So I am talking with Ringo, one of the Monster Garage Gym powerlifters, and we are discussing his training from his past meet as his results were not what he expected.

As a newer competitor with only four meets under his belt, the team helps him avoid the technical issues of his lifting. This, in fact, is fairly easy because: A) he is very coach-able (that is more key than you might realize) and B) he lifts right here at the MGG with all of the top powerlifters, so he is constantly being corrected, coached, and guided. So why the sub-par performance when he is so strong at the gym? Form-wise, the team tweaks this and that, so Ringo’s technique is not an issue. Ringo is a lifter that puts 110% into every set and rep, so work ethic and heart is not an issue either. Also, of the lifters at the gym, he is known for actually having visible abs. I know, unheard of right? Therefore, Ringo’s nutrition is spot on, so we can eliminate that as well. During our discussion, we shift from the actual training to the rest period prior to the meet...and that is when the answer to the lackluster lifting at the meet revealed itself to us.

As some of the younger lifters were listening, I told Ringo that I remember watching an interview with the Barbarian brothers…

Okay, let’s stop right there. I just turned 46 in January, and one of the things I have learned from owning the Monster Garage Gym is that there is a gap between the vernacular of the master age lifter and the younger lifters. That said, here is a quick sidebar as some readers might fall into that younger category: The Barbarian Brothers were these two bodybuilder/strongmen from the '80s that made a few movies (comedies) while they traveled the world lifting, doing exhibition lifts, and promoting their movies and gym. They were known in the lifting and the strength community for a while since either brother could press 500 pounds raw for reps without so much as a warm up. Their movies were classic 1980s cheesy comedies—my personal favorite being DC Cab...Okay, end of sidebar explanation.

Anyway, the point of this is that these guys trained with weights—big weights, and they did that for a living. Let me restate that: lifting weights was their job; it was their employment. I had seen a few of their interviews and remember little if anything they had to say, but there was this one nugget...this golden nugget. I remember them saying in an interview once that “You can never overtrain…you can only under eat and under sleep.” That has stuck with me to this day. Since lifting was their employment, they could isolate the weak variable in their program, thus that oh-so-perfect quote. As powerlifters, especially a competitive powerlifter, you train as intensely as possible. However, if your program is solid yet your numbers are lacking, you can bet the bank that your nutrition and/or rest are lacking.

For Ringo, his training, effort, and intensity is on the money. He has his nutrition honed in tight, but his pre-meet rest was not in proportion to the stress and strain he puts on his body and, perhaps of greater importance, his central nervous system.

Here is what we have in Johnny Ringo. He is a light 181 pounds, he is a lifetime drug-free lifter who squats 550 pounds, benches 340 pounds, and pulls 515 pounds. He has a job that keeps him on his feet a good portion of the day. The job is semi-physical, but he can eat and hydrate as needed, and that is a plus. Ringo has worked out all his life as a ‘basement lifter’ and has been at the MGG training with the team for 22 months. Ringo is also 48 years old, so he is a master II lifter.

Powerlifter John ‘Ringo’ Ponzetti. Photo by: Bent Nail Photography

Ringo took a week off prior to the meet, but having said that, he came to the gym “to help out” several of those days. Why? Well, because Ringo is just like you and is all about the gym. So, although Ringo was not training, he was at the gym and he was with other powerlifters who were training for meets. He was spotting them, helping load, and (without realizing it) was lifting too. Although not physically, Ringo was lifting that 1,025-pound squat with Brendan, pulling that 650-pound deadlift with Masam, and benching 700 pounds off a 1-board with Mike. We don’t just watch someone we know lift a max effort lift, we engage mentally with them. And when we mentally engage, like it or not, that taxes our CNS. My first master’s degree was in psychology, and I remember the professor talking about physical and mental stressors and the body’s inability to distinguish between them. So for Ringo, his time off was really not time off in the truest sense of the phrase.

We each have to determine how much time off is right for us, but that is something I feel is better overshot by a day rather than undershot. For most lifters, the hardest aspect of taking time off is that they feel like they are getting weaker. We know through studies that this is not true; however, it does not change how it feels. This is where you as the lifter have to utilize your tools of visualization and see and know that as your rest, the time away from the weights is healing micro injuries in your tendons and muscles and is giving your central nervous system time to fully recharge. Personally, and again this is up to the individual, I believe in completing one last maximum heavy training session and then shutting it down totally for ten days. Another alternative would be to complete one last maximal heavy training session followed by a 90% effort week and then shutting it down for ten days. The first two days off already exist prior to your sub-maximal days in our training, so those serve to set the stage for actual time off. I am not a big believer in doing openers and then taking a week off until the meet (unless the lifter is pretty new and needs a shot of confidence). Go full-out guns blazing your final week and then shut ‘er down. When fully healed and rested both mentally and physically, you will go into the meet ravenous for your numbers, fully rested, and mentally sharp. Put the fear of getting weaker aside as that will not occur in that time off. A successful competitor knows that he is literally growing physically stronger and mentally sharper for the meet with adequate rest.

The question for you is what are the perfect amount of days off for you? What type of rest do you need for maximal performance at the meet? That is for you and your coach to determine. For Ringo, we now know it is more than seven days off and that he needs to stay out of the gym during that time. My last thought for you is that we live in a world of more is better. If one scoop of protein is good, I will take two. If this article is in some way about you, or if you are thinking that your time off is not in proportion to your training, take a leap and apply that ‘more is better’ philosophy to your pre-competition rest period as well. Overshoot the time you think you need off by a day or two. Although a week is a convenient amount of time, perhaps eight or nine days is the answer.