Meet Report – NZPF Bench Champs 2016

On Saturday was the NZPF National Bench Champs for 2016. I was pretty un-pumped leading into this event. It was reasonably close to the three-lift champs, awkwardly spaced from the Asia/Oceania Powerlifting Champs, and honestly bench-only meets seem a bit boring to me. I had to go because it was the only way to secure my spot on the national bench team for the Asia/Oceania champs. Accordingly, I decided not to taper, peak, or even do any strength training in my lead up to this event. I came fresh out a hypertrophy block, having hit a grand total of three paused singles in the six weeks preceding it.

Despite myself, I actually started getting a bit excited as the even got closer. There was only one other junior male on the starting list, but his best competition bench and mine were close enough on Wilks that it would be a battle for first overall.

The event was held in Rotorua, about an hour from my parents’ house, so Katie and I drove down on the morning of, in time for the luxurious 8 am weigh-in (more like 8.20 by the time they figured out how to unlock the weigh-in room!) I weighed in at a super-light 90.55 kg, and nominated an opener of 137.5 kg. By this point, I was starving, so downed McDonald’s hotcakes and a flat white.

Annoyingly, my competition never showed up. All I had to do was not bomb to be the New Zealand Junior bench press national champion, which seems like a very hollow victory.

The Lifting

I opened on a conservative 137.5 kg because I didn’t really know what I was capable of. I’m glad I did because the press commands were a bit on the long side, and I don’t want to get into the habit of missing commands! I took a small jump to 142.5 kg, which actually felt even easier than the 137.5 kg.

My final attempt was 145 kg, which felt really good and moved quickly. I was really happy with this – only 3.5 kg off my best even bench in competition, despite being about 4 kilos lighter and being fresh out of a hypertrophy block. Unfortunately, I received two red lights on this attempt; one for my ass lifting off the bench (which was probably legit) and one for heaving. I felt a bit ripped off by the heaving call, and even having reviewed the video, I feel it was undeserved. (I would have contested it if there had been anything other than pride on the line.)

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Team A7 Oceania at the National Bench Champs! 

Despite everything leading up, I enjoyed myself at the meet. It was fun to get on the platform in a low-stress environment, good to see some friends hit some huge weights, and I was actually reasonably happy with how the weights moved. I think I’m in a good stead for Asia/Oceania’s now!

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. Hope everyone’s training has been going well, and I promised to (try) to post more often.

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Meet Report – NZPF Nationals 2016

NZPF Unequipped Nationals were in Christchurch last week, and what a week it was. Canterbury Powerlifting put on a great meet, it was smoothly and professionally run.

I flew down with Angus, Katie, Alisa and Amie, and we all lived in a house together pretending to be professional athletes for a week, which was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to doing it again for the Oceania Champs.

I’m going to kick off a series of blog posts about Nationals with my reflections on my own performance, so without further ado, here’s my meet report for the NZPF Unequipped Nationals 2016.

Meet the Characters

Angus Blair – my handler and training partner. Angus makes all the decisions on meet day, and makes sure I’m lifting with my muscles and not my ego! His tactical decisions are responsible for a lot of my good performances.

Keith Miller – long time rival. The first time we competed was at the Auckland champs in 2015, which he beat me by like 50 kg. Keith has traditionally been 15 kg or more ahead of me coming out of squats.

Thomas Botica – I first met Botica via Instagram when we realised that I beat him at our respective regional championships by just 0.5 kg. I’ve since trained with him, and we both knew that today was going to come right down to the line.

Tom Hart, Ben Hanara, and Haris Butt – the phenoms who were nominated >30 kg ahead of everyone else.

Video

Here’s my meet video, including all nine lifts. I’ve turned the sound right down because these were mostly filmed on a GoPro in a case, so it was all muffled anyway.

Prep and Weigh-Ins

I’ll cover my actual training coming into Nationals in detail later, but my last couple of training sessions were approximately 3 x 3 at 70% for each of squat and bench, and 5 x 3 at 50% for deadlifts, two days out and four days out. I was actually a little worried that I had cut my taper too fine, and that I wasn’t going to recover in time; these last two trainings felt pretty terrible. My squats were slow, and bench just felt sloppy. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought that (I was still suffering from triceps tendonitis two days before the regional benchpress champs), but it turns out that I needn’t have worried.

My weight had been pretty well behaved leading up to Nationals, I was generally floating around 93.2 kg, so I gave myself a little water cut and woke up on the morning of at 92.4 at home, so I downed some oats before weighing in. I weighed in at 11 am at 92.2 kg and started eating. I think my recomp went better this time than ever before – I had three sachets of oats, 1.5 L of 50:50 powerade to water, and a coffee within 40 minutes of weighing in. I was pleasantly not-quite-bloated and spent most of the time before my session started talking shit with my fellow under 93 kg juniors. A special shout-out to Botica, who managed to get his weight from 92.8 to 98 kg in under 90 minutes (I was a measly 95 kg).

Squats

My squats felt a little sluggish in the warm-up room. The floor wasn’t carpeted, it had this strange rubber matting which was a bit slippery, and I couldn’t get my glutes properly engaged. Despite that, I stuck with my original plan of opening on 190 kg (which was my previous comp PR and nominated squat). Fortunately, it moved well and Angus actually offered me a 200 kg second. I wasn’t confident enough that 200 kg would set me up for a smooth third, so decided to take 197.5 kg. That felt good, so Angus decided on 202.5 kg, which ended up being right on the money. The bar came to a complete stop just above the sticking point (I actually thought it dipped), but I managed to get it moving and lock it out, for three white lights. I’m glad the refs were kinder than I am, because I would have red lighted it! Looking back on the video, it was faster than it felt (but not by much!)

I was very pleased to note that at this point that I was just 7.5 kg behind Keith, rather than my usual 15+ kg. Botica pulled 222.5 kg from somewhere, which was amazing to watch!

There are a couple of take-aways from my squats. Firstly, my training sleeves are getting pretty loose, and I’m glad I picked up a new pair for competition. Unfortunately, that’s quite an expensive trick that I can use every meet! Secondly, my new squat stance (feet close, and less external rotation) seems to be working well for me, however I need more quad and more glutes (max and med) to really be able to make the most of it. Although my squat is comparatively my weakest lift, I think it’s the lift I was happiest with this meet, and a 12.5 kg PR is nothing to sniff at!

Bench Press

Conversely, my bench press felt really good in the warm up room. My bench training had gone really well, and I was hoping to hit 150 or 152.5 kg. My opener (140 kg) was smooth, if a little slow, and I made the jump to 147.5 kg. Unfortunately, that moved quite slowly and I got one red light for my ass coming off the bench. I’ve often had issues in training with my ass lifting, but this was the first time it had happened in comp (and I thought it had stayed solidly planted.) Angus made the call to take a small jump to 150 kg, which I was just too weak to get off my chest.

I was a bit disappointed with bench, especially as I have hit up to 148.5 kg in comp before, and 150 relatively well in training. Fortunately, because I had made such a conservative jump, I didn’t leave any kilos on the platform. The main take-away here is that I have no idea how to peak for bench; I think I peaked about 8 days early (where I hit 145 kg for a paused double), so I’m going to go back and see what caused that and see if I can replicate it in the future.

Deadlift

My deadlift warm ups felt great! I opened at 225 kg, but I honestly can’t really remember the rep at all. I was willing to take up to 242.5 kg as my second, but only needed 240 kg to make sure I was lifting after every one I was directly competing with. At this point I was tied with Botica on sub-total (and lighter) and a few kilos ahead of Keith. Angus thought that pushing Botica to a 255 kg deadlift would be enough to force him to miss, giving me the 4th place. My third was thus 252.5 kg, which was a 10 kg PR. Again, I don’t really remember the lift, but I know that I got three white lights. [As an aside, apparently the MC was giving me shit about my deadlift – “Oh, he takes the round backed deadlift approach. It’s a good thing there are no points for style in powerlifting!” Fuck that guy. Fortunately, I had too much ammonia to hear him.] After taking my third, I ran around to the audience to see Botica pull his final deadlift – he definitely didn’t have anything more in the tank, but it was a great pull and he locked it out, securing himself a 4th place finish, and relegating me to 5th.

The main thing that I can take away from deadlifts is that my deadlift peak worked exactly as planned, I hit basically exactly what I thought I was good for. In training, my hardest deadlift session was 225 kg for a double, and most of my volume was under 210 kg, which definitely doesn’t look like someone good for > 250 kg, but  with a taper and enough ammonia, anything is possible.

Results and Summary

I squatted 202.5 kg (446 lbs), benched 147.5 kg (328 lbs) and deadlifted 252.5 kg (557 lbs) for a 602.5 kg (1,328 lbs) total. That was a 22.0 kg total PR, I placed 5th in a very competitive class, and finally beat my long time rival, Keith Miller (who totaled 592.5 kg). I didn’t quite beat Botica this time around (he totaled 605 kg; where did that 222.5 kg squat come from??), but when it all comes down to the last three deadlifts, you can only enjoy the battle.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but the battle for first, second and third was even tighter than for fourth, fifth, and sixth. Ben Hanara, Tom Hart, and Haris Butt all totaled 645 kg (1,422 lbs) and the decision came down to body weight.

Two days later I realised that I had actually set a new Auckland record for the deadlift and total ( as well as already holding the bench record.) I guess the next stop is the squat too!

Next year is going to be epic. The 93 kg junior class is absolutely stacked, and the competition is only going to get tighter.

How did you all go with your recent meets? Are you happy? Do you know what you need to improve on for next time? If you’ve got anything coming up, best of luck, otherwise, see you on the platform!

Faster, Higher, Stronger

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

What are the Olympics? What does it mean to be an Olympian? How do you become an Olympian, and who decides which sports get to compete for a spot in history?

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The Olympic Spirit – Jeff Stevens (used under the Creative Commons Licence)

The Olympics

The Olympics was one of the Panhellenic sporting events of Ancient Greece. Every four years, a holy truce was called, and athletes and spectators from all over Greece would travel to Olympia to participate. The Games were a huge event, much like today. They were political, religious, cultural… if you were an athlete, they were the pinnacle. If you were a social climber, any one who was anyone would be at the games. If you were an artist, you would visit the games to show off the quality of your work. It’s commonly believed that only men could compete in the original Olympics and that it was a hugely misogynistic event, but women could actually compete as charioteers. Other sports included various running races (including one version where the runners would compete in armor), discus, long/broad jump, wrestling, boxing and many others (oddly, if you died during a boxing match, you were declared the winner.)

The modern Olympics began in 1896, and have grown and grown in the years since. Like the Ancient Games, the modern Olympics are huge events – being selected as a host is a huge honour, and countries compete for years to be selected. As a spectator, the Olympics is the greatest show on Earth (sorry, Dawkins.) Over 10,000 athletes competed at the London Olympics in 2012: 10,000 of the most highly trained athletes in the world, competing for the glory of their countries, glory for themselves, and to be remembered into the future. It doesn’t matter what sports you’re interested in, if you have even a shred of competitive spirit, seeing the eight fastest men in the world racing, or the top pole vaulters in the world battle to add just a single centimetre to one another’s best jump is going to excite you.

What does it mean to be an Olympian? I don’t know that I can tell you that, but I know that for most, it is their entire life coming together at one moment.

The Olympics is simultaneously the culmination of hundreds of thousands of hours of practice, decades of sports science research, and 3000 year old traditions (the Olympic Flame is still lit from the sun in Olympia by a priestess, then carried by foot across several countries before reaching the Olympic Stadium.) Excuse me for getting soppy, but I truly believe that the Olympic Games are one of the wonders of humanity.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

The Olympic Creed

So I guess that brings us to the Olympic Motto.

Citius, Altius, Fortius; Higher, Faster, Stronger

What does it mean to be an Olympian? It means you go the highest, move the fastest, you are the strongest. It makes you one of the smartest, best prepared, and most dedicated athletes on the planet.

If you’re still not excited for the Olympics, you probably aren’t a competitive athlete.

Powerlifting and the Olympics

Powerlifting is not an Olympic sport, however is included as a Paralympic sport. We are also in the odd position where the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships is overseen by the Commonwealth Games, but is not actually included in the games.

Recently, AIMS (an organisation affiliated with the IPF) signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Olympic Committee, allowing all affiliates to be included in the Olympic Movement Directory. This is not, as many people have claimed, the same as IOC recognition, however it is an important step towards becoming an Olympic Sport.

Becoming an Olympic Sport would be the best thing for the growth of powerlifting. Powerlifters (in most countries, at least) receive nothing from the governments, not for training, not for competitions, nothing. It’s hard to promote yourself in your community when you first need to explain what it is that your sport is. The first question I get asked when I tell someone I compete in powerlifting is usually “Oh, you put it over your head, like at the Olympics?” Everyone knows what weightlifting is, even if they can’t name it, but the average person has never even heard of powerlifting. It would be a long road to being a “household name” sport, and simply being an Olympic sport would not be the be all and end all of it, but it would certainly help.

When there is a chance at a medal at the Olympics, there is much more on the line than for a “hobby sport” (I hate that term) like powerlifting. In some countries, there are financial rewards for medalling ($800,000 for a gold in Singapore!) however the real financial incentives come from corporate sponsorships. You know who sponsors powerlifters? Not Nike, that’s for sure.

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from moneyramblings.com

It’s not all about the money though. I think that the growth of powerlifting does nothing but good. When you put athletes on TV in front on young children, it influences them; why do you think New Zealand persists as a rugby power house? It’s because (among a number of other things) little kids watch the Mighty All Blacks play on TV when they’re young, and grow up wanting to be Dan Carter, or Jonah Lomu.

Why should we be recognised?

The process to being included as an Olympic Sport is not exactly straight forward. There are a number of criteria which should be met –  added value; youth appeal; attractiveness for TV, media and the general public; gender equality; minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas, infrastructure and operational costs and complexity.

Starting with the last criterion; minimal impact on the number of events/quotas, infrastructure, operational costs and complexity. Powerlifting is one of the simplest sports in existence, behind perhaps running events. Derived directly from the old caveman sport of “who can lift the largest rock”, operational complexity should not be an issue. Given the existing infrastructure for weightlifting, the marginal cost of adding powerlifting is minimal. The same event hall can be used, most of the equipment is the same. Additional costs (personnel aside) would be getting some powerbars, metal plates, and suitable racks. Although adding powerlifting would add a large number of events (each weight class would be considered a separate event), the weightlifting hall usually goes unused after the weightlifting is finished, and so wouldn’t slow down the overall operation of the Games (it wouldn’t lengthen the critical path).

At the last IPF Classic World Championships, 689 lifters competed, of whom 291 (42%) were women and 398 (58%) were men. While not perfect, that’s damn good. When you consider that some of the other sports under consideration are men-only, that’s a strong plus for powerlifting.

While not the most attractive sport in the world, powerlifting is popular. The IPF has 280,000 Facebook likes. The IWF, by comparison, has just 78,000. There were 250,000 live views of the 2016 IPF Classic Worlds, and if you factor in viewing parties that means something like half a million people endured the average streaming quality on Goodlift to watch powerlifting. That’s popular – that has to be good for TV and media.

Remember, the Olympic motto is “Higher, Faster, Stronger.” Stronger. Criteria aside, if we go back to what the Olympics is all about, it’s about going higher, going fast, and being stronger. What exemplifies strength better than powerlifting?

Wrapping Up

Despite not even being formally IOC recognised, powerlifting is the perfect fit for the Olympics. I am holding my breathe for Tokyo to elect to have powerlifting as a sport in 2020; Japan has always had a strong presence in powerlifting, so the time seems right. There’s not a lot we can do, but sit back and wait now.

I hope everyone’s training is going well, I’m two weeks out from the Auckland Benchpress Champs and feeling good! If you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments section below. See you on the platform!

Gibbs vs Haack (vs Hubbard)

IPF Classic Worlds went down in Killeen, Texas last week, and if you have any kind of social media there is a good chance you’ve seen some of it. There were some incredible stories coming out of the week. You might have seen Jennifer Thompson bench 141.5 kg, Ray Williams squat 438.0 kg, or Jessica Buettner deadlift 202 kg (she’s only 21 – wow!)  Powerlifting even made it’s way into mainstream New Zealand media, possibly for the first time ever.

What I’m going to talk about here is what has been touted as the most watched session in powerlifting history, the Open 83 kg men. As I’m writing this, there’s been nearly 40,000 YouTube views, and there was apparently three times as many live watchers as any other session. If you haven’t watched it, here’s a link to the video (Bill Kazmaier and Johnny Candito do the commentating too, they do a pretty good job.)

Meet the Competitors

The reason this session was so hyped was because we had two absolute world-class athletes going head to head, Brett Gibbs and John Haack. Beyond that, my favourite lifter, Owen Hubbard, was competing in the Open 83 kg class for the first time ever (there will be a future post on why Owen Hubbard is one of the baddest MFs on the planet.)

Brett Gibbs

Brett Gibbs is in his second year in the Open age class, and going into this meet was the defending champion. In training, he’s totaled just shy of 830 kg, including a 300 kg squat, but has historically been inconsistent in his competition performances. He’s also a really cool guy, and would probably look quite at home on a Lord of the Rings set with a battle axe. I talk about Brett Gibbs a lot because he is a kiwi (like me!)

Brett’s Instagram, YouTube, and his website, Gold Signature Coaching.

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Gibbs and Gimli

John “The Chemist” Haack

I don’t know much about Haack, other than

  1. He moved to the IPF from another federation
  2. He’s a chemist by trade
  3. He’s a junior, but decided he would rather go toe-to-toe with Brett Gibbs in the Open class than take the easy win as a junior
  4. He has huuuuge quads

Haack’s Instagram.

Owen Hubbard

#OHubbaHubba is a British powerlifter – if you know him, you probably know him as the guy who sets up for bench by driving his forehead into the bench. Although he has got a great bench, he is also one of the most passionate lifters on the platform. He’s an associate nutritionist by training (he gave a seminar on nutrition at the online powerlifting summit earlier in the year), but from looking at his social media, it looks kind of like he survives mostly on pizza.

Hubbard’s Instagram, and his website.

Squats

Owen Hubbard opened his squat at 255 kg, and began the day with what appeared to be a massive grind. Fortunately, Hubbard doesn’t give two fucks what any body thinks, because the commentators didn’t think he had much squat left in him. John Haack hits an incredibly easy and deep 270 kg, and Gibbs hits a relatively slow 277.5 kg. Owen Hubbard comes back and hits 265 kg at what appeared to be RPE 11. At this point, myself and the people I was watching with thought he might not take his third squat, because even for a person with a massive capacity to grind, that looked hard. Brett Gibbs and John Haack both took 285 for their second squat – Haack’s looked easy, locking in his first Junior World Record of the day. Unfortunately, Gibbs couldn’t give a strong lock-out and he made a double movement at the top of his range of motion, giving three red lights.

Obviously, I’m cheering for Brett here, and with that double movement he might have cost himself the World Championship. What a grim start to the meet.

Owen Hubbard comes back for his third squat, putting 270 kg on the bar. I honestly didn’t think he was going to get this, but he went Super Saiyan or something in the waiting area, and his third squat looked easier than his second – he might have even left a little in the tank.

John Haack had nominated his third squat at 298 kg, and Brett submitted his third as 288, presumably to clinch the World Record in the event that Haack missed his third. Unfortunately, Brett didn’t have the gas to take the the 288. John Haack’s attempt selection was on-point (on fleek?) though, nailing a deep 298.

At the end of the squats, John Haack was in the lead, with Gibbs trailing by 20.5 kg, and Hubbard 7.5 kg behind that.

Bench Press

John Haack started the bench press out with 185 kg, which confused me a little, as he has apparently hit 215 in the gym. A couple of things went wrong with Brett’s 190 kg opener – he received an oddly long press command, which he jumped (I assume that he thought he had missed it, and just went, but I’m not entirely sure.) Missing the command earned him three red lights, despite an easy lift. Brett’s handler, JP Cauchi, tried to appeal the lift but was turned away by the jury. Before the next lifter approached the platform, JP had a “quiet talk” with the head referee (I would love to know exactly what he said.) Owen Hubbard hit an easy 195 kg opener.

For the second attempt, John Haack jumped 10 kg to 195 kg, and Brett Gibbs matched him, with Owen Hubbard finishing off with 202.5 kg. Brett’s press command was much shorter this time – whatever JP said made a difference.

On the final attempt, Haack elected 200 kg, which seemed conservative. He/his coaching team knew what they were doing though, as it looked like an absolutely limit lift. Brett Gibbs elected to take 208 kg to snatch the World Record, making it look like an opener. Hubbard chose 208.5 kg to try and take the WR on the very next attempt, but missed it just off his chest.

All in, the bench press was relatively uneventful. Brett managed to make back 8 kg, but was still 12.5 off the lead. I was slightly disappointed that Owen didn’t take the World Record, and I’m still hoping to see him hit 220 kg in competition.

Deadlifts

I guess this is the business end of the meet – medals are won or lost, and legends are made. Going into the final discipline, Brett needs 12.5 kg to catch John (and thus win on body weight). John Haack has a great deadlift, but Brett wants it more than anyone, ever, and so if anyone can make it up, it would be him.

Owen Hubbard opens his deadlift at 255 kg (by the way, if you’ve never watch Hubbard deadlift, you should find a video). Brett opens with a very speedy 285, and John at 292.5. Owen comes back to pull 265 kg for his second.

John Haack has called for 310 kg, and Brett for 305. For Brett to have any chance at taking the Championship now, he needs 305 kg to move like an Opener. Fortunately, it’s probably the fasted > 300 kg deadlift I’ve ever seen. Coach JP submits 322.5 for a third. Haack comes in to pull 310 kg, but he almost fails to get it past his knees! At this point, it looks like Brett might just snatch victory back from the jaws of defeat. John submits 317.5 kg for this third.

Owen Hubbard comes back for his third attempt like a man possessed – what a pull.Much yelling and intensity on the platform, and a great grind to finish off a good 8/9 day, giving him a 745 kg total and 501.09 wilks.

Someone made the call to drop Haack’s third deadlift, bringing it down to 315 kg. It was one of his sloppier lifts of the day, but his attempt selection was perfect again – there probably wasn’t another kilo in him. Personally, I thought he hitched, but I might be biased and he got three white lights to finish off a perfect 9/9 day, giving him an 813 kg total and 543.49 wilks.

The world championship came right down to the last deadlift – Coach JP submits 327.5 kg for the gold. Brett Gibbs managed to get the bar past his knees, but could finish the lock-out, and with that, missed out on his second Open World Championship. That left Brett with a 790.5 kg total, and 529.32 wilks.

Wrap Up

I was in a bit of shock after that session. The ups, the downs, everything coming down to the last deadlift. While it wasn’t the result I wanted to see, there was a fantastic battle, great intensity, strategy and, of course, fantastic lifting. As a spectator, you can’t ask for more.

Owen Hubbard gave it his true 100%, and didn’t leave anything on the platform. Coming third behind Gibbs and Haack is amazing, and he probably had the best day of the three of them.

It wasn’t Brett Gibbs’ best performance ever, but, like the professional he was, he made all the right decisions and came back strong. John Haack deserves a massive amount of respect following that performance. Going a perfect 9 for 9, the quality of decision making, stepping up to lift as an Open at just 23… Next year is going to be another great fight, and I’m already looking forward to watching it.

So, that’s all folks. Hope everyone’s training is going well, and see you on the platform soon (I’m three weeks from the Auckland Bench-Press Championships!)

Props to Josh Hancott

As most people in the powerlifting loop know, Josh Hancott has decided to pull out of the World Championships this year. This is kind of a big deal – Hancott was nominated first in his class, and its his last year as a junior, so why pull out? If you haven’t watched his video yet, you can see it here.

Since dropping this video a few days ago, Hancott has received a phenomenal amount of undeserved flak, from seemingly all directions. The comment which stood out to me the most is here, below. (And in fact, I wasn’t even going to write about Hancott’s decision, but this comment stuck with me and I felt like I had to put my two cents out there.)

What are these so-called tremendous sacrifices he says he made? Powerlifting isn’t a very time-intensive sport and he’s never paid attention to his diet. He has incredible work ethic in the gym but that has nothing to do with sacrifice. Obsession? Get real, we’re all obsessed about something.

To be entirely clear, I don’t agree with the above quote at all. Maybe if you’re a hermit, training hard for 12+ hours per week, sleeping 8+ hours per night and not eating whatever you want whenever you want isn’t a sacrifice, but for the rest of us, that has severe social costs. That means time with friends and family is limited. I know Josh used to really like playing ice-hockey, but you can’t do that when your career depends on you not being injured. These things make university hard, they make relationships hard, they make careers hard. I (a stranger on the other side of the world) fully support Josh – I think he’s made the best decision for himself.

More than a few people have said that Josh is selfish for pulling out of worlds, and I can’t fathom why. Because Josh is pulling out, that means someone else gets to go and represent Team Canada in his place, someone who might never have gotten the opportunity otherwise. That opportunity might mean everything to someone else, Josh would be selfish to take it when it doesn’t mean anything to him.By not going to worlds, Josh is loosing a lot of opportunity to push his personal brand and his company (Gold Signature Coaching). Not going to Killeen is actually one of the most selfless acts Josh could do right now.

As an outsider, it seems like Josh is jaded (chronically tired, burnt out, maybe depressed). There’s only so long that you can hold high focus for. Have you ever had a series of really good, high intensity training weeks, followed by a week where you just couldn’t stay focused? Or maybe when you were studying, you had a few really good days, then a day where your mind would just wander, no matter how hard you tried. Imagine taking that really good period, and stretching it out over months and years. Can you even imagine how exhausted you would be when you came down? If there is anything that can destroy your passion, surely it would be the crushing tiredness of months on end of high mental intensity.

So, to Josh Hancott (on the off chance he ever reads this) – good on you. You need to make the best decision for yourself. Everyone else can do or say whatever they want, but at the end of the day you’re the only person that you need to sleep with for the rest of your life. You need to be at peace with that person.

I honestly think (or maybe hope?) that Josh Hancott will come back to powerlifting one day in the not-too-distant future. Maybe all he needs is some time to himself, to unwind, to relax, and to feel like a human being again. My guess is sometime in the next year or two, he’ll start feeling energised, and start coming back to reclaim his world title with a vengeance. Until then, he needs to look after himself, and we all need to let him.

To summarise, if you’re sitting at home and telling yourself that Josh Hancott is selfish or weak because he has pulled out of worlds (because you certainly would never have pulled out) I suggest you take a good long look at yourself. Do you respect yourself enough to make the decision that is best for you, despite what other people think?

This post ended up sounding a lot more harsh than I meant it too, but at least it’s not as nerdy as my last one. Hope everyone’s training is going well, See you on the platform soon!

Why I want to be a Jedi

When I was a youngling, I wanted nothing more than to be a Jedi. Sometimes, I wanted to be a wise old Grand Master, like Yoda. Other times, I wanted to be a BAMF like Mace Windu, leading a clone army. Now that I’m older, I still want to be a Jedi, but for very different reasons. No, not so I can move the bar with the force (though that would be pretty bad-ass), but because Jedi allow their emotions to guide them, without ruling them.

That sounds like an odd thing to want, so allow me to explain. This isn’t a blog post on why I want to be a sci-fi monk, but rather a blog post on why I’m learning to understand my own state of mind. Below, is a performance – arousal curve with arbitrary units. As sexual as that sounds, what this curve actually shows is how your power or force production changes as you get hyped up.

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At either extreme of arousal, stoner-chill mode or hulk-rage mode, the performance is low, and somewhere in the middle, performance peaks. The exact shape doesn’t matter, and in the general case it isn’t symmetric.

You see a lot of “Lift Angry” type #hashtags around, and there certainly should be a certain amount of anger brought to your lifting, but (if you believe what I’m saying) there is an optimal level of anger: you can be too relaxed, but you can certainly be too hyped up. Think of it like an exam: at one end of the spectrum, you can walk into an exam totally relaxed and sleepy, or you can go into an exam at maximal academic arousal with six cups of coffee, and be too jittery to do a good job. Neither option is going to get your best result, so you need to find some kind of happy medium. Powerlifting is exactly the same. Everyone has approached the bar too relaxed before, and most people have probably approached the bar too aroused before (and might not have even noticed it). To maximise your force production you need to find your space.

Why does this happen? In a hand-wavy kind of way, your performance initially improves with arousal as you are able to focus better, your venous return improves (hence muscular oxygen concentration improves), and there are some hormonal responses (adrenaline, or if you’re American, Adrenaline.) At some point though, the arousal becomes too much. You start to forget cues, maybe you rush things and make a mess. Think about heavy (85%+) deadlifts; if you walk up to the bar completely flat, at best it’ll feel heavy, and worst it won’t even move. On the other end of the spectrum, if you run at the bar yelling and screaming, there is a tendency to lose your set up, and make a mess of the movement.

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Brett Gibbs, Jedi Knight, Preparing to Squat

Different tasks, and different people (and, I assume, the same people doing the same task at different periods in their life) have different levels of optimal arousal. Like anything in highly individualised pursuits, you must seek to find what works best for you. Is your peak far to the left, far to the right?

I used to really struggle with this. Sometimes, I would go to the gym to deadlift, and not even be able to break 80% off the floor, while other times it would fly (as it should.) It’s taken me longer than I would like to admit to figure it out, and you’ve probably guessed by now, it was emotional arousal. Since then, I’ve figured out that deadlifts only move well between an 8 and 9.5 RPE on my imaginary arousal scale. That varies based on the task though; if I approach a heavy bench press at a 9.5, I’m probably going to staple myself. I tend to bench best between a 6 and an 8 (squats are somewhere between bench and deadlifts.)

Now that I know where I perform best, there is a second problem. How do you get into and maintain that mindset? It’s really hard to get focused to a 9.5, and there’s no way that I’m going to be able to maintain that for the entire 40 minutes it takes to deadlift in competition.

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Yoda,  Elite Powerlifter (Image from Wookiepedia)

Honestly, this still feels like a bit of an art to me (I’d like to be able to get it to a science.) Right now,I use music, imagery, and  chemicals (caffeine and ammonia) to help modulate my arousal level in competition and training. Mindfulness exercises have proven useful over the past few weeks simply for being more aware of myself.

This is all a very new topic to me, I’m really only starting to come to grips with what it is that I don’t know. I’d like to be able to be able to shut down the dozen streams of consciousness  I have at any time, to be able to modulate my state of mind without external cues, to have more of an understanding what it is that I’m feeling at any time, and most importantly, how that affects my lifting. I’m not very good at it right now, so I guess I have a whole lot of work to do!

In Summary

Going back to the original thought that sparked this blog post, I still want to be a Jedi. The ability to feel emotions, to lift angry if you will, without  sabotaging ones own performance is more or less the core of being a Jedi Knight, or being a good powerlifter. I’m not either (yet), so I have a lot of work to do.

I hope this wasn’t too nerdy or too philosophical. If there’s any topics you would be interested in discussing, send me an email (twowhitelight@gmail.com) or hit me up on the social media – (IG – @rawrylynch) See you all on the platform soon!

Seductive Science

Science is sexy, we all know that. There is a proliferation of pro-science Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and way too many memes, both for jokes and for serious discussion, and that’s great. (My personal favourite sciency Facebook page is Research Wahlberg).

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From Research Wahlberg

There is a bit of a downside to this though, as has been bothering me this week. What do you get when science and original research becomes more and more common among a largely scientifically illiterate population? Broscience. It’s so easy to read the abstract of an article, not fully understand what you’ve read, read the results and think you understand what is going on.

I’ll give an example of poor interpretation of research: recently, a paper comparing benching with bands vs benching with straight weights was shared on a Facebook page I’m a member of (you may have seen it.) At a quick glance, the paper concluded that the group benching with bands improved more than the group benching without (9 kg vs 7 kg.) There was actually some really good stuff done in the experiment; learning periods, randomised crossover design, the statistics were sound… But there were a few things that really bothered me.

  1. There were no p-values reported (“p < 0.05” doesn’t count, the difference between 0.05 and 0.01 is huge)
  2. n = 11
  3. Each intervention was only three weeks
  4. The subjects were untrained

When you add all those factors up, it leaves me with “Interesting, but not useful.”

The bit that really bothered me was not the research itself. The paper, while not perfect, provided an interesting data point. Like any other (low-power) study though, it can’t tell the whole story by itself. You take six studies like this, or eight, and then it begins to tell you something interesting. What really bothered me about this was that so many of the people commenting on it were almost immediately accepting the paper as gospel (I should really stay out the comment section on social media, it does bad things to my blood pressure).

There’s nothing wrong with reading original research, but you need to understand what you’re reading. Given that, I’ve written out a few broad guidelines of what you should be looking for in publications and some alternatives to having to slog through dozens of boring physiology articles!

Guidelines to Interpreting Research

P-values. A p-value tells you something about the strength of evidence. If you want to get technical, it tells you the probability of finding results at least as unusual as those found, under the assumption of the null hypothesis. Statistics is weird and full of double and triple negatives, so it is sufficient to think of it as the weight of evidence for something happening. Here’s a brief summary of one way different p-values could be interpreted.

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A couple of notes:

  1. p = 0.05 is often taken for significance in literature. Be very careful when you see this, it’s mostly for historical reasons and really should only mean that you might be on the right track, not that you’ve figured it out!
  2. If p-values are reported as ” < 0.05″ or “<0.1” you basically need to assume it is only just under the actual number, 0.049 and 0.099 in this case. It’s also a warning sign for other things: why might someone want to hide the exact strength of their results?

Sample Size – no matter what your girlfriend said, bigger is better. You saw an effect in a sample of five people? Cool story. You saw the same effect is a sample of 500 people? Now that’s a different story.

It’s pretty intuitive, but here’s an example. Say you want to know the average maximum deadlift for 83 kg powerlifters in the NZPF, so you randomly draw a sample of one person from a list of all of the 83 kg powerlifters in the NZPF: there is an equal probability of drawing Brett Gibbs as there is of drawing anyone else, and then you’d conclude than an average deadlift is 320 kg. You would have made a sampling error: your sample was not representative of the population as a whole. There are all sorts of nifty tricks to help minimise this, but they all require you to take a somewhat decent sample size.

There’s still some critical thinking required here. Some populations are much smaller than others, some are harder to get hold of, and importantly, some experiments are just really hard for people to do! If you had an experiment that took 30 minutes, and your population was untrained males between the ages of 18 and 30, you could get a huge sample size. If an experiment took six weeks and you needed to be an elite powerlifter, it would be much harder to get a good sample size.

The Population Being Studied – This is easy to overlook. Who is being studied? If you’re a member of the population being studied, cool, you might be able to directly apply the findings to yourself. If not, how close are you? The further from the population being studied, the less applicable the results are to you. The study from before was on untrained men of “university age.” The difference between a trained person and an untrained person is pretty phenomenal: can results  be transferred directly into a trained population? No, not really.

Applicability of the Protocol – Is the protocol being used something that you could apply? What was the time frame? In the study from before, the length of the intervention was only three weeks. I don’t care what happens to my bench over the next three weeks (neither should you) – I care what happens over the next three months, 12 months, three years etc.

Weight of Other Evidence – You can never look at data in isolation. One paper doesn’t tell the whole story: a combination of Type-I Errors and publication bias means that sometimes you only see the odd paper where some spurious correlation has been made. If you see one journal article that says something, it might be worth filing it away for future reference. When you see three or four on suitably similar topics, then you can start drawing conclusions in an informed way.

Alternatives to Original Research

Lets be honest, journal articles are (usually) really boring. Fortunately, meta-analyses and textbooks exist. A meta-analysis is where some poor soul reads as much literature on a single topic as they can and rolls all of the research into one coherent and digestible chunk.  They’re usually really good because someone else gets to do all the boring reading for you, and tell you what you should think of some body of literature. They’re often easier to read than the original articles too. Textbooks are another good alternative: they’re usually a step more readable again, and fortunately for us they usually start at quite a basic level (journals usually assume quite a high baseline knowledge of a topic.) Unfortunately, writing a textbook is an arduous affair, and so textbooks are often a little out of date, even those that were just published. (Fortunately for us, the basics of sport science don’t change much over time, only the minutiae.)

In summary, science is seductive, but you need to make sure you know what you’re looking at. To round off my huge rant, I’m going to leave you with a quote I quite like (emphasis my own.)

Some people hate the very name of statistics, but I find them full of beauty and interest. Whenever they are not brutalised, but delicately handled by the higher methods, and are warily interpreted, their power of dealing with complicated phenomena is extraordinary. They are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the Science of man.

Francis Galton

I apologise for such a dry blog post this week, I promise to talk about something more interesting next week! Anyway, I hope your training is going well, and I’ll see you on the platform sometime soon.

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.

Mindset

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!

Weigh-in

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.

Squats

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.

Rawry

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

Deadlifts

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.

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

Results

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.

Great Expectations and Failure

At some point in their life, anyone who ever tries to do anything worthwhile will fail. Specific to powerlifting, at some point you’re going to walk into the gym for a training session or a meet, and the shit is going to hit the fan. Maybe you go 3 or 4 for 9 (or bomb), maybe you miss a PR that should have been easy pickings… whatever, it doesn’t matter. At some point you have high expectations, and you fail to meet them. How do you bounce back from that? How do you take a loss and use it as a learning experience? It would be so easy to storm out of a meet after your squats going badly (“Fuck powerlifting, it’s a stupid sport anyway!” etc.), or to fall into a slump.

We’ve all seen the motivation quotes on Instagram (“I’ve found a thousand ways that didn’t work, what they see vs. behind the scenes, blah blah blah”) as captions to photos of some Instagram model in a bikini, but how do you really turn it around?

Goal Setting

To quote Jean-Luc Picard, “it is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not failure, that is life.” If you go to a meet, go 9/9, set three PRs in every lift, a total PR, a wilks PR, and have a great day, but you walk home with the silver (or no hardware at all), but your only goal was to take home the gold, then in your own mind you are a failure. It sounds riculous to me even writing this, but there are plenty of people who think that way.

At the risk of sounding like one of those “S.M.A.R.T. Goals” posters you probably saw in high school, goals need to be things that are under your control. I’m about two weeks out from a meet now – is it appropriate for my only goal to be to win? Of course not. A better goal might be “total 580 kg.” If that brings me a podium finish, then that’s great. If it doesn’t, its still a huge competition PR for me, and that’s always a win.

One other idea I heard recently on The Canadian Powerlifting Podcast was using a tiered goal setting system. I think this is a great idea – there’s almost always something good you can take away, even from a shitty meet or a terrible training cycle. Here’s an example I’ve just whipped up for my own upcoming meet, with Tier 1 being my top goal downwards.

  1. Silver Medal. There’s a guy nominated way ahead of me, the only way I can beat him is if he bombs.Myself and one other lifter look tight for second place, but there is one more lifter close behind us. So top goal? Bring home the silver (in saying that, if there’s even an outside chance of finishing first, I’m taking the shot.)
  2. 580 kg total. This would be a big competition PR, would give me about a 370 wilks, and would require (modest) PRs on all lifts to be realistic.
  3. Go 9/9. Not missing any lifts would be a big achievement for me.
  4. PR on squats. Squats are my bugbear lift (for now; I’m going to fix this for nationals) so even a modest PR would make the entire day a win for me.
  5. PR on bench and/or deadlifts. Any PR is a good PR when you live life 2.5 kg at a time.

So there is my 5 tiers of goals. Good goal setting is step one to having realistic expectations of yourself, and not letting yourself down.

What’s really important?

Why do you lift, why do you compete, what is your why? You don’t lift for fame or money, there isn’t either of those in powerlifting. I doubt you lift for your family, they probably don’t even understand what powerlifting is. Maybe you lift for your team mates, or maybe for yourself. Either way, it helps to step back and ask yourself what is important. Are you less of a person if you fail your last squat attempt? Will you lose your job, will your significant other leave you? Probably not. Although I strongly encourage everyone to treat themselves as an athlete, powerlifting is, at the end of the day, a hobby sport. There’s no money, no university scholarships, no Olympic medals (yet.) It can’t be your everything, it can’t (totally) rule your life.

The really important thing in powerlifting is personal progress. There’s no way to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced, but the greatest feeling on Earth is to set a goal and work, maybe slowly, but surely, towards it. I love competing, but even if I could never compete again I would still set goals and work towards them. I think that mental aspect is one of the best things about our sport. Its hard, but over time you can learn to shape yourself and your environment, and that things worth having take time to earn.

So, when you fail to meet a goal, and you feel bad about yourself, sit down and think about what’s really important. (Especially if the failed goal was squats. You still have two more lifts, and the really important thing now is not letting one shitty lift ruin your entire day.) 

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

I read a book recently called Mindset, by Carol Dweck. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you add it to your reading list, its fantastic. The author postulates that there are two broad ways to view yourself and others – as either fixed or changeable entities. When you view yourself, or some characteristic of yourself as being fixed, the habit is to only display it when you know you’re going to do well. You’ve probably heard someone say “I’m not going to compete until I’m sure I can win” before; that’s an example of a fixed mindset. Its hiding yourself from the risk of failure and potential embarrassment. People with this fixed mindset at the people who walk away from lifting the first time they have a bad meet, or when they miss a PR they’re sure they’re good for. Missed a 180 kg squat (or whatever)? “Powerlifting is fucking stupid anyway, I’m going to do something else instead.” Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but you see it all the time.

By contrast, people with a growth mindset use these same failures as a chance to develop. They realise that people aren’t judging them (people only care about themselves anyway), so they can use their bad experience to improve themselves. That same person fails a 180 kg squat, and asks why. Did some aspect of their form break down? Is there some muscle holding them back? Identifying that weakness then means that they can improve in the future.

It sounds cliche, but no-one remembers the guy who quit, everyone remember the guy who came in first. The classic powerlifting example is probably Layne Norton. The story goes that Layne was an aspiring natural body builder with twig legs. The fixed mindset person would say that they have small legs, they can’t be a body builder or a powerlifter. Maybe knitting would be more appropriate. The growth mindset person (Layne) said that no-one who can squat 500 lbs has small legs, so he set out to do just that, despite his awful proportions for squatting (Layne’s femurs are like 28% of his total height, which is part of why he has so much forward lean when he squats). Now, he has the world u93 kg IPF squat record – 303 kg.

Wrap Up

Everyone fails to meet their own expectations at some point. The first step to bouncing back from those failures is to have properly set goals from the outset. When you do fail, use that failure as an opportunity to grow. After all, how strong can you really be (mentally or physically) if you fall at the first hurdle?

I hope everyone got something out of this. Maybe its helped you set some goals of your own, maybe you saw a damn good world record squat, or maybe you just realised that Rory thinks way too much!

I hope everyone’s training is going well, see you on the platform!