Powerlifting

Loaded Carries: The What, The When and The Why

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Do reps that should be fast feel slow, even when they're light? Does something just feel missing from your training? Do your movements feel stale and uncomfortable? Or do you just flat out feel un-athletic? If you answered yes to any of those questions then I can almost guarantee you don’t do any type of loaded carries, and if you do, you probably aren’t programming them properly. Loaded carries are the most underutilized movements in today’s strength and conditioning field. The amount of versatility loaded carries can provide to a program is parallel to the barbell, really. The biggest reasons you should be doing loaded carries are:

1.  Stability

2.  Energy system development

3.  Recovery.

Stability, and I don’t mean single leg bosu squats. I mean stabilizing the spine in a safe, fixed position, while fighting the inertia of a load and then creating movement. This is a two pronged approach to teaching true stability in an athlete. In human gait there is minimal inertia fought and a minimal amount of reflexive stabilization needed. Reflexive stabilization is the inert firing of muscles to stabilize a moving part on the opposite side. In loaded carries, the athletes are forced to stabilize and control the load imposed in order to move.

An athlete who can properly stabilize moving parts will have a greater ability to consciously create pressure. This happens through strengthening the reflexive muscles of the core that are difficult to properly utilize. This can lead to major increases in intra-abdominal pressure and thickness of the trunk, which can then help prevent certain injuries.

It is not uncommon for athletes to have acute and sometimes debilitating injuries due to lack of stability throughout ranges of motion. If one can safely translate (walk) through space with load and train the reflexive stabilizers then this risk of injury greatly decreases. You can’t consciously control every single muscle in your system, reflexive stabilization saves you more than you give it credit for.

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Energy system development is the big boy. You cannot reach your specific goals if you don’t first have a proper foundation. The versatility of loaded carries can give you an easy to implement portal to any energy system you wish to engage in. This opens the door to multiple skills as well as safely increasing training stress. Slow and de-conditioned athletes alike will benefit more than they can imagine from this.

Loaded carries can develop the alactic and aerobic capacity simultaneously. This is possible by having an athlete perform very alactic runs followed by light walking or another low intensity exercise that will facilitate aerobic recovery for the next set. I will go into how to properly program and progress carries later in the article.

However, something important to understand is the gift of GPP you can give to an athlete. Sure it’s great to spend their whole off-season doing sport specific movements, but that’s what their pre and in-season training should be geared toward. Developing a large generalized work capacity is an opportunity to further improve and refine sport specific skill and the greatest gift we can give to our athletes IS the opportunity to improve.

Types of Carries

Our first step into how to properly implement loaded carries is to define the different types. I break them down into two categories: direct and indirect.

Direct

Directly loaded carries can be further broken down into anterior, posterior and parallel loads. Anterior carries are any type of carrying movement where the participant stabilizes the load on the anterior portion of the spine and are in direct contact with it. This includes sandbag, keg, hussafelt, conan’s wheel, kettlebell front rack walks, etc.

Posterior loaded carries are any type of carrying movement where the participant is in direct contact with a load on the posterior portion of the spine, this is mainly characterized by the yoke walk.

Zach Yoke

Finally, direct parallel loads are where the participant is in direct contact with the object but the load is parallel to the spine. This includes any hand loaded carry like farmers and any overhead walks.

Indirect

Indirect carries do not necessarily involve the participant actually carrying the object, however, they are still overcoming the inertia of load. I often refer to these more generally as moving events. This includes, prowler pushes, sled drags, and truck pulls etc.

The key to keeping your adaptations coming is to expose yourself to different types of carries before changing the protocol. Incorporating multiple types of loads and carries will allow an athlete to further their work capacity without increasing difficulty. Outside of strongman carries, utilize kettlebells and buddy carries as well to add variety.

Programming

Now that you are aware of the different types of carries we can implement, the next step is to define how we can program them. When creating a program, every movement chosen should directly reflect the goal of that program or block. Hence, I have categorized the different ways to program loaded carries based on your and/or your athlete’s goals:

Increase speed/alactic capacity

Using loaded carries to increase speed or expand the ability to fight off metabolic waste (alactic capacity) can be extremely effective in a short period of time. Often times with deconditioned athletes I choose light loaded carries over sprints. This is because the load imposed that the athlete must overcome acts as a limiting factor for them to “over sprint.” I wont go into the proper mechanics of sprinting, but squeezing and trying your hardest to go fast certainly isn’t the correct way.

The nice thing about loaded carries for speed is that there really isn’t any running. Although you are going as fast as possible, the gait pattern is still walking. There is no flight phase (i.e. the major difference between running and walking) in loaded carries because it just wouldn’t work. Why? Your reflexive stabilizers are not prime movers, although they can be powerful enough to carry heavy loads, they will never be powerful enough to carry heavy loads without a point of contact on the ground.

This lack of flight phase simplifies the movement and makes it more accessible to more populations. Programming carrying events for speed is simple. Vertically increase volume over a given distance while keeping speed constant. This means pick a distance to train (40-60ft) and a speed (<10s) to maintain. These two variables should stay relatively the same throughout the block. What you can manipulate to create adaptation is volume and intensity (surprise, surprise).

For most athletes new to carrying events that fit this category, I would recommend accumulating 200-300ft at a given speed with a light load. The overall feel of the protocol should not be higher than a 7/10 RPE. The key to truly improving speed is frequency, being able to do the same session 2-3 times a week will be far more beneficial then just “killing it” one day.

If you're a more advanced athlete looking to focus on increasing work capacity as opposed to maximal speed, I would recommend not going past 400ft. To further progress someone who has mastered loaded carries it is best to manipulate rest time. The reason I limit most carrying sessions to 400ft is because no matter how efficient the pattern, the ground reaction forces associated with carrying events is significantly higher than walking and although this stress can lead to great adaptation, too much stress will soar over the line of diminishing return and potentially lead to pain.

Examples:

Novice: 5x50ft 60% of max in under 9s. Rest as needed.

Advanced: 8x40ft 70% of max under 8s with 90s rest.

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Facilitate recovery

Carrying events are wonderful to facilitate recovery because of the high levels of stress imposed and very small amount of total volume needed. This fits better into the active recovery needs of a healthy athlete that hasn’t already built up excessive amounts of stress (the peak of the season or in a high volume strength block wouldn’t be ideal times). The fact that the participant is fighting inertia to stay “neutral” systemically engages the entire body. This gives it a great bang for your buck. You are able to reap the rewards of loaded carries while facilitating recovery.

Examples:

Novice: 3x50ft 50% of max under 9s

Advanced: 4x40ft 50% of max under 8s with 60s rest.

Improve GPP

A incredibly effective, and fun, way to increase work capacity is though loaded carries. Since they are loaded versions of walking they can be taken for long distances. The training variables you need to worry about here are rest time and distance. Load will take a back seat here while volume will play a secondary role. Due to the nature of this training the total amount of distance covered will be more variable since the load will be so low, but I would not recommend exceeding 600ft.

Increasing work capacity with this protocol can be done in two energy systems: the glycolytic and aerobic. Both can do an incredibly effective job, but there are some notable differences in programming for either energy system. In this scenario, rest time and distance are directly correlated with total volume, while work is inversely correlated with total volume.

The more glycolytic you would like to make your training the more distance you should cover per set with more rest time and less total sets. The opposite would be true for a more aerobic training session

Examples:

Novice:

Glycolytic: 3x150ft with 30-40% of max, rest as needed

Aerobic: 6x50ft with 40% of max with 45s rest

Advanced:

Glycolytic: 3x200ft with 30-40% of max, rest as needed

Aerobic: 10x40ft with 50% of max with 45s rest

Closing Thoughts

When training moving events I typically program them at the begging of a training session. Next time you squat, try hitting some yoke with one of these protocols and watch how much more powerful your squats feel. Producing high amounts of force over a short period of time will excite the nervous system and prepare you for lifting weights. An added benefit to programming your carries at the beginning of the session is that although it isn’t fatiguing it is an opportunity for the athlete to efficiently increase work capacity.

Loaded carries will give you a whole new world of development to dive into which will ultimately lead to an increase in performance. Not everyone will take a 1000lb yoke for a 50ft ride but I promise everyone has something great to gain from exposure to loaded carries regardless of their goals. Stop being slow, start being explosive. Stop being bored on the treadmill, start running with kegs.

When Training Hard is the Worst Decision You Can Make

Getting after it in the gym is one of the most enjoyable things a man can experience. And probably women, too, since I’m assuming most men leave a lot for women to still desire. Dani, can you chime in on that? I gotta tell you, and some of these other guys on here might disagree with me, but I don’t think training HARD is always a good idea. When I draw off of my experiences, my clients’ experiences, and stress physiology, I can’t always tell you what the best solution is, but I can say with certainty that you need to have (1) a reason for doing it, and (2) an understanding of the potential consequences of your actions.

At the risk of sounding even more like your father, you need to be aware of the decisions you’re making.

Sometimes training ovaries to the wall is the way to go, but not always. Let’s go into some definitions, nuances, and alternative courses of action.

What Does it Mean to Train HARD?

What does it mean to train HARD? It depends on who you ask.

Powerlifters say it’s about picking up a bunch of weight. And maybe screaming. And death metal.

But to Crossfitters, it’s about resisting the urge to puke for as long as possible. It’s about making your muscles burn. It’s about involuntarily peeing your pants and then telling the story to everyone you see.

To me, training HARD is about physical effort. I’ll even call it “dumb” training because you’re usually thinking less in the moment.

What Does it Mean to Train SMART?

SMART training:

- Is goal-oriented

- Respects a person’s individuality

- Manages stress

- Considers recent training history

Ultimately, SMART training acknowledges the individual and how they respond to stress.

Goal-oriented

You need to have goals if you’re training for any real purpose.

A long-term goal keeps your eye on the prize. It helps remind you to stay focused over months/years and gives you a picture in your head of where you want to be when you reach that goal.

Each short-term goal you set is an actionable step towards accomplishing your long-term goal. They are the blocks that build the monster you want to become.

Figure out where you want to go (long-term goal) and then figure out how you’re going to get there (short-term goal).

As a general example, if you want to lift in the national meet next year (long-term goal), start thinking about what things you might have to do along the way (short-term goals):

1. Find a place to train

2. Find someone to train with

3. Learn how to cook without burning the house down

4. Accumulate work capacity and size

5. Build maximal strength

6. Get in competition shape

7. Win

Respects a person’s individuality

“Training age” is used to define how long someone has been training in the gym. The higher your training age, the more experience you have.

A person with a young training age should probably not train HARD as often as a more experienced lifter should. They don’t have the motor control, endurance, and strength needed to do so safely.

Training is all about making you comfortable with the uncomfortable. Your individuality describes your current level of comfort.

Manages stress

More on this soon.

Considers recent training history

If you don’t use it, you lose it.

^^Cliché, but it’s true.

I don’t care what you did back in high school, college, 3rd grade, whatever.

That’s a lie. I do care, but I also care what you’ve done in the last six months. If all of you’ve done is supported side planks on the couch, then you can’t just pick up where you left off in college. Your gains are reversible.

What is Stress?

A stressor is something that alters your body and can be bad or good. The stress-response is what you do to deal with it. Allostasis is this whole process of trying not to get too out of whack. Allostatic load is how difficult the process is.

Gently place your mind back in 3rd grade mode and think of a seesaw. Your friend pushes into the ground to make you start falling toward the ground (stress). You catch yourself (stress-response) and lightly push back so you guys can go back and forth (allostasis).

Now imagine you’re both fighting to knock each other off. You’re going to push as hard as possible so that joker’s ass slams in the ground. You don’t just want him to quit, you want him to run home while screaming for his mommy. With tears in his eyes.

Now as hard as you try, you guys aren’t going to break this seesaw, so you will maintain some semblance of allostasis. The cost, however, is much greater. You will both incur more wear and tear during the process. So will the seesaw. You have increased the allostatic load.

Coming back to exercise, the act of lifting weights or going for a grueling, week-long run through the Gobi Desert (people actually do thatI know a medalist) is stressful. Exercise is still good for you, though, because your body learns to adapt and grow from the experience. Rinse, repeat, gains.

On the other hand we have psychological stresses. You know, the thing that makes you take a crowbar to the RAV4 who just cut you off. Or the one that makes your heart race when your girlfriend tells you she’s late (and I’m not talking about dinner).

These types of stresses are relatively harmless in the short-term and they’ve evolved to keep us passing on copies of our genes. When you get startled, you’re better able to react. Even nowadays, when you get cut off while driving, you get alert because, for a few seconds, you’re more likely to be in an accident. Your alertness helps you look for danger.

Problems arise when these stresses (1) don’t require physical action, and (2) keep happening over and over and over again.

All of these different types of stressors need to be managed. If you have too much on your plate at work, you can’t train as hard. If you trained HARD last week, then you probably won’t be able to do it all again this week.

The ebb and flow is constant. And remember: everyone is different. More on that later.

Stress can be bad or good

Stress is not inherently a bad thing. Stress hormones help you wake up in the morning. Stress keeps you alive by helping you react when a lion (either a literal or metaphoric lion) enters the room.

Problems arise when the lion never leaves the room. You’re always reacting to stress and you’re never resting from it.

Not all stress is the same

Lots of life stress--a big project at work, for example--can wear you down.

A heavy training session also wears you down. But as long as you remember to eat and go to bed before tomorrow starts, chances are you’re going to recover from it.

Necessary vs unnecessary stress

The act of waking up is stressful, but without it you have no life. Literally.

Another, more complicated example: worrying about what your boss is going to say about the project you’re working on is also stressful. And it drives you to be good at your job. But worrying about it for 6 hours straight is crippling and unnecessary.

A hard training sessions is stressful, but you grow from it. Do it for 3 hours and you’re probably beating yourself down unnecessarily.

Again, not all stress is bad. It is necessary to have a purpose in life. But ask yourself next time you’re in traffic if getting cut off is worth the freak out.

Overreaching vs overtraining

Overreaching is meant to represent the act of stressing yourself out enough that it brings you down a little, but your body can still recover from it. This is like a carefully placed HARD training session.

Overtraining, on the other hand, is about breaking yourself down over and over and over again until your body forces you to take a break. You get tired and weak. You don’t think as well.

Now, it’s not like there’s a switch that’s flipped and all of a sudden you go from overreaching to overtraining. This is why I try to teach everyone I work with to pay attention to their body. It will send you signals. Sometimes it’s best to ignore them, sometimes you need to listen.

I need to make one thing clear: I’m not demonizing hard training. I’m just trying to illustrate that it isn’t always the most appropriate decision.

Individuality

Everyone is different. And that means everyone will respond differently to stress.

What is your training age?

The longer you’ve been training, the longer you’ve had to develop your physical and mental qualities. Pro athletes have accumulated a lot of movement experience, so I can expect them to be better at that. They’ve also been playing and conditioning for years and years, so I can expect that they will have a certain level of work capacity they can use when training. A CEO who has trained 2x/week for the last year does not have that same capacity. These two people cannot be trained the same: the CEO’s training load would be too low for the pro athlete and vice versa.

Another example: kids are NOT just little adults.

- They don’t know how to perform lifts without massive compensation (that’s why Youth Nationals is only a good idea if you want to make sure your athletes peak too early)

- They can’t maintain high intensities for longer periods of time

- They’re still growing

- Their bones are softer

- Their brain is less developed

- They usually don’t comprehend healthy eating and sleeping habits

Main point: you and your training partner don’t have the same training history and won’t respond the same to the same type of training. So customize! All you can try to do is keep improving. The training process (and management of stress in general) works best if you be like water.

Reversibility

Even former athletes get fat.

Like I mentioned earlier, being a star athlete in high school doesn’t mean a thing if all you’ve been doing for the last six months are sidelying supported couch planks and remote clicks.

So even if you have years of training under your belt, you can’t just jump right back into doing what you did back in your prime.

What is important to you?

This is, in my mind, the biggest question everyone has to ask (I talk about this more in The Pyramid Method).

What are your goals? Are you willing to do what it takes to accomplish those goals?

If your goal is to be a monster, you need to train HARD often. That’s why every video you see of Triana and Zach Hadge gives you nightmares. They are pure savages.

But what if someone would rather focus on their career and just look good? They don’t need to train balls out nearly as often. Training stress competes with their goals of killing it at work.

I just had a conversation about this with a recent Rebel Performance contributor. He asked me to help him do some movement preparation for his upcoming powerlifting meet. He told me that this will be his last meet because he’d rather fight off a knee replacement for as long as he can. Powerlifting has just become less important.

What is important to you?

When You Shouldn’t Train HARD

When are some times that you shouldn’t train hard?

- When you’re sick

- When you’re really low on sleep

- When you’ve been eating poorly or not enough

- When your morning resting heart rate is way higher than it normally is

- When your subjective readiness to train before your workout is low

- When you’ve got other goals or life stresses

- When you’ve been training HARD lately and need a break

- When your training age is young

What to do Instead of Training HARD

Not training HARD doesn’t mean not training. Just turn your training session into an active recovery session.

Train easy

If you have a workout planned for the day, but you’re just not feeling it, then turn it into an easy circuit workout.

- Halve the number of sets

- Lower the weight 10-20%

- Shorten the rest periods to 30-60 seconds

- Try to keep your heart rate between 120-150 beats per minute

The goal is to keep moving, get the blood pumping, and get a sweat in. This is going to move nutrients around in your body so that you can recover.

Other low-intensity exercise

There are a few other options here

- Go for a walk

- Go for a jog

- Go for a hike

- Have some other workout planned

- Ride a bike

Get your heart beating preferably somewhere between 120-150 beats per minute so that you can maximize the efficiency of your heartbeats.

High Intensity Continuous Training

High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT) is a method from Val Nasedkin of Omegawave fame.

You have two types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch.

The slow ones are really good at not fatiguing.

The fast ones fatigue quicker, but can contract more forcefully.

HICT attempts to make the fast-twitch fibers more resistant to fatigue. This focuses on your aerobic energy system and doesn’t fatigue you like a more intense conditioning method would (e.g. Tabata intervals).

HICT is usually more appropriate when you’ve already planned a rest day in your training week. It is a much more advanced method, so I would not use it unless you have a solid movement foundation.

How to perform

Get something that you want to do at a really high intensity over and over and over again for 5-20 minutes. My two favorites are HICT Step Ups (HICT Cycle Jumps if you don’t have a weight vest) and HICT Spin Bike. Videos for each are above.

Perform one rep every 3 seconds. Alternate sides. This gives you plenty of rest so that you can produce as much force as possible on each rep, but not get that “burny” feeling of fatigue in your muscle. If you start to feel that, you should slow down.

If you notice your speed is dropping off, cut the set. This is an example of when pushing through is not the appropriate decision. Train smart, not just hard.

Get a coach

Honestly, there’s a lot to this management of stress, fatigue, and training. There’s no way one article could discuss everything. And even if it could, most of it wouldn’t even be relevant to you anyway.

I’ve written more programs and seen more rundown people than non-trainers. And I’ve studied this for years and years. It is my job to make people enjoy training by helping them effectively manage their stress, fatigue, and training.

When in doubt, refer out.

Summary

- Training HARD is not always training SMART.

- Pay attention to your body to learn when to push forward and when to back off.

- Try out some low-intensity aerobic training or high intensity continuous training when you need a recovery day in the gym.

- Get a coach if you need it

Agree? Disagree? Let’s discuss it below in the comments.

For more Lance, go to www.lancegoyke.com.

P.S. If you liked this, send it to your training partner.

about the author

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Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at www.LanceGoyke.com.

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

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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.

How to Use Low Intensity Plyometrics to Facilitate Maximal Strength Gains

Since the times of Ancient Greece, athletes have explored ways to get stronger, jump higher, and run faster. Each generation of new athletes have attempted to push the barrier and break previous records. It was with this quest in mind that Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky stumbled upon and created “shock” training. In the Western world, this is known as the plyometric method. So what exactly is a plyometric? A plyometric exercise is one that utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle or myostatic stretch reflex.

The myostatic stretch reflex occurs when elastic energy is stored within the tendons and muscles following a rapid stretch, such as during an eccentric contraction. If a concentric contraction directly follows, as happens during a plyometric exercise, then the stored energy is released and it contributes to total force production.

If you're having trouble visualizing this, think of it like stretching and launching a rubber band very quickly.  The lengthening/stretching of the rubber band represents the eccentric portion, while the shortening/launching of the rubber band represents the concentric contraction.

While the topic of plyometrics is broad to say the least, this article will specifically cover how late intermediate and advanced lifters can use low intensity plyometric exercises during their warm-up, or within their training, to elicit maximal strength gains utilizing post-activation potentiation (PAP).

Maximal Strength & Power: A Partnership?

Strength is defined as the ability to produce force. You are able to display strength both isometrically and dynamically. When it comes to maximal strength, or limit strength, it is usually quantified as the greatest amount of force that a muscle or muscle group can exert in one maximal effort.

Power, on the other hand, is a combination of force and velocity:

P= Force x Velocity

In particular, power represents the exertion of force on an object and the object’s velocity in the direction which the force is exerted. As a result, alterations in force theoretically should create changes in power production.

photo credit:  http://www.elitefts.com
photo credit: http://www.elitefts.com

Is that the case?

Yes! According to the literature, maximal strength is an important quality that affects power output and peak power production.

As noted by Schimidtbleicher, increased maximal strength allows for greater peak power production since it gives a person the ability to more easily accelerate submaximal loads. Moreover, people with higher levels of maximal strength tend to have a greater percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers or type IIa/IIb fibers. As we know, type IIa/IIb muscles fibers most contribute to high power outputs.[1] These assertions are also supported by the research provided by Moss et al and Stone et al, which looked at the relationship of maximal strength and power.[2]

Side note: Don't take this to mean that just boosting maximal strength will automatically increase power. That's a quality you have to train. However, boosting maximal strength gives you the chance to be more powerful because you're now working with a larger strength base.

Nevertheless, since the human body is complex it doesn’t end up being nearly that simple. Enter the central nervous system (CNS).

The Role of the Central Nervous System

Before moving on, lets have a quick recap.

1.  Strength is the ability to produce force. Force = mass x acceleration.

2.  Power is measured by taking the product of force and an object’s velocity in the direction that the force is exerted.  Power = force x velocity

3.  Higher levels of maximal strength tend to lead to higher levels of power according to the scientific literature.

Why isn’t it that simple?

When it comes to force generation one of the key component is the CNS. The CNS allows for coordinated muscular movements and force generation through innervation via motor units.

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image001

Motor units consist of a motor neuron and the skeletal muscle fibers innervated by the motor neuron’s axonal terminals.

As opposed to getting into muscle physiology, however, you just need to know that all motor units aren't created equal, and that you have two main types:

  1. Low threshold motor units

These are smaller motor units that innervate type I muscle fibers, which generate low amounts of force, but are highly resistant to fatigue.   These are the muscle fibers and motor units that allow us to do low intensity activities like writing this article, taking a walk, or getting a glass of water.

  1. High threshold motor units

These are larger motor units that innervate type IIa/IIb muscle fibers, which generate large amounts of force, but fatigue more easily, especially the IIb muscle fibers. These muscle fibers and motor units allow us to engage in explosive and powerful activities like lifting a maximal squat or performing a heavy clean & jerk.

So, in order to produce force quickly, one must be able to effectively utilize their high-threshold motor units. This is where plyometric exercises are useful. As noted by Bompa, the CNS controls muscle force by changing the activity of the muscle’s motor units; if a greater force generation is required, a greater number of motors units are recruited. This is known as Henneman’s size principle. Motor units are recruited from smallest to largest based on the force requirement needed.

photo credit:  Science and Practice of Strength Training
photo credit: Science and Practice of Strength Training

One of the benefits of plyometric training is the increased activation of the fast-twitch motor units. [3] Plyometric drills allow for an individual to improve their efficiency of utilizing their high-threshold motor units.

This is important since both max force production needed to move maximal weight and peak power production needed to move a weight explosively both rely on the high threshold motor units to innervate fast twitch muscle fibers.

Since we know that both peak power and max force production are directly correlated to high threshold motor unit recruitment, we can then utilize plyometric drills directly before a heavy resistance set to take advantage of the phenomenon known as PAP.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)

If you are unfamiliar with the term PAP, it refers to a phenomenon by which acute muscle force output is enhanced transiently (between 5 to 30 minutes) as a result of contractile history of the muscle fibers and nervous system stimulation.[4] This is typically accomplished by completing a set of a heavy resistance exercises prior to an explosive exercise that uses the same movement pattern.

Why does this phenomenon occur?

The truth is that the exact cause is unknown, but there are two proposed theories.

1.  The first theory involves the Hoffmann Reflex (H-Reflex). The H-Reflex is an excitation of a spinal reflex elicited by specialized nerves that conduct impulses to muscle. The theory is that PAP comes from an enhancement of the H-Reflex, which increases the efficiency and rate of nerve impulses to the muscle.[5]

2.  The second theory involves phosphorylation (addition of a phosphate for production of ATP). The idea is that a max contraction makes actin and myosin more responsive to the calcium ions released, thus triggering events that lead to enhanced force production.[6]

Traditionally, PAP has been used to promote increases in power production rather than maximal force production. In other words, heavy sets of squats have been used to produce more power during box jumps or sprinting.

Yet, we know that both peak power production and maximal strength are directly correlated to high threshold motor unit recruitment. So what prevents us from switching the order? Well, nothing at all.

In fact, I've seen athletes blow through plateaus time and time again by performing a low intensity plyometric exercise prior to a maximal strength exercise.

So now that you understand the science and rationale behind my methods, it is time to get to the programming.

Sample Programming

Prior to moving on, a word of caution:  these techniques are for individuals that have a substantial strength base and training age. If you have not been training for several years, then focus on getting stronger before using advanced techniques.

When it comes to integrating low intensity plyometric exercises to benefit from the PAP phenomenon, I like to do it in two ways:

The first includes the plyometrics during the warm-up phase, which works great for people that are quite powerful and explosive, but tend to fatigue quite easily. The second uses contrast training, which works well for people that have great work capacity, but are not as powerful and explosive.

Low Intensity Plyometric During Your Warm-Up

The general purpose of a warm-up is to increase core temperature, activate dormant muscles, prepare the body for movement, and stimulate the CNS. The latter can be done using low intensity plyometric exercises after you've finished your breathing drills, soft tissue work, and dynamic mobility drills.

The low intensity plyometric exercises should be the last drill that you perform during the warm-up phase prior to performing your first main compound movement of the day (i.e. a bench press, deadlift, or squat variation).  This is because PAP lasts anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes in length.[7]

Generally speaking, the plyometric exercises during the warm-up for lower body days are one-leg and two-leg bounding, power skips, lateral skips, and repeated jumps. During upper body days, I will use plyo push-ups and some medicine ball ballistic exercises since true plyometric exercises are limited when it comes to the upper body.

Sample Lower Body Warm-Up

Squat Variation Max Strength Day

A) Lateral High Knee Skips or High Knee Skips – 2 X 20 ground contacts (10 right and 10 left)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Hurdle or Dumbbell Jumps – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main squat variation for the day.

C) Squat Variation (Main Movement)

Deadlift Variation Max Strength Day

A) Lateral Bounding or Forward Bounding – 2 X 14 ground contacts (7 right and 7 left)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Repeated Jumps (back and forth) – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main squat variation for the day. 

C) Deadlift Variation (Main Movement)

Sample Upper Body Days

Bench Variation Max Strength Day

A) Medicine Ball Overhead Slam or Rotational Medicine Ball Slam – 2 X 8 (per side for rotational slam)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Plyo Push-up – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main bench variation for the day.

C) Bench Variation (Main Movement)

Contrast Training

The contrast sets should only be used for the main movement of the day and not during warm-up sets for the main movement. You only pair the plyometric movement with your working sets.

Bench Press Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 4–6 reps)

Explosive Pushup

Medicine Ball Chest Pass to Floor

Supine Medicine Ball Chest Throw

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Bench Press Variation for Max Strength

Squat Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 16-20 ground contacts)

Lateral Bounding

Forward Bounding

High Knee Skips3-5 X 16-20 ground contacts

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Squat Variation for Max Strength

Deadlift Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 4-6 reps)

Repeated Jumps

Hurdle Jumps

1 Leg Lateral Hop (per side for reps)

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Deadlift Variation

Closing Thoughts

By utilizing these methods, you will not only find yourself busting through your current plateau, but you may find that your bar speed increases during your submaximal effort days or dynamic days.

Just remember to properly use the rest periods between your plyometric exercise and heavy sets because if not fatigue will negate the effects of PAP.

Now go out there and time to hit some new PRs at the gym!

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IMG_6087_small

About the Author

James Darley is the founder of Historic Performance, and specializes in making busy office professionals strong, jacked, and athletic.   He has formerly interned at LIU-Brooklyn and Benfield Sports Performance, and has worked with a variety of individuals ranging from financial executives to Division I athletes. Outside of fitness, James enjoys reading history books, fishing, and hiking.  Check out his Twitter and Facebook to get daily goodies!

Resources

[1] SCHIMIDTBLEICHER, D (1992). Training for power events. In: Strength and Power in Sports. P.V. Komi, ed. London: Blackwell Scientific Publications, pp. 381–395.

[2] MOSS, B.M. P.E. REFNES, A. ABILGAARD, K. NICOLAYSEN, AND J. JENSEN (1997). Effects of maximal effort strength training with different loads on dynamic strength, cross-sectional area, loadpower and load-velocity relationships. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 75: 193–199.

STONE, M.H., H.S. O’BRYANT, L. MCCOY, R. COGLIANESE, M. LEHMKUHL, AND B. SCHILLING (2003). Power and maximum strength relationships during performance of dynamic and static weighted jumps. J. Strength Cond. Res. 17:140–147.

[3] BOMPA, TUDOR AND CARRERA, MICHAEL (2005). Periodization Training for Sports, 2nd edition, 199.

[4] ROBBINS, D.W (2005). Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res., 19(2): 453-458.

[5] HODGSON, M., DOCHERTY, D., & ROBBINS, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation underlying physiology and implications for motor performance. Sports Medicine, 25 (7), 385-395.

[6] HAMADA, T., SALE, D.G., MACDOUGALL, J.D., & TARNOPOLSKY, M.A. (2000a). Postactivation potentiation, muscle fiber type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, 2131-2137.

[7] CHIU, L.Z., FRY, A.C., WEISS, L.W., SCHILLING, B.K., BROWN, L.E., & SMITH, S.L. (2003). Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17(4), 671-677.

The 23 Hour Plan: How to Maximize Your Time Outside the Gym

We talk a lot about what to do in the gym. How many sets? Reps? What weight should I use? What are the best exercises for building a huge deadlift? But training is, like, one hour of the day, so what are you doing during the other 23?

While those hours may not seem all that important, you better have them dialed in because I can guarantee it's affecting your training.

Thus, let me quickly layout for you The 23 Hour Plan:  your guide to making the most of your time outside the gym.

Sleep

Sleep is the ultimate form of rest. Shut your body off → tweak your brain activity → dream about Anna Kendrick → hopefully wake up refreshed.

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There are a lot of things that go into waking up feeling refreshed, so here are some tips.

Sleep quantity: sleep 7-9 hours a night

Experiment to find what works for you. If you listen to the other points I’m about to make, you probably won’t need quite as many hours.

Shoot for the same wake and bed times each night

Circadian rhythm is the ~24-hour wake cycle that our bodies have internalized over years of evolution on earth (though it’s not quite 24-hour cycles). Your hormones fluctuate over different hours of the day, and this helps optimize your performance on whatever you’re doing. For example, your stress hormone levels start peaking about an hour before you wake up and are usually highest around this time. This helps you wake up, but can only be used if your body knows when your wake time is.

If you have trouble finding the energy to get out of bed in the morning, I would heavily consider implementing this tip.

Turn off electronics 1 hour before bed

Electronics interfere with those sensors in your body that tell you when the day is over. This is one of the reasons that it’s so easy to stay up all night playing a good video game.

It’s best to turn off the electronics all together and keep them out of your bedroom so you’re not tempted. Other solutions include buying glasses that block blue light and installing f.lux so that your computer screen color adapts to the time of day. There are also various programs you can install on your phone to do the same thing to your mobile screen.

Do stuff during the day

If you don’t feel tired at night, maybe you just need to wear yourself out during the day. Some polls that are potentially related to this come from the National Sleep Foundation that say 67% of vigorous exercisers can usually fall asleep within 15 minutes on workdays, compared to only 42% of non-exercisers. Sure, this doesn’t mean that exercise leads to better sleep, but they tend to go hand-in-hand.

Anecdotally, I’ve also found that mental tasks do this for me. If I spend 10 hours reading and writing, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. My writing turns to mush and my eyes can no longer follow words on a page. In these cases, it’s so easy to get into bed.

For more on sleep, check out sleep.org.

I-love-sleep
I-love-sleep

Mental Breaks

You can’t always have that GO GO GO mentality and expect your performance to stay high. Taking mental breaks throughout the day to block out the noise and clear your thoughts helps you stay focused on your most important tasks. How do you give your brain a rest?

Mindfullness Meditation

The idea of being “in the moment” is useful here, and there are plenty of ways to do it. The most deliberate method is mindfulness meditation (if you want a quick guided tour of this activity, go here or download Calm on your phone).

Eat in Silence

It’s important to note that you don’t have to simply be sitting cross-legged with your knees above your hips and listening to sounds of the ocean to be mindful. If you’re working alone, you can eat in silence. Taste your food. Feel its texture. This short break might be all you need.

If you’re working with others, you can eat with them and have a conversation. This can be especially helpful if you need a jolt of creativity and also offers up another benefit of having social human interactions (more on this later).

Go For a Walk

One of my favorite methods is to go for a short walk because I get a mental break from whatever I’m working on, I get up and move around, and I can give my eyes a rest from computer screens and close up book pages. Even ten minutes outside is surprisingly refreshing.

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IMG_0454

Physical Breaks

Just like your brain can’t be turned on all day, neither can your body.

Low-intensity exercise

For one, constant high-intensity exercise can be bad for you just like inactivity. More isn’t always better. Complement your high-intensity work with low-intensity work to help jump start your recovery.

The perfect posture

I have a lot of people ask me what is the perfect standing or sitting posture. The problem is that there is no perfect posture. Posture should be thought of as more of a dial than a switch. As Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading spine researcher at the University of Waterloo, has said, “The best posture is the one that is constantly changing.”

Long-duration sitting is poison. Sitting all day uses the same muscles to hold you up ALL DAY. When you walk, however, they get a break every other step you take. Plus you start to move things around in the body, pumping fluids out of places they might get stuck. The point I’m trying to make here is that movement is medicine.

If you need a better posture when sitting, try this:

- Get a chair that allows your heels to be on the floor with your butt all the way back in the arm rest. If necessary, get blocks or books to put under your feet. This will take tension out of your low back.

- For a better sitting posture, sit up tall, then slouch a little. You should feel your sit bones under each butt cheek and your mid-to-low back in the back rest.

- Your arms should be supported by armrests without having to reach down to feel them. This is especially important if you feel a lot of tension in your neck when you sit.

- Whatever you’re working on should be near eye level. If typing, the keyboard and mouse should be around the level of the armrests or slightly above.

- Do not allow your head to move to focus your eyes. Instead, move the screen or your chair.

Give your eyes a break

The eyes are good at accommodating to whatever requires your attention. If that thing is close, like a computer screen, they converge onto the screen so you can focus and block out your peripheral vision. If you need to read the area around you, like when you’re on the field, your eyes diverge and take in the whole scene. Just like how walking gives one side of your body a rest while it’s in the air, you want to alternate your visual patterns from time to time. Have I convinced you to go for a walk outside yet?

Reset exercises

We, as humans, are right-sided. We appear symmetrical from the outside with two arms, two legs, two chests, etc., but if you look closer, we’re actually very asymmetrical. Due to this asymmetry, some people might find it harder to “find and feel” their left side, whether that be their left foot, left leg, left arm, left visual field, whatever.

The fix here could be very complex, which is why I recommend everyone get a knowledgeable coach, but you can incorporate some postural tweaks for a few minutes throughout the day to remind yourself that you have a left side.

- Stand with your left leg back a little behind your right and right hip in front of your left

- Let your left shoulder fall down toward your left hip

- Look forward and notice something in your left peripheral vision

These aren’t magic tricks, but they can help you feel a little better throughout the day.

Additionally, you can do some exercises once a day. There are endless variations that I might choose from and I cannot determine which is the right one for you without working with you, but here’s a relatively simple one that most people benefit from:

What you eat fuels your body, so eat well. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that at this point in your health adventures.

Avoid things that cause stomach issues

Farts aren’t just things that are funny, they are indicative of what’s going on in your gut. I don’t know about you, but when I have terrible gas, I do NOT feel well. Pay attention to how your body responds to the things you eat and avoid things that make you feel crappy (that pun was unintended, but man that’s funny).

Human Interaction

In the 20th century, there was a now famous researcher named Harry Harlow who studied social isolation in monkeys. These monkeys lived in complete social isolation for extended periods of time and ended up being messed up. Consider this quote from one of his published studies:

“No monkey has died during isolation. When initially removed from total social isolation, however, they usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by the autistic self-clutching and rocking illustrated in Figure 4. One of six monkeys isolated for 3 months refused to eat after release and died 5 days later. The autopsy report attributed death to emotional anorexia. A second animal in the same group also refused to eat and would probably have died had we not been prepared to resort to forced feeding.” (Harlow et al, 1965)

Autistic Self Clutching
Autistic Self Clutching

His research prompted great advances in both science and animal rights activity.

I tell you this to illustrate the issues with social isolation. I encourage you to be around people. Not just any people, but people who allow you to be yourself.

Go out for a meal (or have a dinner party)

Just as you can use your meals as a mental time out, you can also use them as an avenue for good conversation. Invite some people over and make food, or you can all go out to get some.

Watch a movie

If movies are your thing, maybe you watch something together and discuss it afterwards. You can also discuss after the fact if you’re the type of person who yells at the screen and doesn’t want your friends to see that.

Have sex

I don’t think I’ll have trouble convincing anyone that this can be effective for making you feel better. Avoid anything that’s emotionally abusing for you or your partner. Same goes for physical abuse (unless it’s consensual, but then I believe it’s considered a fetish and not an abuse).

Ultimately, do whatever you want! You know what makes you happy better than I do.

Invest in Yourself

If your stuff gets stolen from your car, it’s gone forever. It’s relatively easy for this to happen. It is much harder for someone to steal a part of you.

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tumblr_m71jhakJPN1qfiafao1_500

Read

Read books. This is the easiest way to find a new mentor to influence your life.

Watch things that aren’t mindless

YouTube has cool stuff all over it. And if you don’t know what a TED talk is, you should start here. Endless topics have been discussed, so search for something that interests you.

Learn

The overarching theme here is learning. Assimilate experiences and knowledge like it’s your job to keep your body and mind healthy.

The 23-Hour Plan

Alright, write this list down somewhere important. Do you remember what we talked about?

- Sleep

- Take physical and mental breaks

- Eat well

- Interact with other humans

- Invest in yourself

What kinds of things do you do to maximize your 23 hours? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!

about the author

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Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at www.LanceGoyke.com.

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

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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.

The Minimal Adaptable Load And What It Means For Your Training

As coaches and athletes we’re always in pursuit of the same thing:

PROGRESS

And that progress will come in many different shapes and sizes. For one person it may mean losing 15 lbs, for another it may mean deadlifting 500lbs, and for another it may mean winning a world championship.

At the end of the day, however, progress is always the uniting principle by which we can gauge the effectiveness of a training program:

Is it taking you/he/she closer towards their goal?

If yes, then you’re making progress.

If no, then you’re not.

BUT, here's the magical question:  how do I or my athletes make progress?

The answer...stress.

But not just any stress, it has to be the right type of stressor, at the right time, in the right amount.  If any of those factors are off, then you won't be incurring the type of positive adaptation you're looking for.

While there are many variables to consider when putting together a comprehensive training program, I'd like to focus today on one that I believe doesn't get enough attention, and the implications it has for training.  And that variable is called:  The Minimal Adaptable Load.

The Process of Adaptation

Before continuing, it's important that you know a thing or two about adaptation since that is, at the end of the day, how we make progress.

Thus, let's walk through the basic process.

In the graph below you'll notice fitness level is on the y-axis and time is on the x-axis.  The 0 point on the y-axis represents your current fitness level, while above it represents improvement and below represents decline.  It's important to note that any fitness quality can replace "fitness level" on the y-axis.  For example, you could easily get more specific and put something like speed strength, or starting strength, or absolute strength, but for today we'll just focus on the broader concept of fitness.

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As you can see in the above graph, the process of adaptation follows a pretty simple formula:

Step 1:  Provide a stressor/training stimulus

Step 2:  Fatigue

Step 3:  Recovery

Step 4:  Supercompensation

Step 5:  Involution

If you'd like to read more about adaptation, then checkout this post I wrote for Eric Cressey a little while back.

Let's take this a step further and consider three separate scenarios:

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Scenario 1:  Not Enough Stress (Purple Dashed Line)

In this scenario, the athlete has not been stressed nearly enough.  While they did accumulate low levels of fatigue, it wasn't enough to force a positive adaptation (notice how the purple dashed line doesn't cross back over the original fitness level).

Scenario 2:  Too Much Stress (Red Dashed Line)

This is the exact opposite of our first scenario:  the athlete has been stressed far too much (driven too low) and can't adequately recover.  In other words, they dug a hole too deep to climb out of (again...not surpassing the original fitness level and maybe even getting worse).

Scenario 3:  Just Right (Green Dashed Line)

Jackpot!  The athlete has been stressed enough to force adaptation to occur.  Fatigue accumulated, but it was the right amount of fatigue because the athlete could adequately recover from it.

The Minimal Adaptable Load

What you just experienced in Scenario 3 is the minimal adaptable load.  And seeing as this is a term you're probably not familiar with (I'm fairly certain I made it up this past weekend) let's go ahead and define it:

The minimal adaptable load represents the total amount of volume in tons/lbs/kgs that must be lifted over the course of a designated period of time in order to incur a positive adaptation in a fitness quality.

Hopefully I don't need to explain why this concept is important, but this value does change with time.  When you first start off training you can practically just look at weights and get stronger, but once you've been lifting for a while it takes a little more effort to keep putting weight on the bar.

Which brings us to our next big point:

The Beginner vs. The Advanced Athlete

I think the real beauty of the minimal adaptable load shows through when considering how you go about training a beginner vs. a more advanced athlete.

Since the beginner has a lower training age it won't take nearly as much stress/load to improve a given fitness quality.  The more advanced athlete with an older training age, on the other hand, will require significant stress/loading to improve a given fitness quality.

For example, take a freshman in high school who hasn't touched weights once his entire life and an all american going into his senior year of college.  Different scenarios?

You bet your ass they are.

And that has to show through in their programming.

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The beginner can afford to train several different fitness qualities at once because it doesn't take much loading to incur a positive adaptation.  For example, let's say it takes 300 lbs of volume (and this is a completely arbritrary number) for him to see improvement in maximal strength.  That's not much at all, so you can afford to go after multiple qualities at once.

The advanced athlete, on the other hand, might need 10,000 lbs of volume (again, made up number) to see progress.  Thus, he needs to periodize his programming to focus on one fitness quality at a time.  He cannot train max strength, strength speed, and speed strength simultaneously because it'll be impossible to make progress in any category.  If he actually did perform the necessary amount of loading in each category he'd be so overtrained that he'd get worse.

Keeping Track of Training

The other important thing to note is that you should be keeping track of your training (and your athletes training if you're a coach).

If you don't have these numbers, then how are you ever going to appropriately monitor training from month to month, and year to year.

For example, let's say you hit a 3 month block aimed at improving your deadlift.  At the end of those three months you retest and see very minimal gains.  What should you do next?

Well...you should consult you're training log.  Look at volume, look at intensity, look at how many different fitness qualities you're attempting to train at once etc.  In essence, bury yourself in the numbers and figure out where your program is coming up short.

Granted, there are other variables to consider as well:  nutrition, total allostatic load etc.  But having a training log is an invaluable tool when it comes time to making consistent progress over the long haul.

Key Takeaways

While we touched on some bigger concepts in today's article, here are the three major takeaways I hope you have:

1.  Identify your and/or your athletes training age because it will have a big impact on how you approach programming for them.

2.  Keep track of your and/or your athletes training with a detailed training log because it gives you invaluable data on training volume etc.

3.  Begin thinking in terms of the minimal adaptable load (i.e. how much volume needs to be lifted over x amount of time for me to see gains in y lift).

As always, feel free to post questions, comments, concerns and/or pictures of people curling in the squat rack below.

about the author

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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.