Sunday, June 4, 2017

GO HOME POWERLIFTING: YOU’RE DRUNK


Before I begin, I, and the world of strength sports, owe a LOT to powerlifting.  Powerlifting has given a lot in its short time.  From powerlifting we got a ton of specialty bars and equipment, training gear that can either extend training longevity or improve performance, and Kaz, among other greats.  However, powerlifting’s influence (through no fault of its own) hasn’t all been positive, and unfortunately is has been dragging down many new trainees who decide to venture out into the land of the internet and try to learn how to train.  What was once a sport about getting as strong as possible and winning meets has become one fixated on setting internet records and achieving the highest WILKS.  The whole world has turned upside down, cats and dogs are living together, mass hysteria, and so I say; go home powerlifting: you’re drunk.

Image result for bill kazmaier eyes
Or possibly on bathsalts; jury is still out

The biggest issue that occurs with powerlifting is that trainees immediately equate powerlifting with strength training.  This is a part of the process of learning about the different subgroups in the lifting world.  Most of us, when we first got into lifting, identified any serious lifter as a bodybuilder.  For most of us, this was simply the only thing we knew regarding someone who took lifting seriously. We were exposed to Arnold, knew he was a bodybuilder, saw the muscle mags full of bodybuilders, etc.  Most of us still encounter this amongst our peers and family, in that, no matter what it is that we do, we’re bodybuilders.  Once you dive a little deeper, one tends to learn that there is at least 1 other subgroup that ISN’T bodybuilders, and these people tend to be powerlifters.

However, realize that, once again, this is just lazy research manifesting itself.  Of the select few that know there is a difference between a bodybuilder and a powerlifter, who among them ACTUALLY know what a powerlifter is compared to a strongman or weightlifter?  Most people just take the quickest distinction; bodybuilders are people who train to get big, powerlifters are people who train to get strong.  Knowing this, if you want to get big, you train like a bodybuilder, and if you want to get strong, you train like a powerlifter.  And herein is where the crisis begins.

Image result for superman crisis on infinite earths
Not the first time a lot of strength was lost over a Crisis...Christ I'm a nerd

Let me come out and say a statement that is going to piss off a lot of people: powerlifting was NEVER about getting stronger.  Not once, in the history of powerlifting’s existence, has it EVER been a sport about getting stronger.  Powerlifting is about getting the highest total possible on 3 lifts.  Getting stronger HELPS in powerlifting, but so does getting stronger help in American football, boxing, wrestling, basketball, swimming, etc.  Because powerlifting has people specifically lifting weights, we interpret it to mean it’s a sport solely about strength, but this is simply confusing the effect for the cause.  Powerlifters lift weights as part of their competition, but it is still fundamentally a sport/game with a goal of winning.  This is why, in some cases, the strongest person at the meet DID NOT WIN.

How can I say this?  It’s a strength sport, no?  Yes, but it’s a SPORT, and strategy, technique and practice will ALWAYS come into play when discussing a sport.  One of the key elements of practice is, of course, frequency and perfection.  Hence, a powerlifter will often perform their competition lifts in their training, and they will do so in a manner where they are practicing to the standards of the sport in the hopes of engraining the correct motor pattern in order to maximize their skill improvement.  This maximized skill translates into more weight moved, because one has become BETTER at moving higher weights; but we all know that BETTER does not mean STRONGER. The powerlifter is playing a game, and they’re playing it to win.  If you are trying to get stronger, don’t play their game.
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And don't hate the player

New trainees get confused by this.  They see the frequent practice of a powerlifter in their programming, decide they want to train like a powerlifter because they want to “train for strength”, and then are aghast at the notion of only benching, squatting and deadlifting once a week at most.  Surely such infrequent practice won’t allow one to maximize their strength, no?  No!  Once again, we confuse skill for strength here.  If one benches twice a week, they practice the bench twice a week, and twice in that week they train their pecs, shoulders and triceps (yes yes bench nerds; I know there is MORE than that, just stick with me).  If a trainee benches once a week and then does dips the other day a week, they practice bench 1 time and dips 1 time, but they STILL train their pecs, shoulders and triceps twice in that same week as well.  The frequency is the same; the amount of STRENGTH gained can be the same, it is simply the skill that diminishes at one lift in exchange for an opportunity to practice another.  BUT, consider the exchange here; less practice for an opportunity to train the body at different angles and get it stronger IN TOTAL versus in only on specific movement.  Doesn’t that sound more rewarding for a NON-powerlifter, whose goal is to get as big and strong as possible rather than win a powerlifting meet?

But a big part of this pursuit of perfection on these lifts is because someone out there decided there needed to be some sort of gatekeeping of programs.  You don’t get to do X program until you can squat Y, and if you can only squat Z, you are better off doing program W.  It’s insanity, and purely a mechanism put into place for internet warriors to assert dominance over new trainees and maintain a status quo of mediocrity by prescribing awful training and never promoting anything that allows growth.  Saying you need to lift a certain amount on a certain lift before you’re ready for a specific training program operates off some sort of insane belief that all humans will reach these lifts through the same training. 

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
This guy MIGHT hit a 3 plate squat before the second coming of Jesus

Consider this; you take 1 trainee and have them ONLY squat, bench or deadlift.  No assistance work, no conditioning, only those 3 lifts.  You take another trainee and have them run a complete program, with a variety of core lifts and assistance work and conditioning.  The first trainee will most likely have the higher total of the two in a short span, because the first trainee is solely dedicated to those 3 lifts.  However, if the first trainee gets a 1000lb total in 6 months and the second trainee takes 2 years to get there, are we really saying the first trainee was more experienced than the second, and therefore more ready for a more advanced training template?  Of course not.  Those lifts were arrived at in totally different circumstances, and simply using a set number as a checkpoint makes zero sense without considering these factors.  Trainees need to free their minds from the shackles that they have to pass some sort of standard before having permission to train.


But let’s get to talking about the other dirty trick powerlifting has pulled on us; in these most recent years, it’s become a sport about being as SMALL as possible, not as big and strong as possible.  This is a result of the influence of the internet in regards to records sharing.  In the pre-historic era, “Powerlifting USA” was the only real way to get meet results, outside of word of mouth.  This meant you’d typically find out about records set MONTHS after it had occurred, and so trying to chase records on individual lifts or totals was a silly idea.  By the time you “broke” the record, it may be the case that someone else had ALREADY broken it before you, and all your prep and energy was wasted.  It made much more sense to try to win the MEET, not an individual lift record, and this meant finding out who your competition was, figuring out how they were picking their attempts, and trying to find some way to edge them out.  Hell, before WILKS was a thing, all you had to go off of was your total, so you tried to get as big and as strong as you could so that you could win.

Image result for J M Blakely powerlifting
Looks like it worked back then too

But now?  With meet results being broadcast live, let alone records being instantly recorded, powerlifting has become an "internet sport".  You don't compete against people; you compete against numbers.  This has bred a culture of trophy hunters for individual lift records; folks with the ideal anthropomorphic structure of a certain lift who specialize their training to focus on this lift and set meaningless records.  They take 2 token lifts on the others, and then set their internet record on their big lift. Many of the records being set are being set by lifters competing against NO ONE; backyard meets or small shows where guys are by themselves, just trying to set some sort of record.  There is no competing against a person, and no need to be strategic in selection in the hopes of winning.  And the last thing these people need to ruin their shot at a record is to move into a higher weight class, even IF doing so would let them actually WIN a meet with a solid total, so they learn to maximize weight moved while minimizing bodyweight gained.  This is a solid strategy to keep setting individual lift records in weird sub-groups and classifications, but for a trainee looking to get BIGGER and stronger?  It's madness.

BIGGER IS STRONGER!  We KNOW this.  Not on an intellectual level; on a primal, INSTINCTUAL level.  This is why animals make themselves appear bigger as a means of self-defense; it's trying to tell the predator "I am stronger than you imagined; back off".  This is why, when we were young and saw bodybuilders, we KNEW they were strong, and it took the internet to somehow convince us otherwise.  No no, "strength" is a skill, they said.  Strength is a product of practice and CNS efficiency.  Bullcrap.  Remember the first World's Strongest Man?  Remember how Lou Ferrigno held his own the whole time?  Remember how Franco Columbu, despite being BARELY 200lbs, was doing awesome right up until the point he blew out his knee RUNNING with a refrigerator in his back?  Building big muscles is building STRONG muscles, even IF it does not directly translate specifically into larger 1 rep max numbers on a handful of lifts.  There is a significant value to be had in training a variety of rep ranges and angles in order to develop strength IN TOTAL, irrespective of if your gym total goes up.  We're in the business of getting bigger and stronger; not winning meets.

Image result for Powerlifting meet results
It is not uncommon to see this many metals at a meet with 12 competitors

Now, don't get me wrong; a real, actual dedicated powerlifter KNOWS all this.  Once again, I do not write this in an attempt to discredit powerlifting proper; simply the bizarre state of affairs surrounding the sport as it exists within the net.  Guys who want to win meets and be the best LIFTER they can be utilize a practice of accumulating volume and getting bigger and stronger all around, but instagram heroes and Mr. Wonderfuls of the week muddy the waters for new lifters looking in trying to learn how to get stronger by "training like a powerlifter".

What's the takeaway here?  Realize that powerlifting isn't strength training; it's a sport, with it's own priorities, rules and guidelines.  Being strong is important in powerlifting, but it's not the SPORT of being strong; it's the sport of moving the most weight.  When we confuse weight moved with strength possessed, we miss out on the other variables that are at play.  

10 comments:

  1. Really enjoy your writing. This reminds me when people ask, "So how much are you lifting these days?".
    Never know how to respond to this.

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    1. Thanks dude; I appreciate the feedback. That question baffles me too, haha. I just respond with "too much"

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  2. I'm going to be very sad when your blog goes dormant. I'm just a hobbyist but you're one of the major influences that's informed my fooling around with weights.

    TLDR: I love your blog.

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    1. I appreciate that dude. Glad I could be an influence on you, and hopefully it will be a while before I go dormant. If there is ever anything you'd like me to cover, leave me a comment.

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  3. I laughed, I cried, I nodded my head vigorously.

    WR

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    1. This was a fun one to write. I think all of us either former, current or closet powerlifters can understand it.

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  4. Into it, except for the bigger is stronger part. I already have to ask for help reaching stuff in the grocery store. Must you shame me further?!

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    1. I'm in the same boat you are, haha. It's the curse we bear.

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  5. I love the sentiment behind this post. I read your blog often and I appreciate your work. I want to add one thing that powerlifting has added: the event.

    I've never competed, but I plan to. The thing that powerlifting has me doing is imagining performing these lifts *in front of people*. I do not need motivation to lift, but I need motivation to add new (read: less familiar/weaker) lifts to shore up my overall strength. This doesn't directly increase my Big Three, but it works as a salve for my mind to know that I am stronger. Which, I think, is the point.

    The balance needed is performing the Big Three often enough to get your practice in, but enough variety and challenges to get stronger, and enough rest to recover.

    And, as you point out, everyone is different. You say people need to free their minds from the shackles, I say that is exactly what most people do not want to do. The rest bounce from program to program and effectively stay exactly as strong as they currently are. Some listen to our body - regardless of what our minds tell us - and progress.

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    1. That's a fantastic point regarding the impact of competition regarding training. It's something I've observed on my own as well. Doubly so regarding the thinking-averse nature of many trainees. They just want to plug and play and let someone else do the thinking for them, and they get results that are less than desirable.

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