Adapting for Big Gains

TAGS: improving the lifts, Andy Askow, improved performance, overhead press, raw lifting, meet prep, deadlift, squat

On January 19, 2013, I competed in my first raw competition. I squatted 605 pounds, bench pressed 410 pounds and deadlifted 500 pounds. The deadlift was miserably low, but I’ll admit that I was suffering from some lower back and stomach problems. By lower back problems, I mean that I tweaked my SI, and by stomach problems, I mean that it was large and in the way.

Before the back problems, my plan was to pull around 570 pounds that day. These numbers may seem good if you consider that it was my first raw competition, but the majority of my training is raw, so it wasn’t such a change to compete without the gear. At the same meet one year later on January 18, 2014, I squatted 680, benched 435 and pulled 635. Six months after that, I found myself at the USAPL Raw National Championships in Aurora, Colorado, where I pulled off a 750-pound squat, a 452-pound bench and a 622-pound deadlift.

I've been asked what changed for me in the past year that I was able to see such progress in such a short amount of time. I've put 310 pounds on my total, with more in the tank, in 18 months. What changed? Well, I made four major changes that made a world of difference in my training and made this boy into a man.

Frequency

In the past, I followed a split with two days of squatting, two days of benching and one day of deadlifting a week. This worked great for me, but eventually I got bored with it and I just started going through the motions. I decided that it was time for a bit of change. So I added a third day of squatting and benching every week. A sample week looked something like this:

andy sample draft two final-01

At first, this was extremely difficult. I could hardly walk. My lower back was always so fatigued that I could hardly keep posture most of the time, and I experienced some of the most intense lower back pumps ever just from walking to class (shout out to all the other super heavy weightlifters who understand that one). After the first couple weeks, this wasn't an issue any longer. I started focusing on recovery as a key part of training. I did this by upping the frequency and thoroughness of my mobility training (which I’ll talk about later) and also by evaluating my diet.

Diet

The number one most important part of recovery is diet. After evaluating my diet, I upped my protein intake and spread my meals into 4–6 a day, depending on the day. Being a college student, I don’t always have time to cook. Knowing this, I started prepping meals for on-the-go nutrition so that my tummy would be happy and I never had to worry about not getting a meal in. I usually cook up five pounds of ground beef and five pounds of chicken breast at a time and throw it in containers to be prepared when I need it.

After meeting with a mentor and close friend of mine, we decided to follow the carb back loading ideology developed by John Kiefer. In a nutshell, carb back loading involves centering your carbohydrate intake around your workouts and eating fats and proteins for all other meals. By refining my diet, I started to feel less sore. Unfortunately, many fast food restaurants in the area had to lay off workers due to the reduced income.Andy Askow Snatch

Mobility

With more energy came more motivation to try new things like not skipping class. After meeting Jim White, who was, until recently, a lecturer on my campus and the coach of the UW-L Olympic weightlifting club, I decided to give weightlifting a shot.

The first thing I noticed is that I’m about as flexible as morning wood whereas the other Olympic lifters had great mobility. I couldn’t front rack or overhead squat very well, which led to a large amount of missed attempts. This motivated me to work on my mobility even more than before. I spent about thirty minutes before each workout warming up and getting loose.

About four weeks into it, I noticed a vast improvement of range of motion in my hips and shoulders. This extra range of motion had massive carryover to my powerlifting training as well. I was able to stay strong and stable in the hole with my squats and keep a neutral spine when pulling from the floor.

Weightlifting

Much more than that, the extra work helped to strengthen muscle groups that traditionally don’t see much work in the squat, bench and deadlift. I got much stronger with overhead movements (overhead press, jerks), leading to an increase in my bench press. My core got a lot stronger, translating to a much better raw squat and pull, and my upper back strength skyrocketed. In fact, after the Arnold, I spent six weeks doing strictly weightlifting.

When I started, I squatted around 685, benched 430 and pulled 620. After the full six weeks of training like a weightlifter, I retested my power lifts and put up a 750-pound squat, a 445-pound bench and a 635-pound deadlift. During the six weeks, I didn’t deadlift or bench press at all and only high bar squatted. I also brought up my high bar squat from 640 to 700 without a belt. I felt much more explosive, powerful and mobile.

My advice to anyone who is hitting a plateau in his training is to take a look inward and be honest with what you need to work on. If your diet consists of McDonalds and chips every day, clean it up. If your training has been the same for two years and you’re getting poor results, try something new. If you’re having back pain or any other immobility issues, work on your range of motion. These aren’t the most original ideas ever, yet many people don’t seem to realize that it may be what they need to improve. These things have made a massive difference in my training.

So let me ask you this, what do you need to work on? And be honest. Santa is always watching.


Andy Askow is a 20-year-old single-ply and raw powerlifter from Wisconsin.

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