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!
When trying to find the absolute best mindset to compete in most powerlifters will tend to lean towards sheer rage - regardless of whether this is best for them or not. Some will go to a solemn place, others will get themselves amused beforehand. Regardless of which way they choose to go their destination should be one where they have little to no intrusive thought, no over thinking and no reliance on sheer brute strength. They should get to a position where that mindset is based upon pure instinct. Or based upon...ultra instinct.
Now I won’t go into a full diatribe about Dragon Ball, or its sequels Z,Super and GT (yes, it counts) but I will link you to my previous Dragon Ball-meets-sports-science article where I compared a Zenkai boost to peaking and, more importantly here, I explain what Dragon Ball is. *
However, what is important to know is that in Super, canonically the furthest into the story, Goku gets to a tournament where his team includes none other than his first proper teacher - Master Roshi. Throughout this tournament Goku gets absolutely destroyed by a foe he can’t get anywhere near called Jiren.
In the manga there is a great scene where Goku is trying to rely on just being stronger or transforming (again) to try to overcome Jiren. Until Roshi basically just tells him to fight better and rely on his techniques. Roshi, who at this point is nowhere near the level of Goku, then manage to show a small understanding of ‘Ultra Instinct’ and manages to go toe-to-toe with Jiren for a short time and, thus, inspires Goku.*1
Following this Goku realises that if he focuses less on being stronger or going harder and just hones in on his technique then he will move better, fight better and, perform better technically which results in him achieving the use of ‘Ultra Instinct.’
The idea of switching off and just doing the movement has its base in sports psychology, martial arts and philosophies from various parts of the world, such as Japan where it would be ‘Mushin,’ or China where it would be something akin to ‘Daoism.’
What is the real life Ultra Instinct?
It’s not so much a thing as it is a state of mind. In Dragon Ball, the aim is to switch off their brain from over complicating things and letting their highly trained, highly skilled bodies react by themselves. They know how to fight, so just fight - don’t think about it first, just fight. This sounds really simple but after years of deliberate practice it can be hard to just trust yourself, it can be hard to just turn your brain off.
In the Western world, the most common name for this state would be the ‘flow state,’ whereas in the Eastern areas of philosophy, namely Japan, it would be ‘Mushin,’ which means ‘empty mind,’ or ‘mind without mind.’ I like the idea of ‘empty mind,’ best as this succinctly describes the state you want to be in in order to allow yourself to just do what you need to do.
As ever, a bridge between the Eastern and Western philosophies, particularly when it comes to fighting, is Bruce Lee. He suggested that one should -
Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Be water, my friend."
So, what is Mushin and what does it mean to you, the powerlifter? It is the idea of freeing the mind of fear, of ego, of anger and, of random thoughts. This basically means removing all distractions other than the technique you need - which, as we’ll get on to later, comes through practice, practice and more practice.
The practice of this state of Mushin must be practiced alongside the technique - however, for beginners the technique must take precedence. *2
‘Flow State’ is the scientific name to the philosophical ‘Mushin.’ You could also refer to it as being ‘in the zone.’ You may find that when you are in this zone that time flies due to your lack of distraction to other events which you would usually use to measure time.
Now this state of mind isn’t recommended for the beginner - not because it is inherently extreme but rather - because for it to work best you need to be at a relatively high skill level in your chosen sport. Here I will focus on powerlifting as that's my main area of expertise.
If you’re at your competition and about to hit your first squat you want to be able to just get under the bar and do your thing. You don’t want to be distracting yourself with concerns about whether or not your left foot is in line with your right foot or whether you’ve left the stove on at home. You want to routinely set yourself up in an efficient, practiced manner and just do.
But how do we get to this stage you might ask?
The answer won’t surprise you; it’s practice. Deliberate practice is the main thing you need in order to become an expert. Dr Ericsson claimed in 1990 that for you to become an expert in your chosen field you will need to clock up 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.*3
There are a few things to consider about that previous paragraph. Firstly, it has to be deliberate practice and not just going through the motions (eg, practicing to be an F1 driver compared to driving around town every day). Secondly, it doesn’t always apply to sport - some people have an innate talent - however, most people will still improve with consistent, deliberate practice. Thirdly, it’s an organic pursuit. You don’t necessarily get to a point and become an expert and unlock all of these skills, you will get better as you go and can apply various principles (including ‘ultra instinct’ to your performances).
Going back to the powerlifting example, if you do get to a competition then it is highly likely that you have trained towards it. Practicing the skills and increasing your strength and having gone through some kind of competition strategy. In this time you will have learned how to do the lifts to the technical standards, but also applied some time to learning how it works best for you.
It is very easy to get to a good standard and then stay there. This idea is called the ‘ok plateau,’ and I won’t go too much into it here but I’ll leave a note below.
In my experience, I try to get my lifters to set up in a similar manner each time so that they don’t need to overthink it, they don’t need to worry if this minute thing is right or not - it just is. Specific, deliberate practice on this mindset is very important, and the constant practicing of the squat, bench press and deadlift set up will encourage you to find what works.
Personally, I can not get ready in an angry or overly hyped way as it distracts me more than the extra bit of aggression is worth. I like to be in a happy, almost humorous state of mind to just switch off when I need to. Other people might need aggression, but as stated above, it can lead to more distractions.
Ultra Instinct vs Getting Hyped.
Ultra Instinct, the flow state (or Mushin), should be focused upon the set up for the lift through to the lift itself as this is the time where the technique is most important.
Personally, I think too many people go straight for the “get angry,” approach and as a result of this they don’t try other styles to get into this zone. If you use the wrong style of psyching up you will likely find that you’re leaving kilos on the platform and not performing as well as you potentially could.
A potential problem with preparations that require a lot of emotional energy, whether that be anger, rage or sadness,etc is that the more you get used to it the less effective it can be. Which means that if you get yourself angry and hyped up for near enough every lift, or every workout, when you get to a competition it won’t work anywhere near as well due to the law of diminishing returns. This constant drawing on emotions will burn you out mentally, emotionally and physically very quickly too - this is one reason why I tend to lean more towards a controlled, calm approach.
To apply this to your powerlifting, or any performance based event you will need to deliberately practice it. If you’ve practiced to a point where you are technically proficient in the squat, for example, then you can now practice getting into this mindset.
You might find that you need to tap into some anger, maybe some laughter, maybe even some serenity. Find what works and get really good at channeling it.
Also, make mistakes and don’t be afraid to do so. Making mistakes is how we get better at things, you should make a mistake and then think “well, I won’t do that again.” Try various ways and if they don’t work “take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine...the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can.” After you have made loads of mistakes you will then be left with a few ways of doing things well, eventually you’ll whittle these down to something that works particularly well. *4
It is easy for me to write that you should just keep trying until you find what works but a lot of people will not be able to quieten their distracting thoughts that are spinning around their head while trying to prepare for a lift. This is where a good degree of mindfulness and meditation can come in handy. This will teach you to shut off some of these more anxious thoughts and let you just be, without having to think about it.
For me, it wasn’t until my 3rd full competition that I started to realise what type of motivation worked best for me, so from then on the idea of relaxing and enjoying the moment is what I started focusing on for getting my head into it from then on.
Some people might find that singing to themselves turns off that part of the brain that second guesses you. Others might find certain music, along with mindful meditation, gets them into that Ultra Instinct state.
You can see an example of the singing application via one of my favourite tv shows here.
Alcohol also helps to shut that function of the brain off - hence people making so many bad decisions under the influence - however, it is only at the initial stages of intoxication that this happens and I definitely would not suggest either training under the influence or matching the amount you drink to the amount you train.
Your hair and eyes won’t turn an interesting silver colour but you will exude calmness while performing perfect technique (or as perfect as your technique work has gotten you to) when lifting on the platform.
Getting to this point takes a lot of deliberate practice, practice in the technical aspects of lifting and practice in controlling your mind, your anxieties and your ego. Keep practicing, keep trying different ways and make mistakes but learn from them.
All the Dragon Ball mangas, obviously.
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.
Bounce by Matthew Syed.
Intuition Pumps by Daniel C Dennett.
* http://dannyleeonline.co.uk/blog/ascend-your-level-with-a-real-life-zenkai - nerd out here.
*1 - In the anime, it takes Goku to be hit with his own deflected spirit bomb to discover ultra instinct.
*2 - https://shotokantimes.com/2019/09/03/what-is-mushin-and-how-to-achieve-it/
*3 - I have written a little more extensively on becoming an expert, and a little on Mushin, in the past - you can find it here - https://propanefitness.com/how-to-become-an-expert-guest-post-by-danny-lee/
*4 - Daniel C. Dennett - Intuition Pumps - And Other Tools For Thinking. While on this topic, also check out Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.