There's a difference between your absolute max and your technical max (at least 99% of the time!). Make sure you know the difference so you understand how to adjust your training accordingly.
A couple of years ago my brother and sister in-law got me this awesome custom T with those three words in bold across the front. Those three words, in a simplistic way, summarized where my life was at. As I pulled it out of my closet recently, it got me reflecting on achieving balance in life and the amazing journey it has been and continues to be.
Lets look at each of these individually.
Many of you know that being co-owner and coach at Quantum isn’t my only job. Since we opened over 6 years ago I have also worked full time at the University Health Network in Toronto. My home base there is infection prevention and control, and my work is focused on quality and safety concerns, organizational development and culture change in healthcare.
I have worked there for over 10 years and am so fortunate that I truly enjoy what I do! When people ask how I’ve managed the two demanding jobs, I often respond that first and foremost you have to really love what you do. I also could not have done it without the incredible support of family, friends and of course my work-husband Peter. We have been able to build Quantum into the amazing training facility and community it is today. While I haven’t always been able to put in the time I’ve wanted, we’ve worked out a balance that has allowed me to do both.
Is this set up ideal? Not at all! It’s been really hard at times. For many years simply getting enough sleep was so hard (my current 8:30pm bedtime helps with that).
When we first opened I worked 14hr days regularly and it took a toll. I didn’t have as much time to see friends and family, my sleep patterns got messed up, and all too often I heard myself (and still do) saying ‘sorry I can’t make it, I have to be at the gym’.
But that was the risk I was willing to take, with the support of my family, on opening a small business. I wanted to take the risk because I was (and am) so passionate about what we could bring to the Crossfit community.
At the same time I saw a future in my career at the hospital that I was not prepared to let go of and it provided some financial stability so that we could focus on growing the business. Over the years many people have asked when I will choose one over the other, and I still haven’t been able to make that choice.
I have found a better balance though. It’s a work in progress.
Just the other day, a colleague and friend gave me some great advice about that. She told me to list out all of things I want more of in my life, and also all the things I wanted less of. They can be as simple as more laughter or more time with family.
Once you have the list, come up with ways of achieving even just one or two things to start shifting that balance. My experience has shown that you don’t need a huge overhaul. Focus on the things that you have total control over and start there. I think of this as the 15% solution. In general a lot of what happens to and around us is out of our control. However, what you can control can have enormous impact. Learn where that sphere of influence lies and focus on small incremental change.
It’s amazing what can happen when you do this. This kind of lifestyle is one that I chose and working that many hours is not something to brag about. It’s the path I chose, it has worked for me and I have learned a lot about myself in the process.
This is such an important part of my life. I’m not just talking about maxing out my squat and deadlift or competing in powerlifting. For the purposes of this blog I’ll broaden this word to MOVE. What I have learned over the years is that I simply function and feel better the more I move.
About 10 years ago that meant long distance running. If I wasn’t putting in the km’s and lots of volume I wasn’t moving enough. Over the years though, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be out running for two hours or lifting weights for three. What I need is to be active every day (cycling to work when I can, extra walks and my standing desk help with this for my office job), lift heavy things regularly (feeling strong physically and mentally) and move quickly sometimes too (insert interval work, metcons and even the occasional FBomb Friday at Quantum).
Don’t get me wrong, lifting and competing is still important to me. I love the camaraderie of the sport and the personal challenge it brings me. The key is that I have found balance with it.
When these things are aligned I feel my best. I’m more productive at work, a better partner, friend, family member and co-worker. The biggest change mentally over the years has probably been less of a focus on volume, more of a focus on quality and always challenging myself to try new things. My foray into achieving a handstand is just one example. This was and is a challenge mentally and physically for me. It added a totally new area of focus into my training routine.
Besides the challenge of it, movement helps centre me. It gives me focus and energy. It’s also helped me get stay in tune with my body, as I continue to learning how to listen to my body, adjust my training, and incorporate purposeful rest and mobility at the right times.
I’m excited to see what movement for me looks like in the future (I don’t see any shift away from barbells any time soon ☺)
Those who know me know that I love a day where I can be in my Thuggie (if you don’t know what these are you should. Check them out here. They’re ridiculously comfortable and just plain ridiculous www.thuggies.com) watch some Netflix, relax with Sara and our cat Blanche and just simply have some quiet time. This time is essential. It helps me regenerate.
Chill also means time with family and friends. Babysitting my nieces, cottage weekends, family dinners, walks in the park. For me, it’s about balance between time alone and time with others. They all nourish me in different ways.
While finding this balance has been hard, it has been totally worth it! What a great feeling when it all aligns.
WORK, LIFT, CHILL. My brother and sister-in law know me so well!! All three are core elements of my day to day. I work hard at finding balance which can be really hard and certainly is never perfect. I know I have made certain choices that have led me to where I am and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m pretty lucky to be here and am excited to see how these three things evolve as time goes on.
Here's a funny story about the first time coach Leah used smelling salts, as well as one key tip on when/when not to use them!
Smelling salts, also known as ammonia inhalants, are chemicals used for increasing arousal. Historically, they've been used to help boost up someone who's feeling faint (or who's fainted), but athletes also use them to qucikly "wake-up" in order to improve performance.
Join Quantum CrossFit head coach Peter Roberts, and Quantum Powerlifting head coach Alastair MacNicol for an extremely detailed breakdown of the squat. No stone will be left unturned to improve your understanding and performance of this incredible exercise.
-The "Key Three" performance points for each phase of the back squat
-How to perfect your set-up to maximize tension and leverage
-How to determine if your flexibility is limiting your suqatting potential, and what to do about it
-Our top drills for strengthening weak links in the squat
-Perfecting your breathing and bracing to get tighter and lift more
-Common mistakes and trouble shooting
Have questions about your gear? Drop us a line!
From Coach Al:
Last week I traveled down to Baton Rouge Louisiana to compete in the WPC World Championships.
I had three athletes competing, Justin Zottl, Tori Goulart and Maureen B. Each of them did incredibly well, they all hit lifetime PRs and picked up some hardware in their respective classes.
Worlds is a week long meet, my athletes competed on Monday and Tuesday and then on Wednesday I had the chance to take the platform. I'm happy to say I had a great day and made 8 of my 9 attempts, having the best meet of my career.
On the squat I went 584, 623 and 644 for a competition personal best
On the bench press I made 396 and 408 but just missed my third at 413
On the deadlift I made 683, 727 and a third attempt of 755
I finished the day with an 1808 total, which is an all time best result. It was also good enough to win the men's 220 division and come third overall based on coefficient!
I want to give a big thank you to the Quantum community for being so supportive, also to our powerlifting team that went down to Baton Rouge. It was awesome to have such a tight knit and supportive group while we were there. And most of all to Allie who kept me calm during the days leading up to the meet and acted as my handler, staying on top of all the meet nonsense so I could just focus on lifting weights.
I was asked once about what my “training philosophy” is. It was an interesting question and really got me thinking, what do I believe is important in training? And why. I’ve boiled it down to four key aspects. These aren’t the only factors in training but they’re the ones I think are the most important to a good training plan and the primary ones I take into account when developing my own training and that of my athletes.
The first, and most important factor, is longevity.
One thing I believe above all others is that if you want to be successful in powerlifting (or most endeavours for that matter) you need to be consistent and work at it for a long time. The very best lifters almost universally have long careers. 10 years or even more is not uncommon. You can’t expect to train for one or two (or even four or five) years and reach the peak of your physical potential.
There’s no amount of short term progress that can beat out the results of a decade or more of consistent training. I don’t care how much weight you can add to your squat or bench in 6 weeks after running some fancy program.
That’s why longevity is the most important consideration for me. Even if a training program isn’t that good if you do it for long enough it’ll net better results than an awesome plan done for a short period of time. I’ll take a 70% plan done for 10 years over a 100% plan done for 1-2 years every time. I believe wholeheartedly that it will produce a better lifter in the end.
So what does longevity actually look like?
For me this means ensuring the training I write for myself and my athletes will allow us to continue lifting hard and productively for a long time. It has to be enjoyable but it also has to be geared towards “long term” goals and often that means sacrificing immediate satisfaction for big gains in the future.
For starters it has to be fun. On some level you have to enjoy what you’re doing. Lifting has to balance in with work, family and all other interests. It should add to your life, not take away from it. If you’re not excited about training, if you don’t actually WANT to go to the gym eventually you’ll quit. You’re just not going to keep doing something you hate for 10-20 years. So your training has to reflect that, it has to get you excited about going to the gym day in and day out.
However, let me be clear, this isn’t an excuse to just do whatever you feel like. Lots of silly exercises or ineffective training plans can be hand waived away with a simple “well I enjoy it so…”. You can justify just about anything that way and that’s not the point. Sure you have to enjoy the process as a whole, but if you want to become the best lifter you can be it’s going to be hard work. Hard work isn’t going to be fun all the time.
This is where the concept of sacrificing short term pleasure for long term progress comes in. Sometimes you need to buckle down and grind through the stuff you don’t like now so you can realize the results you want later.
I’ll use an anecdote to illustrate my point. When I first began training for powerlifting I found I had a knack for deadlifting. When I grabbed a bar it was just natural for me to stand up with it. My “program” (if it could be called that) consisted of coming into the gym and pulling a max single every week, then I went home, that was it.
Now this was fun as hell! And for a while it worked. Each week I’d add 5-10 pounds over my previous best and hit it. But eventually I ran into a wall, I could get 385 but for the life of me I couldn’t pull 405. I tried 4 weeks in a row before I realized it just wasn’t going to happen with the way I was approaching it.
What I ended up having to do was take 6 weeks to back down and build up to it. In that time I used weights between 275-315 and increased the number of reps I could do. I did goodmornings and hamstring work to build up the muscles needed in the deadlift. At the end of the 6 weeks I went back and smoked 4 plates.
Would it have been more fun in the short term to keep maxing out? Sure it would. Maxing out is fun, doing volume and accessories is boring. But ultimately it wouldn’t have been as effective. By delaying gratification and taking some time to do what I needed to do instead of just doing what I wanted I ended up seeing better progress. That in turn was more fun than being stuck at the same weight forever. The results kept me motivated and enjoying what I was doing. That was 10 years ago and I’m still deadlifting, my best right now is 760.
The stronger and more experienced you get the longer these periods of delayed gratification have to become, and the longer that list becomes of stuff that isn’t that fun, but will benefit you long term. This is the stuff you need to do.
Maybe you don’t like mobility work, but you need it. Too bad, do it anyways. Maybe you just want to lift heavy and don’t want to back off the weight and work some volume, but you need to. Too bad do it anyways. Don’t want to deload? Don’t want to warm up? Don’t want to do accessory work? You guessed it, too bad do it anyway.
Of course, if you’re happy being stuck in a rut, then by all means, skip this and just keep doing whatever you feel like. But if you want to go as far as you can you need to learn to suck it up and do what is required, not just what you like.
Finally, I believe good training has to promote health if it’s going to allow for longevity. Nothing sidelines careers faster than an injury so a good training plan should minimize that risk. Now obviously competing at a high level in sport is never truly a “healthy” activity, it involves pushing the body to it’s absolute limits. But that doesn’t mean injuries should be accepted as inevitable.
This piggybacks off the previous point. A good training plan has to be focused on producing the best results in the long term and that may mean sacrificing small PRs in the immediate future so that you’re healthy enough to set bigger PRs down the road.
This could involve periods of time where you lift lighter to allow for recovery. This might be short like a deload week, or it could be a longer “restoration phase” after a particularly gruelling training program has concluded.
This could mean taking an “offseason” where you reduce the weights and focus on building muscle, correcting imbalances and building a base. This period might also include less squat, bench and deadlift and instead focusing on specific exercise variations like high bar squats or incline bench press to help alleviate chronic overuse injuries that can occur from focusing solely on the contest movements. For newer lifters this might be as little as 4-6 weeks while for more experienced lifters it could be 20 weeks or even more.
This could mean packing it in early if a training session is just going terrible instead of pushing through it and hurting yourself.
This may even mean taking some time away from a lift and seeking treatment to allow an injury or nagging issue to heal fully.
In the short term these strategies won’t net you any PRs. In fact a lot of the time if you don’t back off and keep pushing full steam ahead you might be able to drive you numbers up right now, in the short term you’ll end up stronger.
Eventually however, this strategy will run you into the ground. You can’t go full throttle forever and sooner or later wear and tear, burnout and injury will force your body to stop. These forced setbacks can take a very long time to bounce back from and while you’re struggling to claw your way out of the hole you’ve dug the lifter who backed off and is healthy will be able to train productively and surpass you.
The Quantum Powerlifting Team has a new training time! Starting on Friday Sept 30th, we have team training from 7:30pm to 9:30pm.
Come on out and join the squad! Any lifter is welcome.
$15 Drop in fee.
Let's keep growing Powerlifting in Toronto!
The Most Important Lesson I've Learned as a Competitive Powerlifter
by coach Alastair MacNicol
I’ve been involved in the iron game for a while now. Not as long as some, but I have been lifting weights for 15 years and competing in powerlifting for 7, so I’m not new to it either. In that time I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting, talking with and even training with some of the best lifters in the sport. These experiences have given me lots of great insight into what the best lifters do.
The year was 2009. I was 22 and had just competed in my first Powerlifting meet. I was feeling pretty good! To make matters even better I’d received an invite on an old powerlifting forum to come train at a local underground lifting club called “The Anvil”. I’d never heard of it, but I pictured it as the kind of dungeon gym I’d seen in "Pumping Iron."
The kind of gym that was dirty, where the music was loud, weights were being slammed, and the lifters were going balls to the wall every workout, nothing but 100% effort every time. In a word: hardcore.
The owner, Clint Harwood, was a bench specialist and a very good one. I looked him up to find out he was the National Record holder in the bench press, and the first Canadian to break the 800 pound barrier in the equipped bench.
This dude had to be serious!
The big day came, I showed up at the address and put my game face on as I approached the single car garage. I didn’t want to seem weak in front of these folks. I was ready to go! I was approaching that gym like I was going to war.
What I got was… different. The place was dirty, the music was loud, weights were slammed and there were definitely some lifters there going all out. But Clint wasn’t one of them.
His workouts were unique, and dare I say it…almost lazy. His main bench work out was 4-5 warm-up sets followed by 1-3 heavy reps…and done. Literally that was it. I remember being in shock the first time I saw it.
“That’s it? No assistance work, nothing else?”
“Nope, that’s enough for the night.”
Sometimes he didn’t even get that far. If the warmups weren’t going well, I'd watch him shut it down early.
One night I tried to help the guy out. If it wasn’t feeling good maybe he could only add 25 instead of 50 pounds on the next set, make half the intended jump and work there. Or what about instead of stopping he could drop the weight down and warm up again. The second time around he might feel better and he could go on to his work sets. Or maybe he could take a little less weight and do some rep work? There’s definitely a way to make it a productive workout!
Clint wasn’t having it, he shut it down early that night.
I was pretty confused. How did this guy become so successful?
I’d always figured hardcore lifters would fight through anything, using pure willpower to force themselves into a good workout if their body just wasn’t cooperating! If you weren’t giving 100% every time, how could you expect to become the best?
So I asked him.
That’s when he gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to lifting. He told me a story about how he’d been training out of town one time. He was having a serious “off” day, one of those training sessions where nothing seems to click and the weights just aren’t moving like they should. "Nothing felt right. I considered leaving, but I decided to tough it out,” he told me. “I couldn’t afford to skip a workout!”
Then he tore his triceps. It was his only major injury in the sport (which is pretty damn impressive in a sport as rife with injuries as powerlifting) and it took him 6 months to recover to the point where he could resume his normal training.
Being newer to the sport I didn’t immediately appreciate the wisdom in his words, but it’s stuck with me throughout my lifting career and the value of them has become more and more apparent to me over time.
In lifting the phrase “it’s a marathon not a sprint” gets thrown around a lot. We say it, but we don’t really think about what we’re saying.
In a marathon you have to pace yourself. If you tear out of the gate as fast as you can you’ll be very fast over the first couple hundred meters. You might even do well for a couple kilometers. but eventually you’ll burn out, you’ll slow down and you’ll end up doing much worse than if you’d moved a little slower but were more consistent.
The old story of the tortoise and the hare, “slow and steady wins the race”, isn't a new concept, but it's important.
If your goal is to get as close to your genetic potential and lift the most weight possible the way to get there is to steadily and consistently put in work over years and eventually decades. What’s one bad or missed training session compared to 10 years? Hell, what’s one bad week or month? In the grand scheme of things it’s not important.
Small steps over time will eventually lead to the biggest results, not trying to smash monster PRs in 4, 6 or 8 weeks.
This can be hard to wrap your head around. Inherently it makes sense that the harder I work the better I get. So it stands to reason that going as hard as possible all the time would lead to the best progress doesn’t it?
A lot of lifters are infatuated with hard work, and I’m not saying working hard isn’t important but I think the mindset needs to be re-framed somewhat. You should be aspiring not to be “the hardest worker” be instead to be “the most consistent worker”.
Nothing sets back training faster than an injury. Just like Clint lost 6 months to his triceps tear I see lifters all the time hurt themselves, they then proceed to spend months or even years trying to rehab and rebuild to where they once were. If they’d gone a little easier and avoided that injury they could have spent that time actually making progress and would have ended up much stronger.
Injuries aren’t 100% avoidable, but if you try to push it to the limit every training session, eventually your body will give out. You can minimize this risk by backing off when you feel beat up instead of pushing through it, skipping a training session when things are off or taking a light week when you’re fatigued. These concepts aren’t sexy or hardcore, they don’t make good slogans like “beastmode” and “train past the pain” but they do go a long way towards keeping your body healthy, minimizing injury risk and allowing you to train productively for the longest period of time possible.
And ultimately, that’s what’s really important.
Clint became the best bench presser in the country by avoiding injury and training consistently (because he wasn’t injured) for a long time. He didn’t concern himself with having the hardest, most hardcore workouts, outworking everybody else and he didn’t try to force his body when it didn’t want to cooperate.
Even though his workouts weren’t the most hardcore and didn’t have the most volume or intensity he was able to come in week after week and put work in. He never suffered an injury in the 5 years I trained with with him. Like a man running a marathon, every workout he put one foot in front of the other and steadily moved farther and farther along.
In the time I trained with Clint I watched him put 55 pounds on his bench press and break the Canadian Record twice more.
For newer lifters with aspirations of lifting heavy weights the take away is to keep things in perspective. Look at the big picture, the important thing is the accumulation of work over the next 10+ years. So don’t be afraid to back off when you need to so your next decade of lifting can be a consistent and productive one!
For more info on coaching and training, check out our world class, must see, free powerlifting resources. Click here.
Coach Alastair is one of the foremost authorities on Powerlifting training in Canada. He currently designs programs and gives detailed technique coaching to a stable of national level lifters and runs the Quantum Powerlifting Club.
If you want to work with Alastair, or have any questions, contact him here.
The Quantum POWERLIFTING “Mighty Mitts” Grip challenge and BBQ!
(Facebook event link here)
If you enjoy strength and want to have fun and try something different come out on Sunday September 11 where the Quantum Powerlifting Club will be hosting a special event.
Entry is open to anyone, try some unconventional lifts, have some fun and enjoy some delicious BBQ afterwards.
The Powerlifting Club will also be in full effect for regular training.
The “Mighty Mitts” challenge begins at 2pm and will consist of three events:
Fat handle DB lift for max weight. We will be using a 2.5” thick DB handle.
Max Deadlift with Fat Gripz. Any grip, hitching allowed. You just have to lock it out.
Two hand pinch grip lift for max weight.
All events will use an escalating weight format, we’ll add weight until no one can lift it!