When it comes to training, dieting or forming any new habit it can be easy to go either all or nothing in your approach. This can often lead to building up so much pressure to do everything 100% right that if one thing goes slightly off, the whole thing will then go out of the window.
This mentality is often seen when people first attempt a diet, or a training plan or any new skill. I'm sure everyone has given up on something after their first failed go - there's no judgment, I just want to explain how this is a regular occurence but also an avoidable one.
When acquiring a new skill, whether that be a new way of training, a new way of dieting, a new language or even a magic trick - what is needed is constant practice. It doesn't have to be perfect all of the time.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear uses the analogy of the ice cube melting. All the way from 0 degrees to 31 degrees nothing happens and that would appear to be 31 steps of nothing, of failure. However, as soon as it hits 32 degrees, it melts. That final degree was no more important than the other degrees, rather every step preceeding it was crucial, with each one building up to something more.
So if you're attempting a fat loss diet for 3 weeks and haven't seen any movement in the 21 days so far, it might not be that it's not working, it might just be awaiting it's own tipping point. (As a note, every time I've dieted I've gone through phases of 3-4 weeks with no movement which has then been followed by a sudden drop).
So, what's the alternative to all or nothing? Give yourself a grade - think back to university, sixth form/college or school, it was very rare that people got 100% marks in their work. They often got A, B, C's etc but once you had that grade, that was all people cared about in terms of your output.
So if you have a day where you've hit 90% of your goals, give yourself an A* for that. If you've had a day with 70%, give yourself a C but know that you're a lot closer to your goal then you would be with a 0%.
Have you joined the Strength Prose Newsletter yet?
With the newsletter you will receive a short email each week with tips relating to what I've blogged about that week, and every month you will receive one long form article (about 1500 words) exclusive to you.
There will also be some supplementary things, such as recipes, training articles etc that you won't get anywhere else.
I wrote an email to all of my clients in the first lockdown, the Lockdown to End all Lockdowns. But now here we are, in another lockdown. Who'da thunk it?
It sucks that we're back here again but we have done 4 months of this earlier in the year, the (hopefully) 4 weeks of this one should be easy in comparison.
The email in the first lockdown focused upon what you can do to make lockdown easier. The main one was - don't feel bad if you're not motivated right now. Getting through this lockdown without getting sick, without going bad is enough. You don't need to write a novel, finish all of those boxsets or start a new career as an artist just because you now have time.
The time is mixed in with a massive amount of stress. So, how you use it is your choice - be kind to yourself and get through it. That's enough.
The other main point was about training - as most people on that list were paying me to train them.
If you're worried about losing strength over 4 weeks - don't be, you won't. I know you've lost the mental break of training but don't add to it by convincing yourself you'll fall behind. It'll only make you feel worse.
It takes a hell of a lot more time to lose strength than it does to gain it. Your body will cling to that strength for now.
If you can do any type of activity - that will help you on your return. Every client of mine returned from lockdown a lot stronger and a lot fitter than I expected, and that was after 4 months. That was because most of them stayed active.
So, even if you just go for walks, jogs, do some yoga, walk your dog, or do loads of calisthenics and rehab/prehab work. That'll help.
We'll all come out of this okay, and that's enough.
If you follow me on instagram you will have seen me post a few videos of my excellent clients doing certain lifts and then giving you tips on how to do the lifts like them.
Here, I wanted to put it all together so its easy for you to find.
You will see tips on -
- Low bar squat.
- Bench Press.
- Deadlift - both conventional and sumo.
So, lets get started.
- Low Bar Squat Tips -
The deadlift tip I provided seemed popular so I thought I'd do one on low bar squats.
The difference between a low bar squat and a high bar squat is that the bar sits a few inches lower down your back. But this affects the lever arm of the motion and shifts how much emphasis there is on the quads to the lower back and glutes too.
It is generally stronger than a high bar squat and is quite popular with powerlifters as a result.
How to do it -
- in a rack, put the bar where you would normally place a high bar squat. Then move yourself into a position where you find your "second shelf," this is where the bar will stop. You'll know when you find it.
The position might feel a bit shaky at first and may put more pressure on your elbows, shoulders and wrists.
- grip the bar tightly, this will tense your upper back more and improve your "second shelf."
You can go thumbless grip as it may help with any elbow pain.
- be careful on the unrack as it might be a bit shaky at first.
- place your feet so that your heels are roughly shoulder width and point your toes out at around about a 10-to-2 position.
- on the way down, push the knees out and allow them to go wider than the toes. If they come in a bit on the way up, its okay as long as they don't go inside of the toes. This coming in creates a bit more torque on the upward motion.
- stand up.
- enjoy your new found squat.
-- Bench Press Tips --
Powerlifters look weird when they bench due to the arch set up that they go through.
The idea behind it is that it lowers the range of motion that the bar has to travel in order for you to press it.
The arched position, coupled with a good bar path, also allows for you to use your chest more than just your shoulders. This will save you a lot of rotator cuff issues going forward.
So, how to arch?
- Get your hands set first. You want to anchor the whole movement around your hand set up.
- Next bring your feet up on the bench.
- Bridge yourself so that your weight is onto your shoulders by bringing your pelvis as high as you can.
- While maintaining that pelvis height, walk the feet up the bench until you cant anymore.
- Bring one foot down, while keeping the hips high.
- Bring the other foot down.
- Now bring the hips down slowly, if you drop them you'll lose all tightness.
- Unrack the bar
* some people prefer to unrack before bringing their hips down - play around with this.
- it's uncomfortable. Get used to that idea.
- it gets easier with practice.
- ignore the gym bro who tells you arching is bad. They don't understand anatomy.
- (Conventional) Deadlift Tips -
The thing with the deadlift is that if something goes wrong with it, it nearly always comes from the start of the lift.
And I know some of you will read this and go "well, Danny, its actually my lockout that I struggle on so hah," but the fact is if you set up tighter, and in a better position than I can almost guarantee that your lockout will improve.
A few tips.
- stand so that the bar is about the same distance from your shins as your bottom shoe lace. It doesn't need to maul your poor shins.
- get nice and tight while you're stood upright. It's much harder to tighten up when you're down at the bar, particularly if your mobility isn't great.
- load the hips first, while keeping the back tight.
- push your knees forward so that the shins touch the bar. (No, they're still not getting mauled, they move out of the way pretty quickly).
- reach down to the bar, keeping tight.
- stand up.
This is a solid deadlift set up and it provides the basis of any conventional deadlift I show clients.
So, there you go. The secret to my coaching success for all to see.
- Sumo Deadlift Tips -
This one only lost narrowly to low bar squats on the story poll recently so I figured I'd do both.
Now, the sumo isn't just a wide stance conventional as you see many people lifting it as. It engages the quads and glutes a little bit more directly than the posterior chained conventional deadlift does.
- stand at the bar with your feet as far apart as they need to be for your shins to be vertical. With your toes pointed out a little (about 10-2 again).
- your shins will be against the bar from the start here.
- keep your back tight in a similar way to conventional the other day.
- squat down to the bar, maintaining an upright position and grab the bar with your hands straight down from your shoulders.
- ensure you're back is tight and taut by taking the slack out of the bar (the cue - "make your arms long" works here).
- push into the floor with your heels as the bar slowly comes off of the floor.
- as the bar passes your knees lock them out.
- the bar will quickly speed up to the lockout position.
Extra things to think of -
Sumo is much, much slower off of the floor than conventional. Be patient and don't rush it so you curve your back or just hip hinge it up.
Grip wise hook grip might work better to keep your thumbs from scratching up your leg.
So, there you have it - tips to help you get started in the standard powerlifting lifts.
As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or anything you'd like to chat about.
2020 has been completely unpredictable so this title in itself is a little optimistic. However, I am taking the optimistic approach and writing this as though we won't have a second lockdown - and it is difficult to write this with so many crossed fingers.
Throughout lockdown the majority of us had to deal with no gyms and no equipment, Gone were the fancy barbells, plates and even the fancy cardio machines - only to be replaced by bags of cat litter, tins of beans and your ancient Argos dumbbell set.
How to Approach the Rest of This Year.
Firstly, you need to assess how the 4 months of lockdown went for you regarding your training and fitness.
If you didn't train but made it through lockdown then that is more than enough. It was a weird time and probably one we won't see again in our lifetimes.
If you did train, in any capacity, it will have helped you on your return to the gym. If you've replaced powerlifting with calisthenics and yoga then you'll probably find that your mobility and stability have improved. Your strength may have dipped a bit, but nowhere near as much as you'd expect.
What will have suffered a bit is your recovery and your work capacity. You might find that you can still lift a good weight but not for as many as previously - and you will definitely succumb to DOMS the day after, maybe even the next couple of days. This is completely normal and it will change quickly. By your second week of training you will notice an improvement.
Should I compete in 2020?
This is a tough one - if you have trained throughout lockdown then physiologically you are in good shape to compete. If you haven't trained then you have a lot to catch up on, as I said above your recovery and work capacity won't be where they were a few months ago and that will take time to reestablish as competing and peaking for competing is hard.
The other side to this is whether it is safe to compete. If the pandemic is still prevalent then it is not worth risking your health to compete.
Peaking for a competition will lower your immune system as training gets harder (ever noticed how tired and how often you get little colds in the build up to comp?). As well as this, actually being at a competition means being involved in a large gathering - a large gathering of other people with lowered immune systems.
Also, and no offence to most powerlifters, most competitions aren't exactly the peak of hygiene.
What should I do training wise in 2020?
You're likely in a position you've never been in before - you have all this training knowledge and experience but you're fresh. You don't have any niggling, overuse injuries and you haven't picked up any bad habits either from training with, or watching, other people.
You can use this time to truly assess what you need to get better at, and you can do it in a time where you know what you're doing and you're not being held back by your body or your mind.
Granted, this will change if we go into a second lockdown.
Lockdown was hard for most of us on a psychological level. The return can be used for good and you can learn new things while you're fresh but also full of good, solid training experience.
Use this time to learn a new skill, fix old habits and improve yourself as a lift but most of all - enjoy it. It is a hobby, afterall, and I'm sure you've missed it.
Maybe try Supertotal?
Joe and I are trialling an online version of Supertotal starting next Monday. We currently have one space left for this if you're interested, follow the button below.
Nutrition Tips for the Beginner.
Getting a handle on your diet can be hard. Especially if things like calories and macros seem alien to you as maths is hard sometimes.
Precision Nutrition has a handy (that's a pun) way of dealing with this. For women it is suggested to have -
- 1 palm sized portion of protein.
- 1 fist of vegetables.
- 1 cupped handful of carb dense foods.
- 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods.
For men it is the same but double that.
Now once you get used to this style of meal building you can assess how you feel after a couple of weeks.
Are you gaining weight from this but want to lose? Maybe have a smaller portion of the carbs or fat.
Are you losing weight but want to maintain or gain? Add in a little to the carbohydrates and see how that goes.
Nutrition isnt easy, and while calorie counting, if done correctly is the surest way,it is also the hardest.
So to begin with, try this "handy" method.
This post is taken from my instagram in May of this year. It received plenty of good feedback so I thought I would lay it out here also.
If you find that you need a more specific route to tracking your food then I would recommend educating yourself on calories, macronutrients and how to get what's right for you. If you need help with this then message me, by all means.
I hope you enjoyed this!