Category Archives: powerlifting

Why Do You Do This To Yourself?

Right after the question “what the hell are you doing? that usually comes after someone sees me painfully cranking on knee wraps and bruising the back of my legs while putting my feet half to sleep, comes the question “why would you do that?”

I guess I never really step back to think that to the average person wanting to put hundreds of pounds of weight in your hands or on your back might seem a little weird, and maybe it’s as simple as that: I’ve never wanted to be average. There’s no money in powerlifting, you’re not going to become famous from it, aside from people in your close circle who area vaguely aware that you pick things up and put them down, no one cares about what you do. Win a meet, qualify for nationals, set a new record? You’re probably going to get some likes on Facebook, and then get lost in the abyss of baby photos and cat videos.

That being said, I know I that will I be dragged broken and screaming away from the weights that I have given so much to and they have given so much in return. I know I will rage against the dying light of whatever career I have left, but the question remains:

Why the fuck to do you do this?

I sat here stuck looking for the perfect answer, but the more I think about it, it just comes down to who I am. To me, powerlifting is the perfect metaphor for many of the things I value the most in life.

Personal Responsibility

Powerlifting is beautiful in it’s simplicity: it’s you vs the weight, you either lift it or you do not. There’s no teammates, no opponent, no one but you on a platform, there’s no weather or other extraneous conditions to blame a poor performance on. 500lbs will be 500lbs, and it doesn’t give a shit whether you had a bad day, whether you’re nervous, whether you’re feeling sick, partied too much, cheated on your diet or skipped the exercises you don’t like doing. If you don’t make the lift, weaker minded lifters will blame their coach, the bars were too slippery, there was baby powder in the chalk… The strongest lifters will take responsibility for their performance and begin the process of investigating and correcting the error.

Determination, Acceptance of Failure, and the Value of Hard Work

The second you start powerlifting you accept that eventually, given enough time, the weight always wins. There’s a respect among top tier lifters that I believe centres around this very fact. You may have goals and successes along the way, but no matter how strong you are, you’re always after the next 5lbs, and it will never be enough. It’s a relentless search for self improvement that spans beyond just the physical into the mental and emotional realms, and you will be tested in all of them. Stay in the game long enough and you will get injured, you will get scared and lose your confidence, you will miss lifts, you will deal with setbacks and pain that would break many, lifts will go backwards, BUT, through calculation and sheer–I-will-not-be-fucking-broken attitude and determination, you will succeed anyways and you will be better for it.

For me personally the endless pursuit of a goal that is eternally out of reach is the true value that powerlifting provides. To accept that you will never be done, but to devote yourself regardless through whatever trials and tribulations you may face shows not only character, but is the roadmap to success in every worthwhile endeavour in life. Whether you desire to be the best parent to your child, launch a business, or look to make a meaningful change to the world, it requires a process that mirrors the exact same process you will undergo chasing that ever elusive 5lbs more.

Healthy Competition, Perspective, and Community

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be the best at something, to push myself past any measurable marker, and outperform my peers. I’ve been admittedly hyper competitive to a fault and when I first started powerlifting I wanted to be the best lifter in my weight class in BC, and then Canada, and then see where I could fit in the world stage. If I’m being honest, I never fully believed that I could become the best in the world, but as I close in on the second goal making a run at all three Canadian records in July, I realize I no longer care where I sit among others. Don’t get me wrong I am absolutely hell bent on getting those records, but not to be better than anyone else, to be the best version of myself, wherever that sits me on the world scale, I am fine with.

Right now I am no longer the outright strongest person in my own gym, we have Cameron who actually is the strongest lifter in the world in his age and weight class and will likely set the all-time world squat record at 105kg bodyweight and out squats me by 90lbs, we have our coach Cam Bennet who out benches me by 30lbs, and although we have a bet on who can make it to double bodyweight first (a tub of protein for a 2+year bet, we really should have aimed higher here Cam…), but if either of you two are reading this, there’s no way I’m ever letting you out deadlift me. All kidding aside I would be more than ecstatic to see both those men remain stronger than me forever, so long as we’re all still getting working towards our next 5lbs, and of course I’m going to do everything in my power to put them under as much pressure as possible as both a coach and fellow lifter, and guaranteed we’ll all be stronger for it.

Always Improving

Today I am chasing a 700lb deadlift, in the future it will be 705, and today I tried to do everything I could to get better, tomorrow I will add one more thing and improve on the things I missed.

Imagine for a second that you took responsibility for your actions and performance, were ferociously determined but could accept the lessons that failure provides, you knew the value of hard work, embraced healthy competition with a sense of community, had the courage to re-examine your perspective, and always believed you could be a little better – what could possibly stand in your way?

This is why I am so drawn to powerlifting beyond just the joy of getting stronger, every day I get to challenge myself to be a little better. Some days I will win, and some days I will lose and learn, but guaranteed I’ll be getting up the next day and will be standing next to that fucking bar determined to try again, and I genuinely hope some of you reading decide to join me

See you on the platform and in the gym.

Squat Fix 101: Bryan Wong, Powerlifter 

A couple weeks ago we sent out a post looking for people wanting to improve their squat technique by sending us some videos of them squatting, and today we’re breaking down Bryan Wong’s squat, so if you have more advanced strength or powerlifting squatting goals, sit down, strap in, and get ready to learn about the squat!

The basics:

  • Mid-bar narrow stance squatter
  • Competing in powerlifting, goal is to move the most weight possible, an important distinction between the main goal being to build the most amount of muscle in the quads or glutes
  • Weak point, 3-4inches out of the hole

Bryan is a coach’s dream in the sense that he already has developed an appreciable level of strength for his bodyweight, but has a huge potential to improve his squat by modifying his techniques to take advantage of his leverages. Here’s some of the videos that Bryan sent us

 

Now you can either work from the ground up or the top down, but in Bryan’s case we’re going to work from the top down. If you watch Bryan’s competition squat, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the weight of the bar collapses his chest position, pushing the upper back into kyphosis (an exaggerated forward rounding of the upper spine). This moves the bar in front of the centre of his ribcage and causes him to unrack the bar with the weight on the balls of the feet, not only does this make the weight feel way heavier and destroy lifter confidence, it actually IS HEAVIER because of the longer lever from the bar to the centre of the chest. This also causes you to unlock you hips backwards or lean the torso forward to centre the weight over the mid foot, which creates a longer lever between the bar and centre of the hips at the start of the squat, meaning that a full glute contraction cannot be achieved before commencing the squat (maximum voluntary contraction happens at a fully hip locked position); this is of particular note as Bryan falls forward 3-4inches out of the hole in his squat, and a full activation of the glutes could potentially clean up his weak point through the post-activation potentiation effect of a maximum voluntary contraction, without requiring him to actually strengthen that muscle group, which takes significantly longer time. Below is a video of how we would change Bryan’s bar position to a more advantageous position

 

The next thing we’re going to look at is how Bryan is breathing in the squat. If you take a look at all of his squat videos, you’ll watch the shoulders rise before he squats. This rise is a function of using the upper respiratory muscles to draw the ribcage up to increase the volume of air in the upper portion of the lungs, the problem here is that the ribcage is already highly stable, and is supported by bone on bone structure; however, the space between the bottom of the ribcage and the top of the hips is only supported by the lumbar spine, and relies heavily on the forceful contraction and compression of the abdomen for support. In his videos you can tell his belt is too tight, restricting the downward movement of the diaphragm and not allowing the lower abdomen to expand into his belt. The expansion before contraction allows you to take advantage of the stretch reflex and achieve higher intra-abdominal pressure, which acts almost as hydraulic support for the spine, it also allows you to push out against an immoveable object, which increases the force of an isometric contraction beyond what you could do if you just flex the muscle as hard as possible. A great illustration here is to flex your biceps in a classic “which way to the beach?” fashion, as hard as you possibly can, now try to lift an immoveable object using a bicep curl motion, which contraction did you feel was harder? The same thing happens with a belt if you use it correctly. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to breath for the squat, although it’s important to note that although many people grasp the concept in theory, undoing years of improper breathing often takes a more targeted approach, so don’t get too frustrated if you can’t get it right away, and if you really struggle with this, feel free to give us a shout and we’ll try to point you in the right direction

We also happen to know that Bryan has suffered a minor peroneal strain, which by the way is a very uncommon squat injury, however if you watch Bryan’s squat, and if you understand the role of the peroneal group, it starts to make a bit more sense. The peroneals act to evert the ankle, aka turn the soles of the feet outwards and the pinky toe rotates towards the shin, but if you fix the ankle in place by planting it on the ground, the peroneals can act upon the shin to create a varus force (think bow legs).

Left: Lucas demonstrates the varus knee position, right shows a more stacked joint position

Bryan does this at the bottom of his squat most likely to create space for the femurs to clear the bone of the hips, but is still unsuccessful, as you can note by his “butt wink” or posterior pelvic tilt that is evident the deeper he attempts to squat. Although we would need Bryan in person to assess whether this is actually a bone on bone limitation, a soft tissue flexibility issue, or a lack of stability causing compensatory movement, the clues are there that this is actually a bony impingement caused by the angle and position of his hip socket and femoral neck; therefore the solution here is going to be to widen his stance. As noted above this should also allow him to stack his joints to the line of force and produce force in the same direction.

One of the ways you can check to see if you have a soft tissue flexibility issue, a stability issue, or a bone on bone issue in the hips is to check your stance with a rack supported squat, pictured below

rack-supported-squat

If you can drop right into position, with a neutral back, no significant change in your hip position in the bottom position, and can let go of the rack and hold that bottom position without any shifting and stand straight up, you’re awesome, you have an appropriate stance, and I hate you. If you need to pull yourself down into position and push on the rack or hold it for support but can hit the bottom position or close to it and keep a neutral back and hip position, you likely have a soft tissue flexibility issue in either the hips or elsewhere in the chain, like me and my achilles tears (you’ll notice that I can’t hit depth, and if i let go I comically fall over backwards, sorry we didn’t film this). If you can’t hit depth and feel a pinch or go into pelvic tilt even in a supported position, most likely you have a bone on bone impingement and no mobility drill in the world will make this a useable squat position for you, most likely you will need to widen you stance and turn your toes out, or some combination of the two until you can hit depth comfortably in the supported position. This is an oversimplified test, but, it will help many of you find a useable squat stance

Ok next we’re going to make the case that Bryan should switch to a low bar squat with more torso lean, Lucas an I are also going to show you our white ass legs and some absolutely horrific mugshots, so at least that part will be entertaining. The number one mechanical advantage you can have in the squat is a short femur, not very many of us are blessed with this trait and sorry to say Bryan, you aren’t one of them, but don’t worry you’re in good company of many great squatters. What Bryan does have is a short torso, so lets take advantage of that. First and foremost, the low bar position brings the bar closer to the hips and shortens the lever whenever there is forward torso lean (the bar is now closer to the hips) if you need an example of why this is an advantage, try holding a 20lb dumbbell outstretched in your arm, now have someone place that dumbbell and stabilize it at your elbow, how much easier did that just get? in this case the fulcrum is the shoulder joint and the lever length is how far down the arm the weight is placed. The same thing happens at the hip with the back being the lever arm, although it’s not as easily envisioned. The low bar position causes the hips to shift backwards further than mid or high bar position, it also requires less forward travel of the knee, which means that the centre of the bar will be closer to the centre of the knee, this creates a shorter lever arm between the centre of the weight and the centre of the knee, negating some of the disadvantage of having a longer femur. Doesn’t this technically create a longer lever at the hip than mid bar? Technically yes, but we’ve shortened the lever by at least an inch by moving the bar down the back, and Bryan’s leverage is much more advantageous at the hip, and since the upwards force on the bar is the SUM of the hip and knee joint, we should get a larger net force once he adjusts to the new position. Below is comparison between Lucas and I showing the difference in our seated height and femur length.

super-hot-seated-height-photolucas-and-joel-femurs

Above: Lucas is about 2-3inches taller than me, but you can see our seated height is about 4+inches apart, showing that I have a shorter torso, below: you can see our legs are almost identical in length despite our difference in height. My short torso and long femur suggests I’ll do better with a low bar squat, where Lucas’ more even ratio will allow him to use whichever squat works best with his current strength ratios.

So that’s it for Bryan’s squat, he’s got some work to do, but if he implements these changes he should see a large increase in his squat numbers and efficiency. Stay tuned for the next one in this series, we have squatters with varying abilities and goals, and you’re sure to find someone you relate to! Thanks for reading and be sure to fire us any questions in the comments section!

 

Article Request Series: What’s With All the Different Bars at Blacksmith Fitness?

We have a ton of different bars at Blacksmith Fitness: we have 5 different types of straight bars and 7 different specialty bars (and counting) and each one of them has a specific purpose! Because of how many questions we get about the different bars, I wanted to put together this article for you to show you how to integrate them into your training. Whether your goals are to build insane levels of strength and muscularity, work around an injury or immobility, or build explosive power or improve your sport, below is a detailed description of each bar and what they do

Straight Bars:

I’ve put together a little video that gives quick overview of the different straight bars, and you can check it out here https://youtu.be/f3BfTdp66TQ  and read on for more detailed descriptions

Texas Power Bar:

texas-power-bar

We have three of these, and they’re our best all around training bars. They’re 28.5mm meaning mid-thickness and have a good compromise between whip for the deadlift and explosive movements, and stiffness for the bench press and squat. They have moderate to aggressive knurling and grip is almost never an issue. These bars are rated well over 1500lbs, and we challenge you to load enough weight on them to do them any harm.

Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar:

deadlift-bar-11_2_

The deadlift bar vs. a standard length power bar (pictured above)

The deadlift bar is longer and thinner to allow for more bend in the bar before the plates break the floor, this allows the lifter to get a slightly higher hip position and generate more tension through the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back before the bar breaks the ground. This is the standard competition style bar for pretty much every other powerlifting federation except the IPF. Pictured below is the deadlift bar at 635lbs, you can see how much the bar flexes under moderate to heavy loads

deadlift-635

Rogue Ohio Power Bar:

20kg-ohio-power-bar-header-h_1

This is an IPF approved competition power bar. This is the stiffest bar we have, it’s also the thickest standard bar we have at 29mm, making it the best and most stable bench and squat bar in the gym. If you’re squatting anything above the mid 400’s you’ll notice how much less this bar flexes in the reversal portion of the lift, allowing you to track perfectly according to your technique, instead of the bar flex pulling you out of your path. With max attempts, or even heavy triples, the margin for error between an easy lift and one that staples you can be millimetres, so this extra stiffness really comes in handy. Pictured below is the bar loaded with 570lbs displaying very little noticeable flex. Since we now have squatters who have hit 685 and are approaching 700 (raw) we’ll soon be adding an even stiffer 65lb squat bar into the mix570-squat-opb

Texas Crosstraining Bar 25mm

rogue-bella-bar-2-0-web2_1

If you have small hands (coughcoachmegancough) then this is the bar you’ve been waiting for. This bar is 6ft making it sway less from side to side for smaller lifters, and has a significantly thinner shaft that will allow even the smallest hands to get full finger wrap and grip. The bar has a little more flex at lower weight for smaller lifters to learn how to use bar flex to load the hips and start more explosively.

Rogue Olympic Bar:

This is a 28mm 20kg men’s olympic bar. The main difference between this bar is the different markings (slightly wider for IWF standards) and the fact that it has bearings instead of bushings in the sleeves. The bearings allow the bar to rotate faster without causing any rotation or shift in the plates that would alter the bar path on explosive movements like cleans and snatches. It also serves as a great all purpose training bar and is our second stiffest squat bar

Specialty Bars

Ok here’s where things really get fun, these are the bars you may not have seen before, they’re made for one or two specific things, but they do them better than any other bar out there. They allow lifters to key in on weaknesses and work around injuries that would normally significantly hamper or stop them from training completely. Here they are in no particular order.

Buffalo and Duffalo Bar:

fullsizerender

Believe it or not, this bar is supposed to bent (buffalo bar, not duffalo pictured)

These bars are mainly meant as squat bars, but also serve as a way to work bottom end bench press strength if you’re weak off the chest by allowing a slightly increased range of motion; however, you’d better have healthy shoulders and ensure you still feel the chest doing the work. The main reason these bars are bent is to allow a slightly lower hand position in the squat, reducing the elevation of the humerus in the shoulder joint, keeping it away from some of the more sensitive tissues in the top and back of the shoulder joint. The advantage of these bars vs some of our other shoulder friendly squat bars is that the load point isn’t changed that much from a regular straight bar, so the transfer is pretty high. When I tested my one rep maxes in November I had a small tear in one of the rotator cuff muscles in the right shoulder and hadn’t squatted with a straight bar in over 3 months, the highest I went in training was 525 for 3 sets of 2 with the buffalo bar, which was good for a 570lb squat on test day with the straight bar. The Duffalo bar, which is on it’s way as we speak, has a multi-radius bend that angles the wrists slightly better for benching, and is flatter across the back, feeling a little more like straight bar on the back.

Safety Squat Bar aka The Yoke Bar

hatfield-safety-squats-ssb

Performing some Hatfield overload squats with a pause with the SSB

 

The safety squat bar is the most shoulder friendly option we have in the gym. It allows a totally neutral shoulder position or even a hands free position once there are plates loaded on the bar. Because the hands are elevated in front of the body or not anchored at all in free squat variations, the role of the lats in keeping the torso stiff and upright is greatly reduced. If you’re one of those squatters that falls forward in the hole, and your chest has sunken (i.e. you can’t see the logo on your chest very well anymore) or you tend to get compressed when you unrack a heavy squat, this bar is for you. It forces you to work the vertically running thoracic extenders harder than almost any other bar, and the load position makes it a really nice blend between the upright torso of a front squat but still keeping a little more load on the posterior core and chain. Another excellent use for this bar is getting those with AC joint pain to do any type of squat by turning the bar around and loading it like a front squat. This takes the arm pads and displaces the pressure across the traps instead of the collar bone, reducing pain, as well as allowing a more neutral grip putting less total pressure on the joint. Below Aaron (aka “Socks”) is pictured using the safety squat bar in this manner

aaron-410-ssb

There are so many other cool uses for this bar, but the last one I’ll touch on is using them for dead squats to develop the deadlift. You do this by loading up the bar on the safety pins with your hips around the same height you’d start start your deadlift, and then squatting the weight straight up using your deadlift pattern. This is great for adding some extra volume to the deadlifting muscles in their specific muscle action without taxing the central nervous system as hard as putting the a bar in the hands. With stronger lifters or heavily stressed athletes this can be the difference between getting a productive session in or driving a nail into their recovery

The Cambered Spider Bar

cambered-bar-good-morning

This 80lb beast is always trying to pin you to the floor! Say you fall forward in the squat, but it’s not because your chest is falling, it happens when you come out of the hole, and your hips shoot up while your shoulders go nowhere. There are many reasons this can happen beyond the scope of this article, but the cambered bar fixes all of them. It’s an awesome bar to work the hamstrings and glutes with exercises like the good morning (shown above). As opposed to a straight bar that just wants to push you down, the weight is on a hinge off the shoulder that wants to drift forward, increasing the action of both the hamstrings and the glutes in their hip extension role (think hip thrusting). Use the forward handles if you want to decrease the role of the lats and focus more on the lower and upper spinal erectors, or use the side handles to keep the back tight like you would in a regular squat, allowing you to handle more load with the hips. Like all of our other specialty squat bars, this allows for several shoulder, elbow, and wrist friendly positions

Swiss Bar Aka Neutral Press Bar 

aaron-swiss-bar-press

Aaron aka “Shorts” has had multiple shoulder dislocations but still gets his pressing in with the swiss bar

This is one of the most versatile bars we have in the gym. It centres the shoulder in a more neutral position than a straight bar, it works the shoulders harder than a straight bar and is great for anyone with a weak midpoint in their bench press that isn’t related to a technique error, it’s wicked for hammer curls, working the hard-to-train long head of the triceps, allows people with posterior shoulder pain to overhead press, and I could keep on listing. Long story short, if you have a limitation in the shoulder wrist or elbow that is keeping you from pressing with a straight bar, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a grip on the swiss bar that works for you. It also works great for rows, allowing you to bring the shoulder blades together and squeeze the mid back harder than you could with a straight bar. The neutral position with arms tucked more closely replicates the pressing pattern that most athletes will use in a standing position, especially if they have to deal with contact from other opponents. This bar allowed me to still get some pressing in with a torn rotator cuff and reduce the amount that I lost on my bench press to only 30lbs over 12 weeks, where had I had to stop pressing completely I most likely would have lost 40-60lbs more

The Trap Bars aka Hex Bars

luke-460-trap-bar

Luke Allard Deadlifting 460lbs with the wider trap bar (80lb bar)

You’ve probably seen these before, so instead of telling you what to do with them, I’ll tell you why we have two different ones. The first trap bar, pictured above, has wider handles, working the traps and the upper back harder than the narrower version. It also has a built in deadlift jack for loading and unloading plates, and is long enough to fit inside a rack, meaning you can throw on some straps and do some serious overload work with it if need be. Combined with the extra long loading sleeves and our interlocking plates, you’ll give up before it will, guaranteed! The other cool thing you can do with this bar is perform a partial or full range overhead press where the bar travels perfectly overhead, vs a straight bar that you have to move the head out of the way, placing more stress on the front of the shoulder capsule. We also have a more standard length trap bar pictured below

camille-farmers-walk

Camille rocking some farmer’s walks with the standard length trap bar

This trap bar is better for smaller people, Camille is approx 5’2″ and the wider handles put her in a snatch grip position, severely limiting the amount of weight she could lift or carry, but the smaller trap bar isn’t just for smaller people. The straight down arm position is better for trap bar jumps, and allows most people to carry more weight on loaded carries, overloading the hips, feet, knees, and ankles more effectively than they could on the longer bar.

So that outlines our current assortment of specialty bars at Blacksmith Fitness, but we’re always looking to solve problems and make our assortment even more effective. Hopefully now you can see that if you’re using the same generic straight bar for everything, you’re missing out on some serious strength, speed, power, and growth, and most importantly the ability to stay healthy while training. At Blacksmith we’re all about the important details and providing the most effective training and equipment available. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing some more articles on the other types of specialty equipment we have in the gym, but for now it’s onto the next requested article!

The Best and Worst Shoes for Lifting

What gym shoes should I get? I get this question quite often, probably due to the fact that there’s a pile of shoes beside my computer in the gym, but it’s a question that I wish the people wearing their brand new Nike runners would ask more often.

For you busy folk, here’s the best and worst footwear to wear in the gym, if you’re interested in more details, read on afterwards

  • Olympic Lifts and Variations: Olympic lifting shoes, no surprise here look at the 2016 Olympic games, I didn’t see many running shoes…I’m not even going to address this later as most of you doing the Oly lifts already know this
  • Narrow to Mid Stance Squatters: Olympic lifting shoes, a small percentage may do better with flatter shoes if they have the requisite mobility, and athletes may want to consider barefoot
  • Wide stance squatters: Chuck Taylors or wrestling shoes, look for the flattest sole and the least cushioning
  • Bench Press: If you use a high arch and tuck the feet behind you, but your federation requires you to have flat feet, use olympic shoes (you can get up to 2″ heels for the IPF). If you bench flat footed use Chuck Taylor’s or another flat soled shoe
  • Deadlift: barefoot, deadlift slippers or Chuck Taylor/equivalent
  • General training shoe: barefoot/rubberized socks, New Balance Minimus, Chuck Taylor/equivalent
  • Worst Footwear to wear for lifting: Running shoes (worst), most cross trainers (almost as bad)

So looking at this list you’d think you’d see a lot of people in bare feet, Chuck Taylors, Olympic lifting shoes, and minimalist shoes at the gym, and guess what? If you go to a serious powerlifting gym or athletic training facility, it’s exactly what you’ll see, but head to your average public gym and what do you see speckled all across the gym floor? Runners with massive heel cushioning (the worst is nike shox, thank god those have almost gone extinct).

We all know the newest Nikes make the best Instagram photos, but after that their benefits abruptly stop. On the soles of your feet are some of the most important pressure sensors (proprioceptors) in your body, they communicate to the spine and brain where your centre of mass is in relation to your the centreline of your body, they are responsible for reflexively firing the appropriate muscles to keep you from face planting in epic fashion while you stand and wait for the guy to finish curling in the squat rack. Those proprioceptors also allow you to intentionally change the focus of an exercise to accentuate the contraction of a certain chain of muscles just by placing the weight in different areas of the foot, for instance, want some more glute on the squat? Get your weight on your heels. Want more quadricep activation? Put some pressure on the ball of your foot. Want more lateral stability and to control the knees from caving in? Grind your feet into the floor so there’s some pressure on the outside of the foot. Each one of these actions signals to the body that you may fall towards the direction of the weight shift, so reflexively it will fire the muscles that will push you back towards centreline. If you buy something with even small amounts of cushioning, you reduces the strength of these reflexes resulting in reduced muscle activity, poor balance and delayed muscle firing, less total weight lifted, and you may complete that faceplate (probably not, but THAT would make a great instagram post).

So you’re all grown up now, you’re serious about training now and are ready for some serious footwear upgrading, so what should you get? I’m going to break down shoes by their usage and give you a little better idea of which ones you should consider

Squatting

If you use a narrower to mid stance more quad dominant squatting style, an olympic lifting shoe can help put even more pressure on the ball of the foot allowing for more quad activation. The raised heel acts as artificial ankle range, allowing the knee to travel further past the toes and the increased joint angle at the knee again allows for more quad activation. These can be especially useful for taller lifters who must stay more upright to avoid falling forward. Heel heights range from 0.5 inches (something like the Adidas powerlift trainer or some Rogue Do-wins) to the standard 0.75 inches (the most popular being the Adidas Adipower and the Nike Romaleos) to some models going as high as 2inches, although these are much rarer and harder to find. Choose your heel height by finding the lowest heel that allows you to hit full depth without any serious movement compensations. Long term this will allow you to get the benefits of using a raised heel while still getting significant contribution from the glutes and other important squatting muscles that can add to you total poundage lifted. m21865-web2

the Adidas Adipower, my personal favourite squatting and olympic lifting shoe

while there are a plethora of options for olympic lifting shoes, you’re looking for some main things when buying a pair:

  1. Hard heel material – avoid rubber or any type of foam, no matter how hard it may feel to your hands, it will compress under high loads
  2. Metatarsal strap – lock the foot in, may control some pronation or deformation of the foot under load
  3. Correct heel height for your squatting style

when in doubt, choose from the two most popular shoes out there, they’re popular for a reason: if you have a narrower foot, buy the Adidas Adipower, if you have a wider foot, buy the Nike Romaleos.

If you use a wider stance, use a flatter shoe to allow more glute and hip activation with slightly less contribution from the quads; the less cushioning the better. The all time classic is the original Chuck Taylor; I don’t have any concrete data in front of me, but I’m willing to bet that more world record squats have been set in this shoe than any other shoe on the market. Sadly, the new Chuck Taylors have more cushioning and sadly are not as good as the predecessor for our intended purposes. Some other options include:

  • Rubberized socks such as those by pedestal footwear (may not be legal for competition in your federation, worth checking into)
  • Chuck Taylor knockoffs with removable insoles, and take the insoles out

Chuck Taylor knock offs may be the best option as they allow you to upshot 793e94ef9246237623ad3d23fa492230_original.png

The Pedestal Footwear rubberized socks (thanks to Tony Gentilcore for letting me know these exist)

Lastly if you’re an athlete no matter what stance you use, you may want to consider minimalist options or barefoot. Minimalist shoes or barefoot squatting will require you to make small corrections in foot posture to maintain balance and apply power, much as you need to do while jumping, running, or cutting on a field or court.

Bench Press

Anything that allows you to grip the floor with a solid connection is good to go. Some lifters who lift in the IPF or other federations that require a totally flat foot may want to consider olympic lifting shoes if they bench with a large arch, this will allow you to tuck your feet further underneath you while keeping the feet flat on the floor, many female benchers with great spinal mobility will bench like this with great success. I’ll repeat this for the last time, but again, we’re looking for as little cushioning and the best connection to the ground.

Deadlift

You’re looking for the lowest profile hardest soled shoe you can find, if you deadlift conventional you want as close to barefoot as you possibly can, reducing the total range of motion of the lift. For competition you can get deadlift slippers, which are really glorified socks but fit the legal requirements as footwear for most powerlifting federations. If you deadlift hybrid or sumo style, you still want to be as close and connected to the ground as possible, but you also want something the you can push out against to allow for better glute and hip activation, again something like the original Chuck Taylor that allows you to sit inside the sole works best. If you don’t have competitive plans, or just want to do a majority of your training barefoot, this is also a great option

Best General Training Shoes:

If you don’t have competitive goals and just want a good all around shoe to lift in, Chuck Taylors, the aforementioned rubberized socks, or the New Balance Minimus MX20 are your best options. Although the original Chuck Taylor is tough to beat, people with wider feet may find them uncomfortable for longer periods of time or downright unbearable, this person may benefit from the wider toe box of the New Balance, or could go with something like the Pedestal 2.0 sock (I’ve yet to hear of anyone who’s had fit issues with these). I spend my entire days in the gym, and when I’m just training other people, but need to be ready to demonstrate an exercise at a moment’s notice, I’m in my MX20s all day.

chucks-low

The timeless classic, the original Chuck Taylors

For what it’s worth, I personally use the Adidas Adipower for squatting, Chuck Taylors for benching and deadlifting, and either barefoot/socks or the Vibram Five Fingers for kettlebell work, and whatever I’m wearing for general training and accessory/machine work. Hope you enjoyed reading this article and feel free to shoot me any questions you may have

 

 

Does Your Workout Scare You? It Should.

I was reading an article by Charles Staley about the psychology of lifting weights and it got me thinking about my own training and the research I’d done on the topic. Like Charles, I too often wonder why the arguably most important aspect of physical performance is just brushed off as an after thought. The brain is your most powerful weapon when it comes to displaying the abilities you’ve trained your muscles to do.

I’ve talked previously in the “how mirrors make you weaker and ruin your fitness” articles how your brain actually lifts the weight; your muscles simply do what they’re told to do. If you get a large impulse of electrical activity from the brain and spinal cord, you get a massive contraction of the muscular tissue, although it’s slightly more complex than that, barring any underlying disease, it’s not that much more complicated. Pavel Tsatsouline has a great quote “your muscles already have the strength to lift a car, they just don’t know it yet”

We’ve all heard the stories about the untrained woman who lifted a car off her child after a car accident, or the 100lb woman who while under the influence of suspect substances managed to snap her leather restraints and throw an entire hospital bed at the hospital staff – so what explains these feats? Whether through the extreme stress of a life or death situation or the altered chemical state, the brain was able to bypass all its preset limitations and apply a true maximum effort. If a 100lb untrained woman can do these things, just imagine what you could do. Now I’m in no way recommending that you put a gun to your head or munch on some bath salt preworkout powder before your next squat session, but it gives you some insight into just how powerful your mind is

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford

I have 110lb women that are significantly stronger than many 250+lb men, even some of those who are actively training, do you dare try and explain this difference quoting “genetics” as the reason? Of course the 250lb man has every physical advantage here, the real difference is the way the two groups approach the task. One group approaches the task with focus, they expect to get stronger each week, expect to see results, and have faith in themselves and the process, the other group doubts themselves, doesn’t believe they have the power to change, makes excuses, and fears the task, or mild discomfort. Group 1 will outperform group 2 every time, regardless of the genetic potential, especially if given enough time. I used to believe you were either group 1 or group 2 and nothing could change that, however, I no longer believe this to be true, but it will take a focused effort inside and outside of the gym/sport to commit to this new style of thinking.

“I think therefore I am” – René Descartes

If you’re looking to take advantage of the mind’s incredible power, Josh Bryant, my friend and coach has a great article here http://www.joshstrength.com/uploads/PLUSA_Article_Sep2009.pdf about the power of visualization and belief systems, he sent me this article before testing my 1 rep maxes in one of the first training blocks I did with him and it really didn’t have impact it should have at the time.

Back then I was invincible (or so I thought), nothing scared me, not 600lbs on a deadlift or squat bar, not insane training volumes that would leave me in hilarious predicaments when I had to somehow make it down to the toilet the next day, not my separated sternum or torn rotator cuffs, that nagging pain in my right knee, none of it mattered, every bar I walked up to I expected to lift it – I could recover from ANYTHING! Until one time I couldn’t…

The Power of Fear

Most of you who read my writings know that I had a head and spine injury that sidelined me for 3 years and kept me from training up until late march of this year. I’m now for the first time attempting to peak and seeing where my strength lies in comparison to my pre-injury numbers, and in the last week before deloading I missed my squat weights not once but twice. I’m dealing with medial and lateral elbow tendonitis and a minor migration of the radius across the elbow joint that is especially painful when I squat, to the point where my spotter had to take the plates off the squat bar after I missed the lift and I could barely untie my shoes until the elbow moves back into place. For the first time in my life I’m afraid of pain, and afraid to get under the squat bar.

The squat is especially terrifying right now, because it puts pressure directly on the previously injured area of my spine and I can feel the pressure there more than anywhere else, coupled with the pain response from the elbow, I get an overwhelming rush of negative images and my mind wants to give up, as a result while doubling 510lbs last week, I missed 515 completely the first time, and singled it and got pinned on the second rep the second day I tried it. All I can think about is getting crushed and spending another 3 years trying to walk down the street without getting dizzy, all those experiences are sitting there in the back of my subconscious waiting for me to let them in, and this time I did.

Just like you can use your mind as a weapon, you can let it work against you, this to me is where the character development in training lies. If you ever hear people who have achieved great things through weight training talk about how training has made them a better person, a better business owner, communicator, helped them conquer their fears/phobias etc. this is how it happens. On Saturday I’m going to get another chance to hit 515 for 2, and all the same thoughts will be there, the same fear, that same pressure (I’m fine, I’m medically cleared to train max intensity), and the same elbow pain (ok maybe not so medically cleared here), and I’m going to have to make the decision to get under that bar, put it out of mind and get after the squat.

I may fail again on Saturday, and I may fail again the week after deloading when I test my maxes, I may fail next training block and the one after, but none of it matters. I only lose when I stop trying to conquer my fear, stop trying to fix my elbow and the shoulder causing it, stop trying to dial my training program, stop communicating with my coach, and give up.

If your training program doesn’t scare you a little, it’s probably not making you the best person or athlete you can be, it’s not giving you the opportunity to develop the skills to deal with fear or failure or to appreciate success when you achieve it. Conquer in training, and dominate in competition. In the words of Dave Tate, “prepare, perform, prevail”

Now get after it!

The #1 Reason People Don’t Make Progress

Maybe this article is the wake-up call you needed, or maybe it’s going to tell you that what you’re doing now is perfect for you, but either way hopefully it helps you realize that action and inaction are both decisions!

People often ask me questions about certain aspects of fitness and physical training (which is awesome, keep doing it!) but often halfway through the conversation I’ll hear one of these lines:

  1. I really want to get into shape but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m too tired to start a fitness program
  2. I’ve tried everything and just can’t lose fat or gain muscle
  3. I can’t train for my sport because I injured my back, shoulder, knee etc. ______ physio/doctor/chiro/trainer/tarot card reader says I’ll never do ______ again. So I can’t.
  4. I can’t do _______ anymore because I’m too old
  5. There’s too much information out there, one place says to do this, another place says do that. It’s too confusing to start
  6. I can’t afford a personal trainer or strength coach

Now I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that all of these are unacceptable and everyone should be training for their sport or to achieve a healthier body image, but the reality is these are all legitimate life situations that can come up, some, in my opinion, are weaker than others, but all could happen to you. The real problem is that after I hear one of these lines there’s usually 0% ownership of the situation, and often the belief that this is happening to them as opposed to a result of their decisions. I’ll often make the incorrect assumption that they truly do want to improve their situation and that the reason that they stated is truly what’s holding them back, here’s an actual conversation I had with an athlete:

“Man I really miss hockey and want to play again, but I can’t play anymore because I injured my shoulder last year, i went to physio for 3 months but never improved”

“who was your physio?”

“______ from _______ clinic, I went for awhile, got an MRI that showed nothing, but I’m still in pain a year later, I’ve tried everything and it’s not getting any better”

“hmm well shoulders are a very complex and unstable joint, one of the physios I refer to helped fix Travis Lulay’s and Jake Virtanen’s shoulder after their team doctors failed to get any  significant improvement, did you want me to see if I could get you on his waiting list?”

“No there’s nothing he can do, my shoulder is messed”

Now if that the injury was the real reason that the athlete was no longer participating, the promising chance to finally fix what was ailing him should have been a welcome opportunity, but the real problem was the commitment to an injured mentality. Which leads me to this:

The number 1 reason people fail to see results, or even get started, isn’t genetics or life situation, injury status, age, or financial situation, it’s mentality and choices.

I want to be on record as saying that I have zero problem with the person who decides that fitness training isn’t that important to them right now, that’s their choice and I 100% respect that, it’s not my job, or anyone else’s for that matter, to decide what is best for them. My point is that “I can’t” is almost always “I won’t”. So with that in mind I want to go over the most common reasons I hear that people can’t achieve their fitness goals, how it relates to mentality, and how you could fix them if you’re in a similar boat

I really want to get into shape but I just don’t have the time right now. I’m too tired to start a fitness program

Don’t have time to go to the gym? no problem! If you’re strength or performance oriented check out Pavel Tsatsouline’s naked warrior manual, it requires zero equipment other than your own body, and revolves around 2 movements.

Time limited and need to train for a sport or activity? Get a single kettlebell and a customized program – an experienced coach could produce a national level athlete with nothing more than 16kg bell for most women, and a 24kg bell for most men in as little as 45 mins 2x per week for most sports (yes you read that correctly).

Physique oriented or just for general health? do a 2 Tabata intervals a day for a total of 8minutes invested, 20 minutes if you want to factor in the shower and changing clothes. No one is going to convince me that they don’t have a single 20 minute block in their day – you could drop a netflix show, spend less time on Facebook, get up 20mins earlier, shorten your lazy morning routine, cook larger quantities of food so you can reheat instead of making every meal from scratch, watch less cat videos, spend less time texting, make phone calls instead of emailing. If everyone took an honest look at their day, I’m positive they could come up with 20 mins to get some physical activity in. Maybe netflix is more important to you right now, that’s ok that’s your choice, but realize it is a choice, own it, and don’t complain that you don’t have time.

For the ones that say they don’t have the time and even if they found it, they’re too tired to do any physical activity, you just have to start. Energy is one of those paradoxical things where you have to spend it to get more, and there’s no short cut, so start slow, go for a walk, or dive into one of the options above and get going, in 4 weeks you’ll be wondering what took you so long to get started. Oh and all those things that were making you too busy and too tired? You’re now more efficient at them and they don’t drain you as much.

I’ve tried everything and I can’t lose fat or gain muscle 

Well since we’re being honest, no you haven’t tried everything. Not even close. Sure you may have been sucked in by some sleek marketing and bought into a pop-culture fitness program with a paid fitness model on the front who’s never used the device or done the program other than the one time in the photoshoot, and you might have even committed 100% to that program and seen very few if any noticeable results. So are you doomed to look like you do forever and now have no chance of ever achieving your body goals? No, that’s horseshit. I’ve never met a single person who couldn’t improve their physique barring serious medical conditions, and no, diabetes isn’t one of them. Next time research the product or program thoroughly, and find a system that works for you, or work with someone who understands physiology well enough to come up with a truly customized program (shameless self plug, I know). Thomas Edison is famed for taking 10,000 attempts to create the lightbulb, and after 9,999 he is quoted “I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work”; take this mentality and I guarantee you will reach your goal.

I can’t train for my sport because I injured my back, shoulder, knee etc. ______ physio/doctor/chiro/trainer/tarot card reader says I’ll never do ______ again. So I can’t.

Basic disclaimer: I’m not telling you to ignore your medical professionals advice, but I can tell you that there’s definitely some merit in getting a second opinion. Do your research into your professional, my criteria personal criteria is as follows:

  • Take any chance to see a sports medicine doctor over your GP, ask for a referral
  • When selecting a physiotherapist (or physical therapist for you Americans) look for someone who deals with athletes, who won’t be shocked by what you’re doing (I still remember the chiropractor who told me I shouldn’t deadlift after I told her I was a competitive powerlifter), unless they are new to the field, they should have at least one or more professional athletes as clients – for these people their body is their paycheque and they rely on the best mechanics to keep it in order. If you live in BC Here are the therapists that I refer to:
    • Soft Tissue:
      • Grant Kim – Spine and Sport, Port Coquitlam
      • Dan Bos – Abbotsford Physiotherapy
    • Spine alignment and loading issues, Concussions, Nerve-related issues:
      • Donald Grant – Catalyst Kinetics
      • Dan Bos – Abbotsford Physiotherapy
    • Nervous System Imbalances, Adrenal Issues, Overtraining
      • Jonathon Berghamer – Catalyst Kinetics
    • Eye tracking or Visual Issues/Training
      • Kevin Loopeker – Fortius Sport and Health
    • Keep in mind some of these people have extremely long waiting lists (up to 9 months)
  • If you’re having trouble with a certain issue even after seeing one or two very qualified physios or sports medicine doctors, start looking into ones that specialize with your specific joint or area of discomfort. Inherently some will be better with disc herniations, while other with shoulder impingments, be prepared to travel (within reason)
  • Never take no as an answer. If they can’t help you, they can’t help you, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t

Now just because your ankle is injured doesn’t mean you stop training completely, you still have a perfectly functioning upper body and no excuse not to use it. Always find a silver lining; shoulder is broken? leg press, seated calf raise, sprint, leg curl, lunge, back raise, abdominal work etc. Lower Back injury? Lie on a bench, brace the back, and get creative, next article will be how to train around a lower back injury, so stay tuned!

I can’t do _______ anymore because I’m too old

I hate this one. That’s your own self-imposed limitation and it’s got almost zero foundation in science. Ya maybe your chances of making the Olympic podium have dwindled but that doesn’t mean you can’t play recreational hockey or ski until you’re done with it. Take care of yourself physically with some activity outside of your sport, do some mobility work, and don’t ignore your aches and pains. The body has an amazing ability to adapt, just take a look at the studies done on geriatrics who start weight training after the age of 70, all of a sudden they are walking around, generally being a pain in the ass, and doing activities they haven’t done in years. There are 3 members over 90 years old at the gym I currently train at, and I see one of them at the rink every once and awhile still playing hockey. That can be you too, so long as you take care of yourself

There’s too much information out there, one place says to do this, another place says do that. It’s too confusing to start

I actually sympathize with this one, the internet era is an awesome time, but along with all it’s benefits comes all it’s faults, and the amount of misinformation is beyond ridiculous. The solution? Hire a coach while you work on your bullshit filter (shameless plug number 2). Pick one or two sources of information and don’t branch out until you have a solid base of knowledge, by then you’ll be able to assess different sources and integrate what works. Here are some suggestions on authors to read:

  • Bodybuilding and Physique:
    • Easy:
      • Jason Ferrugia
      • Precision Nutrition
    • Medium:
      • Josh Bryant
      • Bret Contreras
      • John Meadows
  • Athletic Preparation/Strength and Conditioning
    • Easy
      • Dan John
      • Pavel Tsatsouline
      • Michael Yessis
    • Medium
      • Mike Boyle
      • Eric Cressey
      • Louis Simmons
      • Mike Robertson
    • Hard
      • James Smith
      • Yuri Verhoshansky
      • Mel Siff
      • Cal Dietz
      • Charlie Francis

There are more than I can list, but those are some great starts, many of them have blogs, but some of them are dead, so needless to say they don’t have active blogs, although some of them have active websites run by other people dedicated to their work.

I can’t afford a personal trainer or strength coach

I can sympathize with this one as well, if you don’t have the money you don’t have the money, and fitness training is an optional expense, however, if you’re spending money elsewhere in the fitness industry and have nothing to show for it, then that’s where my sympathy runs out. Too many times someone will say “I wish I could afford a coach” and my next question is “how many supplements are you taking?”, and usually receive something along the line of “I take ____ pre-workout powder, BCAA’s, creatine, glutamine, omega 3’s, a multivitamin, and protein powder” some are taking even more. Now don’t get me wrong, supplements have their place, but they are the last 5% maybe 10%, so here we have people spending an average of $200-250 per month on the last 10% when they don’t have the first 90% covered. I guarantee you would get better results spending that money on a qualified coach, and eating a well balanced diet, and dropping every single supplement in your arsenal. So how does this relate to mentality? I’d like to think that most people know that there’s no substitute for hard work and a program designed specifically to you that adapts to your changing situation, and for the most part people understand this, but it’s all too easy to fall for the seductive marketing that the body of your dreams or that national championship is going to be sitting on the shelf at GNC for 49.99 and all you have to do is take it 2x a day with a meal.

My main point with all of these common situations is that there’s always a way to achieve your goals, they will take some small or large sacrifices on your behalf, but there’s always a way. So next time you say “I can’t” realize it’s more likely “I won’t” and decide what’s most important to you at the time; it might be netflix, but hopefully it’s improving yourself. Don’t make excuses, make decisions! Henry Ford said it best “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right” – it really is that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Simple Strength Hack: Do simple math problems in between your heavy sets (seriously!) 



Your muscles aren’t the only body system that benefits from active recovery, your nervous system does too. Looking to smash your PR or achieve higher output on high velocity training? Do simple math problems in your rest periods: 7+4, 6×6, 42/2 etc. you can do them in your head, orally, or write them on a piece of paper. 

This works by providing a mild stimulation along the same neural pathways as your high-demand work sets do; think of this as putting your car in idle as opposed to turning it right off after your set. This isn’t one of those voodoo tricks I made up through some shady inference after reading my psyc 101 textbook, it’s a real effect clinically studied in a strength training context. 

Those of you familiar with the optimal arousal curve will find this tip helpful for both the over and under stimulated lifter. For the under stimulated lifter who “shuts his/her car off” in between attempts benefits from the neural stimulation, doing simple math equations brings them up to idle in between sets; however, the over stimulated lifter that is nervous or afraid of the weight/crowd/judge etc. gets a much needed distraction from the nerve wracking events and now must focus on the simple task of completing the equations – essentially bringing them back to the ideal middle ground of the arousal curve, aka idling instead of revving. 

Give this one a shot, and start tapping into the brain’s awesome potential to modulate physical performance. More articles coming in the future on this subject, stay tuned!