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How to Qualify to Represent the USA at International Championships

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Do you want to represent our country and the USAPL by competing on a national team? There are eight primary international championships that the USAPL participates in. Here’s everything you need to know about how to qualify, purchase team apparel, and remit all team fees . Your Team Head Coach or Manager will give you instructions on what you need to do as a team member and the deadlines for each team.

National Teams:

Qualifying Criteria & Team Selection

Our goal is to field the most competitive teams by adhering to a fair and consistent qualification and selection process. These processes are subject to change and must always first be approved by the USAPL Executive Committee.

Men’s & Women’s Open Teams

The current Open National Champions from the Women’s and Men’s Open National Championships will automatically be a member of the USA Team. If the National Champion of any weight class is unable to honor this appointment, then an additional team member will be selected under the same condition from a rank order listing of all remaining unappointed national competitors. The order will be determined by calculating each lifter’s highest average placing over the past three IPF World Championships, based on his or her total at this qualifying National Championship (Carpino ranking). The lifter with the highest ranking who is not already on the team will be appointed to the USA team, regardless of weight class representation.

2014 Sub-Junior and Junior Team Selection Process

As you know, the subs and juniors select from multiple divisions and multiple championships.  While this helps our talent pool, it also makes things potentially complicated when picking a team.  Our system over the last two years gave us a competitive team.  However, it was far too complicated and unfair in some places.  The following process simplifies the system while eliminating the risk of taking a weak lifter.

  1. The 3rd place average total from the previous 3 world championships will be the benchmark total for lifters to achieve to be automatically selected.
  2. The best total in each weight class from the selection meets will receive the invite to worlds provided they have achieved a 3rd place average total.
  3. Lifters who don’t have the best total in their weight class or who didn’t achieve the 3rd place average will be ranked based on their total vs. that average.

Example 1:  

The 3rd place average total is 800 kilos.

Lifter A wins collegiate nationals with an 815 kilo total.

Lifter B wins junior nationals with an 825 kilo total.

Lifter B would automatically receive the invite to worlds since he has the best total and has achieved the 3rd place average total.

Lifter A would go into the alternate pool.  He achieved 101.8% of the 3rd place average total and will be ranked against other alternates using that percentage.

Example 2: 

The 3rd place average is 605 kilos.

Lifter A has the best total from all of the selection meets with 595 kilos.

Lifter A would go into the alternate pool with a percentage of 98.3% and will be ranked against other alternates using that percentage.

As in prior years, the bodyweight limits at HS nationals will be changed slightly to mirror those of the IPF weight classes.  This process has worked well for us since its inception in 2011.


Men’s & Women’s Masters Teams

The Masters women lifters appointed to represent the USAPL at the IPF Master’s World Championships will be chosen on the basis of highest total achieved in each weight class at the Women’s National Championships (within the two prescribed IPF age groupings, 40-49 and 50-59 years), irrespective of any age group divisions contested that day. Lifters 60-69 will be placed in a pool and the top 5 based on wilks will be selected for the team. Lifters 70+ will be placed in a pool and the top 5 will be selected based on the wilks formula. An individual who is 39 years old at Women’s Nationals and will be turning 40 in the same year MAY be able to compete at the IPF Master’s World Championships per the IPF’s rules of age eligibility. If a lifter of this age is eligible and wishes to compete for a world team position they must notify the team manager of their eligibility and will be included in the pool. All others must enter the Master division to be eligibility for a world team position.

The Masters Men lifters appointed to represent the USAPL at the IPF Master’s World Championships will be chosen on the basis of highest total achieved in each weight class at the Men’s Masters Championships, within the three prescribed IPF age groupings of 40-49, 50-59 and 60-69 years irrespective of any age group divisions contested that day. Lifters 70+ will be placed in a pool and the top 5 will be selected based on the wilks formula. An individual who is 39 years old at Masters Nationals and turning 40 in the same year MAY be able to compete as at the IPF Master’s World Championships per the IPF’s rules of age eligibility.

If the lifter with the highest total is unable to honor this appointment, then the lifter with the second highest total in that weight class will be selected. If the lifter with the second highest total in that weight class is unable to honor this appointment, the additional team members will be selected from an alternate listing of all remaining unappointed National competitors. The order will be determined using each competitor’s Wilks total, based on his or her total at this qualifying National Championship. The lifter with the highest ranking who is not already on the team will be appointed to the USA team, regardless of weight class as long as there are no more than two lifters per weight class.

Men’s & Women’s Open Bench Press Teams

The current Open Bench National Champions from the Men’s and Women’s Open Bench National Championships will automatically be a member of the USA Team. If the Bench National Champion of any weight class is unable to honor this appointment, then an additional team member will be selected from a rank order list of open lifters from Bench Nationals, Powerlifting Nationals, all NAPF, and all IPF contests from the previous 12 months prior to Bench Nationals. The order will be determined by calculating each lifter’s highest average placing over the past three IPF World Championships, based on his or her bench at the Championship used. The lifter with the highest ranking who is not already on the team will be appointed to the USA team, regardless of weight class representation.

Men’s and Women’s Junior and Sub-Junior Bench Press Teams

Lifter benches from Bench Press, Collegiate and High School Nationals Championships will be considered along with the Women’s and Men’s Teen/Junior National Championships in determining the USA Team attending the IPF Sub-Junior/Junior Bench World Championships.

Sub-Junior/Junior division lifters appointed to represent USAPL at the IPF Sub-Junior/ Junior World Championships will be chosen on the basis of highest bench achieved in each weight class at any of the aforementioned championships. The totals achieved in these five National Championships from lifters who fall within the prescribed IPF Junior category will be considered in choosing the USAPL Sub-Junior/Junior World Team. If the lifter with the highest bench is unable to honor this appointment, then the lifter with the second highest total in that weight class will be selected. If the lifter with the second highest total in that weight class is unable to honor this appointment, the additional team member will be selected from a rank order listing of all remaining unappointed National competitors. The order will be determined by calculating each lifter’s Wilks. The lifter with the highest Wilks ranking who is not already on the team will be appointed to the USA team, regardless of weight class.

Men’s & Women’s Masters Bench Press Teams

The Master Women and Men lifters appointed to represent USAPL at the IPF Master’s World Bench Press Championships will be chosen using the following criteria:

  • M1-M2 Women: Best bench in each weight class in preceding year in Master’s divisions of Bench Press Nationals. Each IPF age group will be considered as a separate team. For example, if there is no M1 lifter, M2 lifters may not be automatically substituted. Rather, open positions will be filled from the alternate pool of ranked lifters.
  • M3-M4 Women: 5-M3 Women (60-69 years old) and 5-M4 Women (70 years and over) will qualify to represent the USAPL at the IPF Master’s World Bench Press Championships based on the Wilk’s numbers achieved at Bench Press Nationals.
  • M1-M3 Men: Best bench in each weight class in preceding year in Master’s divisions of Bench Press Nationals. Each IPF age group will be considered as a separate team. Please see the example above.
  • M4 Men: 5-M4 Men (70 years and over) will qualify to represent the USAPL at the IPF Master’s World Bench Press Championships based on the Wilk’s numbers achieved at Bench Press Nationals.

An individual who is 38-39 years old at Bench Press Nationals MAY be able to compete as at the IPF Master’s World Bench Press Championships per the IPF’s rules of age eligibility (see page 5 of this document). If a lifter of this age is eligible and wishes to compete for a world team position they must enter as a guest lifter in the M1 Master’s division. All others must enter the Master division to be eligibility for a world team position.

Each highest qualifier will be offered a position on the team. They must respond to the coach/manager by a published date. This date will be published within one week of the qualifying competition. If those offered a position decline, or fail to respond by the deadline, the highest ranked alternate will be offered a position on the team.

Alternates will be selected based on Wilk’s number rank within the alternate pool they are in. No other factors will be considered.

If the alternate pool from Bench Nationals is exhausted prior to a team being filled, athletes from Master’s Nationals (for men) and Women’s Nationals (for women) will be added to the alternate pool. This may only be done if the alternate pool from Bench Nationals has been exhausted.

If, following this procedure, teams remain unfilled; athletes from the previous year’s World Master Bench Press Championships will be added to the alternate pool. This may only be done if the alternate pool, which includes athletes from Bench Nationals and the appropriate National Championships as defined above, has been exhausted.

If following this procedure, teams remain unfilled; any USAPL member in good standing may be added to the team at the coach’s discretion. Athletes added at the coach’s discretion might not displace an athlete who has been previously selected.

2014  Classic (Raw) World Teams

The implementation of the new IPF weight classes at Raw Nationals allows for a clear and fair system by which to select the World Team. Those athletes who win their weight class and division (Open, Sub-Junior or Junior) will comprise those who will be the first to be invited to represent the USA at the 2014 IPF Classic World Championship.

If an athlete is unable to accept their position: All other competitors at Raw Nationals will be placed in a rank ordered list using each competitor’s wilks total. The athlete with the highest ranking who is not already on a team will be the next to be invited regardless of weight class as long as there are no more than two lifters per weight class.

NAPF Powerlifting Team

The primary aim of the North American Championships is to develop future world team members. Secondly, we want to establish a competitive environment for any national caliber lifter who is looking to gain international powerlifting experience. The thing that makes the NAPF Powerlifting Championships unique is that we can bring lifters to compete in the Tournament of the Americas which a non-scoring branch of the championships. Although these lifters will not be eligible to contribute to the USA team point total but they will still have the same benefits as everyone in terms of medaling and having their results added to the IPF rankings.

The coaching staff will actively recruit the top three lifters from the previous year’s Men’s, Women’s, Masters and Raw National Championships. However, any lifter with a total at any national championships may contact the coaching staff to declare their intentions of competing. Once the coaching staff has acquired a complete list of all individuals who want to compete, we will rank everyone for every possible division. We then assign the lifter with the highest total to each weight class and division the only exception is the reigning national champion will have priority regardless of rank, per the NGB.  All lifters that don’t fit into a scoring team will then be filled into the Tournament of the Americas.

NAPF Bench Press Team

First selection goes to USAPL Men’s & Women’s Open, Masters, Sub-Junior & Junior Bench Press champions.

Second selection criteria are the second place in the USAPL Men’s & Women’s Open, Masters, Sub-Junior & Junior Bench Press champions.

Third selection criteria are chosen from bench press results from USAPL powerlifing national championships.

Fourth selection criteria are coach’s choice from any USAPL sanctioned competition.

 

 

 

There Is Only One Powerlifting Federation

deadliftThis isn’t an article designed to be inflammatory towards other powerlifting organizations. Everything starts from somewhere, and this subject is no exception. In other sports there are sanctioning organizations outside of those which are internationally recognized. But this article isn’t about other sports; its about powerlifting. This topic has been taken up as a passionate cause by many people across the United States and in many circles it’s the proverbial elephant in the room that people ignore. Why is USA Powerlifting the hotly contested sanctioning organization legitimately accepted across all 50 states? The answers can be as simple or as complex as one chooses to make them. In this post I will attempt to make the case that there is only one federation in the United States for those who are serious about powerlifting.

  1. International Affiliation – USA Powerlifting is the United States affiliated member of the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF). The IPF is the world’s oldest and largest international powerlifting organization, with over 100 recognized member countries. Organized and founded in 1971, the IPF is the gold standard in international powerlifting. Succinctly, more world class lifters comprising the sports’ most legendary elite have lifted/lift here than any other powerlifting organization. USA Powerlifting is the ONLY recognized United States affiliate member.
  2. Drug Testing – Before its current iteration, USA Powerlifting was known as the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association (ADFPA) until 1997 when they renamed themselves USA Powerlifting (hereafter known as the USAPL). In November of 1997, they were admitted into the IPF as the United States member. Simply put, the USAPL was formed as a result of the immediate need for drug testing in the sport of powerlifting in order to create an even playing field for all lifters.
    Eric Kupperstein locking out a strong deadlift
    Eric Kupperstein locking out a strong deadlift

    Scholars of the sport contend and agree the USAPL was formed as a means to remediate the problem plaguing the sport at the time. There was pushback from the top of the then current organization and thus the ADFPA (now USAPL) was formed. Drug testing is necessary; it’s needed. If an athlete wishes to use performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) that’s their prerogative, just not in a legitimate internationally recognized drug-free sport. Olympic Weightlifting (from which powerlifting derived) does not have competing organizations for their athletes that turn a blind eye to drug use, the same should be for our sport. No one drug-tests better, to the highest standards, more closely aligned with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) than the USAPL.

  3. Organization – No organization is perfect. No organization goes without conflict or its share of problems. But it is hard to think of any other organization with people who care more for the sport than ours. The USAPL’s executive level of leadership is full of men and women who give countless hours selflessly for no financial or personal gain solely for the growth of our organization. From the USAPL President down to the leadership at each of the state committees, no one gives more and asks for less than our leadership. Referees, table workers, scorers, expediters all volunteer over a dozen hours of their time to put together meets that are as classy as they are efficiently run. We are a well-oiled machine intent on preserving the purity of this sport we care so deeply for.
  4. Storied & Unified – Are other federations close-knit and well run? You bet. So is USA Powerlifting. Our organization has a real passion for developing young lifters dedicated to a lifelong career of drug-free powerlifting from high school, into collegiates, the open team, and later on in life as masters lifters. The emphasis of developing the lifters by surrounding them with leaders who have been instrumental in the sport’s development over the last 50 years is Curipoma_Goldmade clear at every National Championship the USAPL puts on. Our lifters support one another; fierce competitors shake hands and share a beer after a competition. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood closer knit than many families. In a recent international meet, a lifter from another country was severely injured during his 2nd deadlift and came back to miraculously pull for the win against an American lifter. He was immediately rushed back stage where it was revealed that he was in immediate need for an ambulance. No one backstage was bilingual and chaos ensued trying to charade signals for “medical attention”. As the frustration level reached a dangerous high, the American lifter who had just been beaten walked into the area and translated for both the meet director and the injured lifter who had just defeated him, a true class act.
  5. Standards of Performance – Our rules are enforced, there are no exceptions. Every lifter in USA Powerlifting is held to the same strict standards at every competition. From Alaska to California to Texas to Wisconsin to Florida to Massachusetts. In USA Powerlifting, you have to squat deep, fully pause your benches, and perform hitch-free deadlifts. It’s a performance standard of excellence that no other organization can claim. A 900 pound squat in USA Powerlifting is a legitimate lift. Our referees are held to high standards and receive feedback to reinforce the standards set forth by the technical committee and the IPF. Conclusively, powerlifting in USA Powerlifting is as real as it gets, everything else is just that.

There is one federation which represents the purist platform of powerlifting. Consistent rules, the strictest drug-testing standards, and a terrific atmosphere provide the lifter with the best and complete competition experience.

My Very First Powerlifting Meet

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You’re scared, a little sweaty and super nervous. That first step out on the platform with all eyes on you can be intimidating. However, you have done the training, you have squatted, benched, and deadlifted hundreds of times. Yet, you feel like you don’t know what to do. Here are some simple guidelines for shaking those nerves and letting your hard work shine through!

Pre-Meet: Find out your openers about a week before meet. You will need the most time to recover from the squat so determine this opener first, followed by your bench and then your deadlift; though you may have a good idea about what your deadlift opener is without actually lifting.   The week leading up the meet, remember to relax and stretch. A rested body will perform much better than an exhausted one, so avoid any unnecessary training during this week. Stretching is vital during this time to prevent injuries and will allow you to show your full potential up on the platform. And remember, whatever you put into your body will show through your performance. Eat as clean as possible, avoiding toxins like alcohol, illegal drugs, or junk food. Alcohol will dehydrate your muscles, not to mention lifting with a hangover never turns out well.
The night before, make sure all your gear is packed up. For a raw meet you will need a singlet, a tee-shirt, long socks for the deadlift and your choice of lifting shoes. Raw lifters may also have a belt, knee sleeves or wrist wraps. If competing in gear, pack all of the above plus your squat suit, bench shirt, deadlift suit, and knee wraps, or whatever combination of those which you 253340_500300526702772_720011609_nchoose. And don’t forget meals and snacks! Never count on the meet location to have local restaurants or grocery stores. It’s always a good idea to bring a stocked mini cooler. Some good food options are peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, fruit, veggies, or protein bars. If you had to cut weight, drinks with electrolytes such as pedialyte will be very helpful. In either case, drink water throughout the meet. You might also want to pack a candy of some sort for quick energy between lifts. The Northeastern Women’s Powerlifting team is a big proponent for Skittles, but any sugary treat will do.

Day of the Meet: You will need to check in to the meet. Those running the meet will look for your USAPL card, Meet Registration and fee and possibly a form of identification. You will receive a form which you will bring to the official who is weighing participants in. Be on time for your weigh in. These are subject to change, so be prepared. When you show up there, make sure you know your opening attempts for each of the lifts. Frequently the officials weighing competitors in will also be judging the meet, so it’s best to appease them. You will also need to determine your rack heights for squat and bench as well as your benching safeties height. Depending upon the meet, they could ask for this at the weigh-in site so double check with the officials who are at the check in table.
One of the biggest suggestions I can give is to remember your commands while lifting. There is nothing more frustrating than a lifter who is strong enough to lift the weight but gets disqualified for not following the rules. For the squat, lifters must follow the START command before they begin squatting as well as the RACK command before putting the weight away. Also in the squa941038_500302273369264_2026459392_nt, you must ‘break parallel’ as we say, meaning the hip crease must be below the knee for the judge to call it a good lift. In the bench, there are 3 commands: one to START the lift, one to PRESS the lift when it has reached a stable position on your chest, and finally the RACK command. Deadlifting is the most simple, because there is only one command and that is at the end of the lift, for the lifter to as gently as possible, place the barbell DOWN.  There are plenty of other rules which can be found here: http://www.usapowerlifting.com/lifterscorner/USAPLHandbook2.pdf but the ones I have stated are the most important and frequently forgotten under stress.
Post Meet: After completing your first meet, congratulate yourself no matter the outcome. If you ‘bomb’ out (get disqualified) do not be discouraged. Many of the greatest lifters have done it; use it as motivation to work harder. No matter what place you come in, conduct yourself in a respectful manner. Whether you are competing with a team or individually, keep your head held high.. Life will go on whether you finished in first or last, we lift because it’s FUN!
Before leaving the meet, there is a good chance that some awards will be announced. Be respectful of other lifters! Powerlifting is a very small community- everyone knows everyone! Also before the meet closes, the officials will drug test a random 10% of the lifting population. Prescription drugs should be safe, but illegal, and even some over-the-counter supplements will result in a negative drug test. Respect yourself and your teammates, be a clean lifter and train hard… the results will show!

Linear Periodization is Not Your Enemy. . .

It has become obvious to me over the past couple years of coaching and training that when people hear the words “linear” and “periodization” in concert with one another, they automatically turn-off. I haven’t met a single resistance-trained “athlete” that doesn’t consider themselves well-enough experienced in “the art of the iron-game” (to quote Dr. Randall Strossen) to be beyond this “elementary practice.”

I guess I can understand where people can have qualms with this type of training methodology. Sure, the annual macrocycle, bi-monthly mesocycles, and 3-4 week microcycles can get to be tedious, but in reality, how is this any different than any other method out there (with the exception of non-linear periodization. . . more to come later)?

Let’s consider the case of the “Westside method.” Don’t get me wrong, the Westside method is tried and true, and in my opinion, probably the most effective method for training as a powerlifter or strength-specific athlete out there. However, I think it’s necessary to take a bit more critical of an approach to what’s really going on here.

The “Westside philosophy” has adopted/created what they call the “Conjugate” method (which is really a concurrent method. . . not sure of the specifics. . . I’ll get back to you on this one. . .). Basically the idea of this philosophy is that the lifter will rotate their core exercise weekly, which will permit circa maximal efforts on a regular basis. Great! Who doesn’t like moving big-ass weight on a weekly basis? This is where, in my opinion, we become a bit confused with our understandings of training philosophies, and linear periodization is shed in a pejorative light.

As you all know, the idea of exercise rotation (conjugate training) is said to allow the lifter to continually perform max effort workouts every week, all year long (specifically on your ME days). Grip width and modality are continually changed in an effort to ‘stimulate’ additional training responses and recruit different muscles (some may even argue alterations in order of recruitment. . .no one likes neuromuscular physiology, so let’s not get into it. . .). However, I pose the question (I guess it would be rhetorical, but I am always open to new ideas): what are we really doing?

In essence, this exercise rotation does not involve changes in our primary/primal “movement patterns” (I use quotations because this expression, movement patterns, is one of the most overused phrases in my program/department, so I will try to keep its use to a minimum. . .kind of like “proprioception” . . .does anyone really know what this word means? I know I sure don’t, but it gets thrown around an awful lot. . .).

From a strength coaching perspective, we have four basic movements, not including rotary action. These are horizontal and vertical push and pull, for both your upper and lower body. These four movements can be performed either separately, or as a coordinated action, with your two hemispheres (think of your deadlift and powercleans, then wonder why you have tight lats/traps/rhomboids/etc. in addition to the typical hamstring/glute/quad stiffness afterwards). Your prime movements, specifically squat/bench/dead, when executed with “textbook precision,” incorporate all specified movements (“bend the bar over your back,” “drive into the ground and extend the hips,” etc.). This in turn leads one to the realization that the supposed “rotation of exercises” to elicit a different training response, is in reality not changing the overall pattern of movement. Basically, week-in and week-out, performing alternative exercises within the same range of motion, or pattern, we are still just doing the same thing. As is the case with any type of highly repeated movement, we become fatigued, whether we know it or not. This newfound vulnerability will potentially lead to some serious issues, whether musculoskeletal, or neurological (think: plateau). Even with these extensive, weekly exercise changes, the most we are potentially doing is just delaying the inevitable.

I apologize for the pessimism, I’m just trying to further amplify my point. What I am really trying to get at here is a better understanding of other, more important variables that should be manipulated as a means of maximizing your response to training: Work, specifically load and range, and Velocity.

Dynamic effort day, as presented by the “Westside method,” in essence, becomes the most important day of the week for neuromuscular adaptations (see: Hatfield et al., 2006. . . Kraemer was in on this too, if that name sounds more familiar. . .). While not necessarily directly related to load or range, the intent of moving the bar with maximal velocity will lead to the greatest adaptations, hence the application of accommodating resistance e.g. bands and chains (there are so many associated applications of accommodating resistance. . .just put it out of your head for now. . .). It is through improved neural networking and inter/intramuscular coordination and communication that we see our greatest gains in strength. This is then followed by an increase in muscle cross-sectional area, and finally hypertrophy, or increased intramuscular protein content .

Again, another great idea that is included in the “Westside method.” However, we cannot complete our circle of understanding without including the second important variable for improvement: total work. This is, in my opinion, where we confront our primary issue between these two training schemes which leads to potential misappropriation. From the “Westside” articles, total work completed is presented more as a secondary sub-topic. Sure there is mention of “the rule of 60%,” which was adopted from some crazy Soviet methodologies, stating that total work completed (reps X sets) on your ME days should be 60% of the volume done on DE days. A good guideline to follow that makes sense. Again, I agree.

However, I have trouble with this type of programming generalization. I understand the philosophy was not written with the general population in mind; however I do find it troubling that this has become the case. Programming of this intensity, designed to accommodate such incredible amounts of total work can only really be prescribed on an individual basis. To expect your average, or even above-average lifter to improve in strength characteristics, or to even maintain for that matter, would be a superhuman accomplishment, necessitating some type of exogenous aid (see: steroids).

I do not mean to sound like I am rallying against the “Westside method,” as like I had mentioned earlier, I have nothing but the greatest respect for this philosophy, and have in fact attempted to abide by its principles as closely as possible both in my own personal programming, as well as those I prescribe for my athletes. My ultimate goal here is for people to synthesize this type of information and realize that in order to reduce personal injury risk, as well as potentially maximize personal gains would be to consider stipulations outlined by the principle of progressive overloading.

In his book “Periodization for Sports,” Tudor Bompa (Father of Periodization, and general Eastern-Bloc stud) explains this idea in great detail (if you’ve got an extra $20 lying around and a couple days/weeks of free time, I’d highly recommend this one. . .). It is through the manipulation of repetition cadence, or velocity, as well as load variation, which allows the athlete to most effectively and proficiently adapt to imposed stress (SAID: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands).

Phases are multi-layered, and highly variable. Anatomical adaptation, or the first phase, involves relatively light loads, lots of repetitions (high volume), and high variation in exercises. This phase is designed to improve joint (ligament, tendon) integrity, and improve and develop bone structure to accommodate ensuing improvements in both strength and mass (muscles pull on bones for leverage, bone restructuring takes approx. 2 months to initiate, etc.). Cadence is relatively slow, with minimal momentum developed during exercises. Maximal repetition strength, the predecessor to hypertrophy, increases load, decreases overall sets (while still maintaining work completed), and begins to focus on more specific movements related to choice activity, in our case powerlifting. This is when we begin our pause /separation between eccentric lowering and concentric raising. Maximum load strength, as the name implies, further decreases repetitions and increases load (your general strength phase). This is where we get into more familiar territory, completing between 1-6 repetitions per set, at 80-100% 1-RM intensity. Power conversion, or the predecessor to the “dynamic” day, reduces the weight and includes accommodation e.g. bands, over-speed work, etc. If anyone remembers Dr. Fred Hatfield a.k.a. Dr. Squat, he was a big proponent of this method for pre-competition, stating that reduction in “slow” strength movements and increase in plyometrics prior to competition will improve fiber type adaptation (in his words “conversion” . . .more confusion. . .), and result in maximal performance. Of course there is always your de-load and recovery phase as well, but you can all figure that one out yourselves.

Do these ideas and principles sound familiar? Repetition maximum and Power conversion? Still abiding by the principles of the “Westside philosophy,” it now becomes possible to perform a safer, yet still as effective means of training for those not ready to make the necessary financial and pharmacological commitment.

Maybe it has been my experience working with active-duty soldiers “training up” for deployment these past few months that has me a bit biased, but I feel the principle of progressive overload has vanished from all our minds in exchange for “cool” philosophies that may potentially lead to quick gains, but will definitely lead to some form of impairment.

If you’re wrapping up a training program, phase, or are post-competition, I say give old-fashioned Linear Periodization a chance (not the NSCA version. . .think Eastern Bloc), and see what you think. I’d be interested to see and hear if your gains match that, or even exceed those, of your last training program.

A Review of Central Nervous System Fatigue

INTRODUCTIONCNS_fatigue

Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue is a topic so unexplored by the scientists of today that we still do not know the specific mechanism that causes it [1]. CNS fatigue, also referred to as neuromuscular fatigue, is a subjective state in which one feels tired or exhausted and in which the capacity for normal work or activity is reduced [17]. Muscle fatigue, the decline in voluntary force during sustained maximal efforts, is caused by both central and peripheral mechanisms [17]. It is widely known that much of the fatigue arises from processes occurring within the muscle such as disturbances in the excitation-contraction coupling, depletion of muscle glycogen and accumulation of metabolites [9]. Hence, It is believed that fatigue onsets at some point during the chain of events between the CNS and the stimulation of the muscle fiber [17]. There has been much speculation on whether central nervous system fatigue is a disease, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or is it caused by a lack of energy and build up of waste product.

Distinguishing between peripheral and central fatigue, peripheral fatigue refers to events occurring within the motor unit [26]. Central fatigue involves events occurring in the brain and spinal cord [26].

Fatigue occurs at the neuromuscular junction when an action potential fails to cross from the motor neuron to the muscle fiber [17]. The neuromuscular junction, or motor endplate, is the interface between the end of unmyelinated and myelinated motor neurons and a muscle fiber [17]. Its main function is to transmit the nerve impulse and to initiate muscle action [17].

The purpose of this paper is to examine whether or not central nervous system fatigue can be delayed during exercise; as well as the potential causes for CNS fatigue, ultimately leading to its definition. We will accomplish this by first examining the excitation contraction – coupling process to revisit the basic process of motor unit stimulation. Following, we will move on to observe several studies going in depth on the effects of nutritional supplementations. The focal point of nutritional supplementations will be on Branched-Chain Amino Acids, Carbohydrate, and Caffeine.

Neurotransmitters will be the next focal point, in which the functions of Acetylcholine at the motor endplate will be examined closely. Along with acetylcholine, serotonin and its mood regulating qualities will be examined closely. Furthering the discussion of serotonin we will analyze several studies involving the 5-HT/Dopamine ratio which has shown profound effects on CNS fatigue during exercise [11]. Along with neurotransmitters, neuromodulators are also attributable to CNS fatigue. The most significant neuromodulators, Cytokines and Ammonia will be the ones examined.

This will lead us to the discussion of the possibility that central nervous system fatigue could be caused by a disease. Chronic Fatigue syndrome is a disorder associated with persistent physical and mental fatigue [11]. Lastly, an examination of the Central Governor Model [26] will give insight to the approach of CNS fatigue as a sensation or emotion, not a peripheral mechanism.

THE EXCITATION-CONTRACTION COUPLING PROCESS

In order to understand central nervous system fatigue one must take a step back and understand of how a muscle fiber twitch is stimulated. This is explained in the excitation-coupling process [9]. The excitation and contraction process that occurs at the neuromuscular junction leading to the ultimate goal of a muscle fiber twitch is a long and complicated process [9]. Essentially it begins with the stimulation of a motor neuron and the generation of an action potential that travels down the axon causing the release of Ca++ in the process [9]. The resultant influx of Ca++ into the nerve terminal leads to the exocytosis of vesicles containing Acetylcholine (Ach) [9]. The Ach then crosses the synapse, binding to receptors on the endplate region of the sarcolemma and generating an endplate potential causing an influx of Na+ [9]. This increase in Na+ results in a depolarization of the endplate [9]. The action potential generated then travels down the sarcolemma by way of the t-tubular network [9]. The voltage sensors bound to the t-tubule membrane are then stimulated and undergo a conformational change as a result of the action potential [9]. This leads to the opening of the Ca++ channels in the sarcoplasmic reticulum, causing an efflux of Ca++ [9]. With the present increase in cycstolic Ca++ concentration increase, Ca++ binds to Tropin C, causing a conformational change of tropomyosin [9]. The active site of actin is then exposed allowing the actin-myosin cross-bridge formation to occur and a muscle fiber twitch is stimulated [9].

It is believed that at some point during this excitation and contraction process a mechanism causes the onset of fatigue. Where and when is still unknown but several scientists believe that nutritional supplementation can delay the onset of CNS fatigue [2,3,4,5,10,12,13,14,20,21,22,23,24,25,27].

EFFECT OF BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS

Branched-chain amino acids are one supplement that has been researched extensively in endurance runners [13]. Prolonged exercise increases the plasma-concentrationratio of free tryptophan/Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), as well as the uptake of tryptophan by thebrain [4]. The supplementation and intake of BCAAs may reduce the uptake of tryptophan by the brain and 5-HT synthesis, hence delaying fatigue [4,22]. Hassmen et al. [13] reported that 30-km cross country runners supplied with a mixed BCAA and carbohydrate solution during the 30-km race exhibited an increase in cognitive performance measured via the use of the Stroop Colour-Word Test. The Colour-Word test involves assessing words with variations of different colors, color words and regular words [5,13]. This increase was compared to a placebo group who performed the same exercise and showed no differences in the beverage they consumed [13]. Therefore, BCAA supplementation had a noticeable effect on more complex tasks [13]. Blomstrand et al. [4] demonstrated similar results in terms of the placebo group v. experimental group, in a study consisting of seven male endurance-trained cyclists performing exhaustive exercise on a cycle ergometer. During 60 minute exercise at a given work rate the subjects’ ratings of perceived exertion when they were given BCAAs were 7% lower, and their ratings of mental fatigue were 15% lower than when they were given placebo [4].

CARBOHYDRATE SUPPLEMENTATION

Carbohydrate is the main energy source for athletic performance [17]. To fully understand the effect on mental fatigue, we must review its peripheral effects [17]. High levels of blood glucose and glycogen stores located in the muscles and liver before any endurance exercise will lengthen time to exhaustion while delaying the onset of peripheral fatigue [17]. Carbohydrates have been demonstrated to increase performance while consumed during the actual exercise [17]. Muscles constantly require glucose, the end product of carbohydrates, for contractions of the muscles to produce a force [17].

When there is a decrease of blood glucose and an insufficient amount of glycogen stores in the muscle and liver to produce more, the muscles must seek elsewhere for an energy substrate [17]. A decline in blood glucose, hypoglycemia, during prolonged exercise will decrease exercise time to exhaustion and impair work output, thus causing fatigue [17].

Understanding the affects of carbohydrates on exercise in general, it must be known that nutritional status can alter brainneurochemistry [8]. Carbohydrate consumption before and during exercise inflicts a decrease in 5-HT concentration through a decrease in free tryptophan and tryptophan to the brain [8]. The decrease in 5-HT concentration represents a delay in fatigue and will be discussed later in this article [11]. Davis et al. [8] reported that cyclists who cycled for 225 minutes at 68% of their VO2max that received a 6 or 12% carbohydrate drink delayed the onset of fatigue. The placebo group in this study who received a water beverage during exercise exhibited a decrease in glucose and insulin levels, as well as a seven-fold decrease in the plasma-concentrationratio of free tryptophan/Branched-chain amino acids [8,20,21,23].

CAFFEINE SUPPLEMENTATION

Caffeine is the most commonly consumed drug in the world, and athletes frequently use it as an ergogenic aid [12,24]. Caffeine improves concentration, reduces fatigue, and enhances alertness [24]. It is believed that caffeine enhances neuromuscular transmission and improves skeletal muscle contractility. However, acute caffeine ingestion does not seem to increase maximal voluntary contractions or maximal power output nor delay fatigue [27]. Using caffeine as a supplement can also be detrimental to those who become dependent on it. In this case withdrawal of caffeine can increase fatigue as well as irritability, headaches, and mood swings [27].

Kalmar et al. [14] found that caffeine may increase the descending drive from the motorcortex by blocking the inhibitory effects of adenosine, which then increased a subject’s ability to excite a motor unit pool. Adenosine is a nucleoside comprised of adenine and ribose that is the structural component of nucleic acids and the major molecular component AMP, ADP, ATP [17]. The excitation of the motor unit pool could increase synaptic input to the cell body of the alpha-motorneuron byincreasing its excitability, bringing the motorneuron closer tothreshold, and facilitating maximal activation [14]. An increase in activation of spinal or supraspinal mechanisms may represent an increase in motor unitrecruitment or an increase in the discharge rates [14]. It was also stated that caffeine may exert its effect on the neuromuscular systemperipherally, by altering excitation-contraction coupling [14]. However, more research is needed to ultimately determine the effects of caffeine on the central nervous system.

NEUROTRANSMITTER FUNCTION AND CNS FATIGUE

Acetylcholine (Ach) is the primary neurotransmitter involved in the autonomic nervous system, especially at the motor endplate [17]. In regards to the motor endplate, in low quantity acetylcholine elicits a muscular contraction and in large quantity acetylcholine can actually inhibit the muscular contractions resulting from the stimulation of the nerve [9]. Within the neuromuscular junction there are approximately 50 to 70 vesicles containing Ach per um2 of nerve terminal area with a diameter of 30 to 50 nm [9,28]. These vesicles are strategically placed within the neuromuscular junction so that the clusters of Ach can be directly across from their postsynaptic receptors [9].

During fatigue it is speculated that Ach is increased at the NMJ and therefore causes inhibition of the nerve stimulation at the NMJ [28]. Different modalities of exercise elicit different response of Ach at the NMJ. Training at high-intensity has resulted in a greater dispersion of Ach receptor and vesicle clusters within the overall nerve terminal and endplate areas, thus resulting in a decrease in stimulation and ultimately greater fatigability [28].

Wilson and Deschenes [28] also noted that endurance exercise increased the nerve terminal area and pre- and post- synaptic areas, where as resistance exercise increase the postsynaptic area. The pre-synaptic area is the nerve terminal containing the Ach vesicles lying close to but do not come in contact with the sarcolemma [17]. The postsynaptic area on the other hand is a component of the sarcolemma located adjacent to the synaptic cleft [17].

Increases in hypertrophy due to resistance training have also shown to increase Ach at the NMJ [28]. With hypertrophy, the increase in muscle size elicits an increase in the size of the NMJ which in turn will require a proportionate increase in Ach to elicit adequate stimulation of the greater muscle fiber, thus delaying fatigue [28].

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter playing a large role in the determination of CNS fatigability. In brief, serotonin plays a large role in the regulation of mood in the brain and is widely considered the main argument of CNS fatigue [18,19]. Serotonin has been linked to fatigue because of its well known effects on sleep, lethargy and drowsiness, and loss of motivation [18,19]. However, serotonin itself cannot be attributed to fatigue alone, it is more effective when associated with dopamine.

The serotonin/dopamine ratio or 5-HT/dopamine ratio can be directly associated to fatigue [11,22]. If 5-HT production is high and dopamine production is low, this causes an imbalance in the 5-HT/dopamine ratio, which in turn elicits reduced exercise performance [11]. Conversely, if 5-HT production is low and dopamine production is high then this imbalance should cause an increase in performance, thus delaying fatigue [11].

Decreased 5-HT production results in less 5-HT turnover in the brain and thus there would be a less subjective feeling of fatigue [11]. As a result the tryptophan/BCAA ratio should be balanced in this case [11]. Likewise, increased dopamine production would cause an increase in mood state, which would not result in fatigue but result in more motivation, concentration and enhanced performance [11].

NEUROMODULATORS AND CNS FATIGUE

Neuromodulators are released by neurons and immune cells to convey information to adjacent or distant neurons, either enhancing or inhibiting their activities [17]. The neuromodulators that are most influential CNS fatigue are Cytokines and Ammonia [15]. Increases in cytokine levels have been associated with reduced exercise tolerance associated with acute viral or bacterial infection [7]. Along with the findings of Davis et al. [7], Katafuchi et al. [15] found that cytokines play a large role in hypothalamo-pituitary and sympathetic activation, as well asimmunosuppression. Ammonia on the other hand, has been observed to negatively affect the CNS function due to the accumulations of ammonia in the blood and brain during exercise [7]. However, further research is needed to clarify the actual effects of these two neuromodulators.

CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME

Could the cause of central nervous system fatigue be a disease? This has been debated amongst scientists for years to date. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder associated with persistent, often debilitating, physical and mental fatigue that cane be aggravated by even modest degrees of physical activity [11,16,29]. CFS can onset suddenly or gradually. The majority of CFS cases onset suddenly, with the beginning of another disease, such as the flu or another illness [11,29]. Other sudden onsets of CFS can occur during a period of significant physical or emotional stress [11]. The gradual arrival of CFS begins with mild symptoms that slowly increase over time [11]. Usually these patients are negligent that anything is wrong for awhile and attribute symptoms to other illnesses or stress [29].

Some of the symptoms experienced by individuals with CFS along with fatigue include disturbances to the autonomic nervous system, psychological disturbances, sleep patterns, poor temperature control, hypersensitivity, cognitive problems, and pain [11,29].

Georgiades et al. [11] examined the acute exercise related responses of circulating amino acids that have influenced the central 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT; Serotoninergic) system and dopamine function relative to subjects with similar physical activity histories.

In using the cycle ergometer test, the subjects with CFS exhibited a higher rate of perceived exertion (RPE) than the subjects without, which could lead to the indication that CFS leads to altered perception of work output [11]. RPE is the individual’s perception of how hard they are working based on a scale ranging from 6-17 and very, very light to very, very hard [11]. The RPE exhibited by the CFS individuals most likely attributed to the lower peak VO2max rather than a true maximum [11].

In CFS patients, 5-HT levels have been deemed the most significant difference in subjects with the disease and those without [11]. The increase in brain 5-HT concentration can be linked to the lower RPE due to higher turnover rate of 5-HT in the brain [11]. The high rate of 5-HT turnover is linked to an imbalance of the plasma-concentrationratio of free tryptophan/Branched-chain amino acids [11,21,22]. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and a precursor for serotonin [22]. The imbalance of the plasma-concentrationratio of free tryptophan/Branched-chain amino acids is most likely due to an increase in free tryptophan, hence the high turnover exhibited by 5-HT in the brain [11,22].

Along with the 5-HT system, the dopaminergic system has also been implicated in central fatigue during exercise [11]. Dopamine is a chemical naturally produced by the hypothalamus and is commonly referred to as a “reward” neurotransmitter [17]. If there are high levels of arousal, motivation, and physical performance, dopamine is usually present [17]. Tyrosine, an essential amino acid and precursor to dopamine, had very low levels in the CFS at all time points including rest, therefore a mechanism must be limiting its production [11].

Analyzing the findings on 5-HT and Dopamine with CFS patients, it can be determined that if 5-HT production is high and dopamine production is low, then the 5-HT/Dopamine ratio is unbalanced, which in turn elicits reduced exercise performance [11]. In addition, the free tryptophan/tyrosine ratio implicates fatigue due to high effort perception via the RPE (Borg) Scale [11].

The cause of CFS however cannot be entirely attributed to CNS factors. Other factors must be taken into consideration, such as the individual’s heterogeneous nature and the fact that this disease is a multistage disease [11]. At different stages in this disease different values of 5-HT and dopamine as well as their precursors must be examined carefully for they could have different implications [11,16,25].

These considerations can be accomplished by through assessment and treatment modalities. Some treatments suggest drug therapy intervention to reestablish the chemical levels in the brain but this has not been proven scientifically [11,25]. The best way to approach therapy in CFS is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps identify and exclude factors contributing and maintaining chronic fatigue [16].

CENTRAL GOVERNOR MODEL

One of the more recent propositions on CNS fatigue is the Central Governor Model (CGM). The CGM “proposes that exercise performance is regulated by the central nervous system specifically to ensure that catastrophic physiological failure does not occur during normal exercise [26].” In essence, the main focal point of this model is to stress that peripheral fatigue cannot be used as a primary and direct influence on performance, rather fatigue should be considered a sensation or emotion, not connected to a physical manifestation [26].

The CGM offers a unique perspective on the bodily response to the tasks such as the Wingate test. The Wingate test is a high intensity cycling test that measures anaerobic exercise capacity and is typically performed for 30 seconds [26]. Contrary to the popular belief that fatigue during the Wingate test is caused by an accumulation of Pi and ADP, the CGM states that fatigue is cause by a reduced rate of motor unit recruitment by the CNS [26].

Assessed through an Electromyographic (EMG) response from the rectus femoris, Weir et al. [26] reported that findings have actually been contradictory to the CGM. According to the CGM, the EMG amplitude should decline as the brain decreases motor unit recruitment to avoid rigor [26]. Analyzing the results from the EMG in the Wingate test, it suggested that the central neural drive remains unchanged during the test, so peripheral mechanisms must explain the power output reduction [26]. However, this is not consistent when examining events that require a pacing strategy.

Events requiring a pacing strategy such as the 100m dash and 400m dash offer results that directly contradict the findings in the Wingate test [26]. In examining high intensity, short duration exercise, the bodily decisions to adopt a pacing strategy is not contingent metabolic events because a metabolic steady state is not achieved so expeditiously [26]. Can a dramatic increase in pace during the last 5-10% of a race, such as a 400m dash, be attributed to peripheral mechanisms when fatigue is assumed to be at its highest? According to Weir et al. [26] it cannot be associated to peripheral mechanisms. Weir et al. [26] responded further by proposing that the CNS regulates motor unit recruitment so that ATP consumption and production are matched, preventing rigor. Therefore it is safe to predict that fatigue occurs faster where ATP demand is the greatest [26].

 

CONCLUSIONS

Taking into consideration the physiological factors, as well as the nutritional and neuromuscular adaptations in CNS fatigue we must ask ourselves again, is it possible to delay CNS fatigue during exercise?

It has been shown through few nutritional factors that fatigue may perhaps be delayed [2,3,4,5,10,12,13,14,20,21,22,23,24,25,27]. But there is still much to debate on how much of that is attributed to peripheral fatigue. Certainly the supplementation of carbohydrates will delay fatigue [8]. After all carbohydrates are the main energy sources for athletic performance [17]. Carbohydrate consumption before and during exercise was demonstrated to inflict a decrease in 5-HT concentration through a decrease in free tryptophan and tryptophan to the brain [8].

Caffeine could either delay fatigue or begin the onset of fatigue sooner than it has had in the past [12,14,24,27]. The variable in this is the individual. Whether the individual uses caffeine in the right and controlled manner in respect to their body composition will determine its overall effect on delaying CNS fatigue [24]. Caffeine after all is classified as an ergogenic aid by most and a waste by others [12]. It was shown through several studies that caffeine had no acute effects on maximal voluntary contractions or maximal power output nor delaying fatigue [27]. So perhaps the effect of caffeine can be seen as a “placebo effect,” in that by taking caffeine, individuals would function under the assumption that this ergogenic aid is giving them “new life” while exercising [24]. If the literature states that caffeine has no acute effects on maximal voluntary contractions and maximal power output, is it safe to assume that perhaps it does chronically? It may be for individuals dependent on the substance, but in all reality it most likely does not.

BCAAs on the other hand, I believe do have a significant effect on CNS fatigue, especially when combined with carbohydrates as exhibited in the study by Hassmen et al [13]. The use of the Stroops Colour-Word Test showed uncompromisable results that cognitive performanced by the five to seven fold [5,13]. Blomstrand et al. [5] reported that the supplementation and intake of BCAAs may reduce the uptake of tryptophan by the brain and 5-HT synthesis and was exhibited vividly cycling study. Given the subjects’ ratings of perceived exertion when they were given BCAAs was 7% lower and their ratings of mental fatigue was 15% lower than the placebo group, there is no doubt that BCAAs are effective in delaying CNS fatigue [5].

The correlation between BCAAs and 5-HT synthesis has implied that 5-HT could delay CNS fatigue [22]. Serotonin plays a large role in the regulation of mood in the brain and when coupled with dopamine in the 5-HT/dopamine ratio, there is reason to believe that it does indeed elicit an effect on CNS fatigue [11,22]. The imbalance of the 5-HT/dopamine ratio, favoring an increase in 5-HT synthesis and a decrease in dopamine secretion is the most practical way to approach the effect of the two neurotransmitters [11]. Due to their physiological defined characteristics; serotonin related to mood and dopamine as a “reward” hormone, it was assumed that their imbalance would lead to CNS fatigue, and possible a chronic case of fatigue [11].

The most influential neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, I believe cannot be attributed to CNS fatigue other than its physiological factors. Deschenes et al. [9] demonstrated in low quantity, acetylcholine elicits a muscular contraction and in large quantity acetylcholine can actually inhibit the muscular contractions resulting from the stimulation of the nerve. Under only the previous conditions alone can Ach be attributed with fatigue because otherwise it does not appear to have any other affect [9,17]. With hypertrophy Ach increases in the number of Ach containing vesicles but that is only primarily due to the increase in size of the neuromuscular junction in order to keep pace with the hypertrophic demands of the body [9]. Hence it is still undetermined whether Ach plays more of a role in CNS fatigue and the possibility of Ach delaying CNS fatigue.

Revisiting the question posed earlier, is CNS fatigue the result of a disease or the build up of waste product? The conclusion must be that both are attributable to CNS fatigue albeit a build up of waste product is more in the peripheral area of fatigue. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was examined extensively and proved to make valid statements in discussing the 5-HT/dopamine ratio [11]. Although other factors must be taken into consideration when attributing CNS fatigue to CFS, it is hard to overlook the fact that perhaps right now we could be at a different stage of CFS, just not exhibiting a majority of the symptoms [16]. Our values of 5-HT and dopamine as well as their precursors could be imbalanced [11,16]. The use of the RPE scale in CFS patients as opposed to non-CFS patients as reported by Georgiades et al. [11] proposes valid points about CFS patients’ interpretations of their work outputs, but this alone cannot be the determinant of whether CFS is the cause of CNS fatigue.

The Central Governor Model poses one of the most interesting perspectives on fatigue. The proposition states that fatigue is due to a sensation or emotion experienced by the brain and not by a peripheral mechanism [26]. Specifically, it proposes that the subconscious bran determines the metabolic cost that is required to perform a given task [26]. The task that is interpreted by the brain is regulated to the extent that if motor unit recruitment is to high, the brain will decrease recruitment in order to avoid a terminal metabolic crisis and catastrophe via production and retention of Pi and ADP [26].

After extensively researching and forming opinions about the possible factors causing CNS fatigue, it is more than apparent that much more experimentation is needed to fully grasp this concept. Much speculation has been proposed about neurotransmitters and neuromodulators but there is no “gold standard” to measure the effectiveness of each. The same applies as to whether CNS fatigue is caused by a disease or not. We simply are not at the technological point we need to be at in order to effectively determine fact from speculation.

The studies examined throughout this paper have contradicted each other to numerous degrees. The various theories and explanations surveyed through this study all posed valid points, however the degree to which they contradict unfortunately is enough to note that the true definition of CNS fatigue is not feasible at this point. Essentially what we accomplished through this paper was form a definition of what does not delay, cause, or is responsible for CNS fatigue. The true effects of the internal and external variables in relation to CNS fatigue require much further research and experimentation.

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Requisites for Success

Platform in Sweden

The past three months have been some of the most exhilarating of my entire life.  In June 2012, I was as an assistant coach on the USA teams at the inaugural IPF Classics Powerlifting World Cup in Stockholm, Sweden (Picture on right: Platform at 2012 IPF Classics World Cup – click for larger view).   In essence, this was the first official Super Bowl of raw (unequipped) powerlifting.  I can’t recall ever being that excited for a single competition that I wasn’t competing in.  The anticipation was overwhelming.  The Swedish Powerlifting Federation delivered on their promises.  The competition was top-shelf on every level and the entire week exceeded the hype.  Collectively the USA men and women’s teams placed second overall.  Individually, our lifters performed exceptionally well as many came home with medals and some with world records.

The following month I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at the 2012 Reactive Training Systems (RTS) Powerlifting Seminar in Orlando, Florida (Picture below left:  RTS Seminar Presenters).  Working alongside powerlifting legends like Suzanne “Sioux-z” Hartwig-Gary as well as some of the brightest coaches, experts, and scholars like Jeremy Hartman, Mike Tuchscherer, and Dr. Michael Zourdos has already proven to be one the highlights of my professional career.  I probably learned more about technique, training, and nutrition in two days than I had within the past two years.

RTS_ Seminar SpeakersThree weeks later all but one of the RTS presenters competed at the 2012 USAPL Raw Nationals in Killen, Texas.  We were all blessed with outstanding individual performances.  Any time four lifters exhibit a 94.4% successful attempt rate including personal records (PR); they’re obviously doing something right.

Our lives are full of chapters.  Occasionally, I like to refer to them as seasons.  These three impactful life events comprised a season in my life.  As seasons conclude, I like to pause and reflect.  Meaningful introspection isn’t accomplished in one sitting.  In fact, it can take days, weeks, and months, sometimes longer to truly learn and grow from all that’s transpired. Self-analysis often reveals positive and negative elements.  When you’re truly honest with yourself, examination can be painful.  However, that pain can lead to improvement and progress.  Perusing meet results and photographs, watching video highlights, reviewing lecture notes and power points, and simply recalling conversations all contribute to vivid memories that will last a lifetime.  I’m so thankful for these moments and never take them for granted.

Success in athletics is easily quantifiable in a myriad of ways including PRs, scores, and winning.  Success is neither an accident nor a coincidence.  Achieving success is a process and the direct result of a set course of action.  It doesn’t just happen.

Lanny Bassham 1975

One of my star lifters recently gave me a most wonderful book entitled “With Winning in Mind,” by Lanny Bassham.  Lanny (pictured on right at 1975 Pan American Games) was an awkward kid growing up. He never excelled in athletics but years later, he finally found his niche’ in competitive rifle shooting and went on to win the Olympic gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.  Two years later he won the world championships in Seoul, Korea.  In doing so, Lanny developed his trademarked Mental Management System that helps competitors create a process for increasing the probability of success.  While some of the information is both common sense and familiar, it’s definitely worth reviewing.  His other ideas and many of the nuances of his methods are creative, fresh, and thoughtful.  I have begun employing some of them in my own life and am thankful for the positive mindset they help create.   His text should be required reading for every competitive athlete.

One of the best things about powerlifting is its objectivity.  Performances and results aren’t influenced by personal feelings or opinions.  Success as well as winning and losing are all based on actual fact and concrete data.  It’s a reality that provides immediate feedback.  Lifters compete within specific weight classes and the one who lifts the most weight wins.  It’s simple and so revealing at the same time.

As I outlined in my 2010 piece “Training Specificity for Powerlifters,” athletes of all genres are quick to seek out the latest training methodology.  Unfortunately, training protocol isn’t the answer to athletic success.  Self-proclaimed gurus, strength coaches, famous powerlifters, and sports performance specialists would all have you believe that their programs are the key to unlocking your potential.  Lord knows there are a myriad of methods to choose from including: linear periodization, undulating periodization, 5/3/1, Sheiko, 5×5, the Texas Method, the Bulgarian method, Westside, RTS, Prilepin’s Table, and the list continues.  Sadly, athletes are often duped into believing that training protocol matters most.  Training plans matter but not nearly as much as consistent effort applied over time.  Corrective exercise specialists and physical therapists will brainwash you into thinking you’re better off fixing all your imbalances first before taking another step.  If we only followed their counsel, we’d never actually train.  At some point, you need to suck it up and get under the bar.  Equipment manufacturers will even go so far as to announce that unless you’re training on their equipment or using their facilities, you have no chance.

When examining methodology, it’s easy to find uniqueness and differences.  More important are the common themes.  What are the best athletes doing?  Where are they similar?  This is key.

The five speakers at the RTS Powerlifting Seminar presented on a variety of topics from technique and training methodology to nutrition and attempt selection.  Looking beyond the power points and the uniqueness of each presentation, one pervading theme resurfaced throughout the weekend.  Each expert drove home the mantra of applying consistent effort over time in order to achieve technical mastery.

RTS’s Mike Tuchscherer recently wrote an article entitled “Genetics and Hard Work.”   I agree with Mike’s assertions in this article.  In fact, his closing remarks about an extreme amount of hard work have inspired me to train harder than before.  My own personal reflection has led me to such questions as, “What could I have done differently in my preparations for Raw Nationals?  Did I overlook something? What can I do better moving forward?  And what’s necessary for me to improve?”  Some of that introspection combined with the info from the RTS Seminar have revealed to me that I need to spend more time on the things I’m not good at.  It’s no coincidence that those also happen to be many of the areas I dislike.  That’s all about to change.  I’m embracing those weaknesses and committing to improving them.

While we can all work harder, genetics cannot be overlooked.  I won’t use it as an excuse but it’s our reality.  My wife Sioux-z stands 4’11” tall and I’d bet my life she would never dunk a basketball on a regulation 10′ basket.  That’s not an excuse to put forth less effort.  If she were to truly aspire to such an athletic feat of explosive jumping ability, I’d be the first to support her in that endeavor.  Thankfully she prefers to spend the bulk of her training time squatting.  After all, sometimes your “best” sport picks you.  That doesn’t mean you can’t improve or even become world class in an endeavor you aren’t necessarily equipped for.  It simply means that if someone with superior genetics follows a similar path, they have a significant head start.

I relish watching experts perform their craft.  Experts have the ability to make the extraordinary appear ordinary.  It’s like watching an artist paint a masterpiece right before your eyes while only using two colors.  Athletics are no different.  Supreme athletes are able to do incredible things with their bodies that the rest of us can only imagine.  So naturally, every four years I’m drawn to the Olympics.  This year was no different as I enjoyed watching the world’s best compete on the world’s grandest stage.  I’m particularly fond of the sports I can’t consume on a regular basis – gymnastics and track and field.  I find the gymnasts and decathletes to be the world’s best overall athletes because they’re able to do things all the other athletes can’t.

The 2012 Summer Olympics had two instances that really stood out to me.  During one NBC telecast, the commentators showed an illustration of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s recent 100m final.  Bolt is the current world record holder in both the 100m and 200m races as well as a double Olympic champion.  At top speed, his stride measures approximately 10′ in length and he took 41 strides to complete 100m.  His next closest competitors were at 44 and 46 strides respectively.  In a most basic equation, speed = stride length x stride frequency.  Bolt’s competitors have to move their legs much faster to overcome the stride deficit.  They could train like animals, become stronger, produce more force than Bolt, and take nearly every performance-enhancing drug in the world, but the probability of overcoming that genetic (stride length) deficit is close to zero.  Their flexibility simply can’t be improved to that degree and they can’t trade-in for longer legs.  Their only hope is that the Jamaican’s penchant for self-adulation eventually goes to his head and he slacks off in training or underestimates his rivals.  However, Bolt has proven he is human in three rare defeats to Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, and his current training partner Johann Blake.

From what I gather, Bolt works extremely hard at his craft.  He deserves credit for working hard.  He should thank God and credit his parents for his physical traits. His combination of genetics and hard work are currently insurmountable. While he’s not my cup of tea, there’s no denying he’s the best sprinter of all-time.  Naturally, the discussion and media coverage surrounding Bolt’s prowess got me thinking about the role of genetics in sports.  Oppositely, a less-publicized Olympic athlete made me consider the role of hard work.  NBC painted a poignant picture of Kenyan middle-distance runner David Rudisha.  The current world record holder in the 800m, Rudisha lives in Iten, Kenya.  His remote village is approximately 200 miles from a rubber track.  So, while many of his contemporaries train on rubber tracks and at expensive facilities, he and his coach Colm O’Connell remove large rocks from their makeshift dirt track in what has become an almost daily ritual prior to training.

Coach O’Connell wisely preaches, “It’s not about sophistication.  It’s not about facilities.  It’s about doing the simple things well and believing in what you do.”  Amen to that!  Rudisha went on to win the 800m final and set a new world record of 1:40.91.  His post-race interview illuminated his humble, soft-spoken demeanor.  Without any bombast or show, Rudisha spoke softly revealing his profound conviction in consistent effort and his training methods proving that he doesn’t need modern facilities to become the greatest middle distance runner alive.

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Coach Colm O’Connell with David Rudisha and Rudisha next to his world record time.

It’s glaringly obvious that Rudisha is eternally focused on process rather than outcome.  When you constantly dedicate yourself to a series of steps (process) and repeat them over and over again, the results (outcome) take care of themselves.  Fortunately for powerlifters, the same holds true.  Strength is a skill.  Lanny Bassham defines a skill as “doing something consciously long enough for the process to become automated by the Subconscious Mind.”  Skill acquisition is best achieved through frequent, repetitious practice.   Practicing your skills often and diligently over long periods of time can eventually lead to technical mastery.  And while technical mastery is not exactly a destination per se’, it’s a journey that every powerlifter should embark upon.  The sooner you hone your skills and step toward technical mastery, the sooner you’ll add a lot of weight to the bar.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s text “Outliers: The Story of Success” he refers to the 10,000-hour rule.  His book is based on original research done by Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist who calculated that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.  Using a calculator you can really have some fun with this and notice that even while training 7 days/week for 3 hours at a time it would take close to 10 years to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice.  Most trainees don’t have that kind of time and/or aren’t willing to put in that amount of work.  Again, this is one person’s research and you can accept it or discard it as you see fit.  Perhaps the more appropriate rule for a lifter would be 10,000 high quality repetitions.  Suffice it to say, even while some learn faster than others, I think we can all agree that it takes thousands of hours and many years of quality training (practice) to become a master of something.    Any way you look at it, the amount of skill you develop is determined by the quality, quantity, and efficiency of your training.

Ultimately, when considering any training strategy, notice the differences but examine the similarities.  Parallels typically include a steadfast devotion to the basics and a constant reinforcement of sport form.  If you wanted to become a world-class violinist you wouldn’t practice the bass guitar.  Sure, both are string instruments but they are quite different.  The same holds true for the powerlifts.  Some coaches espouse building the lifts rather than training them.  Don’t succumb to this lunacy.  Training doesn’t need to be fancy in order to be effective.  If you want to improve your squat, spend the bulk of your time squatting… just like you do in competition.

Mike Tuchscherer is correct.  The one universal commonality of experts and champions is a tremendous amount of hard work.  Focus on the controllable.  Pay your dues by putting in the time and work.  The amount of effort you apply is entirely up to you.  Outwork your competitors.  At SSPT, we like to refer to it as “sweat equity” and it’s absolutely magical because, as with most things in life, you reap what you sow.

Upholding the Standard

Since 1969 the Pittsburgh Steelers have had three head coaches.  This is fewer than any other team in the NFL during that timeframe.  The Steelers pride themselves on consistency and stability.  These two constants led them to their current coach, Mike Tomlin.

Mike Tomlin

Players are expected to act and perform according to the Steeler way: aggressive, disciplined, and hard-nosed.  These attributes are first instilled in the front office via the Rooney family and trickle down through the remainder of the organization.  No matter the perceived importance of the player or position in which he plays, the standard remains the same.  When a player goes down to injury or otherwise, the next one steps into the role.  The standard remains constant and the replacement player is expected to perform at the same level as the starter.  Sometimes these are big shoes to fill.  For example, all world and Hall of Fame bound strong safety Troy Polamalu is incomparable.  Troy possesses a unique skill set that has never really been seen before.  His blend of agility, size, speed, and strength are unparalleled.  His style of play includes a reckless abandon and disregard for his body.  While his play most often lends itself to superhuman feats, it also makes him susceptible to injury.  When Polamalu gets hurt, the second-string strong safety is expected to fill the position until Troy is well enough to return.  All the while, the Steelers’ organization and specifically coach Tomlin expect the same level of performance.  As “the standard is the standard” maxim is proclaimed with such regularity, the players buy into it and really believe that when their number is called, they too will assume their new role without the team suffering any decrements in performance.

Coaches in any arena are constantly evaluating individuals and teams by their performances.  There’s a definite line representing winning and losing.  Accordingly, one’s performance is either above the line (winning performance) or below the line (losing performance).  As Coach Tomlin advocates for the standard, he characterizes performances as being above or below that line.  In all sports, occasionally a winning performance will be below the established standard.  The opposite may also be true, especially in team sports, where a losing performance may come because certain members of the team performed poorly while others may have excelled.

In powerlifting, lifters receive nine attempts (three per discipline) to complete their total.  The standard level of expectation and performance is six successful attempts.  Period.  Under no circumstances, short of injury, should a lifter ever make fewer than six attempts.  As a result, it’s easy to determine whether a powerlifter’s performance is above or below the line.

Attempt selection is crucial in powerlifting.  Powerlifters train hard and compete to determine the strongest person in each weight class.  Unfortunately, many coaches and lifters pick an inappropriate attempt, which significantly hampers performance.  As outlined in “A Powerlifter’s Guide to Attempt Selection,” (Gary, 2009) there’s a surefire, scientifically based method that may be applied to selecting appropriate attempts.

A lifter’s first attempt (also known as the “opener”) serves to get them into the competition, increase confidence, build momentum, and allows them to take a reasonable second attempt.   In essence, the opener is your last warm-up.  A foolproof way of determining the first attempt is to use a weight that represents approximately 90-92% of your maximum.  Usually, this intensity is a weight you could hit for a triple or at the very least a strong double.  The second attempt serves as a stepping-stone and total-building attempt.  It should be a weight that helps bridge the gap between a safe opening attempt and hopefully a personal record (PR) attempt on the third.  Like the opener, the second attempt should also be a virtual lock.   The appropriate intensity for a second attempt is approximately 95-97% maximum.  When a successful second attempt is achieved, without any significant issues, a PR attempt is warranted on the third.  Obviously, this attempt would represent anything over 100% of one’s personal best.

This method ensures a high probability of successful attempts thus increasing a lifter’s total.  I’ve used this approach hundreds of times with first-time novices to elite world champions.  The success rate is exceptionally high and lifters almost always achieve more than six attempts including some PRs.

Famed Westsider and EliteFTS founder, Dave Tate, espouses a very different approach.  In one of Dave’s recent articles entitled, “Why Goals Suck!” he mentions the following: “I’ve always been taught to break my PR by five pounds on my second attempt (in a powerlifting meet you get three attempts), and go for broke on my third.”  Upon reading this, I said to myself, “It’s no wonder he rarely made many attempts.”  Not only is that a perfect recipe for making fewer lifts, it lends itself to stagnant progress, frustration, and smaller totals.  It’s a loser’s approach that goes hand in hand with the mentality of, “If I miss my PR on my second attempt, at least I have a shot at it on my third.”  I’ve got news for you.  That almost never works.  When was the last time you heard of anyone from the EliteFTS, Westside, or any other multi-ply stable for that matter, going 9/9 in a powerlifting competition?  Now before you say, “But anyone can go 9/9,” consider going 9/9 while hitting PRs.  Is that still considered sandbagging?  Making all nine attempts in a powerlifting competition is easy when you’re not pushing yourself to the limit.  Anyone can enter a powerlifting competition, lift well under their physical abilities, and walk away with a perfect 9/9 day.  On the other hand, it’s extremely difficult to make every attempt when achieving PRs.  That’s precisely why the standard is six successful attempts out of nine.

No matter how strong or skilled you are you’re not going to make every third attempt especially when reaching for a PR.  Fatigue, mental collapse, breakdowns in form, and misapplied technique are all causes for missed lifts. At times, powerlifting is unpredictable.  Therefore, it is imperative that we control our environment as much as possible.  Don’t waste time worrying about things beyond your control like climate, the size of the warm-up room, number of lifters in your flight, your competitors, or the judges for your session. Focus on your training in preparation for the competition, dialing-in your gear, making weight comfortably, attempt selection, and effort.  These variables are up to you alone.  There are very few sufficient excuses for not controlling the controllable.  Rushing through your warm-ups because you weren’t paying attention to the flight schedules is your problem.  You should know better than to spend all your time socializing after weigh-ins.  Missing an opening bench press attempt because you couldn’t sufficiently touch your chest, in your bench shirt, is your fault.  You should have practiced more, learned the groove of your shirt, and memorized the adjustments your handler has to make.  Getting buried by your first squat attempt is your predicament.  Don’t blame the judges for making you go so deep.  They didn’t submit your opener nor were they responsible for you failing to consider the changes your body would undergo by cutting weight.

Six successful attempts out of nine represents a 66.6% success rate.  In most schools that would earn you a D on the grading scale from A to F.  In powerlifting, six attempts is a satisfactory performance.  It’s a solid average — nothing more, nothing less.  Beyond six attempts is above average because it typically means you either took what was there or achieved a PR.

Consistently making fewer than six attempts is poor lifting no matter how strong you are.  Winning your weight class on four attempts doesn’t make you a good lifter.  It only means you’re stronger than your competition.  Good lifters consistently make most of their attempts. We should all make a high percentage of attempts.  Novices should focus primarily on acquiring skill in the competitive lifts via high volume training, gaining valuable platform experience, and constant improvement as reflected by hitting PRs.  Intermediate and advanced lifters may possibly add winning to that list.  Those competing at the elite level, both nationally and internationally, should aim to place and win if possible.  That being said, PRs are the ultimate measure of success.  How much fun is winning without making many attempts or hitting any personal bests?  Ask any elite champion about a performance where they failed to achieve a personal best or made fewer than six attempts and I guarantee you’ll find a dejected lifter.  That being said, following the aforementioned scientific strategy of attempt selection ensures a high probability of more successful attempts.  Missing lifts sucks and it’s no fun.  More successful attempts are always better.  It’s fun making lifts and having fun makes people happy.  Competition should be enjoyable.  When competing is no longer satisfying, you either need to rethink your approach or find a different avocation.

In 2010, the great Sioux-z Hartwig-Gary competed four times – twice raw and twice equipped.  She made 35 of 36 attempts including 7 PRs and 2 Masters World Records.  That’s an extraordinary 97.2% success rate.  Furthermore, her feats of strength were performed at the highest levels of our sport nationally and internationally with her lone miss coming on her final PR deadlift attempt in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

Sioux-z Hartwig-Gary

Circumstances can be individual.  No matter the result, own your performance and take responsibility for your actions.  We all have different standards that we live by.  Maintain yours and do the very best you can.  That’s all anyone can ever expect.

A Gym Rat’s Guide to the One-Rep Max

How Much Ya Bench

Show me a person who doesn’t want to be strong and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t get off the couch very often.  The ability to move heavy objects and perform physically demanding tasks is just plain cool. When you’re strong, you don’t have to walk around thumping your chest like an idiot, people will stand up and take notice.

Since most of us don’t go around lifting cars or chopping down trees with our bare hands, the easiest place for us to demonstrate strength is in the weight room. Gyms become our stage where we act out our physical abilities.

And the greatest act of all is the one-rep max.

Once reserved for powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and dumbbass kids who wanted to show off for their friends, now trainees from all backgrounds can benefit from knowing their 1RM. Athletes and gym rats alike can test their 1RM and then program their training accordingly to meet specific goals.

But why is it important? How do we test it? Most importantly, what the hell do we do with that knowledge?

The One-Rep Max (1RM)

Just what the heck is it?

The 1RM measures the amount of force your muscles can produce in a singular maximal effort. Some folks are better suited physically for the 1RM than others. This typically has to do with genetics because every body has a certain blend of muscle fiber types, unique bone lengths, and muscle attachments.  Those having a preponderance of Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers, shorter limbs, and lower muscle attachments are better prepared to lift heavy weights.

If you’re not blessed with any of those attributes, the hurdles on your track to strength gains may be a little higher. However, there is good news: anyone can become stronger by putting forth consistent effort.

Why do I need to know my 1RM?

The 1RM is vital for continued success in the gym because it’s real and concrete. It’s not hypothetical or assumed. Once you know your 1RM, you’ll have a better idea of where you stack up against your peers. Your 1RM lets you know exactly where you stand at any specific moment in time. With your known 1RM, you can set goals, chart a course of action, and test yourself again in hopes of setting a new personal record (PR). After all, the PR is what we’re all aiming for.

So, we’re gonna do curls, right?

Nope. Big, compound, free-weight barbell movements are the ones we want to test.  We’re talking about the squat, bench press, deadlift, power clean, overhead press, and all of the variations thereof.  In other words, you might also want to test your 1RM in the front squat, box squat, board press, or rack deadlift, but  don’t bother testing your 1RM in dumbbell exercises or movements like step-ups, lunges, 1-arm dumbbell rows, or triceps extensions because you’ll most likely hurt yourself (and look stupid in the process).

Who should test for a 1RM?

Novice trainees with fewer than two years of training experience should not test their 1RMs; these folks need to focus on learning proper exercise form and developing their technique according to their individual body structures. Additionally, if you’re new to the iron game, you’ve got plenty of time to improve and your newbie gains will come so fast that your maxes will change every week.

Intermediate lifters with more than two years of training under their belts can begin thinking about testing their 1RM.  Advanced lifters should already know their maxes (if you don’t, just what the heck are you waiting for?!)

Your current state of preparedness will let you know if you’re ready to test a 1RM or not.  In other words, if you’ve taken a break from training or have spent most of your time handling weights in the 8–15 reps range, you’re not prepared.  If you typically train big compound lifts in the 5-8 rep range, then you’re getting closer.

The Psychology of the 1RM

When you hit a heavy single, it’s a different ballgame.  Not only is your mental state different, but the way you approach this event physically will be different as well.  Imagine yourself getting under a bar loaded with 135 pounds and having to squat it 10 times. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, this is just a warm-up set, so let me bang these out and work up to my heavier sets.”

Now imagine loading the same bar with 500 pounds and see what’s running through your mind!

Heavy singles require a unique mental approach in that they require increased attention, mental focus, intensity, and muscle recruitment. When you approach a max lift, you’d better be incredibly focused. If not, you’re setting yourself up for some big hurt.

Visualization before a max lift helps focus the mind on the task at hand. Repeating positive mental cues like “hips back, knees out, and chest up” can breed confidence.  Music is a great motivator. This is the time to crank up the iPod with your favorite training song and get pissed off.

(Side note: My good friend and former training partner, six-time IPF World Powerlifting Champion “Captain” Kirk Karwoksi, used to listen to AC/DC’s Back in Black while remembering the douchebag who cut him off in traffic earlier that day. By the time he approached a max attempt, he was like a caged animal.  His rage-induced frenzy transformed him into a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode into the bar.)

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Raw Powerlifter Ryan Celli understands the mindset required for hitting a heavy single

(Photo courtesy of Celli’s Fitness Center)

Training for the Max Attempt

If you’ve never tested your 1RM, or if it’s been a while since you’ve trained heavy, set aside at least a month to begin working up to heavy singles.  Start hitting sets of five for a week or two, then drop to three reps for two weeks, then hit some singles the last two weeks. This doesn’t mean you’ll go to failure on each set. If your normal bench workout has been 225 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps, then it’s time to start adding weight.  In your next workout, try something like this:

[sets x reps]

  • Bar x 10
  • 135 x 8
  • 185 x 4
  • 225 x 2
  • 235 x 5
  • 245 x 5
  • 255 x 5

This approach will start bringing your body (and more importantly, your central nervous system or CNS) up to speed for heavy singles.  Maybe your next session can include more triples, such as:

  • Bar x 10
  • 135 x 8
  • 185 x 4
  • 235 x 3
  • 250 x 3
  • 260 x 3
  • 270 x 3

The key on your warm-up sets is to prepare your body, CNS, and mind for the heavier weights. Don’t bother with more than five reps per set unless it’s an early warm-up set.  Performing lots of reps on your warm-up sets will only fatigue you and take away from your heavier work sets. Remember that you’re training for “Go!” and not just for show.

A third week might follow this progression:

  • Bar x 10
  • 135 x 8
  • 185 x 4
  • 235 x 3
  • 255 x 3
  • 265 x 3
  • 275 x 3

And a fourth week might look like this:

  • Bar x 10
  • 135 x 8
  • 185 x 4
  • 235 x 2
  • 255 x 2
  • 275 x 2
  • 285 x 1
  • 295 x 1

Don’t be afraid to use the little plates when working your way up.  If all you ever add is large plates, your progress will stall.  It doesn’t make you any less of a badass to use the 10s, 5s, and 2.5s.  At our training facility we’ve got .25kg plates for those times when all that’s needed is one more pound for a huge lift. Trust me, sometimes a few pounds is all you’ve got, and it’s better to increase by that couple of pounds and keep making progress than to always jump big and miss.

Time to Test!

After a couple of weeks of heavy singles, it’s time to test your 1RM.  Get a good night’s sleep the night before, make sure you’re well fed, and remove as much stress from your life as possible. When you get to the gym, warm up for a few minutes, do some dynamic mobility movements relevant to the lift you’re testing, put your mind in the right place, and get after it.

If you’re testing your squat or bench press, make sure you have competent spotters.   Warm up just enough to prepare your body for your heavier attempts.

Here’s a progression based on the previous examples:

  • Bar x 10
  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 3
  • 225 x 2
  • 255 x 1
  • 280 x 1
  • Test!

After you make your initial attempt, assess how you feel and increase accordingly.  Be true to yourself. If possible, take video of your max lifts. Not only can video highlight breakdowns in form, but sometimes can show that perception and reality are two totally different things.  Any weight over 90 percent of your max is likely to feel heavy. However, sometimes you’ll watch the video and realize that your bar speed was lightning fast. If your initial testing weight feels good, add 5-10 pounds. Keep going until one of three things happens: you miss a weight, you grind it out and realize there’s nothing left in the tank, or your form becomes so much of a train wreck that continuing presents a health risk.

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A competent spotter is a MUST for testing your 1 Rep Max

After the 1RM Test

Once you have your 1RM, take a moment to bask in the glory of your efforts.  After you come back down to earth, grab a calendar, put pen to paper, and plan your next training cycle. The first step is setting realistic goals.

If you just squatted 475 pounds for the first time, it’s very tempting to set a goal of 500-pounds as the next “big” number.  However, you’ll want to consider the timeframe for when you plan to achieve that goal. If you only give yourself four weeks, don’t expect a 25-pound increase. You’d be better off settling for 480 pounds or perhaps a little more.

I’m not suggesting that you always sandbag your efforts. I just know that small, incremental, and steady progress is superior over the long haul. When you’re feeling energetic and strong on a test day, then ride the wave and push yourself to the limit because you never know when that wave will come around again.  Otherwise, be happy with achieving the next five pounds. A PR is a PR no matter how large or small.

Periodizing Your 1RM

Some form of periodization usually works best when training to improve your 1RM.  Resist the urge to retest your lifts the following week.  Unless you have some heavenly revelation from above, your lifts won’t improve that quickly. Trust me, you’ll want to devote at least a good 8-12 weeks to hard training before you test again.

In fact, many seasoned, competitive powerlifters only compete two to three times a year. Take a page from that book and pick two to three dates per year when you plan to reassess your 1RMs.  Once you select your dates, count back to the current date. Now you have the number of weeks you have to work with.

Mapping out an annual training plan is indicative of a trainee who is transitioning into a different stage of his or her lifting career. Intermediate and advanced trainees are wise to create a roadmap toward a goal. A training plan serves as a blueprint or an outline but is not a contract.  It gives you the flexibility to adjust on the fly and make changes when necessary.

A Few Resources to Check Out

The best way to improve your 1RM is to train with percentages of your max because they provide the ability to train within specific intensity ranges. You don’t have to look very far on the internet to find that there are a myriad of templates to choose from. You can choose something as basic and linear as Bill Starr’s classic 5 x 5 system, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Method, Westside, Boris Sheiko’s system, the Bulgarian system, or use one of my personal favorites, Prilepin’s Table.

Regardless of which path you head down, recognize that strength is a journey and not a destination.  You can always add one more pound to the bar.  The 1RM affords you the opportunity to approach your training in a more calculated and focused manner with a real target in your sights: your new PR!

Training Specificity for Powerlifters

Navigating the tortuous road to athletic achievement requires a comprehensive roadmap.  Motivated trainees are constantly searching for the latest protocol that will transport their performance to the next level.  They will scour the Internet for the most recent training methodology.  Athletes will dive into the pool of printed media including articles, journals, periodicals, and texts in an effort to find the missing link that will take them from novice to elite.  Some will even travel cross-country to attend seminars, taught by experts, in their respective endeavor.  These options require one to use much of their disposable time.  In an age where time is such a rare and precious commodity, trainees often waste their time by looking in the wrong places for answers to the physical achievement riddle.

When you aren’t reaching your goals, there are not an infinite number of places to look for the answer.  For athletes, the answer usually falls into one of the following general categories: nutrition, recovery, or training.  Within each of those categories lie many subcategories.  For example, within the nutritional category there are pre-training meals, post-training meals, supplementation, fluid intake, as well as health-related issues such as allergies and diabetes.  If we’re examining recovery, we need to consider rest between training sessions, time between competitions, sleep patterns, attention to injuries, prehabilitative modalities, and the list goes on.  Within the training arena there are many variables such as exercise selection, intensity, rest periods, technical ability, proper planning, and volume.  Within each of those variables lies even more division.  All of these ‘places’ to look for your answer can become both confusing and frustrating.  Sometimes it feels like we’re looking for a needle in a haystack.

With so many areas to examine, some people overanalyze every aspect of their lives while others stop looking altogether.  I’ve certainly been guilty of overanalyzing my own training.  Sometimes breaking down every aspect of your pursuit is the answer.  Other times the answer might be right in front of you.  My best advice is to first scrutinize an area that most forget to consider.  Start at square one.  Square one is technique.  Technique is the foundation of any athletic endeavor.  It doesn’t matter if you’re teeing off in a golf tournament, serving a tennis ball, shooting a free throw, squatting 500-pounds, or hurling a javelin – your technique is the single most important aspect of your journey.  The good news is that technical mastery is something you have complete control over.  While it’s true that some athletes have amazing success with poor technique, they are the exception rather than the rule.  You can have all the ability in the world but if you fail to hone your skills, eventually it will show.

Form and technique are terms often used interchangeably.  In reality, they mean different things.  Form refers to an accepted procedure or set of steps to perform a skill.  In the powerlifting squat, it’s common knowledge to break at the hips first, sit back with an arched torso, descend, open your groin by pushing your knees outward, hold your chest up, and keep your abdominals tight by pushing them out.  These are some of the key points to remember while descending into a full squat.  Regardless of your respective sport, these steps should be followed when performing a power squat.  Technique, on the other hand, refers to one’s own approach to those procedures.  In other words, it’s your own “artistic stamp” on the performance of a skill.  Again, using squatting as an example, we see wide-stance squatters like Eric Kupperstein and then lifters that employ a narrower stance like Kirk Karwoski.  Both men have the ability to squat ponderous poundage yet they go about it quite differently.  They have crafted their technique over years of training (practice).

Erik K wide stance Kirk K with 903

Eric Kupperstein and Captain Kirk Karwoski both get the job done.  They just go about it differently.

Genetics play a huge role in technique.  You are not likely to see tall powerlifters squatting with an extremely narrow stance.  Typically they’ll squat with a wider stance.  Technique can vary based upon gender, genetics, and sometimes you’ll see regional differences as well.  Many women use a sumo deadlift stance as it suits their wider hip structure.  The elite Asian lifters primarily deadlift using ultra-wide sumo stances.  Their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts use a more narrow sumo technique.

The best way to perfect your technique and achieve skill mastery is to practice like you play.  Appropriate practice methods and specific training are prerequisites for optimizing performance.  Optimal results are best achieved through repetitious practice of the necessary skills involved in performing your task.  For the competitive powerlifter, this means practicing the competitive lifts.

Westside Barbell’s Louie Simmons has done more for the sport of powerlifting than most.  He has helped revolutionize training methods and the way people examine their training.  His contributions to the sport and willingness to help others are laudable. Employing advanced techniques such as bands and chains are merely the tip of his knowledge iceberg.  I’ve spoken to Louie a few times, over the phone, and had the pleasure of meeting him in person in York, PA back in 1998.  He was generally affable and we spent most of our conversation discussing training.  In fact, at one point, he was swarmed with so many questions that he asked if I would take a small group off to the side and explain the advantages of box squatting and waving your loads via percents.  He gathered from our conversation that I understood his methodology enough to translate it to others.  Frankly, I was honored.  To this day, I still consider Louie Simmons to be one of the brightest minds in the world of strength.

Today we often hear people described as geniuses or as being great.  I do not use those terms loosely.  It takes a very special mind to be considered a genius.  And true greatness is only achieved over time.  Almost anyone can be excellent for a short time.  Louie Simmons is truly a genius.  I would be willing to bet that his IQ is off the charts.  His mind continues where others leave off.  He will experiment with most any method to determine its efficacy.  If it works for his gang, he’ll use it until it doesn’t work anymore.  If it isn’t effective, he disposes of it and moves on to the next idea.  He has developed a near-perfect training system for geared lifters competing in multi-ply powerlifting federations.  Multi-ply federations have different standards of performance for their lifts.  While the rules of performance are written the same in their rulebooks, their actions speak louder than their words.  Having attended more than my share of multi-ply meets, I have witnessed firsthand the dissimilar standards.  This isn’t an attack on those federations.  It’s just reality.  While I vehemently disagree with what they allow and deem acceptable, I’m not using this particular medium of expression to mount a personal attack.  Lifters have a choice of where they want to compete and I choose to compete in the USAPL.  Almost all of the lifters I coach and consult with also compete in the USAPL or IPF.  Accordingly, most of my teaching is directed at powerlifters competing in similar organizations.  That being said, I’m interested in explaining why the methods that Louie has popularized aren’t entirely applicable for raw and/or single-ply lifters competing in the AAU, USAPL, IPF, 100% Raw, and similar federations.

The Westside training system, as it’s become known, features some venerable Russian training methods.  While strength can be expressed in a myriad of ways, it basically boils down to dynamic strength (speed strength / power), maximal strength (max effort / 1RM), and muscular endurance (repetition method).  Westside brilliantly weaves these three methods into a weekly plan where each method is featured on a different day and special exercises are rotated via the Conjugate Method.  These methods are nothing new.  Louie has merely expounded upon them and forged them far beyond their original boundaries.  While the methods themselves aren’t new, his process of employing special exercises is fresh and innovative.  Westsiders and their disciples use special exercises such as box squatting, board pressing, floor pressing, Zercher squats, and special deadlifts to develop and peak their strength.  Couple these movements with changes in grip width or stance and you have hundreds of variations.  You can then take those variations and add bands and/or chains to accommodate resistance and manipulate one’s strength curve.  Now you have hundreds more.  Different specialty barbells can be used with those exercise modifications.  The safety squat bar, cambered bar, trap-bar, and Swiss bar are just a few that come to mind.  Now those hundreds of exercises soon mutate into thousands.  The Westside system is the epitome of variety.  It’s a smorgasbord of training modalities.  And while many of these thousands of exercises are useful in strength development, powerlifters should not use them at the exclusion of the competition-style squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Special exercises should be used to address specific weak points.  While it’s true that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, if the chain is constructed of poor materials (technique) then it’s going to be weak from the outset.  Why bother using fancy bricks, imported wood, tile roof, and platinum fortified nails to build your house if your foundation is poured on sand? Developing, enhancing, and honing one’s technique is a lifelong process.  Repetitious technique practice is like pouring a solid foundation of concrete.  Executing your technique should become mechanical and so habitual that you almost become robotic.  In theory, one should be able to set-up a big squat with their eyes closed.  The same is true for nearly any physical skill.

The best way to improve at shooting free throws is to practice shooting free throws.  While shooting a jump shot or three-pointer look somewhat similar to a free throw, they’re simply not the same.  The same can be said for box squatting and squatting.  I’ve never seen a box squatting competition, so why make that your staple movement?  Box squatting has its place as an assistance move to correct very specific breakdowns in technique, improve hip mobility, strengthen the hip flexors and posterior chain, and to teach lifters to sit back and stay tight throughout the lift.  However, it should never take the place of competition-style squatting through a full range of motion (ROM).  Board presses follow the same logic.  They resemble a bench press but aren’t the same.  Many lifters become world-class board-pressers and then bomb at meets because they’ve never done a full ROM bench press in training.  That’s foolish.  Again, board presses are a wise choice for increasing one’s lockout abilities but not at the expense of developing proper bench press technique through a complete ROM.

These valuable tools should not replace the competitive lifts

Accommodating resistance and overloading specific points in one’s ROM via the use of bands and/or chains is an effective method of bringing up a weak point.  However, these modalities stress your central nervous system (CNS) in unique ways and change your technique.  Performing a deadlift with chains is not the same as a competition-style deadlift.  Accordingly, if your CNS gets used to the motor patterns created by the addition of chains, then the motor pathways of the regular deadlift will be left unattended.  As powerlifting is one of the best examples of a “practice-like-you-play” endeavor, I would make competition-style deadlifts the staple movement and use bands or chains as assistance work.  Too often, we fall in love with the flavor of the week or the exercise of the month and lose sight of what got us there in the first place.  I have always espoused that the Westside system is a more appropriate training method for a non-powerlifting, strength/power athlete than it is for a powerlifter.  Most football players want to be bigger, stronger, and faster.  Westside will get you there as fast as any system.  But what does nearly every champion athlete do when they’re in a slump?  They return to the basics and fundamentals.  Without mastering the squat, bench press, and deadlift – a powerlifter is nothing.  If you want to become a better squatter, you must squat.  If you want to improve your bench press, then bench press.  And if you want to hit PRs in your deadlift, practice deadlifting.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat and there’s certainly more than one way to get strong.  If there were only one way to get strong, we’d all be doing it.  Nevertheless, there are smarter ways to train for the raw and single-ply powerlifter.  After a dynamic and movement-specific warm-up, most training sessions should begin by performing one of the competition movements (squat – bench press – deadlift).  Some Russian powerlifting coaches, namely Boris Sheiko, espouse the performance of the main lifts and little else.  Sheiko’s templates are traditionally developed for masters of sport.  While this method affords the lifter maximum skill acquisition in the competitive lifts, it does little to address individual weaknesses, which may lead to breakdowns in technique. Technical flaws occasionally exist due to a lagging muscle group.  Other times, technical issues are simply the result of poor execution like not squeezing your hips at the top of a deadlift.

While Sheiko would have you believe that practicing the squat, bench press, and deadlift ad nauseam is the answer, Westsiders would advise the use of special exercises nearly to the exclusion of the main lifts.  Frankly, I don’t think either path is the right one for most lifters.  I’ve used similar Sheiko-like periodization templates on myself and with my lifters.  Currently, we use Prilepin’s Table, almost exclusively, for regulating volume in the squat and bench press. Additionally, we augment the core lifts with assistance exercises periodically derived from Westside’s plethora of movements.  Ultimately, we meet somewhere in the middle and I think this is the answer for most.

The bulk of a powerlifter’s training should be devoted to the three competitive power lifts. The key to developing expert technique, according to your body structure, is to build your training volume via the number of sets performed not the number of reps. Performing multiple sets of low repetitions provides maximum skill acquisition through increased practice.  For example, the training volume for 10 sets of 3 reps is 30 total reps. Similarly, the training volume for 3 sets of 10 reps is also 30 total reps. However, in the first example, the powerlifter gets 10 opportunities (sets) to practice their technique.  The second example only offers three chances.  Three sets of ten reps are more appropriate for a bodybuilder pursuing muscle hypertrophy.

Assistance exercises should be specific to the power lifts in two ways – the muscles utilized and your own weaknesses.  Assistance moves should be carefully selected to suit your needs, not those of your training partner(s).  If you’re weak during the lockout portion of the deadlift and your training partner is slow off the floor, you may want to add some bands or chains to your deadlifts while they may deadlift off a box or plate.

Above all else, examine your technique first.  If possible, videotape your lifts so you can go back and watch how your body moves under a load.  Take videos while training at different intensities.  Your technique shouldn’t break while lifting 50% of your max.  But when you’re above 90%, there’s a chance things can change for the worse.  We pour the bulk of our training foundation using weights in the 80-85% intensity range.  Our goal is to become highly proficient with moderately heavy weights so we don’t overtrain the CNS yet still train intensely enough to elicit strength gains.  The volume of work performed in this range translates directly to enhanced technique with heavier lifts in the gym and on the platform.

While there are many variables beyond a powerlifter’s grasp, there are a few that you have direct control over.  You have entire command over your own training.  That’s a huge amount of responsibility.  Be wise with your time and practice exactly as you play.  In the immortal words of a famed Russian powerlifting coach, “If you want to squat more, you must squat more.”  Sometimes the simplest approach is the correct one.  Master your technique in the competitive lifts and watch your total increase.

Discipline and Regret

In 1983, my sixth grade geography teacher was Spero Tshontikidis.  In addition to teaching, Mr. Tshontikidis was a competitive powerlifter in the ADFPA.  He brought powerlifting to our school and convinced the principal to allow him to start a powerlifting team.  The first day he mentioned it to the class I thought powerlifting sounded cool and decided to give it a try.  After all, what eleven-year-old boy doesn’t want to grow up to be big and strong?  Spero taught us how to squat on the first day of powerlifting practice.  I had never touched a weight let alone squat.  I remember my hips and hamstrings were so tight that I had to put my heels on a 2″ x 4″ in order to hit proper depth.  I did three sets of ten reps with 95 pounds.  On the way home I noticed my legs getting a little sore but I thought nothing of it.  The next morning I woke up and tried to get out of bed.  I took one step and fell flat on my face.  My legs were so unbelievably sore that I thought I seriously injured myself.  I had never experienced such excruciating muscle soreness.  I convinced my mother to let me stay home that day.  The following day I crawled back to school and told Mr. Tshontikidis that I didn’t want to be on the powerlifting team and I would never squat again.  He tried to change my mind.  I didn’t budge.  Spero would later coach me on the junior varsity football team where I blossomed into the team MVP as a freshman.  Meanwhile, he continued to encourage me to lift weights.

Though our school had a powerlifting team, strength training was never emphasized for the athletic teams.  Occasionally after practice some of us ventured into the weight room.  We were clueless.  Typically, without a proper warm-up, we would test our manhood on the bench press – each of us trying to outperform the other.  We never considered squatting or deadlifting.  Then after a few sets of bench presses, we would usually grab some dumbbells and do some curls.  We reckoned, “What could possibly be more important than working your chest and biceps?”  All we cared about was making our T-shirt muscles look bigger.  We were all young and ignorant about proper strength training.  We lacked a focus.  More important, we lacked discipline because we were not consistent.  Contemplating my youth, my shortage of focus and self-discipline was a colossal mistake.  The lack of strength training, at an early age, is one of my biggest regrets.

When I graduated high school in 1990, I began training with purpose.  I wanted to get bigger and stronger for college football but didn’t know how to proceed.  I asked around and finally met my uncle’s personal trainer.  At the time, Victor Furnells was a competitive bodybuilder.  All I knew was that he was big and strong.  I trusted him and followed his advice.  He soon became my mentor.  He always told me that the two greatest pains in life are discipline and regret.  At the time, I didn’t understand those concepts.  Most 17-year-olds lack discipline, especially when it pertains to training.  Likewise, most high school kids have few, if any, regrets in life.  He regularly admonished me about the peril of not taking strength training seriously.  He said it was unrealistic to expect continued progress if I wasn’t disciplined enough to remain consistent with my training.  He reminded me that if I lacked self-discipline, I would regret it later.  Reflecting upon my youth, it all makes sense now.  As the famous 1972 hit song by Johnny Nash goes, I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.

Webster’s college dictionary has eleven definitions of the word discipline.

For the sake of this discussion, I prefer to use the meaning of discipline as: the rigor or training effect of experience or adversity.  Regret means to feel sorrow or remorse for an act, disappointment, or fault.

Experiencing life without ever exercising self-discipline ought to be a crime. Obdurate behavior comes back to haunt you and remind you of where you could have improved.  Most people resist challenges and want things to be painless.  Exercising self-discipline is an arduous task.  Undisciplined people are usually devoid of self-respect and respect for others.

If you last a lifetime without regret, consider it a miracle.  Discipline hurts.  However, exhibiting discipline during worthy pursuits is only temporarily painful.  The pain only lasts amid your journey toward the objective.  Once you have achieved your goal, the pain is obsolete.  While the pain from self-discipline is transient, the agony from regret is perpetually hurtful.  Remaining remorseful for a wrongful act or sometimes for the lack of action, gashes you like a knife wound.  Once you think you have vanquished your regret and your laceration heals, you look down at the scar only to be reminded of a missed opportunity.

Success in athletics, achieving supreme fitness, and staying healthy all requires self-discipline.  Remaining disciplined necessitates steadfast persistence.  In the arena of achievement, you either stand unwavering in your quest or falter and succumb to the pain of self-control.  Discipline connotes repetitive behavior.  Moreover, it routinely obligates one to either deprive themselves and/or go the extra mile.  Being on time for work every morning, preparing your meals in advance, double checking your homework assignments, staying after practice to work on your skills, keeping meticulous financial records, spending adequate quality time with loved ones, sticking to your diet, not missing workouts, going to bed at a reasonable hour, reading your bible every day, and keeping your word are all prime examples of exceptional discipline.  To me, discipline is doing what you’re supposed to do even when you aren’t up to the task.  Though not a fan of competitive bodybuilding, I appreciate and respect the discipline that is required when dieting for competition.  In organized team sports, anyone can stay after practice when the coach releases you early and you have spare time.  The real indication of discipline is staying late after practice when you’ve just played your best game.  Anyone can succeed during the good times when the obstacles are few.  The true measure of a man’s character is where things go badly, the odds are against you, and your back is against the wall.  This is when you find out what you’re really made of.

It has been said that life is a journey not a destination.  Fixate on and appreciate the process rather than the outcome.  I played football at many levels – from boys’ club as a youngster, through high school, my freshman year in college, and one year of semi-pro.  Of the time I spent playing and practicing, traveling to games, and watching game film on our next opponent, it was the camaraderie I shared with my teammates on the practice field and in the locker room that I enjoyed the most.  Even today as I compete in powerlifting, as much as I relish the competitions, I prefer training hard in the gym.  The countless hours centered on the singular goal of becoming as strongly as possible, make it all worthwhile.

My favorite inspirational quote is by Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.  So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

This quote has coached me to live life with fervor and to harbor few regrets.  I don’t want to be the one always saying, “I wish I had done this or I should have done that”.   Accordingly, I try my best to work relentlessly regardless of my goal.  Then, at the end of the day, I can sleep well knowing that I did all I could. The best time to tell someone you love them is right now.  Do not waste another moment.  Procrastination is the badge of fools.  Cherish your family and friends because one day they’ll be gone.  Speak with sincerity.  Chicanery leads to nothing but discordance.  Those that matter can tell the difference.  The time to start eating better and cleaning up your diet is today.  If you want to feel and look better, why wait until tomorrow?  Do it now.  Stop missing workouts.  Your training partners depend on you as much as you depend on them.  Consistency is paramount to accomplishment.  Travel more.  See the world.  God created the most awesome planet for us to explore and enjoy.  Do not wait until you’re too old to travel.  Compete!  Always measure yourself first, then evaluate yourself against others.  The only degree of improvement that matters is the one you make.  Be disciplined.  Once the goal is attained, the pain of sticking to the plan subsides.  Pain disappears, satisfaction arrives, and contentment washes away the possibility of regret.  Aim even higher the next time.  Our minds limit us more than our bodies.  Believe in yourself.

Roosevelt added, “With self-discipline most anything is possible”.    For the past thirteen years, powerlifting and the pursuit of strength have been at the forefront of my physical endeavors.  I have had my share of injuries and possess a high tolerance for pain.  However, it is nice to differentiate between good pain and bad pain.  Instilling self-discipline begets good pain that ultimately transforms to fruitfulness if you endure.  Missed opportunities engender regret.  Regret evokes bad pain.  Last year I trained tirelessly for the USAPL American Open Powerlifting Championships in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  My training went well but I was definitely not at my strongest.  On Sunday, December 2, 2007, while warming-up in the squat, I tore the Vastus Lateralis muscle in my right leg.  The pain was immense and my leg still hurts to this day.  Nevertheless, I am content tolerating the physical pain because I cannot imagine the mental anguish I would feel had I chose not to compete.