in which our heroine muses upon her results and resolves to improve them
I’m just recently back from the World Drug Free Powerlifting Championships (sounds cool, huh?) in which I lifted more or less what I did at the Nationals seven months ago and ended up with a total which was 5kg less than in April.
So in seven months, my lifts haven’t improved – not on the day, not in competition. And so I muse upon why that might be.
Here are some of my favourite excuses, see if you recognise any of them.
“I’m two weeks away from a massive breakthrough!”
Yeah, just another week or two and I’d have had strength beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve had that feeling before – that great things are just around the corner, if I can only x, y or z. But it rarely happens. However, at least this time I have the chance to test the theory since my next meet is on 6th December, only a couple of training weeks away.
“I was away from the gym for too long”
Well I was, but I’ve still managed to fit in 3-4 months of training so I am not convinced that this really is the story. Maybe one of those little sub plots that peters out after a while.
“I have reached my genetic potential”
This the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night – what if I never lift any heavier? In truth, I don’t think that this is it for me, but I may have reached the First Great Plateau on Strength Mountain. This is where the easy gains cease, when you’ve reached your easy genetic potential. After this point, gains take a lot of hard work, effort and soul searching and you have to ask yourself whether you want to spend five months increasing your deadlift by 5kg. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, the answer is probably yes. But if you’re not, you might want to consider developing in another direction.
“I screwed up on the day”
I didn’t have my best ever day but I can hardly blame nerves or the lights or the bad eighties soundtrack (well, apart from Power of Love – who doesn’t like that?). There were some technique issues that needed fixing but I knew before the day of competition where my training had got me and I wasn’t expecting greatness – just maybe a weeny PR or two.
Do something else
So none of the excuses above really ring true for me. What is true, is that my programme didn’t work. There could be all kinds of reasons for that but ultimately it didn’t do the job it was supposed to do, which was to increase my powerlifting numbers.
I put together my programme, it was lovely, I was very fond of it. But I need to let it go. This is the great thing about doing a sport like powerlifting. Your programme either works or it doesn’t in terms of your sporting goal. If you are training for general health and fitness it is probably harder to tell what is working and what isn’t. I probably gained in other ways on my programme – I can feel it – but it didn’t make my numbers go up, which was the main aim.
“There is no perfect programme. If I could give one piece of fitness advice to most trainees it would be to stop doing what you are doing and try something else.”
– Dan John, Never Let Go
In fact, there are loads of things to try and this doesn’t just apply to powerlifting but to all kinds of strength training for a variety of goals. If your programme isn’t working, try some of these solutions:
1. Try something else
As the man said, do something else. If you don’t know what, buy his books for plenty of ideas. I tend to go on a combination of instinct and knowledge, but sometimes you just have to try stuff to know what it does in the first place. Not sure whether higher volume will work? Only way to find out is to try it and see. Think you need more max effort lifting or more assistance work? Do it for 4-6 weeks and see if your numbers go up.
2. Get some coaching
The best lifters rarely work alone. Everyone can benefit from some good coaching, and if things are not working for you and you are all out of ideas, share the problem with someone else. A good coach can tell you what’s really going on in your lift, suggest cues to fix problems, bring more discipline to your training and be brutally honest if necessary. Good coaching is something I’ve been missing and I will be trying to fix this.
3. If you haven’t done, find people who are better than you are and train with them
Being the strongest person in your gym is not a good receipe for progression, unless you are Andy Bolton. Working with or alongside people of a similar age, weight and perhaps the same sex, who are better than you is both inspiring and motivating. Sometimes you just need your ass kicked. One reason I like competitions is the kick up the butt I get from watching lighter women outlift me!
4. Get your recovery, nutrition and supplements sorted
This may or may not be the primary cause of any problem or plateau, but how many of us with real lives can honestly say we’ve got this stuff dialled 24/7? As far as I’m concerned my recovery can always be better. There’s always something I’m not doing, whether it’s getting enough sleep, stretching and foam rolling, rehabbing my shoulder, proper active recovery and so on.
5. Be positive but determined
Don’t ignore the fact that things aren’t working well but don’t be downhearted either. Most people in the gym are guilty of the former, and I’m usually guilty of the latter. Neither are particularly healthy. When you look back on 40 years of strength training, periods such as this are going to look like small blips, the basis of dinner table anecdotes (if all your guests are fellow lifters, otherwise just talk about house prices) or inspiration for future blog posts. What’s important is what you did next. Saddle up and keep moving forwards.
So the adventure continues and let’s hope it leads to a New Chapter in which our heroine manages to bust some PRs.
I’m adding this a day after I posted the original article because it occured to me over night that I am not telling the whole story and maybe a bit more context would be useful.
After my last meet in April, for which I was tired because I peaked too early, I felt completely knackered and jaded to the extent that I didn’t step into a gym for two and a half months afterwards but spent the early summer rock climbing, surfing and generally having a good time without any iron.
I wanted to avoid the same thing happening again, and it seems that I have. I don’t feel like I’ve been hit by a 10-tonne truck and I’m not jaded – so much so that I’m doing a strongman competition this weekend, something I would not have contemplated after my last meet.
I would also say that I was a better all round athlete now than I was in April. I’ve got stronger in some minor lifts, I’m more mobile, my squat technique is better. If you got points for style in powerlifting, I’d probably have done better this time round!
In other words, I’ve gained on my current programme in different ways and I’ve coped better with the training programme. So I am not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What I’m struggling for is a way of training that can acheive the main goal and some of the sub goals too. For those of us who do this stuff as a hobby, this is a really difficult task – like trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. So, a challenge to ponder for us all.
You might also like: Scenes from a powerlifting year
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