8 Things You Don't Need To Worry About As A Recreational Powerlifter
The day I realized I probably wouldn't be a powerlifting world champion was a sad day. Well, it wasn't but it sounds good at the start of an article doesn't it?
Maybe I should rethink this whole writing gig?
There comes a time when every lifter comes face to face with how good they are in relation to other people.
Personally, I might get close to international standards (especially with bench press) but I'll never be a world champion.
This means worrying about all the minute of the sport is probably unnecessary.
Most people should probably call themselves "recreational powerlifters."
Describing yourself as an "average" powerlifter doesn't necessarily feel good, but it's where most of us are at. Accepting it, moving on, and making gains anyway is the best response to this realization.
Many recreational powerlifters stress themselves senseless over little details. These little details can take the joy out of training and stops people from being consistent or engaging in lifelong training.
For example, if you are going to do a powerlifting meet to have some fun, you don't need to worry about making sure your feet are 57.687854885cm apart every time you squat. Put your feet in a relatively similar position allowing you to move the best and enjoy your squats.
Here are some of the things I've noticed recreational powerlifters get pre-occupied with:
If you've looked into powerlifting programming you'll have seen there is much information out there and many different opinions that it is difficult to know who is feeding you a crock of shit and who has the science of programming down.
Luckily, as a hobbyist, unless you have a specific illness or condition, you don't need ultra-specific programming until you've been lifting for a few years.
If you are powerlifting make sure your compound lifts (lifts using big muscle groups like squats, bench press, and deadlifts) are early in your workouts. Make sure you are building a base of muscle mass. These are great concepts to apply aesthetically, for strength, and from a health perspective.
In general, if you are increasing the amount of weight on the bar each week, the volume of training should either reduce or stay the same.
If you are increasing the amount of training volume each week through doing more sets, reps, or some other way of increasing volume, it's normally a good idea to stick at around the same intensity or percentage of your 1 rep max.
So as volume goes up, intensity should come down or stay the same
As intensity goes up, the volume should stay the same or go down.
Combine this with some single leg, upper back, and core work and you have the basis of a program that will work well.
But how many times should you train per week?
Between 3 and 5 seems to work best for the powerlifting hobbyist.
Ultra-Specific "Extreme" Lifting Techniques
These extreme techniques might include multi-ply lifting, extreme arching for bench press, super-wide stance squats, rounded back deadlifts, or any other technique that substantially increases your risk of injury.
I've seen people arch over a foam roller in a desperate bid to improve their bench arch only to give themself a hernia.
Some of these techniques may give you a powerlifting advantage, but if that comes at the expense of your everyday life quality, it might not be worth the risk of applying the extreme methodologies.
Luckily good form is a range. You can normally still get in a great position for all your lifts without needing to use extreme ranges of motion where people often get injured.
If you continue to progress and are competitive at competitions it might be worth exploring more options on how to gain a powerlifting advantage.
This isn't an argument against training hard and pushing the limits of your body. It's an argument for staying within a 'sensible' positional range and prioritizing your health over your hobby.
We should probably define what optimal recovery is.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what that is.
For me, it's being ready for the next session without being in more pain than usual while able to maintain a positive mood around training.
We can get ready for our next session in many ways, however, occasionally people strive for perfection with these methods and end up in a worse state than before.
Recovery is great when it's not someone's overarching focus. Overly stressing about optimal recovery when you have a job, kids, and an ill dog isn't.
As a powerlifting hobbyist you don't need to stress about getting exactly 8 hours of sleep, performing a 40-minute stretching session at 6 am, guided meditation at 9 am, and a session in a floatation tank at 12 with a multivitamin drip in your arm every day.
Life means everything can't be about recovery if you want any kind of meaningful existence. Or if you want to have nice things.
People can't manage optimal recovery without a huge team of people around them to manage it for them.
You will get stressed, you will have nights without sleep, you'll get stuck in traffic for 2 hours after having your pre-workout and feel flat when you get in the gym.
Life happens, and for people who aren't professional athletes, optimal recovery isn't a thing.
We should shoot for "good recovery as often as possible."
Some suggested strategies for recovery are parasympathetic breathing drills at the end of a session for a minute or two.
Laughter and humour are great for recovery and longevity.
"In 1982 paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, then 40 years old, was found to have an abdominal mesothelioma. This is a rare but aggressive tumor, and Gould learned the median survival time was only 8 months. If this held for half of the patients so afflicted, there were the remaining patients, including some who might survive much longer. Rather than sink into hopelessness and despair, Gould decided to fight with proper attitude lined up with excellent medical management. He survived 20 years following the diagnosis, finally succumbing to unrelated metastatic lung cancer in 2002. Gould never gave up. He wrote about that first battle with cancer in 1985 in a paper entitled “The Median Isn't the Message” (10). In it he concluded, “The swords of battle are numerous, and none more effective than humor.”
Sitting down for a relaxing beer at the end of a hard week can be great for recovery.
If The Hybrid Athlete, Alex Viada, a man who has extremely high recovery demands says the odd beer can help recovery then I am onboard!
Improving your sleep without tracking it is great for recovery. This advice applies if you don't have sleep apnea. If you have any suspicion you may have sleep apnea, please get tested.
You'll feel like a new person once you are correctly treated for sleep apnea.
Having some time to yourself can be great for recovery if you are comfortable in your own company.
Not working all the time can be great for recovery if you're good at handling time off.
Getting out of toxic relationships can be great for recovery in the long-run.
Eating more wholesome, nutritious food is often great for recovery.
Sensible cardio sessions are often great for recovery.
Improving and making good choices about the above concepts are broad recovery strokes looking to improve lots of areas of your life.
Anything good for your mental health is usually also great for your recovery too.
Know to chase recovery perfection will always end in you falling short. Don't go for perfection, go for a good recovery. When you get frustrated when life happens and recovery is sub-optimal, stressing out about your recovery won't get your recovery back on track any sooner.
Eventually, life settles down without forcing it and you can get back on track with your recovery.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't be sensible with your recovery. If you aren't sensible in the hours before a session for example, you can ruin it for no reason.
Examples of this include hours of gardening before a session or decorating the house for hours before a session. I know these things are unavoidable sometimes. When they do happen know you will probably have to adjust the weights you lift and the exercises you do.
When you perform activities you don't normally perform immediately before a session you'll probably feel out of sorts. Be prepared for it without stressing that you have to deviate from your program.
You'll be back on point in the next few sessions, focus on keeping up the consistency of your training.
Perfect form is a myth.
You should have "good" form.
Good form is a range of positions.
For example, the angle of your torso while squatting can be very different from rep to rep without the form being bad or dangerous because the angle stays within a sensible range.
Having good form is having an ability to still be able to perform a rep without everything being perfect. Good form is individual to you. Good form is repeatable.
Having good form is impossible without occasionally having "bad" form or making mistakes you learn to correct. This means the odd bad rep is very important for your athletic development.
As you age, your previous "good" form may start to aggravate injuries and have to be changed to be "good" again.
It becomes increasingly clear overly worrying about "perfect form" is a waste of energy.
Focus on creating good form during every exercise then focus on making good form as subconscious as possible.
I've always had the motivation to do this since striving to "be proud" of every movement I do in the gym.
When you've achieved the above, look over your movements every few months or when issues present themselves. Make sure you have someone such as a coach to provide you with feedback to stop bad habits creeping in.
If you are a powerlifter, you don't need to obsess about your rest periods. As a general rule having 2-5 minutes between sets of big movements works well.
With smaller "assistance" exercises 1-3 minutes rest is normally a great guideline.
If you are a talker who finds themselves resting for 20 minutes between sets consider setting a timer to make sure you aren't taking TOO long between sets.
If you are a powerlifter who doesn't rest between sets like it's a cardio session you MIGHT want to set a timer for 90 seconds to 2 minutes to make sure you are getting enough rest to maintain good form.
You don't need to obsess about getting each set in after exactly 5 minutes rest, or storm out of the gym because someone spoke to you and you had to wait an extra 3 seconds before doing your next set.
Chill out, try not to get distracted from what you are trying to do in the gym, and find the rest intervals that work for you.
Extreme Athlete Mindsets
Athletes often have an overwhelming ability to focus on the job at hand and canceling everything else around them and still being able to perform, often bordering on psychopathy.
To quote Ryan Holiday in THIS article:
"The process is about finishing. Finishing games. Finishing workouts. Finishing film sessions. Finishing drives. Finishing reps. Finishing plays. Finishing blocks. Finishing the smallest task you have right in front of you and finishing it well."
I would add the words no matter what to the end of the last sentence. As an athlete, you get it done or you don't make the cut.
According to Charles Gardiner:
"Most athletes, specifically Olympic athletes have psychopathy traits:
Ability to maintain a ‘cool’ head under pressure
Ruthlessness, and desire to win
Opponent vulnerability spotting
Living in the present
Charm and charisma
Lack of empathy and remorse, particularly from winning"
You can read his article HERE.
If you aren't winning or close to the top ranking in your country, region or even one of the strongest in your gym trying to train yourself to be a psychopath for athletic purposes probably isn't going to be the best for your life, your relationships or your mental health.
It won't even make you a champion. You'll just be a dick who adds 2.5kg to their slightly-above-average deadlift at the expense of their marriage.
Work on your mental health, your attitude, and your motivation but don't try to force yourself into a pointless athlete mindset making your life less fulfilling.
Using Ultra-Specific Equipment
"HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO LIFT WITHOUT CALIBRATED ELEIKO PLATES WITH MATCHING POWERLIFTING BAR AND RACK!?"
Using calibrated, competition-spec equipment is great but isn't essential unless you can't load enough weight onto the bar to do your sets, or if it's making it so you can't put clips on the bar, then competition or at least thinner plates are needed.
It's important to use a bench press where you can unrack the bar safely. It shouldn't be too high or too low, but you don't need it to be specifically a competition rack to achieve this.
It's nice to be able to use one, but it's not essential and you can still be a great powerlifter without ever using a powerlifting rack outside of competition.
With the growth of powerlifting, there will be a gym near you that has the specific equipment assuming every gym doesn't close because of coronavirus, so if you do want to use it, do some research into your local area and find out which gyms have the most specific kit.
Be prepared for it to be in demand because people love their calibrated equipment!
What other people are lifting
If you are inspired by what people lift, wonderful. Watch them lift huge numbers to your heart's content.
If it makes you feel weak and like you shouldn't bother, stop watching their videos. It doesn't matter what other people are lifting because you are using powerlifting as a means to achieve lifelong training.
If you start noticing you lift more than most people at your gym or similar weights to those people you see on Instagram, check out regional records and results.
If those numbers inspire you and make you want to lift more than them, go for it.
The same applies to national and international records and competition results. If checking them out fills you with a raging fire to train and compete and adds to your life, then wonderful.
If you are like most people and comparing yourself heavily to others adds a mental load far higher than is positive, stop comparing yourself to others, unfollow them on the gram and concentrate on yourself making progress with consistency, the weights you lift, and the technique you put on show.
Tracking your sleep
Tracking and researching sleep was the worst thing I ever did for my own slumber.
I'd lie awake thinking about the blue light I'd taken in during the hours before bed and wonder how much my brain waves had been altered away from a natural sleeping rhythm.
Then I'd think about how much the tiny light coming in from under the curtains would affect my natural ability to sleep.
Then I'd worry these lost minutes of sleep would affect my brain when I'm 80 and BOOM!
Another night where I sleep or approximately 4 hours.
According to THIS Johns Hopkins University article sleep trackers map an approximation of sleep (inactivity) and aren't tracking sleep itself.
For that, you need to have a medical sleep study where they can test you for sleep conditions like sleep apnea.
Some people like me develop a sleep placebo effect, so if they see a wakeful period on their Fitbit tracker, they will always feel sluggish and low energy, whereas if they didn't see the tracker, they won't.
If your sleep tracker adds to your stress or you slept better before using one, stop tracking your sleep.
Sleep trackers can be useful, but as a powerlifting hobbyist, it's certainly not required to get the most out of your lifting.
Many recreational powerlifters suffer from "paralysis by analysis" resulting from unnecessarily worrying about lots of details which elite athletes hire professionals to deal with for them so it doesn't sap their willpower, decision fatigue so they don't have to worry about various things.
Often optimal training comes from worrying less, to achieve more.
Don't overly worry about the above things unless it's affecting your health.
This article discussed many things "not" to do.
For a list things you can do to improve your lifting check out my article discussing 24 THINGS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFTING AND MINDSET which makes a nice companion for this article.
Thanks for reading, guys.
The Heavy Metal Strength Coach