Powerlifting Is HARD

TAGS: supermaximal weights, pushing yourself, Powerlifting is HARD, mental training, mental preparation, heavy weights, adaptation, strong(er), psychology, chad aichs, technique, overtraining, recovery, powerlifting, training

Being a successful powerlifter is not for the faint of heart. Powerlifting is hard and it is painful. The training it takes to be successful will beat you up. It will break you down, it will test your heart, and it will test your will. If you accept the challenge, then you will get injured, you will hurt, you will be in pain, and you will have days when you feel like you got run over by a rhino. This sport is not easy and getting crazy strong is not easy. I guarantee that you will not be world-class without feeling all of these things at some point.

I have been fortunate to push my body right to the edge and have some success in this sport. I am very proud of everything I have accomplished, including every record I broke. To me, my injuries and how far I pushed myself are the only real trophies I keep or care about. I would never have competed in this sport if it were easy. From the very beginning, I knew this sport was hard, and I loved that challenge.

In some ways, however, this sport has been a bit different for me. I had some personal obstacles to figure a way around. The biggest ones, of course, were my sleep problems and depression. Like it or not, these problems have a physiological effect on me, and I have to adapt my training in order to keep getting stronger. While these problems may or may not have added to the intensity of the sport, I think they have just made it a bit different. I am lucky to know many top lifters, and all of them pushed through great amounts of pain and sacrifice to get to where they are today.

My sleep problem has made the likelihood of overtraining a very real possibility for me and causes me to walk a very fine line. I have written a great deal about this. However, I recently began thinking about the common mistakes many beginner or intermediate lifters make, and I wonder if perhaps my articles about overtraining are misunderstood. Maybe I haven't been clear. When I train on max effort or dynamic effort days, I push very hard. These are very intense training sessions and even if I am not doing a huge work load, I am going very heavy, which puts a great deal of stress on the CNS. With my sleep problems and poor recovery, I end up taking a lot of days off, or I end up doing recovery training sessions with light weight. Therefore, with my training being like it is and then with me writing articles about overtraining, I wonder if people end up not pushing themselves enough. Let me assure you, if you want to get insanely strong, then you will have to push yourself to the limit over and over again.

Let me explain some of the times I have seen people not pushing themselves hard enough. I once had a guy at our gym ask me for help, saying he wanted to be a powerlifter. Over the years, I have become cynical about people saying they want to be great lifters. From my experience, most of them never really want to do what it takes for that to happen. In this case, though, I decided to help. I had this guy start on his own during the days when my team was in. This way, I could help and keep an eye on him without disrupting the team.

On of the first day, I had him do max effort good mornings in a power rack with safety pins. I explained that it was max effort and that I wanted him to go to failure. Well, I watched him from the other side of the gym, and I think he got to 185 pounds or something pretty light. It wasn't too hard for him and he definitely could have done more, but the next thing I knew, he was putting the plates away! Needless to say this baffled me and got me fired up. I asked him if he understood max effort and what I wanted from him. Well, he said yes and proceeded to explain how heavy it was and that he barely got it. Now, I watched him do that weight, and I guarantee that he could have done more. When I first started lifting as a kid, I pushed myself way harder than that. I pinned myself under a countless amount of weights a number of times. I understood that you had to lift hard if you ever wanted to lift heavy.

Another time, I had a guy send me a video of his max effort squats. I watched the video and thought, "What the hell was that?! Did he forget to include his max effort attempts?" He did the squat with very little effort at all. It slowed down a little bit, but he should have put a lot more weight on the bar. I asked him about it, and he said that was the whole point: he felt like his technique started to break down. He said he always does that on his max effort work—stops when he feels his technique break down. My f'ing head was about to explode when I read that. I have countless stories like this and many, many more about lifters missing a lift because of a technique flaw. They stop right there. I can't even fathom that! If I miss a lift because I did something wrong, like not setting my arch, I am sure as shit going to do it again, and this time I will set my arch as hard as I can! It's max effort day and you need to go all out. This is my nature and is certainly something that has helped me get as strong as I am.

You will never lift really heavy weights by always lifting light weights. Now, there will be times when you need to back off or lift lighter weights, but if you want to get stronger, you have to lift heavy, heavy weights. You need to train your CNS to adapt to them. By lifting heavy weights, you force your muscles to adapt, forcing the recruitment of more and much deeper muscle fibers. Most importantly though, by going heavy you are mentally training yourself to lift heavy weights. You train yourself to start looking at pounds as if they are just numbers—just weight on a bar. You train your body and mind to adapt to the pain of heavy weights. Our bodies were not made to be lifting the weight we ask them to. Fortunately, though, they will adapt—we just have to really push them and get used to it.

Brent Mikesell, one of the greatest squatters of all time, once said to me that everything over 700 pounds just feels heavy. I learned this to be very true. No matter how much training I did or how many heavy lifts I did, the supermaximal weights always felt heavy. Of course, to some extent you get used to the weight. Although I may say a weight feels light on a certain day, it's all relative. I am used to the pain and compression it causes, so 1,100 pounds may actually feel "light" one day. It is still heavy, exhausting, and painful, but it can feel light relative to other days when it felt a whole lot worse.

Many times, I feel that newer lifters stop right when they start approaching these areas of pain and compression in their training (instead of pushing into it). Pain is generally a warning sign for us, and heavy weights are no different. Our body is asking what the hell we think we are doing, and it's telling us to not push our body so hard. I won't argue that what we do is healthy for us. Look at the list of injuries older powerlifters and I have. However, life is about living and testing myself, even if it's sometimes unhealthy. Life won't be much fun if you go through it worrying about getting hurt all of the time. Sometimes you have to show your body who is boss and push past what it thinks you can do.

Pushing the body past supermaximal weights is important physiologically for sure, but it is also important mentally. I have always thought that if I want to fully lift a weight, I need to start handling at least 50 to 100 pounds more than that weight in order to get used to it. This can be done through working the top end of the movement, such as quarter squats or board presses. You still have to do full range work though. I will even have people just set up with 50 or 100 pounds more over the weight they choose. This can be a huge mental boost and will start the process of getting the body to adapt. Too many times I have seen lifters pick up a certain weight, and before they even attempt it, in their eyes I can see that they have already missed the lift. They picked up the weight and it felt heavy. Consequently, this thought and feeling opened the door for the pain and the doubt of if they can get the lift. Picking up and feeling those heavy weights will help train the brain to get used to them. It will teach the brain that it's just weight, even if it feels heavy. The human body and the human brain have an amazing ability to adapt to the most extreme situations. The brain is just like a muscle—it can be trained to become stronger and to adapt. To be a successful powerlifter and to get the most out of yourself, it needs to be trained along with the body.

Over the years, I have written and talked a lot about overtraining. It is a huge factor in gaining strength, and I stand by that. If your body doesn't recover, then you don't get stronger. It is every bit as important as pushing your body past its limits. Just as you need to recover to get stronger, however, you also have to break your body down so that it has something to recover from. The simple key to gaining strength is just that: breaking the body down and then giving it the proper time to recover so that it can adapt, heal, and become stronger. I would like to see more intermediate lifters trying to push themselves beyond their own boundaries. Of course, I want this to be done as safely as possible, with quality spotters and safety equipment like setting up chains, straps, or pins.

I am also very conscientious of technique, and I know how important it is to lifting big weights. Technique allows a lifter to get into the strongest and safest positions. It is one of the easiest ways to lift more weight because proper technique puts your body in those strong positions. It utilizes the biggest, strongest muscle groups while increasing efficiency of the movement. Yes, technique is hugely important and something all lifters need to continually work on. This, however, does not mean that every lift you do needs to be perfect or that you should stop when your technique fails. When I changed my technique, I took a couple of months to completely start over. This was due to posterior chain weakness and changing 10-plus years of shitty technique. Still, there was a point where I started pushing it and increasing the weight. Your technique will always break down at some point, and it's usually due to a muscular or mental weakness. If you never train your technique with supermaximal weights, then you will never get used to them. In other words, you have to train your muscles in the proper position in order to handle that weight. When you get to the point where your form breaks you don't stop. You focus more on doing it right and you add more weight. Yes, you may end up out of position, but you still have to work with those heavy weights. Plus, I have never done a meet with perfect form. There is always some little thing I end up doing wrong. However, the goal is to keep getting better and to improve your technique with heavy weights. If your form gets tweaked with a 545-pound box squat, but you are still able to get up or miss 675 pounds with not so good form, then that's great. You pushed yourself on that day like you should have. The goal would be to have much better form the next time with 545 pounds (which should also make it fly up). Then, you keep going up until you get 675 pounds (or closer to it)—even if your technique fails. The next time you do that exercise, your goal is to get a solid technical 675 pounds (which, again, will be much easier because of good technique). You must work technique and you must work with supermaximal weights. The goal in training is to always be working and perfecting your technique, but this does not mean that you should stop when it begins to fail.

The point is, you need to be aware of overtraining and of the recovery your body needs. You also need to understand that you have to push your body and mind beyond the pain. Think of it like force training—you have to train speed/dynamic effort and max effort. When it's your heavy day or max effort day, then you go full-bore, balls-to-the-wall. Then, be aware of how much recovery your body will need. If you do start overtraining, or you find yourself deep into overtraining, then take some time to deload or take a bit of time off. When you go back to full training, you must hit the heavy weights again. If you always lift light because you are afraid of overtraining, or you lift light because you want your technique to be perfect, then you will never get crazy strong or meet your own potential for strength. No matter what your goals are, if you are reading this then I am guessing that you want to get stronger. So, work your technique, work your supermaximal weights, and be aware of overtraining. Then, and only then, will you get stronger!

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