The mental battle of powerlifting: Contending with heavy volume and fatigue

Alex Rea 11/09/2018
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Sport360's Alex Rea grimaces during training

Sport360°’s Alex Rea has teamed up with the guys at Desert Barbell to embark on a six-week powerlifting challenge, working alongside industry experts ahead of his first ever competition – Powermeet 5.0. In the video above, check out DB co-founder Patrik Hedqvist’s explanation of the three lifts, but for week four, we move away form the physical side of the challenge and into the mental game with Part I in this discussion. 

Progress is progress, no matter how little or small.

That banal quote has been swirling around my head throughout this entire process and particularly now as I zoom past the halfway stage.

For the first three weeks of this powerlifting programme, DB co-founder and powerlifting mastermind Patrik Hedqvist implemented what he calls the ‘accumulation’ phase.


Essentially, this involves high volume sets at around 70-80 percent of my one-rep max in order to hammer home good technique having rebuilt my form on all three of the competition lifts – squat, bench and deadlift.








It’s been brutal, and a completely different kind of struggle than anything I’ve ever experienced in my years of physical training.


Indeed, when undertaking the physique challenge earlier this summer in a quest to strip down to six-percent body fat, the battle was purely me against the number on the scales.


Now, it’s a totally contrasting grapple with the digits as it’s the gruelling volume of lifts to get through and the weight on the bar which forms a different dynamic to deal with.


Here's a look at what Alex had on his plate for week three

Here’s a look at what Alex had on his plate for week three


For the physique-style training, the programme was almost inconsequential because nutrition was the most prominent factor in cutting the weight. Hitting the gym was just a mechanism to entering a caloric deficit and ultimately, it was the lack of food which made that challenge so tough, not the training.


With the powerlifting, even though I’ve doubled down from hitting the gym six and even seven days a week, to just four, the toll on my central nervous system and my mind has been incredibly demanding.


Consider this, in a week block, squat, bench and deadlift made up roughly two-and-half hours of my previous bodybuilding programme, now it’s more like eight.


What this phase of my training has done, though, is eliminate the thought of numbers I want to lift on the competition platform because the focus is purely on the most efficient way of moving the bar from A to B.


Genuinely, I just don’t want to embarrass myself with horrific form like a rounded back on the deadlift or thrusting my butt in the air on the bench. It’s for that reason I’m pestering Patrik with videos of all my lifts and constantly second-guessing myself. Sorry, Pat!



But that admission leads into another side of the mental battle, which is learning to trust the programme, or to borrow NBA star Joel Embiid’s moniker ‘Trust the Process’.


At this stage, mentally I’m fatigued and little niggles are beginning to emerge, but remaining committed to the programme and having faith in Patrik’s plan is absolutely vital.


After all, repetition breeds habit and more repetitions leads to automatic reflex. Confidence will be drawn from the familiarity of nailing these lifts over and over again.


And besides, you learn to enjoy the small wins, like coming through five sets of six at 82 percent of my one-rep max on squat, thanks Pat!


There were times when I’ve been sprawled out on the gym floor, legs pulsing, chest panting and body battered in which I thought about stopping.


But then the metal on that bar is like a magnet and it draws you back in because ultimately, you know a big win is on the horizon if you keep your mind in the game.


COACH’S CORNER WITH PATRIK HEDQVIST (@borjetheswede)


What it takes to be an elite powerlifter


People might be under the perception that strength sports have a unique formula for success, unlike other sports at an elite level.


The truth is, the difference is slim to none. One can only come so far on pure instinct and/or talent, same as all other sports.


The rest is hard work and good planning. I’ve seen junior and sub-junior lifters, with talent out of this world, either stop lifting or missing out on their full potential, many times due to a lack of guidance.


Longevity is the name of the game and it’s important to remember that a lot of strength athletes reach their peak well into their 30s or even 40s.



Here’s three things to consider to become an elite powerlifter:


1. Long term goals


Look at the big picture and don’t get caught up in chasing dream results too soon. Strength gains will also reduce the higher the level of the lifter.


However, to become an elite athlete one must train like one eventually. Same as in all other sports. The difficulty here lies within the actual classification “elite”.


Is that the actual performance compared to others or the response to a given stimuli?


I claim the latter. Point being; train according to your own level and keep striving towards reachable goals. Do that long enough and you will find yourself in the elite.


2. Prepare to fight and grind but don’t compromise with technique


You can´t reach elite level without struggles, but you can’t reach there either if you are constantly injured.


Cold hard facts.


3. Manage fatigue and recovery


Does that mean take loads of days off every now and then? No. It means that you have a regime to follow which calculates fatigue and also allows a few weeks per year for alternative training.


Good sleeping patterns are perhaps the most important recovery tool of them all.


Remember that when you trying to get all pieces together. The important ones can actually be totally for free.



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Powerlifting equipment: Our man gets to grip with using new accessories ahead of Desert Barbell comp

Alex Rea 4/09/2018
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Sport360°’s Alex Rea has teamed up with the guys at Desert Barbell to embark on a six-week powerlifting challenge, working alongside industry experts ahead of his first ever competition – Powermeet 5.0. In week three, he gets to grips with using new equipment from knee sleeves to weightlifting belts.

Hands up if you thought powerlifting was simply a case of walking up to the barbell – utilising good form, of course – and moving it in a straight path?

This author is currently typing with one hand…

Yes, aside from the biomechanical element as discussed in last week’s column, there is another essential part of powerlifting which I didn’t really take into consideration before embarking on this challenge – the equipment.


Indeed, have you ever wondered why the guy in the squat rack is sporting sleeves over his knees, or cast an odd glance at a lifter wearing a rather thick-heeled pair of trainers which sound like tap-dancing shoes across the gym floor?








Admittedly, I initially thought all that gear was completely unnecessary and coming from the school of ‘bro lifters’ figured it was an amusing show from people trying to give off an ‘athlete’ vibe.


But it’s only when you delve deeper into powerlifting do you discover their function. Now I’m left scrolling through desertbarbell.co to construct my Christmas wish list.


Fortunately, DB co-founder Patrik Hedqvist has loaned me some of the necessary equipment and it’s taken a little adjustment in training to see how it all should come together.


Powermeet 5.0 is a ‘classic’ competition which essentially means athletes are only allowed to use approved lifting belts, singlet (don’t laugh at the pictures), wrist wraps, knee sleeves, special footwear and chalk.


We’ll break down what’s required for the three individual lifts.


For the squat, I’m using a weightlifting belt with a lever buckle, Nike Romaleos 2 powerlifting shoes, and knee sleeves, all of which are basically new for this challenge.


IMG-20180816-WA0001


The belt needs to be pretty tight so it does initially dig into your hip bone, leaving a bit of bruising for the first few uses, but it has helped immensely with stabilising my spine, and crucially by allowing me to contract my stomach against it for maximal support.


The shoe, with its raised heel, enables a deeper squat while  keeping the body upright, and the advantage of the knee sleeves I’ve found is more mental than anything as it gives extra support to a joint that can feel pretty susceptible to injury when put under pressure.


For bench, I’ve actually began using the belt for this as well, purely because I find it improves the quality of my brace and breathing. The shoes have stayed on too, as the high-heel assists with my arch, while wraps obviously support my wrists.


Finally, with the deadlift, flat-soled shoes like Chuck Taylor All-Stars have allowed my feet to be as close to the ground as possible, thereby reducing the bar’s total range of motion, and improving my foot stability.


The belt, worn slightly higher up for this movement, has made it possible to harden my trunk and give me a correct lumbar position at the start of the rep, while chalk keeps my the skin on my hands and the bar from slipping.


That last point is no joke by the way, my hands have been torn apart by the countless reps throughout this process.


It’s been an education getting to grips with all these accessories but at least I look like a powerlifter… hopefully I can move weight like one, too.


COACH CORNER WITH PATRIK HEDQVIST (@borjetheswede)


Powerlifting Essentials


Training with focus on barbell sports can be very simple, you only need a bar and some weights but there are also a few things that can come in handy to improve your chances to successful lifting. Let’s start from the bottom:


Shoes


The choice of shoes depends on your squat technique. A traditional weightlifting shoe, with elevated heel, is made for lifting and is often a good choice. But for wide standing style a flat shoe is often more comfortable. All major brands sell good lifting shoes nowadays so it´s mostly about finding the model that fits your feet and feel stable.


Knee sleeves


This can be tricky. Knee sleeves are NOT an absolute must. But, they often bring a sense of security and comfort around the knee joint. The modern sleeves are made of 6 mm neoprene and are very durable. A tip is to not buy too tight a fit. The compression is important but since it’s just neoprene the elastic recoil is very limited and to struggle with getting the sleeves on is just counter-productive.


Belt


After good shoes the most important item is a quality belt. There are several models on the market, but leather is absolutely the way to go. Velcro ones are cheaper, but not appropriate for serious lifting. On the leather belts you have the choice between pronged belts or lever belts. It all comes down to feeling here. I personally like the prong ones because it makes it easier to adjust and more “organic”. However, there is no denying the level of tightness a lever belt can provide.




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How staying physically fit helps Red Bull and NASR eSports star mentally alert

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Keeping fit: Adel Anouche hits the gym to stay on top of his game

The latest member of the Red Bull family is 20-year-old Adel ‘Big Bird’ Anouche, the UAE’s rising star in the world of eSports. For the first in a series of exclusive articles with Sport360 the Street Fighter player talks about how keeping fit benefits his gaming.

As an eSports player it’s beneficial to stay fit and healthy because a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. When you’re out there playing in these big tournaments you’re going to have a long day of playing video games so you need to be in the right place mentally to ensure you can endure the whole day. Basically every eSports game you play, especially competitive games, can give you mental exhaustion as there’s so much riding on the outcome.

I do some form of exercise every day as it releases endorphins, which make me feel good and I find I’m able to concentrate for longer. I do cardio activity usually twenty minutes a day and maybe some weight lifting too. When I don’t exercise I find myself getting tired a lot quicker and I need more sleep because I’ve got less energy.

eSports has evolved so much over the past ten years; it’s a big business now. Video gamers used to be seen as fat and lazy people who needed a hobby but back then competitive gaming wasn’t that popular. People didn’t play in tournaments for hundreds of thousands of dollars and there wasn’t a load of travelling involved. It was more just people playing in their bedroom against friends or maybe online, but it wasn’t a job.

I actually do wrist exercises as well because there’s a lot of strain on them from holding the controller for so many hours a day. I’d say even when I’m playing with friends we don’t play for less than three or four hours at a time, so that’s a lot of fast, repetitive, movements in your fingers and hands to have to get used to. Plus there’s a whole season throughout the year so it’s a lot of game time. We play in major tournaments to gain points to qualify for the final tournament in December, which has a prize fund of $250,000. Only 32 players get to the finals, it’s a serious game we’re in now so it’s great that brands like Red Bull are getting behind it and taking it seriously.

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