Are You Mental?

Mel Siff inspired this blog during my first foray into Supertraining. I enjoyed the shit out of his points. However I’d like to elaborate on some specific points. That is the purpose of this article.

I’m going to be referring to strength in terms of general lifting, not necessarily competing in powerlifting or other strength sports. I’ll probably be flip-flopping between different strengths sports to make points. Just realize even if you don’t compete you should find some things that you can work on to improve your performance in whatever sport you do.

According to Siff sporting performance depends heavily on psychological factors such as:

  • Motivation
  • Aggression
  • Concentration
  • Focus or attention
  • The ability to tolerate pain or to sustain effort
  • The perception of sensations and events in training and competition
  • The placebo effect
  • Communicative skills
  • The ability to cope with anxiety or stress
  • Attitudes towards events and participants in sport
  • Attitudes towards winning and losing
  • Learning ability
  • Attitude
  • Mood state
  • Personality
  • Alertness and vigilance
  • The ability to manage distractions
  • The ability to relax

A lot of points…

I won’t be spending time on all of these, just the ones I have found to be the most important for my athletes and myself (the highlighted ones).

Let’s get started.

Focus Or Attention

This is a huge one. In order to truly make gains, whether that be building muscle, or putting up a bigger total you must be focused.

No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes.

This is a huge reason you see people making little to no progress. They’re in the gym focusing on their smartphone or TV more than their damn training. It’s easy to spot these people. They spend 75%+ of their gym time doing everything besides lifting.

If you have a goal, the gym is your primary (along with nutrition) tool to accomplish that result. If you go into the gym and spend the whole time bullshitting about where you’re going to get wasted on the weekend then you won’t make progress.

The people who make the best progress at the gym are usually the ones who keep to themselves and are always working.

If you aren’t working then why are you in the gym?

Attention basically goes hand-in-hand with focus. Pay attention to your surroundings. If there is someone who talks your ear off, make your talk brief, put your headphones on and lift.

Be attentive to your goal in the gym. The rest is white noise you need to try and avoid or minimize.

 

The Ability To Tolerate Pain or To Sustain Effort

This is a point that I feel separates the “good from the great” (stupid cliché, I know, but it really stands true here). When it comes to the average gym goer, the ability to tolerate pain can be a pretty good predictor of how successful they will be. If they cringe when their muscles start burning and give up, they aren’t going to really get much out of lifting. Try pottery.

The sick and twisted man or woman who can push through that pain threshold is the one who will go places. The ability to put the pain away and push hard will cause them to grow and get stronger.

Please make sure you understand I’m not talking specifically about joint pain. This pain is something you need to address when you’re on the topic of lifting weights. I’m talking about the pain that comes with knowing you have a grueling training session coming up. Can you make it through that session knowing you gave as much effort as possible?

If you know you cut some reps, sets, or the weight short, then you might need to reflect on this and figure out how to motivate yourself to get the job done. Excuse free.

 

The Ability To Cope With Anxiety Or Stress

An athlete’s ability to cope with anxiety or stress is a HUGE factor in terms of limiting your strength potential. IMO there are a few key factors involved here:

What range of events cause anxiety or stress in an athlete?

I know you have that friend who always is stressed out about something. Literally always stressed. It could even be the most insignificant thing, but you can tell it eats them up inside. These are the people who are seemingly stressed out all the time.

On the other hand, you have people who are cool as cucumber all the time. They rarely get stressed or anxious, and when they do, you can tell it’s for a good reason (not because they’re disappointed with how the Joker looks in Suicide Squad).

So you have people who are easily stressed, and others who are quite robust to stress. This still doesn’t answer the question of how they react to stress, but it can give you some key information on whether or not you will need to concentrate on how you react to stress.

Does the athlete have a positive or negative response to anxiety or stress?

Here is the important thing. Like we discussed above, a highly stressed individual can still be successful. Just like a highly unstressed person can be very unsuccessful.

In terms of powerlifting, being stressed can be a positive or a negative depending on the your disposition. Are you so anxious for your opening attempt that you get red lit because you are so hyped you forget your commands? Or are you the guy in the back who looks like they are about to snap, yet goes onto the platform and looks calm and collected then WRECKS the weight?

If you were negatively affected by stress, then taking measures to reduce your stress would improve your performance (obviously). If stress makes you perform poorly in training and competition then simply finding methods to reduce or circumvent stress may improve performance.

On the other hand you can find people who are highly stressed and can troubleshoot methods to harness that stress into strength. From what I’ve seen it’s pretty rare for someone who is usually negatively affected by stress to all of a sudden be positively affected by it. Usually, the negative stresses of competition become less and less stressful over time and that leads to success.

I’d like to go over an example of how I allowed this to negatively affect me at my last meet. I was on the second flight and a few of the lifters I knew on the first flight mentioned how there was a judge who has judging incredibly strict. My opener was easy, I nailed it.  For my second attempt, I was a little nervous. I was anxious and afraid that my depth (which had only been an issue one other time in my entire competition career) wasn’t going to be good enough.

I got under the bar and absolutely buried my squat… To a falt. It was too deep and I ended up failing the lift. My training partner/coach for the day told me I went way too deep. On the third attempt I had the right amount of depth, but just didn’t have the strength left in me. This is an example of how a competitor can react negatively to stress.

Attitude Towards Events and Participants In Sports

I’m not sure this is one of the most important ones, but it’s something I wanted to discuss. This is one of the psychological issues that’s most expressed over social media. You’ll notice a lot of powerlifters who go on social media and bitch and complain about organizations and other competitors.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I completely support that. However, you won’t see too many of the top guys bitching and complaining about stuff on the Internet. They’re actually training, and learning, and getting better.

People who are negative towards their sport all the time are usually the ones who aren’t successful. Keep that in mind.

For me personally, I try and keep to myself when it comes to powerlifting. Sure there are things I may disagree with but I just tend to keep my head down and just go out there and compete. I’m not an “excuses guy.” I’ve been red lit before for squat depth, I’ve had some questionable deadlift calls, but I don’t dwell on these and go on social media and bitch about judging.

It’s the lifters responsibility to leave no doubt in the judges’ eyes that you perfectly executed a lift.

Powerlifting is a solo sport. What other people are doing has zero impact on you. Which is why I don’t understand why lifters are constantly getting butt hurt and sticking their noses in other peoples bidness.

 

Mood State

Mood state encompasses many of the points I’ve already covered. Are you positive or negative? Do you let things bother you easily? How do you respond to adversity, or pain? Are you happy, or sad?

Just like everyone else athletes are human beings; they have families and social lives that can drastically affect performance. A high level athlete can be in tip top physical shape, but if his mood straight up sucks because his wife is divorcing him or his kids won’t talk to him, that’ll mess you up. Look at Tiger Woods.

Mood state is something that is largely out of your hands. You will find when you are preparing for a meet for instance, everything in life is going well, you aren’t stressed, you have a lot of support and you are generally very happy. This is when you know you are probably dialed in and ready to break some PR’s come meet day.

Other times, you might go through a rough break up, your training partner moved to a new country, and your motivation to train is wavering. In this case, you can still have a good cycle, but it depends on how you recover. Can you recover quickly? Can you separate your need to win from a psychologically draining mood state?

Some people can, I think many cannot.

 

This is just a sample of many psychological factors that can affect performance. Hopefully you were able to identify something that might be holding you back and you can address the issue going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be A Fitness Tester Pt II: Resistance Training

Last week I went over part 1 on how to begin adding new methods into your diet regimen instead of arguing about it and discussing it ad nauseam.  We covered the dogma-trendy spectrum and how one should attempt to be in the middle of the spectrum or at least move towards the middle.

Today we go over training, another convoluted area, where yet again you have access to so much information.  The sad fact is just like nutrition, much of this information is simply bunk.  There are now some reputable sites that constantly churn out good stuff, but these resources are few and far between.

Let’s get into the fun stuff.

 

Spectrum Business

When it comes to weight training, the spectrum I covered last time still applies, but less so.  You have more mobility on the spectrum with people tending to go through periods of stagnation (or simply being on a program).  You also have “program hoppers” or people who never give programs a long enough trial period to reap benefits from said program.

The spectrum is still the same with just different titles, instead of dogma we’ll use stagnation.  Instead of trendy, we’ll go with program hoppers.

 

Stagnation —————————————————————————–Program Hopper

 

I find a lot of lifters move through both of ends of the spectrum.  One of the differences between training and nutrition is that if your program is actually good, there isn’t a need for change in order to be progress.  I’ve ran programs for 8+ months and made progress the whole times.  I have clients who have run programs for 4-5 months and still made progress.

The issue most many run into when running a program is boredom.  Depending on the person, some may simply get bored by a program even if they are making sick progress.  Some people just can’t be content with a good thing I guess.

When I refer to stagnation I’m referring to a lack of progress while following a program for an extended period of time.

The struggles real
The struggles real

Let’s turn our attention to the program hoppers of the world.  These are the ladies and gentleman who tend to look the same, never get stronger yet bust their asses in the gym all the time.  It’s really frustrating when I see these people because you can tell they want results, and are even putting in the effort in the gym to achieve them.  They just change things so damn often that they essentially see zero results. (If that sounds like Crossfit to you then you’re right)

If you are constantly swapping exercises, changing rep schemes, changing volumes, changing intensity in an unordered fashion, you won’t make progress.  It’s that simple. Conversely, you might actually even make progress only to lose it by making changes that are completely unnecessary and unwarranted.

Let’s go over an example of each.

 

Stagnant Steve

Steve is 22. He’s been training since he was 17.  He’s also been doing the exact same routine since he was 17.  Literally the exact same one he found on some website.  When he started he made some damn good gainz. He went from 150 to 175 in 4 months.  He got a hell of a lot stronger as well.

Unfortunately, he is still 175 and his strength really hasn’t increased noticeably. He works incredibly hard, and the fact he isn’t bored to death by doing the exact same thing for 5 years might be even his most impressive feat.

The thought of switching to something else has crossed his mind but he’s still holding onto the results this particular program gave him in the past.

 

Program Hopper Pete

Pete is 28. He’s been training since he was 22.  In 6 years he’s been on approximately 20 programs. Of these 20 programs, he’s had periods of following each one to a T, but after two weeks, he decides to bastardize them to “work on his weaknesses” and “confuse his muscles.”

My thoughts
My thoughts on Pete

Pete wants to get stronger and bigger but just can’t seem to figure out what to do.  He’ll hop on a program that does actually work, then get a upset he hasn’t made progress after two weeks…

After not making progress in two weeks he changes a few things. He cycles his main exercise, he changes all of his assistance exercise, he changes all his reps, he changes his training frequency, and on and on.

So what are these two gentlemen to do to become a little more mobile on the spectrum? Let’s go over that now.

Stagnant Steve

He needs to:

  • jump on a new program, or make some big changes to his current one (refer to the final section in this article for the changes)
  • move to something more intensity based for a short period of time before returning to volume work (assuming his current program is volume intensive, which I can guess would be)
  • begin implementing conjugation (changing exercises) and undulation (changing reps)
  • experiment with training frequency.  Maybe cut a day or two, add a day or two, or even keep the training days the same but perform certain lifts more frequently (squats and bench for example)
  • understand when a program has run it’s course
  • not worry that all his gainz will be erased by trying something new

 

Program Hopper Pete

He needs to:

  • stop making changes so often.  He should go on a program as is for at least 2 months before implementing changes.
  • needs to understand that certain exercises should not be changed (the main exercises in 5/3/1 for example).  **This isn’t to say these exercises should never be changed, but in a newb, this rule applies.**
  • be more process focused, instead of outcome focused
  • maybe even hire a coach
  • be patient and understand strength doesn’t happen overnight

As you can see both of these guys need to move away from the far end of the spectrum towards the middle.  Like I mentioned before, sometimes being a Stagnant Steve isn’t such a bad thing.  Guys like Mike Tuscherer have been running a their programs for years without going off it.  Their programs are more of a philosophy, but the general rules stay the same.

If you find a program that works for you and you are constantly gaining strength and size, and are having fun while doing it, there is no reason to switch to something new.  Remember that.

Tests You Can Run Today

In my last article I went over tests you can begin implementing immediately.  Let’s briefly go over these.

  • Conjugate your exercises.  You don’t have go Westside on this shit and change exercises every damn week.  In fact please do not do that.  Generally, I like to stick with a main exercise (barbell back squat, barbell deadlift, barbell bench press).  If you are going through some serious plateaus you might think about changing them to a close variation.  You can conjugate your assistance exercises much more frequently (especially single joint exercises.  How frequently? Every 3-8 weeks.
  • Undulate your training.  This simply means you change your sets and reps on a semi regular basis.  You should be going in and doing 5×5 for a year straight (unless you are still making progress than keep on keeping on).  You might start with 3×5, 4×5, 5×5, then 3×6, 4×6, 5×6.  This is just a very simple and dumbed down example.
  • Change your sets and reps.  This is pretty much the same point as the one above but it bears repeating.  If you are constantly working up to a single on bench and it hasn’t moved in 5 years, try adding days where you are setting rep PR’s, or volume PR’s, these will make you stronger so when you eventually go back to a 1RM, you will, you know, actually be stronger.
  • Reduce training frequency.  If you’re training 6x/week, go down to 3, 4, or 5. If you are benching 3x/week (let’s be honest you aren’t squatting 3x per week) try reducing that to 2 and increase volume.
  • Increase training frequency.  If you’re training 3x/week go up to 4, 5, or 6. If you are training the squat and bench once a week increase to 2x/week, then go up from there.  Make sure to reduce volume.
  • Switch your training split. If you are training with a body part split move to an upper/lower split, or even a full body split.

This list is incredibly brief.  Perhaps I’ll elaborate more on each post if I get any interest. There are so many variables you can manipulate and test during training.

Key points I want you to remember.  Don’t be stubborn when you aren’t progressing, make the necessary changes. Don’t be that ADHD dude who jumps to whatever is popular and make zero progress for years on end.

Lastly, have some sort of plan and execute it.  You should allow for some variation in that program, but you should have a general idea of what you want to accomplish.

Be A Fitness Tester Pt I: Nutrition

I’ve thought long and hard about this numerous times. Everyone knows the Internet doesn’t “lend and hand” to the option of testing.

Why?

Everything is already out there for you to grab with a click of your mouse. You want a diet to try out? You’ve heard about IF so you go and check out Martin Berkhan. You want a strength program? You go and check out Stronglifts.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty let me first off make one point clear. If you have hired a coach, you have given up a certain degree of freedom. This means you should trust him or her to have your best interest in mind, and testing becomes less of an issue. Still, if you have a good relationship with your coach and are interested in trying something out, you should feel free to run it by him or her to see what their thoughts are, perhaps it’ll be something you can implement.

Now, I want to separate this issue into two simple subjects: nutrition and resistance training. I’m splitting this post in two parts, so stay tuned for my bit on resistance training next week.

 

Nutrition

 The issue of nutrition is always somewhat comical for those looking to do it themselves. You usually tend to get two main types of people:

  1. The dogmatic dude
  2. The trendy hipster

Let’s cover both of these, as they are kind of two ends of a spectrum:

Dogma ——————————————————————Trendy

When I mean dogmatic I am talking about always sticking to your guns and being closed minded.

You know whom I mean. The 40-year-old bodybuilder, who still eats 6x/day, still thinks low fat diets reign supreme, and loathes everything that’s not HIT.

We get it dude, you’re stuck in your ways.

Even though pretty much everything you have done has been debunked, you just keep on rocking on. The issue comes into play when he begins having some cognitive dissonance. Does he need to eat 6x/day even though he feels crap doing it and feels like he has a second job because preparing food takes so much damn time?

This is where experimentation and testing where n=1 comes into play. But will he be too scared to test? Will the thought of losing 20+ years of hard plus gains be too much to handle because he’s thinking of decreasing his meals to only 4x/day and hitting each body part more often than once per 9 days?

The horror!!!

When I mention the trendy hipster, I mean the dude or girl, who tries IF for a month, then is Paleo for a month, and then does a juice fast for a week, followed by some new horseshit that Dr. Oz is peddling. You get the idea…

imgres-1This is the lady, or gentleman who looks like they’ve done crossfit for the past 5 years. Which is to say they don’t look like they’ve stepped in a gym (u mad?). They never make much progress in terms of body composition. Even in strength they won’t make much if any progress (we’ll be going over this next post).

The reason?

They hop around so god damned much that they simply can’t make any progress. There is something to be said for an individual who puts their head down and just grinds away at IIFYM, or changing habits on a regular basis. These things take time.

I have clients don’t have a lot of experience tracking macros. They will report to me after the first week and be upset because they were under their carb target by 16 grams… I tell them not to worry about it. Seriously, it will get better. You just need to practice.

What I’m trying to say is the trendy prick simply doesn’t improve his abilities at developing a calorie or food awareness. If you don’t develop one or either of those qualities you will be constantly spinning your wheels. Jumping on the newest fad will be a catalyst for wheel spinning.

I would prefer people to find a medium between the two. The scientific circle jerk community tends to actually be closer to the trendy end of the spectrum because there is always new research being released, which may or may not end up having any utility. So being “cutting edge” can still make you a trendy hipster.

I think that both ends of the spectrum can actually learn from each other. Let’s go over what they can draw from each other to become testers in a more productive manner.

If you can identify with the either of the descriptions above you know what category you may be in.  I try not to be a categorical thinker (hence the spectrum) but in this case try and pick and choose what bullet points will offer the most value to the issues you are having.

 

Dogmatic Dude:

  • Being skeptical is awesome, and I tend to be the same way. However you need to keep an eye on what others are doing to see what is working.
  • Once you begin to research a new idea, understand if it would fit your lifestyle. Some people get migraines from fasting for too long, this means it’s a simple call to skip it.
  • images-1
    If you haven’t noticed, I’m not going to be sending this dude a Christmas card anytime soon.

    Keep reading and attempt to stay up to date with new research even if it’s only in its infancy. It could end up being a game changer (but more than likely will be the next bullshit you see on Dr. Oz)

  • If there is something you have been doing for years but simply don’t enjoy anymore, research alternatives. Reducing meal frequency is a huge one. Or eliminating a food that bores that hell out of you.

 

Trendy Hipster:

  • Looking at history can be smart for these types. People 50+ years ago were stronger and more jacked than you. Look at what they did before the Paleo evolution started and learn something from the past
  • Not everything new has to be tested
  • If you find something you like and it’s working, grind it out for a while like dogmatic dude and get better at that area (maybe that’s eating less protein, or some crazy idea like that)
  • If you aren’t making any progress, find a diet or philosophy that works for you and stick to it until you begin to understand why it works
  • Sometimes taking a break from reading all your favourite blogs is a good idea. It allows your mind to wander on it’s own and not be influenced by other people.

 

Tests You Can Run Today

  • Change meal frequency
  • Change portion sizes
  • Add/subtract fasting
  • Try IIFYM
  • Take a step back from IIFYM and work on single habits like protein intake, eating more veggies at every meal, begin cutting down calorie containing beverages. For bulkers: eat a tonne of trail mix, add fats to your all your meals. The possibilities here are endless
  • If you’ve been doing IIFYM and only eating boring rabbit food and animal flesh. Try adding some crappy carbs that everyone loves. Breakfast cereals, every You Tubers favourite: pop tarts (I find these to taste like cardboard mixed with horseshit). You may be surprised by how a lack in any negative effects on your body composition and performance

These are just a few simple tests you can begin right away. Don’t even read about it, just dive in head first to something you’ve wanted to try. It’ll provide a great change and will hopefully make your life simpler while maximizing your gains. After you give it at least 2 months trial then please feel free to argue about it on the internet.