Sunday, February 19, 2017

BASELINE STRENGTH



Here I am once again redefining something we all know but don’t quite understand.  I’ve written on many occasions about just how deceptive “strength” can be.  What we interpret to be strength can in many cases be instead a wide variety of other qualities that simply contribute to amount of weight lifted on a movement.  Factors like nutrition, time of day, amount of acquired fatigue, amount of sleep, being psyched up, warmed up, etc etc can all affect how much weight is moved on a movement…but none of these factors ARE “strength”.  Strength is what exists in the absence of all these factors; it’s what is there irrespective of these qualities.  This “baseline strength” is what we need to endeavor to improve, as it’s what fundamentally dictates if we are actually getting stronger in our training.

Image result for nose tork
Although a little of this doesn't hurt too

I’ve written about “bad day strength” before, but baseline strength goes even deeper.  Whereas bad day strength was about setting a baseline in your worst circumstances and striving to improve it, fundamentally bridging the gap between bad days and good, baseline strength is what is there when you are practically dead.  It’s the strength that is there after 2 days of throwing up with food poisoning, after 48 hours of being awake, after living off a water and lettuce diet for a week.  This is the strength that is ever present; it’s the strength that we build UPON with all those other extraneous factors and details.

This is why it’s imperative to focus on building up this baseline, rather than attempting to maximize the other variables.  Yeah, you could perfect your technique, dial in your nutrition, get your optimal amount of sleep, have the excellent supplement stack, etc etc, but none of this actually builds up that baseline; it simply amplifies it.  The baseline strength is built over a long, arduous period of time, through a constant grind, effort and toil.

Image result for conan the barbarian wheel of pain
You didn't realize this movie was actually a documentary 

I already know what most of my regular readers are saying at this point; “You’ve already said this!  You’ve said this many MANY times!”  True!  So allow me to explain this significance of this concept; how to know IF you are building this baseline strength.  “How do I know if I’m getting stronger” is a question that is constantly posed by trainees, and fundamentally the metrics employed to measure strength are flawed because they are incumbent upon the factors EXTERNAL to baseline strength.  A trainee sets a PR on one day, under one set of circumstances, and then attempts to compare a different effort under a different set of circumstances in order to measure “progress” or “strength”.  In turn, trainees interpret an increase between the two attempts as an indication that strength was gained or that the program worked, and a decrease is of course an indication of the opposite, but without consideration of the context, this data is useless.

So how DO we know if we have gained strength?  How do we know if the baseline strength was increased?  We know not by the results, but by the method!  Specifically, the consistent application of the same degree of effort/intensity over a prolonged period of time.  We KNOW we increased our baseline strength if, over the course of this specific phase of training, we consistently busted our ass with limited interruptions.  What other possible alternative would there be?  How could we have gotten weaker if we were truly pushing our bodies to their limits, breaking ourselves down and rebuilding over and over again?  This is simply how strength is built; real, pure, brutish strength.  This is how our BASELINE of strength is built.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
So not like this

Sure, skill can be lost or diminished depending on the method employed.  One may train their upperbody hard over a period of several months only to witness a decrease in their bench press because they deprioritized that specific movement, but strength was not lost.  It was built, and simply needs to be refined for that specific purpose.  The same is true in instances of reduced weight moved due differing nutrition, sleep, time of day, or other variables; the baseline strength increased, it was simply differently amplified than previously.

This is why, in many cases, the solution to “plateaus” is to simply keep on training hard and plugging along.  In most cases, the plateau is unrelated to matters of strength, and instead related to other factors that we are improperly controlling.  Technique may have shifted, small injuries might have manifested, we may have made nutritional changes, etc etc, but those can eventually be addressed and overcome.  Meanwhile, while we continue to grind away day in and day out, we are STILL building strength.  This is WHY, once we overcome whatever issue it was that was holding us back, we tend to witness explosive growth in the movement gain.  We finally pulled our heads out of our butts and now we get to amplify that baseline strength that we spent months and years steadily increasing.  The untapped potential is now getting tapped.


If you are training hard and often, you ARE getting stronger.  Be honest with yourself here.  If you’re dogging it, putting in half-efforts and skipping workouts, then of course you are going to get weaker while you train, and no amount of heavy metal and ammonia is going to fix that.  But if you’re actually putting in the effort, you will get to the point where even at your worse, you’re stronger than you once were at your best.      

Sunday, February 12, 2017

FROM POWERLIFTING TO STRONGMAN: MISTAKES AND LESSONS LEARNED PART II

Alright, we did Part I last time, so go there for your intro.

4: The powerlifts are ASSISTANCE lifts now

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
You know...like this

Once again, this is simply about a paradigm shift, and most ex-powerlifters don't like to make this one.  You can still do the powerlifts as a strongman, but you have to realize that these are now ASSISTANCE lifts, not main lifts.  Your bench is helping your press, your deadlift is getting you stronger on a variety of different deadlifts, and your squat is developing some general lower body strength.

What tends to bug ex-powerlifters here is coming to terms with HOW assistance work works in an overall program.  Reference my previous writings on the topic, but to summarize; all that matters is that your competition lifts go up.  Sometimes, this means that your assistance work takes a dip so that your competition lifts can go up, or sometimes you drop the assistance work to allow better recovery from the competition lifts, but either way, the assistance work has to take lower priorities.  For guys that used to live and die by the big 3, this can be a tough pill to swallow.  Just know that your powerlifting total dropping is immaterial to your success in strongman and, should you one day decide to return to powerlifting, the time spent training other angles and muscles from strongman will make it so that your powerlifting total quickly matches and surpasses your previous self.

5: Leg Drive

Image result for drive angry
In fairness, anger was about the only emotion I felt trying to figure out leg drive

This is a quick and dirty one, but basically, leg drive on an overhead press isn't the same thing as leg drive on a bench press.  Most ex-powerlifters that did any sort of overhead work tended to stick with strict pressing.  It was a logical choice for assistance work for bench, as both are strict movements and typically overcoming the bottom of the lift is the most difficult part. This typically means you come into strongman with a strong strict press but a garage overhead press in total because you're losing out on leg drive.

You most likely have some strong legs, so you just need to learn how to utilize them and get the most out of your leg drive.  I'll say what worked for me was changing how I thought of it.  It's not "leg drive" as much as it's "body drive".  You're using your legs to throw your body into the bar to pop it off your shoulders.  Try to drive it as far as you can before taking over with your shoulders.

6: Technique techique technique

Image result for muhammad ali vs superman comic
Yeah, Supes might be strong, but can he rope-a-dope?

This is going to be the most difficult thing for anyone coming into strongman with a foundation of static strength but lacking in technique and athleticism.  You're going to be able to muscle your way through most of the events on a local show, and maybe even win, but one you start reaching national level weights and beyond, your strength won't be enough.  Don't wait until THEN to start learning technique on the implements.  The sooner you start, the faster you'll get better.

I know how hypocritical this sounds coming from me, but even I am trying to get better at this sport.  As an extension of the above point on leg drive, learn how to get better at moving the implements.  This is sadly going to mean you need to go LIGHTER with the implements in training so that you can actually learn how to use the technique.  I wrote my piece on drilling the continental ("Continental Crash Course"), and this was the exact protocol necessary. Start light, learn the technique, gradually get heavier, and you will eventually be able to surpass the weights you were using back when you were just going full on Ogre mode.

7: Don't lose all that static strength

Image result for hulk turning into bruce banner
Yeah, this is sorta like how my first year went

So after all this time I've spent harping on now just relying on that static strength you built from powerlifting, allow me totally reverse course and talk about how awesome that static strength is.  Strength takes a LONG time to build.  It's why there are so few strong people out there.  It's no fun grinding your way through training sessions for years on end, but if you manage to do it, you have a serious advantage over those who haven't gone through this process.  With this strength, you CAN just ogre your way through an event if push comes to shove, and when fatigue sets in you can get by with crappy technique, whereas other folks have nothing left.

This is why you can NOT lose this strength.  It's very tempting when you transition from powerlifting to strongman to go full in, become a technique master, learn the jerk, master your footspeed, develop the conditioning of a workhorse, etc etc...but if you forget to keep your static strength, all you did was trade off weaknesses.  Powerlifting wasn't "bad" at all; it's just not adquate right now, but that doesn't mean you need to completely throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Those things you did to build up all that strength still work, you'll just need to strike the balance between doing enough to keep and still build a little static strength while being able to actually become a better strongman.

You're coming into the sport with an advantage over someone starting from scratch.  Don't give it up.


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As always, ask any questions you have, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

FROM POWERLIFTING TO STRONGMAN: MISTAKES AND LESSONS LEARNED


I know I’m not the first person to write about transitioning from powerlifting to strongman, nor am I the most qualified, but why not get some more data out there. From my own observations, there are still folks not quite understanding just what this transition entails, and what it is about the demands of strongman that make it so that you can’t just train like a powerlifter if you want to succeed.

Image result for bill kazmaier
Even Kaz took 4th in his first show and had to learn the events before he could dominate

For those of you new to my blog, for a quick background, I competed in powerlifting from 2011-2012 for a total of 3 meets in the NASA unequipped category.  I managed a 502 squat, 336 bench and 601 deadlift in my final meet as a 181lb competitor.  9 months later I would do my first strongman competition, and after that I never looked back. I got bit by the strongman bug, knocking out 8 contests in a 2 year span before being sidelined with an ACL rupture, coming back a year later and getting in my 9th with my 10th on the horizon.

Powerlifting was a solid foundation to transition into strongman, but it has some holes in it, both physically and psychologically, that need to be addressed if one wishes to be a serious strongman competitor.  They are…

1: You need to train events LIGHT and get faster

 Image result for farmer's walks with dumbbells
Ok, maybe not THIS light

Here is what pretty much every powerlifter thinks when it comes to moving events; “If I can move MORE weight than everyone else, that will mean that I’ll be able to move lighter weight FASTER than everyone else.”  This is clearly the thought process of people that have never actually been athletic, because everyone else knows that footspeed is a whole separate trainable quality, and if you train to be slow, you will be slow. 

 Image result for Starting Strength meme
Man, I wonder where all this misconceptions are coming from

Going too heavy on events reinforces slow feet, and makes it so that, when the weight is light, you’re still used to moving slowly with it.  You end up plodding along clumsily, and people significantly weaker than you completely blow you out of the water. What you need to do instead is swallow your pride and use LIGHT weight.  Like REAL light.  Like “how the hell am I getting a workout” kind of light weight.  Keep an eye on your footspeed, and only up the weight if you can maintain it.  If not, keep practicing with light weight until you can move light weight fast, THEN try to move heavy weight fast.

You KNOW you’re strong because you came from powerlifting.  You don’t need to prove it by walking a 1000lb yoke 5’.  Get under 300lbs and learn how to move quickly.  Once you can do that, the heavy weight will move better.


2: You need to work on your conditioning

 Image result for Glen Ross strongman
If you sweat this much from SITTING, you need this

In powerlifting, you literally get the lay down for 1/3 of a meet. You perform a total of 9 reps over the course of a meet.  In general, it’s not the most physically taxing sport, and the trainees are notorious for taking super long rest times between sets in training like it’s some sort of badge of honor.  Meanwhile, if you bought into stupid internet memes, you’re probably also eating Wendy’s 5x a day and sweating pure Crisco.

Strongman, at least at the local to national level, does NOT favor being fat and out of shape.  I know you can go watch WSM or the Arnold and see some dudes pushing 4 bills, but that’s a whole different competitive scene.  At the level you’ll be competing at, being out of shape is going to make you lose.  I can’t count the times I’ve watched someone literally give up in the middle of a medley simply because they ran out of gas and didn’t have the conditioning to move on.  On the other hand, I’ve seen folks clearly lacking in the strength department crush an event because they were in monster shape.

Image result for rich froning 
Yeah yeah "lol crossfit";, no way in Hell I'd ever want to compete in a medley against this guy

Those lightweight events you were doing in step 1 can come in handy here.  Consider working medleys and circuits into your training and becoming effective in higher rep ranges.  You don’t get away with walking with a sled tied to your belt anymore; you need to actually push yourself to the point that you feel like you wanna puke. Once again; you’re already strong, so don’t worry about “losing strength” by taking the time to focus on bringing up your conditioning.  Your numbers might take a slight dip while your recovery gets impacted, but in the long run you’ll become significantly stronger when you have a better baseline of conditioning.


3: Quit worrying about your 1rm squat

Image result for squat failure 
You'll look less stupid in the long run...and the short run...just in general reallly

I know this one may have offended some of you on a personal level, so feel free to take a moment before reading on.  The 1rm squat might be the holy grail of powerlifting, but I literally cannot remember the last time I’ve seen it in a strongman comp. That’s most likely because it’s a really super boring event to watch, which is partially why powerlifting isn’t on TV while strongman is.  Anyway, the point here is that your 1rm is really immaterial on the squat. You can keep the deadlift; that shows up pretty regularly.


What you NEED to focus on instead is getting good at squat reps.  The reason is 2 fold. 1; once again, this is a sport where conditioning matters along with being strong at multiple rep ranges, and higher rep squats do a fantastic job of reinforcing that.  Secondly, squats for reps DOES occasionally show up as an event, and if you can’t go 5 reps without needing to sit down, you’re going to get blown out of the water by someone better at high reps than you.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball 
Hopefully it's not this guy

As an aside, some folks like to go completely off the reservation here and decide to do ZERO back squatting once they transition to strongman.  This is viable, but I would caution you that, since the “squat for reps” event does occasionally show up in contests, you DO want to maintain the shoulder mobility necessary to hold a bar in the squat position.  If I spend too long away from having a bar on my back, my shoulders get pissed when I make my return.  Easiest way to prevent that is to having back squats at least somewhat regularly rotated into the training.


This post is going longer than I imagined and I still have LOTS to talk about, so I'm going to cap it here.  Stay tuned next time when we discuss treating the powerlifts like assistance, the value of leg drive, technique and maintaining static strength.  As always, if you have a question or comment, feel free to write your thoughts.