best to try out in the gym first. Imagine the judges calls in your head and pratise pausing the bar on your chest with light weights.

So after your 3 bench attempts comes the dead lift. This is the simplest to get right. When the bar is loaded go and dead lift it in your own time. There is no signal to start the lift so don't wait down in the start position like I have seen some newbies do. When you have locked the bar out hold it at lockout until the judge says "down!" The judge will also lower their arm. Lower the bar to the floor. Do not drop it. You don't have to lower the bar really slowly just make sure you keep hold of it on the way down. Make sure you keep your feet still once you start the lift and do not lean back with the weight and hitch of up your thighs like they do on strongman. You can do either a regular deadlift or sumo if you're that way inclined. Stay disciplined and listen to the judges. Watch other lifters to help you understand the commands and what is a good lift and what isn't. When you have pulled your final dead lift and the dust settles hopefully you will have hit some PRs met some cool people and had an awesome day.

A few final pieces of advise
Try to bring small easily digested foods to eat between lifts if you get time. Fruit, nuts, and protein bars work well.
Take with you and drink plenty of fluids.
Sort your gear out the night before.
Learn to prepare mentally for the lifts. Learn how to psyche yourself up for your attempts. Visualisation and mental rehearsal techniques can work well. Refer to my post how to have at it.
Don't try to stay psyched up and on edge the entire time. Learn to switch it on and off. Otherwise try to relax as much as possible or you will burn out. Powerlifting comps can sometimes take a long time to get through don't spend the entire time listening to death metal and hyperventilating.

Your opening attempt should be something you can easily hit just to get  you on the board. For your second attempt I would suggest something around your current Max. For your third attempt go for a PR. You should be able to gauge what you are good for based on how each attempt feels. If you can practice the judges calls in your head when you train in the gym and in the warm up room and practise pausing the bench press. You don't want to miss lifts on technicalities when you are easily strong enough for the weight.

Enjoy the experience. powerlifting is not a big or well funded sport but it is full of a lot of passionate people. Try to learn as much as you can at your first competition and go and chase down some PRs.

For anyone in the Essex area interested in getting into powerlifting by all means get in touch. I am always interested in helping newcomers to the sport. I am currently training in Spit and Sawdust Gym in Southend.