Training Review – Auckland Champs 2016

For the first time this macro-cycle, I wrote my own training from scratch. It was a bit of a gamble, but Auckland Champs went really well and I learnt a lot from the experience. Now, I’ve finally found some time to sit down and think critically about my training: what worked, what didn’t work, and thoughts on what I might do in the future. If you haven’t read my meet report (or you really want to read it again), you can find it here.

What I did

I wrote a strength and peaking block from scratch for my build up to Aucklands. Before this, I’ve always used cookie-cutter programmes from the internet which I’ve modified, or had someone else do my programming. Writing from scratch was an experience, and though it was slightly daunting at the time, I’m glad I did. I ended up writing a four week strength/peaking hybrid block (plus a one week deload), and a two week peaking block (plus a one week taper.)

Most of my previous training has been Sheiko or Norwegian based, so the Russian influence is pretty strong in my programming style. I also got a lot of my ideas from Mike Israetel’s book, Scientific Principles of Strength Training. Big thanks to Angus and Jing for talking me out of most of the stupider ideas.

The layout was simple: lift four times per week.Bench heavy twice, and light twice. Squat heavy twice. Deadlift heavy once and light once. Do a variation after every primary lift. Hit a heavy single for each lift once per week. Do abs, back work, and hamstrings after primary lifts. In the peaking block I hit about my second attempt 3 weeks out, doubled my openers two weeks out, then had some low volume three lift days as I got closer to the meet, before tapering.

“Heavy” for me usually still means far from failure, usually 5 sets of 3 at 80% (85% for bench.) Light bench days were 4 x 4 at 75% ish, and light deadlift days would usually mean just do snatch grips deadlifts or similar. 

What Worked

My peak seemed to work really well. Aside from my bench, everything felt like greased lighting. I’ll probably use a pretty similar structure in the future, thought I’d like to be able to extend it to three or four week (+ taper) in the future. Doubling my openers, hitting my seconds (even though I felt like I was dying when I did it) was a huge boon I think. Those trainings were long and hard, but if you can hit something for a double, while fatigued, to a good standard in training, you can certainly hit it on the platform.

My deadlift training was pretty much on point. I am coming to terms with the fact that my hips can’t handle high deadlift training volumes, so being on the lower side here was good. Over time I’ll try and increase the volume I can handle, but that’s a long term project. For now, one heavy and one light session seems about right.  Angus also introduced me a light deadlift protocol which he found useful, so I might try to increase that to one heavy and two light sessions per week in my next strength mesocycle.

I feel like the two light bench sessions per week were really key. Bench has a small range of motion, and so long as you’re doing it well recovers quickly. Two hard sessions a week don’t do it for me. Adding the two lighter sessions added ~32 working reps and ~ 3600 kg of total tonnage per week, without significalty impeding the heavy singles and triples. As they say #benchmoretobenchmore (actually, I don’t think many people say that. It might just be me.)

What Didn’t

My  bench was a little bit lacklustre on the day (despite the , and it took me a little bit of reflection, but I think I figured out why.  For my squats and deadlifts, I tend to work at ~80% for the majority of my training, but (as I think is the norm) I find bench press a little easier to recover from, so I do my real work at ~85% of my projected max. I use a very Sheiko-esque taper, which means triples at 75% 5 days out and 70% 3 days out as a baseline. For my squats, that means a 10% (of max) reduction in absolute intensity and a 48% reduction in volume per session, which seems about right. For my bench though, that meant a 15% reduction in intensity, and a 59% reduction in volume per session. Looking back, I think I tapered too harshly for bench, and I might have peaked a little early. I have a few ideas on how I’m going to modify this for my next meet.

TL;DR: bench felt hard, because I tapered too hard. 

The other thing about my bench was that I hit my tricep/shoulder MRV way too early. Because I was doing competition bench four days per week and four variations per week, I ended up clocking nearly 50 sets of bench and bench derivatives per week in the first two weeks of my strength cycle. Unsurprisingly, my elbows didn’t like that very much, and I was dealing with moderate tendinitis for most of the training cycle. Lesson learned: cut back bench volume (a little bit.)

What Next?

I’m going to keep doing my own programming for the immediate future. I’ve enjoyed the experience, and I think I got a lot out of it. My next meet will likely be the Auckland Bench Press Championships (I can get another shot at figuring out that bench taper), and my next full powerlifting meet will be the New Zealand National Powerlifting Champs, in August!

So, hopefully I haven’t given away all of my secrets. I’ll try to get back to more regular posts now, so keep an eye out! Train hard, and I’ll see you guys on the platform.

Meet Report – Auckland Championships 2016


What a weekend; long (not in the relaxing way), chaotic, emotionally charged. For me, the weekend peaked on Sunday morning, but there was so much going on the entire three days. I’ll do another post later on what happened for the rest of the weekend, but for now, just my meet report.


Video of the day, courtesy of Kent Alombro. Check him out on Instagram – @kent_nexus.

Meet the Team (and the Opposition)

There’s a few people I’m going to mention multiple times, so I’ll introduce them all here. (Yes, I have three handlers listed! Angus was lifting in the afternoon, so we tried to make his job as easy as possible.)

Angus (@angusblair) – My main handler/coach. Angus is also a coworker, close friend and general mentor. I wouldn’t be where I am without you man, thanks for everything you do.

Katie (@katie.lifting) – My girlfriend and number runner when Angus needs to do weigh ins! I’m proud of your performance Katie, thanks for helping out yesterday.

Catherine (“Cat”, @catshon_) – Newest member of the family, and great to have around. Thanks for coming in and loading plates and keeping me sane when you could have been sleeping in! Very impressed with your performance this weekend.

Keith (@keithmillerhimself) – highest nominated lifter in my class. King of smack talk.

Sam “Tilby” (@tilbyyy) – lifter I’m constantly neck and neck with. I just edged him out for bronze at Auckland’s last year! Great bench presser.


I went into this meet telling myself only two things. Firstly, don’t worry about the weights. That’s what your handlers are for; you just think about lifting it. I don’t think I argued with Angus at all on attempt selection, I didn’t even think about the weights between attempts, just what I needed to do. The other thing I promised myself was that I would only worry about one lift at a time. Only think about the second squat after the first squat, only thinking about benching after finishing squatting and so on. I think my mind becomes my own worst enemy most of the time, so being able to focus on only one thing at a time really.

A Shitty Start to the Day

Before even getting to the venue in the morning I –

  1. Got a text saying my ride was still asleep
  2. Had a sore back from sleeping on it in an odd position
  3. Threw up on the side of the road.

It’s a good thing bad things come in threes, because as soon as I threw up I felt fine, and the rest of the day went essentially perfectly!


I weighed in at 90.90 kg (for the 93 kg weight class), and got my gear check and rack heights done early on (the referee doing the gear check liked that my socks were orange and purple striped). I spent the next 45 minutes (until T – 1 hour) forcing down rice and watered down powerade. It was unpleasant, but there was shit talk to be had with the other competitors in my class.


Squat warm ups were a bit of a nervous affair, after my sub-optimal start to the day. Fortunately Angus and Cat were around to load my bars, and keep me occupied and on schedule. I might have gone a little crazy in that last 30 minutes if I had only had my own company.

Historically, my squat has been my worst lift, so I was stoked to learn that I wasn’t the first lifter of the day. I ended up opening 9th (for non-powerlifters; lifts take go from lightest to heaviest within a flight, so the first lifter has the lightest squat and the last has the heaviest) out of 14. I opened on 175 kg, which felt like it flew. My only qualm was that it felt like about 4 seconds before I got given the command to squat (it was probably more like 1), which disrupted my set up a little bit. Angus made the call to set my second attempt at 182.5 kg. With some reminders to breathe properly (thanks Cat), I spent ten minutes refocusing on making the next lift as perfect as possible: clearly Angus thought it went well because he called for 190 kg for my third. That was a big call for me –  I’ve never hit a third squat in competition before, and my squats have been extremely inconsistent. It ended up moving much faster than I thought it would, giving me a 5 kg lift time PR, a 15 kg competition PR, and giving me a great start to the day.

(Tilby squatted 185 kg, and Keith hit 205, but missed 215).

Bench Press

The plan for bench was (a) to build my total by putting kilos on the bar and not missing lefts, and (b) to try secure the 93 kg Junior Auckland bench press record. My only serious competition for the record was Sam Tilby. Tilby and I have been neck-and-neck for bench since we met, and it is always good to exchange some smack talk with him.

The refs had been pretty ruthless on the press commands (making them longer than typical) for most of the competition, so I decided to drop my bench opener from 140 kg to 137.5 kg, tying with Tilby for the heaviest opening bench of the 93 kg men.

Angus set my second attempt to 145 kg (according to plan), which Tilby matched. I don’t think I’ve ever hit 145 kg faster than I did yesterday, but it was still slightly too slow to justify a large jump for my third attempt. Angus made the call to set my third attempt at 148 kg (you can make 0.5 kg jumps for record attempts), which turned out to be the best tactical decision of the meet. Tilby set his at 145.5 kg, clearly expecting me to miss 148 kg, leaving him with the record and the best bench of the day. Tilby missed his third, so I walked out to take my third… All I remember about the attempt was hearing Angus yelling at me from one side, Carli yelling at me from the other, and then shaking hands with the guy giving the hand outs (perfect handouts by the way, LJ) afterwards.

Boom. Auckland Junior record. Heaviest bench press of the flight. 0.5 kg lifetime PR, and a 18 kg competition PR.


Celebrating my second bench attempt. Photo courtesy of Michael Chen Photography, who did a fantastic job of capturing the AUSPA team over the weekend. 


I didn’t realise it going in to the deadlifts, but I was only 2 kg off the lead at this point. As background knowledge, I have deliberately not posted any videos of myself deadlifting to social media for about 6 months now. I also submitted a fake opener, which Katie changed to my real opener in the final seconds before openers got locked in. My only plan, aside from being deceptive, was to pull whatever I needed to lock in a podium finish.

I seem to remember throughout warming up for deadlifts, Tilby saying to me that he was intending to pull 245 kg for his third about 6 times. At the time, I remember thinking “huh, I don’t think you’re good for 245 kg man” and “I heard you the first three times” but not saying anything. I later found out that he heard from someone (my team has a mole!) that I was planning on pulling 240, and he must have been trying to goad a response.

I opened my deadlift at 215 kg, which felt like I could have done it for a set of 4. According to plan, we set my 2nd attempt to 225 kg, which felt like an unloaded bar. I wasn’t watching, but apparently both Keith and Tilby’s second attempts moved a little slowly. At this point, Angus pointed out to me that I was only 2 kg off the lead, said that if I took 242.5 kg I had a chance at the gold medal. I said back (okay, I yelled back) “I can pull 242. Give it to me.” And that was that. Tilby matched me, with 242.5 , and Keith put down 243 (another record attempt.)

So, it all comes down to the final three deadlifts. I have the lowest lot number, so I pull first. 242.5 will put me out in front; gold, and a deadlift and total record to match my bench. Some how I know I can do it, even though it’s a 17.5 kg jump, and a 17.5 kg lifetime PR. I take a huge whiff of ammonia, and walk out onto the platform, set up just like I had been visualizing. Reach down, grab the bar, and pull! It felt like forever between putting the bar down and the lights coming on: two white lights, one red. Good lift! Next up is Tilby, but the bar doesn’t even break the floor. Finally, it comes down to Keith’s final deadlift: 243 kg to wrestle back the win. I certainly can’t fault his pull – it was fast. I can’t even bring myself to be annoyed; I would rather come second after a great battle that comes down to the last pull than to waltz straight into first place.


Locking out my last deadlift – photo credit my sister! @bri_briar


Squat – 190 kg, Bench – 148 kg, Deadlift – 242.5 kg, Total – 580.5 kg (2.5 kg off gold!) giving me a 368.74 Wilks Score.

Wrapping Up

And that’s how a perfect meet goes down: 9 for 9, 58 kg total PR, lifetime PRs on all lifts, a record, second place… I almost achieved the mythical 27 white lights too, but got one red for hitching on my last deadlift (we all know that Two White Lights is best anyway.)

I couldn’t have done it without the team I had supporting me, you guys are the best.

That’s it guys – I’ll have another post up soon summarising the rest of the team’s performances. Train hard, and I’ll see you on the platform.