How bad do you really want it?

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Melbourne AU to help coach online client and good friend Taylah Robinson to victory in the Australian Junior and Masters national powerlifting championships. Taylah won the u84kg womens division and broke the open womens u84kg deadlift record a couple of times in the process.  First of all, well done to super client Tay for putting everything together on the day and sticking to the plan. During my travels home I spent some time reflecting on what makes a person successful, especially in regards to Strength sports.

The answer I come up with was very simple: CONSISTENCY. So so often I am asked about what the best program or diet is, or how much sleep should the athlete aim for, or what do I think of “blah blah” new method and while I am sure that all of these factors play a part in determining the end result, something that I very rarely see athletes focus enough on is how consistent they are.

I think you would have to look pretty hard to find a champion (in pretty much any sport) who hasn’t lived and breathed this sport for multiple years if not decades. The nature of strength sports and in particular powerlifting make this statement all the more true. I have seen champions eat and train a variety of ways, but almost ALWAYS they are the ones who day in and day out are working hard and making the small sacrifices necessary to best help them to achieve.

NO this doesn’t mean giving up all fun social activities or eating out of a container for the rest of your life. But it DOES mean putting in the boring work, staying healthy, getting enough sleep EVERY night and being realistic and balanced with your nutrition.

Everyone (champions especially) have plenty of days where they simply don’t want to be in the gym, they feel beat up, or they have work commitments or any other multitude of reasons they could be anywhere else at that point in time. BUT champions are there in the gym, grinding away getting the work done on the good days and the bad, chipping away at their goals until one day they are standing on top of the podium.

What are some steps you can take RIGHT NOW to help you achieve in the gym?

1. Get at least 7 hours of good sleep EVERY NIGHT. This is easy, it will help immensely with recovery and will make a huge difference.
2. Eat lots of protein. A bare minimum of 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight every single day. Similarly eat the right amount of calories for your goals. If you want to gain muscle and it’s not working (assuming you are training correctly) you NEED to eat more calories. The inverse is true for fat loss.
3. Train hard at least 3 times a week (4 times is better) EVERY single week. If you are sick of injured obviously take time off, but besides these two points you need to PRIORITISE your training and make time. I can guarantee your competitors are.
4. Spend at LEAST 15 minutes before EVERY single training session on the boring stuff. Activate the right muscles, release the tight ones. Focus on QUALITY movement over months and years the results will show.

There are NO shortcuts or easy ways in this sport and if you truly want to be the best then you need to work harder, eat correctly and recover better than your opposition. Years or decades of this routine behaviour and CONSISTENT hard work will make you stronger than you ever dreamed, if you just put in the work. 

Jacked and Tanned - growing muscle the smart way.

Who doesn’t want to have more lean muscle? Seriously I think if you quizzed almost any powerlifter, bodybuilder, crossfitter or olympic lifter and asked them if they would like to be able to add another five, ten or fifteen kilograms of LEAN muscle they would ALL unanimously say “YES PLEASE.” The benefits of having more muscle mass are undisputed, among them we have:
– Increased resting metabolic rate (eat more food, stay less fat)
– Increased potential for strength/power output. 9 times out of 10, a larger muscle is a stronger one.
– Decreased risk of injury – bigger, stronger muscles protect joints, ligaments and the rest of you.
– You will look way, way better naked.

So now it’s been settled that we want to train to build lean, useful tissue how do we go about it? While it is true that there are many way to skin a cat, outlined below is some straight up information that we have found helps both us and our clients in the pursuit of muscle.

  1. FOOD – firstly and put simply you NEED to eat to put on muscle. If you aren’t getting enough calories (predominantly protein and carbohydrates) then you are going to find it near impossible to add quality mass to your frame. There are numerous guides on structuring a diet for growth, my recommendations is to set protein at 1g/pound of bodyweight, fats at 0.5g/pound and eat as many carbohydrates as your calorie limit allows. Aiming for a 250-500 calorie surplus PER DAY is usually best. The current research doesn’t show a whole lot of benefit to particular food types, meal timing or frequency so our recommendation is to find what works, and NAIL YOUR CALORIES, PROTEIN AND CARBS DAILY.
  2. The training split (for the natural athlete) – Muscle responds best to high volumes, in other words you should be doing as much training as possible in order to maximise muscle growth. We spend the majority of our time working in the 65-85% of 1rm range and predominantly stick to sets of 8 to 12 reps. In saying that there is definitely a huge benefit to periodising and including sets of 4 to 8 reps from time to time as well as some higher rep sets of 15 to 30 reps. This will not only help to keep things mentally engaging, but also avoid overtraining and stagnation.

    We also typically recommend a 4 to 5 day training split for the natural athlete utilising an upper/lower body split. A standard example would be:
    Monday – Lower body
    Tuesday – Upper body
    Wednesday – OFF
    Thursday – Lower body
    Friday – Upper body
    Saturday – assistance (core, delts, movement quality, recovery)
    Sunday – OFF.

    Progression should still be a strong focus of any program. GETTING STRONGER = GROWING MUSCLES. Seriously guys, I see so many strong guys that are jacked as hell, and very few Jacked guys that AREN’T noticeably stronger than their (puny) peers. If over time you aren’t adding weight to the bar, then you’re probably not growing.

  3. Lower body sessions should be built around the Squat, deadlift and lunge. There are countless variations but free weights work best. A sample session might look like the following:

    Barbell back squat (high bar, slow eccentric) 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps
    Romanian Deadlift (pause at maximum stretch) 4 sets of 12 reps
    Barbell front squat 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
    Rear foot elevated (bulgarian) split squat 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps each leg
    Barbell hip thrust 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps, squeeze at top.

    Of importance is building balance between quadriceps, hamstring and glute focused movements in order to best suit your goals. Avoiding too much deadlifting from the floor can also help with recovery aspects. This is just one sample session without accounting for any individual strengths/weaknesses or goals. Remember that everyone is different and the “ideal” program for any one person will always be unique to them and their current situation.

  4. Upper body sessions are focused on barbell pressing, heavy rowing and bodyweight movements. A typical upper body mass building session could be as follows:

    Bench press with slow eccentric and pause on chest 4 sets of 8 reps
    Chinups 4 sets of 8 reps (performed as super set with bench)
    Incline Dumbbell press 4 sets of 12 reps
    Bentover barbell row 4 sets of 12 reps
    half kneeling landmine press 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps
    kroc row 4 sets of 15 to 20 reps
    lateral raise 3 sets of 15 reps
    bicep curl 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps
    tricep cable pushdown 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

As we can see there are many factors involved in building muscle. But for the most part the simple stuff wins out. Eat lots, lift heavy, recover well.