After my first visit to a powerlifting gym back in 2015 (Total Performance Sport, MA), I knew I wanted to compete in the sport at some point. Even though I had back squatted, deadlifted and benched (where I hit bodyweight the first time I ever tried!) a bunch before the visit, most of my learning came through YouTube, training partners, popular strength programs and self-experimentation.
It didn’t take too long for me to reach out to coach Greg Robins (who I had met at Cressey Sport Performance back in 2015, where he currently coaches), and ask if he would program for me. (I still don’t know why I decided to email him and will probably never do, but it was the best decision ever. I do have a video of him watching me front squat at Cressey Peformance last year – maybe that was it)
Its been exactly a year since I started working with him, and I’m fairly certain I’m going to continue working with him for the rest of my life. How much I’ve learnt this past year about training, programming, coaching, and just good old lifting heavy stuff is overwhelming.
To summarize what a good year its been, here are some numbers:
|2015 October||2016 October|
|Squat – 70 kgs x 3 – 5 reps||Squat – 90 kgs x 1 rep|
|Bench Press – 45 kgs x 1 – 3 reps||Bench Press – 60 kgs x 1 rep|
|Deadlift – 100 kgs x 1 rep||Deadlift – 117 kgs x 2 reps|
Here are some of my top learnings from the past year, which I think a lot of us can benefit from:
- Train more than thrice a week: You’ll live, I promise. One of the first things that he asked me even before we started working together was if I had the bandwidth to train 6 days a week. In the limited time that I had spent in the fitness industry, I had been told multiple times that training thrice a week was adequate, and that it was important I don’t train more than that so my body could recover between workouts. But considering that I’m a training junkie, I was more than thrilled at the thought of having just one rest day. For the past year, except when my city had massive floods or the once or twice I’ve been sick, I have been training 6 days a week. I am still alive and kicking, with all my joints intact and have made the most progress I ever have with my training. However, while for me this meant lifting 6 days a week because my goal was to eventually compete in a powerlifting meet and just get stronger, it doesn’t have to be that for everyone. With some of the women I coach, this gave me the confidence to programme 4 strength days in the gym and encourage them to either play a sport or pursue something that they enjoyed like running or zumba, on other days, without constantly worrying about overtraining.
- Grow, grow, grow your back: I’ve been doing some sort of pulling/ rowing movement at least twice a week, especially these last few months. Not only do I do them twice a week, but I also do what was a previously an unimaginable number of sets for me. Apart from the fact that my back looks like a (very sexy) road map right now, I’m also able to maintain some solid upper back tightness on the deadlift, get a much better bench set up and my grip strength has gone through the roof!
- Strength is a skill: I have obviously always paid attention to technique and have constantly worked on getting better at various lifts and using different tools. But learning to pay attention to finer details that potentially play a big role in how and how much I lift is something I’ve developed recently. Videoing all my sets and watching them over and over again, consciously ‘practicing’ some of the things my coach has asked me to fix are good examples of how I treat strength as a skill. And the more I do this, the more and better I’ve been able to lift.
- The bros are on to something, train upper body more than once a week: When I recently met coach Robins, he said something very interesting – that it was important to train upper body twice a week, just like we train two lower body days (squat and deadlift). Even though I have been doing two upper body days for the last year, it never occurred to me that this is what I was doing. Upper body muscles are also better at recovering when compared to larger lower body muscles. So recovery is not usually an issue when it comes to training upper body lifts more frequently. Here’s what my training week has looked like for most of last year:
Sunday – Sprints and plyometrics
Monday – Squats
Tuesday – Bench
Wednesday – Active Recovery
Thursday – Deadlift
Friday – Bench
Saturday – Rest
- Cycle your key lifts: If you have spent long enough training the big three (squat, bench and deadlift), you should be well aware of some of the drawbacks of using those lifts consistently in the long run – muscular imbalances, repetitive joint stress, CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue are some common examples. In having worked with coach Robins, I quickly learnt how I don’t have to conventional deadlift week after week to get stronger on the conventional deadlift. I’ve done the sumo deadlift, deficit deadlifts, low setting trap bar deadlifts, banded and pause deadlifts, and my deadlift has gotten nothing but stronger. Same deal with squats and the bench – incline, decline, pause, close grip, banded and Spoto bench and Safety Squat Bar, front and pause squats are some of the variations I have trained. I think this plays a huge role in me not developing any major muscular imbalances and staying injury free, while continuing to make massive progress in terms of technique and load on the bar.
- Be ready, be aggressive, attack the bar: I rarely feel like I don’t want to train. But on days that I do, I usually feel extremely guilty for feeling that way, push through my training and end up having an overall shitty session. Recently, I discovered the importance of readiness, and how that determined how my training goes. Times when I haven’t been able to hit the numbers my coach has wanted me to, assuming technique was in place, it was usually because I wasn’t feeling up to it (mostly because of bad prep or recovery). I’ve now learnt to take a nap or eat a meal or complete things on my to-do list before I train, because those are the things that usually get in the way for me personally. Another lesson has been the importance of being aggressive, especially on the deadlift. Apart from always ensuring I have Metallica/ Mumford and Sons/ the Max Mad theme song (depending on the workout) on high volume, I’ve worked on being more efficient with my set up and deliberately reducing the time I have to think before lifting the bar.
As my coach would say, train with a purpose!