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Post Powerlifting Meet Reflections

Post Powerlifting Meet Reflections
By Sohee Lee

Last month, I wrote a post discussing the first two and a half of months of my powerlifting prep (see HERE). I’ve since followed through and competed in the 100% Raw American Challenge in Tucson, AZ, and thought it would be appropriate to put together a follow-up post detailing the remainder of how my prep went.

Training Specifics

As a refresher, here were my starting numbers in the squat, bench, and deadlift back in January:

Squat: 125 lbs
Bench: 85 lbs
Deadlift: 155 lbs

This was at a bodyweight of 108 lbs.

I ended up spending a total of 18 weeks preparing for this meet, and here’s how my numbers improved over time:


As you may recall from my first post, I started experiencing some severe hip pain during squats towards the end of week six after utilizing a daily undulating periodization (DUP) protocol that had me squatting three days a week. I took two full weeks off of squatting, and Bret modified my training program in such a way that allowed me to continue to improve my squat numbers while not experiencing any pain. Squatting once every four to five days with just one hard set as opposed to multiple times per week proved to be the winning strategy for me.


Bench press, in my opinion, is my strongest lift. In four months of prep, I was able to add over 20lbs to my 1RM, going from 85lbs in late January to my personal best of 107lbs the week before my meet.

In the graph above, you’ll notice that I actually benched less than my PR. This is simply because the next highest increment I could have benched at the meet after 104.7lbs was 110lbs, and there’s no way I would have been able to get that. So we stuck with 104.7lbs and I was happy with that.


Finally, the deadlift. This is the one movement I was particularly nervous about because I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember.

My starting 1RM using strict form was 155lbs – strong for a girl, but nothing particularly noteworthy, especially for someone who’s been lifting for seven years. The heaviest weight I’d been able to pull before this was 195lbs, which I’d achieved back in early 2013 when I was 20lbs heavier. I was therefore skeptical that I’d be able to pull more than 200lbs in the 105lb weight class.

But it’s pretty incredible what some proper programming, the right coaching, and a little boost of confidence can do. After two and a half months of strict arch-back deadlifting, Bret gave me the green light to start pulling with a slightly rounded back. I should mention that I flew out to Phoenix for a week right around this time, where I had the opportunity to train in person with Bret multiple times. We also did a mock meet at Revolution Training out in Tempe, which gave us a chance to practice commands and give us a better idea of what my meet numbers might look like (see related: First Powerlifting Meet – 20 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make).

By my last in-person session with him, I was pulling 205lbs. I then proceeded to add 20lbs to my deadlift over the next five weeks, and seemingly out of nowhere, the weight started flying up like it was nothing.

Here are the details of the training program I followed for the last six weeks leading up to the meet:

Training Day 1

A. Back squat 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
B. Barbell reverse lunge (low bar position) 2x10ea
C. Band hip thrust 2×15
D. Band seated hip abduction 3×15/15/15

Training Day 2

A. Conventional deadlift 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
B. Barbell hip thrust 3×5
C. Neutral grip pullup 3xAMRAP
D. Dumbbell chest-supported row 3×10

Training Day 3

A. Bench press 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
B. Military press 2×10
C. Dumbbell tricep extension 2×10
D. Dumbbell fly 2×10

Bret also had me doing 10-minutes of band glute work four to five nights a week, and in addition to the above, I was adding in 10-15 minutes’ worth of kettlebell work four days per week right up until early May as I prepared for the Strong First Girya (SFG) Level I Certification.

Once I was done with SFG (which I passed, by the way – wahoo!), I put my nose to the ground and cut out all extra conditioning work. The only kind of cardio I did was walking my two dogs around my neighborhood.

My training volume was far lower than anything I’d done before – lower than PHAT, lower than any bodypart split, lower than any program I’d received from another coach. I’ll admit that my eyes may have bulged out of my head a little upon seeing how little work I’d be doing, but I’d made a promise to Bret to not deviate from the plan, and I put my full trust in him. The goal, after all, was to get stronger, not to improve my conditioning or bring up lagging bodyparts or run myself into the ground. It was important to keep the goal the goal, so I quieted my ego and stayed the course.

Nutrition & Physique Specifics

I never did anything drastic with my nutrition. Since our goal was to have me compete in the 105 lb weight class, I simply aimed to eat to maintain my everyday bodyweight in the 107-109 lb range.

I shot for around 130 grams of protein, though I oftentimes went over that simply because I love meat. I ate more carbohydrates on the days I was training, and upped my fats on my days off from the gym.

Again, no food restrictions whatsoever. I had half & half in my coffee regularly and would enjoy the occasional slice of pizza. On any given day, I’d estimate that I was eating anywhere between 1,600-2,000 calories a day. I chose not to count macros during this time, and instead loosely eyeballed my portions.


This is what I looked like the week of the meet. I maintained my bodyweight and measurements throughout the course of my prep and kept a 24.2-inch waist. While aesthetics was not the goal, as you can see, my physique did not suffer, and I did not become manly and bulky from four months of powerlifting. This was primarily because I was smart about my nutrition and total calorie intake such that I did not pile on extra bodyfat during my training. Had I eaten with abandon, you can bet that I would have looked noticeably thicker within a matter of weeks, but this would have occurred with any type of training.

How I Made Weight

Making weight was the one aspect of this prep that I was nervous about. I had never had to cut water weight before, and I had no idea how my body would respond to the tactics that Bret had planned out for me. But I was excited and ready for a new kind of challenge.

Two weeks out from weigh-ins, I started tracking my macronutrient intake again. (You can see everything that I ate by following my MyMacros+ account, SoheeFit.) Even though I was feeling pressure to drop weight, I was careful not to cut my calories too drastically. After all, I still had to maintain my strength.


Here’s a snippet of what I was eating leading up to the meet. Meal 1 shows the contents of a homemade breakfast burrito.

I started weighing myself daily at this point. While I don’t recommend relying solely on scale weight for general fat loss purposes, this was an exception, as I simply had to keep my bodyweight down to compete.

In about a seven-day span, I was able to bring my bodyweight down from the high 108’s to the high-107, low-108 range. For being as petite as I already was (at a daunting 5’2”), I was happy with this, as this meant that I’d only have a few pounds of water weight to drop on the day of weigh-ins.

Here’s how the last couple of days leading up to weigh-ins panned out:

On Wednesday, I woke up at 108.0 lbs. We kept my sodium levels high and water intake was normal as well (approximately three liters). I started dropping carbs slightly at this point. That evening, we did a light workout consisting of heavy banded hip thrusts, pushups off of handles, inverted rows, and straight leg situps – nothing too taxing.

Thursday was when we started to crank things up with my nutrition. Again, my bodyweight was at 108.0 lbs, which was fine. Throughout the day, I was allowed to have coffee, but otherwise stuck to the protein shakes that Bret whipped up for me. We got in another light full-body workout consisting of prowler pushes, banded goblet squats, pushups, inverted rows, and dumbbell military presses in the afternoon just to get the blood flowing and work up a light sweat.

In the evening, I was permitted to nibble on one (offensively tiny) chicken salad. In sum, I had three protein shakes (each made with skim milk, whey protein, and a small spoonful of peanut butter) and probably around three ounces of chicken throughout the course of the entire day. Sodium was little to none. I was hungry, yes, but I was focused.

Friday morning: game time. I woke up that morning and weighed in at 107.4 lbs – hooray! I ordered myself a short Americano from Starbucks (it’s one size smaller than a “tall” and is not on the menu). At around noon, Bret made me a protein shake to sip on. I’d estimate that at this point, I had ingested approximately two pounds’ worth of fluids, which meant I still had around 5lbs of weight to get rid of.

We started the water-dropping process at 2p.m. After sitting in a Jacuzzi for about 20 minutes followed by 20 minutes in the steam room, we started the 110-minute drive to Tucson. My weight was, again, 107.4 lbs right before we left.

Here’s the kicker: we put the heat up on full blast the entire way there. And we were also in long sweatpants and a hoodie and socks. This was the strategy that Bret had used to drop weight for one of his prior powerlifting meets, so he was doing the same with us.

I swear, it was hotter than a sauna in there. Our phones all turned off from the extreme heat, and even Bret’s stereo system in his truck quit on us two or three different times. I think it’s safe to say that that was probably one of the most physically uncomfortable experiences of my entire life. I could have

By the time we arrived at Evolution Fitness in Tucson, we were understandably incredibly sweaty, cranky, and parched. We proceeded to check-in and then made our way over to the corner of the gym for weigh-ins.

I had my doubts. I wasn’t sure that a mere handful of hours sitting in heat was enough to do the trick.

I asked if I was allowed to come in at, say, 105.2 lbs and still qualify for the weight class. (In other words, I was trying to gauge how much wiggle room I had.) The answer? Nope, not at all.

No pressure, right?

I walked into the bathroom where I was to be weighed and closed the door. I just wanted to get it over with. Despite wearing nothing but a sports bra and booty shorts, I wasn’t going to risk the extra 0.3lbs that the clothes would add to the scale (yes, I had weighed my clothes before), so I proceeded to strip naked and finally met my fate.

104.9 lbs.

What a freakin’ relief. I let out a loud yelp of surprise. You couldn’t find a happier girl in the room at that moment. ☺

making weight

Here I am in the two minutes following weigh-ins. Not the best picture of me but I’m looking very dehydrated and extremely elated about the Powerade in my hand.

The remainder of the evening was a blur.

Within the span of two hours, I chugged one Powerade, one slushie, and three giant iced teas. My guess is that all added up to between 4-5 lbs of fluids.

We also split a giant butter toffee cookie before chowing down at the Macaroni Grill. I unfortunately ended up getting sick over the sheer volume of fluids I had sucked down in such a short period of time, but I bounced back quickly at the mention of donuts – ha!

2015-05-29 22.26.01

We continued to eat and eat into the night. Now that we’d made weight, the pressure was off, and our next aim was to consume as much food as possible to prepare for the next day.

Day of the Meet

The meet itself went from 10 a.m. to approximately 6 p.m. and was an absolute blast.

I was well-rested, well-hydrated, and most definitely well-fed.

In other words, I was ready.

With Bret’s coaching, I was able to warm-up sufficiently before each of the big lifts, and fortunately never missed a judge’s command after having practiced before at the mock meet. No words can sufficiently do justice to the day’s experience, so I’ll cut right to the chase.

I ended up going 9/9 for all of my attempts, and I hit all my target numbers for a 496 lb total.

Squat attempts: 62.5 kg, 70 kg, 75 kg
Bench attempts: 42.5 kg, 45 kg, 47.5 kg
Deadlift: 85 kg, 97.5 kg, 102.5 kg

As you can see in the video, I very likely could have gone heavier in the deadlift, but 226 lbs was still a lifetime PR for me. For that, I’m incredibly proud, and now I know I can shoot for higher in my next meet.

I was highly impressed with how supportive the fellow competitors and attendees were, and I had so much fun testing my body’s limits.

Closing Thoughts

I don’t think I could possibly be happier with how my powerlifting meet went. I worked closely with Bret over the past four months to prepare for this day, and nothing major went wrong. Yes, we did have to modify my training midway due to my hip pain from squatting, but we were able to work around that just fine. I followed his programming to a T and I set multiple lifetime PRs as a result.

2015-05-30 12.35.47

My plans for the next few months will be prepare for the bikini stage again for later in the fall. But after that, I’ll be back to training for my next powerlifting meet, likely for the spring of 2015. Bret and I agree that I should toggle back and forth between bikini and powerlifting, slowly striving to improve in both areas over time.

Throughout this process, I fell in love with training even more so than before.

If any of you reading this are feeling lost with what you want to do in the gym or if you’ve ever been curious about powerlifting, let me say this: Give it a shot at least once.

I can’t tell you how refreshing of a change it was for me to watch my training numbers go up from week to week and stop caring so much about what I saw in the mirror. I loved feeling strong, and it was incredibly empowering to realize what my body was really capable of.

Strength gains await.


Sohee Lee is a health coach and fitness writer specializing in helping women develop healthy relationships with food and their bodies while getting them to their fitness goals.
Having fought through both anorexia and bulimia, Sohee knows firsthand the toll that it can take on your life. Her mission is to empower women to practice compassion and grace with themselves in the gym, in the kitchen, and in life. #eatliftthrive

Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter and follow her fitness journey on Instagram.

Tammy’s Terrific Transformation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve posted several guest blogs from Get Glutes members Tammy(Mariah, Kristen, Emily, Shelley), but today’s is extra special to me as it’s from Tammy, who I feel is the O.G.G. (original get glutester). Tammy was the first member on Get Glutes who really started killing it, and everyone fell in love with her positivity and enthusiasm. She was working hard on improving her form, setting PRs week in and week out, sharing experiences and giving advice to fellow members, and being encouraging and supportive to everyone. Her attitude was contagious, and she inspired others to do better. Here are 6 questions I asked Tammy:

1. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview Tammy! You are a Get Glutes rockstar, so it’s about time I featured you on the blog. I want to discuss the transformations you’ve gone through during your time with Get Glutes. First let’s discuss the transformation you’ve undergone with regards to your attitude toward cardio and strength training. How has this changed over the past couple of years?

Hey Bret!  I appreciate you letting me share my journey.  Five years ago I was doing an hour of weight training and an hour of cardio 5 to 6 days a week and let me tell you I was working hard.  I stayed thin but I couldn’t build muscle.  I was tired and my muscles and joints ached nonstop.  I tried body building programs from fitness magazines and I tried some of the Beachbody video programs (P90X, Insanity which caused a chronic lower back injury, and Body Beast which I gained a lot of upper body strength but I loss strength in my legs during the program).  I always had enjoyed doing weights more than cardio but I thought I needed the cardio to stay lean and I stayed on this course for a couple of years before starting Get Glutes in 2013.

When I first came across your name I was totally intrigued with how you trained women.  I watched video after video of these lean ladies lifting a ton of weight and it gave me goose bumps!   I watched them do over 300 pounds on the hip thrust and I had no idea how they were doing it.  I could barely get 20 body weight hip thrusts before my glutes were on fire and so I couldn’t imagine adding weight. I didn’t think I would ever be able to lift like they were but I wanted to give it a try.   Shortly after that,  you started Get Glutes and I joined immediately.  I was nervous about going into the “big boy” side of the gym but I couldn’t wait to get started.  It was exciting and scary but I’m so glad I gave it a chance.

After starting the program I felt like I got a 50% off workout coupon…I was working out for about an hour 3 to 4 days a week (strength training only) as opposed to 2 hours 5 to 6 days each week.  I started seeing results by the end of the first month, my lower back issues cleared up for the first time in over 2 years, and my joints no longer hurt!!!  Within the first six weeks I went from doing body weight hip thrusts to doing 225 pounds for reps.  My strength gains totally blew my mind and needless to say I’ve been hooked ever since.

2.  Tell me some of the nuances associated with being a strong woman that you’ve experienced in your gym. 

We’ll just two years ago the hip thrust hadn’t hit east Tennessee yet so when I started doing it I got a lot of attention and as I added more weight to the bar I got even more attention.  I have to admit that it was a little creepy to have guys that I didn’t know standing over me as I hip thrust.  It was obvious they were only curious because they didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing but it was still a little creepy.   I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Is that an ab exercise?”, “You’re going to KILL your back!”, “Did you find that in a girly magazine? It’s never going to work.  You need to stop reading that crap.”  I heard all kinds of crazy things from these people that I had never talked with before but I ignored them and just kept doing it and kept getting stronger and stronger at it.  When I started hip thrusting 2.5 times and up to 3 times my body weight it turned into fascination that a lady my size could lift that much.  The amount I was lifting was still blowing my mind but it had started blowing other folks’ minds, too.  The somewhat negative comments turned into, “how can somebody your size lift that much???”.   Great coaches, great programming, and dedication on my part.  That’s how.

I was doing band hip thrusts this week when a guy suggested that I try them with a a barbell across my lap.  The guy next to me chuckled and said, “She’s the queen of hip thrusting.  She’s been doing it for quite a while.”.  Nice compliment from the guy who told me to quit doing exercises from those girly magazines. :-)

3. Tammy, did you change up your nutrition or keep it similar?

I’ve been eating intuitively for a few years now.  I’m in my mid-40’s and I want to enjoy life which means enjoying food and the social occasions that go along with it.  I’m also a mom of two boys and I think it’s important for them to see me eat foods that many lifters feel are off limits.  I eat pizza and hamburgers with them every week.  I think it’s more about portion control instead of having food (or food groups) that are off limits and this is what I want my boys to learn.  I’m their role model and it’s not healthy if they see me freaking out over what I ate or how much I ate.   Having said that, I do realize that my diet has impeded my progress but that was something I was okay with.  I would go absolutely crazy if I counted calories, macros, etc.  I would rather be my size and shape than be on a miserable diet so that I could be a little bit leaner.

This was after 5 months of Get Glutes. At 5'3", Tammy had lost 4 lbs which brought her to 110 lbs.

This was after 5 months of Get Glutes. At 5’3″, Tammy had lost 4 lbs which brought her to 110 lbs. Pretty impressive for a 42 year old (she’s 44 now).

4. Okay, now let’s discuss the mental transformation you’ve experienced along the way.

When I started Get Glutes I just wanted to lift heavy.  I wasn’t really thinking about the physical changes that would follow and a mental transformation associated with lifting had never even crossed my mind.  I remember during the first couple of weeks of Get Glutes I used a preset barbell for glute bridges and hip thrusts.  I was repping out like crazy on it because it was too light.  So after I finished a very high rep set, I sat on the floor thinking that it was ridiculous that I was using the preset bar because I KNEW it was too light.  I glanced over at the other side of the gym where the big 45 pound bars were.   I thought if I was going to do this program and succeed at it then I was going to have go over to where all of the guys worked out to use a bar and plates.  My mind was racing with the fact that I was going to have to figure out how to set it all up, how much weight to put on the bar and still be able to lift it, and of course, I was imagining all of those guys watching me–whether they actually noticed me doing it or not really didn’t enter my mind.  I sat there a few minutes longer and decided that I would have to suck it up and just do it…first thing tomorrow morning.

The next morning I got to the gym very early and went to set up my bar with weights for the hip thrust.  I was so scared!!! Which is funny because now I know it’s really not a big deal.   Anyway, I used 25 pound plates and set it up at the END of a bench–not the side.  I dead lifted it up, sat down on the END of the bench, and then scooted down to the floor.  The set was easy peasy so I was super happy about that then it came time to get off the floor.  The plates weren’t big enough to sit directly on the floor so I the bar was laying across my lap and I was sitting at the END of the bench so I couldn’t use my elbows to help me get back up on the bench.  Essentially, I was stuck.  Hello!  I just survived doing my first real set of barbell hip thrusts and now I’m STUCK????  You have to be kidding me.   I wiggled around until I got out from underneath it. It wasn’t pretty or easy to be honest and I was mortified.  Then I hear this guy in his nice Southern drawl say, “Next time you get stuck under a bar just yell at me and I’ll come save you.”  What????  Why didn’t you save me the first time????  You sat there and watched me squirm around and didn’t offer to lift it off my lap???  But being the nice Southern girl that I am, I politely thanked him then immediately changed to the big boy plates so that I could slide under the bar without needing to be “saved”.   And yeah, that set was easy peasy, too.  I was much stronger than I knew!

So, what’s my point?  It’s okay to be scared but you can’t let it hold you back.  Everybody has a “first time” in the gym.  Mine just happens to be a funny story and when I look back on those memories I barely recognize the girl I was.  Each new exercise that I “conquered”, each additional plate that I put on the bar, each new workout gave me a huge feeling of empowerment that has carried over to other facets of my life.  My husband jokingly asks what happened to the mild and meek girl that I had always been.  Well, she found her true self after learning to lift heavy.  I’m confident and happy and maybe at times I’m a little more than he can handle.  It’s not a bad problem for him to have really. :-)

5. How has the Get Glutes forum helped you in achieving better results? 

The forum really makes Get Glutes.  The members have access to you and Kellie every day.  We can send in form checks or ask questions and you both will personally get back to us within a few hours usually.  The videos of each exercise gives us the normal variation, the regressions in case we’re not strong enough, and progressions for the more advanced lifters but the forum gives us a chance to interact with you and Kellie so it’s like having our own personal trainer.  I’m thankful for all of those times you pushed me so much higher than I ever thought I could reach.  I would laugh and think my new goals you had set for me were totally crazy but after a day or two I would totally buy into it and believe that I could reach those goals.  I may not have the biggest glutes or the best glutes but I have some damn strong glutes and I’m proud of that!

The other unique thing about Get Glutes is that you get to interact with the other girls who are doing the same program as you. I loved the friends that I have made on there.  We have shared many laughs, cheered one another on, gave comfort on those days that didn’t go so well, and have helped the newbies learn the ropes.  I have been on many exercise forums but this is the first that is always a positive and supportive group .

6. Fantastic Tammy! Last question, what are your top five tips for women who are new to fitness and are looking to improve upon their physiques? 

Set short-term and long-term goals.  A short-term goal would be something you want to accomplish by the end of the month.   A long-term goal would be a weight PR you would like to hit in 3 months.  Pick out a particular exercise and set a PR goal for that exercise.  Hip thrusts and back extensions/45 degree hypers were my favorites and so I was constantly pushing the envelope on those.  It makes it fun but it also keeps me focused on doing more.

Progressive Overload—Bret has a great article on this.  Read it.  Read it again.  (HERE is the link). Then read it one more time.  Progressive overload is where it’s at.  Record your workouts each and every time!  I know that sounds so nerdy but it’s important to track your weights so you can effectively use progressive overload.

In Get Glutes we use a variety of rep ranges— we might do sets of 5, 8, 20, 30, or even 100 and we always use heavy weights even with those high rep sets.  Pay attention to what your body responds to and alter your program accordingly.  My body loves high rep stuff although my mind isn’t always in agreement.  So I might do heavy sets of deadlifts (sets of 5 reps) one day but the other two days I would do sets of 20 to 30.   Not everybody will respond the same so you need to figure out what works for you.

If an exercise hurts then find a different variation.  This is one of the most important things that I learned from Bret.  I used to think that I was cheating if I didn’t do a workout as written but he proved me wrong.  There’s a lot of good exercises out there to choose from.

Take a video of your form.  I can’t tell you how different you *think* you look versus how you actually look doing an exercise.  It was one of the most humbling things that I have ever done but it made a huge difference in my lifting.

Thanks again Bret for giving me this opportunity to talk about my experience with Get Glutes.

Here are some numbers you asked for previously which I didn’t include in the interview:

Hip Thrusts:

Month 1 Started at BW 3×20

6 Weeks 3×5 225 pounds

14 Weeks 3×10 225 pounds  “The Official Hip Thrust Club”

Month 5 330 pounds…3 times my body weight!!!

Month 7  225×25; 295×8

45 Degree Hypers

Month 2 Started with body weight

Month 5 3×20 65 pounds

Month 6 3×6 90 pounds (I weighed 110 at the time :-))

In November 2014 I decided to increase my protein and change my training to focus a little more on high reps for glutes and hamstrings because they responded well to that in the past and high volume for my quads because of my chronic lower back and hip flexor issues.  I did lots and lots of sets of low box squats and goblet squats since they didn’t both either my back or hip flexor.  I now have very prominent hamstrings and great separation between my hamstrings and quads.  Although my quads are still lagging, my legs look the best that they ever have and for being 44 I couldn’t be happier.  I recently added in conditioning for the first time in over 2 years.  I’m wanting to get a little bit leaner without having to alter my diet.  We’ll see how it goes :-)

Here are some progress pics… The last 3 pics in the line are from Month 1 GG in March 2013, 1 year GG, and 2 years GG.   There’s not a huge difference in the pics themselves but there is a huge difference in the density of my muscles in person.  This is one time that pictures really don’t tell the whole story in my opinion.  A few days ago a guy at the gym told me he bet all of the ladies at the beach were hating on me.  He said I had put in a lot of hard work and it had paid off.  It was a nice random compliment from one of the guys who used to pick on me for doing “those crazy exercises”.  Another guy saw me taking a video for a form check one day and he asked what I was doing.  After I explained he said, “oh, I check your form every day and I can assure you it’s excellent”–a little cheesy but he’s old and cute so I’m ok with it :-)


Click on the pic to enlarge the image. These changes were solely due to gaining strength via smart training, as she quit doing conditioning/cardio and kept her diet constant.

Pull Ups Made Easier and Better

Bret’s intro: Here’s a guest article from Max Shank. Max emailed me the other day because he read a pull-up article I wrote and the thought I’d appreciate the video tip embedded in this article. I watched the video and agreed with the rationale, but then I taught a couple of my clients the technique, and two of them set immediate PRs that day. My client Camille could only get one pull up, and after two weeks of employing the technique that Max described, she’s now busting out 3 pull ups like a boss. I think she’ll be doing 5 within another month. I hope you read the article, watch Max’s videos, and test out the ideas. 

Pull Ups Made Easier and Better
By Max Shank

I’ve gone back and forth with many different methods in terms of teaching, cuing, and progressing someone to a pull-up. I fortunately have the luxury of owning a gym where I have a large sample of guinea pigs  willing gym members at varying stages of pull ups or chin ups.

There is statistically a clear and obvious separation between men and women, and where they struggle during the pull-up.

In general, Women struggle at the start to put their scapulae in the right place and keep their shoulders out of their ears.

Men tend to be stronger (and stiffer) in the shoulders which makes the initial pull easier, but owning the top position significantly more difficult. I can think of several people off the top of my head who could do 10 pullups on day 1 but couldn’t hold the top position for more than 1-2 seconds.

It’s all about the joint angles, baby.

When you initiate the pull with your torso perpendicular to the floor, your GH joint is at a disadvantaged position, requiring you to have ridiculously strong, mobile, and coordinated scapular movement to set you up properly to pull. Conversely the strength curve of a horizontal row is just the opposite. The initial movement puts you at the greatest leverage, while the top position (fully contracted) is the most challenging and requires the most strength. This also has to do with leverage and joint position

So in short, we are going to make the initial pull, more like that of a row, which will help recruit the lats, and avoid hyperactive upper traps and ear-shoulder-syndrome.

You can see how to do it here:

Note that the movement is like a closing jackknife. You initiate the movement by opening the joint angle and finish the movement by engaging the abs and strongly closing everything back together. Every video I’ve ever seen of anyone doing a one arm chinup (myself included) follows this basic rhythm of opening and closing.

If your shoulder mobility sucks, you are working against gravity, and the residual tension of your muscles. Think like a band resisted deadlift where the bands make the weight feel like 1000lbs at the top but 400 at the bottom. You might be able to cheat it up there with some momentum, but it ain’t staying there. This is a problem.

Fix it by mobilizing the pecs, shoulders, and thoracic spine so you can own that top position. Then own it with this cool drill here:

In the video I’m using end range isometrics to focus on owning that position using a martial arts belt. As far as mobilization is concerned I like to work in some thoracic bridges to open up the thoracic spine, then afterward address the pecs with some tabletop bridges–though there are a plethora of choices for both of those areas.

Furthermore I should mention that for most people, most of the time, I like to do neutral, supinated, or ring pullups. The reason being is that most people can’t do a palms forward pull-up and have the top position look good or posturally beneficial. I’ll take that extra external rotation any day of the week if I can, provided it doesn’t aggravate the elbows, which is also usually a problem that stems from tight shoulders or thoracic spine.

Still can’t quite get that pull-up yet? Hammer away at some with the assistance of a partner or work those muscles with some horizontal rows until you build up the adequate strength.

Better every day,


Author Bio 

Max is an author, coach, and owner of Ambition Athletics in Encinitas, CA. He also competes in a wide variety of sports ranging from Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu to Scottish Highland Games.


Max Shank

Max’s desire to constantly improve his knowledge and personal skills has led him to be a sought after international presenter of his unique and pragmatic blend of strength, flexibility, health, and overall athleticism. Follow Max at these links:







A Long-Term Plan to Build the Deadlift

Bret’s intro: My friend Carlo Buzzichelli sent me this article to post on my site (from his colleague Emanuele). Carlo is an Italian strength coach who studied under Tudor Bompa, has trained professional teams from numerous different sports, and has a penchant for tinkering with program design variables. One reason why I admire Carlo is because he and I represent two different extremes; he is highly technical as a coach and trainer in both form and programming, whereas I tend to be looser and more spontaneous with less attention to detail and more emphasis on auto-regulation (aka: winging it). 


Carlo and Bret

A Long-Term Plan to Build the Deadlift
Emanuele Caratelli

Intro from Carlo Buzzichelli: Emanuele Caratelli, MSc, ISCI-Sport Strength Coach and ISCI lecturer, is one of the powerlifting coaches of the International Strength & Conditioning Institute powerlifting team. Our team won the raw deadlift National title for both male and female categories for two years in a row (2014 and 2015).Our athletes won a total of 13 medals and set 5 national records in the process. Among our athletes, most of the medalists are trained by Emanuele, who takes a long-term approach for the deadlift specialization.

You can find a summary of the results of our powerlifters at the bottom of this article.

Carlo Buzzichelli,
Director of the International Strength & Conditioning Institute (ISCI)


Translation by Fabio Prescimone, Italian Academy of Powerlifting certified coach

In this article I will show you a deadlift program recommended to those lifters who are not beginner any more and want to improve their deadlift while training four days a week.

Just a couple of quick premises before I get into the details of my program: when programming the deadlift for intermediate athletes, I like to use very long cycles, starting from low percentages of 1RM and slowly increasing the intensity. This allows to work mostly on technique in the first part of the cycle and also to keep a high training volume: in my opinion, such a high volume is the key of the success for this kind of athletes, because it triggers structural and metabolic adaptations. I also choose to start from low percentages in order to keep a smooth technique for as long as possible: I rarely go over 90% of 1RM, and only after several weeks of training, so I can teach proper form and engrave it in my athletes’ mind, without creating too much “systemic stress”

Systemic stress is the residual fatigue encountered by all the physiological systems as a consequence of a training session. We all know that squatting for 6 sets of 3 repetitions at 80% of 1RM does not affect our body in the same way as deadlifting with the same loading parameters does. The day following a squat session we would probably feel neurally activated, certainly not tired and we could even do it again, if we wanted to. In the deadlift scenario, it would be very hard to repeat the same workout; it would require a great voluntary effort and the overall performance would be worse. All these differences are caused by the different systemic stress/burden.

Now, let’s show a sample program designed according to the principles exposed above.

1 2

I choose to show this one because it really follows my principles: I love long training cycles for the deadlift (this one spans over 22 weeks), and I increase intensity very gradually (here we start from 57%).

This program has been used by two members of our powerlifting team. It was the first time they followed such a long periodization, and both have added many kilograms to their PR’s: the first one went from 155kg/343lbs to 195kg/431.4lbs (in the -66kg/146lbs weight class) and the second one from 205Kg/453lbs to 240Kg/531lbs (in the +120kg/265.4lbs). Both lifted raw (belt only).


You surely noticed the weird percentages I used, such as 73%, 78%, 86%. Usually, we increase by 5%, but not in this case, for this simple reason: this program was designed around a guy who wanted to attend a deadlift-only meet, and I only thought of his condition and how to improve it as much as possible in the 22 weeks leading us to the meet. I wrote the loads he could easily use in that moment (first week), then the deloading phase (week 21 and 22) and finally the weeks when I wanted him to reach the highest work load, first in volume (week 13/14) and then in intensity (19/20).

After that, I just filled in the blanks, starting from the beginning, writing down for each week the sets, reps and kilograms to lift in order to reach our goal. The program eventually proved to be tremendously effective, so I retrospectively calculated the percentages (since I knew the starting 1RM) and used it as a general template for other people. As you can see, there are two column, with different percentages: one is calculated on the actual 1RM, the other one is based on the expected new 1RM.

Let’s see now the structure: for the first 12 weeks, the program has a 2:1:1 structure, two week of volume, one week of intensity and one week of deload.

First Macrocycle

As you can see, there are two weeks of high repetitions and a fair amount of volume, with a linear increase in intensity of 7%. In week 3, volume decrease by 63% and intensity increase by 10/15%. Week 4 is a regenerative one, with low volume and a 20% drop in intensity.

Such a pattern will be used for two more macrocyles, with linear increments in volume for the first two weeks and in intensity in the third one.


Second macrocycle

Percentages are increased in “volume weeks” (5 and 6), but they are still low, so we can work on proper form. That is why we use a number of repetitions (5’s) that may sound a bit inappropriate, but which is really useful, because it allows me to give feedback after each repetition, so that the athlete can correct himself and do the next repetitions with perfect form. Low intensity, as we said before, allows the athlete to listen to his own body and to correct himself.

In this phase there’s a high number of sets, because we are teaching the motor pattern to our CNS, and this is possible only if we repeat many times the same pattern, just like when we are learning a poem by heart or using a new tool. The endless repetition of the same action, however, doesn’t lead to perfection, because there’s an optimal learning curve: if we repeat the stimulus too much, there’s no improvement, and cumulative fatigue actually corrupt the pattern we are trying to build.

I’m not saying that I know the magic number of such a learning curve, but we know that the ability to absorb information (in this case, work capacity) can be trained too; this is the reason why volume constantly increases.

Above we saw that this program follows a 2:1:1 structure, but I didn’t explain the rationale of this choice. The reasons for a week of higher intensity after two of high volume are the following:

  • avoiding the loss of rate code, since we use low percentages to work on technique;
  • to give the athlete a psychological break; after two weeks of worrying about all the details of set-up and movement, he’ll feel some weight in his hands and will only think about lifting it;
  • low-intensity work can soften the athlete both psychologically and physically, but on the other hand, high-intensity work doesn’t leave room for technical improvement, so we just thought of this happy medium. We later empirically found that short periods of high volume followed by higher intensity phases were very well tolerated and effective.


Third macrocycle

Structure 2:1:1. As you can see, during volume weeks we get very close to 70%, because we’ve been working for eight weeks, and training has created positive adaptations, making the athlete able to tolerate such voluminous work load. Now we introduce a variable: sets of 6 repetitions. So far we have been working with 5’s, and even one more repetition creates fatigue and makes technique work harder.

During the intensity week we get closer to 80%, with doubles and singles, to prepare the athlete to the first milestone of this program, two weeks later. Intensity is slightly increased in deload week too, since we can expect that the 1RM is already higher.


The fourth macrocycle is the one I consider the turning point of the whole program: from now on, structure changes to a more traditional 2:1, mostly because:

  • we’ll create a high systemic stress, so we need to deload more frequently;
  • there will be “volume only” and “intensity only” macrocycle, and three weeks of them may be too much to tolerate (because of the high stress)

After all these weeks spent on technique work, with a bit of maintenance of rate code, we surely learned a better control of the load and we already increased our 1RM, but this is going to be the macrocycle I deem fundamental for the success of this program. I think every program should have a kind of “shock macrocycle”, a phase that create a systemic stress high enough to trigger a “flight or fight” response that takes our athlete to the next level of adaptation.

This may seems to contradict what I wrote at the beginning, but it’s not the case, because we only use this shock once in 22 training weeks, after 12 weeks of preparation and 8 weeks out of the meet.


The shock of this phase is a tremendous volume, because in the first week there are 20 sets in the first workout and 15 in the second, but they are only 3 repetitions, at slightly under 80%. We can safely presume that the first sets will be fairly easy; as cumulative fatigue sets in, it will be very challenging to keep proper form and good speed. Actively fighting to keep technique and speed against fatigue is an excellent training for the CNS.

Total repetitions are 105 in first week and 92 in the second one, but we have done more earlier, with 100 and 120 in week 5 and 6. What makes these four workouts unique is the way they follow one another: the first one, with 20 sets, scares and defies the athlete, which will be exhausted by the end. The second one is even harder because of the fatigue from the previous one, but since the load is 5/10kg lighter and there are 5 less sets, the athlete will be more confident.

The third workout has even lower intensity and half the sets, to give a break both physically and mentally, but we add a repetition. The fourth workout is probably the most taxing of the whole program, since it comes after a high-volume week and has the athlete doing 15 sets of 4 repetitions at 80%. After this workout the athlete will feel exhausted because of the last two weeks, and he will still feel the same during the following week , even if it is only a deload week with far less volume (66% less). The first workout is light, the second has a higher intensity but with a low volume and a big buffer.
In the fifth macrocycle we hope our subject has already acquired a consistent motor pattern, since he will be almost bored by the repetitiveness of the movement he has been doing. He will also have a very high systemic stress because of the former macrocycle, despite the deload week.

From now on, we will prime CNS recovery and try to restore an optimal hormonal balance to get a peak performance. This is the reason why daily volume will be far less, switching from 100 to 30 repetitions (66% less), but intensity will raise. After all the frustrating low-intensity, high-volume workouts, technique should be consistent enough to allow the subject to concentrate only on using all of his strength. Furthermore, high-intensity phases are the natural continuation of high-volume ones, and psychologically the subject is eager to test himself.

Let’s get a closer look: in the first workout we get to 85% of 1RM, but for only two repetitions, because the athlete has not fully recovered after the shock macrocycle. We can assume that the deload week has only given the start to the regeneration which will lead to the activation of parasympathetic nervous system; it’s not unlikely that the athlete can feel two repetitions at 85% very hard. We will explain him that is normal, because his body is still recovering.

During the second workout we want the athlete to feel a lighter weight so we lower intensity, but we add a repetition. Our purpose is to prepare the first workout of second week, where we get to 95% of 1RM for singles; the second one is at 85% again, but for 3 repetitions. During the deload week, as usual, the first workout is a very easy one, to refresh technique, while the second get us closer to regular training loads. High performance is not expected in this macrocycle, because of cumulative fatigue, but proper form should be maintained.


The sixth macrocycle is the last one, and the most important after the fourth; not only because it leads us to the competition, but also because we highly stimulate our athlete’s rate code. Volume remains low, while the athlete will only think to accelerate the barbell as much as possible. This will require a great effort, because with percentages from 85% to 95% of 1RM, it will be very difficult to see the barbell move fast.

The reiteration of stimuli between 65% and 80% has been very high – almost boring – throughout the whole program, technique is now extremely consolidated, that is why in these last two weeks before the deload we require the athlete to just push as hard as he can. In this phase athletes are relieved because of the low volume and also because, finally, they are not constantly reminded to pay attention to small technical details. They feel free to just lift aggressively.

Loads are high, 92% and 97% of the old 1RM, but our athlete will feel them a bit easier than during the previous macrocycle (the maximum volume one), exactly easier than week 17 (where he got to 95%).

Since he will also lift loads close to his 1RM, he will build confidence and desire to get as soon as possible to the test/meet day, to see all the progress of such a long preparation.

Last two weeks are a tapering, where we work with doubles at 86% (in the first) and triples at 78% (in the second). Usually I use doubles at 80% and triples at 70%, but in this case I prefer higher percentages because this is not the usual 8/12 week cycle, so 1RM should have dramatically increased; by the way, if we look at the second column (the one with % of expected 1RM), we’ll see that deload is very close to 80% and 70% (82 and 74, respectively).



Tapering is one of the most important part of the program, after the shock macrocycle; the latter elicits strong adaptations and improvements, the former shows them. Just like the bride’s hair: the haircut is essential, but a good styling will show it at its best, and like a good hairdresser we have to know the “face” of our subject, for a fitting hair style. Someone may need some more volume and/or intensity, someone less, doubles at around 80% for two workouts in the first week, and triples at 70% for one workout in the second are a good starting point.

I cannot give you the perfect tapering, since this is the most craftsman-like part of coaching, where there’s still something artistic and intuitive, since there are so many variables that only the coach who has been following the athlete for all the preparation is able to synthesize.

One last consideration: this program seems doable only by powerlifters. This holds true only if the program is followed to the letter, but the logic behind it can be used to build any deadlift routine, as long as you respect the proportions between each phase. For instance, the shock macrocycle is essential, and it should be planned at around 3/5th of the program duration, whether it lasts 20 weeks or 10.

The shock macrocycle can be built using volume as a stressor (just like in our case) or intensity, something like 5×5 at 85%. Then you put the last two weeks of tapering like we did, reducing volume even by 50%.

These are the principles of this program, if you respect them you can build many other programs of different duration.