Powerlifting, weightlifting and strongman athletes have the common goal of building strength. Different methods and equipment are used, but all their athletes strive for perfect form, speed, mobility and strength. Sooner or later that strength will be tested. This blog post will cover various aspects of testing strength and setting goals. So, why would you even max out in the first place?
In many programs training loads will be a certain percentage of the athlete’s (estimated) 1 rep max (1RM). An estimated 1RM is derived from a real 2, 3 or even 10RM. There are many 1RM calculators to be found online, but beware of using higher rep maxes as input, as the estimation generally becomes less accurate. Another thing to consider is your work capacity, which can differ from lift to lift. I, for one, am terrible at handling multiple reps on the deadlift. This results in 1RM estimations that are far too low for me.
Competitive powerlifters and weightlifters have to have a plan for choosing attempts at competitions. Testing strength pre-competition is an essential part of this. Knowing what you can handle for one, two or three rep maxes will help you (and your coach) a great deal with choosing openers. It can also determine the strategy for the meet as a whole. You might be far more competitive in another weight class at a certain point and without testing you could have overlooked this fact and wasted time or have no time at all to adjust your game plan.
Of course not everyone competes and many lifters just like to lift for fun without the hassle of weight classes, rules and sexy singlets. Maxing out on a lift every once in a while does give you a better idea of your progression and makes comparing programs or progress easy. Setting a PR is always a huge confidence booster and for many, the reason to train more often, harder and smarter. The flipside is that you could get greedy and want to set PRs every session or at least very often, in which you probably won’t succeed in unless you’re a true beginner. So keep your ego in check and enjoy your grind to a big PR instead of getting your 1-10RM bingo chart filled out.
It’s clear there are serious benefits to testing strength. The next question is: when is it best to do so?
Some days training is just awesome and everything feels light. These days are excellent for setting PRs! That is, if you are not following a strict program with test days already built in. This method works best for novice and (to some extent) intermediate lifters in my opinion, because absolute loads are relatively low and it helps to build a lot of confidence.As part of meet prep
Say you are preparing for a meet and you have yet to determine openers. You have no idea what kind of progression you made during the program and the program itself does not call for a reassessment. In powerlifting you would want to test your max at least 3 or 4 weeks out. Any sooner and it can hinder the tapering any later and it can hinder the deload phase, which is recommended for the last few weeks. Also make sure you don’t test too often (on a weekly basis) and not too far out of the meet (several months). The information has to be recent and the impact of testing should be kept to a minimum.
So, you’re determined and ready to test your max. There are some final things to take into account.
I cannot stress this enough but warming up and stretching is essential! Risk of injury is always present but it increases in max effort attempts when form often breaks down. Start warming up with light weights and work your way up while decreasing volume. Typically, my last warmup is either a single or a double at 90% of my opening weight.
After maxing out on a compound movement it’s best to do some cardio or very light strength training. Some extra blood flow will speed up recovery and make you much less sore the next day.
Meet PRs should always be the priority for competitive strength athletes. The mental aspect and the atmosphere of a meet is incomparable with a regular gym situation. Most lifters perform better on the platform than in the gym. This can be contributed to a proper deload and tapering allowing for supercompensation, along with the competition mindset and peer pressure. Greg Nuckols has written an in-depth article about how the mind affects strength performance. He is one of the better sources of information around so make good use of it!
Another argument for prioritizing meet PRs is the fact that only meet lifts are valid for official records and qualifications. But does it then mean there is no reason to go all out in the gym and find out what you’re truly capable of? Some would indeed argue that you should preserve energy and focus for when it really matters. A prime example is Boris Sheiko, a renowned Russian powerlifting coach. In his opinion one should not test their true max, especially not in the gym. Instead the lifter should focus on relatively safe attempts to build a better total, even it means that the lifter still has a bit left in the tank. Knowing one’s true max can form a mental barrier and even cause a plateau. I will get more into this subject in the next section. Avoiding grinders, minimizing risk of injury and unshackling the mind are key to long-term progress.
Congratulations! You have discovered your max and maybe even achieved a milestone lift. However, the lifting game never stops and you have to set a new goal. Even though most people don’t have trouble setting new goals, there are a couple of mistakes that are often made.It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
It takes time for the body and mind to adapt to bigger weights, more volume and new motor patterns. Don’t expect unlimited linear progress or perfect technique any time soon. Yes, it becomes increasingly difficult to make gains. But the beauty of powerlifting and weightlifting lies in the fact that practice does make perfect. Especially in powerlifting many competitive powerlifters in the open class are in their 30s. Peaking in powerlifting does not often occur at early age. Especially in equipped lifting you’ll see plenty of masters (40+) still hitting lifetime PRs. The number 1 ranked lifter in the Netherlands is Pjotr van der Hoek (a total badass), who competes in the Masters I class. Check out his world record equipped bench press here.
Many lifters have the same goals and more often than not those are ‘milestone lifts’. Most people remember their first time benching 2 plates (100kg) or are still in pursuit of this goal. Other common goals are a 2-3 times bodyweight deadlift or 200kg squat. Of course it’s very motivational to set major goals like these but what’s often overlooked is that it may take a long time before you actually reach those goals. Again, drop the ego and use smaller plates for micro loading and actual progressive overload. I have made this mistake in the past and wasted time squatting 150kg because I refused to increase weights by less than 10kg and 160kg proved to be too heavy every time I did try it. What you should be doing is set smaller, short term goals as well as big goals. Ignore nice round numbers or huge weights you are not even close to lifting. Jonnie Candito (bless his brows) has a video covering this subject with some nice examples.
You should be familiar with most of the discussed concepts in this blog post. The ugly truth is that consistency, progressive overload, building and not testing strength, setting goals and leaving your ego at home will get you results. It’s easy to credit success to PHD’s or genetics but in the end it’s the hard work, dedication and perseverance that make the difference.
When you’re in the gym you see a lot of people using all kinds of lifting gear. You may have wondered what the purpose is of this perhaps odd looking gear is and whether you should use them yourself. This blog will explain different kinds of lifting gear and how to use them correctly.
You can also use straps for accessory pulling exercises. When your training volume is very high there always is a risk of getting tendonitis by all the tension in your elbows, by using straps you can afford to do more volume with a smaller chance of getting tendonitis. For hypertrophy it is also useful, with the use of straps you can get a better mind-muscle connection with the specific muscle you’re training.
Straps are only allowed in certain events during strongmen competitions.
The two most common belts have thicknesses of 10 mm and 13 mm. The 13 mm will be stiffer and provides a little bit more support than the 10 mm, but as a drawback is a bit harder to put on and might be too stiff for some. This choice is very personal.
Sleeves are long cylinders of neoprene; the main purpose of sleeves is to keep your joints healthy. When wearing elbow or knee sleeves during your lifts, your joints stay warm and compressed. Knee sleeves can also increase your squat, the tighter and more elastic your knee sleeves are the more they contribute.
Knee sleeves are allowed in all powerlifting competitions.
The slingshot is a relative new piece of lifting equipment, marketed by Mark Bell. The slingshot allows you to handle heavier weights and more volume, thus they are perfect for ‘overloading’ in training. Another benefit of the slingshot is that it forces you to tuck your elbows in the eccentric part of the bench press, therefore teaching you to sink into your lats. A Slingshot is pretty expensive, it costs around €90 to get one in the Netherlands.
These pieces of equipment are used for accommodating resistance. Bands and chains make the weights heavier at the top of the lift. By accelerating into the bands and chains you will develop a stronger lockout. It is also safer for the joints when doing speed reps.
It is also possible to use the bands reversed, so you hang the barbell in the bands that are attached in the squat rack. This way you can handle more weight and use them as an overloading method.
In the TU gym, chalk is freely available. Chalk helps you to get a better grip of the bar, it also keeps your hands dry if you are sweating.
|Allowed in raw powerlifting||Allowed in geared lifting||Price [€]|
I hear the “What is the best program?” question a lot. As simple as it might sound it is quite complex to answer. There isn’t just a best program for everyone, it depends on your goals and your experience with strength training. Everybody is different, but the same principles of training apply to everyone. In this blog I will try to give you some back ground information on those principles of strength training , in particular powerlifting, and an overview of some of the best programs out there.
If you want to get better at something, do it a lot. This simple rule applies to almost everything from playing piano, to math and also to physical exercise. This especially applies to the sports of powerlifting and weightlifting, where the sport is centered around respectively 3 or 2 lifts. What you lift on the squat is what counts, at a powerlifting meet no one cares how much you leg press. So if you want to get better at squatting you have to squat, it is as simple as that. Doing leg press, leg curls or lunges might help develop your leg muscles and give you stronger legs, but it will not necessarily get you a stronger squat. So specificity is an important aspect of any program. This doesn’t mean there is no place for other exercises as leg curls or lunges, they can be useful in your program as accessory work.
So you start bench pressing, the first time bench pressing might feel very shaky and the bar goes in every direction instead of up. But as soon after you have pressed for a few workouts you start to feel more comfortable and familiar with the lift and you start getting stronger. By bench pressing you put your body under stress and your body reacts. Your body recovers and you put your body under stress again, and so forth. Cycle by cycle of benching and recovery, your body adapts and gets a little stronger. In this period of super compensation you get stronger. This is very simply put how adaption works and why you get stronger from strength training.
People often have the false preoccupation that powerlifters train very heavy and in low reps. This is not fully true, for strength trainings it’s not only important how heavy you train, it is also very important to make volume on your lifts. Volume is the amount of sets times reps times weight being lifted. For instance you bench press 60kg for 5 sets of 5 reps, this means your volume is 60 x 5 x 5= 1500kg. Doing those reps and sets is what helps you get better in those motor patterns. As we said in the paragraph about specificity, if you want to get better at something, do it a lot, so do a lot of volume. Generally speaking the best rep range for building strength is around 2-8 reps. There are other benefits to doing a lot of volume such as working on your form and muscle hypertrophy. A guideline often used for the amount of volume is Prelipins table.
But apart from our main lifts you often see accessory work in programs. Accessory exercises are less taxing on your body and are a great way to get some more volume in, while not interfering too much with your recovery for the next training.
In some programs you will encounter percentages. Those percentages represent which percentage of your one rep max you should be training, the term for this is intensity. Intensity has nothing to do with how intense your set is, doing more reps with a lower weight, lower intensity, might be just as intense and exhausting if not more. Going very high in intensity is very taxing on your body and you will see that powerlifters usually stay within the 60-90% intensity range during their training. One of our previous blogs already mentioned ego lifting, going heavy and showing off. You very rarely go to your max in training. Again, volume over intensity. Powerlifting is about building strength, not testing strength. In this aspect powerlifting differentiates radically from sports such as CrossFit.
Traditionally people who go the gym train every muscle group once a week. Recent studies have shown that this is a sub-optimal approach to training and people who trained with higher frequency made substantially more gains. So you do not only have to practice things with a lot of volume, you have to practice them often. You will see that you will be squatting and (bench)pressing at least twice a week in any program.
But there is also something as doing too much. You can get carried away in training too heavy and wanting to do too much in order to progress faster. But doing too much will even hinder your progress. Leave your ego at the door and stay rational, your body has to be able to recover from your training. Planning the recovery and adaption and therefor the frequency and volume is one of the most important aspects of a training program. Factors as sleep and nutrition will also greatly affect your recovery.
When I was talking with someone about my programming (what else is there to talk about than powerlifting?) he frowned when I said I planned progression, he argued you cannot plan progression since you cannot look into the future. He was right that I cannot know that I will deadlift 50kg's more by the end of this year. But what I can do I is to plan to increase my deadlift working sets with 5kg every week. At some point my body will alert me that I have to do a de-load, starting at a lighter weight again, and start building it back up again, that might be after 10kg's or 50kg's I don’t know that yet. But it’s vital to have some sort of progression in your training. Because if you keep doing what you have done, you will get what you have always had. You won’t make any progress. You have to keep pushing your body, also known as progressively overload, in order to keep making progress. Getting stronger is a result of progressive overloading. Increasing your work sets as a result of you getting stronger is the wrong way around, your body is lazy and doesn’t want to progress on itself. As an example people often refer to the Greek mythology. A Greek wrestler Milo wanted to get stronger for the Olympics and takes a new born calf on his back and walks around with it all day. As the calf gets bigger and grows into a cow he becomes progressively stronger over time as the load he walks around with all day also increases.
Most programs are very different in the way progression is planned. This depends largely on how fast you are able to progress. In the last bit of this blog we will answer this question: what program is best for you? Luckily there have been a lot of people with experience in strength training who have made good routines. I hope to have given you a good overview of the principles of programming for you to evaluate which training fits you.
Beginners are not only people who are new to the gym, but also people who are new to barbell exercises or this kind of training approach, for instance those who have done regular fitness. Since strength training is new for you, you will adapt quickly. Beginners make very fast progress and are able to increase their workload every new training.
Beginner programs are very simple in their set up. Training is focused on the basic compound exercises, squat, deadlift, overhead- and bench-press. Every training you do 5 work sets of 5 reps. By starting off with an empty barbell you can first focus on your form before the load gets heavy. If you complete your last training successfully the next training you do 2.5kg more.
The three most proven beginners programs are:
As a beginner you make very fast progress. But as time progresses your progress will start to slow down. You might start to stall on your beginner program and have to do a few of those de-loads. I have seen people trying to squeeze out every kg out of their beginner program but by doing so they keep on stalling, because the program doesn’t fit them anymore. Then it is time to move on to a more advanced program.
Where most beginner programs make use of progression every training, most advanced programs make use of weekly progression. The advanced programs are more complex than beginner programs introducing lighter or heavier days. Focus of the program stays on compound exercises, but some accessory exercises or variations of the main lift are added.
The most frequently used intermediate programs are:
But after some time you will notice that your intermediate program doesn’t suit you anymore, progress slows down. Now that you are a lot stronger progress will be harder to come by. You will have to do more, get your volume up and there is a need for even more complexity in your program.
Advanced programs are set up very differently from beginner and advanced programs. Most programs make use of a monthly cycle, something called periodization. There are a lot of different advanced programs out there, which can be very different in set up. By this time you have been lifting for a longer time and I hope you have done your own research too and have got to know your body, so I hope you can make a good choice out of the dozens of programs.
The most well-known advanced program is:
There are dozens if not hunderds other advanced programs out there. Some of which might work just as good as Sheiko. Many advanced lifters also build their own program, either out of elements from different programs are build it from the ground up. But doing so requires enough knowledge and experience with training.
For further mentioning
As some of you might have noticed I did not fit the popular Wendler 5/3/1 program into one of the categories. Officially speaking, Wendler is an advanced program, but there are a lot of better choices for advanced programs out there. Jim Wendler designed this program when he moved away from the powerlifting sport and wanted to focus on other things. So for powerlifting purposes this program is not good. However for people who train in the gym for a different sport where strength is important, for example rugby, Wendler programming is good. Wendler is (in principle) not very taxing, has short trainings and allows for flexible scheduling while still getting you stronger.
I have been lifting weights since I was 16 years old for general fitness, bodybuilding, injury recovery and two years ago I started powerlifting. I had never participated in any competition or meet up until last Sunday. For the reason that I was lacking motivation and first-hand competition experience, which all of other members of the IJzersterk board did have. But I decided to give it a shot..
In terms of training I hardly prepared myself, due to lack of experience and time. There weren’t as many competitions to participate in this year. The SBD Cup was the last official powerlifting meet this year in which you could qualify for the Dutch nationals in December. So it came down to a month of time to prepare, but I would also be on holiday for two weeks. At the powerlifting meet you get three attempts at each of the three lifts: Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. I tried to determine my opening weights for the first attempts, before I left. During my holiday I only managed to slip in one workout. After I came back I had one full week left, in which I had four workouts focusing mainly on form and I cut some water to keep my weight in check. After the last training I had two days of rest and I was just hoping for the best.
The meet was split in three sessions as there were over 70 athletes. I was in the first session of the day with the weigh-in starting at 7:30. It surprised me when I ended up weighing only 80.8kg (-83kg class). I applied a water cut in the week leading up to the competition and part of that is no drinking or eating starting 12 hours before the weigh-in. After the weigh-in you have approximately two hours to rehydrate and eat, during this time you should focus on carbs, minerals and water. Pouja, my coach, and I brought tons of food and drinks. Once hydrated and fed I was ready to perform.
About 30 minutes before the first lift we started warming up and to our horror we found out that we had to warm up outside in the cold! I learned a valuable lesson: always bring warm clothes and be prepared for circumstances that are far from ideal. I upped my opener on the squat last minute with 5kg to 175kg as I was feeling quite good. My feeling was right as I squatted all 3 squat attempts with white lights, with respectively 175kg, 185kg, 195kg (+5 PR!). It boosted my confidence and I was ready for the next lift.
Bench press has always been one of my weakest lifts and I was not too confident in my form. My opener of 110kg was no lift because I did not wait for the referee’s signal. The weight itself was not a problem so I did 115kg on my second attempt which went fine. From then on it went downhill. I increased my planned third attempt by 2.5kg to 122.5kg but I lost focus and form during the attempt and failed. I am not sure if it was a case of ego lifting, fatigue or just bad focus. If you want to learn more about ego lifting you should check out the previous blog post. There was no time to waste and I had to put my thoughts on the last and my best lift, the deadlift.
First off, I love deadlifting. I knew I could get back into the competition with deadlifts. I opened 220kg with good form and speed. 235kg for the second attempt with good form and slightly less speed. For the final lift it was a toss-up between 245kg (gym PR) or 250kg (tried once in gym and failed lift-off). I took the risk and went with the 250kg and failed on grip, which really surprised me. Looking back I am not sure if 245kg would have made a big difference. One of the things I am still struggling with is consistency in the pre-lift rituals. It took me a lot longer to actually start the lift with the third attempt compared to the other attempts. As a result I lost confidence. I tend to have this problem often when I am lifting weights I am not comfortable with. Ideally, you want to have the same pre-lift ritual with every rep of every set, even at your warm-up sets!
With my total of 545kg at 80.8kg bodyweight I placed second of eleven participants in the men’s open classic -83kg. All lifters with Wilks above 340 points were qualified for the nationals and so was I (369.8 Wilks). In the end I have no regrets getting into the world of powerlifting competitions. It was inspirational, I got to know lots of people with the same interest and it’s a great way to stay motivated and (officially) log your progress.
Now I have three months to properly prepare for the nationals and I am going to follow a Sheiko program (#37v2, #31, #32v2). This is a Russian powerlifting program with the unique emphasis on volume rather than high weights. It seems like a fitting approach for me as I have to work on my form, especially bench press, and the way of training appeals to me. If you are interested in following the program yourself you can check out this website http://sheiko-program.ru/. Just interested in my progress? Follow my training log on http://weightxreps.net/journal/Quadzilla
You can find all my lifts here: Youtube
The award ceremony
It was a hot summer afternoon with big rainfall and thunder, but there was one thing that overcame the shivering that Mother Nature directed to us, and that was the first IJZERSTERK clinic.. A good amount of enthusiastic and curious new students came to see what we are all about. After the opening speech by our president, Peter Evers, we started off with instructions on the big three lifts. The board helped everybody out with the techniques of the squat, bench and deadlift and gave some demo’s. The atmosphere was very relaxing yet uplifting and even some PR’s were broken, this shows the potential of lifting together with IJzersterk. We all had a splendid time with all of the participants and hopefully we will see you guys in the gym and joining our iron strong squad!
Ego lifting is one of the most commonly made mistakes in beginning and intermediate strength sport athletes, almost all lifters will let their ego interfere with their training at some point. What exactly is ego lifting? Is it really so bad? And how can I avoid it?
But, there can be times that ego lifting is a good thing. An anecdote example is that I decided to screw my training on that day and go nuts on the deadlift and max out. I broke my plateau and gained a lot of confidence in my deadlift that resulted in hitting 210 kg for two repetitions two week after that. Which I probably would not have been able to if I did not go crazy that day.
So going crazy and not respecting form or the training cycle can benefit your confidence or you can even learn a new thing, but that is a workout not a training. It is a rare exception that it went well, I could have injured myself. Reason I called it a workout is because I was not improving my form nor my volume nor my anything except for maybe my ego. Each session you spend in the gym, is a training session. Training to reach that goal you have set, that six plate deadlift, that two plate bench, that body you have always dreamed of. You achieve that by perfecting form and by doing progressieve overload. You are not improving your form when you are maxing out every each session, you are not improving when you injury yourself, you are not improving efficiently when you are lifting with bad form.
My concluding words are:
“Keep your ego in check and lift with your head„
Our new website with the new logo is live. We worked hard together with Zoko to set up the new lay out of the website. Zoko also made the new logos:
All the news, blogs and latest changes will be posted on the website from now on. So make sure to follow the website. We will still send the newsletters, which will also be posted on the news page.
A new feature we are working on is the agenda system. In this system it will be possible for members to log in and see who is going to train when. It will also be possible to indicate that you want to train with someone.
IJzersterk organises the powerlifting competition: 'De sterkste Student(e) van delft' (translated: The Strongest Student in Delft), which will take place on March 22 from 09:30 till 17:30 in hall 3 in the sport centre of the TU Delft.
The competition is open for anyone, but be quick because there are limited slots available.
It will be exciting and awesome day where you can show your strength and proof that you are the strongest student in Delft. The competition exists of three parts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift in that order. Your score will be calculated by taking the total of the three lifts and multiplied by the wilks coefficient, which is based on your gender and body weight.
For each of the three lifts we will give a short demonstration on how to perform the lift correctly, safely and in the most efficient way.
You can register for the event here, there is also a 5 euro fee to cover the costs of the materials. If you do not have a NetID then you can register at the information desk of sport centre. Also make sure to invite your friends and family members to cheer for you!