Tag Archives: performance

Are Your Supplements Worthless or Actually Helping Your Performance?

There are a few questions that every single trainer alive has gotten, and one of them that usually comes from the person who has just stepped into the gym for the first time is: what supplements should I be taking? Followed quickly by x person who lost 20lbs was taking x supplement, do you think it’ll work for me?

Chances are probably not.

Sometimes the truth hurts. No one wants to hear that the magic pill they’ve been sold as the miracle cure to everything really just doesn’t hold up to scientific rigour, and as a trainer who has trained people with goals ranging from body transformation, powerlifting, to professional sports I can promise you won’t find the piece of the puzzle you’re missing in a bottle (well, unless you’re a Russian Olympian…)

BUT, that answer usually doesn’t sit well with most people, they still want to know what they should be taking to help them with their goals. The first thing I usually do is tell them about the amazing resource that is examine.com and how you can pretty much check out any single ingredient with effective dosing all free of charge (seriously go check them out if you haven’t already), and the second is to tell them what I use personally. I’ll break it into two categories, Health and performance, and try to keep to very simple descriptions, keep in mind I am strength athlete, and this actually works well for most team sport athletes, but if you’re on the other end of the spectrum leaning towards a pure endurance sport, your list will probably look a little different


  • Vitamin D: 2000 to 5000IU depending on the time of year and sun exposure, ideally you should get blood levels done, but no one does, and this dose works for most people, I couldn’t possibly list everything vitamin D does, but one of the biggest benefits that flies under the radar is that sufficient blood levels of vitamin D can really help with sleep quality
  • omega 3 Oil: approx 3000 combined EPA/DHA per day – generally the oil is more cost effective than pills for EPA/DHA content. The western diet is pretty high in omega 6’s which kind of work in a tug of war fashion with omega 3’s as far as their effects on inflammation and blood clotting etc, so you most likely don’t need an omega 6 or 9 supplement. Omega 3’s are essential for neural health and many other essential processes
  • Zinc and Magnesium: almost every hard sweating athlete is deficient in these minerals, zinc deficiency runs hand in hand with testosterone deficiency, and magnesium helps keep the nervous system from redlining all the time


  • Creatine: 5g per day, any time of the day, some studies suggest that post workout creatine might be absorbed better than pre workout, and ingesting a carbohydrate drink may also increase absorption. Creatine is one of the most researched sport supplements of all time, increases strength, lean mass, and performance in repeated bouts of high intensity exertion. If you are in a sport where your success is determined by strength or the ability to exert bursts of high speed/effort, you should be taking creatine. No need to cycle off
  • Caffeine: sometimes. it takes about 3-6mg per kilo to really affect performance, so to give you an idea a 200lb person needs about 270-540mg of caffeine to improve strength output, which is not something you want to be taking on a regular basis (Christian Thibadeau has a great video out about stimulant use for regular training – spoiler alert, not the greatest idea). As a general rule, train without caffeine, compete with it. Want to have a small red bull or a monster pre training for a bit of hype, go nuts, but this high level of caffeine consumption should probably be saved for your most important sessions or games
  • Vitargo S2 – this is one of the only branded nods I’m going to give, because myself as well as the other coaches at Blacksmith have tried pretty much every carb supplement on the planet from candy, to dextrose powder, gatorade, and pretty much all the major designer carbohydrate brands including pure cluster dextrin, nothing compares to the clean energy or intra-set recovery that you get from vitargo, it’s used by many olympic athletes and one of the few supplements with independent clinical research. The longer you train per session, the more frequently you train per week, the more likely you will benefit from a carb supplement, for most, it will be an unnecessary expense
  • Rhodiola 500mg Standardized at 3% – a herb that helps you continue to adapt to training when under high stress loads. A seriously underrated supplement that allows hard training athletes to push harder for longer and still adapt to the training load. I usually take 250mg on off days and 500mg on training days during the most intense phases of training, or if I’ve pushed myself into overreaching, to recover as quickly as possible to a trainable state again
  • Protein powder: I pretty much use protein powder exclusively for intra and post workout, and hydrolysate is the best form for this. Hydrolysate is full spectrum protein unlike BCAA’s, meaning not only can it trigger protein synthesis (aka muscle building) but it also supplies the building blocks. It is the fastest absorbed version of whey protein, and during/after your workout speed of digestion matters. This is going to follow the same pattern as vitargo, the longer you train, the more volume you do, and the more frequently you train the more likely you will see the benefits from a high speed protein carbohydrate drink, and yes, I mix the two. Pro tip, vanilla tastes pretty good with any fruit flavour of vitargo, kind of like an orange julius type flavour.
  • Electrolyte Powder: I am a right sweaty mess, I’m constantly struggling to stay hydrated, and I drink about 8L of water per day when it gets hot (4-6L normally), this can cause some mineral leaching and loss of electrolytes, so I’ll use an electrolyte powder to help offset some of that loss

That’s it.

I won’t play holier than thou, when I first got into training, I used everything, I read muscle mags and fell for every pitch hook line and sinker. I’m pretty sure my supplement bill got over $500 per month at one point, funny enough, I never put on that 20lbs of promised muscle in 4 weeks; I’m sure you’re all shocked.

When it comes to clients, I’ll often use supplements to troubleshoot specific problems: hyper-cortisol response during training – phosphatidylserine pre-training can do the trick, anxiety from caffeine – combine with L-theanine etc. but for the most part, the supplements that truly have an effect on performance are already on the list above.

Have any questions about your own supplement use? Feel free to comment or message us!

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.

Article Request Series: How has Instagram Changed Strength Training, Body Image Expectations, and Motivation?

Welcome to your front row seat to the world’s most impressive strength feats, abs shredded beyond belief, narrow waists, augmented breasts, and the world’s fittest and most attractive people at your finger tips, all you have to do is pull out your phone and scroll.

Instagram has become the unofficial home of fitness on the internet, it seems that every amateur powerlifter (guilty), aspiring bodybuilder or bikini competitor has a page and is publicly documenting their progress. On top of all these amateur and aspiring athletes, we have instant access to the world’s top lifters posting their training and competitions, and the world’s most attractive nearly-naked fitness models posting motivational photos with quasi-inspirational quotes. I would argue that no single platform has changed the landscape of fitness more than Instagram. Some of these changes have been positive, some have been negative, and for the most part, Instagram’s role in the fitness industry is still being written.

Instagram’s Positive Influence

People are starting

So has all this exposure actually inspired anyone to take up fitness and get after their goals? I’d say a resounding yes. I still remember when one of the lifters I was training told me the meet he wanted to enter sold out in 6 minutes… wait what? I missed a couple years in the powerlifting world due to a bad injury, and just 3-4 years earlier meets didn’t sell out, you signed up a couple weeks before the meet because you kept on forgetting to go online and actually fill out the form. Now there’s an explosion of new lifters looking to get their chance on the platform to test themselves, and there are even a few people in the general public who know what powerlifting is.

How about the bodybuilding shows? Right now the sport at the grassroots level is being financially kept afloat by the explosion of Insta-inspired bikini competitors and men’s physique category, outnumbering the bodybuilding, figure, and physique classes by at least 2:1 combined! The explosion of popularity in the strength and physique sports has been nothing short of phenomenal. Never before has it been more possible or in-vogue to start your fitness journey, document the entire thing, and attempt to inspire others to do the same.

Bigger goals and dreams

I know personally that Instagram has shown me that my initial goals were actually too low, and opened my eyes to what kind of strength feats are possible even at my current weight class. I can see what the top in my sport are doing, and expect better of myself. Seeing what world class lifters are doing has inspired me to chase higher goals myself, and even if I don’t hit them, I’ll have ended up further ahead trying to achieve them had I not changed my perspective in the first place

A chance to interact with the elite

I’ve actually had conversations with world’s top lifters and most successful strength coaches. Alice Matos pointed people towards an article I had written and offered some advice for my female clients, Paige Hathaway (pictured with the boxing gloves in the main picture) responded to my questions about her supplement line. I’ve learned from top physical therapists like John Rusin who has taken the time to point me towards further learning resources and answered questions about a shoulder injury, and I could list countless others, and all of this happened via Instagram. The best information and the best people in the world have never been so accessible, and you’d be surprised how many of them will take time out of their day to help you.

The Dark Side of Instagram

It’s not real

Most people know that the photos of Anllela Sagra (pictured left) and Devin Physique (pictured right) are heavily photoshopped, use professional lighting and photographers, airbrushing, hell they even shrink the skin with ice and apply other crazy industry tricks all to get the best photo possible. Even with all those tips and tricks, they’re still going throw away 80-90% of the photos they took, using only the best angles that portray a completely unrealistic image of what the model actually looks like. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “stop trying to look like the girl on the magazine, the girl on the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl on the magazine” it couldn’t be more true; however, that doesn’t seem to stop us from comparing ourselves to these caricatures of our favourite fitness models.

It can obscure your view of your own progress

I should be celebrating, so should Cam, and so should Marina, but we’re not, we’re all struggling with confidence issues directly related to our relationship with social media, specifically stuff we’ve seen on Instagram; Let me explain. Marina signed up for her first powerlifting meet in January, she’s been training hard and she’s made incredible progress, putting on 30+ pounds on her squat bench and deadlift in a matter of a couple short months, and despite her relatively short training cycle, she’s going to be competitive in her weight class at her upcoming meet in January. By all measures she’s making incredible progress, but like many others, she follows some of the best lifters on Instagram, and every time they post a video of their new PR, she just feels further behind. Cam recently added 100lbs to his bench press in record time, hitting the 4 plate mark for the first time in his life, which is something that not many people ever do, regardless of bodyweight; however, with the world at your fingertips, it’s one thumb stroke away to see someone doing 4 plates or more with ease, and it can seem like this is the norm and allow it to cheapen your own accomplishment. We tend to lose perspective of our own significant achievements with this skewed perspective that 4 plate benchers just grow on trees. I had a similar experience after missing a 635lb deadlift, and there was Jesse Norris, a weight class underneath me, pulling it for an easy 8 reps. The reality is not everyone who starts their fitness journey can end up in the world’s elite, the best are the best for a reason, but that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating your accomplishments along the way.

Mistreatment and misinformation

“you can’t even see the difference in those photos, you’re still fat! haha” – ready for these kind of interactions? That was a real comment taken from a transformation picture that trainer had posted online of one of her clients. People can be ruthless when they’re sitting behind the safety of their phone screen, and if you make your profile public, be prepared for some abuse. I personally can’t stand to read the comments on popular Instagram posts anymore, perhaps I’d like to ignorantly keep some faith in humanity. Making a change to your lifestyle or chasing a grandiose performance goal is already incredibly intimidating, the last thing anyone needs is some asshole keyboard warrior talking shit to make themselves feel better about whatever short coming of their own they’re overcompensating for.

Although Instagram is going to give you the chance to interact with some of the world’s best, for every knowledgeable person, there’s at least 20 others aggressively marketing the most ridiculous of quick fixes and lacklustre fitness products and supplements, so beware and have a strong bullshit filter on at all times.

So has Instagram had a net positive or negative effect on fitness as a whole? I’m not sure, but as an individual you can use it as motivational tool, and a chance to interact with like minded people. If you feel the negative side effects starting to creep in, feel free to check out, unfollow, go private, and take a moment to reflect on just how far you’ve come.



Is My Training Actually Making Me a Better Athlete?

Is what I’m doing in the gym actually making me better at my sport, or is it making me better in the gym? It’s probably not a question you’ve asked yourself when you stepped into the gym to get stronger for your sport, but it’s one you should ask yourself quickly if you want ensure you’re improving, or worse, actually hurting your sport performance. If you’re looking to get faster, hit harder, make quicker decisions, improve your conditioning or any other sport performance marker read on to see some of the key questions and concepts you should consider

Movements vs. Muscles

If you know how much weight you can use on the leg extension machine, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not training effectively for your sport. Bodybuilding and fitness training has taken over social media, which is awesome, however, this often gives the impression that this is the only way to train. I cannot think of a single sport where the quadriceps contract in isolation, in fact, unless you call going to the doctor to get your reflexes tested, I’m willing to bet my entire life’s savings that there isn’t one (dirty bet by the way, there’s actually no such thing as true isolation). The point is that in sport you’re required to produce power in specific movements, with contribution from many muscles all working together in incredible synergy to produce force in a specific direction. The further you get away from using common chains of muscles to do these movements and training one muscle at a time, the less likely you are to see an improvement in your sport by strengthening them. I wish we could all bicep curl our way to the NHL, but sadly biology screwed that one for us.

Athlete Specificity: Beginner vs Advanced

At the time of writing this article the 2016 Olympic Summer Games are underway, putting the best in the world on display in many sports, and along with all the coverage of the sports themselves, there’s little snippets of how the athletes are training, which is probably one of my favourite parts of the whole games, however, for sake of entertainment they usually cherry pick the most intriguing parts of the training process, leaving out the whole foundation of what makes those methods effective for that person at that time. Sports science has shown us that what may improve a beginners performance can actually make an advanced athlete worse and what may improve an advanced athlete’s performance may actually decrease performance or injure a beginner.

Let’s quickly define what I mean by beginner, intermediate and advanced. First and foremost this has nothing do with sport skill; you could be the best player on your team but still be considered a beginner when it comes to strength and conditioning. Since most sports require some level of leg strength and contact with the ground/ice/field for simplicities sake we’ll be using the squat as a basic measure of strength requirements.

Beginner: Anyone with less than 2 years of strength and conditioning experience involving a barbell. You squat less than 1.5x your bodyweight.

Beginners need to get stronger with basic compound exercises, meaning all the basic human motions: the squat, the hip hinge (deadlift, pull throughs, kettlebell swings etc.), the horizontal press (pushups, bench press etc.), horizontal pulling (barbell row, dumbbell row, t-bar row etc.), vertical pull (chin-ups, lat pull downs, single arm cable pull downs etc.) vertical press (military press, kettlebell press, barbell angle press etc.) core work and loaded carries (farmers walk variations, planks, rotational drills). now is a great time to learn some explosive drills like olympic lift variations, but these shouldn’t be loaded significantly until adequate strength and technique has been acquired. At this point getting the entire body stronger in al directions will make you faster, more efficient, and more powerful

Intermediate: 2-3 years of strength and conditioning experience. You squat between 1.5 and 2x your bodyweight. You have almost reached the required strength levels for your sport.

Intermediates have gained significant levels of strength and have seen some improvements in their sport performance due to their training. They can still get some performance improvements from further strength but we’re starting to reach the level of diminishing returns, more of the training time should be spent on the movements relevant to your sport, for example a sprinter would want to work more on the hip hinge and horizontal speed than on upper body pressing movements. Training organization should fluctuate in accordance to the time of the year (off season vs. in-season training). At this point you will have to start working on general qualities (i.e. power, speed, power endurance) with separate methods – as simply getting stronger won’t lead to the same level of fitness as separating these methods

Advanced: At least 3 years of strength and conditioning experience. You have reached the strength requirements needed for your sport. You squat between 2 and 2.5+x your bodyweight or more depending on the demands of your sport. You can no longer improve sport performance by simply getting stronger. Your training is now highly specific depending on time of the year, your specific qualities that need to be improved. How these qualities will be transferred from weight room skills in a closed environment to the unpredictable environment of competitive sports is one of the most complex and highly debated issues in all of sport training. At this point every athlete has a strength and conditioning coach, or at the very least a coach that also programs the strength and conditioning aspects of training.

Sport Specificity

First of all, there’s actually more similarity in many sports than athletes like to admit “Rugby is way different than American football, it’s not even close to the same sport!” it’s true, in terms of tactical means, there are some similarities but a ton of differences, but from a physical preparedness standpoint both sports involve contact with the field, quick cutting ability (aka agility), explosive straight line speed, contact with other athletes, etc. each position in each sport will require these in varying degrees, where the real difference lies is in the conditioning requirements of the athletes. Rugby is much more continuous sport whereas American football is divided into plays with separate offences and defences and special teams; this requires completely different energy system training. So here are some questions that you want to ask when determining the needs of your sport:

  1. How do I produce force? Is it in a straight line, or am I required to generate forces in many different planes?
  2. How much force do I have to produce? Think shot-put vs badminton
  3. How long to I have to produce this force?  Think powerlifting (unlimited, but average of 6s per lift) vs long jump (0.2s or less)
  4. How stable is my playing surface (field vs ice vs snow etc)? How will I balance?
  5. What do I come in contact with, and how predictable are these collisions? Remember to factor in collisions like hitting an implement like a puck or ball. What muscles will need to stabilize these collisions?
  6. How long are my games? Do I have breaks or shifts, or am I required to move for long periods of time?

These are just a start, but if you can answer all these questions, you’re well on your way to designing an effective program

Strength to Weight Ratio Requirements

“I gained 25lbs this off season!” is something you want your offensive lineman to say, or maybe your net front presence defenceman, power forward, or shot-put athlete. If your sprinter comes back and says the same thing you may have a problem, and if your cross country runner or triathlete comes in and says that, you definitely have a problem (provided they weren’t severely underweight to begin with).

As an offensive lineman your job is to put the D-Line on their ass, or make room for the running back etc. you generally don’t cover a ton field during a play, and that extra mass is going to make you harder to move, provided a good amount of it was muscle, you’ve improved your sport performance. Now a sprinter is required to move as quickly as possible, so 25lbs of mass is more weight that he or she now must move at an incredible rate. The name of the game in speed sports is power to weight ratio, so unless that 25lbs came all from fast twitch muscle fiber growth (which by the way is almost impossible)  you have a problem. Sure you may have marginally increased strength, but if it doesn’t offset the amount of mass that came along with it, you’re now slower.

If the endurance sport athlete comes in and says they’ve put on 25lbs over the off season, i don’t care if that weight was muscle or fat, you have a problem. 25lbs of extra tissue is 25lbs more you now have to keep alive, and supply oxygen to during your races, meaning that the demand on your metabolic systems is now much higher than it was before, and since the forces you’re required to generate in long distance running is between 6-10x less than those generated in sprinting, you’re not going to see much of a performance enhancement coming from that extra muscle mass. Don’t get me wrong, distance runners absolutely must strength train – it improves running efficiency and reduces injury risk, but their training had better have minimal impact on bodyweight.

What Type of Conditioning Do I Need?

This topic really deserves it’s own article, and it will get it, but for now, appreciate that the body has different energy systems and different fuel sources. Although there is some value to training some systems outside of the ones that you normally compete, the take home message is that as the season approaches you should be using conditioning exercises that closely replicate the duration of movement and the duration of rest that you’ll see in your competitive environment, which leads me to my last point

When Do I Practice and Compete?

Are you training in the weight room the same way in season as you are in the off season? This might be the biggest mistake I see athletes making, they either train way too hard during the season, trying to add 4-5 sessions on top of 4 practices and 3 games a week, then they wonder why their performance is suffering and they feel so tired all the time. On the other hand there’s the athlete that continues their 2x per week program into the offseason and doesn’t use the extra recovery ability to significantly improve their performance and therefore misses a huge opportunity to get an advantage over their competition. Your training should vary around the other demands in your sport training schedule, giving respect to the emotional demands of competition and their effects on the body systems. Some sports require general athletic abilities to be kept at a relatively high level most of the year, where some, like many fight sports, may require those abilities to peak at specific time several times a year – your training plan should reflect this!

If you take anything away from this article make it this: Training programs should be athlete specific first and foremost, sport specific, and take into consideration the other demands of the sport competition and practice schedule. If you do this, you’re way ahead of the guy following the program they got off bodybuilding.com