Category Archives: Strength Training

First Powerlifting Meet: 20 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Several years ago, I decided to delve more into the sport of powerlifting. Since then, I’ve competed in 3 competitions, I’ve prepared clients and training partners for competitions, I’ve attended around a dozen meets, I made friends with a bunch of powerlifters and started training at a powerlifting gym, and I started following many of the powerlifting experts and reading/watching all of their material. I don’t consider myself to be a world expert in powerlifting, as there are coaches and lifters who have been submerged in the sport for most of their lives, but nevertheless I try to pay very close attention at the meets. And although my strength as a powerlifter is mediocre at best, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the training process and attempting to set PRs on the platform.

As a writer, I’ve made it a goal to encourage others to bite the bullet and commit to a powerlifting competition. Unfortunately, too many lifters attend their first meet unprepared, and they end up making mistakes that are easily avoidable. Here are the 20 most common mistakes I see first-time powerlifting competitors commit:

1. Not Hitting Parallel When Squatting in Training

A few months ago, I was watching a very strong female powerlifter train at Revolution Training System. She was squatting with 315 lbs and was very proud of her strength gains. Only problem was, she wasn’t hitting parallel…not even close. She was half squatting. I have no doubt that this lady would have went into her meet thinking that she would smoke 315 lbs, only to be disappointed when she was red lighted for not hitting depth.

I filmed her from the side view to show her femur angle at her lowest point, then helped her figure out the appropriate load to use for her squats. It turns out that she could only use 245 lbs for 3 reps when actually reaching a thigh parallel position, which is still great, but it’s 70 lbs less than what she was using.

Bret’s Tip: Squat slightly deeper in training so you’re not tempted to cut depth short on the platform. 

2. Not Pausing Long Enough When Bench Pressing in Training

One of my Get Glutes members recently trained for a powerlifting competition at a powerlifting gym. Astonishingly, the coach never had her pause during her bench presses. She had to learn how to pause at her first meet.

Up until a few years ago, all of my bench press repetitions were performed touch-and-go. When I learned to pause, I had to reduce my normal loads by 10% in order to match the same set and rep schemes. Now I’m stronger at pauses and there’s not as big of a gap, but nevertheless, you must pause at the chest when bench pressing for powerlifting.

Bret’s Tip: Pause extra long at the chest so you’re not tempted to jump the command at the meet. 

3. Not Being Sufficiently Familiar With Commands

You absolutely need to know this if you plan on competing. You can’t just go to the powerlifting meet and lift like you normally do at the gym. The referees give you commands during your lifts, and failing to obey the commands will result in failed attempts.

Squats have two commands – start and rack. You unrack the bar, walk out, wait for the start command, squat to parallel, wait for the rack command, then rack the bar.

Bench press has three commands – start, press, and rack. You unrack the bar with the help of a spotter, wait for the start command, lower the bar to the chest, wait for the press command, lock the bar out, wait for the rack command, then rack the bar.

Deadlifts have one command – down. You set up and pick the weight off the ground to lockout, wait for the down command, then lower the bar to the floor in a controlled manner.

There are three referees judging your lifts, and for every lift, you need to get at least two white lights for the lift to pass.

Bret’s Tip: If you get any red lights during any lift, ask the judge or judges why you got red-lighted. Many times they’ll inform you about something you weren’t aware of and you can pay extra attention during the following lift so you don’t commit the same violation. 

4. Not Knowing the Federation’s Rules

Each federation has slightly different rules. Some have you squat deeper than others. Some make you keep your feet and head down during the bench; others let you pick your head up or rise up onto your toes. Many of the powerlifting federations have their rules posted on their website, so make sure you’re properly versed prior to the competition.

5. Not Choosing Good Openers

For each lift (squat/bench/dead), you get 3 attempts, the first attempt is called your “opener.” It never ceases to amaze me when lifters fail to hit their openers. An opener is supposed to be easy. This is especially true for the first time competitor. With the newbie, you want a confidence builder for the opener to put their mind at ease and let them focus on the exercise. They’re already out of their element due to being in a foreign environment, lifting in front of a bunch of strangers with spotters and judges all around. Failing to hit an opener can be devastating psychologically, which can impact the rest of the meet, so don’t be overzealous when selecting opener loads.

I usually go with a 3-5RM for an opener with first-timers. Sometimes they still get red-lighted for missing a command, but not for missing depth. The second lift is usually close to or equal to the heaviest lift they hit in training, and the third is usually a new PR weight, but of course adjustments need to be made depending on how the lifter feels. Over time, as the powerlifter gains experience and confidence, he or she can go with heavier openers if desired.

Bret’s Tip: Choose a load you could lift for 3-5 reps for your opener, then choose a heavy load that you’ve already hit in training for your second attempt, then go for a PR for your final attempt.

6. Not Warming Up Optimally

Warming up is tricky during powerlifting meets. Sometimes the warm-up room is close by and you can hear the announcers over the intercom, while other times it’s in a completely different area and you have no way of knowing when exactly you’re turn is. I’ve seen people start warming up 45 minutes early, then something happens and the meet is stalled, and they end up finally hitting the platform an hour later. When the time comes for these folks to deadlift (last lift of the day), they’re fizzled out.

I’ve also seen guys doing idiotic things in the warm-up room, such as going for a 1RM before hitting the platform. I watched a guy grind out a 6-second deadlift in the warm-up room then proudly announce, “that’s a new PR.” I was like, “WTF?!” I don’t know what happened to this guy on the platform, but I can’t imagine that he lifted as much as he could have since he would have been mentally and physically fatigued.

When I deadlift, my opener is usually something like 565 lbs, but in the warm-up room, I’ll usually do some bodyweight back extensions, some light front squats with 135 lbs, then pull 135 x 3 reps, 225 x 3 reps, 315 x 3 reps, 405 x 1 rep, then 455 for 1 rep and be done. Takes me 10 minutes and I’m ready to go. Other guys have much more extensive warm-ups.

It’s up to you to anticipate based on the flow of the meet when you’ll be stepping onto the platform so you can determine when you should start warming up. Sometimes the announcers will inform you…they’ll say something like, “flight 3 should be warming up right now.” But this isn’t always the case.

My last meet was a nightmare. The warm up room was in a different building and we had no communication with anyone inside the competition room, so we had to keep running back and forth. I came out of the warm-up room to check on the meet, only to find that my name had been called and I had around 20 seconds left to hit my squat. I quickly secured my belt and got the lift. Luckily it was my opener or I might have been too thrown off mentally to get it. At this same meet during deadlifts, I started warming up 15 minutes prior to my anticipated time, but the meet got delayed due to loading errors, and we ended up having to wait an extra half-hour before we started pulling. I was already warmed-up, but I had to “re-warm up” since I cooled down after the delay. Be prepared for annoying things like this to happen.

Some of my male powerlifting friends require 45 minutes of warm-up to feel ideal for squatting, whereas many of my female clients only need 10 minutes to be ready to go. Therefore, the warm-up needs to be adjusted per the individual.

7. Not Experimenting Sufficiently With Training Gear

This mistake isn’t as egregious as the others, but it’s still important. No coach can just glance at you and know whether you’d squat best in Chuck Taylors or Olympic shoes. You have to figure this out in training. Some folks like flat shoes for squats while others prefer a large heel, and the same goes for benching. Most prefer flat soles for deadlifting. Some find that knee wraps help them, others not so much. Some wear a belt during deadlifts, others don’t. Some prefer thicker belts, others prefer thinner belts. Some guys don’t fare well wearing Inzer singlets as they feel like their nuts are getting smashed to smithereens. Some ladies feel much more confident and perform better if they like the way their singlet looks, so some shopping around is in order. You have to do some experimenting in training to find out what works best for you in the meet. Also, make sure the gear you plan on wearing is approved by the federation.

8. Being Greedy With Body Weight

I know plenty of male powerlifters who prefer to conduct all of their training 20 lbs heavier than what they weigh in at. They’ll weigh 220 lbs all throughout prep, then drastically cut weight starting a couple days out from the meet to make weigh-ins. They cut down to 198 through diuretics, starvation, and sauna/jacuzzi alternations, make the weigh-in, then immediately rehydrate and fuel up. The next day, they’re back to 220 while competing at 198. This strategy works wonders for many lifters and gives them a huge advantage on the platform.

However, it also screws plenty of lifters. Some of these guys get exhausted from the approach and end up bombing out on one or more of their lifts. I always tell people…there’s nothing wrong with just weighing 4-6 lbs over and doing a small cut during the morning before weigh-ins. You can make weight, rehydrate, pig out on sushi and pizza, and end up being 10-15 lbs heavier. It’s a more moderate approach.

For newbies, I recommend just weighing the maximum amount for the individual’s weight class. For example, a woman competing in the 132 lb weight class should weigh 130-132 and just coast into weigh ins. The last thing she needs to be worrying about for her first competition is making weight. Don’t get too greedy in this regard, as it can go either way in terms of hurting or helping your performance.

9. Blowing Your WAD in Training

Preparation training for the meet should predominantly involve excellent technical form. In addition, you shouldn’t be grinding out your lifts in training – save the grinding and/or form degradation for the platform. A good training program has you increasing loads and gaining strength all the way up until the week prior to the meet, without making you feel completely destroyed or wiped out.

I’ve seen way too many instances where guys will pull a PR deadlift with a fully-rounded back that takes 6+ seconds to grind out two weeks prior to the meet. Then they step on the platform and can’t match it because their bodies were too beat up from blowing their WAD two weeks prior.

Bret’s Tip: In training, have stricter form and avoid grinders. At the meet, go crazy, especially on your 3rd attempts. 

10. Peaking Sabotage

Several years ago while I was in New Zealand, my buddy was a shoe-in to win a marathon. He was the fastest runner in the country. The day after the race, I asked him how it went and he said, “not good.” Apparently he decided that he needed to “carb up” for the race, so he went to a local bar and ordered a giant plate of supreme nachos. Take my word for it, this “backfired” on him really badly when he was running. All he had to do was stick with his normal, everyday routine and he would have killed it, but he let his mind betray him.

Another buddy I have decided to load up on 30 grams of creatine the day before his powerlifting competition despite having not taken any creatine for the past year. I guess he got what he wanted – more explosiveness at the meet, but it was the wrong kind of explosiveness if you catch my drift.

When it comes time for a competition, our minds play tricks on us. We get greedy. We want an edge. We do things we wouldn’t normally do, hoping for a boost in performance, but the result is often the polar opposite.

Bret’s Tip: The week before the meet, take it easy in training, don’t lift for the several days prior to the meet, stick to your normal foods that you know you tolerate well, and don’t try anything out of the ordinary. 

11. Failing to Attend a Local Meet Beforehand

This may be the most important tip of all. People conjure up all sorts of misconceptions about powerlifting meets. They think it’s a bunch of ginormous behemoths who laugh at anyone who is weaker or less experienced than them. Although this tends to be the case on the Internet, it’s quite the opposite in real life. The big dudes and dudettes tend to be very helpful and supportive, and there are plenty of mediocre lifters competing who will put your mind at ease. People aren’t all staring at you on the platform with bated breath watching your every move; everyone is busy doing their own thing and there are usually a couple of platforms in use simultaneously. Attending a local meet will assuage any fears you have and get you psyched to sign up for a competition.

12. Failing to Film Your Lifts

The last meet I attended, there were three ladies competing who each bombed out on their squats. All three ladies failed on all three squat attempts, all for the same reason – not hitting depth. What was somewhat humorous is that they’d get pissed off at the referees upon seeing that they’d been red-lighted – they didn’t believe that they weren’t hitting depth (they weren’t even close). In their minds, they were descending well past parallel. Here’s the crazy part…they had a coach who was there with them!!! I can’t understand for the life of me how this even happened, but obviously their coach wasn’t well-versed in powerlifting rules, and obviously the ladies never filmed their lifts.

Bret’s Tip: Film your lifts. With squats, set the camera from the side view at knee level so you can ensure that you’re hitting depth. Watch your videos and pay attention to your form. Make sure you pause sufficiently during the bench and fully lock out the barbell during deadlifts. 

13. Caffeine and Ammonia Overload

This might belong in mistake #13, but I felt it was important enough to include on its own. Last meet, my good buddy took three caffeine pills prior to the meet and felt woozy the entire day. He actually ended up slaughtering all of his PRs, but that’s besides the point. He probably could have done even better had he just taken one caffeine pill in the morning and maybe one in the afternoon. Or just relied on energy drinks.

This same dude also encountered another funny situation (well, it’s funny because he ended up making the lift; it wouldn’t have been funny otherwise) just prior to his second squat attempt. He saw a bottle of nose torque (ammonia) and assumed it was used and not fresh. He took a giant inhalation and almost passed the f*#% out. His eyes were all watery and he said to me, “I don’t know how in the hell I’m going to make this lift.” Luckily, something happened and the meet was stalled for a couple of minutes, providing him ample time to recover from the fiasco.

Bret’s Tip: Stick to similar amounts of caffeine that you’re used to so you don’t disrupt the system too much. It’s fine to up the ante a little bit, but don’t go overboard. There are few things worse than trying to squat when you feel like puking. If you intend on using ammonia capsules, don’t ever do it for the first time at a meet – make sure you experiment with it prior to the competition. 

14. Not Having a Training Partner/Coach That Keeps You Honest

You want a coach or training partner that calls it like it is, not someone who pussyfoots around and is afraid to put you in your place when you need it. If your form sucks, you should be called out on it. If you’re not hitting squat depth, not pausing long enough during bench, or not locking out your deads, you should be called out. If your spotter gives you assistance, he should not say, “all you bro!” On the flip side, you should welcome all of this advice and say thank you.

15. Not Understanding Kilo Conversions

After each lift, you must head immediately to the announcer’s table to inform them as to what load you intend on using for your next attempt. However, the loads aren’t in pounds, they’re in kilos. Click HERE to see an example kilo conversion table. It’s not rocket science, but if you’re not aware of this practice, it can catch you off-guard. Make sure you’re able to quickly determine the loads you want to use based off of this chart.

16. Not Bringing Your Own Supplies

Legend has it that a really strong powerlifter by the name of Chris Duffin had a legitimate chance of breaking the world deadlift record, but someone allegedly dumped baby powder into the chalk bowl, thus sabotaging his performance. Chalk is used to aid the lifter in holding onto more weight, whereas baby powder is used to coat the thighs so the barbell can glide along the legs smoothly and not get caught on anything. However, baby powder will cripple one’s grip strength, so it’s very important to not have any baby powder on the hands prior to deadlifting. Had this not happened, perhaps Chris would be credited with the world’s biggest deadlift for his weight class.

Bret’s Tip: Bring your own supplies to the meet. This is the only way to ensure that the substances are legit and the gear will fit properly. 

17. Not Having a Strategy

You should have in mind the precise loads you intend to use for all nine lifts prior to the competition. You should also have in mind what warm-up weights you’ll hit before you step onto the platform. Finally, you should have in mind how you’re going to adjust the loads if things aren’t going as planned. You may feel like shit and have to reduce anticipated loads, or you may feel incredible and have to increase loads.

18. Over-Reliance on a Coach

If you have a coach, hopefully you have a competent one who can dedicate his sole attention to you at the meet. However, you’re a grown ass man (or woman), so make sure you’re familiar with the entire process and plan. You shouldn’t fully rely on anyone for your performance. You have a camera and can verify that you’re hitting depth or pausing sufficiently. You can attend a meet and witness how they’re run. You can memorize the loads you plan on hitting. Your coach might be preoccupied or might be helping other athletes, so you have to take ownership and be responsible for your own success.

19. Not Doing a Mock Meet Beforehand

My client Sohee Walsh is competing at the end of this month in her first competition as a 105 pounder. I had her do a mock meet at Revolution so she could gain experience and to better enable us to select her loads. She ended up squatting 155 lbs, benching 105 lbs, and pulling 175 lbs. The squat and bench went as predicted, but her pulls were very weak on this day.I think she’ll hit 165/105/215 at the meet, but we’ll see. Mock meets are great for managing expectations. Below is footage of Sohee. Notice that we practiced the commands, which is vital. Be forewarned, my voice was out so I sound like an idiot.

 

20. Not Bringing Food & Drink to the Meet

The first two meets I attended had vending machines and vendors, which enabled me to fuel up adequately between lifts. However, the last meet I attended didn’t have a vending machine, and the vendors were selling barbecued beef sandwiches and hotdogs – not exactly the best thing to wolf down prior to heavy lifting. I’ve been at meets that last 5 hours total and other meets that last 15 hours total (one ended at 1 am), so make sure you come prepared for worst case scenario.

Bret’s Tip: Bring with you energy drinks, Gatorade, granola bars, and any other food items that will fuel your performance and keep you hydrated, but make sure that these foods are easy on your stomach and well-tolerated.

Conclusion

If you’re on the fence about competing, I highly recommend that you do so. I’ve yet to meet anyone who regretted stepping onto the platform. You’ll meet wonderful and helpful people and will be proud of your accomplishments, plus you’ll learn a great deal in the process. I hope this article has been useful in letting you know what to expect at your first meet. Go the extra mile and take the necessary steps to ensure that you come prepared, it’ll make a big difference. If you feel that I’ve missed anything important or am in error, please share any advice in the comments section below.

Impressive Strength Levels

People who lift weights like having targets to shoot for in their training. Several different websites have created strength standards for men and women of different weight classes, mainly for the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press. However, I have never seen a comprehensive list of strength feats pertaining to a wide variety of exercises. Last year, I wrote a guest article for my friend Ben Bruno where I listed some feats of strength that I find to be impressive in the gym. I recently sat down and updated the list and added more exercises.

2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie Foucher

Obviously, this is very difficult to do. Ideally, I’d have all sorts of data to analyze, but I don’t. This is a subjective list based on my experiences as a personal trainer. Some of the exercises I had to take a wild stab at simply because I don’t prescribe it often to my clients or see it often at the gyms at which I train, for example the barbell step up to thigh-parallel height. In my gym, we do high step ups involving much greater degrees of hip flexion while holding onto dumbbells. Moreover, I don’t have a ton of experience with prescribing Olympic lifts to clients. I’m certain that as I pay closer attention over the next year, I will realize that some of my numbers listed below are too high or too low and in need of adjustments. Therefore, I’m going to update and refine this list over time to be more valid and reflective of realistic but still impressive strength feats. Nevertheless, the advanced lifters always find these list to be too easy while the novice lifters find the same list to be very daunting, that’s just the way it goes.

bench

It’s important to know a few things before working your way down the list. First, smaller lifters have the advantage compared to bigger lifters with regards to relative strength (but not absolute strength). If you’re a 160 lb man or a 100 lb woman, many of the feats of strength on this list will be more easily achieved than they would for a 260 lb man or 180 lb woman. Second, everyone has a unique anatomy and anthropometry such that their leverages are excellent for a few lifts and horrendous for a few other lifts. Therefore, some of the feats listed below will seem very easy to you, whereas for others those same feats will appear virtually impossible. If you’ve been lifting weights for a few years, it is very likely that you can already pull of several of the feats below, but there will likely be others that you would have to work very hard at in order to achieve. Third, these feats are based on regular gym lifters who perform a wide variety of exercises in their training. Obviously competitive powerlifters and weightlifters will find this list to be amateurish. And fourth, this list was created with raw, natural lifters in mind.

squat

Squats and Leg Press

Men

  • A maximum thigh parallel back squat with 2.2X bodyweight barbell load or more (440 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more thigh parallel front squats with 1.5X bodyweight barbell load (300 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 or more reps in the leg press with 4X bodyweight load (800 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum thigh parallel back squat with 1.5X bodyweight barbell load or more (195 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more thigh parallel front squats with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load (130 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more reps in the leg press with 3X bodyweight load (390 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Deadlifts and Good Mornings

Men

  • A maximum deadlift (conventional, sumo, or trap bar) with 2.5X bodyweight barbell load or more (500 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more good mornings with 1.2X bodyweight load (240 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum deadlift (conventional, sumo, or trap bar) with 2.3X bodyweight barbell load or more (299 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more good mornings with .9X bodyweight load (117 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Upper Body Presses

Men

  • A maximum pause bench press with 1.6X bodyweight barbell load or more (320 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum strict military press with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load or more (200 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the dip with .6X bodyweight additional load (120 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the close grip bench with 1.4X bodyweight barbell load (280 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the incline press with 1.2X bodyweight barbell load (240 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 50 or more strict push ups with bodyweight

Women

  • A maximum pause bench press with 1.1X bodyweight barbell load or more (143 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum strict military press with .8X bodyweight barbell load or more (104 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the dip with .2X bodyweight additional load (26 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the close grip bench with .8X bodyweight barbell load (104 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the incline press with .8X bodyweight barbell load (104 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 30 or more strict push ups with bodyweight

Upper Body Pulls

Men

  • A maximum strict chin up with .5X bodyweight additional load or more (100 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 15 or more strict pull ups with bodyweight
  • 5 or more reps in the Pendlay row with .9X bodyweight barbell load (180 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 or more reps in the strict one arm row with .5X bodyweight dumbbell load (100 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 20 or more feet elevated inverted rows with bodyweight
  • 10 or more reps in the barbell curl with .6X bodyweight barbell load (120 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum strict chin up with .2X bodyweight additional load or more (26 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 8 or more strict pull ups with bodyweight
  • 5 or more reps in the Pendlay row with .7X bodyweight barbell load (91 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more reps in the strict one arm row with .5X bodyweight dumbbell load (65 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more feet elevated inverted rows with bodyweight
  • 10 or more reps in the barbell curl with .5X bodyweight barbell load (65 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Posterior Chain Exercises

Men

  • 10 or more reps in the hip thrust with 2X bodyweight barbell load (400 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 or more reps in the 45-degree hyper with .6X bodyweight load (120 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 legit swings with .8X bodyweight kettlebell load (120 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 1 or more strict Nordic ham curls with bodyweight with no arm assistance

Women

  • 10 or more reps in the hip thrust with 2X bodyweight barbell load (260 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more reps in the 45-degree hyper with .6X bodyweight load (78 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 legit swings with .8X bodyweight kettlebell load (104 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Single Leg Exercises

Men

  • 20 or more walking lunges with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load – 10 steps per leg (200 lbs x 20 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the Bulgarian split squat with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load (200 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more thigh-parallel step ups with .8X bodyweight barbell load (160 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 3 or more pistol squats with bodyweight
  • 5 or more single leg RDLs with .8X bodyweight barbell load (180 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 20 or more legit single leg hip thrusts with bodyweight
  • 15 or more single leg prisoner back extensions with bodyweight

Women

  • 20 or more walking lunges with .8X bodyweight barbell load – 10 steps per leg (104 lbs x 20 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the Bulgarian split squat with .7X bodyweight barbell load (91 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more thigh-parallel step ups with .6X bodyweight barbell load (78 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 3 or more pistol squats with bodyweight
  • 5 or more single leg RDLs with .7X bodyweight barbell load (91 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 20 or more legit single leg hip thrusts with bodyweight
  • 10 or more single leg prisoner back extensions with bodyweight

Olympic Variations

Men

  • A maximum power clean with 1.3X bodyweight barbell load or more (260 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum power snatch with 1.1X bodyweight barbell load or more (220 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum hang clean with 1.2X bodyweight barbell load or more (240 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum push press with 1.2X bodyweight barbell load or more (240 lbs for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum power clean with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load or more (130 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum power snatch with .9X bodyweight barbell load or more (117 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum hang clean with .9X bodyweight barbell load or more (117 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum push press with .9X bodyweight barbell load or more (117 lbs for a 130 lb woman)

Conclusion

If you can already nail many of these feats, congratulations! You’re a strong guy or gal. Keep working hard to improve upon your already superior base of strength. However, if you’re mortal like most of us, then this list will help you realize that you’ve got some work to do. I hope you have found this list to be beneficial and inspiring for your training goals.

hip thrust

 

12 Observations From Training Women

Five years ago, I wrote an article that contained 10 observations from training women HERE, and six months ago I jotted down 10 tips HERE. Today, I’m providing 12 more observations that I’ve gleaned from training mostly women. Keep in mind that many of my female clientele are bikini competitors or newbies; as of yet I haven’t sought advanced powerlifters or athletes for long-term clients. If I did, my experiences would surely be different, but nevertheless my clientele have provided me with interesting and unique anecdotal experiences. There are many things little nuances associated with personal training that you won’t find in textbooks or certification courses, so these types of blogposts are valuable and important.

1. Box Squat Strength > Free Squat Strength

Around half of my clients are stronger with box squats than they are with free squats to the same depth. The box seems to help them better organize themselves for propulsion during the concentric phase. Box squats lend themselves to crazy-high levels of rate of force development (RFD), as seen HERE. I have not ascertained what factors contribute to one being stronger at box squats versus free squats. I think it’s a good idea to alternate between the two styles throughout the year. You have a “squat to a box,” where you just tap the box and use it as a depth gauge, you have a “rocking box squat” where you rock all the way back and then lean forward and rise, and you have the style I prefer, which involves a slight rock characterized by a relaxing of the hip muscles but not the erectors and a forceful explosion off the box.

P1030113

2. Trap Bar Deadlift Issues

Trap bar deadlifts (TBDLs) are a strength coach’s dream exercise (see HERE and HERE). Unfortunately, around a third of my female clients don’t tolerate them well. They feel that the handles are too wide which creates some jarring on their joints and makes them feel a bit unstable. They wish that there was a trap bar with narrower handles to better fit their bodies. With these clients, I omit prescribing TBDLs.

3. Natural Knee Valgus Tendencies

I’ve spent more time thinking about knee valgus than I care to admit – seriously hours upon hours pondering all the different possible culprits and contributors (see HERE and HERE for thoughts). I believe that beginners knee cave due to a broader list of reasons than advanced lifters.

In my experience, women have a harder time preventing knee valgus than men. I think every woman I train struggles with keeping their knees out with squatting when maxing out or approaching failure with submaximal loads.

I’ve started wondering if this is simply due to a combination of anatomy (femur shape, tibia shape, etc.) and the effects of muscular contraction on anatomy (quad and hamstring contraction pulling the knees inward). In other words, medial knee displacement might just be normal biomechanics for many women when they squat. Counteracting this knee caving almost requires overly accentuated gluteal/hip external rotator contractions which works fine with submaximal loads but won’t overpower what the knees want to do with maximal loads.

Many of these ladies can knee cave year in and year out just fine as long as they limit the amount and frequency of the knee caving (similar to slight rounding during deadlifting). They experience no knee pain and their performance steadily improves. I wonder if we (strength coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists) are overly focused on “correcting” knee valgus when it could be a normal variance due to anatomy – similar to foot flare and stance width in concordance with varying hip anatomy.

For this reason, I’m strict with coaching anti-knee caving (knees out) with submaximal lifts but I allow for some wiggle room when going for a PR.

4. High-Hipped Deadlifts

The individuals with the biggest quads seem to deadlift with slightly lower hips and better arches in their spines, whereas those with smaller quads tend to pull with higher hips and sometimes greater spinal rounding. Therefore, taller and more slender women will typically pull with higher hips than shorter and stockier women. I’ve found that many bikini competitors and models almost look like they’re performing stiff leg deadlifts (SLDLs), and getting them to drop their hips requires lighter loads to be utilized. This applies to probably two thirds of my clients. For these individuals, I just let them pull with higher hips as long as they keep their spines relatively neutral. I’m happy to hit their quads with squats and lunges and let them use more hammy to deadlift.

P10300925. Lateral Band Work – Hit or Miss

I would guess that eight out of ten women feel lateral band work hitting their glutes (especially upper glutes) well during various sumo walks, monster walks, banded clams, and band seated hip abductions. However, one in ten feels them working the hell out of their glutes, feeling very high levels of activation on every repetition, and another one in ten doesn’t feel them working their glutes at all. It’s not that they’re performing them wrong; it’s probably a natural variation in anatomy. My hypothesis is built on anecdotes involving client feedback, palpation, and EMG, so I’m pretty confident about this observation. For clients who feel lateral band work very well in their glutes, I up the volume, and for clients who don’t feel them working their glutes, I omit them.

P1030099

6. Chin Ups Damn Near Impossible

Most women can eventually work up to being able to perform one or more unassisted bodyweight chin ups. However, I estimate that around 1 in 10 women will never be able to perform a chin up no matter how hard they try, due to a combination of poor leverages for chins, inability to grow ample upper body muscle mass, and skewed body proportions involving greater lower : upper body mass ratios.

7. Faster Deadlift Learning Curve With Kettlebells

This applies to both men and women, but it might be even more pronounced with women. Teaching deadlifting with a kettlebell is one of the easiest things in personal training. You just have them stand over the bell, drop down and grab a hold of it, adjust hip position, pull chest up and make sure spine is neutral, then pick it up. Everything stays tight and rises upward at the proper rates. However, with the barbell, they’ll typically set up perfectly, but upon lifting the bar, energy leaks occur – hips shoot up, spine rounds a bit, bar drifts away from the body, etc. Unfortunately there are very few gyms that have heavy kettlebells (I have 106 lb and 203 lbs, but I wish I had 124 lb, 150 lb, and 176 lb kbs as well), otherwise more personal trainers could take advantage of teaching the deadlift pattern this way. However, when transitioning from kettlebell to barbell deadlifts, there’s still a learning process required, so there’s no avoiding the barbell if you want to build the strongest client possible.

P1030138

8. Front Squats Too Painful

Initially, most women find front squats to be very painful on the shoulders. Over time, the pain tends to diminish and most of these women can eventually front squat pain-free. However, probably a third of women don’t seem to adjust and their bodies always elicit the pain response, so they’ll never be able to front squat heavy without wincing in pain. Since pain inhibits muscle activation, I just pick a different alternative for these clients, such as goblet squats or high bar back squats with heels elevated onto plates.

9. Crazy Arms When Performing Band Hip Thrusts

Many lifters and personal trainers won’t have a ton of experience with band hip thrusts if they don’t have a Hip Thruster, but it always makes me chuckle when I see it happen. When approaching failure during band hip thrusts, around 1 out of 3 women will start doing some crazy things with their arms – they won’t be symmetrical, one wrist will flex and the other will hyperextend, and it just looks really un-athletic. For this reason, I began to recommend that women dig their arms into the bench and make fists – it can enhance performance through irradiation, plus it doesn’t look silly in case I post on Instagram or YouTube.

10. Elbow Flare With Pressing

This tip applies to both men and women as well, but it’s even more pronounced with women. With all pressing movements, most women will naturally want to flare their elbows out as much as possible. This occurs with push ups, bench press, and military press. It obviously happens because they’re initially stronger this way, but nevertheless it’s important to get a bit more tuck with pressing movements. Elsbeth Vaino and I wrote about this four years ago HERE. Getting the arms at a 45 degree angle relative to the torso is a good rule of thumb for push-ups and bench pressing, but it will change depending on the anatomy of the individual. As loads get heavier or reps approach failure, you’ll see the elbows start to flare more and more and the bar touch higher and higher on the chest. While there is certainly some wiggle room, you want to make sure that most of the reps touch down in the same position.

pushup-setup

11. Low Bar Squat Issues

I’m all about low bar squats for maximum squatting strength, and I like high bar for targeting more quad. However, I would estimate that around 1 in 6 women just can’t seem to get the low bar position to feel right – it either hurts or just doesn’t feel stable. This applies more to lankier women that haven’t built up a lot of upper back mass. Interestingly, I started all of my ladies off with high bar, and upon teaching them low bar, several of them set PRs on their very first attempts, whereas others couldn’t stand the low bar. To be fair, it might just be that I wasn’t patient enough with these clients and that I need to start then off lighter and gradually work up in weight, but after a few sessions of complaints, I just told them to stop experimenting with low bar and stick to high bar. The picture below shows a good example of high bar versus low bar – note that the back muscles in the picture on the right are squeezed together to provide a shelf.

Left: high bar, Right: low bar

Left: high bar, Right: low bar (Photo credit: Nerd Fitness)

12. Strange Lumbopelvic Phenomenon Associated With Push-Ups

Here’s another interesting occurrence that I’ve noticed. Some of my women can perform RKC planks just fine and hold a posterior pelvic tilt like a boss. However, when they try to do this during a push-up, they can’t hold it down. They can set up at the top in PPT and lock the pelvis in place, but upon transitioning from the eccentric phase to the concentric phase, they lose it. I think to think that this is related to the strength of the pushing muscles and that either 1) the body needs a slight hypextension in the spine to be able to perform the push ups, or 2) it’s asking too much of the body’s neural resources to perform the push up and hold the PPT at the same time. Over time I assume that this ability will improve.

Conclusion

If you’re a personal trainer or strength coach, hopefully my observations jived with yours. If you’re a lifter, I hope that this article has made you feel less “weird.” Many of these issues are very small in the grand scheme of things; they just require minor work-arounds and the ladies are always able to achieve incredibly productive training sessions.

5 Things People Need to Stop Overthinking

Below is an excellent guest article from Greg Nuckols. I just finished reading the new eBook that Greg wrote with Omar Isuf (HERE is a link to the eBooks – there are two of them; The Art of Lifting and The Science of Lifting), and though I liked both books, I actually liked The Art of Lifting most. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with Greg and Omar’s insight. I’ve been a big fan of Greg and Omar for a while, so it’s great to see them come out with a great product together.

5 Things People Need to Stop Overthinking
By Greg Nuckols

There are three laws I’ve found to be true in a remarkable number of cases:

  • Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you have a 2 hour project and 8 free hours to work on it, it will generally take you all 8 hours to finish it. Conversely, if you slack until you only have an hour left, you’ll usually end up getting it done, and doing a pretty decent job at it.
  • Poe’s law: “Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” If you’ve ever been sucked into a really long Facebook argument about almost anything (be it training, nutrition, politics, religion, etc.), then you probably understand who this law is referring to.
  • Sayre’s law: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.” This is the law that this article addresses. Little nitpicky things that really don’t influence your results in any meaningful way are almost guaranteed to be the subjects of heated discussions where friendships are ruined, e-dicks are measured, and no one comes out of the discussion any better off for having had it.

squat

  1. Bar position for squats

Let me describe an exercise for you. You place a loaded barbell across your shoulders, squat down to a position with high degrees of both knee and hip flexion, either as deep as you can go, or as deep as you can safely go before your back starts rounding, then stand up.

Did I just describe the high bar or low bar squat? If you guess “both,” you’re absolutely right. Moving the bar 2-3 inches up or down your back doesn’t make enough difference for 99% of people to worry about. Try them both out, and do whichever is the most comfortable for you.

If you’re a powerlifter, then obviously the main criteria to use is: “Which allows me to move the most weight?” That’s the whole point of the sport, after all. If you’re a weightlifter, then high bar is probably prudent since it most closely mimics the position in which you’d receive a clean or snatch.

If you don’t compete in either of those sports, then just squat; bar position really doesn’t matter.

  1. Beltless training

This is another topic that, while not entirely unimportant, is not worth arguing about until you’re blue in the face.

It’s pretty clear that training with a belt allows you to lift heavier loads, doesn’t really affect activation of your abdominal muscles, and may even lead to increased activation of your prime movers due to increased spinal stabilization and the aforementioned heavier loads. It also increases intra-abdominal pressure, which can cause an even larger spike in blood pressure when training, meaning it could be problematic for people who have conditions exacerbated by blood pressure fluctuations.

So if you want to lift as much weight as possible right now, wear a belt. If you have issues that are made worse by blood pressure spikes, then don’t wear a belt.

For training purposes, I’m not aware of any data showing that training with or without a belt really affects strength gains. Plenty of people have gotten strong lifting primarily with a belt, and plenty of people have gotten strong lifting primarily beltless. Just do the one you prefer.

Chris-Duffin

  1. Stance width, footwear, grip width, or deadlift style

If I had a nickel for every time I saw a “guide” to choosing footwear or stance width of squat, grip width for bench press, or deadlifting style (sumo or conventional) based off some arbitrary anthropometric measurements, I’d probably have about $1.00. Meaning there are at least 20 too many in existence (I wrote one of them. Sorry).

When did people forget that they could just experiment? Trying different options isn’t feasible for things that have a high opportunity cost (i.e. buying a house. You can’t narrow it down to two, buy them both, live in both for a while, and then decide which one you like best), but none of the aforementioned decisions have a high opportunity cost. The costliest would be buying an extra set of shoes for squats to see if you prefer squatting with a raised heel or without one (which will be ~$60-70 unless you want to buy top of the line weightlifting shoes).

Want to know what squat stance is best for you? Go to the gym, load up about 70% of your max, and try out a few different stance widths and a few different toe positions. Go with the one that feels the strongest and most comfortable. Ditto for bench press grip width. Ditto for sumo and conventional deadlifts.

The most important research in this area? The N=1 case study you do on yourself that will take maybe 15 minutes.

  1. “What’s the best exercise for…?”

There are a few circumstances where there is a clear-cut best exercise to accomplish a specific purpose. One is when you’re having difficulty learning a complex movement; a slower or regressed version of that movement, or the piece of the movement you’re having the most difficulty with (depending on the situation) is probably the best thing you can do. Or, if you’re trying to master an exercise for its own sake (i.e. if you’re a powerlifter and you want to improve your squat), that precise exercise is probably the best exercise you could do to accomplish that purpose.

Beyond that, it’s wide open. There are no magic exercises. If there’s a general movement pattern you’re trying to improve (not a specific exercise. i.e. pushing strength instead of strictly the bench press), then basically any exercise with similar demands through a fairly long range of motion will do the trick. If there’s a specific muscle you’d like to grow and strengthen, then just about any exercise for which that muscle is likely to be the primary limiting factor will work just fine.

Instead of searching for (or worse, wasting time debating online) some magical exercise, use some critical thinking skills and find movements that look similar to the skill you want to improve, or that overload the muscle you’re trying to grow or strengthen, and do them consistently over time, applying progressive overload. It works like a charm every time.

  1. Size vs. strength

Gaining size (muscle mass) versus gaining strength is really a false dichotomy for most people; they’re two sides to the same coin.

Now, if you’re brand new to lifting, you’ll probably gain strength (weight on the bar) much faster than you gain muscle mass initially. That’s a simple matter of your nervous system learning the movement and figuring out how to effectively use the muscle you currently have (plus a little extra you build) to move the load.

Once you’ve learned a movement, though, there’s only one way to keep those strength numbers ticking up: Those muscle have to grow.

On the other hand, if you’re training primarily to gain mass, those muscle gains will be slow in coming unless you apply progressive overload (increasing training volume, intensity, or both). And, by doing so, you’ll get stronger. Then, with that increased strength, you can load the muscles even heavier, create more tension, and grow bigger yet.

To get stronger (unless you’re a complete beginner), you need to get bigger, and to get bigger you need get stronger. Training for one without the other doesn’t really make sense for most people.

In some fringe cases it may be possible and necessary. For instance, if you’re an elite powerlifter weighing very close to the top of your weight class, then you may need to train in a manner to eek the last possible neural improvements out of the movements without gaining muscle mass that would push you into the next weight class (of course, if you can grow into the next biggest weight class, it would probably be good to do so because you’d be carrying more muscle per unit of height, and probably be more competitive, but that’s another discussion). If you’re a bodybuilder with a long injury history and not much more room for growth in the first place, then avoiding the heavier training that drives strength gains in favor of lighter, more voluminous training may be prudent.

For everyone else, get stronger to get bigger and get bigger to get stronger.

Click HERE to check out Greg’s new eBook

The Art of Lifting

About the Author

GregGreg Nuckols is the owner and founder of Strengtheory.com, a website dedicated to combining lifting advice with biomechanics and scientific theory. More than 250,000 people visit and learn from Strengtheory articles each month. Greg is also the chief content director at Juggernaut Training Systems, one of the biggest strength websites in the world. As the owner of one large fitness website and the content director of one even larger, Greg is very tapped into what questions people have and what information is often misconstrued. Practicing what he preaches, Greg has held 3 all-time world records in powerlifting. His current numbers are a 755lb. squat, 475lb. bench, and 725lb. deadlift.