In this series compilation, Dave is joined by Boss Barbell's Dan Green. For those of you unfamiliar with Dan Green (which, at this point, should be almost no one) here are some quick facts about his powerlifting career: he has held numerous all-time raw powerlifting records, many of them still standing. He has totaled 2065 pounds at 220 (a record at the time) and 2210 pounds at 242 (the standing all-time world record). Over the course of seven episodes, Dave and Dan discuss building a base as a new lifter, limiting factors for lifters of all levels, rehab mentality, adrenaline levels in training, meet strategy, choosing secondary and accessory training movements, and hip position for the deadlift. Enjoy!
Building a Base as a New Lifter
For the first Table Talk, Dan begins by talking about how he learned when he first entered the sport of powerlifting: by reading articles, experimenting on his own, and talking to other lifters at meets. He talks about how, at 24 years old, he transitioned from training simply to get big and strong, to actually having directed training in preparation for a meet.
Dave then points out that Dan had spent almost 10 years training on his own, experimenting with his training, before ever entering powerlifting. He asks if this is an approach Dan would recommend to new lifters, or if he would tell them to immediately jump into powerlifting training. Dan answers this question by discussing technique. He says that the limitation in training, no matter what your goal is or what kind of sets and reps you're using, is technique. To build muscle and efficiency in the lifts—and to subject your body to the helpful kinds of stress rather than the harmful kinds—you have to focus on this from the start. After building proficiency in the lifts, you can do whatever you need in terms of sets, reps, and progressions.
Dave and Dan then discuss the importance of good technique not only on the main lifts but also on the supplemental lifts. For Dan, this means he has had to work to master multiple forms of squatting (high bar, front squat, SS Yoke Bar) and multiple forms of deadlifting (block pulls, deficits, other leverage changes). Similarly, bodybuilding accessory work shouldn't be done in a simple manner of counting your number of reps and going through the motions. You need to ask yourself if you are performing these accessory exercises in a manner that is going to benefit your main lifts. For instance, you could be doing rows in a way that will help your bench, or you could be doing rows in a way that will help your deadlift. Understanding the context is an important step to performing the exercises in a way that will drive progress.
Limiting Factors for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Lifters
In the second installment, Dave and Dan talk about the differences between what limits beginner lifters, what limits intermediate lifters, and what limits advanced lifters.
To begin, Dan says that there is a point for every lifter where the weight gets heavy enough that technique begins to break down. For beginners, this may happen as low as 70% of their max, but once adrenaline kicks in, they're able to complete the lift regardless of the poor technique. This doesn't happen for advanced lifters; advanced lifters can lift weight in high percentages of their maxes only if their technique stays in place. An intermediate is somewhere between these two.
Because of this, Dan says that beginners don't need much in terms of special or fancy exercises. They primarily need to work on building sound technique in the main lifts. Advanced lifters are similar, in that they must maintain nearly perfect technique, or they will be unable to move high-percentage lifts.
For intermediate lifters, things are a bit different. Dan says they need to focus on building strength in the secondary lifts and often don't require long peaking phases. If you take an intermediate lifter and put them through a strength phase, they do well. Once they begin training with heavy singles and doubles, they only need two weeks or so to really peak. Any more and you often see regression.
Dave responds to this by discussing the negative effects of reinforcing poor technique. If an intermediate lifter is working on heavy singles and doubles for many consecutive weeks, and their technique continually breaks down, they are learning to lift in improper positions, which will show on meet day. Furthermore, Dave says that no matter what methodology you want to follow in your training, you need to ensure that you're focusing on technique of the main lifts all year long. Whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced, and no matter what type of training system you use, you need to build and maintain the ability to have consistently good execution of the lifts. Once you do this, seeing where your technique breaks during a max attempt will tell you what your weaknesses are.
Keeping the Endgame in Mind During the Rehab Phase
In this third video, Dan and Dave discuss a specific problem that lifters may encounter at some point in their powerlifting careers: an extended period of time away from training due to health. They respond to the following question:
"What is the best way to minimize strength and muscle loss on an extended health-related break from training?"
Dave begins by assuming "health-related" means injury and not something such as serious disease or illness. He points out that the key thing to be aware of is that, if you're seriously injured, you are not going to be able to maintain 100% strength. Furthermore, even if you aren't injured, your off-season strength mode is not going to be 100% strength. After a meet, your strength levels aren't going to be at 100%; you may aim for something more like 80% as you go through off-season training, and then ramp things back up once you start preparing for another meet.
Dan then talks about his experience dealing with injuries. He explains that, when coming back from injuries, his goal is to recover and come back to be able to train for a meet. Once he's healthy and able to fully train for competition is when he begins to shift his focus to beating his old numbers. He points out that muscle memory and good technique will allow the strength to come back quickly once you're healthy.
The final thing they talk about is perspective. Dave says that if you're currently in rehabilitation, you shouldn't be primarily worried about maintaining strength and size — you should be primarily worried about your rehabilitation. Once you're healthy, it will all come back. In the long-term, it's more important to simply focus on getting healthy.
Adrenaline Levels in Training
In this fourth video, the topic is adrenaline in training. Dave and Dan answer the following question:
How do you manage and maintain adrenaline for lifting?
Dan begins by stating the primary benefit of getting hyped-up in training: you're able to train harder and push your body more. The downside, however, is reduction in the quality of the movements. In other words, if getting more hyped-up allows you to lift heavier weights, but your execution and technique of the lifts suffers, you are hurting your training rather than helping it. Dan points out the benefits of training in a calm state, and says that it can be beneficial to control your adrenaline levels. He shares that, in his own training, he becomes more excited for training the nearer he comes to a meet — even when he doesn't intentionally psyche himself up.
Dave then discusses the difference between a training max and a competition max. There is a different psychological state between training and a meet — and Dave says it should be that way. You don't need to force intensity in training; every single training session does not have to be like you're at a meet.
To this point, Dan says that you should take it as an indicator regarding your program if you need to get worked up to hit a training lift. If you're unable to complete a workout or hit a planned lift in training without pushing your intensity level, you need to reevaluate what you're doing to prepare for competition. Training is meant to prepare you for the meet — it doesn't matter what numbers you put up in the gym as long as you do well on the platform.
Powerlifting Longevity and Meet Strategy
The fifth's Table Talk topic is longevity and building a long-term plan. In this video, Dave and Dan discuss how a lifter can increase their number of years competing in this sport, and what that means for writing a training and recovery program.
To address these concepts, Dan first shares his perspective on injuries and knowing when it's time to take a step back. He points out that you can only get stronger while you're in the gym, which means that taking the extra time to progress slowly is better than moving too quickly, getting injured, and then spending weeks outside of the gym regressing. Focusing on your quality of movement and treating your body like it is a high-quality workhorse is critical. Longevity in powerlifting does not come easy, but you can certainly increase your time in this sport by taking care of your technique, receiving chiropractic and other forms of therapy, and doing your own recovery work, such as stretching.
From Dave's perspective, part of longevity is knowing your genetics. If you have a predisposition to arthritis, be aware of it, because that means that every movement will contribute to that arthritis. Those reps of mobility and warm-up work you think are helping? If the problem is arthritis, that work might actually be hurting you.
In regard to forms of therapy, Dave's advice is to try a lot of different things to find what you like best. Once you find the form of therapy that works best for you, keep it in your back pocket and use it once you're close to a meet. You want to receive the greatest benefit from the therapy at precisely the time you need it, and introducing it at the point in the training cycle that you're getting close to a meet will make this happen. After the meet, Dave's advice is to spend some time doing zero barbell training. No barbell in your hands and no barbell on your back. This could last for four or even eight weeks, depending on your level of skill and how long you prepared for the meet.
Dan's final point on the discussion is to build a long-term plan. If you plan to do two or three meets over the course of the year, you can design an outline of the year's training plan that accounts for the stressors of each competition and gets your body back to a healthy training state. For instance, maybe you cut weight for some and show up at your training weight to compete for others. Maybe you train six weeks for one competition and 16 weeks for another. But if you haphazardly throw in five or six meets in one year, and cut weight for each of them, it will be very taxing on your body and create a difficult scenario for your long-term progress.
How to Choose Secondary and Accessory Training Movements
In the sixth Table Talk, Dave and Dan answer a question about accessory exercises:
What are you go-to accessory movements and how do you choose them?
Dan starts by giving a general layout for how he designs a workout. First, you have main lifts, which are the ones you train for competition. Then you have secondary lifts, where you change one or two parameters from the main movements (such as a range of motion on a deadlift, bar position on a squat, etc.). Finally, you have bodybuilding-style accessory training.
The main lifts have the most complexity, which means you can train them for a long period of time in order to master the technique without needing to take a break, assuming you're using a reasonable loading pattern.
The secondary lifts then require that you master a specific aspect of the main movements. For instance, if you pause squat, the load is lighter and won't feel heavy on your back, but the important thing is how well you move when you come out of the hole. The same rule applies when you deadlift from blocks or from a deficit, for which you're changing your spinal position and working your strength from a different leverage point. These movements are meant to strengthen the main movements, which means you have to choose wisely.
Finally, the bodybuilding accessory work should be done with a lot of variation. These exercises also do not require mastery of technique; in Dan's words, once you've done a preacher curl, you know how to do a preacher curl. This means you can rotate through exercises more frequently than you can for main or secondary lifts. Dan demonstrates this point by sharing the rowing variations he uses for training his back.
Dave's advice is short, simple, and easy to follow: listen to Dan's response again, and apply it.
Hip Position, Not Strength, to Fix Your Deadlift Lockout
The final Table Talk topic is deadlift lockout. As one of the most misunderstood problems in powerlifting, a poor deadlift lockout has held back many great lifters. Go to a local powerlifting meet and, likewise, you will see many beginner lifters miss their deadlifts at the very top of the movement. What's the problem? Is it simply a strength issue? In this video, Dave and Dan share tips to overcome lockout woes and build a better deadlift.
Dan begins by saying that most lifters fall into the trap of thinking that they missed a deadlift simply because they didn't pull hard enough or because they weren't strong enough in their glutes or their lower back. Dan says that this is a mistake. To demonstrate why, he talks about two ways people usually miss on a deadlift: right off the floor or at lockout. Often times the same issues cause both; a lot of lifters use poor technique and let themselves pull out of position from the floor, which in turn makes it nearly impossible to lock out the lift at the top. Your hips can only finish the lockout if they stay in position the whole way through the lift. If you're out of position and can't engage your hips because of it, improving your strength will not solve the issue.
If it's a hip position issue, pulling from blocks with the weight elevated a few inches from the floor is the best way to teach your hips to engage. This will help you learn to stay in the position you need to be in throughout the entire pull.
If it really is just a strength issue at lockout and your hips are in the proper position, any movement that specifically trains the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back will help: deficit deadlifts, stiff-leg deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, etc.
Dave offers similar advice. He shares that almost every time he watches a lifter miss a deadlift near the lockout, the problems arose during the setup. When lifters set up poorly and don't lock in their technique from the very start, they almost always miss the lift. This means you need to first look at technique and find your best way of deadlifting. This does not mean to try to emulate the technique of your favorite, strongest lifter. Your body leverages determine what your best setup and technique is, and trying to adopt the setup and technique of a lifter with an entirely different body type will always end in failure.
As a final point on the topic of hip positioning, Dan talks about Pete Rubish and the progression of his deadlift lockout over time. Pete has been a great deadlifter for a number of years, but more recently Pete has improved his tightness and technique off the floor, which has resulted in staggering increases in his deadlift. Pete was a monster already and now he's back on an 18-month period of rapid increases in his deadlift numbers, in large part due to the fact that he improved his technique at the bottom of the pull, which in turn improved his lockout.