There are always new programs, new training regimens, new supplements, and new pieces of equipment that promise to make a difference—that promise to give one lifter the advantage over the other come the day of the meet.
For you, as a serious powerlifter who has aspirations of achieving greatness in this amazing sport, the advent of a single technological implement just might be the one thing that delivers on all of the aforementioned promises. That device is the smartphone—specifically, the use of the smartphone during training.
Now I am not talking about using the smartphone to search the net for training information, nor am I talking about using it to track nutrition or to log your sleep data in conjunction with your continuous positive airway pressure machine or Fitbit. What I am talking about is religiously, virtually, and compulsively using the smartphone during training. I’m talking about physically checking the smartphone in between sets in the weight room as well as during each and every single set, every training session, throughout the duration of an entire training cycle, and even during the competition itself—inbetween attempts. The use of the smartphone in this way will be your greatest advantage over the other lifters who are training for your meet.
Let me pause for a minute just to clarify something for you, as we don’t want anyone getting confused. When I say “religiously, virtually, and compulsively using the smartphone during training. I’m talking about physically checking the smartphone in between sets in the weight room as well as during each and every single set, every training session, throughout the duration of an entire training cycle, and even during the competition itself—in between attempts” as a way of gaining an advantage over the competition, the clarifying statement is that YOU are not the one using the smartphone in this manner. THEY are.
Let me back up for a moment. I came to a point of clarity some time ago as I pondered this technological pandemic. I came to the realization that the portion of the overall herd of powerlifters who are using their phones while training is not something that should be frustrating me. Rather, it should be making me smile that knowing smile—you know, the one you have only when you realize that you have just stumbled onto something you thought was a nuance but now realize was a gift in disguise.
As you are cut from the same cloth as other serious competitive powerlifters are, you often find yourself aggravated by the guy or gal checking his or her phone between each set. You catch him or her out of the corner of your eye as you reach for your water in between your sets. You observe this person, head down, shoulders hunched over, eyes transfixed on the device’s blue screen, the device clutched like a drug in an addict’s hands as though his or her thumbs are the only things being trained that day. You find yourself aggravated as you put in five sets to his or her one. This other person has lost his or her sense of time just like the guy texting in the car in front of you at the stop light. You know, that guy who is just sitting there even though the light turned green and the cars in the other lane are halfway down the road ahead. It aggravates you because you see the waste involved. You understand how our time in the gym is limited, finite, and precious. You couldn’t wait to come from work and get after it in the gym. Seeing the squandering of this gym time we hold with such value, with such great reverence, has become an agitation.
I now personally embrace this former nuance, as this wonderful distraction is serving to thin the powerlifting herd that desperately needs to be thinned. I’m talking about thinning a herd that was once 100 hardened veteran powerlifters at a meet, powerlifters steeped in years upon years of iron, chalk, and steel, those who trained at serious powerlifting gyms. Now that herd is at a meet of 200. Half of them are socialookatmedia keyboard warriors who spend more time setting up for their training selfies than setting up for their training squats. I’m talking about thinning a herd that was once lifters whose time in between sets was merely the amount of time it took for each of their partners to finish a set and reset the weights. Now that herd features lifters who spend 10 minutes between sets with their phones nestled between their hands, scrolling compulsively upward. I’m talking about thinning a herd that was once powerlifters who were keenly aware that you have only a few precious training hours a week. Now that herd features those who steal not only their own precious time on the phone but also their training partners’. They steal from their partners because instead of contributing their energy and positive engagement to the session, they contribute slumped-over backs as they bend and slouch to better see the screen of a pseudo world.
This thinning of the herd goes on at gym after gym after gym, whereas others from the prime stock of the herd train in the here and now. The serious lifter understands that every training day is a fleeting thing. A squandered day of training is something one can never get back, and a series of these by this distracted portion of the herd helps with the continued thinning.
So, the reality is, in fact, beautiful in its simplicity. Just as your father told you as a young man, “Don’t worry about the guy talking trash; worry about the guy standing in silence, the one who is not uttering a single solitary word,” I submit to you this: “Don’t worry about the lifter scrolling during training or the one who does more posting than training; worry instead about the lifters who are training in radio silence, because they are the ones who are getting ready to hunt you down and best your numbers come meet day.”
The smartphone is your greatest advantage in meet training because when you see your competition using it, it is like seeing him or her wave a big white flag of surrender. The phone is literally telling you that the phone is the priority over his or her training. And for those lifters who will get all in a lather about you saying this, telling you that “it is not a big deal” or that “this is how people train now” or that “this is the new school,” worry even less about them. The only thing better for you than seeing your competition using their phones during training is hearing your competition defend their usage of their phones during training. After all, justification and defensiveness are the universal calling cards for the inability to accept one's own unwanted shortcomings.
We could provide article after article at elitefts.com about the ever-growing mountain of evidence on how the use of smartphones during athletic training kills a training session. This includes a Princeton study on these devices as well as data on how the phone neurologically kills your fight-or-flight response during training, how these devices turn a connection of sets that were designed to crescendo into a final big set into mere individual and disconnected sets, how they destroy the brain’s ability to perceive time, and how a minute or two between sets becomes eight, nine, 10.... But the point of the article is not to enumerate what you already know, as you are already seeing this over and again. The point of the article is not to detail the nuanced research that has shown over and over and over again how the smartphone destroys athletic performance. The point is that because it is a scientifically proven fact that the device kills athletic training, the competitive herd around you is thinning, and you can take advantage of these non-threats as you continue to move in the opposite direction, continually stepping up your training each and every session.
Training device free is not old-school training, nor is it hard-core training. Training device free is plain and simple, training. In my wildest imagination, I can’t produce a mental picture of Dave Tate or Ed Coan or Captain Kirk or Ernie Frantz sitting around after a set in isolation, staring at their hands as their teammates trained around them. Or in the vernacular of those times, going over to the gym’s payphone, making a call, and having a short conversation in between each and every set while the rest of their partners trained together. As ridiculous as this sounds, that is precisely what is happening now, and you see it every training day at your gym.
I am dedicating this article to the lifters who have emailed me to put pen to paper, or rather hand to keyboard, about this very issue. These are athletes like yourself who train device free, who know the difference. You know the difference because you see the sheer disconnect that those using the phone can’t and, sadly, won’t. Free yourself of the wanting to again help them to see what they can’t, as you have already tried to do this, and good for you for trying, but enough is enough. There is nothing more important during your training time at the gym than the training, and that is both the mental and the physical aspect of it. That is the bottom line and always has been.
I submit to you that this is a new branch off the tree that is natural selection with regard to a competitive powerlifter. Not being able to adapt to this new technology within the powerlifting environment naturally selects those who can adapt. Those who can and have adapted move on and continue to survive and thrive in the world of competitive powerlifting. And there are those who can’t and won’t adapt, as they literally cannot put the outside world on hold, not even for that precious training time. Ultimately, those who “train” with the phone will never know how lost they truly are, nor will they ever know how they look to you and to the other serious lifters around them as they stare motionlessly and blank-faced into their cupped hands.
This is a new reality in our old sport. It is without a doubt an advantage for you and other serious powerlifters like you to exploit as you train for your meet. The herd is being thinned, and those being thinned out are unwittingly doing this to themselves. This is good for you and for the sport as a whole. As for the reason WHY this thinning is good, I leave you with the words of Heraclitus: “Out of every 100 men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior,... And he will bring the others back.” - Heraclitus 500 BC