Why I’m Hiring a Coach

Since the very beginning of last year, I’ve done all my own coaching and programming. Of course, I have people whom I trust and like to bounce ideas off, I keep reading and keeping my eyes on new ideas, and I like to experiment with different things, but for that whole time, I’ve been in the driver’s seat. I’d had a kind of vague notion kicking around for a while that I might hire a coach, but my time in Minsk at Worlds this year really brought that to the fore, and I finally decided to act on it. I approached a coach there who I’ve got a lot of respect for and kind of vaguely know via social media and asked if he had room on his roster for one more athlete.

So, what are the ideas that finally made me take that step?

The primary reason for me wanting to hire a coach is to have someone who isn’t as close to my problems as I am to help solve them. When you’re right in the middle of something it can be hard to step back and take a proper look at what’s going – I’m sure everyone reading this has had some experience where some problem they’ve been looking at for hours or days has been solved in minutes by a fresh set of eyes! I seem not to have this problem when I’m doing things for other people (which is part of the reason I consider myself to be better at coaching than actually lifting), but when I program for myself, I seem to write in part with my ego despite all efforts not to.

So, reason #1 for hiring a coach: fresh eyes.

My second reason for choosing to hire a coach is to learn from someone much better than I am. I’m sure there are hundreds of ideas I’ve never had about meet day coaching, and thousands of ideas I’ve never had about how to program or manage athletes out-of-competition. Being able to pick the brains of someone far more experienced and knowledgeable about this sport is both incredibly valuable, and something I’m very excited for.

There aren’t many coaches (especially in New Zealand) with real international experience, fighting for podium finishes and discipline medals, and other than simply having more experience doing it (which is hard to come by), the next best way to learn these things is via an experienced handler. Along the same lines, every coach programs in a different way and has had different experiences in the past, and that colours they way they see and think about future problems.

Reason #2 for hiring a coach: learn from the best. 

Finally, reason #3 for hiring a coach: I’m going to try something new shit. Watch this space.

I’m not expecting this to all be super easy. I’ve had full control over my own programming for a long time, and there are definitely set ways I like to do things. I’ve got strong opinions on things like maximising strengths vs. improving weaknesses, microcycle structure, and macrocyclic planning. Quite often I look at a program (or part thereof) and wonder what the overall plan is because I don’t think it’s sufficiently clear. Giving up the control, and possibly not being able to see the entire picture, might be a tough change for me.

Having said all of that, giving up that control might give me more time to focus on my own athletes, and it might even be a relief to not have to stress about my own stuff!

I’m hoping to learn a lot over the coming months. From a programming perspective, I’m hoping to learn some seriously nerdy shit (feel free to skip the following list if you’re not that into programming.)

  1. Ratios of primary to secondary to tertiary (to quarternary? Undecided on this breakdown still) lifts, and how it changes within and between mesocycles
  2. Macrocycle layout. How far ahead do other people plan, what are important details to consider?
  3. How the fuck do you sensibly structure a resensitisation phase?
  4. Maximise strengths vs. minimise weaknesses, and why? Or perhaps this isn’t even a binary thing, maybe there is some intermediate stage I’ve yet to consider.
  5. How do other people like to think about intensity? How does average intensity vary?
  6. How steep do mesocycles ramp, and do they follow a similar structure microcycle to microcycle?
  7. How many focuses does an athlete have at a time? Is this different at different times?

I’m fairly certain that a literal essay could be written on any of the above topics, or maybe even a book, but just seeing how other coaches think about these things will be very interesting and informative.

On totally different aspect of coaching – I’ve never really done the online coaching thing before. Everyone for whom I currently program I know in person, and have known in person since well before we started working together. I’m watching the processes we go through very closely. What’s the onramp system? How do updates work? How frequently are we communicating, and what about?

Finally, and this might actually be the most exciting point for me – we’ve agreed to set aside some time each month to talk coach-to-coach (as opposed to athlete-to-coach) about things beyond the normal week-to-week interactions. I’m hoping to use that time to talk about the processes of coaching, and I already have a list of about 20 questions to ask.

So, that turned into a bit of an essay about what seemed originally to be a pretty straight forward topic. Have you ever had a coach? If so, were there any particularly good or particularly bad experiences you’d like to share? I hope everyone’s training is going well, and I’ll see you all next time.

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How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?

One could probably argue that I have something of a caffeine addiction. Two double-shot espressos in a day is a light day, and a higher use day would be more like 4 double shot espressos and a 200 mg caffeine pill before training. This begs the question – how much coffee is too much coffee? Instead of littering this blog post with links to boring research papers, I’m just going to leave a link here to the examine.com page on caffeine, which has a great summary of the effects of caffeine and links to most of the relevant research.

By the way, this post is totally not just an attempt to justify my addiction. I swear.

Coffee Beans

Examine.com lists “liquid crack” as an alternative name for coffee!

How much Caffeine?

So that we’re all on the same page – how much caffeine is actually in coffee? That’s a trickier question than it first appears because there are a lot of variables which come into play. Different beans have different caffeine contents, which affect the final coffee, brewing time, water pressure, temperature, and so on all affect caffeine content too. Having said that, the rule of thumb I go by is that an espresso shot is about 80 mg, and a cup of plunger coffee is about the same.

In research, caffeine dosing is usually quoted in terms of “mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight” (mg/kg), usually something like 4 to 6 mg/kg. If you happen to read the research, be careful! A lot of the research is done in rodent models, but because of metabolic differences, rodents can handle much higher relative doses! You would have a pretty bad time if you were giving yourself 10 mg/kg more than occasionally.

 Effects of Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant and has all the effects you’d expect from any stimulant – elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased power output, increased time-to-exhaustion in aerobic exercise, increased serum concentrations of adrenaline and noradrenaline, increases in fat oxidisation and acute cortisol, improved reaction time, increased training volume, decreases in perceived exertion… Unfortunately, there are some negative effects too. Obviously, if you’re hypertensive or pre-hypertensive, increasing your blood pressure isn’t a good thing. If you’ve got high intra-ocular pressure, caffeine will increase your intra-ocular pressure even more. One of the main effects of caffeine is increased wakefulness which is great if you’re about to go into an exam or boring meeting, but much less great if you’re about to go to sleep.

Dosing for Effects

Most of the beneficial effects of caffeine start at relatively low doses. If you’re caffine naive (i.e. don’t use it a lot) then as little as 100 mg will give you the energy boost that you’re probably looking for. For peak athletic performance, you’re looking at more like 5 mg/kg body weight (which means for someone like me, I’d be looking to have about 450 mg before the competition, and maybe top that up with another 200 mg after a couple of hours.) The biological half-life of caffeine is something like 5 hours (depending on individual differences) so if you’re competing in a long event you do need to top up.

The bad negative effects don’t start until much higher doses. I’m guessing a little (because it’s unethical to do this on humans!) but I suspect something like 12 mg/kg or more would start being pretty uncomfortable, and about the point where the shakes, high blood pressure, and anxiety that results from caffeine consumptions start to outweigh the improved power outputs. It’s pretty hard to overdose on caffeine – the LD50 is about 195 mg/kg, which for most people would require you to just sit down and eat a jar of caffeine pills.

Cycling Caffeine?

Until recently, the conventional wisdom regarding caffeine was that it needed to be cycled, as it would lose effectiveness with repeated exposure. A recent study (which I can’t seem to find, please let me know if you can find a link to it!) showed that this doesn’t seem to be the case, so there really isn’t any need to cycle off caffeine. I plan to continue to cycle my use, but non-performance reasons.

The examine.com page on caffeine hasn’t yet updated with reference to the new study and still suggests cycling caffeine (which isn’t harmful!)

Stimulants as a Skill

Bear with me here. I have a working hypothesis that using stimulants is (in part) a skill. When you haven’t done it before, it’s just weird and scary. If you drink coffee, try to imagine you had never tasted it before. You drink this weird black liquid that smells amazing but it kind of bitter, and 20 minutes later your heart rate is elevated, you’re kind of anxious, and you’ve started sweating non-stop. That’s fucking weird, and it’s probably going to stop you from being able to fully take advantage of the improvements in power output that you might otherwise get.

Think of it like wearing knee wraps, or a sling-shot for the first time. It doesn’t add anything to your lift, you might just fall on your face, and it’s mostly just a lot of new stimuli all at once. By the time you’ve used it a hanful of times, you’re much better at using it effectively.

So what am I saying with this? Basically, I’m suggesting that you don’t start using caffeine the first time on competition day – use it in training at least a few times before you get on the platform caffeinated to your eyeballs!

So… How much can I take?

As far as I can tell, excessive caffeine will make you uncomfortable a long time before it becomes dangerous, so unless you’re taking caffeine sufficiently close to going to sleep that it is going to keep you awake, take as much as you feel like you want. If you’re taking it for performance reasons, starting with a dose of around 5 mg/kg on competition day seems to be a good bet. Your milage may vary.

That’s my thoughts on caffeine. Have I missed anything important? Do you use caffeine, and if so when and how much?

How to Buy a Belt for Powerlifting

This is a question that I get asked surprisingly often, so I thought it might be a good idea to write out a proper post about how to decide what you need. Although the title here specifically says “powerlifting”, think of it as how to buy a belt for any hard resistance training.

There are a set of questions you’ll need to be able to answer in order to decide what sort of belt you’d like.

Question 1 – Do you need an approved belt?

The IPF and IPF affiliates have strict regulations about what is considered acceptable equipment, right down to and including the brand of the belt. Here is the most up-to-date IPF Approved List. At the time of writing, that limits you to Iron Tanks, Best Belts, Lifting Large, Wahlander, Eleiko, Bukiya, Beast Genetics, Strengthshop, SBD, Metal, Titan, and (my choice) Inzer.

Approved belts are usually way more expensive than non-approved belts, but a good belt will probably last longer than you will, so it can be worth investing up front. If you’re even thinking about competing, it’s probably worth double-checking the requirements of your local federation before you drop any money.

 

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Don’t these Bukiya belts look awesome?

If you don’t need an approved belt, save your cash and get an unapproved one. If you happen to live in New Zealand, the Kiwi Strength Belts are well priced and good quality.

 

Question 2 – 10 mm or 13 mm?

Honestly, I don’t think this makes too much difference, but these are the two standard thicknesses. 13 mm is usually slightly tougher and might bruise your ribs a little more, and take longer to soften up. At a guess, I’d say a 13 mm belt probably has a slightly longer life-time too, but that’s just speculation. Not all belts are offered in both thicknesses so it might be a case of taking the available options!

I chose a 10 mm belt.

Question 3 – Tapered?

Sometimes belts are tapered (the front is narrower than the back), which reduces the amount of surface area you have to brace against. Unless you’re really short, you probably want to avoid getting a tapered belt, as there isn’t really any benefit. If you’re looking for a bench belt (used for keeping your bench shirt in place only), some companies (Inzer and Titan, I think) produced 5 to 7 cm wide belts for that purpose. (I just bench in my regular belt.)

 

 

Unless you’re really short or looking for a bench belt, you probably want a belt which is 10 cm wide through the entire length.

Question 4 – Lever or Prong?

There are pros and cons of each, so it largely comes down to personal preference.

Lever – Easy to get consistently tight (huge plus), and super quick to put on and off. Downside? You need a screwdriver and a few minutes if you want to change the setting.

Prong – Harder to get consistently tight, and can be hard to get in and out of if you like to wear it tight. On the flipside, if you like to adjust your belt a lot (e.g. you’re losing a lot of weight, or wear it looser for deadlifts) it’s much easier to do so with a prong belt.

If you go down the prong route, you’ll need to make a choice between a single and double prong. In theory, a double prong belt provides more support, but in practice I’ve never seen a belt fail because of the prong before, plus double prong belts can twist and make it really hard to get out of them (true story, I got stuck in a double prong belt for this very reason before.)

SBD makes a snazzy belt which tries to combine the best of both worlds by having an adjustable lever mechanism, but honestly I’m unconvinced. I’ve seen them pop open a couple of times, and that seems even worse than needing 2 minutes to change the setting.

 

I wear a lever belt, because I like the consistency, and I just carry a small screwdriver in case I end up too bloated for it to be comfortable.

 

Question 5 – What about those velcro belts?

No.

In all seriousness though, I can see why these are attractive. They’re cheap and readily available, and probably much more comfortable than a thick piece of leather. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any wear near as much support as the other belts I’ve talked about. These velcro belts might be more appropriate if you’re doing more dynamic workouts (e.g. Crossfit or Olympic Lifting) because they’re lighter and don’t restrict your mobility as much but for traditional resistance training, they aren’t the way to go.

My Belt

I wear a black 10 mm Inzer Forever Belt, with a lever. I’ve had it about 2 years now, and aside from the buckle becoming a little tarnished, it looks essentially like new. I honestly think it’s one of the best belts on the market, and has a Forever Warranty (not even “lifetime!”). Realistically, if I ever decide to go up a weight class, I’ll need to replace it, and will probably buy either the same belt again, in the 13 mm version.

My only complaint with this belt is that Inzer has the worst customer service on the entire planet, and it took 3 months for my belt to arrive. Caveat emptor. Too bad they make such a high-quality product.

If you’ve got any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below, and I’ll see if I can answer them. If you already have a belt, what do you have? What do you think of it? Hope everyone’s training is going well!

Avatar Nutrition – A Full Review

Avatar Nutrition (AN) is a web-based diet coaching AI; it prescribes macros for users, monitors their responses, and then suggests updates based on those changes. It’s the collective brain-child of Layne “Biolayne” Norton, Mark Springer, and Katie Coles, and they have a small team of experienced diet coaches on board. The level of knowledge you have access to is a steal for 10 USD per month.

Disclaimer – I don’t have any ties with AN, and I’m not getting anything from reviewing them (well, Layne Norton liked one of my Facebook comments once, and that counts for something.) 

I’ve been using AV for 6 months now through three different diet phases (cut, maintenance, and then mass), so I feel that I am in a pretty good stead for providing an in-depth review of the services that they provide. I also understand that AN have some new features in the works, so as major changes take place I’ll make sure to keep this review up to date.

What does it look like?

When you sign into AN you’re greeted with a page that looks like this.

Avatar Nutrition Home Page

This is the page you do most of your navigation from. Most importantly, it shows my macros for the day and my current data. “Next Weigh In: 4 Days” is replaced with “Weigh In NOW!” when you’re due/overdue to weigh-in (you’re meant to weigh-in once per week, but you can do it as frequently as every 5 days or as infrequently as you like.)

Scrolling a little further down you’re met with a set of charts summarising what they refer to as your “Fitness Progress”, however, I think it should be relabeled as “Body Composition Progress” or similar (as a powerlifter I would say my “fitness progress” is reflected in my Wilks score or my total, not my body fat percentage.)

an_fitnessprogress.png

When you weigh-in, you’re presented with a pop-up like the one below. It requires to enter your weight for the day, your body-fat percentage (allowing you to enter your own if you own bioelectric impedance scales or similar, but it also has the Navy Body Fat Calculator built in if you prefer), and if you stuck to your macros for the preceding week.

an_weighin screen.png

To be clear, AN does not offer a tracking service, only the associated coaching. It does offer integration with MyMacros+ though (a little on that later.)

That’s probably enough about what AN is and how it looks, is it actually any good? There are a few components to AN, so I’m going to break it down into 2 major chunks for reviewing purposes; the core AI, and the other things you get access to.

The AI

I’m not going to lie, the AI is pretty fucking cool. There are some things that I think could be improved, but I’m going to start with the good stuff and go from there.

The automatic adjustments to your macros are great; weighing in is really simple and quick, the macro adjustments are immediate, and you get a short paragraph explaining what the adjustments were and why; it’s context sensitive, so the feedback varies depending on your goal, your compliance, and what actually happened to your body.

There is plenty of potential for individual adjustment, but the AI refuses to give you dumb coaching advice; you can choose to increase your protein (at the cost of some carbs or fats), but they won’t let you drop it below what they recommend, for example. There is also a fats/carbs preference slider, which is great for people who have strong preferences, or dietary requirements not reflected in their macros.

There are 4 goals you can choose from; muscle gain, fat loss, maintenance, and reverse diet. For each, there are some sub-settings; so you can choose rapid fat loss, slow muscle gain etc. For maintenance this means you can set how tightly you are maintaining your body-weight; for example, I am currently maintaining 93.5 kg +/- 0.9 kg (personally, I’d like that band to be tighter, but that’s the tightest it goes.)

I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or a student of either of the above, but from what I’ve read the recommendations given by AN line up pretty well with the evidence that exists in the literature. AN advertises itself as being the evidence-based dieting option, so I’m happy to see them live up to that (good news if you’re used to having to choke down an entire chicken breast at every meal to hit your protein requirements.)

I do have a couple of (little) complaints about the AN core AI, mostly User Experience (UX) things. The first one that comes to mind is that it’s a pain-in-the-ass to change your goal; you need to dig right back through half of the original set-ups to confirm the change. I think it almost needs to be a change that you can do at the same time as a weigh-in. I guess this isn’t a big deal because most people won’t (and shouldn’t) change their goal very often (now that I think about it, this might almost be an intentional move to discourage people from switching goals too often?) My second complaint is also pretty small; I’d like to be able to set my maintenance weight band more tightly than I currently can. At the moment it’s +/- 0.9 kg for me (this might vary person to person), but really I’d like to keep it a little closer, possibly +/- 0.5 kg or +/- 0.3 kg.

My final complaint about the AI is a little less cosmetic. I would really like to have the option to enter my actual macros for a weigh-in period, not just a checkbox of compliant/non-compliant.

The Other Stuff

When you sign up to AN, you also get access to a bunch of other stuff, of varying value. I’ll talk about each thing in a separate paragraph.

The Facebook group – There’s a private Facebook group you can join if you’re an AN member. It’s pretty cool; Layne and Mark and Katie are there, answering questions, making posts, and generally interacting with the group. I’ve noticed Stephen Manuel poke his head up a couple of times too, and I’m sure there are other names I would recognise if I cared to look. There’s sometimes some really good conversation there; unfortunately, there is often some points that could easily be addressed using the search function or reading the FAQ.

The Articles – There are a bunch of articles on AN about compliance, hitting your macros, using the system and so on. The articles are infrequently updated, and are quite superficial (I’ve rarely got much from reading them). Not impressed on this front.

The Recipes – To be perfectly honest, I’ve never made any of the recipes on the website, but they look awesome. Check out the red velvet doughnut below! …and only 50 calories each (6P/1F/4C)! I might have to make some of these over the weekend…

 

Avatar Nutrition Red Velvet Doughnut Recipe

I can only imagine that this looks like heaven deep in a diet.

The Videos – there are some good, educational videos about nutrition and dieting, and especially on Reverse Dieting (which AN is really big on.) Definitely worth having a flick through here when you have some downtime if you’re a member.

 

Integration with MyMacros+ – I don’t take advantage of this because there wasn’t a native Android app at the time when I signed up (I used MyFitnessPal instead). A synthesis of the comments I’ve seen on the Facebook page might be “it’s comparable to MFP; it works well with foods found in the US but you’ll need to manually enter everything otherwise.” The advantage if you use MM+ is that your daily macros get imported each day, so you can literally just log and go, whereas MFP is a little more manual. MM+ isn’t free, but the app seems to be a cheap one-off cost.

Conclusion

After writing such a complete review, it seems odd to try and give a score out of five or ten for a service, so I’m not going to. What I am going to do is give it a binary score; a yes or no. I think that the core AI is pretty awesome and takes all the manual work out of figuring out my own macros, but that the extras aren’t particularly compelling. At the end of the day, the best recommendation is where you put your money, and month after month I’m happy to pay for AN. So on my binary, yes or no, scale, I give AN a solid 1/1.

If you already use Avatar and want to let me know your thoughts, let me know in the comments below. If you don’t, what might you want to see from an AI diet coach, what would compel you to start using one? If you were on the fence, I hope that my review has helped you to make a decision.

That’s enough of writing about dieting I think, back to powerlifting next time. See you all soon!

In Defense of IIFYM

Every now and again I come across some article arguing that tracking your macros is not a good way to diet. Most of the time, these arguments don’t have much of grounding in… well, any kind of evidence, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to put my two cents in. I’m going to explain why I like tracking, and then address a couple of the most recurrent arguments against it.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I do track my macros; I use Avatar Nutrition (which I’ll review in full at some point) to set my daily goals, and MyFitnessPal to track my intake. Neither system is perfect, but the total effort on my part is pretty low, and it largely allows me to both take control of what I’m doing, and get on with my life. I don’t think that everyone should be tracking, and I don’t think that everyone who tracks, should track all the time. Whether one should track or not depends on one’s own circumstances, relationship with food and so on.

Note that I am not a dietician, a nutritionist, a doctor, and I’m barely even a coach. I’m mostly just a guy who knows a thing or two about science and likes numbers. Take any advice you get from random people on the internet with a huge grain of scepticism. 

Why Tracking is (sometimes) Useful

I think that tracking your food intake is one of the most useful things that you can do to take control of your own body. At some stage, almost everyone (especially people who are interested in powerlifting enough to be reading this blog) will want to change either their body weight or the way their body looks; it’s a totally normal and (mostly) healthy thing to do. One of the reasons that tracking is good for this is that is has a built-in adjustment mechanism.

Let me explain. There are literally dozens of ways one could create the caloric deficit required in order to lose weight. Someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing might start with running twice a week without adjusting their diet at all, another might cut out alcohol, yet another might start WeightWatchers, the Slow-Carb Diet, paleo, or anything else.  The problem with most of these methods is that if you don’t understand how it works, and it stops working, then you’re back to square one. This is part of the reason that people can end up in a continuous loop of “lose a little weight -> plateau -> get frustrated -> regain weight -> get motivated -> lose a little weight”.

Tracking macros can provide a way to break the loop. Understanding how your weight works takes away the mysticism of dieting and allows you to control if yourself. You’re losing weight and don’t want to? Bump up your calories a little. You’re losing weight, but not as fast as you’d like? Cut your calories a little. (WeightWatchers actually gives you something similar, and it’s one of the reasons that I quite like it, as far as organised dieting goes.)

I think there are a lot of psychological benefits to tracking your macros as well. Some diets will make you feel guilty for wanting to eat the “wrong foods” or will prevent you from going out with your friends because the Mexican place down the road doesn’t serve steamed chicken breasts on broccoli. Sure, it can take a little forethought, but it is liberating to essentially be able to eat what you want.

Caveats

There are some caveats about IIFYM. The first one, I’m going to illustrate using a diagram I stole borrowed from Renaissance Periodization (if you haven’t, check out their blog and books, they’ve got some of the best evidence-based information around.)

This diagram shows the different components of your diet and their relative contribution to your body composition change and/or performance. By far, the largest two are calorie balance and macronutrients, which purely eating foods which fit your macros will nail. These two don’t tell the whole story, though, only about 80%. There are still some small gains to be had by hitting your nutrient timing, food composition, and supplementation (assuming, of course, you’re actually complying with your diet.)

nick-shaw-chart

What this means, in real terms, is that if you made up all of your macros just by eating different types of ice-cream, you would be leaving some gains on the table, versus eating a diet which includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, a couple of different protein sources, and healthy fats. You would also be leaving a little on the table if you didn’t space your protein intake out throughout the day, or only ate fats peri-workout.

To be honest, I don’t think that this is a huge problem. While some people who have been dieting a long time might feel inclined to binge on every manner of snack food when they first get given their macros, the truth is that when you eat like that you feel like crap, and you’re going to end up hungry as hell, so people tend not to do it.

I think that IIFYM, paired with some guidelines along the lines of getting enough variety, eating their vegetables, and a little on nutrient timing is the best diet for performance.

There is one last caveat that I’d like to mention. Although in theory, any food can be fit into macros (most of the time), some people struggle with self-control. If you’re the kind of person who can eat either zero cookies or twenty cookies, but not one or two, then it’s probably a good idea to not even try to fit them in.

 

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If this is you, consider not eating cookies. 

 

Common Arguments Against IIFYM

There are a few common arguments against macro-tracking being your main method for controlling your nutrition, some with more merit than others. I’ll address a few of the most common ones here.

“You can’t make gains if all you eat in pop-tarts.”

Well, you’re not wrong. If all you ate was pop-tarts (I couldn’t eat pop-tarts even if I wanted to, they don’t sell them in New Zealand, but whatever) you would have zero fibre in your diet, you’d be seriously lacking in micro-nutrient variety, and you’d be hungry all the time (though your body weight would still change favourably.) The problem with this argument is that it assumes that everyone who tracks their macros eats like an asshole; living off McDonalds and pop-tarts because a gram of carbohydrate is a gram of carbohydrate regardless of where it comes from, but (most) people simply don’t eat like that. Especially if you’re in a caloric deficit, most people are going to chose calorie-sparse foods simply because they’re going to be hungry otherwise. What that means is people eat fewer pop-tarts and burgers, and more oats and vegetables.

This is a bit of a strawman argument. There are far more people who eat a healthful diet by tracking their intake than survive on pop-tarts.

“A calorie isn’t a calorie because…”

There is actually some merit to this one. I’m going to break it down into some sub-categories.

Thermic Effect of Food – To consume energy, you need to burn some energy. This is called the thermic effect of food, and it varies by macronutrient. There is also some variation within macronutrients. While this is true, it’s reasonably consistent and is always less than the calories consumed. The result is that, on average, your thermic effect of food day-to-day doesn’t really vary.

People Poop – Yep. Not every calorie you consume is actually absorbed. Sometimes, you can even massively decrease the transit time of food, which means fewer calories are absorbed by your body. This isn’t a long term thing though, which means, on average, it doesn’t vary enough to be worth considering.

I saw this study where… – The vast majority of literature that I have seen points to a calorie being a calorie. Because of the way statistics is handled by most scientists, one of out every 20 studies where nothing happened, it looks like something happened, so occasionally you will see something to the contrary. In the mean time, the weight of evidence still points to calorie balance being the primary determinant of weight change.

“You’ll need to weight everything for the rest of your life!”

Again, it’s not for everyone, nor for all the time. Maybe you track your macros one day a month just to make sure that you’re on track. Maybe you track your macros just when you want to see a significant change. Maybe, you’re one of those people for which guesstimating everything you eat isn’t a burden, so you can just do it indefinitely. Maybe weighing things just doesn’t work for you at all, and you need to find another way to regulate your body weight. All of those are fine.

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That’s my take on eating according to macronutrient guidelines. Hopefully, if you’ve tracked your macros now or in the past you feel a little vindicated. If you haven’t, and you feel like you’d like to learn more, I’d point you towards the videos Eric Helms did on his nutrition pyramid. Regardless, I’d like to hear what you thought, down below.

See you all soon.

This blog post brought to you by too much coffee, and some smooth, smooth jams by The Notorious B.I.G. 

 

A7 Fitness BarGrip – A Full Review

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen A7 Fitness somewhere on social media (or in real life) in the past 12 months. In case you haven’t, A7 makes a line of shirts which feature a textured pattern on the back (and sometimes sleeves), which is intended to stop the bar slipping on your shoulder, or your shoulders slipping on the bench. I’ve been using bar grip products for about a year now, and I really like them, so it seems appropriate to do a full review.

I currently own two Bar Grip shirts, one meet tee (no bar grip, approved for use in IPF meets), and one Bar Grip hoodie. I’ve also got one more tee on pre-order.

 

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The author getting his bench press on. Thanks for the photos, Dominey Nothnagel.

 

Disclaimer – I’m not a sponsored athlete, and I don’t make any money from this stuff. A good friend of mine is the A7 Oceania distributor, though, and I she occasionally gives me stuff for free or at a discount. Mostly I just think BarGrip is a great idea. 

What I Like

The Shirts

Okay, so this is probably the most important thing (everything else is icing on the cake.) The grippy stuff is really cool. I need to use way less chalk now. Although they are marketed to stop the bar slipping on your back, I find them much more useful for benching. So many of the benches that are available in commercial gyms are too narrow and slippery, and the bar grip totally bypasses that problem. I don’t think my shoulders have slid at all while using Bar Grip, even at maximal loads.

Some people would point out that because you can’t use Bar Grip in meets, you shouldn’t use it all the time in training because it limits the specificity of your training. While that is true, in a meet you also have a sharp Eleiko Bar and a decent bench, so I really don’t see it as a problem. If it really bothered you, you could just not wear your shirt on days when you had heavy bench singles.

Finally, the shirts are reasonably stylish and comfortable! I frequently wear mine to work, around the house, and out and about during the weekends.

Service

My first contact with A7 Fitness was buying two shirts as gifts, but I got the sizing wrong and asked if I could exchange them. Jasen (co-owner and founder) emailed me back directly and helped me figure it out. He also included hand-written notes on everything I bought, which is a really nice touch. That was the point that actually sold me on the company, and I immediately got myself one too.

My interactions with the new Oceania distributor have been just as positive!

Community

A7 International and Oceania have both done amazing jobs of community building. A7 International have a private Facebook group for people who have bought their products, which is well frequented, a host of sponsored athletes, and were even one of the major sponsors at USAPL Raw Nationals this year.

A7 Oceania have been extremely active in the New Zealand powerlifting community. Every meet that I’ve been to, I’ve seen them there chatting to the lifters and spectators, coaching, and getting involved. They’ve hosted fundraisers, sponsored events, and generally done a great job of helping to build a positive strength training community in New Zealand. They’ve even helped to come up with a special edition NZ shirt (which I have pre-ordered and am looking forward to receiving!)

 

A7 Limited Edition New Zealand Shirt - Mens

This image was stolen from here.

 

(I can’t speak for the Asia or Europe distributors, as I’ve not interacted with them at all.)

What I Don’t Like

There aren’t too many things to dislike, but I’ll list them out here.

Price

Whilst not prohibitively expensive, these definitely aren’t cheap either. Don’t expect to by wearing a different colour every day of the week.

Sizing

Admittedly, this one is mostly my own fault. Although there are size charts available, I never checked them and just grabbed the sizes I normally get. A7 have gone through a range of suppliers over even the year that I’ve been using them, and as a result, the sizes can vary between different styles. Caveat Emptor. 

Shoulder Patch

Some of the Bar Grip shirts have a patch of Bar Grip on the shoulders, for front squatting. It might just be the way my one fits, but that patch is just in totally the wrong place for front squatting, either in a front rack position or in an ‘arms-folded’ positon.

Summary

Although kind of pricey, I own two Bar Grip tees, a meet tee, and a hoodie. I wear all of them every week, and I’ve given a couple of Bar Grip products as gifts. The only sticker on my laptop is an A7 sticker. If you want my verdict, it should be pretty clear. If you’re serious about your training and if you’re serious about building a supportive strength community, you should be looking at A7 Fitness gear. They’re definitely a brand I’m happy to support.

Where to Buy

A7 International (US Based)

A7 Oceania

A7 Europe

A7 Asia

Once again, it’s been a long time since I’ve made a new post. I have a few ideas for some posts for the coming weeks, so keep your eyes open. If there is anything that you want to see more or less of, let me know in the comments below. Hope your training is going well!

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.

performance arousal.png

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!