Training

Arthur Lynch - 5 more strength training tips and things I’m thinking about

5 more strength training tips and things I’m thinking about

1. Consider dripping some water on your legs for deadlifting if your legs are “too massive”

I’m a reasonably ok Deadlifter. At the time of writing this I have an over three times bodyweight Sumo stance deadlift (300kg@90BW) and I could probably get about 255-260kg in a conventional stance. An issue that has caused me a great deal of frustration in recent times is my legs being “too big” and getting in the way of the bar. If I stand up straight and contract my quads they will protrude way out over the line of my shins if viewed from the side.

This creates a huge problem for me when deadlifting as my quads create so much friction on the bar that locking out has become extremely difficult for me. So my initial solution was to use baby powder. This works just fine in a Powerlifting meet and is perfectly legal in most (if not all federations) to the best of my knowledge. However, the stuff goes EVERYWHERE! This can create quite a serious safety hazard in a busy commercial gym and what’s even worse is that it looks like chalk so people would think nothing of it if they walked over it. It got so bad that I had to find a small space in the corner of the gym beside a fire exit where I could go out and apply the powder before every set, then chalk my hands and shoes so I wouldn’t slip.

I was pretty fed up of this so I decided to give baby oil a try. All of the lubrication, none of the mess on the floor, and what’s better still I usually don’t have to apply more for each set. Just make sure to clean the oil off the bar (and yourself obviously) once you’re finished.

 

 

Problem solved right? Not exactly. There were two issues with this. Firstly, it made my legs so lubricated that locking out became EASY! The problem with this is that it didn’t transfer to a competition setting where baby oil is not permitted. The second issue was that it completely discoloured my shorts, I’ve been unable to get them back to their original colour since.

So my solution now is to simply dribble some water on my legs, it aids in reducing friction of the bar. But it doesn’t make it so much easier that the lockout becomes lightning quick (which did happen with the oil). Just be sure to chalk your shoes and you’re good to go.

2. Stop looking for the “secret”, or magical “quick fix” you know what you have to do

A few years back when I deadlifted 200kg for the first time, as soon as I put the bar back down on the floor I quickly reached for my shaker to take a sip. It contained some protein or branched chain amino acids and some dextrose or something else fairly benign like creatine. Another gym user then approached me, “Man that was some lift, was that 200?” he said to me, “Thank you, yeah it was, it was pretty hard though” I replied. He responded fairly quickly, “So am, what exactly are you taking in there?”. Now to be fair, the man probably never meant to cause any offence, nor was he impolite in any way at all. However, looking back it was indicative of many gym-goers who see someone who looks better or lifts more than they do, so they automatically attribute this to some quick fix (“Ahh, you’re taking something though”). Those in the know will understand what that “something” is. The fact of the matter is I have just trained consistently for many years and accumulated a reasonable amount of strength over time, nothing spectacular, but if you are consistent and strive to keep improving over time then you will eventually accomplish something fairly impressive. When someone expresses frustration at their lack of training progress to me, I always refer back to when I got stapled under 70kg on the bench press back when I was just starting out in college, a staff member was on the verge of kicking me out of the gym. Now not only do I work in that same gym, I can rep out with double that amount of weight. Just remember that it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a lot of time. That was nearly 6 years ago. So stop looking for a quick fix and just accept that in order to get to where you want to be, you will have to be consistent with your training, diet and lifestyle habits, give yourself a realistic goal (and timeframe to achieve it) and continue to strive for small improvements in the short term as these are what will add up over the long haul to bring you to where you want to be.   

3. If you’re anyway serious about your training goals, don’t do German Volume Training (GVT)

Just say no to GVT (i.e. 10 sets of 10 reps). If you just want to feel flogged at the end of your session and don’t really care about how much you’re lifting or if your performance is improving then by all means do GVT. If your goal is to feel better, add some muscle, look better, get stronger, reduce the likelihood of injury or improve your performance in any sport, then there is just no logical reason for doing 10 sets of 10. But time and again I see a some skinny runt, wondering why he’s not getting bigger or stronger and I ask him about his training, his face lights up and he responds with “Oh I’m doing German Volume Training, it’s really tough”, he also tells me how he “never stops eating”. Then I ask him how much his lifts have increased since he started the program, the increase (if any) isn’t exactly spectacular. GVT just isn’t appropriate for most people, it is too much volume to recover from, it doesn’t allow for much progression week to week, the quantity of reps involved means that form will probably be compromised at some point in the session and it doesn’t really leave you with much time or energy to do any more than 2 or maybe 3 exercises, so muscle imbalances (and possibly an injury) are likely to occur.

 

4. What makes an “Expert”?

Nowadays anyone with a few months to a year of training experience or who seems to have put on a reasonable amount of muscle mass is now an “expert”. “I was fat and now I have a six pack so that means I should be telling you how to diet and train”. This is absolute nonsense for the following reasons:

  • N = 1 Meaning our new “Expert” has only ever worked on/experimented with one subject (i.e. him or herself).
  • Our “Expert” may be a complete idiot who just so happens to have the best genetics in the land (or they respond exceptionally well to drugs in some cases).
  • Whilst the crazy diet plan of our “Expert” may have worked perfectly for them, giving that same diet to someone else unless you are fully qualified to do so (i.e. a registered Dietitian who has spent years studying Dietetics and Nutrition) could potentially end very badly, particularly if any pre-existing health conditions the client may have aren’t taken into account.
  • The “Expert’s” training program is likely to be at best unscientific and produce poor results and worst case scenario may even injure another person.

Now with that out of the way, who could be considered a genuine “Expert” in this field (training and/or nutrition?

  • A trainer with a solid base of education. This may include a Degree yet I have seen plenty of incompetent trainers with even Honours Class Degrees in the field under their belt. On the other hand I know of some extremely intelligent and well-informed trainers who were college drop-outs. Some certifications are genuinely quite good (for example UKSCA, NASM, Precision Nutrition) but the majority are not worth the paper they are printed on so always be skeptical of these.
  • A trainer should have a solid base of experience. If you’re getting Olympic Weightlifting Coaching from someone who has never Olympic Weightlifted properly, for your own sake find a new coach! A trainer should be in the trenches themselves or at least have done in the past. Ideally he/she should be a competitive athlete. However this needs to be done in conjunction with their education as the two feed off of each other. Education without practical experience is in comprehensive and vice-versa, to quote Ciaran O Regan "There’s a difference between someone who has knowledge and someone who can impart knowledge."

In other words, someone who is purely an academic and hasn’t the experience built up as a practitioner isn’t in an ideal position to be coaching clients (the problem with a lot of sport science graduates who go straight into coaching full time without building up their coaching experience while they were completing their degree in my opinion).

  • The trainer should be constantly striving to get better. This includes furthering their education (particularly in this rapidly changing industry, you can never stop learning, if a trainer scoffs at the idea of reading, fire him/her), their coaching skills and their own athletic accomplishments. The trainer should be reading books, journal papers and/or research reviews regularly, reading highly regarded science-based blogs (such as Greg Nuckols’ blog, Bret Contreras’ blog, Eric Cressey’s blog, Dean Somerset’s website, Suppversity website, examine.com and Precision Nutrition.com) observing other coaches, watching educational videos and listening to podcasts as much as possible. If all your trainer does is train, watch his favourite bros on YouTube, post Instagram photos and troll on internet forums then his/her “continuing education” is probably sub-optimal.
  • They know the boundaries of their expertise. Expertise is specific to a very small domain. An expert Psychologist is not an expert Physicist, an expert exercise physiologist is not expert dietician. The same holds true for trainers. I am quite competent in the narrow field of general strength training in beginner and intermediate level lifters. If you ask me about some pain that is radiating down along your leg, I will refer you to a specialist, if you are looking to train for Olympic Weightlifting, I will gladly refer you to an Olympic Weightlifting coach that I know and trust. If I did decide to take on a client for Olympic Weightlifting training, not only is there a higher chance of me injuring them, I am not doing what is best for the client. Any trainer or coach should know the scope of their practice and know when to say no.
  • They are humble and open to the possibility of being wrong. Even experts make mistakes. The important thing is for them to acknowledge them, learn from them and move on. A trainer who is open to the possibility of being wrong and is not dogmatic about things is a trainer you can likely trust.
“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field”
Niels Bohr

 

Why I will never prescribe a pistol squat!

 

And all functional and unilateral training proponents lose their s*** in 3, 2, 1….)

Ok this one is likely to generate some debate/hate. The pistol squat is seen by many as a very “functional” exercise which can be used to train ankle mobility and knee stability. Great stuff! Just one problem though, it is a horrible position to be in*.

So here we see a typical pistol squat being performed. This is a fantastic display of ankle dorsiflexion whilst keeping the heel on the floor and the knee in a stable position. However, look at the man’s spine! I spend a great deal of my time training clients to get out of this flexed posture into a neutral spine position. Training with a flexed lumbar spine is a great way to slash years off your training career and leave you in a lot of pain down the road. Now by not prescribing the pistol squat, are my clients missing out on anything? I severely doubt it, but if they are one can obtain that same knee and ankle position with a deep front squat. Yet I still don’t feel the need to. The majority of clients don’t need to squat this deep and many of them can’t do it safely due to their own anatomy and/or mobility restrictions.

This deep front squat is an excellent display of ankle and hip mobility with a stable knee position and importantly a more neutral spinal position.

Now to satisfy the single-leg training lovers, the position can also be trained with a rear or front foot elevated split squat.

The rear foot elevated split squat

Front foot elevated split squat

Now which movement should you use? I will usually just back squat as it is the most specific to my sport (Powerlifting). Every client I have ever trained has benefited in some way from back squatting and unless you are an athlete or can’t handle a lot of compression and loading then single leg squats aren’t absolutely necessary. For athletes they can be beneficial, so programming them properly allows for both to be trained (for example you could back squat one day and perform a rear foot elevated split squat 3-4 days later, or something to that effect. Another application for single leg squats is in the elderly who can really benefit from the balance training they offer and I have even seen split squats take away a lot of knee pain in elderly women (now the sample size was quite small and the reporting of pain or no pain is a subjective measure so that needs to be taken into account as well).

*Note: There are a very, very small minority of people who can perform the pistol squat with minimal to no lumbar spinal flexion, if you are one of these people keep doing what you’re doing.

 

Closing comments

I hope you enjoyed this blog post in which I discussed some tips for strength trainees, what to look for in a trainer and my thoughts on pistol squats/single-leg training in general. If you like what you read then you can contact me at citygymlk@gmail.com, type "Arthur" under subject line

Arthur Lynch - Dealing with the disappointment of a bad training session

Dealing with the disappointment of a bad training session

 

This article aims to deal with a very specific time in a person’s life, the sad feels immediately after a bad training session (not a workout, a term which implies you do no train for anything in particular)

Don’t worry friend, all gains have not been lost!

 

To illustrate this point I will use myself as an example. A few months back I was due to bench press 140kg for 4 sets of 4 reps. Going into the session I knew it was very doable.  Set one went well, set 2 was very tough but I got 4 reps. Then came set three…everything fell apart! After a slow second rep, I descended for my third and got stuck on the chest. I tried to make up the missed volume by adding extra sets but in reality, my head was gone, I was out of the game. Then we moved onto Overhead press. More missed reps! The same thing happened on Dumbbell Bench Press and at this point I was just fed up and left.

Then a few days later I was due to hit 88kg for 4 sets of 2 on the overhead press. After what felt like a very, very heavy first set of two it started happening again. I started missing reps again. Then my shoulder started bugging me (probably from my degraded technique). Then I started warming up for bench press with the goal of hitting 4 sets of 7 with 120kg. However, after my second warm up set I decided to stop. I had realised that my head was not in the game and that continuing was doing me more harm than good. So I abandoned the session, did some low-load blood flow restriction training for 30 minutes and got the hell out of there!

At this point after having two bad sessions it’s easy to feel frustrated, feel like all gains are lost, FOREVER! And you should feel like that, because you know you’ll never be in the gym ever again after that, you won’t ever have another opportunity to make up for those bad sessions. In case you can’t tell I’m being extremely sarcastic. The reality is you will be back in the gym again soon and you’ll probably smash those numbers sooner than you might think.

4 days later I repeated that second session described above. I hit 90kg for 4 sets of 2 on the overhead press and 120kg for 4 sets of 8 on the bench! 2 weeks later I repeated the first training session described above and got 4 sets of 4 reps on the bench press (with the potential to do a fifth set) and didn’t miss anymore reps on the other exercises in the rest of the session.

What changed?

Surely I didn’t get that much stronger in a few days. Well, in the aftermath of a bad session, you have to analyse where you went wrong. According to Elite FTS owner, Coach, former Powerlifter and Bodybuilder Dave Tate, missed lifts always come down to any one (or a combination of ) 3 factors: Physical, Technical or Mental. We will use this as a framework for why my sessions were going poorly!

 

1. Physical:

  • Did you eat enough today and yesterday?
  • Did you perform any activities in the last 48 hours that may have left you in a fatigued state coming in to this session?
  • Did you get to bed early enough and did you get enough high quality, uninterrupted sleep last night?
  • When did you last train and have you any lingering muscle soreness or fatigue in general?
  • Have you grinded much in your training sessions recently (i.e. have you recorded a lot of RPE’s in the 9-10 range) (Zourdos et al. 2015)?
  • How stressful is your life lately? Are any of your relationships with any of your family members, work colleagues or your significant other causing you to stress out lately?
  • Is there anything going on in your life that is causing you a lot of stress (e.g. money worries, a loved one very sick, work very stressful this week etc.)?

These are all the questions you have to ask at this point. And one stressful event that eats into your recovery ability can have a knock-on effect on another factor. For example, you may be well able to recover from a heavy deadlift session and able to train the bench press the next day no problem, under normal, low stress conditions. However when things get hectic at work, to the point you get stressed out and you start to miss meals accidentally. Then you accidentally snap at your friend who means well but just manages to say the wrong thing to you at the wrong time (Edit, Arthur really hurts our feelings when he's hungry). Then you land yourself in a big, stressful argument, which serves to further deplete your recovery sources. Then you go and do that brutal deadlifting session. Think you’re in an optimal state to recover before your next session now? This is illustrated brilliantly in Figure 4.6 below. Which is taken from Greg Nuckols and Omar Isuf’s recent e-book “The science of Lifting” (highly recommended by the way, they’re much more intelligent than me).The blue line represents recovery capabilities under low stress conditions, whereas the red curve represents recovery capabilities under stressful (i.e. compromised) conditions.

 

 

2. Mental:

  • Have you been looking forward to this session or do you not even want to be in the gym today (this can be indicative of over-reaching)?
  • Was your arousal level optimal before this session/set (see Figure 1)?
 Figure 1 - Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U-Theory of optimal arousal levels for a given task

Figure 1 - Yerkes-Dodson Inverted U-Theory of optimal arousal levels for a given task

  • Were you overthinking the lift before you attempted it?
  • Had you in your head, 100% convinced yourself you were going to get it?
  • Was your mind elsewhere (the stress inducing factors mentioned previously for example)?
  • Did you draw on a memory of a past performance that did not go well for you (i.e. did you think of another previously missed lift)?
  • What was your training environment like? Were you training on your own or were you with others who support you and help motivate you to lift better?

3. Technical:

  • Did you change your usual bar speed, particularly on the eccentric (i.e. if you went much slower on your descent for some reason)?
  • Was your breathing/bracing off?
  • Was your bar path off? Why? (For example sometimes I can bring the bar down too low on my chest and/or over-tuck my elbows if I get nervous on a bench press)
  • Was something not kept tight enough (e.g. core, legs, upper back)
  • (Note: This is a key example of why it’s crucial to video your sets, and from an angle that provides as much feedback on the movement as possible).

Analysis:

On reflection, that week of poor training was accompanied by some very hectic days at work and some nights of poor sleep. With me being someone who pushes hard regularly and leaves little room for error, something even as small as that can put me off. I also noticed that when I was lifting the bar out of the rack on the bench press that I was losing upper back tightness. Finally, and this last one may be related to nerves but my bar path was very inconsistent particularly on the way down (the eccentric portion) from rep to rep. So I also addressed this in the next session.

Now in my own scenario, I was able to address my poor sleep and hectic increase in stress at work. Someone else may not be as capable of dealing with these outside stressors. For these people the most important thing is to be aware of these external influences. We’re not robots that just move bars up and down. So many different factors go into determining whether or not you’re going to perform well in the gym or not. Outside stressors have a profound effect, particularly on advanced lifters. I would recommend you back off in training (especially your volume) and a little bit in intensity if necessary as well. Perhaps take an extra rest day between sessions to allow you to recover better. Outside of that, always attend to your form (but you should be doing that anyway). Finally, keep calm! Nothing good comes from getting frustrated and giving up. You have to accept that whilst X stressor is around, recovery resources and adaptation capacity are going to be compromised. But once X stressor becomes less and less or if you adjust your training accordingly, progress can still be made long term.  



References:

Nuckols, G. and Isuf, O. (2015) The Science of Lifting.

Yerkes, R. M. and Dodson, J. D. (1908) "The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation",Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18(459–482).

Zourdos, M.C., Klemp, A., Dolan, C., Quiles, J.M., Schau, K.A., Jo, E., Helms, E., Esgro, B., Duncan, S., Merino, S.G. and Blanco, R., 2016.Novel Resistance Training–Specific Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale Measuring Repetitions in Reserve.The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(1), pp.267-275.

            

5 Strength Tips from Arthur Lynch

5 Strength Training Tips from Arthur Lynch

 

 1. Stop thinking about your deadlifts.

After coaching dozens of people (particularly beginners and intermediates) I can honestly say the number one biggest mistake I see time and again on deadlifts is over-thinking the lift. What usually happens is the client/lifter will go very quiet (indicative of them being caught up in their own thoughts), assume the start position, grip the bar and stay down there for 5-10 seconds. After wasting those valuable seconds they’ll finally go to lift, the bar will usually come up a few inches or maybe even just past the knees and then stall. A missed lift! The inexperienced me would probably have said “Ah, they must need more lockout work” or something to that effect. Whereas in actual fact they need to walk up to the bar, take a massive breath of air into their stomach, then grip and rip, no more about it. The deadlift isn’t overly technical, especially compared to say the bench press, overhead press or any of the squat variants. You can afford to walk up quickly and just go straight to it, even if you are ever so slightly off with your hands or feet, and you will lift far more than if you go down and wait around for a few seconds. Fred Hatfield (aka Dr Squat) has spoken about how in his deadlift training he would sometimes perform a vertical jump, land and then immediately go into his deadlift in order to obtain the benefit of a stretch reflex which you don’t get from a regular deadlift as it is purely a concentric movement that begins from the bottom position. Even though his grip on the bar may not have been perfect (e.g. one hand might be slightly too far out) he still benefited from this technique. If you assume the start position of a deadlift, then waste 5-10 seconds down in the bottom position, any kind of muscular rebound (or stretch reflex) will be lost and you’ll likely have to exhale and take another breath which will cause you to lose tightness. It’s analogous to a paused squat. Because you are able to obtain the benefit of a stretch-shortening cycle in a regular squat, you can lift more than in a paused squat where some of that stored energy within the muscles has dissipated.

 2. Buy some fractional plates

So your first few months of training you can easily add another 2.5kg to the bar each week. This will continue indefinitely right? Whilst that would be lovely it’s not going to happen. As you become more experienced strength gains are going to become smaller and harder to obtain. As a consequence I recommend you buy yourself some fractional weight plates. If you have the money these can be bought online for a ridiculous price. Alternatively, you can buy and use washers with an internal diameter of 2 inches. These usually weigh about 240-250 grams and are ideal for making small incremental increases in your lifts when standard 2.5kg increases are just not possible. Personally, I find these absolutely invaluable for training the Overhead Press, where 0.5-1kg can make a big difference to the lift. I also know many Olympic Weightlifters who regularly use them. 

 A worthwhile investment

 3. Bring a camera to the gym

Let’s say you’re about to do a max set of 5 on squats and you ask your training partner to check your form for you. After finishing the set, what is the worst thing your training partner can say to you? Well it would be something along the lines of “Oh you killed it bro, great job!”. Whilst positivity  is welcome, this kind of feedback provides no useful information on how you can improve your squat. Maybe your hips are shooting up too soon, maybe your knees aren't tracking properly, maybe your upper back isn't tight enough, maybe your heels are lifting off the floor a little, you’re breathing technique is incorrect or maybe the bar path is slightly off. A lot to consider isn't it? Well the best solution is to bring a camera and a small tripod a film your work sets. This is most objective way of providing feedback on how you are performing on your lifts and where improvements can be made. The trick is where to position it. Taking the example of our squats once more, if you have a problem with your knees caving inward, then record form the front, if your hips coming up too soon or moving backward is the problem then record from the side or if you want to keep an eye on your back tightness then record from the back. Simples.

This camera angle provides a detailed view of the lifter’s knee tracking, amongst other things

 4. Make your squat walk-out as efficient as possible

This is small technical tweak I only just recently adopted, but it does appear to help quite a bit. When walking out my squats, I used to just assume my squatting stance, get under the bar, take it out and walk back. However Ben Esgro (A Powerlifting and Bodybuilding coach I highly recommend) outlines in an excellent Squat tutorial that I will link below how this is not the most efficient way to walkout the bar (a long one but highly informative). Instead, assume the stance you would for a conventional deadlift, with your feet pointing straight ahead of you in a narrow stance, like a vertical jump stance. Then once under the bar and when you have taken your air in, simply stand up, then walk back into your squat stance (with hopefully only 2 steps).

Click here for: Squat Tutorial

 5. If you’re an Olympic-lifter you can learn from a Bodybuilder.  If you’re Powerlifter you can learn from an Olympic-lifter. If you’re a Bodybuilder you can learn from a Crossfitter. If you’re a Crossfitter you can learn from a Powerlifter and any of the above can all learn something from each other

Long story short, all lifters can learn something useful from each other. Bodybuilders can learn from some of the crazy stuff Crossfitters do which happens to get them crazy jacked looking. Crossfitters can learn from Powerlifters how to just get strong which is the foundation for all other forms of athleticism. Powerlifters can learn from Bodybuilders how to build bigger muscles, which is essentially like upgrading the engine in your car to a bigger and more powerful one. It is well known in the scientific literature that there is a strong correlation between the cross-sectional area of a muscle and its ability to produce force (i.e. strength) (Schoenfeld 2010). The Powerlifter can learn from the Olympic Weightlifter how to increase their squat, and the Bodybuilder can learn from an Olympic Weightlifter how to squat properly for optimal leg development. Tom Platz, the man with probably the most famous legs in Bodybuilding history learned how to squat from Olympic Weightlifters. So to sum up, all lifters can learn from each other, so swallow your ego right now and be more open-minded. We all have our flaws and none of the lifting sports are any different in that respect.

Reference:

Schoenfeld, B. (2010) “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training”, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.