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12 Tips For The Advanced Lifter

Definition of advanced lifter:

A COMPETITIVE strength athlete at the Top National or Pro Level. These lifters make up the top 10 percent of their sport. There might be 15,000 total competitive Powerlifters in the USA, but this article only targets those in the top 10 percent. When you add in weightlifters, strongman and bodybuilders, the total number does increase, but still makes up a very small percentage of those who will be reading this.

Why am I taking the time to write this?

This is where most my programing and consulting (if you want to call it that) experience comes from and I’m positive something in this article will help these athletes get better. For the next time I am speaking with one of these athletes and one of these topics arise, I can send them this article as a reminder of what we discussed.
These tips are based on my own experience(s) as an elite-level lifter, training with other Pro and Elite level lifters, being coached by elite lifters and working with and coaching other elite lifters. These are not in any specific order of importance and will not pertain to everyone. These are the things I find myself repeating over and over again with different lifters. It should also be noted that I would NOT suggest many of these things to anyone who falls outside this target athlete.
To make this point even more clear. If you are not an Elite or Pro strength athlete, many of these suggestions should NOT be applied and they very well could destroy your lifting career or make you suck on the platform.
Now go back and read that one more time. This is not a statement I am writing that is intended to make these look “top secret.”

Priority & Sacrifice

To compete at the highest level, your commitment has to be a top priority. At times this will exceed all other priorities (if your training or recovery justifies it). This isn’t an excuse to be an asshole to everyone and skip every family gathering. If it is a training day – then the cards will fall as they fall. Look at it this way, going out and partying a couple nights per week will NOT aid in the recovery process. A very simple way this was once described to me was, “Your body can only recover from so much at one time. If you have a heavy squat day on Friday and then go out Friday night and get plastered, your system will begin working on getting all the toxins removed first and then try to recover from your squat session next.” While this is an extremely simple explanation and not entirely true (your body will be doing both at the same time) it is partially true and you will not recover as fast as you would have had you not gotten plastered. I look at this differently. There are VERY FEW genetic freaks and odds are that you aren’t one of them. You very well are competing against some of them and they can get away with almost anything and still get better.
Life and sport isn’t fair, but if you want to even-the-field, then why do anything that wouldn’t positively affect your game? I could and still can’t understand how someone can tell me how serious and committed they are and turn right around and talk about how stoned or drunk they are going to get this weekend. To me, these people are not committed at all and have no idea what priority and sacrifice mean. Look, just because you train for the meet and do everything right doesn’t guarantee success. In sports, ANYTHING can and will happen. I personally NEVER wanted to end a meet thinking to myself, I should have done this…or should have not done that. My number one objective was to end the competition knowing I did all I could to make the best meet day I could. If the cards didn’t fall right, then I still wouldn’t have any regrets – just learn and move forward. As someone who placed the sport as my number one priority for many years, I can say looking back, I do have some regrets and there were some things I would change. To me, powerlifting was my life and everything else was second. This included work, family, education…you name it. Without getting into details, I would have done a better job of taking care of these things and wouldn’t have placed such a large gap between the sport and the rest of the world. I knew the sport had to be a top priority and was willing to do whatever I needed to do to move forward. I think these things can still be done, while still being responsible in the other areas of your life.

The take-away here is that I’ve run into two types of athletes at this level. Those who were like myself and completely make the sport their life. Those who do not place the sport high enough. It is important to know where you fall so you can make the right decisions that move you forward, not ones that cause stress (making it harder to recover from training).

Show Up

This might sound like it’s a given, but it’s not. This extends to more than just “being” at every training session – the most advanced competitive lifters will NOT miss training sessions, so this isn’t the issue. The issue involves what they do while they are there and what impact they are having on others. I will get into training hard and programing with tips later. For this article, I want to focus on the difference between being a coach and a captain. I’m using these two as examples because it’s easy for people to relate to.
In sports, the coach is the one off-the-field who makes the decisions that oversee all aspects of the team. The captains are the team leaders who are on the field leading by example. As Pro or Elite Competitive lifters, most of the time you will be the “top dog” or one of the top dogs in your gym or group you train with. By meathead rules, this makes you a captain and the guy others will be looking up to in regards to how to get to the top. You are being “watched” much closer than you think and you are setting the examples they need to train by. If you have shitty training partners, it’s usually due to one reason: you are setting a shitty example – thus shitty standards. You shouldn’t just be on time, you need to be the first one there. If you need verbal cues with your own lifting, then you need to be giving them to everyone else. The standard you establish with your own ACTIONS will be the standard set in the gym. While a coach can accomplish this, I think this only goes so far because in most cases the coaches are no longer competing at the level they used to and the fact is the guys in the training group DO NOT want to be like the coach. They WANT TO be like you…the Pro Lifter. If you expect more of yourself than any of them could ever expect from you, think of what this will do for their training. Think of what it will do for yours.

Stay Healthy

This is not meant in the way most people will read into it. We already know strength sports at the highest level are NOT healthy. I would go as far to say that no sport at its upper level is healthy in anyway. Once pushing the outer limits of one’s mental and physical self becomes part of the competitive process, health, in it’s typical sense, gets tossed out the widow.This is what I mean by staying healthy:
First off, very few who compete at the top levels are 100 percent healthy. They ALL have something that hurts, is screwed up, torn, pulled, broke, ect. This is an accepted part of the game. Normally the one who is the least “screwed” up on meet day is the one who will have the best day, or better put, will display their strength to it’s greatest potential.
When I speak to these lifters what I ask them is what their best total is and when they did it. When and where doesn’t matter, what does matter is the next question I ask and that is, “How much did you leave on the platform?”
Let’s say for example, the answer is a 2455 total and they know they had 50 pounds more in the squat, 20 more in the bench and maybe 10 or 15 more in the deadlift. When you add this all up it is an 85-pound PR correct? So why not go into the next meet at the same strength you were then and pick up those 85 pounds?
The reason is because most lifters do not think this way. They feel if they got stronger they could add another 40 to the squat and that would make a total of 90 more pounds for the next meet. This is where you need to really stop and think.
When was the last time you hit a 95 pound PR in the squat from one meet to the next? Exactly!
This is very rare, but they will train with this thought in mind and end up beating the crap out of themselves in the process. They will actually show up on meet day MORE beat up than they were the meet that they had their best day at. They may or may not break PRs, but if they do, they are usually less than what they left on the platform last time.
If you have an awesome meet and the strength IS there, but you don’t completely demonstrate it, the correct answer is to keep training to get strong but don’t keep the pedal to the floor when it’s not needed.
Spend the cycle training smart and not doing “stupid shit” that you know will beat you up more than it will get you strong. The main goal is to break your PR total, right? Why make this harder than it really is? Do what you need to do to step on the platform just as strong as you were when you had your best day but less beat up.
Think of it this way. If that 2455 was done with a slight back strain, a pulled hamstring five weeks out and one rib out, what do you think you would have left on the platform if you were 100 percent healthy, or even just 80 percent healthy? Hell, just more healthy than you were that day? I’m not saying strength isn’t a main goal – it is! What I’m saying is that is doesn’t matter how f**ckin’ strong you are if you are always beat up and hurt. Nobody cares what you do in the gym – what matters is what you display on meet day.
In the gym, you can either train to impress for the day or leave an impression that will last a lifetime. This means that you HAVE to learn to train with the end goal in mind. One awesome lift/PR in the gym is never worth sacrificing what will be displayed on meet day.

Be Your Own Worst Critic

You know the best way to deal with critics? Be your own worst one. Expect more from yourself than anyone else ever could of you. Then, whatever you hear or read won’t matter.
I hear all the time how the forums have ruined the sport, but what you are reading is the same crap I used to hear in the gym before the internet even existed. It has always been the same way…everyone squats high, so and so is so strong due to better drugs, or they have better custom-made suits and shirts nobody else can buy. The list goes on and on. All the internet did was provide a different means for it to be shared. Back then, it was in the gym, at meets and by telephone. Today it is online. The point is the “shit” is still the same “shit.”
I’m not one of those who buys the old line that it doesn’t matter what they say as long as it’s about you, or if you sucked they wouldn’t say anything. There are many other statements such as if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t say anything and only the best are the ones who get talked about. My thought process has always been, who cares? And who is who? If someone says something about you or your lift, who is saying it and what real significance do they have in your life? Why even bother with it? Yet, week after week for the past 10 years, I get at least one email from an advanced lifter asking me if I saw what was being said about them (or me) on so and so’s forum. If these sites do not enhance your training, why bother reading the crap? If you do go there and get pissed off at something someone else wrote, then it’s not their fault you are pissed. It’s your fault for reading it in the first place.
Even if you are getting bashed BIG TIME, within a few days it will scroll off the front page of the forum and be forgotten – that is – unless you buy into it and post back. As soon as you do this, they (once again ask yourself who is “they”) know they got to you and the trolling won’t stop – it WILL get worse. When you get under the bar for your next training session, will anything they say make a difference?
But…but…but…
This is usually what I hear after telling them this. But, they said this, or they were talking about that. Who cares? And once again who is “who”? What you need to do is spend more time LISTENING to those who you train with and less time reading the crap about you online.
This is a serious question and I want it to sink in. Are there things your training partners have been trying to get you to do (such as keeping your head up when you squat, tucking your elbows when you bench, squat lower, sit back more, etc) and you STILL haven’t “got it” yet? They tell you every time you are under the bar and you still don’t do it for one reason or another. Maybe they are trying to get you to clean up your diet, show up to train on time, stop missing sessions or one hundred other things, but you choose to IGNORE them for whatever reason. Yet, you can’t IGNORE someone who posts on a forum?
Honestly, out of the two groups, who REALLY deserves your respect? So, why are you giving it to those who don’t deserve it and don’t care, but not to those who are in the gym sweating, bleeding and straining to help you get better?

The Last Two Weeks

Years ago, I overheard a discussion between two elite lifters:
Lifter #1: Hey, I have two weeks before the meet, what should I do? Lifter #2: There is not a whole lot you can do in two weeks to get stronger so don’t do stupid shit and go in as healthy as you can.
Yes, there are many things you need to do the last two weeks that I will touch on, but the take away is if you’ve fallen behind, your strength level isn’t where you want it to be, or a number of other situations, there isn’t much you can do to actually get stronger in the last two weeks. Half of this time will be not be training, so we are really speaking about one week. There is NO need to force ANYTHING over the last two weeks. To do so carries a very high risk and offers a very small yield.
What you CAN and SHOULD do is deload, rest and recover, as well as make sure you’re mentally ready for the meet. How you deload will depend on your program and how you train, so I’m not going to touch on that. If you are a Pro or Elite lifter, you know what you need to do to be mentally ready, so I’m also not going to touch on that. What I will say is that this is NOT the time to try new stuff out. Stay with what you know works. Use the off-season for testing new things. If you have 16 weeks of training going into this, it would be VERY stupid to blow it all trying out a new restoration technique or de-loading a different way.
One thing you should do TWICE is to make sure you pack all your gear for the meet. Make a check list and check it three times. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen an elite lifter forget something at the meet. How someone can spend 16 weeks training for nine specific attempts and forget something as vital as their briefs is beyond me.
You would think this is all common sense, right?
How many times have you heard these?
I’m not sure what happened. Last week I felt great, I worked up to a PR and KILLED it. Something just isn’t right today (fill in excuse).
Training was going great until Monday. I went to move (fill in the blank) and tweaked my back. I took all week off and just started getting ART done – it felt great. But somehow, I bombed out of my meet.
I have no idea why my gear doesn’t fit. It was fine last week – I only weigh 18 pounds more.
I know I’m forgetting hundreds of others, but if you’ve been around the sport for, you heard (and used) most of them. As advanced lifters, you’re supposed to learn from these mistakes. When I see the same mistakes by the same guys over and over again It boggles me to no end.
In summary there isn’t a whole lot you can do to get stronger over the last couple weeks, but there is a lot you can do to screw it all up. Be smart!

You Need Coached – Not Programmed

This is the BIGGEST difference between working with advanced lifters and intermediate and beginners. The intermediates and lower need to be programmed and pushed to get better. They need to be told what to do and shouldn’t be given much latitude in regards to any changes to the programming. They need to follow it to a “T” and not deviate unless it’s absolutely necessary. There are also times when they need their heads pulled out of their asses and pushed because in most cases, they have more in them than they realize and they need to have it pulled and pushed out of them, but this series is not about them. This is about the top one percent, and with them, the rules COMPLETELY change.
I know many coaches, lifters and trainers who will disagree with this, but these are the guys I know the best. I’ve trained with them, coached them, sponsored them, are friends with them and work with them. The rules are NOT the same and I know this as a fact from experience with hundreds of lifters.
I HIGHLY suggest you read this article The Science of Winning According to Vasili Alexeyev. Pay particular attention to these sections:
You want to know the principles of my training? That, forgive me, is a secret. . . I’m joking, of course! I don’t like to speak about this subject because some people won’t understand what I’m talking about while others will say I’m bragging, as if to say, “He’s become a champion and he’s making it up…”
“But then I see that many on our team are already working in my way. Theirs, however, is a copy – not the original. Even though the copy may be a good one, it will always be a step away from the original. You see, the question is not one of strength, not one of talent. It’s a matter of what’s in the head. In the physical sense you should, you need to work very hard, but with the nerves – less . . .”
At different stages, Alexeyev was helped by trainers and he listened to their opinions . . . but only up to a point, to a limit. There was his first teacher, Simon Mileiko, and then Alexander Chuzhin. Rudolf Plyukfelder, it’s felt, also played a definite part. And Vasily also took something from the trainers of the Soviet team. Especially from Arkady Vorobyev. However, he was not a blind follower of orders given from the sidelines.
All these last years, Alexeyev has been training on his own using his own method which can’t be found in any textbook. All the books say that to achieve great results you have to train vigorously, often lifting maximum weights.
But Alexeyev considers this a harmful mistake. More than one book could be written about Alexeyev’s method of winning and I imagine he will write them. Here I will quote some excerpts from his words on this subject, taken from our many chats over the years:
“There is much talk about the art of training. But there is nothing concrete. I myself keep searching for a rational method…constantly…but generally I train differently from anyone else…
My method is aimed at increasing the two lift total. We have many outstanding weightlifters in the gyms, but very few at the competitions. Why?
Well, because one must know how to ‘deliver’ one’s strength on the competing platform. The object of today’s trainers is not to teach an athlete the correct way to lift a barbell. Most important, he must teach him to reason and make important decisions independently. Without thought there’s no creation. And without creation, progress in our difficult work is impossible.
When I joined the weightlifting section, there were no sharp definitions between the methods of training. I was not used to training mechanically and I didn’t like this. I began to think for myself, how to organize an effective system of training. I knew from my own experience that, with stubborn effort, one can do anything. I didn’t spare myself. I worked with maximum weights, analyzed my situation, and again began training. I invented many things myself. For example, I began to work a great deal with the barbell in water. I searched and experimented…and here is the result. I made my way from 500 to 600 kilograms in three years. From then on I wanted to be first…

Programming

There are many points being made in this article, but there’s one I want to target on and that is your programming. I have nothing against using people to write your programming. I think this is a great idea. Where the problems happen are when you don’t make adjustments based on how you feel because the program says you “have to lift X for Y number of reps.” Let’s say you are a 900 pound squatter and your program calls for 2 sets of 3 at 84 percent (756 pounds for 2 sets of 3). If your strength is off five percent that day, this is a 45-pound difference, or placing you in a situation where you will actually be doing 89 percent for 2 sets of 3. This is how guys get beat up, hurt and end up bombing out. A five percent swing on strength for a top guy isn’t uncommon. This can be caused by lack of rest, stress, injuries, tweaks, gear not fitting right and a number of other reasons. You HAVE to learn how to make these percent adjustments in real time. As you work up, you’ll know if it feels right or not, you’ll know if it’s physical, technical or mental. If you’re honest with yourself and think back, you ALREADY KNOW this. You had everyone of these thoughts as you worked up. You knew when you should mentally fight it, when you should back down and when you should go harder. The problem is that you never gave yourself permission to believe or trust in your own judgment. When you do get to this point, your training will completely change forever and your lifts WILL take off. You’ll know when to back off, add more weight and/or shut it down.
You guys don’t need over-programming because you know how you should feel and how strong you should be 16 weeks out, 12 weeks out, 6 weeks out and 2 weeks out. You also know what you need to do to get there. I’m not saying the programming isn’t important it is – but it has to be constantly modified – not on a weekly basis, but on a set-by-set basis. Your coach (unless you train with them) can only do so much. The rest has to be done by you.
The last point is you all DO need coached. With beginners, it’s usually about getting them to believe in what they can’t do and push them to work harder to get it. Advanced lifters are about getting them to understand what they CAN do and holding them back so they can display what they have to their greatest advantage. The beginner usually underestimates what they are capable of, while the advanced lifter over-estimate. They both need to be dialed in but in completely different ways.

Technique and Skills

As an advanced lifter, technique is, without a doubt, the most important factor when it comes to breaking records. Your technique needs to be spot-on. If you’re one inch too far forward or one inch too far back, you will miss the lift. The heavier the weight gets, the more unforgiving your body is when it comes to falling out of the technical position. How many times have you really missed a weight due to strength? Now compare that to how many times you missed a weight because of some slight technical issue.
You can argue the point that it’s a muscular breakdown or imbalance that is causing the technical breakdown and this is true in many cases, but not as many as most think.
From what I can tell, lifters in the beginning and intermediate stages put a lot of focus on making sure their technique is right and if there is a break down, they learn what to do to fix it. As the lifter progresses to more advanced levels, many of the simple things begin to be taken for granted so as the weights go up, they become stronger, they slowly began to compromise their technique in small ways that go unnoticed.
Their technique will never become a complete disaster, but when you are an advanced lifter moving maximal weights one slight break down can be the difference between a white or red light. I was around elite and pro lifters for the past 20 years and can say EVERYONE has technical issues. Even those you think have perfect technique, can have issues if the weight gets heavy enough, if they’re over-trained, injured or worn-out.
I should also note that one technique isn’t always the best for everyone. There are certain things that are standard, but every lifter will have their own technical style and this needs to be accounted for when assessing if there’s a break-down or not. This style may be different due to limb length, body structure and injury history.
To get to the point, regardless of your level of competition you MUST focus on your technique at all times. Every time you do the lift from barbell to max weight, you must practice and focus on your technique. While there’s no such thing as perfect, you must strive to get as close to it as you can.
If you really want to see this in action, find some videos of any elite or pro lifter. Doesn’t matter if they’re raw, full gear or single-ply and look at their technique. Then, go find some videos of beginner or intermediate lifters doing the same lift. Now ask yourself what comes first: the strength, or the technique? Now, some will say the stronger you get, the better your technique will be (and I agree), but this is true only to a point. We all know lifters with outstanding technique who can out-lift others that are stronger than themselves, but that is only because the stronger guys’ technique is flawed.

Injured, Hurt and F**Ked Up

Welcome to the world of strength sports. I was once told, “If you’re gonna lift big weights, you’re gonna get hurt.” How true this is. While there are many things we can do with programing, prehab and better warms-ups, when you push yourself to the limit, there’s always the chance (a very good one) that you will exceed this limit and end up getting injured. Before I continue, I should define how I see this. NOTE: I said how “I” see this. I’m not a physical therapist, doctor, or anyone who is qualified to give advice on the diagnosis or rehabilitation of injuries. What I’m going to present is how I personally worked around and through these issues. It can be debated that my way failed, as I have some things that are f**cked up. Take what I say with a grain of salt and if you do have any questions in regards to injuries, see a real professional. With that said, the way I defined this was…
Injured – this is the normal stuff advanced lifters deal with from day-to-day. It doesn’t hinder your strength, doesn’t get better and doesn’t get worse. This can be sore elbows, shoulders that hurt when you sleep or just about anything else that hurts during your first few warm-up sets, but gets better with each set and by the time you get to your work sets, you don’t notice it at all. For many lifters the best they feel is while they’re training. It’s the rest of the day that is rough. I’m not saying you should ignore these issues, but there are those things that just come with the territory. Ice, heat, stretch and do more warm-up sets. Usually these things will work themselves out over time…or get worse. For me, most worked themselves out over time.
Hurt – This is when something tears, pulls, strains or leaves you with some limited mobility. These are much harder to train around because there’s a loss of function. It is best to take some time and rehab these unless you’re hard-pressed and don’t have enough time because of a meet that’s coming up. This is where I feel I personally made some of my biggest mistakes. I’d tear a pec five weeks out and instead of resting and rehabbing, I found ways to work around it. This is the same with shoulders, hamstrings, lowerback, ect. Some of the times I could pull it off and still hit PRs, but in almost all cases what I had to do to get ready and stay training did more damage in the long run. I don’t regret my decisions because it helped me so that now I can access and help others who get caught up in the same situation. NOTE: If you’re an advanced lifter and do get asked about how to work through an injury, you are at risk for the advice you give. I HIGHLY suggest you know and trust the person and always say “this is what I did” don’t ever tell them to do anything. NEVER answer this for complete strangers you don’t know.
F**Ked Up – This is when there are permanent issues that will change the way you have to perform a lift. Some example are bones spures in your elbow, wrecked shoulders, hips and so on. Many of these can be fixed, but will require surgery. Sometimes the surgery will help, but even after that and the rehab you will still be slightly f**ked up and will have to modify and make changes to your training and/or technical form.
The key in all this is to NOT get f**ked up. The longer you can stay away from that, the longer you will be successful in the sport. Don’t be a pussy and become gun-shy and scared to get hurt, but at the same time, don’t become completely reckless when you can always take some extra time off and come back stronger and healthier. I was THAT guy who was completely reckless and I’m here to tell you it didn’t work. Eventually you will become so f**ked up you’ll have some very hard decisions to make. While I feel it’s better to leave a sport on your own terms, I also understand there are many out there that this isn’t the way it’s going to go down…and totally understand.
I will also say I’m not 100 percent sure on how I feel about all the warm-up tools, exercises and protocols on the market. I think most of these are best used post-training and the best warm-up you can do is to triple or quadruple your warm-up sets. Others may and will disagree, but this is what I found most effective and still do today, BUT I do A LOT of warm-up sets. I will not move up in weight until I feel my body is ready for it. If I’m bench pressing, this could mean 10 sets before 135 hits the bar.
Once again, take this with a grain of salt and understand that I’m one of those who left the sport for a few reasons, but one of the biggest was because I was so f**ked up.

Shut it Down

This will be a short one and another one I never did correctly but saw correctly at the last UGSS we hosted at elitefts™. Brian Carroll was sick a couple of days before making the trip and decided to pass on squatting Saturday and instead squatted and benched on Sunday. Despite having the flu, dropping tons of weight and getting reloaded, his squats went very well. He was a bit slower than I saw him in the past, and he decided to take a pass on his last set with reverse bands. He did get in a heavy single in the 1150-pound range, so overall a good session for being a couple of weeks out.
His bench, however, wasn’t going as well. He was working down on boards and aside from his technique not being able to stay locked in, you could see he was missing his normal POP out of the bottom. After about 80 percent of his sets were done, I overheard him speaking to Jeremy Frey and they decided is was time to shut it down for the day. They did discuss several options before this, such as taking a lighter weight for reps or going back up to higher boards, but when it was all said and done, they knew the day was shot and anything he did past this point would do more damage than good. This is called SMART lifting. There’s no doubt in my mind that Brian could’ve gotten himself fired up, hit some smelling salts and gone into competitive mode and knocked out one more set…but for what? He was two weeks out and the last thing he needed (while still recovering from the flu) was to tax his recovery even more.
I sat back and thought to myself – I wish I would have made more decisions like that. There’s no doubt that there are times when you have to push through because you’re just not “into it” but there are other times when you really need to shut it down. The trick is knowing the difference.

Gear

Powerlifting gear was first introduced into the sport in the early 1970s. Prior to the use and advancement of gear, the use of tight jean shorts, ace bandages, and whatever a lifter could think of was used for support. Over the past four decades gear has advanced and continues to offer the sport several different options: raw, raw with wraps, single-ply, and multi-ply.
There are several misconceptions surrounding raw and multi-ply. These usually involve the economics of the sport and an overall lack of understanding of how the body functions. This also includes some very basic biomechanics and physiology concepts.
I’ve had numerous multi-ply lifters who have placed very well in raw meets. However, they were all extremely surprised and shocked when they first came out of gear. They were shocked at how weak they had become. A few expressed to me that they spent the last five years training and actually got weaker. This is far from the case. I have also read these same stories countless times online as they are all based around the same concept of, "I couldn't" believe how weak I was when I removed the gear."
One important factor to keep in mind is within one year they were all breaking raw records.
To further illustrate this phenomenon, a 500-pound raw lifter decides to train and compete in multi-ply and over the next five years increases his squat up to 800 pounds with gear. At this point he decided to compete raw and begin the next training cycle, only to find out he can only squat 450. Therefore the lifter believes he was stronger before he ever got into gear. However, he sticks with it and by the end of 12 months, this results in squatting 600 pounds raw. In their mind they went from a very hard 450 to a 600 raw. Yes, this is great progress, but it's not all due to what they think it is. It is VERY hard for anyone to increase a raw squat by 150 pounds, especially someone who has been training for over a decade.
Let's examine this more thoroughly. Gear does help. Anyone who say's different is a liar. Gear also aids in other aspects as well. It enhances the strength curve. Note: I didn't say it changes the strength curve. To fully understand this, search YouTube for missed lifts and you will find the majority of the time raw and geared lifters miss at the same points. It is a misconception that raw lifters miss in the hole and off their chest and that multi-ply lifters miss at the top. Lifters miss due to their weak points and, in most cases, are typically weak a few inches coming out of the bottom of the squat and the top third of the bench press—regardless of gear or no gear.
In addition, gear also provides more feedback loops for a lifter compared to a raw lifter. When wearing gear, you have the tension of the suit providing feedback for body position. You can feel if your knees are not out by the sensation of the suit within the sides of your legs. You can feel if you are arching hard enough by the tension in the ass. You can tell when you are getting close to parallel due to the overall tension the suit creates on your body.
In the bench, you can tell when to tuck by how the shirt is pulling on the elbows. You can feel the path of the bar based on how the shirt is pulling across the chest and triceps. You can tell when to turn the elbows out by when the shirt begins to let go.
For the deadlift, you learn where to place your hips at the start, based on the pull of the straps and the pull up through the crotch. All of these (and ones I left out) all provide neural feedback loops during the beginning, which are conscious and subconscious for the more geared and skilled lifters. This changes the intramuscular and neuromuscular coordination of the lift as well as the synchronization of how the lift is performed. The lift becomes more technical and the lifter needs to approach the training more carefully to maximize this effect. This is why someone can't just toss gear on and get 200 pounds out of it. If most people threw gear on they would get very little out of it, as the return on investment would be minimal. You need to "learn the skill" or become more "efficient" at using it (both on the muscular and neuromuscular level). Over time this skill is learned and thus can become mastered for some lifters. While their lifts do increase, so does their strength.
Going back to the example of the 500-pound raw squatter who goes into gear and squats 800 within vie years. Their gains were NOT completely contributed due to gear. They also got stronger.
What happens when they remove the gear is the body has to relearn motor patterns without the feedback loops. This is why they feel so weak the first time they squat raw. Their body (and mind) is looking for feedback, and it’s not receiving it. To reestablish the feedback loops takes time and repetition. When the feedback loops are reestablished (based only on kinesthetic awareness and body position) their strength begins to rapidly increase. This ISN'T new strength; it is strength they previously developed, but they were not technically efficient to properly demonstrate it.
In contrast, it takes time for a newly geared lifter to recognize the feedback loops required to lift in gear. Once these are restored, they will only see a modest increase in their lifts, despite what the critics say. They will not get 300 pounds out of their shirt or 500 pounds out of a squat suit. This takes time and it also requires getting stronger. Despite what you may hear about these huge carryovers, they are not entirely true because the more efficient one becomes with gear, the less efficient they will be without it. It is VERY difficult for your body to become extremely efficient raw and in gear at the same time because of the neuromuscular aspects previously discussed. Therefore, when someone says they get 350 pounds out of a shirt, I am willing to bet if they removed the shirt and trained raw for 8 months they would restore these feedback loops and be able to bench 100 pounds or more.
The take away for advanced lifters is to understand that if you go into gear, raw or single-ply, there will be an adjustment period. From my experience and years of training and coaching, this is usually between 6-8 months. Do not attempt to rush this process. While technical skill development and repetition is important, it's more critical to ensure quality repetition.

YOU'RE DONE

Retire?  Retire from what? You need to do something before you can retire from it. - Louie Simmons  I can’t recall the number of times I have heard Louie say this. He was mostly joking, but not always. Of all the times I heard him say it, though, he was never speaking to me when he did. Once my time came, I knew to say I was done. It was over. While this article started out as an address to an already small target audience of intermediate and advanced lifters, it will now get cut down again by more than 90%. From my 30 years around the sport, I think small businesses have a better lasting rate than those who compete in strength sports. It has been said that 90% of all small businesses will fail within the first year. Out of those who make it past the first year, 90% will fail within the next three years. Out of the remaining group, 90% will fail within five years, and those who do make the five-year cut, only 10% will last ten years. Finally, out of those left, less than 5% will make it to 20 years. This means if 100,000 small business begin this year:
  • 10,000 will make it past year one
  • 1000 will make it past year three
  • 100 will make it past year five
  • 10 will make it past 10 years
  • 1 will make it past 20 years
My numbers for lifters may be off here, but not by much. Look at the top 20 lifters from 2010 in each weight class and see how many are still there now. These are the best of the best, so their staying rate will be higher. Now look at the bottom of the list and see how many names you can find anywhere on the list. The fact is that strength sports (powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding, strongman, highland games, etc) all have a very high attrition rate and most of those who do make it to the top do not last there long. There are many reasons for this: major life changes such as work, moving, getting married, kids. Life happens. Things change. For some athletes, the goal is to get in, achieve what they want, and get out. There are no regrets and they move on when they're done. The ones that are hard to explain are the ones who do make it 15, 20, or even 25 years and then find they can’t do it anymore. In all the cases I know, there are three main reasons for this. The sport passed them by (they got old), family, or injuries. For most lifters, it is a combination of the three. You find you can no longer lift the weight like you used to, your body is beat to hell, and your spouse who used to be very supportive no longer wants you to do it now that you've been under the knife 10 times and spent two decades of vacation time going to meets. Very few will ever get to this place. Having personally been through it, I think that is a good thing, because this place SUCKS. To make matters worse in strength sports, you are not "cut" or "let go." You're never "unrecruited" and your contract doesn't "expire." There is nobody to tell you you’re done. You can keep competing as long as you can walk onto the platform and do the lifts. The only way I can make any logic of this place is to use the The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief.
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
These are really not stages and do not always follow one another. For most people, different parts will happen at the same time. For lifters, the first three are happening before you even think you are done. You may be doing them now. I can’t count the number of times I was pissed off because training went bad for weeks on end, or how many times I got pissed because of another muscle tear. I denied my joint issues for years, saying it would go away. My back fused it self so why would my shoulder not get better? Muscle tears are part of the game, right? Even if they are happening once a month and tearing off the bone.
I made deals with myself. If I hit this weight at this meet I would drop a weight class and lessen the toll on my health. Then when meet time came around I would either...
1. Destroy the weight and think “Damn, I can do 50 pounds more, screw dropping weight. I want that extra 50."
2. Get pissed off the weight destroyed me, because I'm better than that.
I can write pages about injuries, saline injections, cortisone injections, rehab, and a ton shit I did to keep the weights loading, but this isn’t about me. I'm sharing the things I did because I want you to understand that I have been though this and it sucks. There is no way to make it better — just know it sucks.
There will come a time when you will not be able to do it any more or you accept the fact you will have to find new strength goals in new classes. For me, I am glad it worked out the way it did, otherwise I would still be competing and my life would be much different than it is today.My end came in the form of injuries. I needed a shoulder replacement and looked at the outcome of others and decided against it (I can’t hold a bar on my back to squat and benching to my chest is not a smart option). I have not had replace my shoulder, as was recommended a decade ago, so I am happy to say that I have found a way to keep training and not make it worse. I never expected my hip to get so bad that it needed replaced, but it did.
These were not the terms I wanted to go out on but when I think about it, I never had terms to go out on. I competed from 1983 to 2005 and got my first elite in 1985. This was my life and a huge part of my identity. I never imagined not training for a meet. Even post-surgery I was planning how many weeks rehab would take, plus the transitional weeks and then what was left before the next meet I wanted to hit.
This was all stripped away in a doctors office (actually four of them, as I got multiple opinions). The fourth was my primary care physician who blasted into me for close to 40 minutes. When I left, I knew it was over.
Depressing? Kidding me? I already suffered from depression so this certainly didn’t bring enlightenment. What about my peers and all those who I competed with all those years? I was now a pussy, a sell-out. I was hit with the most criticism I've ever had in my life. Why? Because I wasn’t going to compete. The support I did get (and you will too once you quit) was from the same people who had been trying to get me to stop for years. Not much help either.
My solution was to get away from it all. I can’t say if it helped or not, but it was what I felt I needed to do, so I did it. Like any grief, it’s up to you to deal with it when you are ready to deal with it. You can’t force it and neither can anyone else.
I also didn’t want to be around it, as I felt like I was just a walking, talking reminder of what can happen when you abuse yourself the way I did. I now realize that this isn't true, but it took a lot of time for me to get here.
Training after retiring from powerlifting was hit-and-miss. I never in my life trained without purpose and this was a huge mind fuck. Maybe some day I will train for health but I never did and still just don’t see the point. With the joint disease I have, I can make a point that water aerobics is the most healthy training I could be doing. This is NOT going to happen. I had to find a better way, and a way with purpose.
I can still remember hating to go to meets. For close to two decades, the only meets I went to were at the national level or higher. This gives you a very distorted view of the sport. After some time, I found myself helping a group of lifters at a local meet. For many of the lifters that day, it was their first meet. The weights they hit were not world records or all-time top 20 numbers, but they were PR’s to them.Today I can't remember a single number that anyone hit, but I do remember how they all looked and felt after breaking those records. THAT look and feel is why I feel in love with the sport in the first place. On that day, at that meet, I was reintroduced to what powerlifting really is. It’s not about the judging, gear, federation, being part of the strongest team, world records, rankings and all the other stuff that became a driving force of my identity.
It is sampling lifting in pursuit of personal power = POWERlifting. This is how I see it now. It’s an amazing sport that can and does have the power to change lives. It took many of years of competing and then leaving the sport completely before I fully recognized this.
Clint Darden just spoke at our last Powerlifting Experience and spoke of a squat he took when he was overcome by fear. Not fear of dying or injury, but the fear that he had already taken the heaviest squat he will ever take. This is SCARY. It is actually really fucking scary to many of us but, truth be told, this day will come for us all. How will you use this fear? Will it send you running from the sport never to return or will you see the sport for what it really is and help others to do the same? I have been part of this sport for a very long time and will tell you right now, most run. This is the part that scares me the most. I have come to terms that my best lifts are behind me but for so many others, the best lifts are still to come. I see people bitch and complain every day about coaches who lack experience. Where the hell are OUR coaches with decades of experience? Most ran and are leaving the teaching up to people who are far less qualified. When you reach this point, think of all those that were there for you. Will you be there for the ones who will come up behind you or will you run and hide because you are not strong enough to create lifters better than you were?
Accept responsibility for the sport that gave you so much. Accept responsibility to help the sport grow and become better. There were those before you that helped and showed you how, and then you had your shot because of them. Do the same now. Show someone how and give them their shot. So what if they don’t listen? Just move onto the next one who will. Did you always listen? I know I didn’t. This isn’t just about passing on — it’s also about keeping the roots of the sport alive and active. Roots you helped provide the foundation for. Now take some time and nurture these lifters and watch what they can grow into. In many ways, you will be more satisfied with that than any number you ever personally lifted. I know I am.