My year with Greg Robins

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.

#mycoachisbetterthanyourcoach

#mycoachisbetterthanyourcoach

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!

-Prashanti

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What’s the hurry?

Fitness and having a good physique is commonly viewed as an end result. You work hard for X number of days, you do A, B and C and boom, in 90 days, you look exactly like that movie star in that poster.

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Its okay, we’ve all  been there.

For the longest time, I approached fitness the same way. I needed to find the perfect workout, the perfect diet, and do it perfectly for a set amount of time and I would be jacked to shreds just like the fitness models I followed on Instagram. This, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out for me. I was constantly burnt out and had to force myself to get in most workouts. I tried to eat right, but always got frustrated with the lack of – or minimal – progress in 3 months (where’s my 6-pack at, dammit) and gave up. I was never happy with where I was, and more importantly, with who I was.

About 6 months ago, I started working with coach Bryan Krahn (thanks to the encouragement of my awesome business partner, Prashanti). Obviously, I ‘screwed up’ and cheated on my nutrition the first couple of weeks. He was very kind about it and gave me some helpful advice about what to do, and then he said something game changing – ‘This is a skill, and skills take YEARS of practice to master’.

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#mycoachismorejackedthanyourcoach

This blew my mind. I was caught in the trap of trying to find secret exercises, workouts and diet plans that I was sure that all these people were doing that made them look that way. The truth was far from it. All the people who looked the way that I wanted to look had several things in common – they ate right 90% of the time, they trained hard and looked forward to their workouts and listened to their bodies. They also took care of sleep and stress outside of training. And most importantly, they had been doing this for many, many years.

Fitness and getting jacked, is a skill. Just like art. Just like sports. You have to fully experience and enjoy every second of it you want to be good at it. You HAVE to love the process. You can’t just drudge through your workouts and your diet and see results. You have to respect that everything about the way that you’ve lived your life so far, not good or bad, has led you to looking and feeling the way you do right now. To change that is a huge transformation that is probably going to take you as long as it took you to get here.

Contrary to feeling depressed about that or going into denial (which is what I did), take a moment and think about it from a different point of view. There’s no pressure now. No end point to get to. The goal now to enjoy the fuck out of your workouts, enjoy the process of eating right and take care of your body, in order to enjoy the way that you feel every day. And the better you get at that, the better you will look. Isn’t that awesome?

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So get comfortable, breathe and enjoy the ride.

-Sandeep