• A Powerlifting Tour of Florida

      [This was written in December 2012]

      Iím sitting here in the London Gatwick airport reflecting on the last week. What a crazy week itís been. I basically took a whirlwind Powerlifting tour of the sunshine state, had a competition, then the next day left for a new continent. So yeahÖ plenty for me to reflect on.

      I started out my trip in Melbourne, Florida where I met my very good friend Daniel. Daniel grew up under communism in Romania. He was a very high level fencer in the Romanian sport program. Danielís life story reads like a novel Ė a story that Iím not authorized to tell, but suffice to say his adventures took him to some of the highest levels of sport, escaping communism, traveling all over the world, and eventually to the US military where he and I met. Currently, Daniel is a fencing coach Ė and a highly qualified coach at that! He recently opened his own club Ė the Genesis Fencing Club in Melbourne, Florida.
      My visit to Daniel was mostly about seeing a close friend, but I learned things that will help me be a better lifter too. We were discussing athletics and the competitive mindset. I shared with him that the mornings before a competition or even a very difficult training session, I notice that I keep to myself more than usual and Iím more irritable too. I do a pretty good job of keeping it under control. Most people never notice this change, but it bothered me. I didnít like that I had that reaction. I didnít want to be more irritable because of a contest.
      But when I mentioned that to Daniel, he said, ďHave you ever considered that maybe your senses are just heightened because of the stress?Ē The answer was no, I hadnít considered that. And when I framed it in that light, it was no longer ďsomething I didnít likeĒ Ė it simply was. I felt that Daniel was probably right about it. The stress from the competition was a reality and it likely did affect my senses too, which could easily make me more irritable.
      The take away here is for anyone who feels like I do. If you get a little irritable or introspective before a contest or difficult training session, itís nothing that you need to try to change. It is what it is. This isnít a license to be a jerk Ė not at all. Youíre still responsible for your actions. Just donít waste a lot of energy trying to fight against your emotional response to the stress. This benefited me later in the week at my own contest.

      After I finished visiting my friends in Melbourne, I headed down the coast to Florida Atlantic University to visit another friend of mine, Dr. Mike Zourdos. Mike presented at the seminar I hosted in Orlando last summer. Heís a good coach and an extremely knowledgeable resource. Even coaches need other coaches to bounce ideas off of and he has made the short list of people who I seek advice from.
      I was only in Boca Raton for about 24 hours, but in that time we traded back and forth so much information that itís ridiculous. For the sake of space, Iíll just cover a few things that I learned with Dr. Z.
      This last fall, I started doing more singles in my training. Each week before my main session for the squat, bench and deadlift, I would work up to x1 @9. The work up ended up being my warm ups and opener, then the x1 @9 was like a second attempt weight. At that point I would drop the weight back and focus on reps for more volume, using fatigue percents to govern the sets. You can read about my fall project by clicking here.
      Well, the project was successful and I built momentum going into this meet. One thing we discussed was loosening up the structure of these workouts a bit. They rarely went poorly and when they did, I could curtail them pretty easily. So the looser structure was mainly about pushing it harder on the good days. Iíll be testing this in my next training cycle.
      My own thoughts are that this style of training relies at least some on your own intuition, so itís important to be comfortable in a system with more structure before you just start maxing out willy nilly.
      There was more, too. We discussed using repeat sets to auto-regulate a ďsets acrossĒ approach. This should result in higher training volumes without raising the fatigue too much. This will work best in volume blocks. Another thing we discussed is the role of templates in training. The weekly template should be structured to maximize frequency without hindering the quality of work too much (unless over-reaching is the goal). So the proper weekly template depends a great deal on the lifter themselves.
      I wasnít the only one who got ideas on this trip. I got Dr. Zourdos to consider the role of special exercises in the preparation of a powerlifter and also consider doing multiple rep sets in the deadlift! I think heís coming around! But I do know that weíre both much better lifters and coaches for having these exchanges.

      Once I left Boca Raton, I headed to the opposite coast of Florida Ė to Tampa in particular. Tampa is a powerlifting hotbed with several groups of lifters thriving in that area. I had a few people on my list to visit in Tampa and first up was Dr. Layne Norton.
      We had met a few years earlier at one of the Raw Unity meets, but had never hung out to talk shop. It was really cool getting to sit and chat with Layne about training. We even made it over to the University of Tampaís Exercise Science lab to geek out over the equipment there. Well, Layne and everyone else had seen it before. I was geeking out though. It was a well-equipped facility for a small gym, but then they also had the lots of very cool diagnostic equipment and other tools. I got a chance to talk with Dr. Wilson and others about some of their recently completed research. There is some very interesting stuff that will be coming from these guys in the near future!
      Then like any good Powerlifters, we grabbed some grub and headed to the gym. Powerhouse in Tampa is as good as a commercial gym can be for an iron head. If youíve never been, itís got an old-school feel, but itís well maintained. Of course there are several squat racks, benches, a deadlift platform, and even a monolift. Plenty of machines, dumbbells, and other toys for your punishing pleasure. And youíre likely to run into powerlifting legend Tony Conyers or Taylar Stallings while youíre there!

      The next day, I arranged to meet Dr. Fred Hatfield, aka Dr. Squat. If you donít know who that is, then you badly need a course in powerlifting history. Seriously, google is your friend. I had never met Dr. Hatfield, but I have read his site since I first learned about powerlifting 15 years ago. I have corresponded with Dr. Hatfield off and on over the years and this time he was gracious enough to meet me over lunch.
      We met at Frenchyís at Clearwater Beach, Florida. Clearwater is just about as perfect as a beach can get. Dr. Hatfield and I got to talk a lot about training. Primarily what I was interested in was some of the finer points about Dr. Hatfieldís own training when he was at his peak of strength. He shared in excellent detail how he would set up his offseason training, which would focus on volume of work and allow some special exercises. Then once he started his pre-season peaking cycle somewhere between 8 and 16 weeks out, he cut the volume way down, eliminated special exercises, and really focused on compensatory acceleration training (CAT).
      During one part of our discussion, Dr. Hatfield said, ďItís all about time under maximum tension! Not just time under tensionÖ time under MAXIMUM tension. For an elite level lifter, you need between 30 and 60 second of time under maximum tension in each training session to keep making progressĒ. Follow up discussion revealed that this is primarily during the off-season. Fast-twitch dominant guys will need less. Non-elite athletes will need less too.
      Thatís a ton of work, folks! As many of you know, I keep tendo data on all of my lifts. Iíve done this just on the hope that it might be useful. After hearing this, I went back and analyzed my data to find that I could often double my training volumes and still be within this range. This impresses upon me a few things. First, it seems that just when you thought you were working very hard, you come across a good reason to work harder. Second, the 30 to 60 second timeframe does not apply to everyone, so donít take that recommendation to mean you. It also makes it necessary to make another point. Someone like me who is well below these recommendations wonít start meeting them tomorrow. Itís too much too fast. Volume jumps like that must be eased into. What I plan to take away from this is a small increase in volume, especially during volume blocks. I will utilize more high stress weeks with the intent being to develop my tolerance to volume over the coming months. This is a slow process to grow into.

      At this point, the learning was done and it was time to start getting ready to compete. My good friend Dave Bates came to the meet to help me and I was very glad he did. The contest was the Sunshine State Games and I weighed in on Saturday around noon. I weighed 120.3, which is almost perfect for me.
      On the squat, we opened with 695. If youíve been following my training, youíll notice that Iíve made this lift each week for the last two or three months. Itís something I was extremely comfortable with and I smoked it no problem.
      When I compete, I have a ďPlan AĒ to use when everything feels good and a ďPlan BĒ to use when things donít feel so good. We stuck with Plan A for the second attempt, which was 739. This too is an ďevery weekĒ weight. I wasnít quite as aggressive and as a result it came up a tad slower, but still got white lights. Because it was a little slow, we made a conservative play to 760 (I wanted 772). I descended much more aggressively and made the lift with room to spare. I probably could have done 772 or maybe a little more, but you donít know that at the time. It turns out 760 was the smart play.
      I opened the bench with 430 and made it easily. We went Plan A all the way and made 463 on the second. It was slower, but there was still some room to spare. We called for 479 on the third, which was for a meet PR. It was the right call too, because I made the lift but probably didnít have much more than that.
      So we were 6/6 at the sub total and I was feeling good. We opened the deadlift with 722, which was easy. Then went to 772 and that was very solid as well. I called for 805 on the third knowing that I probably had a little more than that. But this was for a post-injury PR and my first ever 9/9 finish in a meet. I made 805 and probably had another 20 pounds in the tank.
      My total was 2044 with only a belt Ė quite a ways from a PR total still, yet far better than some of the totals I made earlier this year. I built momentum for the next meet (the Arnold raw competition) where I hope to make even more progress. There are always lessons learned after a meet and this was no different. I learned that I need to execute aggressively (squat and bench 3rd attempts benefited from this). I reinforced the lesson that itís smart to lift within your capability. Make lifts and build a total. If the PR is there, then of course take it. But be realistic as well. Donít attempt a weight unless youíre confident you can get it. The only lifts that matter are the ones you make. And now that Iíve completed a 9/9 day, Iíve graduated from the Matt Gary Powerlifting School of Attempt Selection! Thatís the best part!

      Florida has tons of powerlifting places and people. I didnít even come close to hitting all the significant places, but these were the places I felt I could learn the most. And I learned a lot. Plus I made some connections that will bear fruit in the future. I had a successful competition and built some momentum for the spring as well. Thatís a very good week, I would say.
      Comments 3 Comments
      1. Mark Jamsek's Avatar
        Mark Jamsek -
        Really interesting read, Mike. Thanks for sharing this one.

        Can you elaborate a little on this:

        We discussed using repeat sets to auto-regulate a ďsets acrossĒ approach. This should result in higher training volumes without raising the fatigue too much. This will work best in volume blocks.
        Is this simply where you reduce the bar weight by the scheduled fatigue percent in one increment following your initial and perform sets across till the scheduled RPE is met? As opposed to reducing the weight incrementally with each subsequent set?

        Also, that 30-60 second of maximal TUT pretty much blows Prilepin's chart out the water.
      1. Mike Tuchscherer's Avatar
        Mike Tuchscherer -
        Some programs use a "sets across" approach, meaning that they might do 5x5 all using the same weight. You see this in a lot of Sheiko programs. The way to do that with some RTS style autoregulation would be to use repeats.

        Why would the 30-60s TUT disagree with Prilepin?
        This is more of my problem with Prilepin's chart (or at least Powerlifting's use of it) as much as anything else. We use it totally without context. We know that those numbers are what Prilepin considered "optimal" after reviewing training logs. But I don't think reversing the process helps much. What frequency were those lifters doing? If they did two-a-day sessions, were the totals calculated based on the day's total reps or one session only? Were assistance lifts included? What about protocols that worked across a range of intensity zones? What about excellently conditioned lifters or poorly conditioned lifters? We just don't have much context to go with Prilepin.
      1. Mark Jamsek's Avatar
        Mark Jamsek -
        Okay, I get repeats now. I sort of had it, just backwards. I remember that section in the manual where an RPE increase or rep decrease at a constant weight constitutes a certain fatigue. I haven't been using repeats in my volume blocks, just the standard implementation of fatigue % by decreasing the prescribed % and working across till I hit the RPE. Do you find repeats more conducive during volume blocks?

        I'm operating from memory here, so I might be off the mark, but I recall maximal work being optimal at 4 reps total. And here I'm completely speculating, but at an average of 5-6 seconds a lift total TUT is significantly less than 60s, and still <30s. Even an absolute grind of a rep for a slow lifter would probably max out around 10s, which would fall right in the middle of Dr Z's recommendations, but most max lifts I see are half that length.

        I think there is a range in Prilepin's chart too, which might change things up. My comment was more indicative of your position, which you made clear in your response. That being the ambiguity of the chart and how I think it's often misused/interpreted. If anything, since training with RTS a lot of my preconceptions about what's optimal has been challenged-Prilepin being one of them. Speed work being another big one.

        And despite the apparent similarity between the two sports, what works for elite weightlifters might not work for powerlifters.