Mindset

Allostatic Overload: Stress and Emotional Context Part I

Okay, I get it... ‘Allostasis’ has become the new catch phrase. However, I think it places an emphasis and understanding on the consequences of training adaptations. No, not every adaptation we make to training is positive for health and well-beingg; training can be associated with a cost. Consequence can have both a positive and negative result, but cost is associated with a price to pay. Training is stress. Stress can change the way we think, process information, and behave. As a coach, you need to be a thoughtful stress manager and understand that everything you do has a consequence.

Before an adaptation to training can be acquired, the payment in stress is required. The consequence of that stress depends on how it is managed. As strength and conditioning coaches, we are stress managers. Stress is a bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium (8). Exercise is planned stress (i.e. periodization). The same chemical response occurs if you break up with your significant other, have an upcoming exam, or are lifting 90% of your max for multiple repetitions.

“Scientific understanding of stress and adaptation, have changed a lot in the past century, but periodization has not changed with them” - Martin Bingisser

The chemical response to an acute PERCEIVED stressor/adversity is initiated by a stimulus which activates the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to globally effect the major organs of the body. The hypothalamus, specifically the paraventicular nucleus releases corticotrophin-releasing Hormone (CRH), this activates the anterior pituitary to release adrenocorticotrophin-releasing hormone (ACTH), which causes the Adrenal cortex to produce corticosteroids (cortisol in humans). The associated physiological responses are activated: sympathetic nervous system (SNS), release of catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) accelerate heart rate, vasoconstriction of blood vessels, mobilization of energy resources, increased ventilation, inhibition of digestion, growth systems, and reproductive systems. This response will also be anatomical, humans will increase muscle tone and increase recruitment of extensors.

An inverted U-shaped relationship exists between stressor exposure and adaptation. There is an interplay over time between current stressor exposure, internal regulation of bodily processes, and health outcomes (6). On the adaptive side: small to moderate amounts of stressor exposure (stimulation or challenge) leads to increased health and improved physiological (immune, skeletal, muscular) and mental function (cortical plasticity and executive function). A tipping point occurs when a healthy challenge becomes a progressively unhealthy stressor (chronic, repeated exposure) and can result in long term, negative health outcomes (compromised immune function, neurogenesis).

Screen-Shot-2017-07-21-at-7.42.44-PM.png

Figure A and B. Correspond to two different athletes reflecting how much stress they can handle with and without an associated cost. Some athletes may be better equipped to handle more stress without negative health outcomes than others.

Homeostasis is a term used to describe the regulation of internal settings or set points that the body likes to maintain within a certain range. For example, pH between 7.35-7.45, sodium between 135-145 mEq/L, total serum calcium concentration between 8.5-10.2 mg/dL, or blood glucose between 79.2-110 mg/dL). When homeostasis is disturbed due to a stressor/imposed challenge, the brain and the body do not immediately seek to return to homeostatic balance. “Homeostasis resets itself in response to stress exposure” (6). The resetting of set points is allostasis.

“Allostasis explains how regulatory events maintain organismic viability, or not, in diverse contexts with varying set points of bodily needs and competing motivations.”- Jay Schulkin

Screen-Shot-2017-07-21-at-7.43.00-PM.png

Allostasis

Allostasis means adapting to change. Allostatic accommodation is an acute imposed stressor which IS a microtrauma; for example, an acute stressor elevates blood pressure. An acute stressor will activate the SNS thus increasing cardiac output, blood volume, and vascular constriction. This will temporarily increase blood pressure (allostatic accommodation), which your body should be able to handle without a system cost (return to resting levels). However, if the arousal becomes chronic the brain will respond to the elevated blood pressure by creating vascular system changes such as thickening arteriolar smooth muscle and increasing vascular wall-to-lumen ratio (allostatic load). Allostatic load is the physiological change required to respond and adapt to a stressor or repeated accommodation. Allostatic load is the wear and tear of central and peripheral allostatic accommodation. Allostatic overload and pathophysiology occur when a high blood pressure is needed to maintain the same blood flow through a stiffer vascular system, which turns into a feedforward system. Allostatic overload is the expression of pathophysiology (abnormal physiology) by the chronic over activation of regulating systems (6). For our

example of blood pressure, an individual’s normal blood pressure can now be reset to a higher level which is hypertension= pathology.

The Brain & Emotional Context

“The brain is the central mediator of ongoing system wide physiological adjustment to an environmental challenge.”  - McEwen, 2004, 2007; Schulkin, 2003; Sterling, 2004; Sterling & Eyer, 1988

The brain as the higher levels in the system modulate and coordinate the activity of lower levels (8). “Allostasis involves the whole brain and body rather than simply local feedback,” and this is “a far more complex form of regulation than homeostasis” (18). Stress can be physical and emotional events, such as pain, discomfort, injury, distress; however, stress can also be a sense of angst inside that you don’t know or understand (reflect for a second...I’ll wait). A stressed system on an unconscious level can create a cortical response that leads to states and resetting neural pathways.

Most of our behavior is dictated by an emotion or feeling, not a thought. We have to associate an emotion with a physical task via the brain in order to dictate the APPROPRIATE physiological response. “A stressor must have sufficient magnitude to activate the emotional circuitry of the brain or the stress response will not be invoked by the organism: conversely, stressors that are of a magnitude sufficient to overwhelm the mechanisms of allostatic accommodation will produce greater allostatic load” (6). Emotional context drives training adaptations. As stimulus functions as a stressor depending upon its emotional valence (whether it is judged to be harmful or beneficial), level of intensity (threat or challenge) and personal importance relative to environmental context and personal beliefs, goals, and coping resources (6).

Emotional regions of the brain include the amygdala and basal ganglia, combined to call the limbic system. Amygdala is associated with threat value and avoidance behavior. The basal ganglia is associated with reward value and approach behavior. These emotional areas are most likely to show evidence of allostatic load which can increase probability of injury and negative health outcomes (2). WHY? Emotions overlay the chemical consequences of the training stimulus. The chemical environment is not just based upon the emotional intensities of training, but also of life. If an individual is PERCIEVING stress from personal relationships and school then trains repeatedly with high stressors, the same chemical response is overlaid. “Load can accumulate from daily low levels of stress in the environment,” (6). Exercise input involves both context and the stressor itself. The context is the environment, such as the setting (i.e. color of the room, volume of the music, or behavior of the strength coach). In an exercise environment the stressor can be number of sets, repetitions, intensity, velocities, or load.

“If you are stressed about the session or some other aspect of your life- you are essentially OVERLAYING THE CHEMICAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE IMPOSED MECHANICAL TRAINING STRESSORS ON A SUBOPTIMAL CHEMICAL BACKDROP. As a consequence, adaptations are inevitably compromised and risks, of injury or illness, escalate.” - John Keily

“Under chronic or repeated stress, the short-term gains of allostatic accommodation dwindle over time, while its physiological adaptations, become entrenched and automatic.” - Sterling & Eyer, 1988

Chronic, repeated stress will cause overactivation of the HPA axis leading to dysfunction of the Hypothalamus- Pituitary-Thyroid (HPT) axis and Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Gonad (HPG) axis. In the words of Dr. Ben House, “axes that function together, dysfunction together,” so you are not just dealing with a dysfunctional HPA axis, chronic stress will lead to HPT and HPG dysfunction; hello thyroid and testosterone production issues.

“Factor in aging process is the ability to secrete more cortisol when necessary and terminate the elevated levels when not necessary” - Schulkin, 2011

Physiological changes lead to changes in environmental perception, behavior, and anxiety (level of tension). A stress can become perceived as a threat and chronic stress can create change in neural pathways facilitating heightened perceptual processing of threatening stimuli in the environment (6). This threatening stimulus will be associated with emotional significance. A feedforward system is created involving chemical response to stress, neural signaling pathways, perception of environment or task, and behavior.

“The body is an entry point to the mind and the mind is an entry point to the body.” – Dr. Mike T. Nelson

What should you do with this information? STICK AROUND FOR PART 2...

About the Author

5ea55417297579193ee8ebe8e1f443ba.jpeg

Michelle Boland

– Strength and Conditioning Coach at Northeastern University (Boston, MA)

– PhD. Exercise Physiology, Springfield College

– M.S. Strength and Conditioning, Springfield College

– B.S. Nutrition, Keene State College

– Follow on Instagram: mboland18

– Visit: www.michelleboland-training.com

  • References
  1. 1. Anderson, A. K. (2005). Affective influences on the attentional dynamics supporting awareness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 258–281.
  2. 2. Bingisser, M. (2017). How your emotional state can be more powerful than your rep scheme. HMMR Media
  3. 3. Bingisser, M. (2017). Training, Fast and Slow. HMMR Media Cerqueira, J. J., Mailliet, F., Almeida, O. F., Jay, T. M., & Sousa, N. (2007). The prefrontal cortex as a key target of the maladaptive response to stress. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 2781–2787.
  4. 4. Cerqueira, J. J., Pego, J. M., Taipa, R., Bessa, J. M., Almeida, O. F. X., & Sousa, N. (2005). Morphological correlates of corticosteroid-induced changes in prefrontal cortex-dependent behaviors. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 7792–7800.
  5. 5. Ganzel, BL, Wethington, E, & Morris, PA (2010). Allostasis and the human brain: Integrating models of stress from social and life sciences. Psych Review 117(1): 134-174
  6. 6. Hodges, P.W., Sapsford, R., & Pengel, L.M. (2007). Postural and respiratory functions of the pelvic floor muscles. Neurourology and Urodynamics 26: 362-371.
  7. 7. Lovallo, W. (2016). Stress & Health: Biological and psychological interactions. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.
  8. 8. McEwen, B. S. (2000). Allostasis and allostatic load: Implications for neuropsychopharmacology. Neuropsychopharmacology, 22, 108–124.
  9. 9. McEwen, B. S. (2004). Protective and damaging effects of the mediators of stress and adaptation: Allostasis and allostatic load. In J. Schulkin (Ed.), Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation (pp. 65–98). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press
  10. 10. McEwen, B. S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: Central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews, 87, 873–901.
  11. 11. Öhman, A., & Mineka, S. (2001). Fears, phobias, and preparedness: Toward an evolved module of fear and fear learning. Psychological Review, 108, 483–522.
  12. 12. Samueloff, S. & Yousef, M.K. (1987). Adaptive physiology to stressful environments. CRC Press Inc: Boca Raton, FL.
  13. 13. Schulkin, J. (2003). Rethinking homeostasis: Allostatic regulation in physiology and pathophysiology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  14. 14. Schulkin, J. (2004). Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  15. 15. Schulkin, J. (2011). Social allostasis: Anticipatory regulation of the internal milieu. Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, 2 (111), 1-15.
  16. 16. Sterling, P. (2004). Principles of allostasis: Optimal design, predictive regulation, pathophysiology, and rational therapeutics. In J. Schulkin (Ed.), Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation (pp. 17–64). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  17. 17. Sterling, P., & Eyer, J. (1988). Allostasis: A new paradigm to explain arousal pathology. In S. Fisher & J. Reason (Eds.), Handbook of life stress, cognition, and health (pp. 629 – 649). Chichester, England: Wiley.

What Makes or Breaks an Exercise Program

No one can argue that those who see the most results from training have one thing in common. Consistency.

Being consistent isn’t easy.  Life happens; you get busy, you get bored, you get tired, and you get hurt.

You take some time off, hit the refresh button, and, because your last training plan didn’t work out, it’s on to the next program.

Working as a personal trainer, I end up meeting a lot of people when they’re somewhere in the middle of the list above.

Whether you know it or not there are many variables in your exercise programs and your lifestyle that can either set you up for long-term success or quietly de-rail you. Identifying these variables early on will allow you to better examine a training program before you begin, and put you in a position to allow yourself to be consistent and see the results you want.

  • Gradual Increase in Volume

Gradually increasing the volume of your training program over the course of weeks and months sounds simple, but it’s often missed by many gym goers. Using the minimal effective dose will keep you healthy and allow you to progress a program all the way to your end goal. Many soft-tissue injuries are the result of a drastic increase in training volume.  Perhaps this is most obvious when you look at the number of Achilles, groin, and hamstring injuries that occur at the beginning of NFL camps, or injuries to those going from the couch to Crossfit.  A program that steadily increases work capacity and tissue resiliency over time will greatly reduce your risk of injuries due to fatigue and set your body up to be able to handle workouts of greater volume and intensity later on.

Look for whether or not your exercise program has a gradual increase in volume as you progress each week and month. If you’re new to the gym this may mean you start by performing only 12 total sets in week one and 20 total sets by week four. Powerlifting programs like 5/3/1 and The Juggernaut Method also do a good job of managing volume and intensity to help you build specific work capacity in the bench, squat, and deadlift. Group training should accommodate those of different fitness levels and allow some wiggle room for some to perform more work than others in any given class.

  • Movement Quality

Appropriate volume is only part of the equation for ensuring a fitness program is going to last. The quality of your movement is what dictates whether or not you develop great hamstrings and glutes or giant calves and back erectors. This is where hiring a coach can be of great value. An educated movement-centric coach will be able to identify if you can:

  • Centrate your joints and move in and out of all three planes of motion without compensation
  • Execute proper motor patterns while keeping your joints in advantageous positions
  • Find, feel, and use the correct muscles during exercises

Keeping your joints healthy and applying stress to the correct muscles will help to improve your durability by reducing your risk of overuse,“wear and tear” injuries, and burnout.  It can be hard to objectively measure how well you move. Finding a coach or physical therapist that can assess you and create a plan that teaches you to move better is always a smart place to begin a new training program.

Consider the below situation.

Dan Shoulder Flexion
Dan Shoulder Flexion

Poor active shoulder flexion. Anterior rib flare, forward head, tight lats. Landmine variations would be a smarter exercise instead of overhead pressing.

Mike Shoulder Flexion
Mike Shoulder Flexion

Full ROM during active shoulder flexion. Overhead pressing would be more warranted for this client.

  • Variability of Movements/Implements/Load/Tempo

Variability in a fitness program will keep you healthy and prevent workouts from getting stale and boring.

Learn how to move in all three planes and master fundamental movement patterns and the list of exercises you will be able to safely perform becomes bountiful. Throughout the course of a workout, or a week of training your program, should include some form of squatting and hinging, pushing and pulling, abdominal work, and loaded carries. Do things on two legs and one leg and with two arms and one arm.

When applying external loads to movements, use different implements and choose different ways to hold them.  This will allow you to alter the movement in a manner that will help you train the correct muscles in better positions.

For example, let’s use a squat.  You could load it with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, two dumbbells, two kettlebells, a sandbag, or a medicine ball.

You could do a front squat, a back squat, a goblet squat, a zercher squat, a potato sack squat, an offset kettlebell squat, or an offset sandbag squat; the list could go on and on. Knowing where you should start on the progression-regression list will help make the movement safer and more effective and varying the implements will challenge the movement in a slightly different manner and help prevent boredom in your exercise program.

Varying the external load in a training program is also key to getting stronger and staying healthy while doing so. This is why many sub-max training programs that accumulate volume are so successful. Decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the course of several weeks and months is much more suitable for long term strength gains than trying to push to a new 1RM each week in the gym.

Another variable that can be manipulated in an exercise program is the tempo at which the movement is performed. Being specific with the tempo of a lift is often neglected even though it has a huge influence on what adaptations are had from the exercise.

If you’ve been performing goblet squats for the past few months with a 2010 tempo, they’ve become boring and easy for you. Now take the same weight and change your tempo to 3030.  Add feeling grounded through both feet, pushing your heels through the floor, and focusing on keeping constant tension on your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs I can guarantee that your easy goblet squat has become much more challenging.

Varying the tempo of lifts could result in a squat hypertrophying your slow twitch fibers or cause you to increase your rate of force production. Both are important and both are needed. Choosing the right time to apply both and using both throughout the course of a training program can make performing the same old lifts much less monotonous.

  • Adaptability/Flexibility

Things come up in life.

You have to work late.

Your kids get sick.

Traffic is worse than usual.

And now you either can’t make it to they gym or have limited time. A great fitness program is structured, but also can be flexible. On these days it is helpful to have a few workouts that are lower intensity, take less time to complete, or can be done at home.

Cardiac output and bodyweight circuits are two awesome ways to still get workouts in even when life comes up.

  • Premium Placed On Recovery

You may be able to get away with it for a short period of time, but in the end if your recovery efforts don’t meet or exceed the efforts put forth in your training you’ll likely be battling with fatigue and injury.

A good training program emphasizes the other 23 hours of your day.  Knowing what you can do to help promote your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and tissue recovery is invaluable.

Go through the checklist below and I’m sure you can do better in at least one and if not several of the categories.

  • - Sleep Quality & Quantity- Do you have a good sleeping environment? Are you getting enough hours of sleep?
  • - Nutrition- Quality & Quantity- Are you eating quality foods that promote low levels of inflammation? Are you eating enough calories to support your training?
  • - Respiration- Are you hyper-inflated? Can you fully exhale your air to help shift yourself to a more parasympathetic state?
  • - Tissue Quality- Do you get regular massages, acupuncture, or perform regular self-myofascial release?
  • - Active Recovery Sessions- Do you use active recovery sessions when you’re feeling tired or sore?
  • Mindset and Environment

You’re now making progress.

You’re moving well and gradually increasing how much you’re doing each workout.  

Your sleep is awesome, your nutrition is locked in, and you’re finally taking care of your body by prioritizing recovery.

Even with all of these important physical factors in check it can still be difficult to stick with an exercise program. If this is the case you need to reflect on your mindset and training environment.

Create short and long-term goals. Write them down somewhere next to why you’re training for these goals. A strong WHY, concrete GOALS, and internal MOTIVATION are powerful for sticking with exercise.

Your training environment also needs to be supportive of everything above. Behind the good music, sweat, and banging of weights needs to be a community of like-minded people who can push and motivate you as you work towards your goals.

Wrapping It Up

I know a lot of people who have reached their goals with different training programs. There are a lot of great programs out there that work, but not everything works forever.

I promise that if you use this article as guide you’ll become an informed and confident consumer. You’ll be able to sift through a lot of BS that is currently in the fitness industry and find a program that will set you up for consistency and success.

About the Author

mike-sirani.jpg

Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you're interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

5 Thoughts on Pre-workout Supplements

The popularity of pre-workout supplements has seen a significant boom over the past 5-8 years, and I'd be lying to your face if I said I've never taken them before.  While it's easy to take an "ultimatumist" view towards pre-workouts (DON'T EVER DO IT), that'd be inaccurate because like all things it lies somewhere on a bell curve.  In other words, you always have to consider context before saying something is good or bad.  Anyways...this isn't going to be a dissertation on pre-workout supplements, but rather a collection of random thoughts concerning their usage. 

The Danger of Dependency

So back in college when my biggest concerns in life were playing baseball, getting jacked and hanging out with my friends, I became somewhat of a pre-workout connoisseur.  And by connoisseur I mean I just took a lot of different kinds of pre-workouts because I enjoyed that "jacked up" feeling it gave you.

Now I was never "hooked" on it like some people I knew who would wake up in the morning and take NO Explode just because they needed it, but I did become dependent on it for workouts.

In essence, I felt like I couldn't workout without it because I had lost control over my own dimmer switch of "aggression," and here's what I mean by that.  Think of your aggression output like a dimmer switch (and by aggression output I'm talking about sympathetic vs. parasympathetic tone).  At some points, like when you're working out, you may need to ramp that switch up (boost sympathetic tone), and at others, like when you're chilling on the couch at night before bed, you need to ramp that switch down (boost parasympathetic tone).  The problem many people run into with pre-workouts is that they lose control of this dimmer switch.  They become dependent upon the pre-workout to ramp the dimmer switch up (partly because it's damn near impossible to match the feeling you get from a pre-workout naturally) , and lose the ability to do it themselves.

Ultimately, this isn't a road you want to go down, and if you're one of those people who can't self motivate without an artificial kick, then I'd recommend doing what I did and throw them all away.

*I'm not saying I don't ever use pre-workouts anymore because there can be a time and place for them when used correctly.

Ignoring Important Cues

Here's one of my favorites:

Random Bro:  "Dude...I was so exhausted this morning when I woke up.  I mean my body just felt like crap.  It was probably because I haven't gotten much sleep over the past several nights, ate like crap, and had a little bit too much to drink, but that's okay.  I woke up, CRUSHED my pre-workout, headed to the gym, and still got a good lift in."

Me:  Banging my head against a wall incessantly.

Now I'm not knocking the effort.  I think it's great that you still found time to make it into the gym, but let's just analyze what in the world you're doing:  ignoring every important cue your body is trying to send you.

51661ec66ee1e641c7eb2e9b489f1eb6.jpg

This, in case you can't tell from my tone, is really dumb.  It might work a few times, but eventually you're going to run yourself into the ground.

Takeaway:  listen to your body.  Don't tell it to f*ck off.

A Time and Place

Now there is a time and place when you can utilize pre-workouts, and that's strictly for your most intense sessions.

Please know that you should check with your doctor before making any decisions concerning supplements. Especially pre-workout supplements.

Assuming you've been lifting for a while, you should know what these sessions look like and when they're taking place.  If you don't have ability right now to cipher out your different types of sessions, then I'd highly recommend getting a coach who can help get you going in the right direction.

Coffee

While there are 100's of different pre-workouts on the market, I've honestly become a fan of just having a cup of coffee prior to lifting when it's appropriate.  The caffeine from the coffee does it's job of ramping up the central nervous system, and I sleep a little better at night knowing I didn't just ingest what might be cancer juice.  Granted, cancer juice is an extreme statement.  I'm merely referring to the fact that you have NO IDEA what's actually in the pre-workout you're taking, and considering how dramatic of an effect it has on your system, you need to respect that.

*If I'm looking for a pick me up that takes things to another level, however, I tend to go with Pre-Jym because it's the best product I've taken to date.  Please know I'm not endorsing this product, and that you need to check with your doctor before taking it.

Performance Over Health

Let's just go ahead and end with this thought:  if you're taking a pre-workout you are consciously making a decision to choose performance over health, and THAT'S TOTALLY FINE.  People have to respect that performance and health are vastly different things, and that individuals who have serious performance related goals will have to make decisions that play on this trade off.

about the author

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

Arousal Theory and Strength Sports: How to Harness Nuclear Energy

At the elite level, a large difference in performance between the three medalists on the podium is not typical. We see this across various individual strength sports such as weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics. One percent could be the difference between missing and breaking a world record. In weightlifting, both lifts are very explosive with neither one taking more than a few seconds to complete, and optimum power output must be produced. There is often only 2.5 kg separating the lifters in the top 5 spots, meaning the smallest variation in performance can be the difference between securing a medal and failing to place. Sports, which have very little variability between the top athletes who place, express a need for training modalities that can push performance just by a slight increase.

Overworking vs. Underworking

Because numbers can easily measure weight training progress, athletes have a tendency to pursue testing methods often. The aggressive consciousness, which weightlifters seem to possess, is a rivalry against oneself, and often leads to overtraining. Athletes typically have a competitive personality, which makes them assume overworking is better than underworking.

Dani-Snatch-Pull.png

The theoretical goal is to design a training program that will provide stress, but not continue to the point of distress. Little room for error can be left when peaking and every competitive advantage should be used for a successful performance. These factors can be measured and maintained by monitoring mood and excessive arousal while helping avoid the negative effects of over-reaching, which can lead to over-training.

A stressor is anything that may knock the body out of balance (a.k.a. homeostasis).

*for more on homeostasis and stress read here.

The stress response is what your body does to re-establish the balance. Your body’s physiological response mechanisms are beautifully adapted for overcoming short-term physical traumas. When we turn on the same physiological responses that are provoked chronically with heightened arousal, it then becomes disastrous. Fitness and fatigue cannot exist independently and often the demands of competitive athletes do not match according to the current level of not only physiological functioning, but psychological. Almost all athletes are overworked in some capacity, and although we all want to embrace ‘the grind’, constant excitement will cripple our success for long-term athletic development.

When to Turn It On

Many of us fail to differentiate between activating a stress-response out of necessity and for the sake of it. We become accustomed to turning our anticipatory defenses into an uproar of unnecessary activation. If you constantly mobilize energy at the cost of energy storage, you will never create a reserve for when it counts the most (aka competition). Excessive arousal may seem necessary, but more often than not is hindering performance as opposed to aiding in a successful attempt.

autonomic-system.png

Arousal and Threat

Arousal is a combination of physiological and psychological activity theorized to fall along a continuum from a completely relaxed state to intense state of excitement (Moran, 2004). Arousal is suppressed and activated by the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body for when energy expenditure is needed. During arousal our body needs to pay attention to the task at hand, so it neglects other systems such as immune and digestion that are deemed lower priority at that moment. For example, let’s say you’re roaming the Serengeti and a lion pops up ready to eat you. In that exact moment, what is most important to your body:

  1. - Digesting the food you just ate
  2. - Defending against a disease that may harm you tomorrow
  3. - Getting an erection
  4. - Running away to ensure survival

While 1-3 are indeed important, they do nothing to help you run away from the lion and must be “ignored” for the time being.

Yerkes & Dodsen (1908) developed the inverted-U theory in an attempt to explain the affiliation between arousal and performance. The relationship is curvilinear, specifically stating performance is lowest when arousal is very high or very low, and optimal at a moderate level (Singer et al., 2001). In Weightlifting, an athlete must presumably lift the most weight possible during an optimum level of arousal, however, either hyperarousal or diminished arousal may lessen performance (Jensen, 2009).

Although heightened arousal can impair the performance of some motor tasks, the relation between a stressor and the change in arousal varies markedly across individuals. It is also important to note that there are always exceptions to the case, but the vast majority of people happen to perform better with moderate levels of arousal. What is considered a eu-stress for one individual may in fact be a dis-stress for another.

Arousal-Performance-Graph.png

Generally speaking, certain sports require distinctive arousal levels

Fine motor control requires less arousal while motor tasks, which require strength or ballistic movements, require higher levels of arousal (Noteboom, Barnholt & Enoka, (2001). Ultimately, many variables play a role in creating a successful athlete, and to appropriately accommodate those variables an individualized program must be administered. For example, not everyone will respond to a certain stimulus of physical training the same way, just like how everyone will respond to stress management in slightly different ways

New athletes often make an assumption that psyching up or creating a high level of arousal is imperative to optimally complete a heavy lift. While higher arousal helps strength, compromised coordination and technique may occur, especially if technique is still being learned. The common mistake a lifter will face is overdoing it or using techniques at the wrong moments in training. A beginner is less groomed and so the motions of their sport are not as habitual in those who have ample amounts of experience. Typically a beginner will do better with low levels of arousal because performance is based on utilization of relevant cues and narrowing of attention as arousal increases. Too many cues, or an excess of arousal, can cause the lifter to heighten his or her state of sensory sensitivity to a state of hyper vigilance. When we approach a lift with excessive arousal we can trigger inappropriate responses such as excessive physical strain associated with somatic anxiety.

Once a lifter becomes accustomed to the motor patterns of their sport, then they will be able to determine their optimal zone of functioning within the arousal continuum.

New athletes get a pass because they don’t know any better. For those of you who are familiar with training and are constantly in the weight room screaming about your next lift to come, you are wasting your time and giving us all headaches. You’ve also caused a substantial amount damage, which now must be dealt with somehow.  You simply can’t train like this as often as you’d like. Threat Matrix Theory (Visser & Davies, 2010) explains how any number of multiple outputs may form from a stress response. We do not only encounter a single variable altered during this process. Determining which part of the fatigue was caused by the training itself, and what was caused by the emotional stress of an elevated arousal state is the hard part.

A stressor may be as simple as anticipation before a competitive situation, which at first may appear as psychological, but as it manifests becomes physiological as well (Jensen, 2009). Such a response can lead to a failed lift or technical failure resulting in injury, or improper recovery causing you to peak or fatigue earlier than you should be when competition time comes (Lee, 1990). Competitive weightlifters understand competitions provide incentive for hard training. A successful meet involves more than being stronger compared to competitors of the same weight class. In addition to physical training, psychological aspects such as mood and vigor will play an important role in an athlete’s performance as well.

Don’t train harder, train smarter.

Profile of Mood States Questionnaire (POMS) is a standard validated psychological test formulated by McNair et al. (1971) which requires you to indicate for each word or statement how you have been feeling in the past week.

Profile-of-Mood-Statements.png

Athletes scoring below norms on scales of tension, depression, confusion, anger, and fatigue, and above norms on vigor, are said to possess a ‘positive profile’ that graphically depicts an iceberg. Monitoring of mood states may offer potential methods of mitigating loads, whether that be psychological or physical.

Serious athletes will push their bodies hard enough, often riding that fine line between wellness and illness. Simply tracking how you feel related to qualitative variables, which mirror excess stress, can be of use to athletes and coaches. You can do this by writing it in your training log (if you don’t have one yet, what are you waiting for?). Remember, stress comes in all shapes and sizes and we deal with it enough, so why add more to training than necessary?

Optimizing performance is contingent upon proper stress regulation and will differ between training and competition environment. Coaches are often attempting to increase the likelihood of success within an athlete’s performance and will make most of the decisions for an athlete, but for those who do not have this advantage should educate themselves. In accordance with proper programming, mental skills training to control or alter arousal levels may be of interest. Beginning to use skills during practice will have a carry-over effect in competition, and is valuable in both situations. Utilizing such skills will not likely benefit the day of competition if not practiced.

Learn how to create a balance with combinations of relaxation and intensity. These are two things that don’t seem to go together when you first think about it. Managing arousal levels is key in not only competitive situations, but during training as well. If you experience every lift in a working set during training as a max effort lift you will pay the price. Being able to harness nuclear energy is the name of the game. Conserve it for a time when it is most necessary. To understand the stress response, fundamental knowledge not only of physiology but of psychology as well, must be possessed.

about the author

fac188db2d11c567ecf4133a5a44ea64.jpeg

Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

Be A Goal Digger: The Complete Guide to Goal Setting

I am geographically limited. I use my IPhone GPS everywhere I go, even when I may know where I am going. Part of it is because I have a terrible attention span; the other part is I lack the self-confidence in reaching my destination without getting lost. Since I am constantly on the road and I don’t particularly like traffic I like to listen to my radio as loud as can be, rock out and enjoy myself. I plug my phone into the Aux cord so I can hear the directions when I forget to look. Occasionally, I miss the exit. By occasionally I mean almost every time. Fortunately, I attempt to give myself extra time when arriving somewhere for that reason. I remember one specific time I was driving to NY from MA and I got so wrapped up in my thoughts I drove an entire 45 minutes past my exit almost into NJ. I was paying attention to the road, just not the specifics. My driving antics remind me of goal setting. Sometimes, we have no idea where we are headed. Other times, we have our ideas perfectly mapped out for us. Either way, you are going to get lost somehow. I am aware of this reoccurring situation, which is why I give myself some leeway and plan ahead for the obstacles I may face.  I constantly look at the map every few minutes to see where I am in relation to my destination. The main point is that I know how to get back on track regardless of the obstacles I may face, and I am willing to switch routes if need be.

Untitled.png
  • - Goal setting is one of the most popular and effective performance-enhancement techniques. However, the technique behind the application is far more complicated than it appears.
  • - Using it wisely may be fostered into a positive performance-enhancing tool or conversely may lead to ambiguity and fear of failure.
  • - Motivation is the area coaches want to know the most about and is one of the top studied theories in sport psychology.
  • - Both concepts relate to one another on various levels but more importantly share a drawback: success is often seen as an end product. 
What-it-takes.png

We live in a world where we are distracted by shiny images of perfection. We see pictures of Michael Jordan slam dunking, and showing off rings but don’t see the hours he spent away from family and friends on the court by himself. We don’t see a highlight of misses, just the ones he makes.

Hype.png
  • - When we focus on numbers or one particular event we seem to lose sight of the work it will take us to get there and become frustrated when we do not see accomplishments immediately.
  • - Becoming too caught up in the daydream of the outcome and far less concerned with our development as an athlete removes us from the path.
Reality.png
  • -Training is often boring and repetitive requiring a huge responsibility as well as self-control.
  • -Many of us like the idea of goal-setting on paper, but not so much the actions which must take place in order to achieve so-called goals.

The Hardest Mental Toughness Technique

The reason goal setting is such a hard technique to master is because It’s a highly flexible skill, meaning it has many paths to a good result.

  • - Nothing is set in stone, what may work for one person may hinder another. There is no exact template to follow.
  • - The reason goal setting becomes so individualized is due to the process we go through, which gives the goal meaning.
  • - Each of us will vary how we formulate ideas and cope with obstacles along the path to our destination.
  • - We learn to recognize patterns and spot hidden opportunity, limitations, as well as learning how to problem solve.

We have both rational and emotional sides to our personality, which may clash with one another. Our rational side has the ability to analyze and deliberate for the long term, while our emotional side evaluates situations in terms of pain and pleasure. As a realistic being, we understand our ambitions can be challenging to put into play, and our hunger for instant gratification provides for much more immediate incentive and feedback.

logical_emotional.png
  • - The idiosyncratic relationship between our passion and effort derive from how our emotions evoke particular feelings, which lead to our actions.
  • -Emotions are spontaneous biological process, which are not in our full control.
  • - Our decision process is then based on feelings or how we consciously interpret our emotions.
  • - We have control over our feelings- or how we react to a situation (emotions).
  • - Allowing our emotions to control our goals is often a recipe for disaster.
  • - When we allow negative situations to effect us in terms of re-evaluating our goals or aim low, we are not fully committed to the work that  is required to become a great athlete true to our potential.
  • - We often remain in a past state of sentiment towards our goals and guide our next move based on a false evaluation of the situation.

Commandments of Goal Setting

1. OBSTACLES ARE GOING TO HAPPEN, SO MAKE THE BEST OF IT.

We can map out a detailed list of steps, but learning how to be flexible and drop our egos is going to be the most eye opening realization of the entire method.

punch.png

When you hit an obstacle, you tend to switch focus and harp on your long-term goal imagining how long it’s going to take to get there. This usually results in cutting corners and moving around from interest to interest in order to redeem some form of instant gratification. It is natural because we want to be happy. However, you have to keep pushing the boulder up the hill.

2.  FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

What we will always have control over is our perception and attitude. You have to maintain control and structure in order to keep your logic and emotions happy.

stay_positive.png

Winning is not a good goal to have. You cannot control who wins and who loses.

  • - Often we seem to talk to ourselves in a negative connotation. The way you word something is extremely important and has an impact on how we react to the situation. Set positive goals by focusing on behaviors that should be present rather than those that should be absent. This can help athletes focus on success rather than failure.

3.  AIM FOR THE MIDDLE

Aim for the middle of the spectrum. Be realistic, but don’t be easy on yourself or sell yourself short. Using moderately difficult goals will still push you to work hard, but in a more realistic sense. They are also more satisfying when attained.

just_right.png
  • - Ego oriented athletes also have a tendency to set unrealistically high or low goals so they can have an excuse if their goals are not attained. Task oriented athletes, on the other hand, set goals about doing their best and making incremental improvement.  These athletes experience success more frequently, persist at tasks longer and are more confident.

4.  Use Short Range Goals

smallgoals.png

Small goals along the way yield major results

  • - We need to develop goals that create a higher standard for being satisfied with our performance in correct form and technique vs. a poorly executed personal record lift.
  • - In order to put up the big numbers on the platform, we need to focus on developing small accomplishments and being satisfied without receiving instant gratification.

We can become easily derailed by minor setbacks, so reassurance is key when it comes to staying the course. This is the main idea behind short-term goals

  • - We need to make an effort in reminding ourselves what’s already been conquered. When we receive no immediate pay off, it can become frustrating.
  • - Set practice as well as competition goals – Practice goals should match competition performance goals as often as possible. Goals related to work ethic and attitude during practice are essential.

5.  Keep Your Big Goals a Secret

secret.png

You can announce progress, but your “dream goal” should be personal. It’s easy and natural to want to share everything, especially now since everything can be shared with the clock of a button. However, I say keep your big goals away from those you are close to as well. Often people may discourage you, some directly and some indirectly. Seeking support is natural but finding an environment that actually facilitates your goals is incredibly difficult, so be weary of where and with whom you are sharing your ideas and time with.

5.  Write Them Down, Post Them Up

postthemup.png

Regularly monitor progress, goals are ineffective if forgotten.   Write them in your training logs (DO YOU HAVE A TRAINING LOG? how else will you measure your progress). Put a note in your weightlifting shoe for the next day with something to focus on for that session. Face it every day, read it and ask yourself what you are going to do to attain

  1. 6.  FIND A COACH WHO KNOWS WHATS BEST FOR YOU

It is important as a coach to make sure goals are internalized and the athlete to feel in control of their goals. Whether or not a player is ego oriented (compares their performance to that of others) or task oriented (compares her performance to herself) could determine the extent to which they will be able to internalize goals.

We have difficulty looking at ourselves from an outside-unbiased perspective. The best lifters have coaches because they cannot see their mistakes themselves even if they video a set. The same goes for goal setting. Find a coach who believes in your capability and then some.

Closing Thoughts

Spending your time in the weight room without setting goals is like shooting at a target without aiming. You are probably enjoying yourself here and there while perceiving small strides, but there’s going to come a point where blasting that gun and wasting ammo gets expensive and aggravating and you eventually wind up injured, bored, or quitting. Without goalswe would remain forever stationary, incapable of moving forward.

Evaluate your current plan, Ask yourself:

What have you done to get better today? Seriously think of every single move you made in the last 24 hours. Was everything geared towards your goal? Do you even know what your goal really is? We need an honest evaluation of where we are right now. Then we can focus on shaping the path.

Assessing your goals will take time, so sit down and pay attention on these next few questions:

  • - Am I focusing on myself, or comparing my goals to others success?
  • - Is my goal measurable? And repeatable?
  • - Am I tracking my progress?
  • - Am I being realistic and fair to myself?

about the author

fac188db2d11c567ecf4133a5a44ea64.jpeg

Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

MASS: Are You Ready to Enter the Beast

In case you we're unaware, Dr. Pat Davidson just released his first Ebook this week MASS.  While I'd love to sit here and tell you about how it's THE PREMIERE muscle building program available right now, or how it's forged monsters out of mere men, I'd rather share with you the first several pages of the book for FREE. In those few pages I think you'll get a feel for just how special this program is.  Enjoy:

Just a heads up that MASS is only on sale through Sunday night.

Foreword by Jim Ferris

In the fitness industry, mentioning to colleagues the legendary name “Pat Davidson” gets you two responses. The first is a smile ear-to-ear. The second is usually a story not unlike one you may hear about Scotland’s infamous William Wallace. While Pat is not a 7-foot tall giant like the storied “Braveheart,” he does have a neck thicker than most peoples’ thighs (which is, I imagine, to hold that valuable cranium of his in place). Some who have attended his workouts or lectures will even argue that they have seen fireballs in his eyes. As for the “lightning bolts coming from his arse”—well I guess some things we can just leave to the imagination.

Over the many years that I have known Pat, I have come to respect him as one of the smartest, most creative, and most sought-out coaches around. There is a quote I often recite to my interns and and to coaches whom I mentor, “There is a difference between acting like a pro, and being a pro.” I assure you that when it comes to Pat Davidson there is no acting, nonsense, or BS. He is a true pro’s pro. He is a man with whom everyone in the industry should have a conversation if they are fortunate to have an opportunity to do so.

A few months back I was getting bored with my training routine and wanted to start something new. I needed something fresh. I needed something that would put the edge back into my weekly training sessions. I knew exactly who could conjure up the type of madness I required. I asked Pat for a program. He asked me “Why?” to which I responded that, “I want to know what goes on in that sick, twisted, BRILLIANT brain of yours.” Laughing, he told me that he had something brewing in the lab and would be happy to let me give it a go. All I can write here about Pat’s programs are that they will test you physically, mentally, psychologically, and emotionally each and every time you do them. You will win some days; you will lose some days. The program that follows here will give you the opportunity to push your limits and see what your body and mind can accomplish.

Each of us is a bit of a storyteller with our own tales and experiences that we love passing on to people. Please keep this in mind as you push through and eventually complete this program’s 64 sessions, because this program will certainly give you an epic story to tell. Finally, when you conquer this program and are standing at the top of the “training mountain,” remember that “the top” is small for a reason: not everyone can or will get there. Right now you are probably wondering, “Is this program really such a challenge?” and that I’m just psyching you out. Well, maybe I am—that is for you to find out.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

Introduction 1 by Ethan Grossman

The year is 1985. You have just witnessed first-hand your best friend and training partner brutally beaten to death by a cold Soviet robot of a man. Your wife, the mother of your child, pleads with you to stay home, settle down and enjoy the life you’ve cultivated. Still, you know in your heart it wasn’t his fight and that you could’ve stopped his death. With thoughts racing through your mind, you get in your Lamborghini for a cool drive around the city. There’s no easy way out.

It’s time for you to make a decision. You realize that in order to defeat the beast you must become one. Are YOU ready to become the beast? If so, there’s no time to wait for conditions to be perfect. You don’t need a 10 out of 10. If you score in favor of Russia over LA, then it’s time to give up your soft, comfy existence, strap up your boots and grow out your beard. It’s going to be a cold, hard winter.

Cold, dark Russia:

  1. -You have worked out before but want to take your training to the next level
  2. -You want to push yourself to a higher plateau mentally
  3. -You tend to overcomplicate your own programs and end up getting nowhere
  4. -You want to strengthen your team’s bond
  5. -You consider yourself a beast inside
  6. -You sleep 7 or more hours a night
  7. -You eat for fuel
  8. -You are held back in your workouts by your conditioning
  9. -You are just returning to training
  10. -You have an acquired taste for pain

Score-

Warm, sunny LA:

  1. -You have never lifted a weight or performed a bench press, squat or deadlift
  2. -You refuse to get your heart rate up during training
  3. -You are recovering from an injury or very prone to one
  4. -You can’t commit 4 days a week
  5. -You might miss workouts when you’re too hung over
  6. -You are travelling multiple times over the next 16 weeks
  7. -You only have access to a crowded gym at peak hours or your apartment gym
  8. -You are planning to modify the routine or add additional workouts
  9. -You are an advanced lifter about to compete in a major competition
  10. -You have to switch up the workout often or you get bored

Score-

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

Introduction 2 by Dr. Pat Davidson

Thank you for deciding to enter the beast. If you go through with the entirety of this program you will be changed. Most of you who start will not finish. This program is not for the weak and timid. This program is for those who are tough, resilient, and committed to working hard and reaching for the stars. I did not design this program for the 99%. Only the 1% will be able to make it through this program. The 1% are the people who are willing to endure in the face of extreme difficulty. The 1% are the people who are willing to sacrifice many things to realize an eventual goal. I have no pity for you if you are not able to complete this program. If you give up, you are probably like the majority of people on this planet. If you make up the 99% of the population who will not go through this program, there is probably nothing wrong with you, but I’m probably not interested in being friends with you. I like those who are on the fringe. I like those who are different. I like those who live by their own set of values. I like those who don’t mind it when the lunatics run the asylum. If you enter the beast, you must become the beast to survive.

My name is Pat Davidson, and I have credentials that back up my ability to write a program. I have a PhD in Exercise Physiology. I have worked as a professor of Exercise Science at Brooklyn College and Springfield College. I have coached the athletes from Springfield College Team Ironsports. I have competed in Strongman and qualified and competed in two world championships at the Arnold Classic. I have competed in submission wrestling at the highest level in the North American Grappling Association. I have fought professionally in Mixed Martial Arts. I have trained for a long time. I have made weight in weight class sports for a long time. I have studied the workings of the body and lived the science to the best of my ability for a long time. I have been lurking in the shadows, learning and training, not putting my information out for public consumption for a long time. If you are an elite strength coach, you probably know who I am. If you are an elite strongman athlete, you probably know who I am. If you are a regular Joe who is a weekend warrior, or a gym bro, you probably do not know who I am. This is how I meant to keep things. Now I am changing and permitting the 99% to have a glimpse at what the 1% does. Perhaps I can unveil more members of the 1% by putting this information out there for the masses. I doubt there are many of you out there, but if you exist, I’ll know it because you’ll enter the beast, you will become the beast, and you will want to tell me and the world about it afterwards.

This program is not going to be like ones you have done before. You will do the same workout over and over again for four weeks in a row. There is no chest and bi’s day. There is no back and shoulders day. There is no leg day. Every day will be an everything day. After you complete four weeks of the same workout done four times per week, you will move on to the next phase. Each phase builds on the previous one. Do not skip phases. Do not alter the plan. Do not have your own, “good idea”. Fall in line, and accept what is given to you. This program is not built on the singular day. This program is built on the accumulation of all the days put together. You will have good days. Do not get too excited about those good days. You will have bad days. Do not let the bad days get you down. Punch your ticket on a daily basis and ride the wave. Do not think too much. Simply trust the process and do your work. Nobody cares about you except yourself, but you can be your own worst enemy by thinking too much about yourself as a special little entity. You likely suffer from terminal uniqueness. You believe that you are somehow very different than everybody else. You are more like everyone else than you are different. Others have gone through this before you. Others will go through this after you. Either you do this, or you do not do this. You make a decision, and then everything else falls in place. If you have made your decision, then I welcome you to the beast, and I am excited for your transformation into the beast. Do not be afraid of the animal that lurks in the deep recesses of your being. Let it out, and experience its primal forces. Let it breathe the fresh air, and growl at the timid who walk around you.

At this point, you may be asking, what is the outcome that I am trying to get out of this program? The outcome is a multi-faceted one. If you are a typical gym bro, and you’re only looking to put on muscle mass, this will be accomplished through this program if you eat a lot of food. If you are looking to get shredded, this will be accomplished if you eat a moderate amount of food. If you are looking to get injured, this will be accomplished if you have poor technique and do not eat enough food. If you are looking to get stronger, this will be accomplished because the training density will cause you to accumulate a tremendous amount of high quality work. If you are looking to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, this will be accomplished because your heart rate will be elevated for significant amounts of time while you’re doing this program. This program is a shot gun blast. Whatever it hits, it destroys.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

The MASS program is a combination of periodization based program design schemes of the Soviet Union, and exercises that are extremely popular in the United States. The creation of the MASS program was greatly inspired by the movie, Rocky IV. At the moment where I sit here and write this book, May 24, 2015, I am a 35 year old, American man. I was born in 1980, and if you grew up during that time like I did, you understand that there was a lot of USA vs. USSR stuff going on in our television and movie spheres. Ivan Drago was the epitome of the Soviet villain. Drago was the unstoppable giant who appeared cold and unbeatable. He killed Rocky’s best friend, Apollo Creed in the beginning of the movie, and it appeared as though he may do the same thing to Rocky at the end of the movie. Rocky needed to avenge the death of his friend, so he had to take on the monster that was Drago. The fight took place in the Soviet Union, and Rocky traveled there to train for the epic showdown. The training scenes from this movie are some of the most memorable of any of the Rocky movies. Ivan Drago was the ultimate Soviet sports system laboratory experiment. In every training scene involving Drago he was hooked up to electrodes measuring his internal information. Drago punched devices that recorded his force production. Fancy machines were used in the training of Drago, and there were constantly multiple scientists in white lab coats with clip boards surrounding him, analyzing every aspect of his physiological development. In contrast, Rocky was running outside in the snow, climbing mountains, lifting wagons, and sweating it out inside a barn with a primitive looking fire burning in the background. This was the clash of cultures, philosophies, and approaches to training.

When I was a kid in the 80’s, I was completely fascinated by this movie and it remains one of my strongest childhood memories to date. Not only that, but I was incredibly interested in all the laboratory stuff Drago was using. Every bell had a whistle, numbers on dials were always going up, and the ability to demonstrate increased power and speed was something that grabbed my interest intensely. I thought the Soviet training was the coolest thing that I had ever seen. Conversely, I just knew that what Rocky was doing was even better. Allowing the forces of nature to permeate throughout all aspects of the training process made intuitive sense. Getting outside into big, wide open space and being very primitive in the approach to developing the body resonated as the more correct approach. Drago trained rotary force production on an isokinetic machine. Rocky put a yoke for animals on his shoulders and did the same thing. Drago performed triceps extensions on a device that could quantify force. Rocky was using a multiplanar approach that looked like a triceps extension by hoisting a huge bag of rocks attached to a pully system with a rope. Drago used the barbell clean and press while Rocky was pressing a cart with his training team seated in the back end. The two athletes juxtaposed one another in every possible way, their training included.

In putting this program together I was inspired to do some blending of approaches that reflect what I’ve learned of block training coming from the Soviet sports science approach to training, and some good old fashioned American ingenuity. If I had to define block training, I would say that it is the sequential organization of training phases where each training phase has a fairly specific, objective approach. Each phase prepares you for the following one optimally, and every subsequent phase builds on that which was developed in the previous phase. A training block should identify a fitness quality that it is trying to develop, and it should be very consistent in the way it attacks the development of that quality. While training in a block, you do not want to send mixed training messages at the body. This is why you do the same workouts over and over again during the blocks. Too much variation leads you in too many different directions. Too much variation gets you nowhere from a training perspective. I need to be very precise in picking the correct exercises that will allow me to properly develop the physiological quality I am interested in. The exercises are the tools for the job. I need to first understand what the job is that I am trying to perform, and then I select the appropriate tool. I do not want to use power snatches for time in the first two blocks of this program. The power snatch is a great tool for a phase that is looking to develop strength-speed within a triple extension oriented movement pattern focus. I’m looking to change body composition with this program, pack on muscle, increase strength in a non-specific directional way, and develop the physiology of your energy systems with this program. Giving you highly technical exercises that are easily compromised in their technical performance with fatigue is a very poor idea. In my organization of the blocks for this program, I have selected an approach that will look to recruit and fatigue as many muscle fibers in the body as I possibly can tap into. I have chosen exercises that I believe are the appropriate tools for that specific job. This is my laboratory, Soviet approach to program design.

I’ve also done this program before and had many others perform it as well. Every time I do it and see other people perform it, the program just looks right. I see people working hard, getting results, and enjoying it as much as anybody could with something that is tremendously grueling. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it’s probably a duck. This program just looks right to me. It’s got an All-American blue collar, red meat eating, punch your ticket at work kind of vibe to it for me. You get to bench press and squat and deadlift a whole lot. There’s not a lot of fancy, high tech looking exercises in this thing. I’m an American and I like to sweat and get a testosterone rush, grunt, and feel like I did something at the end of my training session. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I’m trying to organize a really hard, satisfying training experience in a way that will get you where you want to go.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together and living the program and thoughts that are conveyed within these pages. If you’ve watched Rocky IV, I hope you enjoy the titles to the chapters, and the way a lot of the famous movie quotes keep coming back to you in the text. I hope you appreciate the fact that I’m mixing in humor and exaggeration in the writing that is in the spirit of the Rocky IV movie. If you haven’t seen Rocky IV, go watch it, because I think it will make your experience with this program better. Don’t be afraid to play the soundtrack from the movie every time you train. As you enter this book, I’d like to welcome you with one thought regarding the outcomes of your training journey into MASS…if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.

about the author

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

Genetics, Hard Work and the Power of Environment: How to Elevate Your Training to the Next Level

Header Photo Credit

We are surrounded by the continuous debate of genetics vs. hard work:

Are the most successful individuals reaping benefits because of their IQ or genetic capabilities? Did these individuals have to work hard, perhaps close to 10,000 hours? 

We are so eager to know what a successful person is like (aka what talents and qualities they possess) because we assume their personal qualities will give us insight into how they’ve reached the top.

Success stories are a perfect example in their ability to create myths of the greatest of all time and the near 'self-made' nature of x talent.   In fact, they tend to water down the success of said person to an association of special characteristics we cannot all possess...and it’s complete nonsense.

Most of us neglect the environment in which we choose to dwell. You know the saying, “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect?” Well, training hard in a crappy environment breeds stress, not success. It doesn’t matter if you are the most gifted athlete there is, if you aren’t in the right situation you can't be in the right mind set.

Observational Learning

Innate talent is clearly apparent in many athletes, but why some excel and others plateau or fall off is quit an interesting topic that can be debated from many angles. I believe this idea, that successful people are just genetically gifted, is completely put to shame when you place an average athlete in an above average environment and give them the opportunity needed to develop skills for success. Conversely, if you place someone with incredible talent in an environment that doesn't facilitate his or her progress, the result will show no value.

Although biological forces, such as genetics, do limit individuals, we contain a remarkable amount of plasticity, both physically and mentally speaking. Each of us live in various communities that contain different cultural norms, and the social influences placed on us by each group will result in how we formulate our identity.

Luckily, we are quite flexible and capable of learning a multitude of attitudes and skills via vicarious experiences because a considerable amount of what we learn comes from observing others (aka observational learning). Bandura (1986) stated:  if knowledge could be acquired only through the effects of ones own actions, the process of cognitive and social development would “be greatly retarded, and not to mention exceedingly tedious.”

Modeling is the core theory of observational learning, involving a symbolic representation of information and storing it for use at a future time. Several factors determine whether a person will model. People who lack skill are most likely to model, and are more likely to model high status people than those of ‘low status’. The greater the value an observer places on a behavior, the more likely the individual will acquire it.

After attaining what we have observed, we produce the behavior by converting cognitive representations into appropriate actions. If it pertains to a motor skill that we cannot actually see ourselves performing, such as weightlifting, many athletes will use videos, or better yet coaches.

Skinner_Pavlov_Bandura
Skinner_Pavlov_Bandura

The Power of Environment

I'm going to make a bold statement by saying your environment is the most important factor in your training, even more important than your mind-set. You can only avoid so many external forces before they start to settle internally. Mental skills are tough even when you are in a positive situation, but it’s incredibly hard to train your mind if you are in an unsupportive or unhealthy atmosphere.

My coach explained that years ago when you first entered a weightlifting gym you had to earn your stripes. The beginners would load the bar for the advanced lifters and watch them practice. If you were using something that someone stronger needed, you gave it up. This wasn’t exactly a punishment, but rather a learning environment. It facilitated the desire to want to grow and be better, and separated those who were not serious about the sport and those who were willing to put in the work. Whether you realized it at first or not, you absorbed experience watching their successes and failures through observational learning.

A few months ago I was asked how in one year I was able to accomplish so much in terms of my training. I had to think about this for a while because, as athletes, we may never give ourself the credit we deserve when it comes to making progress. As far as I’m concerned, I'm not even close to where I need to be in terms of strength, so my progress kind of went unnoticed to me. But it got me thinking nonetheless:  what exactly changed?

Training Atmosphere

My training atmosphere transformed drastically, which lead to a spiral of fortunate events. The minute I began training with certain people and under both of my coaches supervision is when I began to progress. This change wasn’t just about programming specifics or adding new exercises, in fact, we don’t follow a typical weekly weightlifting “program” or scheme.

And it definitely had nothing to do with having fancy equipment or a state of the art facility.  I mean...I trained in a basement or a carpet factory the majority of the time.  So what was so special?

Dani Carpet Lifting
Dani Carpet Lifting

Last May (2014) I began to train seriously for weightlifting by consistently lifting 4 times a week with my younger cousin under both of our coach’s supervision. Prior to this we were lifting in the morning at a local CrossFit gym or in his garage, and we were only lifting with our team once a week. We have been supporting each other for a few years now in our athletic endeavors, and I have seen him grow from being told by a doctor he could never squat, to a junior national level qualifying weightlifter (hmm maybe it was the environment change).

A silent shift began to commence in our training. We would walk in more determined with a goal in mind for the day. We were spending less time chatting and more time focusing on preparing for every single rep. What appeared to be antisocial behavior was actually the opposite:  we were soaking in every aspect of the room in an attempt to apply as much as we could to our own lift. Every training night we drove together to lift, went home, ate dinner and went to bed. The cycle repeated throughout the summer.

My small accomplishments had everything to do with my coaches fostering an environment that cultivated a success mindset. Amongst the weightlifters on my team are various national level lifters, as well as coaches who have coached at the highest level possible. I spent the prior year not being able to clean and jerk less than my body weight. After a summer of training hard I put on about 15 kilos just to my clean and jerk. I too, along with my cousin, had earned my way to a national event. It was baffling, really.

I began to train with people far beyond my capabilities as a lifter. At first, the shift of training atmosphere scared me. I was far less experienced and quite weak compared to everyone else that was lifting with us. I was terrified of one of my coaches and afraid to miss a lift and look like an idiot.

When an opportunity is present, sometimes it may appear as a boundary. The opportunity may be given to those with talent, but only the individuals who posses the strength and mind to seize them will become great. Learning to foster and decide which environment is best for you may be one of the hardest choices you make as an athlete.

The Success Mindset

What I’ve learned is it's incredibly important to have like-minded training partners. If you want to start competing, you’ve got to embrace a competitive mindset and stop lifting with those who are just there for a hobby.

There is NOTHING wrong with going to the gym just for the sake of it, but there is a difference between working out and training with a purpose. You need to separate yourself from those people, regardless of how hard it can be. They will keep you stagnant, whether they mean well or not.

Our environment is a crucial agent in formation of personality. However, our decision to choose our environment is of more importance. It is the first step in realizing we need to create a new approach to cultivating our success mindset. We are the only ones who can bring forth success by combining our mental and physical characteristics and using them together to foster the best environment for our goals.

Ultimately, you need an honest evaluation of whether or not your environment is killing your progress. Granted, being honest is a lot harder than we think and can often offend our egos, but it's something we have to do.  So...go ahead and ask yourself the question most of us don’t mind avoiding:

Is my environment killing my progress? Am I surrounded by people I admire? Is this the best possible environment for me to reach my goals?

Go Fast Quote
Go Fast Quote

Being a self-made individual cannot exist.

Both team and individual athletes are of high caliber, but the intrinsic drive to be self-governing and efficacious is an underlying theme of athletes who compete alone. You can be “the best basketball player in the world”, (cough LeBron, cough) but you must rely on your teammates to follow through as well. Conversely, in an individual sport, you are your competition.

Confusion arises because we seem to get jumbled by the desire to be self-made individuals. I think as strength athletes competing in an individual sport we share a common desire and longing for a different type of success versus those who play team sports. We are not looking for cohesion or a sense of affiliation. We have no one to blame but ourselves for failure, but we have many to thank for our success. The point being:  self-made individuals do not exist at all, all of us develop by relying on many others.

Every athlete must accept that achieving high levels of success is something you cannot do by yourself.

Many of you may not be able to train with others, but I believe lifting with a team is one of the best ways to take your training up to the next level. Very few elite athletes train in solidarity. When we have off days, training with a group of people who have a great amount of energy will off set these times. If they are the right kind of people they will also put you in check when needed. Energy is transmittable and it can shift the mood of the room, whether it’s success or misery.

What distinguishes many of the most successful people is not their incredible talent, but rather, making the most of the opportunities that facilitated their learning and practice. In other words, their paths were shaped by particular events, which began to happen once they found the correct environment.

Dani Team
Dani Team

Final notes

1.  There isn’t a best coach, but there is a ‘best coach for you’.

2.  Pick a high quality teacher or coach. Do not seek someone who makes you comfortable and happy constantly. This is a good person to have in your life, but not as a coach.

3.  Find an environment that facilitates further education in the subject.

4.  Don’t be a big fish in a little pond; you need to know when it’s time to move on.

5.  An atmosphere must be intense, focused, and organized. Loud heavy metal music and screaming doesn’t always correlate with intensity.

6.  Trim the fat.  If you want to be serious you need to let go of those who are holding you back.

Energy is contagious, negative energy can ruin an athlete, and make them less productive regardless of the effort put in. It has been said you become the five people you spend the most time with. Surround yourself with people who reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel. Surround yourself with individuals who possess traits that will help reach your goals. Anything less will steer you in the wrong direction.

about the author

fac188db2d11c567ecf4133a5a44ea64.jpeg

Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

REFERENCES

Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

To Think or Not To Think: The Power of Mental Rehearsal

Bases loaded, I click my shoes twice to get the extra dirt off my cleats. I take three practice swings outside of the batters box with two bats, going through my walk up routine perfectly, without even thinking. As I approach the plate my coach says, “Don’t think and just rip it." Pitch one, strike. I didn’t like it, too far outside. Pitch two, swing and a miss; I wasn’t even sure what happened. What gives? I wasn’t over thinking, my swing was PERFECT, coach said so himself. Count is 0-2 and my hands are so clammy I can barely hold onto the bat. I start to go over my last swing in my head, but then the ball comes right at me. Pitch three, perfect pitch, right down the line.

I struck out, and it was the first of many times at bat where I would approach the plate with uncertainty. Dragging my head down in shame back to the dugout, my coach pats me on the back. “You were thinking too much again.”  This isn’t a flash back from an intense collegiate game, it was fourth grade little league and it marked the beginning of me critically thinking about “thinking.”

Do I ‘Think’ Too Much?

I never knew what to focus on when at bat or, as my coach would say, what not to think of, and it followed me through my entire career as an athlete. Lets jump forward 15 years to me now competing as a weightlifter. If you are involved with strength sports you may agree with me when I say it is one of the most fatiguing athletic ventures. But you're probably thinking in terms of how hard your program is physically and how you have DOMS from those back squats you did the other day.

Tommy Kono, a well known weightlifter and coach, as well as an inductee of the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame, broke down the main aspects of weightlifting success into a pie chart, which looks like this:

Pie-Chart.png

50% is from the mind   30% technique   20% power development

He stated most lifters and coaches seem intent on spending no time on the first item and every little second of all their efforts on the last, until exhaustion. It's not the amount of physical strain placed on our bodies which may make us a successful competitor in the long run; instead, it's the combination of cultivating the correct mind-set so when we approach our times of physical strain we are prepared.

I can guarantee every single person reading this has been advised at one time or another that the reason they missed a lift, or didn't make the big play, was because they were over thinking, spending too much time analyzing, or rather, not relying on their “muscle memory" and instincts.

Research on memory and its various systems is vital to understanding information processing and motor performance. Muscle memory has been used to describe the observation that various muscle-related tasks (such as swinging a bat or performing a snatch) seem to be easier to perform after previous cyclic practice. It is as if the muscles “remember.” Information is perceived by the CNS and prepped for a meaningful motor response, when at some point information selected must be retained or stored for a future use.

Within a few weeks of starting a resistance training program strength increases despite little to no increase in hypertrophy. These initial increases in strength are due to neural adaptations. When we learn to snatch we are not just taxing our muscles in a physical manner. The retention and subsequent retrieval of information can be either beneficial or detrimental. For example, if you spend a year squatting improperly it will become frustrating to reteach proper mechanics because your body has adapted in more ways than one to the stimulus.

Similarly, the same concept adheres to our decision making process:  if we are groomed to think a certain way for a long period of time it will take longer to restore because the brain reverts back to its automatic decision making processes when we are faced with reoccurring situations.

By creating habits, we forge new pathways in our brain and it can be exhausting.

Lighter weight reps and sets are relatively monotonous, and we rarely think about the lift, it’s almost automatic. Often we are told we cannot think about what we want to do when attempting an action and it will occur naturally, but when we hear this, we miss the big picture. One must be present on all accounts, mentally and physically. What you should be doing when approaching a lift is actually the opposite of being on autopilot and just going through the movements. Practice builds confidence, but to reach higher levels of lifting one must become an intelligent athlete aware of the situation and in complete control of their thoughts.

How to Snatch
How to Snatch

The top 5 weightlifters will almost always be more reliable than the other competitors, suggesting consistency leading up to performance is a major factor.   The higher placed athletes in each weight class were more consistent in their performance between competitions when compared with athletes who placed in the bottom half (McHuigan & Kane, 2004). Why may this be?

The secret of weightlifting is mastering the content between your ears. I will never down play hard work, the incredible amounts of dedication and the years of training athletes put in because all of those play a role in what makes a great athlete. But to be mentally present through every step of your performance determines the outcome, and I’m not just talking about competition day.

It’s also much easier to avoid the hard work that comes with mental training. In fact, for every hour I spend in the gym, I try to put in at least half that time with mental-skills work.

For the purpose of this article, I'm going to specifically speak in terms of daily training circumstances and hold off on a competitive situation or the day of a meet for now. Incorporating new techniques during a pressure situation will likely not be beneficial. Utilizing a mental rehearsal program will take time to develop and is not a one night stand.

At the higher level of the sport spectrum (where you find your national and international athletes), there isn't much difference in strength and/or power between competitors, so what it ultimately comes down to is what’s going on in their brain.

As stated in my last article, we are not born with this state of mind...it takes grooming. I attempted to end off explaining that mental skills are qualities that develop over time, just as your muscles do. So lets start with our first step into mental training and dissect one of the most reoccurring problems I see.

Often when attempting a heavy weight one may change how they approach the situation compared to when lifting lighter repetitions. Granted, hitting a new PR can be scary. Sometimes we get stuck thinking about the number rather than what we know we are supposed to be doing. Especially if this number has been haunting us for a while. The situation I repeatedly encounter when working with athletes is their inability to see the difference between how they approach their lift, not on a technical level, but a mental one. Typically, the athlete will try to critique their form immediately:  “I pulled too early, I was slow, I’m just too weak.”

My first question is what were you thinking when you approached the bar and placed your hands on it? My next is, what were you thinking when you were warming up with a weight you can do but isn’t so easy to handle? Lastly, what about your warm up sets? Typically three different answers are given. This is the main problem, there is no consistency.

Plato Quote
Plato Quote

Conducting a Mental Rehearsal

Many of us seem to think our mental approach only needs to be turned on when we attempt heavy lifts in the snatch, and clean and jerk. But it starts with the warm-up attempts. Mental rehearsal is not day dreaming, but rather a drill of precision. The technique is not concerned with positive statements or self-confidence boosting, which is a separate entity.

As you approach a mental rehearsal, you visualize yourself performing the lift and doing exactly what you want.  This, in turn, creates neural patterns in your brain just as if you had physical performed the action (Porter, 1990).

The pattern relates to practicing, which is an extension of physical training. Each time you utilize this technique you reinforce your memory, so when a pressure situation arrives you're well prepared and confident of accomplishing the task at hand.

Before you approach the bar you must visualize the lift being done in your head. The method of which you choose to do so will vary with each of us.

Here is an example of how I mentally prepare for a snatch

1.  Look straight ahead and drive up with your chest

2.  Slow and controlled form the start, push the ground away from you with your heels.

3.  Push into the hand on your back (a cue my coach gives me)

4.  Barbell to belly button & turn over fast, sit hard.

5.  Press into the bar with your lower traps.

6.  Remain in the bottom position until you are settled, don’t "rush out”

You need to have a mental game plan. When you are lifting, this entire script is not going through your head. It’s more like the dress rehearsal before the actual movement occurs. Before I approach the bar I typically have my back to it with my eyes closed. When you block out vision, you isolate the inner physical sensations around you. I prefer to mouth/ speak what I’m thinking out loud. I think of the lift in two phases, the pull and the catch, this personally helps me break down the complexity.

We all have different weakness and strengths; this isn’t a cookie cutter outline for everyone. Take time to develop your mental skills and figure out what you must focus on. Actually sit down and write it out, then simplify it just like I did above.

Understanding how the motion of the lift feels as well as looks is important. An automatic reaction should be a desired one which is done through practice. You have to ask yourself:  are you just going through the motions to get the lift done or are you training with purpose? This is most important when we do our accessory work and our lighter lifts. Often these attempts are rushed and spent less time on (mentally) compared to the main lifts. I know this was true for myself, originally they were less fun and not as rewarding or exciting. The moment I began to understand how important it was to take every single detail of my training into account was the moment I actually progressed.

When you approach the bar as it becomes heavier with each rep, it is not often that we are so physically tired as to why we can’t lift the weight, but mentally drained. If we are not prepared for our lift, or we have scattered thoughts, it may be detrimental to our physical capability. The possibility of using self-talk strategies too often, commonly termed ‘analysis to paralysis’ or ‘over thinking’ may often result in negative performance. Having a habitual approach to the bar will off set this manifestation of over thinking. Attempting to think about 100 new corrections before you snatch a heavy weight isn’t the time or place. And if it gets to that point it’s time to strip the bar and move on.

Dani Snatch
Dani Snatch

Some key concepts to be aware of when you approach your training session:

1.  Visualize the completion of the lift before you attempt to do so.

2.  Be consistent. Pick a strategy and stick with it. Follow through.

-If you’re focusing on sitting hard during the lift that day, don’t overthink your pull.

3.  Stop thinking about the previous lift & focus on the task at hand.

-It’s over, move on. If you keep thinking about it, it’s likely it will keep happening.

4.  Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.

-Instead of finding the flaw in every lift, focus on what you did correctly and re-structure your words for the next attempt.

-Avoid mentioning the technical mistake and instead replace it with a corrective measure in order to maintain focused on the task at hand.

-Do not harp on what you did wrong, focus on the cue which will guide the movement.

5.  Always approach the bar with conviction.

-All of your hard work deserves fierce confidence in your capabilities. After all, what have you been training for?

6.  Just because it’s an accessory exercise doesn’t mean it’s less important.

-The same rules apply; they wouldn’t be in your program if they didn’t matter.

7.  Over analyzing should not take place outside of the gym.

-Stop worrying about WHY you missed your lift. Instead be constructive and write down what you’re going to do to change it.

-Your mental rehearsal may change from training season to season as you acquire new skills or weaknesses. This is not necessarily a bad thing; we would never want to be stagnant. There is always something we can work on to better ourselves.

about the author

fac188db2d11c567ecf4133a5a44ea64.jpeg

Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

6 Lessons Learned in My Journey to Become a Professional

There I was, the final event of the World Championships:  power stairs. I knew all I had to do was beat the Polish competitor to the top of the stairs and I would be crowned the World Champion and Lightweight Pro Strongman. All of my training came down to this event. Everything I had put into it was on the line, and if I made one mistake it would have slipped away from me like that.

I had never done this event in my entire life, but I have never been so comfortable and confident going into an event. If you watch Marius Pudzianowski compete on the powerstairs, it is the definition of determination. “YOU think you can beat ME to the top of those stairs?!? Hahaha yeah right (I have the utmost respect for all of the competitors and they deserve it just as bad as I did, but it was my turn.)

Zach Champ
Zach Champ

Positivity

I said it before going “pro” and I will stand by my statement, POSITIVITY is the number one key to success. I put “pro” in quotations because if I had taken one wrong step on the power stairs, there's a chance I wouldn’t have the title of “pro.”

The thing is though...I was professional long before this competition. You don’t just become a pro all of a sudden. Everyone starts as an amateur, and that same amateur makes positive decisions which lead to professional status.

Having the title professional means nothing to me because I already hold myself to those expectations with or without the title. For example, my girlfriend, Alisha Ciolek, also became a World Champion that day, but girls cant go “pro.” Does that mean she isn't "professional" at what she does?  Absolutely not!  You'd be out of your mind to not consider that girl a professional at what she does.

When it comes to our success, being and staying positive is the key. Without positivity there is no way this would have been possible. In order to save money so we could compete in the competition, we went the winter without heat. That was one of many sacrifices that we made. Before day two of the competition, Alisha and I agreed that whatever happens,happens. We gave it our all and if we come up short there is zero shame.

As soon as a negative thought creeps into your head, and you start asking what if? Or maybe I should have done this... your mind will create negative illusions.

A confident mind is a clear mind, and a clear mind is a strong mind.

We knew what we had to do that day:  just play like we practice. And our positive subconscious took care of the rest.

Prioritize

Don’t let your hobby consume you, but don’t give up on your passion.

There is no money in strongman, and that’s why it's a hobby. If you are getting paid millions to play a sport, that’s a different story. Finding a balance is crucial. Use your hobby as an escape from school/work.

When you can do that, your hobby will become that much more enjoyable, it becomes a privilege. You will appreciate it more, and get more out of it.

Don’t ever let your hobby become a chore. As soon as it's not fun anymore, and you aren’t getting paid, something has to change. Whether its your program, your diet, your training environment, or training partners, switch something up!

Last summer I trained way too often, and way too hard. I did not dose my training efficiently with my work hours. Four to five times a week I woke up at 4:00 am to work out for 3 hours and then work a 12 hour day.

Im not complaining, these were all my choices. I could have backed down and said:  "No, that’s too much work.  Maybe I shouldn’t lift as much."

But the National Champion in me said no way, keep going. I burned the candle at both ends and it caught up to me. My training sessions became a force and I even went into some training session angry and pissed off. Lifting angry is the WORST idea because the weights will always win. Positive energy!!!

Zach-Yoke.png

Click here to apply to join Zach's premium online coaching group.

Patience

Less is more.

Im not saying don’t work your ass off, but don’t over do it. Know your limits and don’t push through pain (hopefully you know the difference between suck and pain).

I trained my favorite event, deadlift, very often that summer. I could do it pain free and lift tons of weight. Although that was really fun, it wasn’t exactly optimal. I still trained all the other events, but being spent from the deadlifts limited my efforts.

Leading up to the World Championship I deadlifted maybe once a week. I strayed away from other lifts because I could not train them often without pain. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough work so I filled that with more deadlifts. I was impatient to get better. I wanted to be the strongest every single day, when in reality I only had to be the strongest for two days.

For Worlds, I stayed healthy and put more effort into all the other events. I knew I had to get better at the events that weren’t my favorite/best, with yoke being the main culprit. I knew that if I could do just pretty well on the yoke, I would win the show.

I was very confident on the other events, but yoke was sketchy for me.

Shin splits were a common outcome of yoke, but I always trained through the pain. The pain was tolerable, but it wasn’t going away or getting better. I gave myself a break and trained the yoke very light and not very often. Staying pain free was my biggest concern during preparation for World’s.

This doesn’t mean I wasn’t dead ass tired and didn’t want to lift sometimes. Alisha and I pushed through some grueling workouts, and she was cutting weight on top of it all! (cutting weight is not in my agenda any time soon).

So don’t think you always have to be dying! If you aren’t trying to peak for a competition or a game, train for longevity and consistency. Set a goal, make a plan, and make it happen. Trust the process and be patient.

Autonomic-Nervous-System.png

Parasympathetic

Know how to relax!

Being able to truly relax and have down time is just as important as being able to turn it on.

Leading up to the Strongman World Championships in 2014, when I competed in the 185 lb. and under weight class, I was not capable of relaxation. I was stuck in sympathetic overdrive, and constantly in “flight or fight” mode.

I was starving myself to make weight and I was trying to get stronger on top of it. As lean and as strong as I was, it didn’t matter. My mind was not right. I was getting into fights with family and friends, and my quality of life suffered because of it. I was always anxious and on edge. Even when I tried to relax and chill out for a little I was always thinking about the competition, or thinking when I could eat next.

I even had to take a couple weeks off of work because I was too tired to stand through the day.

I was constantly uncomfortable. I knew it was because I was starving, but I couldn’t turn back. I was on the verge of being the strongest man in the world at 185lbs, how could I stop now. I made weight at 183 lbs. and everything was looking good.

I ate tons of food hoping to bounce back in time for the show in 24 hours, but it back fired. I ate too much and didn’t hydrate enough, so when it came time to compete I felt like absolute dog shit. All that hard work, wasted.. or was it?

Persistency

The trickiest, but one of the most important:  staying consistent.

That day I should have been the World Champion. I knew there was no one in this world that could be stronger than me at 185 lb. But I fell on my ass and fought through the competition in extreme discomfort and disbelief and ended up placing in the middle of the pack.

I could have easily, and almost did, call it quits there. Everyone around me told me to give up strongman, and to focus on work since college was over. But Strongman gives me a feeling that nothing can replace.

It’s the ultimate feeling when you know you have a chance at being the best at something. The possibility alone is an adrenaline rush and a reason to work hard every single day. It was easy for me to stay consistent, I was having a blast! Its all a mindset. Start every journey with a positive and open mind. You are blessed enough to even be able to play a sport, so take full advantage of it and appreciate it.

Always be ready for failure, but pray and plan for success. If you really want it, consistency shouldn’t be a problem. Otherwise you don’t really want it.

Zach and Alisha
Zach and Alisha

Performance

I have never been able to balance all of these qualities so efficiently in my entire life. By staying positive, knowing my priorities, knowing my limits/ having patience, having fun, and staying consistent, my performance was at an all time high.

Every brick I laid was perfect. I had a brilliant coach, Andrew Triana, and I trusted the process 100%. Alisha Ciolek, my girlfriend, was a major factor to my success as well. We trained together, ate together, and lived together. She was there to push me when I was tired, and take care of me when I was down.

It was all just a big dream, and now we are both World Champions.

Surround yourself with great people, and great things will happen.

Do you want to be the best at a few things, or kind of good at everything? Find your balance.

The End

Once you have reached your final destination, whether it’s competing in lifting, a season of football, graduating college, or whatever it may be, just remember that the whole process starts back over. You will become a beginner again. The small fish in a bigger lake. But you aren't completely a beginner, take from the ups and downs of your previous journey. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, but don't make the same mistake twice. Good luck and be great.

about the author

a7115073663444b73a02831d2ab0a21f.jpeg

Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort.  Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.