When it comes to diet and nutrition, you will often be told that it all comes down to calories, and the macros that makes them up. This isn't wrong - however, there is more to it than that.
On an objective level, humans do work on an energy goes in, and energy goes out basis. But humans aren't subjective and it's never that clearcut.
Food is Fuel.
Food is fuel, there's no denying that. But it is also more. They have social and emotional content too.
If you think of major holidays throughout the year, they are marked with meals - this could be Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving or birthdays. This is because food is something that we can all share in, even if our diets and tastes differ, we can always sit down together and share the experience itself.
For the above reason it is also emotional, as it helps to bring people together. But for other people it can be a coping mechanism or an anxiety trigger. The full extent of this is outside my scope of knowledge but this is why diet and nutrition needs to be seen as more than just macros.
Calorie counting is just one possible tool you can use when building a diet. It is certainly not the be all and end all.
A diet might not be getting you to your goals because it doesn't suit you, or because your lifestyle or emotions are forming your eating habits.
(I just want to underline, that if you do have emotional issues with eating then you should talk to someone qualified about it - there are ways to help).
To help you have a better relationship with food a number of habits can be implemented. My blog has mainly been habits based this year hasn't it? And there's a good reason for that - the quicker you can do these things on autopilot the quicker they become part of your life.
These habits could be -
This list could go on, but it is a good one to start with. Incorporating most of these would lead you to eating a few solid, square meals with an adequate amount of protein and at times where you need to eat and it won't effect your sleep and every day life.
It's about habits again. This is how I coach, the more you can do without thinking about it, the easier the lifestyle becomes and the less likely you are to relapse into previous habits.
Be kind to yourself and be honest to yourself and make the changes where you need them.
Tomorrow is 2 weeks back in the gym after the most recent UK lockdown. A lot of people have returned to the gym, or started for the first time. I hope you're all really enjoying it!
You might be concerned with how well you'll stick to these things when your motivation, and the initial excitement starts to wane. There are steps you can take to implement to help complement these new habits, and a major one is shaping your environment.
Our environment is massive in forming our habits. We fit our habits, and our personality to the culture of the environment we occupy. When I did my Precision Nutrition course, one of the first things they suggest to help people lose weight is to change their physical environment - by removing foods that they would easily over eat, and replace them with lower calorie options.
What I'm suggesting here includes this kind of thing but also goes beyond that.
If you want to ensure that you stick to your new, or recently returned to, habits then you could surround yourself with like minded people, follow positive fitness accounts on social media or maybe sign up to fitness based newsletters. Yes, that is a hint.
This is the reason I created my powerlifting groups and also why I helped with making the group pages and helped organise the socials for Taylor's Strength in my time as manager.
My powerlifting group is filled with like minded, knowledgeable and equally inspired people who will help keep old hands and newbies focused on their powerlifting goals.
The community I've built within my group and within Taylor's as a whole is what I'm most proud of in my fitness career.
Sure, the national and international accomplishments of my lifters are brilliant, but these are made possible, and celebrated by, the group of powerlifters around them supporting them through it.
Keep your habits of the past two weeks going, and provide an environment for yourself in which you and those habits can flourish. Sign up to that newsletter, join that gym, sign up with that coach - any of these things. Find what keeps you motivated and supported and go for it.
In Case You Missed It - I have a new article up on Medium/Better Humans. You can find it here - The Powerlifter's Guide to a Bigger Bench/Chest.
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.