Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eight Ways To Become a Better Lifter Right Now

Feeling like you are reaching a plateau? HINT: you are most likely not anywhere near an actual plateau, you just need a kick in the shorts. Here are eight ways you can become a better lifter RIGHT NOW:

1. You can combine all the best programs in the world, but if you won't follow any of them AS WRITTEN, you won't become better. Find a program, any program, and follow it as written. Then make a decision for a new program once you finish the first.

2. Film your lifts. You don't need a mirror to make sure your lifts look proper. instead, use your own kinesthetic awareness and proprioception to FEEL the lift, then watch your recorded lifts later to make adjustments in between sets.

3. You won't get extra points in a competition for writing your own programming. If you don't know how to program for yourself, have a superior lifter who has good listening skills write it for you, especially if  it turns you into a podium placer.

4. If you don't place on the podium, your perfect bodyfat doesn't really make you better. Instead of focusing solely on your bodyfat, eat for your sport and let the pieces fall where they may. If you want to be a bodybuilder, then be a bodybuilder. Do you remember that one guy who did keto and had 4% bodyfat, but placed last? Me neither.

5. No strength program is complete without some sort of high rep hypertrophy work. Add these into the tail-end of your workouts to increase muscle mass and tendon thickness.

6. Multiple information sources are beneficial, but too many can give you paralysis by analysis; more is not always better. If you are an Olympic lifter, you probably don't need squat advice from a geared Powerlifter, and vice versa.

7. Have patience. The difference between those who want to be good vs. those who want to become good, is the latter recognizes the journey that must be undertaken to reach the top. Those who just want to be good can't hang for very long.

8. Upper back strength is as important as hip strength, and strengthening both of these will make most, if not all, your lifts increase.

Monday, September 1, 2014

So You Want To Be a Heavyweight?

Article written by Alanna Casey
This year I decided to compete in the heavyweight division at America’s Strongest Woman, Sept 20th, 2014, during the Olympia.  I have won the middleweight strongwoman class at the Arnold Sports Festival for the past two years in a row. I also won the 2013 World’s Most Powerful Woman (under 165 lb) in Glasgow, Scotland. In the past two years, I have only been defeated once. That was by Kim Baum at the 2013 America’s Strongest Woman (middleweight). With Kim no longer competing in strongwoman, I have gotten a bit bored. Originally, I was thinking I would compete as a heavyweight in September and then turn around in October and compete as a middleweight (both national level contests in their respective weight classes). But, after looking at the weights for heavyweight nationals I came to the conclusion that competing as a middleweight wouldn’t be fun for me. The weights are so much lighter that it would almost feel like I was competing at a different sport, more “Crossfit-esc.” Then, I found out that I was being deployed in late September. At first, I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at either heavy weight nationals or middleweight nationals, due to the deployment. I decided to train and prepare for the heavyweight show anyway. I later learned that my deployment date was scheduled for two days after heavyweight nationals. After that news I was full steam ahead.

Training for a heavyweight show is very different than training as a middleweight. Even at an international level, middleweight weights have always been weights that I have done in training and most times, they were lighter than what I have trained with. For me, middleweight was a battle of speed. Looking at the heavyweight weights I was inspired and excited. They were all weights that were close to my 1RM. I knew that I would have to be smart about my training program.

 Lesson one: when you’re competing as a heavy weight, more is NOT better. Traditionally, I have been able to push harder and harder every week of training. That is what I started out doing. But, as I neared the competition weights I realized that my body couldn’t keep up with what I was demanding of it. Already I had dropped my training days from four to three days a week. Now, even three became too much. My method of “punishing” myself was no longer the most effective approach. I realized this after doing the yoke about three weeks ago. I wasn’t happy with my performance and instead of calling it quits, I decided to yoke again, and again, and again, and again. I then did about five picks and five second holds. I just about broke my body.  I had to take off for an entire week after that. I am still paying for that mistake in stubbornness. When the weights are super heavy, you get one go at them, maybe two. Any more than that in a single training session, and you will pay the price later.

Lesson two: eating is not nearly as enjoyable when it’s your job.  The heavyweight class starts at 180 lbs. Six weeks ago I was 152 lbs. I knew there was no way I would get to 180 lbs by Sept 20th, nor did I want to. I did however, decide that I would gain weight and come in around 170lbs. To do that, I would need to gain about 1.5-2.0 lbs a week. That is easier said than done. When you are trying to gain positive weight (meaning weight that will help you come competition day) you have to eat A LOT of protein as well as carbs. I have been struggling to get down 220+ grams of protein a day. I have to force myself to eat chicken, beef, hard boiled eggs, and down my True Nutrition protein shakes. Just about every night I go to bed bloated. I sometimes fail at eating enough after a training session and in those cases I feel like a failure. In the other hand, the scale has been moving beautifully in accordance with my plan. I’m currently at 165 lbs and it’s been an adjustment. I only have one pair of pants that fit me. I feel fat, ugly, and sexually unappealing. My girlfriend suggested I go to the pool today and I turned down the suggestion because, “I’m too fat to be in a swimsuit and I don’t want to be laughed at.” I am strong as f*** but, I’m also bigger than I’ve ever been. It’s a very conflicting feeling. I understand there are people who think that you can be super lean and super strong but, I personally believe that you are your absolute strongest when you have a little bit of fat on you. My fat is taking some getting used to.  If you want to be a heavyweight, get used to yourself being bloated all the time. Take a look at Zydrunas off season vs on season. Off season he sometimes looks like a bodybuilder. On season he looks like a giant marshmallow. 

Granted I picked the picture where he is at his leanest vs his fattest. But, my point remains that heavyweights have to bulk up, and it’s not always fun. Lugging around a heavier bodyweight takes more out of you. I have to complete the Air Force’s physical fitness test this coming week and I am legitimately nervous about running a mile and a half. Being a heavyweight is no joke and carrying around 10-15% more body weight has its disadvantage.
Lesson three: technique becomes even more important. When you are competing as a heavyweight, you can no longer get away with poor technique. As a middleweight, I believe I was the most technique driven athlete, which contributed greatly to my success. Competing up a weight class, technique matters even more. I am constantly videoing myself, pausing, rewinding and watching again and again. I have reached out to my fellow LBEB teammate Nick Best for additional coaching. Even still I get frustrated. I have yelled more in the past four weeks during training than I ever have. Most commonly, “FF*******************!!!!” and “AAALLAAANNNNNNNNAAAA!!!” I have asked my partner and teammates to leave me alone after missing a lift multiple times. I have been close to tears in frustration. When you are lifting weights that are near impossible you must have three things: confidence, technique, and brute strength. If any of those are missing, no lift. 

Lesson four: you must take care of your body in between training sessions. I stopped icing and stretching in between training sessions. I didn’t schedule any deep tissue massages, I didn’t take Epson salt baths, I ignored my primary care doctor when he told me to get an MRI and, I stopped seeing the osteopath. The combination of my laziness had me in a position where I could barely bend down to tie my shoes, much less deadlift 500 lbs. When you are pushing big weights, you HAVE to take care of your body. In the past couple weeks I have tried to squeeze in everything that I’ve neglected but, I’m still paying the price.
Across the board, competing up a weight class is much more challenging, mentally and physically.  I cannot hide from any event. They are all brutal. The toll on my body has pushed me near my breaking point. With less than one week of training left, almost all the work is done.  I have 1-2 more sessions and then I will rest. I scheduled one more appointment with my osteopath and a short vacation to help myself relax.
If you are considering competing up a weight class because you are bored of your current weight class then by all means go for it! Just understand what you will be asking of yourself. For some it might be worth it, I’m still trying to figure out if it’s worth it for me. But hey, most of life is trial and error anyway! ;)

Should You Be Doing a Smolov Cycle?

Article written by Matt Falk
“Dude, have you heard about Smolov?” Yes, I have. No, I don’t want to do it with you. And before you elaborate on your excellent plan any further, I need to stop and ask you why you are doing it in the first place. In this article, I will give a brief explanation of what the Smolov cycle entails, and why the overwhelming majority of lifters should not be blindly using it.

Smolov is an intense and brutal 13-week squat program named after its creator, Sergey Smolov, “The Russian Master of Sports”. Composed of several micro and mesocycles varying in length, it is common to squat 3-4 days a week at 85% or above. The program boasts the ability to add 50-100 pounds to your squat in certain cases, but many lifters are unable to complete the program due to its combination of near maximal percentages and volume. 

So, why shouldn’t you do Smolov?

1.)    Well, for one, a well-written strength program should not be a human meat grinder. Just because you CAN “make it through” does not mean you should. You won’t get a medal from Comrade Putin or a certificate of achievement upon completion. Being a tough guy isn’t cool, being strong is.

2.)    As a strength athlete, who has 13 weeks to dedicate to one specific lift? The squat is only a competition lift in powerlifting. For the rest of us, it’s an accessory movement. Some people may bench while running Smolov, but you can kiss deadlifting goodbye. If you truly believe that spending three months out of the year breaking your body down through squats is a good use of your time, then you also probably don’t spend much time on the podium.

3.)    Smolov is not an “add-on” program.  I have to pick on CrossFitters for a moment here (you are the biggest perpetrators by far). Smolov is meant to be run alone. That doesn’t mean also follow your gym’s Oly programming and do bi-daily metcons. It means go squat, maybe do a little assistance work, and go home. If you find your other lifts suffering and your knees feel like they’ve been stabbed with a rusty piece of rebar, I told you so.

4.)    “But some people have put 50-100 pounds on their squat!” Key word, some. And honestly, if someone really put 100 pounds on their squat in a couple months, they probably weren’t very strong to begin with. Most folks end up in the 10-20 pound range, which had they just followed a more traditional protocol, probably would have happened anyway, while continuing to build their other lifts. Many lifters actually lose the strength they accumulated once the cycle is over due to a dramatic crash in volume and CNS stimulus anyway.

5.)    Look at the big names in your respective sport. Are they doing Smolov? The answer is no.

I know somebody will come back with a study that disagrees and a bunch of scientific claims, but look at it from a logical standpoint. Are there better things to do with your 13 weeks? I would hope so.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Do You Want To Squat Big Numbers?

407lb squat

Article written by Amy Payne
So, you want to squat big numbers:  Is your squat number stuck and not going up? Is squatting is just a new lift for you? If so, let’s build those wheels and get you squatting! 

There are tons and tons of training methods for building a squat, I am going to go over what I have done in the past and what I do now that has increased my squat from a 275lb squat to 420lb squat in under two years.  Yes, that is approximately 72lbs a year, for all you math peeps.  

Obviously, the first thing you need to do is SQUAT!! I love squatting for obvious reasons: it is my best lift.  But if this is not the case you should be doing it even more.  You won’t get better by not squatting and simply wishing you were better at it. Learn form first!  Don’t be that guy that brags about a huge squat when you are not hitting depth! Engage your hamstrings and your glutes!  Don’t rely solely on your quads.  Most women are quad dominant so that is a real challenge for them, myself included.  Use wide stance box squats to help build hip strength and sumo deadlifts to work your glutes.  After you learn more about proper form and technique, you will understand and see how this is a component that is a constant.  What do I mean by constant?  An aspect that is worked on daily, regardless of the weight you are putting on the bar, which means it is an endless task.    You obviously need to prepare your CNS (Central Nervous System) to accept the load you are going to punish your body with.  

 So what does that mean?  It means Squat Heavy.   I squat heavy as often as I can, sometimes as often as once a week.   What qualifies as heavy?  Well, that is going to be relative to the individual.  Percentages are great to work off but I will be the first to admit if things feel right I will push past the top percentage I am supposed to stop at.  You need to go by feel as well, if you feel great, then push it.  If you are feeling slow, sluggish and not “poppy”, then shut it down.  Back off the weight and work tempo and speed.  Now, if you have a coach and or programming, listen to them.  Again, I am just telling you what I personally do.  And yes, I have made a coach mad a time or two.  I will try to push a 4x4 with close to 90% of my projected 1rm.  Projected meaning that if I want to squat 450lbs at the next meet, I base my percentages off that number, not my current number that I have hit.  After I finish with my 4x4 I do all my accessory work.  So that brings me to my next point.  ACCESSORY WORK IS A MUST!! 

What is accessory work, you ask?  To put it simply, accessory work is work that supports your main lifts.  Leg extensions, leg press, banded side steps, lunges, and of course core work.  I found that after I stepped off stage, my numbers of all my main lifts increased and I was much more stable.  My theory is while getting ready for stage I worked everything striving for the symmetrical look.   I worked all those small muscles that assisted in stabilizing my lifts, not just the main movers.  I am not telling you to go get shredded or that your abs need to show, I am telling you small muscles play a part in moving big weights.  Don’t believe me?? Stan Efferding totals 2, 226.6lbs, Susan Salazar pulls 420 at 122lb BW….both incorporate body building training days into their regiment.  If accessory work is something you slack on, STOP SLACKING! 

I usually do 3 supportive lifts and add in 1 “pump” day to hit anything I may have felt I lacked in training throughout the week.  I also add in a mobility active recovery day.  I go to Bikram Yoga and use the 90 minute class to really focus on stretching and re centering myself for my next training day.  
So lifting obviously will make you a better lifter duh, but what about your mental capacity?  Have you trained that?  If you believe you can, you will!  So many shut themselves down before any weight is moved simply from what is between their ears.  The “it’s going to be way to heavy", “I can’t” or the “I am not sure", will stop you before you even get to that point.  You need to address the bar like it’s your bitch! You control the weight, you never allow the weight to control you.  You must believe you can with every ounce of you, you cannot fear or doubt.  This aspect should be put into play every time you lift, every time you compete.  The body will go where the mind leads. You need to understand that mentally you are going to push, so get comfortable being uncomfortable.  

Nutrition obviously is a key factor with your lifts and honestly it is probably the area I struggle with the most.  Eating has to be looked at as another training tool.  We eat to perform.  I often push this back to the back burner and then wonder why that day was a shitty training session…well let’s see what did I eat that day?  Usually the answer is not enough.  Meal prep is key to preventing this, by having things on hand to keep us going throughout the day.  We are asking our bodies to perform at optimal levels of stress every time we lift, we need to make sure we are taking in enough food to recover properly and make those gains we all strive for every time we compete.  I currently try to consume 2500 calories a day.  Some days goes smoothly, other days I have to force myself to eat.  I want to break a world record squat of 500lbs at 165 lb. body weight…Do you think that will happen if I train in deficit every day?  Hell no!!  Eat for your goals bottom line.  You cannot expect different results if you follow the same plan for months and months.  

I know many of you wanted a special formula or a specific routine.  The answer for me is there is not perfect plan.  You adapt to the level you are at than push harder to achieve the next level.  You don’t settle for where you adapt to.  I squat heavy, I squat with chains, I box squat, I front squat…I SQUAT.  I nourish my body to be able to push adaptation.  I seek out others to train with to push me during training, because let’s face it, a lot of time you could have probably done one more with the right people pushing you to do it.  I mentally get my game face on…I don’t doubt, I don’t fear, I DO.  I train supportive muscles to aid in building my squat.  I ask for feedback from other knowledgeable lifters via competitions or online.  DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR FEEDBACK!  

Don’t be afraid to take a rest day when you feel beat up. Rest gives you those gains we all are striving for.  In all reality it’s pretty simple, squat, do accessory work, and eat for your goals. Don’t forget to take your mobility seriously either.  Get your head right and be comfortable with being uncomfortable under the weight.  EAT! EAT! EAT!  Listen to your body, no one knows you better than you, do so don’t ignore nagging pains.  This is what I have incorporated, try it, try parts of it, and see what happens.