Why Powerlifting does not = Chick Magnet: a Primer

In past posts I have expounded at length about the many benefits of powerlifting.  We’ve also examined the “why” of powerlifting; namely, it’s insanely fun to be able to lift heavy shit.  However, nobody every tells you the shameful truth underlying this otherwise laudable sport.  Sit back, gentle reader, and clutch your emotional support pillow as your fearless author lays some truth bombs on your (lard)ass.  Powerlifting maybe life, chico, but the lifestyle and everything about it is kryptonite to many women.  Why?  Glad you asked:

  • You fuscular, son – Powerlifting ain’t about aesthetics.  Every weightlifter knows that weight moves weight.  If you’re  serious about the sport, you will gain weight both in muscle mass but you’ll more likely than not have some fat on top of it – aka “fuscular”.  Which looks bulky AF and, as every powerlifter knows, makes buying clothes a neverending challenge.  The body type is decidedly not straight up fat guy, but neither does it scream Adonis.  So, if you take your nutrional and body comp advice from Mark Rippetoe of Starting Strength, you will undoubtably lift more weight.  You just won’t be using those strong, strong arms to beat back the hordes of admiring women.
  • Strong body equals weak mind?  – I know, I know, logically speaking this doesn’t make sense but stereotypes die hard.  Lifting weights is for meatheads goes the old trope.  You must be some sort of emotionally and intellectually stunted moron to want to lift weights.  What are you trying to compensate for?  Obviously, lifting weights doesn’t automically qualify you as a genius, but neither is it evidence of being terminally dim.  Why, then, is this attitude so prevelant?
  • Classism:  Simply put, any sport that requires strength is for the lower classes, the hoi polloi.  (Ironically underlining how far we’ve deviated from the classical physical ideal of ancient Greece).  This explains the persistent classist attitude in the US regarding baseball vs. American football.  Baseball is famously the favorite sport of American intellectuals while football is seen as a very blue collar, working class past-time.  While I myself prefer baseball, I have to admit the football is actually the more intellectually and strategically interesting.  It’s the Art of War in real time and in 3D.  Nevertheless, tennis, running, baseball and cycling are all sports that get the upper middle class seal of approval.  Your girlfriend or partner would not frown on you discussing these sports at her BFF’s next cocktail party.  Not coincidentally, while these sports will make you fit, you will not be jacked unless you’re taking the same “vitamin” regime as A-Rod, Jose Canseco or Barry Bonds.  On the whole, however, being more muscular than the average and engaging in a strength sport is akin to advertising you’re working class (and possibly illiterate) in blinking red lights.  And that is a huge turn off for many women, although many would not admit it.
  • Intimidation:  This is weird one, but I understand it on the surface.  I’m not saying that powerlifters intimidate people the way MMA fighters do.   Most women, as we’ve illustrated, will have taken one look and classify you as a bulky simpleton with low earning potential.  Some guys, however, will manifest a similar response but with a “competition” angle.  More than once I’ve found myself in, literally, a cocktail party where some guy will ask me if I lift, what my PRs are, etc and then mention that he did better – back in high school.  My dear Sir, if that is indeed the case, kudos to you. Never, ever call this into question.The only sane and mature response to that is “Cool” and then swiftly change the subject.  Or you get the guy who will try to subtly spin the “you’re dumb”  or “you’ve got issues” tropes because that’s what some guys do in social settings.  Whatever.  Very rarely, you’ll meet a secure dude who will ask you questions about powerlifting either because he’s interested in the subject or maybe just being social.  Which brings up another important point, which is…
  • The first rule of powerlifting is you do not talk about powerlifting.  This means do not just casually bring it up in conversation or, God forbid, try to “humble brag”  about your lifts, training, etc to a fine young Thang.  For one, It’s a niche sport and a boring one at that unless you are actively involved in it.  Basic decency and rudimentary understanding of social etiquette require one to keep to topics that are relatable and, hopefully, even interesting to the other person.  Nothing quite screams socially stunted Incel as bragging about your lifts, unbidden, or worse droning on about your training.  And no, if she does Crossfit this doesn’t give you a hall-pass to talk shop.  For one, she probably knows tons of much more “shredded” guys from her “box” (I’m referring her Crossfit gym, you animals).  Also, you’ll invariably bring up the whole “AMRAP”ing heavy weights by an already tired athelete is a recipe for disaster, encourages bad form, etc, etc…and she’ll shut you off for contradicting Crossfit canon.  Currently Crossfitters are the notorious “fitness bores” of the lifting community…let’s keep it that way.
  • The exception to the rule:  On some rare social occasions the fact that you powerlift might come up, either from a acquaintance or a particularly efficient “wingman”.  Now, gentle, lardy, powerlifting reader (see, we read) this is your one and only shot to do discuss your nerdy, niche passion in public.  Don’t f##& it up.  And by that I mean respond to the question, as in “Thanks Julio, the competition prep is going well, I hope to PR in bench”.  And then quickly change the subject to say, the relative merits of Cabernet Franc and what it brings the overall Bordeaux “assemblage”.  This works because you will look a renaissance man, a multifaceted James Bond like character schooled in many different arcane arts.  I sincerely hope for your sake that powerlifting ain’t the ony thing you got going on, Bucko.

We all need a party-trick – or the fun of cultivating obscure, semi-useless natural talents

Talent is the natural aptitude or skill one has in any given action.  If one is really fortunate, one is able to combine their given talent with their livelihood.  If you have a calling, as the saying goes, you will never “work” a day in your life.  What I’m talking about is something that comes easier to you than it seemingly does to others although one must work hard to refine this talent.  Most of us, if we’ve lived at least semi-full lives, have discovered a number of things we are terrible at,  a smaller collections of things we are middle of the road average at and a very small list of things that, for one reason or another, we kick-ass in.  This post is a celebration of the cultivation of those weird, random talents.

When I was 11 I begged my mother for months to let me take martial arts classes.  It’s not that she didn’t want me to, it’s just that we didn’t have that much money at the time.  Finally, she relented, and we found a suitable dojo/boxing gym.  This place was open 7 nights a week – the first 2 hours for boxing, the 2nd two hours for Shotokan Karate.  I usually went a minimum of 5 days a week and attended both training sessions.  After 10 or 11 months of this the following things became apparent.  I was shitty boxer and at best I was able to attain a level that didn’t provoke outright embarassment in onlookers.  On the other hand, I was better in Karate…and what really distinguished me was my flexibity, speed and kicking ability.  My kicks were well above average, and my hands, even in Karate were, well, meh.  For those of you who are new to martial arts, Shotokan is a Japanese style that is not generally known for flashy kicks.  I , however, lived for such, so this being the early 80s I ordered books (yes, kiddies, no Youtube tutorials) written by well-known Korean Taekwondo practitioners that gave detailed technique breakdowns of many jump-spinning kicks, double jump spinning kicks and the like.  Soon  I started to do tournament sparring and it turns out I was relatively succesful.  I was painfuly shy at this point in my life so nobody at school had the slightest idea what I was doing with my spare time until my tournament results got some very localized media attention.  But perhaps even funnier, of the “party trick” variety, was the reception I got at first in the actual tournaments.  I remember once I destroyed this kid, a black belt, 3 points to 0 with rapid fire high kicks.  As we finished the head judge said “Hey, outstanding job for a yellow belt, you do Taekwondo?”  When I replied “No, Shotokan”, he did a doubletake and laughed.  The thing is, I trained 10 to 14 hours a week on this really obscure (especially at the time) skill that was really only applicable in this very specific setting.  I have never been a skilled fighter, I don’t have the instincts.  What I was very good at, however, was this very specific form of “tag” that is tournament karate sparring.

Another very, nay, extremely unlikely skill that I possess is the benchpress.  If you told me at 18 that one day I’d be that dude in the gym who benchpresses more than everyone else, I’d have laughed my ass off.  Until my mid-40s, I had a slimmer atheletic build.  I’ve always had fairly broad shoulders but otherwise I wasn’t big-boned, hairy chested or, at the time, overly burdened with muscle.  I was, and in some ways remain, the original metrosexual.  Benchpressing was for Neanderthals.  I was much more focused in my 20s and 30s on my 10K times than powerlifting.  Fast forward 2 decades in time and almost 8 years of Powerlifting training.  My deadlift is pathetic by almost any standard, my squat is respectable when I’m not injured but my bench is another matter.  On any given day in a commercial gym I can probably outbench anyone in the gym, even the heavier guys.  I might not out-bench everybody in a powerlifting gym, but I’ll at least make a good showing for myself.  I don’t grind out my benchpresses, they go up easily, even when I’m very close to my 1RM…until I’m over that limit and it doesn’t move.  I never train to failure and I only fail lifts a couple of times a year.  As my coach asked me the other day, “So what’s it like having this one weird thing you’re really good at?  I bet it doesn’t come up much in cocktail party chat”…

Finally, the last thing I’m weirdly good at is Trivial Pursuit or Jeapordy type games.  My cousin actually had a week long winning streak on Jeapordy program (RIP Alex Trebek) in the 90s so perhaps it’s in the genes.  So much so that I immediatey vibed with with the move Slumdog Millionaire when it came out.  I just happen to know a lot of weird, random facts for a number of weird, random reasons.  I clean up in pub quizzes, as long as it’s general interest and not too (which can happen where I live) UK specific.  I’m always getting the “WTF, how do you know that?!?!” reaction.  What can I say, I guess rampant boredom and no TV growing up had something to do with it…

We all need these party tricks, these obscure skills that maybe don’t garner much public glory but make us feel good about ourselves.  Firstly, because skills or talents are only discovered and developed because you’ve gone out there and tried many things until, lo and behold, here’s this crazy thing that you’re better at than most people.  Secondly, you need to work hard take the skill in question to the next level.  All of the skills I mentioned above were examples applying many hours of hard work to a specific apptitude.

Training after the Covid-19 Lockdown – First, the good news…

Depending on where you live in the world, things are either opening back up slowly or they are going to Hell in a handbasket because things never really “shut-down” in the first place.  If you’re lucky enough to live amongst a majority of people who don’t think that every possible issue is proof of a huge consipiracy and a have a modicum more self-discipline and sense of civic duty than sugar-crazed toddlers than chances are that gyms are opening back up.  And that, of course, is at least a small amount of good news in  seems to be an unending stream of bad craziness.  If 2020 was a person, it’d be that person you hooked up with very briefly in your early 20s before you realized they were absolutely bat-shit crazy…mad, bad and dangerous to know.  For a brief unsettling period you are on high alert, ducking and weaving,  as you scramble to extricate yourself and come out the other end with your sanity, finances, health and reputation intact. Yep, 2020 it a bunny-boiler of a year.  Adversity, sayeth the hackneyed cliche, is opportunity in disguse.  So what have we learned from this shit show, what nuggets of wisdom and metaphorical chicken soup for the soul can we glean?

  • Mindfulness – This is the biggest payback from all the  fear, loathing and general unpleasantness of this situation.  The best news?  You’re not trying and pitifully failing to become mindful (via silly apps, youtube videos, etc) – it’s a byproduct of the situation.  We’ve stopped taking a whole lot of things for granted and realized our true priorities.   Enjoy this time (yes, even now) with your loved ones.  Being present comes easier when we are forced to realize don’t have a lot a time in this mortal coil and nothing is guaranteed.  The rest, as the Buddhists say, is maya or as I like to call it, bullshit.
  • Gratitude – see above.  You can’t and won’t be mindful if you don’t have gratitude.  Are you and your family/friends healthy?  Do you have a place to live and enough to eat?  If the answer is yes, chances are you’ve been contemplating this a lot recently, and gratitude has manifested itself even in your bling, bling, cheeto-eating, Kardashian-watching vacuous lifestyle.  And we’re all the better for it.
  • Good habits are reinforced because, well, we don’t have a choice – Just before the lockdown, my Ex and I put our jointly owned appartment on the market.  As we wanted to show it “empty” she moved into my place for what was going to be 2 months, tops (the RE market was red hot where I live).  Yep, the sale we had lined up within 2 weeks evaporated like petri dish of water in Death Vally with lockdown (talk about bad timing).  Next thing you know, we are all stuck in lockdown at my place and we’re obliged to get along for an extended period.  She and I instinctively knew that we didn’t have a choice so we better buck up and be adults for the duration.  Patience, consideration and a sense of humor are the only way to get through a situation like this.  Ditto, self-discipline like making your bed and keeping the house clean all by your entitled lazy-ass self.  When your back is against the wall, you’ll rediscover those attributes.
  • Training related good news – Yes, you will have lost strength  It’s inevitable and you won’t be shocked or depressed when you finally return to the gyms as you know that a 3 month break in training does not equal mad gainz.  It’s also true that you’ll muscle memory is indeed a thing and you’ll regain the strength faster than you thought.  I’ve been back at the powerlifting club for about a month now and I’m encouraged by the progress.  Hell, I’m just grateful to be able to train. 

Hello DOMS, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…

Over the weekend I had the profound pleasure of actually taking part in a privately held, very much improvised, socially distanced barbell workout.  A friend of a workout buddy owns a warehouse so 5 of us gathered to lift some weights for the first time in 2 months (Note: in the country where I live,  gatherings of up to 6 people are allowable under new measures as of last week).  The barbells were most decidedly not regulation size or weight and all of the other equipment, such as it was, was a monument of ingenuity and making do what was on hand.  Nevertheless, I was absolutely thrilled to take part.  Man does not live on bike rides alone…

“So”, you might ask, “how did it go after no heavy barebell training for the last 2 months”?  Honestly, not as bad as I had thought.  Yes, I am detrained and, yes, I lost strength but I was pyschologically prepared.  You can’t expect miracles if you’ve lifted nothing heavy in 2 months.  Also, the lifting itself (deadlift and bench press) was made more difficult by a short, non-standard 8Kg barbell instead of a longer, 20kg standard one.

Deadlifts were tough.  The weights were shorter than “bumper” plate height so consequently we had to bend down further than usual to pick them.  I did 5×5 at weight that would have been very easy 2 months ago, and it proved to be challenging. I was moderately gassed by the 5 rep of each set.  After convential deadlifts,  we put the barbell between stacks of pallets to do “rack pulls” at varying heights

I was pleasantly suprised with the bench presses.  I did 5×5 at a moderately heavy weight relatively easily, especially considering the short bar and the improvised bench set-up.  I guess muscle memory is a real thing and training the movement over years does pay off.  Hopefully I’ll be able to train in this improvised manner twice a week until gyms open again.

The funniest side-effect of this training was the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) that I encountered the day after the training.  My entire posterior chain (basically the muscles from my hamstrings all the way up to my Traps) were well and truly sore…And I was as happy as a clam.   I was correctly recruiting all the required muscle groups on my deadlifts, so my form hasn’t completely degraded.  Interestingly, I had no soreness in my chest, shoulders and triceps although in relative terms I was lifting heavier for bench presses.  Anywho,  it was great to be back in the saddle, metaphorically speaking by challenging my body once again.  Hobbling around and groaning like an old man is small price to pay.

Look, the confinement has meant that making baked goods and binging on Netflix are almost laudable, socially responsible activities.  I can dig it, however to enjoy the Yin of serial couch potatoing, I need the Yang of regular physical stress (aka training).

What not going to the gym feels like.

We are 2 months into this pandemic and gym rats the world over are agonizingly jonesing for an “iron fix”.  Yes, not being able to train really, truly sucks.  Some of the ways it blows are obvious and there is also some unexpected “suckage” which I will outline shortly.  Suprisingly, though, there a few silver linings to this flab-inducing, gainz-stealing cloud.  So, with no further ado, here is my take on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the great Covid 19 Gym Drought:

Obvious Suck Factors:

  • Bye-Bye Gainz:  You consistently train for years and months and are forced to throw it out the window.  This is beyond frustrating.  Literally 2 days before everything shutdown I did all time Bench and Deadlift PRs in the gym.  I was on track to smash  competition PRs in my scheduled May competition but alas…
  • Home bodyweight workouts just don’t cut it:  Sammy Hagar won’t drive 55 and I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for dreary, lonely bodyweight workouts.  Look, if that’s your thing, my hat’s off to you.  I do them, but no as regularly as I should and with little joy.
  • There goes what little social life the majority of weirdo Powerlifters have in the first place:  Hey, we all miss the social aspect.  If you spend that much time at the gym training it’s de facto part of your social life.  For many of us the daily routine was work, gym and then  home and now it’s work at home with no gym, for the vast majority of us.   Hello, cabin fever.
  • Endorphin withdrawal:  For most of us, training was a sustainable, effective method to relieve stress.  Also, the emotional satisfaction of hitting training goals and achieving PRs was/is indescribable.  It’s no surprise that alcohol consumption is sky-rocketing which, is unfortunate.  Alcohol as horrible, extremely short-sighted and wildly counter-productive method of stress reduction, but I get it.  The only reason I know this is I drank all the beer, all of it, and so am uniquely qualified to report that it don’t work, folks.  If I was still on the sauce, you wouldn’t go wrong buying stock in the beverage company of your choice right now.

Less Obvious Suck Factor

  • No more “Super Power”:  Okay, this going sound funny to the uninitiated..and hell, maybe I’m the only who feels this way, but here goes.  When you train in powerlifting for a while, you get strong, and it’s actually a lot of fun to be strong.  Lifting heavy stuff is a real gas.  And, let’s face, there is is more than a little pride mixed into the equation.  However, if you’re not training, you’re getting weaker and it’s a bit a pschological hit.  Not a major one if you’re relatively well-adjusted, but a bummer nontheless.
  • Going from Fuscular to, er, well, flabby:  Powerlifters do not train for aesthetic reasons but nonetheless one does get jacked from training, albeit perhaps still somewhat “fleshly” for some of us.  If you’re not training, you’re losing muscle, which means you’re just another Cheeto eating slob watching Joe Exotic on Netflix.

Silver Linings:

  • Injury Recovery – Let’s face it, if you train seriously for any period of time, you are walking around with a series of injuries in various stages of recovery.  2 months off of “forced” recovery will allow you to heal.  I am finally resolving a nagging shoulder issue, so there’s that at least.
  • More time for family – I am spending more time with kids which is great.  Before, during the work week it was work, gym, home, fix dinner, bed.  Now it’s it’s work, go biking with the kids in the early evening, make dinner with them and, yes, bed.  This is priceless, especially since they are teenagers.
  • (Re)discovering other physical activities – As I said above, biking is one of physical activities available to us, as is hiking.  We live near a number of forests so that is an incredible bonus.  There is no better stress reliever known, not even power-lifting, than walking or biking deep in a forest on a beautiful spring day.  I used to do this quite a bit before my kids were born and now we can do it together.  Also, and this is weirdly specific, I’ve become fixated on my ab-roller when at home.  I used to avoid ab training like the plague, but now it almost seems “new”.

The evolution of a Powerlifter.

I happened upon strength training almost by accident.  I had been going to the gym for a number of years, nay, decades, more or less consistently.  So I went to the gym regularly, but aimlessly, without clear goals.  I’d do whatever I felt like doing once I arrived at the gym and the exercise choice was largely influenced by whether a machine or bench was free.  Typical bro splits, chest, arms and abs.  Nary a leg was trained nor a squat squatted.  A good program was something one watched on TV.

Then, one day some years ago, I couldn’t stand it any more.  I was bored, really, really bored with the gym.  The gym, or rather a big commercial gym, is a fairly ludicrous space in the best of times.  I’d feel faintly ridiculous wandering around from exercise station to the next, bro tunes cranking in my headphones, trying to get my pump on.  I came to the realization that there had to be a better way of training or, if there wasn’t, I should find a better activity to spend time and money on.  Like everyone else on the planet, I resorted to the time-honored method of Google searching solutions to my problem.

Hmm, powerlifting movements sounded interesting and I thought, hey, it might finally provide me with some structure.  I’d actually be training with a purpose.  I’d set goals and try to attain them.  Solid, I thought.  This was just seemingly minutes before the big powerlifting Youtube boom, so I initially combed through loads of forums and a few books to glean as much information as possible.  There was, however, one slight problem.

To whit, my bench press was somehow, from a technique perspective, not bad.  I had no idea, however,  how to squat or deadlift, I didn’t know anybody who did those exercises and, to be honest, it was intimidating.  Nevertheless, I began my first program (5×5) and gingerly stepped into a highly underutilized (in those days) squat rack.  My squats were ugly, but at least I felt I was on the right track.  In spite of all I had read, I still had no clue how to properly deadlift.  My deadlifts were dreadful: mad, bad and dangerous to know.  Furthermore, I was usually the only person in the gym squatting or deadlifting outside of a Smith machine.  You know how every gym seems to have a Vibram Fivefingers guy?  I began to wonder if I wasn’t a variation on that theme:  well-meaning but slightly misguided.

Soon, as my program progressed, I got those sweet, sweet beginner gainz.  My benchpress shot way up and even my terrible squats and deadlifts improved.  By this time, powerlifting had started to become a thing and people like Mark Rippetoe, Mark Bell and that crazy Ask Elliot guy were putting out content on Youtube.  So while I hadn’t yet met like-minded people, I could at least watch them train and pick up some pointers.

While it seems funny now, my training partners viewed my squatting as a ridiculously girly thing to do and deadlifts as needlessly complicated.  They’d make a few wisecracks, shake their heads and go back to their cable-pulls.  I was still in the “bench much more than you squat” club but nonetheless my squats and deadlifts had progressed to the point that I felt I required real coaching before I hurt myself.  So back to google I went.  When I had first started training squat, bench and deadlift, there were literally two powerlifting gyms in my area and for a variety of reasons, including proximity, I wasn’t going to train with them.  A new one had opened up in the interim so I decided to give it a shot.

If many people are intimidated by the idea of going to a gym, many experienced gym goers are intimidated by the idea of going to a powerlifting gym.  In your mind’s eye it’s going to be like Westside Barbell with a bunch of shaved head, tattoed convicts and snarling pit bulls. That’s ridiculous, of course, but if you don’t walk through the door you’ll never know.  I walked right in and said, ” look, I am an absolute noob. Tell me what do and I’ll do it.”  It was revelation to meet people interested in the same obscure thing.  We could sit their and talk for hours about belts, shoes, programs, technique, you name it. My squats and deadlifts finally started outpacing my bench as they should.

Fast foward a few years, I had done some competitions and inevitably, been injured a few times.  I’ve set some PRs that I’m proud of and once briefly held the benchpress WR for my age/weight group in my federation.  Sometimes, however, life has a way of interfering with one’s best laid plans.  For the last several months I’ve not been able to train seriously due to work and family issues.  I still go to the gym whenever I can, but I’m not able to stick to a serious, challenging program that would allow me to increase PRs.   My motivation to train for competitions wanes periodically, but my motivation to powerlift is unquestionable.

I realized a few things in the past year. I don’t think I’ll ever stop powerlifting style training.  I truly enjoy it and believe it’s an integral part of a healthy life. Furthermore, lifting heavy weight is sufficiently taxing and radical that it acts like an unerring weathervane for other parts of your life.  Not eating or sleeping well?  It’ll be reflected in your lifts.  Not focused due to emotional turmoil?  It’ll be reflected in your lifts.  It sounds funny, but lifting gives me extra motivation to get s*** together, if only to lift better 🙂  And finally, the best thing about powerlifting is not setting a PR, it’s the process itself.

 

 

To sleep, perchance to dream…

An anecdotal account of the effects of sleep deprivation on training and general health

The internet is awash with well being and sports training advice. All of the reputable sources of advice and coaching, without exception, stress the importance of quality sleep. “Yes, yes”, you think, “I get it…it’s the low hanging fruit type of advice…thanks, Captain Obvious”. Sleep, they say, is THE most important component of your physical and mental well being, and the most important factor of your athletic performance. Your programming, diet, all of it is for nought if you don’t have quality sleep. “A tad exaggerated, perhaps”, you think.

Well, if my recent experience is a good indicator, it’s spot on. I’ve always been able to sleep at the drop of a hat. My fondness for naps is a running joke in my family. Over the last several months, however, my ability to sleep was severely impaired. As I’ve described in previous posts, a perfect storm of personal and professional stress battered me for over a year. Little by little I completely lost my ability to nap (no matter how tired) and eventually a good night’s sleep seemed like a feverish dream from another life. It’s insidious because the most immediate effect of sleep deprivation is on your mental state. You lose the ability to focus, to concentrate which means, among other problems, you’re even less equipped to resolve whatever issues/stresses are causing your sleep to degrade.

My sleep quality degraded over a period of time, so the mental effects were noticeable but gradual. I always thought it’d be OK if I was just able to get a good night’s sleep. Indeed, I’d get a decent night of sleep every 5 or 6 days due to accumulated exhaustion and I’d wake up feeling like I had some sort of mental super-power. I began to use my powerlifting training as a means to physically exhaust myself enough to sleep. This worked for a short while but the lack of quality sleep exacerbated my depression brought on by stress I was encountering. I never stopped training, but I lost my motivation and began to just “go through the motions”. My workouts were subpar so subsequently my lack of quality of sleep reached critical levels.

It was a fairly rapid loss of strength 2 months ago that made me snap out of my stupor and seek medical help. It’s a scary thing to have 1/3 of your strength seemingly evaporate over night. Suffice it to say my doctor saw the state I was in, not to mention my skyrocketing blood pressure, and immediately implemented a number of measures, many of which were aimed at improving sleep. Firstly, I had learn to manage my sources of my stress and fix what I could while letting go those things that weren’t fixable. It’s literally a matter of life or death. Secondly I became very serious about sleep hygiene and, among other things, bought a better quality bed and pillows. I made sure I was properly hydrated, avoided alcohol (very detrimental to sleep quality) and began to take valerian (an herbal remedy) before bed-time.

It’s been several weeks since I implemented these measures. My blood pressure, while still high, has reduced from “off the charts” as it was when I first entered my doctor’s office. Slowly but surely my sleep is improving. The better I sleep the more able I am to address the causes of stress and, as a result, the generalized feeling of depression has lifted. If I wake up at night, I’m actually able to go back to sleep Enthusiasm for my personal interests, such a power-lifting, has returned.

Yesterday, 2 days from my birthday, I equaled my previous PR weight in deadlift. 2 months ago I could barely lift 70kgs less. My training partners have seen my lifts increasing week by week in 5 to 10 Kg increments and they have jokingly accused me of being on PEDs. It’s simple, if you don’t have quality sleep you don’t have health and if you don’t have health, you can forget mental and physical performance.

 

An ode to fringe activities…

OR THE LONELINESS OF THE POWERLIFTING WINE-CHUGGER.

OR HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE BY NOT BORING THEM TO TEARS WITH YOUR HOBBY/SPORT/LIFESTYLE CHOICE/DIET

Happy new year, everyone.

I made an early night of it last night so after a nice dinner with friends I went to bed shortly after midnight CET. As a consequence I was up early this morning which left ample time to reflect on last night’s dinner as well as my powerlifting training session later today. I was pretty excited about the wine choices for the dinner last night as well my upcoming training session but I knew, as everybody in a subculture eventually learns, to keep my enthusiasm to myself or be labelled a “bore”. Believe it or not, most people don’t want to discuss the need to reform French AOC rules or whether Sumo dead-lifting is cheating.

It got me to thinking when it’s appropriate, and not appropriate, to discuss one’s weird-ass fringey activities with the general populace. I’ve come up with the following observations.

  • Subcultures can be intimidating to people who don’t engage in that activity. In a weird way (we all do this) people think you’re judging them via a specific lense (powerlifter, wine enthusiast, martial artist, vegan, etc) when, unless you’re a real a-hole, you’re not. If an opportunity to discuss your interest comes up, let others ask you questions and when the questions dry up, move on.
  • It’s OK, in a very broad sense, to let people know about your interests and what you spend your time on. It’s not OK to give them constant updates and/or commentary about a subject that really doesn’t interest them. Anybody who has a beginning crossfitter or a vegan in their life knows what I’m talking about. People are generally happy you’ve found this awesome thing and, yes, it’s probably a good idea if everyone did it but ramming it down their throats doesn’t win any converts. We’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another.
  • If you want to share your passion with other people, set an example first. See above re: intimidation. So people know you do this thing, that’s great. Just keep doing your thing and, from time to time, somebody with a genuine interest might ask you about it. This is a green-light, now’s your time to share. To give you an example, as a powerlifter people sometimes tell me in conversation that they’ve started going to the gym and they have this great trainer who has them doing bosu-ball hula-hoop jump spins and the like. The old me used to say ” Cool, but why don’t you also ask them to show you proper squat form, that’d be really useful” and, in 100 percent of the cases, the person reacted as if I’d insulted their mother. The proper response is “That’s great – keep it up!”. Why? If they continue to train they will eventually learn about compound movements and might just ask you about them. Then, and only then, it’s OK to discuss in detail. A few years ago I started going to a globo gym with colleagues. I’d do my usual PL style training in the corner and they’d go all YOLO with machines and dumbbells. I often got a lot of comments and criticism (hey, man, you’re not going to failure with every set, why squats, etc) but I just continued to do my thing. After a while they began to ask me questions and eventually asked me to show them proper form, explain programming, etc. Even then they were resistant to many of the ideas so I’d just shrug and do my thing. Fast-forward to now, they are all training for powerlifting. I’m not a vegan but cook/consume vegan dishes roughly 85 percent of the time. I’m familiar with the milieu, shall we say. The strict vegans who always make an impression on me are those who I find out are vegan indirectly. It piques my interest and more often than not I’ll ask about it.
  • Find like-minded individuals/Let your freak flag fly: Let’s face it, the only time you’ll ever be able to fully express your enthusiasm for your passion is amongst like-minded people so you must search them out or forever have the feeling of not completely scratching an itch. Whether it’s wine-tasting, a serious powerlifting gym, a cool vegan cafe or whatever, this is your chance to geek out to your heart’s content. Not to mention learn new things and meet new people

Anyway, I’m off in a few minutes to engage in one of the aforementioned fringe activities. I wish you all happiness and health in the new year as well as the chance to engage in your geeky passion(s) to the fullest.

What to do when you don’t feel like training…

Sooner or later, it happens to everyone. You take your physical training regimen for granted and little by little, it becomes less of a priority. Whereas before you’d broach no interruption to your training program, now work and family stress become a valid reason for missing workouts. Inevitably, as your training become crappier, so too do your results – or lack thereof. As your hard-won “gainz” evaporate like early morning dew on the Serengeti, a form of depression sets in which engenders a vicious circle of inertia. Soon your salad days of easily repping out 4 plates are but a dim, bitterweet memory.

Fear not, esteemed gym rat. All things in nature are cyclical so your balls to wall “Yang” of beastmode training was inevitably leading you to a “Yin” of increased Netflix and burrito binging sessions. Your couch becomes a place where training dreams, and countless bags of Cheetos, are disembowelled. If this is not your first rodeo, you’ll know the pendulum eventually shifts. One day, slack-jawed as you listlessly click through yet another season of “Ultimate Beastmaster” and licking your orange stained fingers, a tsunami of shame will blind-side you. “How did it come to this????”, you pitifully wail and gnash your teeth.

(Imagine a David Attenborough voice-over) ” Suitably chastened, the somewhat tubbier common gym rat (ratus gymnasticae narcissium) extricates himself from the vile miasma of his half eaten nachos and empty Heineken cans nest and navigates, like a swallow going to Capistrano, back to his natural habitat.”

What, if anything, can you do to remain motivated to train and avoid periods of gym burnout? Firstly, know that it exists and, if you are lucky enough to train seriously for any length of time, you’ll encounter bouts of low motivation. It’s like an injury, if you have a torn muscle you will not continue to train normally. You will do what you can and train around your injury until it’s healed. If you encounter a period of burnout, don’t give into the impulse to vegetate. Do what you can to keep moving, whether it’s a half-assed squat session, a bike ride, a long walk or a bit of yoga – the more fun, the better.

Physical activity is an vital part of your physical and mental hygiene. You wouldn’t stop showering or brushing your teeth, would you? Your training burnout was caused by how seriously you were taking everything. Gym is not life, it should be part of life. It’s cool that you set goals because they focus you and facilitate progression. However, don’t tunnel-vision on short-term goals. For example, if you are a power-lifter and have encountered injury or burnout, why not chill on your goal for the 350 KG deadlift for the moment and engage in a little bodybuilding style training for a bit? Come on, you know want to do a few sets of more than 5 reps and maybe, just maybe, get a massive pump. When you go back to serious PL training, the extra muscle might not be a bad thing to have.

We all have those acquaintances who suddenly turn into Gym Is Life Bros. overnight. One day, they are asking you how to do a proper bench-press and a scant 5 months later they are critiquing your training, diet, goals, the works cause, you know, they are experts. Strangely enough, a year or so later you’re still there, training away, and chances are, they aren’t. Training blues is a fact of life. Just keep moving. When your motivation returns, you’ll be glad you did.

When life don’t give you squat, squat gives you life.

Greeting, everyone.  Yes, I know the title of today’s post sounds like a “cringey” catchphrase from a t-shirt (hmm, note to self…) but it came to me a few hours ago when I was training at the brand spanking-new premises of the powerlifting club. I don’t think I’ve made it a secret in my past few posts that I’ve been going through a rough patch lately.  It was only really dawned on me the last few weeks that much of my malaise stems from a full-blown case of professional burn-out.  Like many of my generation, my attitude at work was just to get it done, no excuses and the phrase “I can’t” does not exist.  As manager, of course, I have managed staff through burn- out soI know that acceptable levels are different for everyone and accumulated stress over time is insidious.  However, to echo that old cliché “I just didn’t think it’d happen to me”.

Well, I didn’t think it’d happen to me because pride goeth before a fall.  I thought I was too aware, too smart, too “woke” (very ironic given the context) to suffer a burn-out.  Burn-out was caused, in my case, by accepting to do what evolved into 2 full-times jobs.  It is, of course, impossible for 1 person to perform 2 full times jobs at a high level for the long-term so an eventual crash was inevitable.  While I did escalate the situation repeatedly over the last few years and demanded resources – said resources were always right over the horizon. A number of factors, unrelated to work I was doing, made the work I was doing even harder as I was called in to “fight fires” repeatedly for situations not of my making.  I gradually began to fall behind on my deliverables…and was forced to perform “triage”, prioritizing those which I would deliver on time and those for which I’d “take a hit”.

These missed deadlines and other looming missed deadlines played constantly in loop somewhere in my subconscious.   Slowly, insidiously, it affected my professional confidence and engendered a feeling of anxiety and a barely perceptible sense of impending doom.  I began to have problems sleeping as I’d awake at night and not be able to go back to sleep as my now conscious brain endlessly re-hashed work stress.  My accumulated sleep loss began to visibly affect my ability to concentrate which put my work productivity into a death spiral.  I worked longer and longer hours to complete formerly easy tasks.

At the same time, I became increasingly worried about lack of quality time I was spending with my kids.  Even when I was spending time with them, I was haggard and preoccupied.  My guilt over this wasn’t aiding my mental state.  Finally, my powerlifting training took an obvious dive.  I was still training when I could find time (at this point purely a desperate measure to preserve sanity and physical health) but my heart wasn’t in it.  Then in late May of this year I could barely get out of bed and force myself to go to work.  Had I not had 2 kids in private school who will soon go to university, I think I might have thrown in the towel.  In 35 years of working, I never felt anything like I was feeling.  I read a clinical description of burn-out and realized that exhibited every single symptom in flashing red lights.  I wracked my brain to find a magic silver bullet that would fix everything.

I decided, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, that alcohol was the cause of all this mess.  I was certainly drinking more than was healthy, but at the same time at this point of my life I wasn’t a case study in Barfly-esque excess, either.  So I stopped drinking booze altogether save a very occasional glass of wine.  And the situation improved somewhat, but not as dramatically as I’d hoped.  I was able to sleep a little better and therefore improved my concentration briefly.  It allowed me to continue limping along professionally for another few months until, about 2 weeks ago, the dominoes began to fall.

This is a painful situation, for sure, but it is nowhere near as bad as the loss of loved one or something of that nature.  Still, I was surprised the emotional toll it took on me.  The sliver-lining in the experience is that my mental fog receded somewhat so I was able to analyze how, little by little, I put myself in this situation.  Also, it has become clear what I need to do to improve my mental health as well as my professional situation.  Let me be clear, this is an ongoing situation, but I no longer have blinders on.

To whit, I’ve been making a marked effort to live in the moment, spend really quality time with my loved ones and friends.  I have found refuge and a gained little bit more “gout de la vie” in reading and writing – my age-old friends that have helped my out of so many tight corners.  Finally, today I forced myself to go to the powerlifting club to make up for a training I missed yesterday.  I was supposed to work bench-press, overhead press and accessory exercises.  I’m still down and struggling and felt the need for a boost.  I love bench press, love it, and I’m pretty good at it, but it’s not it’s not the King of exercise.  So I did squats, not heavy, mind you, but at about 70 percent for triples.  I concentrated on relearning the technique.  I was all alone, so I began to crank my music on the sound system.  This song came on my play list:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eBfX_a9_o4

For a brief, shining moment, all was right with the world.  I wasn’t moving hero weight but I was squatting and making strides to get back to where I was before.  I will prevail.  I wish I knew why, but only squats can do this.