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    About Matt Gary: Matt Gary is 37 years old and has been a competitive, drug-free powerlifter for 15 years. His educational background includes a BS in Kinesiological Science from the University of Maryland. He is also a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) via the National Strength & Conditioning Association. Matt, along with his wife Suzanne "Sioux-z" Hartwig-Gary, own and operate Supreme Sports Performance & Training (SSPT). SSPT is Maryland's premier strength and conditioning facility catering to powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, strongman competitors, and anyone who is serious about strength training. Matt's clients include high school and collegiate athletes, powerlifters from novice to elite, and the general population.

    Matt is an active member of the USAPL where he serves as a national referee and coach. He is the 2008 USA NAPF Men's Team Coach and is regularly an assistant coach on the USA Men's and Womenís IPF World Powerlifting teams. He regularly consults with many of the USAís elite lifters and other top athletes. This year, Matt will be the head coach of the USA Men's Team at the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The World Games are essentially the Olympics for the non-Olympic sports. As they are contested once every four years, this is one of the most prestigious honors bestowed upon a powerlifting coach.

    Matt has competed in three different weight divisions, from 198 to 242, and currently competes in the 220-pound weight class. He is a 4-time Maryland state champion and won the 2004 USAPL American Open Powerlifting Championships. Matt's articles focus on various aspects of strength training and powerlifting. Comments, discussion, and questions about this article or any other strength endeavor are always welcome and may be sent to [email protected]

    For additional information about SSPT, please visit Supreme Sports Performance & Training

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    A Powerlifter's Guide to Attempt Selection

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    ďWinning isnít everything; itís the only thing.Ē - Henry Russell Sanders, UCLA head football coach, 1956



    This famous quote epitomizes the competitive spirit that permeates sports in our society. While this attitude is entirely appropriate in many sports arenas, it doesnít make much sense in powerlifting. Powerlifting measures physical strength and while competitors typically compete in weight classes against others, their primary goal should be to exceed their previous efforts. Unless youíre competing at the highest levels, winning should be of secondary importance. Accordingly, Grantland Riceís famous quote, ď . . . itís not that you won or lost, but how you played the game,Ē would be more germane to a powerlifterís quest.



    Some might argue that this is a losing mentality. If itís a loserís mentality, then Iíd like to hear from all the lifters who often win but rarely hit personal records (PRs). I doubt theyíre very content with their performance. Success in powerlifting is measured by PRs. The key to hitting PRs is making attempts. Awards, championships, and titles are all nice but theyíre rather meaningless if youíre not improving. I have always maintained that I would rather place last, while hitting PRs, than win a competition on a bad day.



    I regularly peruse meet results, from every level of competition, and Iím astonished by how many attempts are unsuccessful. Iím aware how difficult it is to push our physical limits beyond what normal folks find plausible. That being said, powerlifters of all levels should make the majority of the lifts they attempt. I am not impressed by the lifters who attempt the heaviest poundage. Instead Iím inspired by those that are actually successful in breaking new boundaries by setting PRs and making most of their attempts. Opening with 750 pounds in the bench press and missing it three times is not nearly as remarkable as the lifter who opens with 452 pounds and after three successful attempts finishes with 496 pounds. Thatís the difference between good lifting and bad lifting. Just because you possess prodigious strength doesnít mean youíre automatically a good lifter. Good lifters make most of their attempts. Some of the strongest people I know are horrible lifters. On the other hand, lifters with much less strength are sometimes the best lifters. Being known as a great attempter is not a title one should strive for. The name of the game in powerlifting is making lifts and hitting PRs. Period.



    Selecting appropriate attempts, at powerlifting competitions, is a lost art. Too often, lifters fail to reap the rewards of a long training cycle because they select poor attempts. Powerlifting isnít like golf. In golf, you can shoot a bad round, then go out the following day and get the sour taste out of your mouth by shooting a low score. In powerlifting, it takes months to prepare for one day. And once that day arrives, you only have nine chances to harvest the fruits of your labor. After that moment, it's back to the drawing board where we have to analyze what worked, what didnít, and hopefully weíre able to formulate a successful plan for our next competition. Do not make the mistake of missing an opportunity to display your strength and enhance your total by making poor attempt selections.



    BradSiouxz_sm3.jpg

    Brad Gillingham and Sioux-z Hartwig-Gary are two prime examples of lifters who make wise attempt selections.



    Selecting appropriate attempts accomplishes three goals. It enables you to progress from one attempt to the next without shocking the body and central nervous system (CNS). It affords you the opportunity to build a respectable total and creates the potential to achieve a PR.



    The only attempts that matter are the ones you make. Nobody cares about your opening attempt. Thatís worth repeating. Nobody cares about your opening attempt. I grow tired of hearing and reading about lifters who open with outlandish numbers. Opening too heavy does little more than initially impress the audience. So, if impressing audiences is your primary objective, then stop reading now and I wish you the best of luck. For those of you that donít want to look like an inexperienced fool, follow me and Iíll illuminate a smarter path to hoisting your heaviest weights.



    Prior to your competition, prepare an outline of tentative attempts. Have light, medium, and heavy options for your second and third attempts. If your warm-ups donít go as planned, lower your opener. Itís better to get in the meet and take a slightly larger jump to your second attempt than it is to bomb out completely because you were so fixated on a particular opener.


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    1st Attempt - ďThe OpenerĒ



    The first attempt (opener) is the most important attempt of the three because itís first. Your first squat is like making that first hit in a football game. It sets the tone for the entire competition. If your opener is too heavy, doesnít go as planned, or you simply miss it, the odds are much greater that you will miss your second attempt. In fact, if we compiled statistics on lifters who miss their openers, Iíd bet the farm that most of them also miss their second attempt. This is especially true when the opening attempt is too heavy.



    Unless youíre a freak like Eddy Coan, you wonít be winning any competitions with your openers. If you open too heavy, not only wonít you win, but youíll rarely have the opportunity to make it to your heavier attempts. Your best bet is to check your ego at the door, open lighter, and build some confidence. The key to building a nice total is making lifts. The more attempts you make, the more likely you are to achieve a personal best.



    The primary purpose of your opener is to get you in the meet. Three failed attempts, in any one discipline, results in a ďbomb outĒ and that represents the worst scenario for a powerlifter. Secondly, the first attempt sets you up for a successful second attempt. An easy opener also has a snowball effect and will build tremendous confidence going into your second.



    The best way to select an appropriate opening attempt is to treat it like your last warm-up set. If you do this, you will rarely miss it and often be heading into your second attempt, on a positive note, with confidence. In the mid-1990s, when I trained at Maryland Athletic Club alongside powerlifting legends Kirk Karwoski and Sioux-z Hartwig, the rule was: open with your best triple. Whatever weight you could successfully hit for three solid reps was a safe opening attempt. For first-timers, we periodically subtracted 20 pounds from that number. More experienced lifters could open with their best double but that still wasnít as surefire as your best triple.



    While there are no steadfast rules for selecting opening attempts, now we typically plan in terms of percentages. With respect to attempt selection, I coach all my lifters the same way. Your opener should usually be between 90-92% of your one-rep max (competition PR). Tod Miller, the powerlifting coach at Plainwell High School in Michigan, insists that all his lifters open between 85-88% of their best. While I think this is a little on the light side, I canít argue with his results. I have never seen one of his lifters miss an opener due to a lack of strength. Personally, Iíve never opened heavier than 93% of my best. People often forget that anything above 90% is considered heavy and when lifting heavy loads, there is much less room for error. Your technique needs to be sound enough to maintain the integrity of your form throughout the lift. Once you get above that 92-93% range, youíre skating on thin ice.



    As an example, if we use a lifter with a 523-pound (237.5kg) personal best squat, weíre looking at an opener between 470-480 pounds (approximately 90-92% of max). Assuming training went well, then I would have him open at 474 pounds (215kg). Most lifters with a 523-pound max can likely triple or at least double 474 pounds, possibly more. This confirms the ďbest tripleĒ rule. In essence, the opener should be easy enough that you can make the lift on your worst day or if something goes wrong.



    The best laid plans often go awry on meet day. You canít control the timing of flights, the general flow of the competition, the strictness of the judging, loading errors, etc. Consequently, the opener should be something you can hit even when the world around you is imploding. Case and point, in 2006 when I squatted my all-time PR of 584 pounds (265kg), I was wrapped too long before my opening attempt. It wasnít my handlerís fault. Unfortunately, there were no 25kg plates and the spotter-loaders had to switch from the 20kg plates to 50kg plates. Fifty kilogram plates are huge and cumbersome. Consequently, the weight change took longer than anticipated and I was standing in my wraps for an extra minute prior to my attempt. My experience prevailed and I remained calm - closing my eyes and visualizing a perfect lift. Fortunately my 529-pound opening attempt was light enough and I smoked it. If you do the math, 529 pounds works out to 91.3% of 579 (my previous PR). Not only did I walk off the platform ready for a strong second attempt but I was supremely confident knowing that I just crushed 91% of my max under poor conditions.



    Lifters using supportive equipment need to be even more careful selecting their openers. They are confronted with the issue of opening light enough to get in the meet and build confidence versus selecting weights heavy enough to allow them to achieve proper depth in the squat or touch their chest in the bench press. The modern day bench shirts change the rules of training. However, they should not change how you approach your opening attempt. Even if it means opening in a looser shirt and then switching into a tighter one, thereís no excuse to not touch your chest with an opener. How much weight it takes to touch your chest, the groove of your shirt, etc., should all be determined beforehand in training. Do not leave this to chance on meet day. You must account for last-minute bodyweight changes and the way your gear will fit. The same goes for your squat suit and knee wraps. There is no excuse for not being able to achieve proper depth with your opening attempt. The opener should be as automatic as any attempt youíll ever take. This is crucial in the deadlift where as the day wears on, your energy reserves become depleted. Therefore, itís a good idea to make your opening deadlift attempt one of the easiest lifts of the day. Weíll often open right around 90% and sometimes even a pinch lighter to ensure that we stay alive and register a total. If youíve set a record in either the squat or bench press, itís always a smart idea to open light in the deadlift to make sure your record counts.



    In the event that you miss your opener - repeat it. Thatís right, take it again. One of the most common mistakes in attempt selection is increasing the weight after a missed attempt. The instances in which this should be done are extremely rare. Itís one thing if you beat a ďrackĒ command or take an extra step because the weight was so easy. Even then, Iím an advocate of repeating the opening attempt. The probability of making a successful second attempt after a failed first attempt is very slim. Some coaches increase their liftersí second attempts if they werenít able to get deep enough or touch their chest in the bench press. Again I implore you to get those issues resolved prior to competition. Unless Iím dealing with an advanced lifter with many years of competition experience, I would never advocate increasing the weight after a failed attempt. I especially wouldnít allow it if the lifter missed the attempt as the result of a strength issue. What on earth makes you think youíll magically have enough strength, on the second attempt, to lift more weight than you missed on the first one?



    A missed opener immediately puts you in a deficit below what you had planned and hurts your psyche. A positive attitude means everything in the world of physical achievement and powerlifting is no different. A missed opener puts you behind the eightball and places unnecessary stress on yourself. Now thereís increased pressure to go out and make the second attempt. That pressure increases with every missed attempt.



    Over the past few years, I have watched a local competitor bomb out of six competitions. Thatís right. Heís made zero of 18 bench press attempts. But heís the king of the warm-up room. He struts around at only 165 pounds bodyweight and benches nearly 450 pounds off of boards. Wonderful. Then he goes out on the platform and either canít touch his chest with his opener or gets stapled. With each attempt, you can see his energy draining and his attitude fade. I have always wanted to say something to him but he knows more than me. After all, he board presses in the mid-400s in the warm-up room. Is this guy strong? Maybe. I guess weíll never truly know until he makes an attempt. Is he a good lifter? Absolutely not. Missing lots of attempts, regardless of how much weight is on the bar, is not good lifting. Do not be the fool who falls into the trap of opening the heaviest. The last attempt you make is the one that counts toward your total.



    If you always remember to treat your opener like itís your last warm-up, youíll make it with room to spare and point yourself in the right direction on the road to success. Then once you have crushed your opening attempt, you can rest easily that youíre in the meet. Now youíre feeling confident and ready for a solid second attempt that will hopefully set you up nicely for a shot at hitting a PR on your third.


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    2nd Attempt - ďThe Stepping StoneĒ



    The second attempt serves as a stepping stone or launch pad to your third attempt. In the event that you miss your third attempt, a solid second attempt also builds your total.



    ďIím going for a PR on my second attempt because if I donít get it, Iíll have another shot at it on my third.Ē



    If I had a nickel for every time Iíve heard a lifter utter those words, Iíd be chilliní on a beach somewhere rather than running my own training center. Going for a PR on your second attempt, with even the suggestion that you might miss it, is a loserís mentality. The likelihood of hitting a PR on your third attempt after youíve already missed it on your second is as close to zero as it gets. It almost never happens. Do not venture down the path of stooges. I used to apply the same illogical methods to my madness. I would open too heavy and then jump to a PR attempt on my second. Then I started wondering why I was only making an average of four to five attempts per meet. It soon became glaringly obvious that my body and CNS werenít ready for the shock of a big second attempt. It wasnít until I began using my second attempt as a ďstepping stoneĒ to my third attempt that I resumed hitting PRs.



    Again, while thereís no fixed rule for second attempts, itís still a good idea to think in terms of percentages. Subsequently, the second attempt is typically somewhere between 95-97% and no higher than 98% of your max. If we refer back to our 523-pound squatter who opened with 474 (90.6%), an appropriate second attempt would be 507 pounds or 96.9% of his max. That would represent a 33-pound (15kg) jump from the opener to the second attempt. This is both safe and very effective. Taking anything larger than a 33-pound increase would likely be too much of a shock to the CNS. While the lifter may in fact be strong enough to lift more weight, the body needs to gradually acclimate to the heavier weights especially when youíre operating at near-maximum intensities.



    Always make weight increases incrementally smaller. In other words, if you take a 33-pound (15kg) increase from your opening attempt to your second, do not take a larger increase of 44 pounds (20kg) from your second to your third. The rare instance when this would be applicable is if youíre trying to catch a competitor in the deadlift.



    Heavier and stronger lifters will be able to make larger jumps from their opening attempts to their second attempts. Itís nothing for Wade Hooper to jump 44-55 pounds (20-25kg) from his opening squat to his second attempt. As Wade is an accomplished pro and an 800-plus pound squatter, thatís entirely appropriate. However, if we take a closer look, a 20-25kg jump for Wade still represents about a 5% increase from opening to second attempts. Until youíre squatting or deadlifting 750 pounds or more, Iíd encourage you to limit your jumps to no more than 38 pounds (17.5kg) between first and second attempts. Fifteen kilos is usually a befitting increase in the squat and/or deadlift for lifters with maxes between 500-750 pounds. For many females and lighter lifters, 22 pounds (10kg) and sometimes 27 pounds (12.5kg) is often a perfect jump from an opener to a second attempt. Weight increases in the bench press are obviously smaller as most of us lift less weight. However, when you run the numbers, youíll find the percentages are essentially the same. A 300-pound bench presser would be wise to open between 270-275 pounds and take 285-290 on a second attempt. That would set them up nicely for a PR on a third attempt of 303-308 pounds.



    A solid second attempt prepares your CNS for a heavier third attempt, builds confidence, and adds to your total. Aiming for a PR on the second attempt is risky business and should only be done by very experienced lifters who recognize that they donít have enough energy left for a big third attempt. In that rare case, expert lifters will occasionally pass on their second attempt thereby saving energy for a big third. Tony Harris, one of the worldís supreme deadlifters, is known for this strategy. He often opens light, surveys his competition, and saves himself for a big third deadlift. Tony is a cagey veteran who trusts his gut instinct. He always knows exactly how much he has left in the tank. For the rest of us mere mortals, be wise and take a solid second attempt that puts you in a nice position for a PR on your final attempt.



    2008_2009_Arnolds.jpg

    In 2008 and 2009, the teams that made the most attempts have won at the Arnold Sports Festival.


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    3rd Attempt - ďHit a PR! or Add to Your TotalĒ



    The third and final attempt is your last chance to add to your total. Itís also the right time to go for a PR.



    Assuming your second attempt was solid and youíre confident, then go for the PR! This is the moment we all train for. This is what powerlifting is all about - the next five pounds. All we can ever ask for is an opportunity. Lock ní load and take your best shot. This is your chance to do something youíve never done before. Seize the moment and ride the wave because you never know when it might come back again.



    Selecting an appropriate third attempt is simple. If you are going for a PR, choose the next five-pound (2.5kg) increment. This is one case where youíre no longer working with percentages. I have never understood why so many people want to take a large weight increase to a huge PR when lifting five pounds more is progress. Taking a shot at a huge PR (more than 10 pounds heavier than your previous best) is occasionally acceptable. If youíve moved up a weight class, come back from a long layoff or injury, added a new piece of gear, or improved your training methodology, then going for a big PR may be justifiable. Other than that, just be happy with five pounds. This is especially true for intermediate and experienced lifters. We rake and scrape for every pound we can get. Huge gains are common for the novice but once youíve been around the block a few times, gains come more slowly. Walking away from competitions with four PRs is an anomaly for experienced lifters.



    If your second attempt felt heavy or was more difficult than you anticipated, take whatís there - not what you want. Your training could have been on point and your body could be primed for a PR but if your second attempt took seven seconds to complete, thereís a good chance a PR just wonít go. Do not be so stubborn that you lose precious pounds and the chance to build your total. If youíre in a battle with another competitor, take smart attempts to stay ahead, keep pace, or gain ground. At the highest levels of competition, where winning is the primary goal, think in terms of making lifts first. Establishing PRs should be of secondary importance or saved for smaller competitions where youíre already ahead of the pack. Personal best totals are often achieved even when you donít set PRs in every discipline.



    Exceedingly heavy second attempts are also dangerous as they can fatigue you to the extent of missing your third. Not only can a taxing second attempt hurt your chances at making your third, it can also hamper you in the next two events. The next time youíre at a competition, look for lifters that either grind out their second squat attempt and/or completely miss their third. Chances are theyíll only make two deadlifts. Your CNS may not be ready to accommodate 99% of your max on a second attempt. If we look at our lifter who opened with 474 pounds in the squat, imagine if he jumped to 518 pounds (99%). While this is five pounds under a personal best and he may indeed be able to lift 518 pounds, he could run the risk of it taking too much out of him for his third. Some might argue that the difference between 518 pounds and 507 is only 11 pounds (5kg) but when you look in terms of percentages itís a difference of 2.1% and when youíre operating at intensities above 90%, thatís a substantial amount. I would much rather take my chances with 507 on a second which wouldnít fatigue me quite as much and put me in a nice position for a PR on the third attempt.



    Always play your game and not someone elseís. Do not try to out lift someone whom you know is stronger than you. If your best bench press is 300 pounds and your competitor presses 400, you wonít catch them. Lift within your own capabilities and survey your competition after your opening deadlift. The deadlift is where you can make your move. Lastly, focus your efforts on surpassing your meet PRs. If youíre constantly trying to improve upon gym PRs, your progress in competitions will decline. Ultimately, you will be remembered for what you did on the platform not what you lifted in the gym.





    Conclusion



    My years of experience assisting and coaching alongside USAPL President Dr. Larry Maile at the IPF World Championships has been invaluable. I have witnessed firsthand the perils of poor attempt selection. One can learn a tremendous amount simply by remaining silent and watching the best at their craft. When the stakes are high and the difference between snatching gold and finishing fourth is often decided on bodyweight or fewer than 10 kilos, every single attempt is precious. At national and particularly at the world championships, itís not always the strongest lifter who wins but rather the lifter that makes the most attempts. Being consistent and building your total via eight or nine successful attempts is superb lifting. Donít get me wrong, anyone can routinely make eight or nine lifts if theyíre not pushing themselves or being overly conservative. Oppositely, it takes thought and precision to make that many attempts while forging past previous boundaries.



    Lifters who routinely finish competitions with fewer than six successful attempts need to rethink their approach. Thatís not good lifting. Good lifters usually make at least six of nine attempts. Setting a PR isnít always in the cards. All things are never equal and some days are better than others. When you step on the lifting platform, there are many factors you cannot control. However, the weight on the bar is always your decision. Choose wisely.


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    Periodization and the Annual Training Plan - Part One

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    Your Goal

    Serious and quantifiable improvement, in any quest, necessitates specific goals and objectives with imposed deadlines. If you merely want to get stronger this year, then visit your local gym and start working out. But, if you wanted to squat 500 pounds by June 1, then clearly defined and methodical training is essential.

    In part one of this article series, I will give a brief historical account of Periodization then define how it applies to training methodology. I will elaborate on the importance of implementing a defined and time-segmented plan into your arsenal. I will also introduce the annual training plan including the different phases that comprise the year. Characteristics of each phase as well as the phaseís time components will be discussed. Lastly, Iíll present some figures illustrating the Periodization of an annual plan.

    It has been said, ďIf you fail to plan, you may as well plan to fail.Ē Achieving precise goals requires appropriate planning. Proper planning requires a systematic approach of mapping out methods and strategies at suitable time intervals to ensure task completion. In the realm of athletics and sports, planning is germane to preparing for competition and helping athletes achieve high levels of training and performance. Without blueprints or roadmap directing you toward a goal, the probability of successful achievement is dubious. Your plans should not be so rigid and inflexible to the extent of compromising the integrity of the mission. Coaches and athletes need to be able to discern when to back off and when to push oneís limits. The annual plan simply serves as an outline to direct and focus your efforts.

    In organized team sports, coaches and trainers are responsible for scheduling training. Athletes must then rely on the coaching expertise of the staff. In sports contested by one person like boxing, golfing, powerlifting, skiing, tennis, track and field, and weightlifting, the coach can confer with the athlete and together they can determine applicable schedules. Sometimes in these sports, especially at the novice to intermediate levels, the athlete coaches themselves and is responsible for the training format. This is when athletes will occasionally utilize an aimless and random approach. One of my training partners has recently had success with an arbitrary approach. He is the exception to the rule. When many of todayís competitions are decided by hundredths of a second, a few pounds, one half inch, or one point, I prefer leaving my fate in the hands of science rather than chance.

    All planning begins with a specific objective (what?) and a deadline (when?). Certain sports require different and sometimes unique training objectives. All sports require multilateral physical development, sport specific physical development, technical mastery, psychological preparation, injury prevention, and overall theoretical knowledge. Most sports are contested during a specific season or part of the year. Consequently, organizing the annual training plan into a specific time frame is crucial. Minimalism is the best approach when considering training objectives. Only focus on the objectives related to the sportís specific tasks. High jumpers need not place cardiorespiratory endurance at the forefront of their efforts. Moreover, a marathoner will never be summoned to clean and jerk their bodyweight. Athletes and coaches alike, mistakenly waste valuable time and energy on acquiring irrelevant skills.

    The best method of planning goal-oriented training is via Periodization. ďThe foundations of modern training organization and Periodization were laid in the Soviet Union at about the time of the Russian revolution.Ē In 1917, Kotov wrote Olympic Sport which detailed the division of training into specific stages. (1) Modern day strength experts, Rippetoe and Kilgore, note that in 1933 Mark Berry exercised weekly Periodization with bodybuilders and weightlifters. In the 1950s, Hungarian sports scientist Lazlo Nadori created a periodized model for his athletes. Famed Russian weightlifting coach, Leonid Matveyev established his thoughts on Periodization in the 1960s and eventually, in 1971, he published them. Yuri Verkoshansky created his own methodology of conjugated loading. As Matveyevís adversary, Verkoshanksy publicly stated that the idea of Periodization was garbage. Upon further review of his Special Strength Training: A Practical Manual for Coaches, one can deduce that his thoughts on training were also divided into different stages. Dr. Dietrich Harre, an East German sports scientist, edited Principles of Sports Training in 1982 which is an integration of both Nadori and Matveyev. Tudor O. Bompa, PhD was trained in an East German system and his texts prove to be restated modifications of Harreís thoughts. (2) In 1963, Bompa was credited with developing the theory of ďPeriodization of strengthĒ in Romania. Bompa helped the Eastern Bloc countries rise to dominance in the athletic world and has since used his system to train 11 Olympic and world championship medalists and elite athletes. As Bompa states, ďPlanning is the art of using science to structure a training program.Ē (3)

    Suitably, it can be said that Russia and the Eastern Bloc countries have contributed mightily to the training methods employed by most of todayís athletes and coaches. While the theory of Periodization has only been around for nearly one hundred years, the training concept of Periodization is not a new discovery. Flavius Philostratus (170-245AD), a Greek philosopher and sports enthusiast, documented the use of a simple form of Periodization employed by Greek Olympians. It is also well known that civilizations have been systematically training for military endeavors for thousands of years. ďThe roots of Periodization can be found in the term Ďperiodí as in period of time.Ē In the area of sports training, Periodization means dividing the yearly training plan into smaller, more manageable training phases. (4)

    Once the training objectives and deadlines have been established, itís time to design the annual plan. Periodization of an annual training plan is marked by three distinct phases: preseason or preparatory, in-season or competitive, and the off-season which is also known as the transitional phase.

    The competition calendar dictates formulation of the annual training plan. After a major competition or at the beginning of the calendar year, the athlete or coach marks the dates of competition in the following year. Once those dates are established, training commences with the preparatory phase.

    Preparatory Phase: (Preseason)

    The preparatory phase is, in many instances, the most important training phase. This is where you build your foundation. Architects and engineers recognize the importance of building a solid base before erecting structures of significant magnitude. They begin by pouring tons of concrete which is then reinforced with steel rods and iron beams. Athletes must follow suit by pouring the bulk of their training volume into this initial phase. Just like tons of concrete, a high training volume is mandatory for adaptation to the imposed stimuli. If inadequacies in training volume exist during this phase, there will be definite, negative, and noticeable consequences during the competitive period.

    The three primary objectives of the preparatory phase are as follows:

    *
    acquiring and improving general physical training capacity {this is where an athleteís General Physical Preparedness (GPP) is prioritized
    *
    improving the biomotor abilities required by the sport (agility, balance, coordination, endurance, flexibility, mobility, power, speed, strength, etc.)
    *
    skill mastery - developing, improving, and perfecting technique

    GPP Tools

    GPP Tools: attitude needed, work ethic not included


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    The preparatory phase usually lasts between three and six months depending upon the nature of the sport. Certain team sports might employ shorter preparatory phases but not less than two to three months. ďFor individual sports, it should be one to two times as long as the competitive phase.Ē (5) Furthermore, the athleteís age and sports classification must be considered. The length of the training phase and load characteristics will depend upon the level of the trainee. For simplification, Bompa then divides the preparatory phase into two subphases - general and specific preparation.

    The principal objective of the general preparatory subphase is establishing a high level of physical conditioning to promote further training. General physical preparedness (GPP) is emphasized through general exercises as well as those unique to the sport. General exercises need not exactly mimic sport performance unless the sport dictates that rule. Sports like powerlifting and weightlifting are exception to that rule as their training is focused on the exact same tasks that are required during competition. If you take a few months off from squatting or power cleans, donít expect your technique to look pristine when you resume training. Other sports like basketball, football, hockey, volleyball, and wrestling can take a more generic approach of simply conditioning its athletes to a high level without sacrificing sport technique. In sports like running, rowing, and swimming, where endurance is a necessity, aerobic endurance should be the primary objective of the general preparatory phase. Oppositely, general strength and overall work capacity should be the focus of strength related sports such as gymnastics, football, weightlifting, and wrestling.

    The second subphase of the preparatory period is the specific preparatory subphase. Though the training objectives are similar to those of the general subphase, the training becomes more specific and represents a transitional shift toward the competitive season. Training volume is still high but the majority of that volume should be devoted to specific exercises and movements directly related to the sport patterns. At the conclusion of the specific preparatory subphase, training volume is progressively reduced thereby allowing an increase in training intensity. Skill mastery is the focal point of this subphase. Therefore, when the intensity rises, the athlete does not suffer decrements in performance and overall technique.

    Competitive Phase: (In-season or Season)

    The competitive phase, for most sports, is the actual competitive season. General physical preparation was the basis of the preparatory period and remains the basis of performance.

    The primary training objectives of the competitive phase are as follows:

    * perfecting technique to enable performance at the highest level
    * extended improvement of biomotor abilities
    * maintaining GPP

    The competitive phase may last as long as four to six months depending on the sport. Team sports require a much longer competitive season than that of a powerlifter, whose competitive phase may be as short as five weeks. Team sports remain focused on skill perfection as they are asked to perform more regularly. Additionally, tactical maneuvers and strategical planning are commonplace during this phase. Conditioning and GPP must be maintained rather than increased. Maintaining GPP decreases the risk of injury to the athlete. Athletes that lose their conditioning level are at an elevated risk of reduced performance and injury. Training volume must be closely monitored so athletes and teams do not suffer lost performance as a result of high volume at heightened intensities. Peaking at just the right moment can be the difference between winning championships and losing seasons. Likewise, the competitive season may be divided into two subphases for organizational means. The precompetitive subphase could feature exhibitions or unofficial competitions that are used for the purpose of a skills evaluation. The main competition subphase would then be applied intently to maximizing oneís potential and facilitating exceptional performance at the main competitions. When multiple competitions are on the schedule, they should be ranked according to importance. Lighter competitions would ideally flow into progressively more challenging tests.

    Training intensity should be increased continually until approximately two to three weeks prior to competition. Then the intensity needs to progressively drop in a deload fashion (brief unloading phase) to ensure adequate physical and mental restoration before competing. By tapering training volume and intensity, fatigue and stress can hopefully be eliminated. It is absolutely imperative that the central nervous system (CNS) has sufficient time to recover prior to competition. Systemic fatigue can destroy performance. Allowing the athlete to replenish energy reserves creates the best scenario for optimum performance.

    Transitional Phase: (Off-season or Active rest)

    Immediately following competitions, long periods of preparation, and hard work, athletes require rest and recovery. Athletes may have high levels of physiological and psychological fatigue. Muscle soreness and fatigue may vanish in a few days but CNS fatigue can remain much longer.

    The three principal objectives of the transitional phase are as follows:

    * CNS restoration
    * Analyzing the past training programs and their results
    * Mapping the ensuing annual plan

    Bompa believes that the transitional phase is often wrongly named the off-season as the term off-season implies the cessation of all activities and total rest. Sudden interruption of training and passive rest can lead to detraining. Detraining causes the erosion of most gains from the previous training periods. Additionally, completely suspending all activity can lead to other problems including but not limited to headaches, exhaustion, tension, mood disturbances, insomnia, loss of appetite, poor digestion, decreased testosterone levels, diminished motor recruitment patterns which lead to loss of skill, decreases endurance capacity, lost speed, reduction in flexibility, and lowered strength. (6) Many coaches have likened this to mountain climbing. Once you have finished trying to reach the peak, why would you want to walk back down the mountain and start the climb all over again? As a result, Bompa encourages athletes to participate in a transitional phase featuring a time of active rest. Active rest should begin immediately following competition. Training volume and intensity should be gradually reduced. Exercises and different activities should be emphasized over competition tasks. Athletes that compete in water should engage in land activities. On the other hand, swimming can be tremendously therapeutic to athletes like boxers, weightlifters, and wrestlers that compete and train indoors. The only case where total passive rest is admissible is in times of injury. Injuries should be dealt with immediately so the athlete may resume some level of activity as soon as possible. The transitional phase should typically last between three and four weeks but no longer than five weeks. Proper planning of the transitional phase can help ensure that the athlete can begin the new training cycle at a higher level than the preceding year.

    Figure 1 below illustrates the Periodization of the annual plan.

    Figure 1


    Notice that each training phase is divided into macrocycles. A macrocycle typically represents a period of three to six weeks. One of the easiest ways to schedule an annual plan is to form macrocycles that equate to actual months of the year. Therefore a macrocycle would last four weeks and become very manageable. A microcycle is a smaller unit of time, usually represented by the weekly training program or one week. One individual training session or workout would denote the only cycle or unit of time smaller than the microcycle.

    Figures 2 and 3 below represent periodized training plans utilizing a bi-cycle (double peak) and a tri-cycle (triple peak).

    Figure 2



    Figure 3

    The more times an athlete is required to peak throughout the year, the more stress an athlete is likely to incur. Consequently, competitions should be prioritized to ensure continued peak performance at the most important times.

    Now that Periodization has been defined and the characteristics of the annual plan have been explained, part two of this article series will focus on the three different Periodization groups and their advantages and disadvantages. I will offer preferences and suggestions based upon my own personal powerlifting journey. Part three of the article series will introduce the findings of Alexander Sergeyevitch Prilepin and how they apply to all strength trainees, then deal with specific training volume, suitable intensities, as well as time management and organization. Upon completion of the series, my hope is that athletes and more specifically powerlifters will ultimately be equipped with the necessary knowledge to create a periodized annual plan of their own.



    References

    1. CyberSport Quarterly, Gideon Ariel, November 1996.

    2. Practical Programming for Strength Training, Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore, PhD, 2006, pp. 206-207.

    3. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, Fourth Edition,
    Tudor O. Bompa, PhD, 1999, p. 150.

    4. ďPrimer on PeriodizationĒ Tudor O. Bompa, PhD, June 2004.

    5. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, Fourth Edition,
    Tudor O. Bompa, PhD, 1999, p. 216

    6. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, Fourth Edition,
    Tudor O. Bompa, PhD, 1999, pp. 224-225


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    2008 Arnold Sports Festival Wrap-up

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    The Arnold Sports Festival celebrated its 20th year of excellence in showcasing a variety of sports performance. The festival is held annually in Columbus, Ohio on the first weekend in March. This yearís celebration was held Friday, February 29 through Sunday, March 2, and hosted 39 events including 14 Olympic sports.

    USA Powerlifting joined the festival this year and put on a tremendous display of competitive powerlifting that included lifters from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Four separate competitions were contested in three days beginning with the Raw Challenge on Friday. Spectators witnessed more than 30 lifters competing in the unequipped competition with only belts, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves being allowed.

    Siouxz at the Arnold

    As the only female and a mere two weeks after securing her 13th national championship, Suzanne ďSioux-zĒ Hartwig-Gary (pictured with a nice deep squat), made all nine attempts and totaled 744 pounds.

    Weighing in at 146 pounds, Ryan Savell was the lightest man competing and was the only other person to go nine for nine with a 1,042-pound total. There was never any doubt in the 165s as Ryan Spencer squatted and deadlifted big to secure first place. After a slow start in the squat, Tony Reid stormed back with two impressive benches and a huge 617-pound deadlift to win the 181s. Head coach of the 2008 NAPF womenís team, Jim Brown, went seven for nine and cruised to a 1,422 total in the 198s. Todd Shelton took first place in the 220s as Bill Schmidt and Mike Barcelone battled to second and third respectively. Brady Stewart benched 452 pounds which easily placed him atop the 242s. While John Grosulak was busy winning the 275s, masterís lifter and crowd favorite, big Jim Pope impressed fans with his technical proficiency at super-heavy. Michael Hedlesky injured his groin a few weeks out but still competed and took the junior super-heavyweight crown. The story of the open super-heavyweight class was Michael Neal. In the deepest class of the competition, Michael out lifted everyone with a huge 1,962 total. Apparently raw lifting is really catching fire and this crop of lifters started the show with a bang.

    Saturday featured two competitions, the Quest American Pro Invitational in the Grand Ballroom and the GNC Pro Performance IPF Deadlift Championship on the main stage at the Expo. Quest Nutrition owner Sherman Ledford masterminded the regional team format which paired lifters from four different American regions and Canada. Each team had approximately seven lifters competing in a variety of classes from 56kg through 125+kg. The winning team was determined by averaging the six highest Wilks scores from each team and then comparing them to the other regions. So while the lifters battled for prominence in their respective weight class they also tested their mettle in an exciting team format.

    Each team was assigned a head coach and all team members sported colored T-shirts representing each region. Many a time national champion, Ervin Gainer, was the lone ranger in the lightest class. Ervin lifted with the flu but still managed to help the Central Team with a high Wilks score. In the 132s, Eric Kupperstein helped the Atlantic Region with his victory. The 148 and 165-pound classes only had two lifters each but Wade Hooper, of the Midwest Team, stole the show by reclaiming his world record with a huge 777-pound squat.

    Wade Hooper's WR 777!

    I was blessed with the good fortune of coaching the Midwest Team and prior to the competition we all knew the most important component, of compiling a high Wilks score, was making attempts. Consequently, David Hammers made all of his nine attempts look easy breaking his personal record total with 1,642 pounds as the lightest of the 181s. This class proved to be the tightest of all with the top three places separated by ten kilos each. Powerlifting legend Mike Bridges of the Central Team battled the Pacificís John Pena in the 198s. Both men were tied at the subtotal but Bridges prevailed in the deadlift to capture the class. Canadian Hector Augilar cruised to an easy victory in the 220s. The story of the afternoon was told by two men, Atlantic Regionís Mike Mastrean in the 242s and a rising star named Mike Tucscherer in the 275s. Mastrean reminded the raucous crowd why he is one of the worldís premier squatters. He took command of all three squats slamming up 903 pounds en route to a huge 2,204-pound total.

    Mike Mastreanís huge 903!

    The Pacific Region had a bruiser of their own in Tucscherer who outperformed three seasoned veterans with a 2,342-pound total. Jason Christus finally broke through and easily won the supers. When the chalk dust settled the Midwest Team (pictured below) prevailed with the highest Wilks average.

    Midwest Region

    1st Place - Midwest Region Team



    Saturdayís lifting ended with the GNC Pro Performance IPF Deadlift Championship. Six women and eleven men deadlifted on the main stage at the Expo. Daliann James, Jessica OíDonnell, and Priscilla Ribic all hoisted 523 pounds but it was Priscilla who grabbed the highest Wilks score. Another one of the usual suspects, Brad Gillingham, stood with a new personal best 865 pounds claiming the title for the men.

    Sunday proved to be a record setting day when more than twenty-five lifters measured their pressing prowess in the IPF Titan Pro Bench Bash. Six world records were broken; four by Japanese lifters, Anton Kraft of the Netherlands took one, and Ielja Strik of Denmark took the last. Daisuke Midote finished the day off with a huge 779 pounds on his final attempt.

    USA Powerlifting definitely hit a home run with outstanding performances from everyone involved. Large crowds stayed interested all weekend long thanks to superb announcing from Pat Anderson, Niko Hulslander, Rick Fowler, and Lance Slaughter. The overall atmosphere was incredible while informed spectators and casual onlookers alike were treated to a remarkable presentation of powerlifting excellence. Many folks worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the USAPLís inaugural showcase of strength a slam dunk success. After such a positive response, the Arnold Sports Festival has already extended an invitation for the USAPL to return next year. I have little doubt that 2009 will be even bigger and better.

    -Matt Gary


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    Discipline and Regret

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    In 1983, my sixth grade geography teacher was Spero Tshontikidis. In addition to teaching, Mr. Tshontikidis was a competitive powerlifter in the ADFPA. He brought powerlifting to our school and convinced the principal to allow him to start a powerlifting team. The first day he mentioned it to the class I thought powerlifting sounded cool and decided to give it a try. After all, what eleven-year-old boy doesn't want to grow up to be big and strong? Spero taught us how to squat on the first day of powerlifting practice. I had never touched a weight let alone squat. I remember my hips and hamstrings were so tight that I had to put my heels on a 2" x 4" in order to hit proper depth. I did three sets of ten reps with 95 pounds. On the way home I noticed my legs getting a little sore but I thought nothing of it. The next morning I woke up and tried to get out of bed. I took one step and fell flat on my face. My legs were so unbelievably sore that I thought I seriously injured myself. I had never experienced such excruciating muscle soreness. I convinced my mother to let me stay home that day. The following day I crawled back to school and told Mr. Tshontikidis that I didn't want to be on the powerlifting team and I would never squat again. He tried to change my mind. I didn't budge. Spero would later coach me on the junior varsity football team where I blossomed into the team MVP as a freshman. Meanwhile, he continued to encourage me to lift weights.

    Though our school had a powerlifting team, strength training was never emphasized for the athletic teams. Occasionally after practice some of us ventured into the weight room. We were clueless. Typically, without a proper warm-up, we would test our manhood on the bench press - each of us trying to outperform the other. We never considered squatting or deadlifting. Then after a few sets of bench presses, we would usually grab some dumbbells and do some curls. We reckoned, "What could possibly be more important than working your chest and biceps?" All we cared about was making our T-shirt muscles look bigger. We were all young and ignorant about proper strength training. We lacked a focus. More important, we lacked discipline because we were not consistent. Contemplating my youth, my shortage of focus and self-discipline was a colossal mistake. The lack of strength training, at an early age, is one of my biggest regrets.

    When I graduated high school in 1990, I began training with purpose. I wanted to get bigger and stronger for college football but didn't know how to proceed. I asked around and finally met my uncle's personal trainer. At the time, Victor Furnells was a competitive bodybuilder. All I knew was that he was big and strong. I trusted him and followed his advice. He soon became my mentor. He always told me that the two greatest pains in life are discipline and regret. At the time, I didn't understand those concepts. Most 17-year-olds lack discipline, especially when it pertains to training. Likewise, most high school kids have few, if any, regrets in life. He regularly admonished me about the peril of not taking strength training seriously. He said it was unrealistic to expect continued progress if I wasn't disciplined enough to remain consistent with my training. He reminded me that if I lacked self-discipline, I would regret it later. Reflecting upon my youth, it all makes sense now. As the famous 1972 hit song by Johnny Nash goes, I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.

    Webster's college dictionary has eleven definitions of the word discipline.

    discipline

    For the sake of this discussion, I prefer to use the meaning of discipline as: the rigor or training effect of experience or adversity. Regret means to feel sorrow or remorse for an act, disappointment, or fault.

    Experiencing life without ever exercising self-discipline ought to be a crime. Obdurate behavior comes back to haunt you and remind you of where you could have improved. Most people resist challenges and want things to be painless. Exercising self-discipline is an arduous task. Undisciplined people are usually devoid of self-respect and respect for others.


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    If you last a lifetime without regret, consider it a miracle. Discipline hurts. However, exhibiting discipline during worthy pursuits is only temporarily painful. The pain only lasts amid your journey toward the objective. Once you have achieved your goal, the pain is obsolete. While the pain from self-discipline is transient, the agony from regret is perpetually hurtful. Remaining remorseful for a wrongful act or sometimes for the lack of action, gashes you like a knife wound. Once you think you have vanquished your regret and your laceration heals, you look down at the scar only to be reminded of a missed opportunity.

    Success in athletics, achieving supreme fitness, and staying healthy all requires self-discipline. Remaining disciplined necessitates steadfast persistence. In the arena of achievement, you either stand unwavering in your quest or falter and succumb to the pain of self-control. Discipline connotes repetitive behavior. Moreover, it routinely obligates one to either deprive themselves and/or go the extra mile. Being on time for work every morning, preparing your meals in advance, double checking your homework assignments, staying after practice to work on your skills, keeping meticulous financial records, spending adequate quality time with loved ones, sticking to your diet, not missing workouts, going to bed at a reasonable hour, reading your bible every day, and keeping your word are all prime examples of exceptional discipline. To me, discipline is doing what you're supposed to do even when you aren't up to the task. Though not a fan of competitive bodybuilding, I appreciate and respect the discipline that is required when dieting for competition. In organized team sports, anyone can stay after practice when the coach releases you early and you have spare time. The real indication of discipline is staying late after practice when you've just played your best game. Anyone can succeed during the good times when the obstacles are few. The true measure of a man's character is where things go badly, the odds are against you, and your back is against the wall. This is when you find out what you're really made of.

    It has been said that life is a journey not a destination. Fixate on and appreciate the process rather than the outcome. I played football at many levels - from boys' club as a youngster, through high school, my freshman year in college, and one year of semi-pro. Of the time I spent playing and practicing, traveling to games, and watching game film on our next opponent, it was the camaraderie I shared with my teammates on the practice field and in the locker room that I enjoyed the most. Even today as I compete in powerlifting, as much as I relish the competitions, I prefer training hard in the gym. The countless hours centered on the singular goal of becoming as strongly as possible, make it all worthwhile.

    Theodore Roosevelt

    My favorite inspirational quote is by Theodore Roosevelt.

    "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

    This quote has coached me to live life with fervor and to harbor few regrets. I don't want to be the one always saying, "I wish I had done this or I should have done that". Accordingly, I try my best to work relentlessly regardless of my goal. Then, at the end of the day, I can sleep well knowing that I did all I could. The best time to tell someone you love them is right now. Do not waste another moment. Procrastination is the badge of fools. Cherish your family and friends because one day they'll be gone. Speak with sincerity. Chicanery leads to nothing but discordance. Those that matter can tell the difference. The time to start eating better and cleaning up your diet is today. If you want to feel and look better, why wait until tomorrow? Do it now. Stop missing workouts. Your training partners depend on you as much as you depend on them. Consistency is paramount to accomplishment. Travel more. See the world. God created the most awesome planet for us to explore and enjoy. Do not wait until you're too old to travel. Compete! Always measure yourself first, then evaluate yourself against others. The only degree of improvement that matters is the one you make. Be disciplined. Once the goal is attained, the pain of sticking to the plan subsides. Pain disappears, satisfaction arrives, and contentment washes away the possibility of regret. Aim even higher the next time. Our minds limit us more than our bodies. Believe in yourself.

    Roosevelt added, "With self-discipline most anything is possible". For the past thirteen years, powerlifting and the pursuit of strength have been at the forefront of my physical endeavors. I have had my share of injuries and possess a high tolerance for pain. However, it is nice to differentiate between good pain and bad pain. Instilling self-discipline begets good pain that ultimately transforms to fruitfulness if you endure. Missed opportunities engender regret. Regret evokes bad pain. Last year I trained tirelessly for the USAPL American Open Powerlifting Championships in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My training went well but I was definitely not at my strongest. On Sunday, December 2, 2007, while warming-up in the squat, I tore the Vastus Lateralis muscle in my right leg. The pain was immense and my leg still hurts to this day. Nevertheless, I am content tolerating the physical pain because I cannot imagine the mental anguish I would feel had I chose not to compete.


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    The Pull-Up

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    The squat is the unrivaled king of all strength training exercises. It is unparalleled in its overall effectiveness at taxing the entire body. The ankle, hip, and knee joints are all in motion thus ensuring that nearly every major leg muscle is utilized. Additionally, oneís hips, entire back, shoulders, and abdominals are also stressed. The squat is the cornerstone movement of any strength and conditioning program. If you were only allowed to perform one exercise, the squat would be the best choice as it strengthens nearly everything. An argument can also be made for the deadlift or the clean and jerk. However, the squat works more muscles than the deadlift and the clean and jerk is so highly technical that skill proficiency is not easily attained. Conversely, most people can learn to squat.

    If the squat is the king of all exercises, then the pull-up should be acknowledged with the same royalty. Simply stated, the pull-up is the squat for the upper body. The pull-up is an upper body compound pulling exercise where the body is suspended by straightened, fully extended arms, then pulled up until the elbows are bent and the head is higher than the hands or bar from which you are pulling. The pull-up is characterized by hand position. An overhand (pronated) grip is used during the pull-up whereas an underhand (supinated) grip denotes the similar chin-up. The exercise primarily targets the Latissimus Dorsi muscle group in the back along with many other assisting muscles. These assisting muscles include the Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Biceps Brachii, Teres Minor, Teres Major, Deltoids, Infraspinatus, Rhomboids, Levator Scapulae, Trapezius, and Pectoralis Minor. Even the Triceps Brachii act as a dynamic stabilizer during the pull-up. The more muscles a movement utilizes, the more benefit the body receives. Accordingly, compound exercises give you a bigger bang for your buck.

    There are numerous types of pull-ups. Most differentiations occur with regard to hand placement. (See Photo 1 below)

    Grip Positions

    The standard pull-up is performed with both hands placed in an overhand grip. As previously stated, the chin-up is performed with an underhand palms facing up grip. Additional variations include the over/under grip like that which is used while deadlifting. One hand is placed over the bar and the opposite hand is placed under the bar. Some power racks have bars that allow your palms to face each other. This is known as a parallel or neutral grip. I recommend this grip for anyone that may have lingering shoulder issues. The super strong may even perform a one arm pull-up. This provides you with six different grip variations. Grip width is another way of varying the movement. Normally, your hands should be placed just slightly wider than shoulder width. Performing pull-ups with an ultra-wide grip is asking for trouble. It places additional stress on the shoulder and is not recommended. Anyone that knows anything about shoulder anatomy knows that all pressing or pulling motions should be performed in front of the body rather than behind the head. Behind the head motions can cause shoulder impingement syndrome and lead to other more debilitating injuries. Pull-ups performed with too narrow a grip will inhibit movement performance and make it more difficult to perform a full range repetition.

    Pull-ups are characterized as a bodyweight exercise meaning that one uses only their own bodyweight as resistance for the movement. This ensures that the weight being lifted is always the same. Bodyweight exercises are the ideal choice for those interested in fitness and strength but do not have access to strength training equipment. Special equipment is rarely needed other than a bar to pull from. However, like the squat, deadlift, and overhead press, the pull-up is too valuable an exercise to avoid even in the absence of equipment. In July 2007, during a two week missions trip in Africa, I knew I could not afford to skip pull-ups. Consequently, I performed them while hanging from tree branches. Twelve-time national champion Sioux-z Hartwig-Gary feels similarly and celebrated the new year by performing pull-ups from a pipe on the upper deck of a cruise ship.

    People who weigh less should, in theory, be able to do more pull-ups than people who weigh more or are overweight. My best friend tips the scales at nearly 240 pounds and does nothing but complain and give excuses as to why he canít do many pull-ups. Iíve heard it all, "Iím too heavy. Iím too big. My legs are bigger than yours." No sir, you just suck at pull-ups. Most of the time people will avoid what doesnít come naturally or things theyíre not proficient at. Stop making excuses and just do them. Like other strength training exercises, performing pull-ups is a skill. Skill mastery is best acquired through frequent practice. Do not allow your initial lack of skill and strength to dissuade you from doing them. If youíre new to pull-ups, perform them more frequently with just your bodyweight. Three times per week is not out of the question.

    Many novices are not yet strong enough to lift their entire bodyweight through the full range of motion that a pull-up requires. This leaves them with two options. The first option maintains the integrity of a free weight movement. Jump Stretch bands may be used by hanging a band over a bar and looping the band around your body. The stretched rubber band will then act by giving you a vertical "push" effect helping to propel you upward. (See Photo 2 below)

    Pull-up with Band

    The second option requires the use of a special machine. I detest machines for a multitude of reasons but mainly for the fact that they provide little neurological benefit. However, the Cybex Assisted Dip/Chin is one of the very few machines that I would actually endorse. This machine enables you to stand on a step that supports part of your bodyweight and assists you by pushing you upwards. (See Photos 3 and 4 below)


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    Chin Positions



    When you become stronger you need less assistance from the machine. Some of you may recall the original version of this machine known as the Gravitron made by Stairmaster. Others have their partner assist them by holding their legs or spotting them at the waist. I do not recommend this method as the spotter usually ends up doing more work than the trainee. I also recommend avoiding lat pulldown machines. Contrary to popular belief, lat pulldowns will not improve your ability to do pull-ups. I abhor the lat pulldown machine. How many times have you seen some clown hop down on a lat pulldown machine and with all the momentum they can muster, swing and cheat their way to ten reps with 250 pounds? These are the same fools that canít even do one proper pull-up. Pull-ups will make you brute strong. Period. Stick to bodyweight exercises and free weight movements with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or other strength implements. This will always have a greater strength transfer to real world activities, sports, and PRs on the platform.

    Another type of pull-up is an explosive version known as the Kipping Pull-up. To perform the Kipping Pull-up, you develop momentum in the horizontal plane and then transfer it to the vertical plane. In other words if you simply try to do pull-ups faster, eventually the swinging movement will occur. Speaking strictly from a fitness perspective, such as the CrossFit methodology, capacities for both work and power increase due to more work being done in less time. This translates to greater intensity. Greater intensity means better fitness. There is also an integration of upper and lower extremities working as a whole that is a gateway athletically to many other hip/upper body coordinations. This movement correlates immensely to other powerful movements like the power clean and the snatch.

    Although pull-ups help the deadlift and bench press more, they act as an assistance movement for all three powerlifts. Implementing pull-ups into your weekly training plan will provide innumerable benefits. The strength built from pull-ups directly translates to increased pulling strength for the deadlift. Increased development in the Trapezius will help create a larger shelf for the bar to sit on while squatting. Moreover, the increased upper back strength helps during the eccentric phase of the bench press by affording greater control of the barbell. Pull-ups will also help prevent shoulder injuries via a more balanced muscular development.

    Pull-ups may be performed as an assistance exercise on deadlift or bench press days. I prefer to do pull-ups on deadlift day and then perform some other type of free weight rowing movement on bench press days. Powerlifters donít need to do high reps in the pull-up. This makes it easier to master the movement and add it into your arsenal. First youíll want to test yourself to see if youíre currently strong enough to do a properly executed pull-up. Find a pull-up bar or the top of a power rack, jump up, and go for it. Start from a dead hang with arms fully extended and then pull yourself up until your chin is all the way above your hands and the bar from which you are pulling. Then lower yourself under control and return to the fully extended position. This constitutes one repetition. Perform as many reps as you can and this should give you a good idea of your current state of pull-up preparedness. If youíre not strong enough to perform a single rep, then use the rubber band method or the aforementioned assisted dip/chin machine. Another method of acclimating to pull-ups is the negative-only repetition method. Stand on a chair or box, jump up and remain in the top position of the pull-up for as long as possible. Squeeze the bar as tightly as possible, tighten your biceps and back muscles and try not to let go of the bar. Fight it for as long as you can and slowly lower yourself to the fully extended position. This allows you to perform the eccentric phase of the movement. We can all lower more weight than we can lift so this method proves useful when trying to build up to a perfect rep. A few sets of negative only pull-ups will leave you exhausted. Perform them after your assisted reps.

    For trainees that are already strong enough to perform pull-ups, youíre ahead of the curve. I recommend performing a minimum of three sets and keeping the reps near five. Personally, I prefer five sets of five reps. Once I can achieve five by five with my bodyweight, I start adding weight. (See Photos 5 and 6 below)

    Weighted Pullups



    I prefer using a weight vest as itís safer and feels more like true bodyweight. Dip and chin belts can be useful but require more set-up and can leave your groin exposed. Keep adding weight until five sets of five is no longer attainable. Then switch to six sets of four reps. Iíve even done eight sets of three reps. This maintains a consistent training volume while allowing you to train even heavier. Avoid using lifting straps to perform pull-ups especially if your grip is weak. Pull-ups place a tremendous demand upon the hands and will enhance your grip and finger strength. I rarely train to failure with pull-ups unless Iím testing for max reps. My PR for max reps is 17 reps at a bodyweight of 195 pounds. As I had never attempted a one rep max (1RM) in the pull-up, I decided to do a little experiment and see what I could do. On September 26, 2007, at a bodyweight of 223 pounds, I performed one full range repetition (from a dead hang using an overhand grip) with 95 pounds added via weight vests and a dip/chin belt. That equates to a 318-pound pull-up. Since then, as a further experiment, Iíve used Prilepinís table to manipulate my pull-up training volume. Though Prilepinís findings were based upon Olympic lifters performing barbell moves, Iíve had positive results employing the table to my pull-up training. The multiple sets at lower reps (usually three to six) has strengthened my back immensely. What makes Prilepinís table so valuable is the reinforcement of the virtue that it is always better for powerlifters to build their training volume via the number of sets performed rather than the number of reps. This is especially true in the competitive lifts as it affords more practice and skill mastery.

    Do not be the athlete or lifter that neglects training their back. Just because you canít look into a mirror and immediately see your back doesnít mean to avoid training it. Many folks want to spend all their time looking in the mirror and working on aesthetics. Far too many people neglect training the back side of their bodies. This is a huge mistake. For athletes and powerlifters, your body is like a high performance vehicle. The front side of your body is just the hood ornament and the paint job. It may look nice but it doesnít really do much. Your posterior musculature is your engine. Itís the horsepower that drives the car. Pull-ups are one way to generate that horsepower.

    Form without function is useless. Make sure youíve got something under your hood or you just might get run over.


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    Rage Against the Machines

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    Technology is a beautiful thing. I used to work part-time as a DJ and I remember hauling around hundreds of records and thousands of CDs. Transporting all the equipment and the music felt like powerlifting. The invention of the MP3 player has changed all that. What an amazing little machine. A tiny little device, approximately the size of a wallet or a small cell phone, is now capable of storing thousands of songs. You can have your entire music collection at your fingertips in a completely portable component. Just like Coca-Cola, the Apple company seemingly has a stronghold on the market with its own MP3 version known as the iPod. Theyíre everywhere. I own one and wonder how I ever lived without it. I love music and having my immensely eclectic library with me at all times is pure nirvana. Itís truly changed my life proving that I too have succumbed to the pressures of our microwave society. We all want things instantaneously. The school of sloth has taught us to be impatient.

    The fact that technology has permeated nearly every facet of our lives, has taught us to become discontent when things donít go our way. This dissatisfaction with our daily existence teaches us to change things as quickly as possible. You donít like your car? Get a new one. You donít like your job anymore? Quit and find a new one. Your house isnít big enough? Buy a new one. You donít get along with your spouse? Get divorced and find a new one. You hate the way your body looks? No problem, buy a new one. This type of thinking breeds laziness. Then laziness acts like a virus and spreads into every fiber of your being. Rather than searching for a plausible resolution, we look for the next quick fix.

    Despite my occasional failure to resist the temptations of immediacy, Iím still old fashioned. Iím definitely old school when it comes to strength. Although Iíd like to be instantly stronger and hit personal records at every competition, I enjoy traveling down the tortuous road of strength acquisition. I appreciate the journey and the struggle. Anything worth having in life isnít easily achieved. If acquiring maximal strength beyond the normal limits was easy, everyone would do it. But, itís not. This is one of the many reasons powerlifting isnít a mainstream sport. Itís difficult. Strength training isnít easy. Itís often uncomfortable. It makes you sore and requires recovery. If youíre not careful, you can and probably will get injured. So if you want easy, go play cards or lay on a beach somewhere. I wonít begrudge you for that. For those of you that are still with me, I will illuminate a way to improved performance.

    There is no easy way out when it comes to getting stronger. Gaining strength requires hard work and takes time. Novices can make strength gains and hit personal bests in every workout. More experienced trainees cannot make similar gains. Just because training with machines may save time, do not be the fool that strolls down that path. Machines make good coat racks. Theyíre also useful for drying wet laundry and suit adjustments. (See figure 1 below).

    Pull-ups and suit adjustments... two things a Smith Machine is good for.

    If you want to get stronger and change your body in the most time efficient manner, stick with free weights. Iíve heard it all; machines utilize the peak contraction principle, isolate muscles, theyíre safer, and you can train faster. The only value that machines really present is for those working with or around an injury or for persons with extreme physical limitations or disabilities. Even then, their value is limited. Machines donít provide nearly the benefits of free weights, specifically because they fail to stimulate the central nervous system in the same manner. Accuracy, balance, coordination, flexibility, power, and speed are all lost when you use a machine. Most machines involve pulleys or levers. Archimedes, the ancient Greek mathematician and engineer, is credited with inventing the pulley. However, itís also documented that a version of the pulley was used, thousands of years prior to his invention, by the Egyptians when they were building the pyramids. Why did they use the pulley? They used it to make lifting heavy objects easier. Pulleys allow loads to be distributed over a greater area and create a mechanical advantage. This sounds fantastic, doesnít it? Lift more weight with less effort. Isnít that what we all want? Yes, but donít believe the hype. Itís not that simple.


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    Powerlifting is one of the best examples of a "practice like you play" sport. On the lifting platform we squat, bench press, and deadlift with a barbell. Accordingly, we should train the same way. Squatting on a machine is far less beneficial to squatting with free weights. Check your ego at the door. Iíve seen hundreds of people load the leg press with plates galore. Ask them to step under a loaded bar and they crumble. The same is true for bench pressing. Just because you can use four 45-pound plates on each side of the Hammer Strength Bench Press machine doesnít mean you can bench press the same amount with a barbell. Machine prowess never equates to free weight strength. Anyone can lay down on a machine and look graceful because thereís little proprioception taking place. Kinesthetic awareness is gained when training with free weights and without mirrors. The visual feedback that a mirror provides will always override any other type of feedback the body is providing. Accordingly, all strength training movements should be performed facing away from mirrors. Athletes donít compete on a machine nor do they compete with mirrors. Sports are contested in open space. This is all the more reason to spend time lifting free weights.

    Machines have few applications and offer limited value. Machines may be used to work with or around an injury. This is particularly true when an athlete does not have use of a limb. In that case, they can use the opposite limb and receive some benefit. Occasionally, Iíll use the lat pulldown machine for standing abdominal work. A low cable system can be valuable for pull throughs. Even then, I often grab a kettlebell and get similar results with high-rep swings. Cybex manufactures an Assisted Dip/Chin machine for those that are not yet strong enough to perform dips and pull-ups with their own bodyweight. This is especially useful for new trainees. Sometimes Iíll use Jump Stretch bands as a replacement which affords us more of a free weight feel. The Reverse Hyper is wonderful. Though Iíve never used one, Louie Simmons swears by the Belt Squat machine. I suppose Iíll take his word for it. Other than that, there arenít many machines that I would choose before grabbing a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. I still consider the Glute Ham Raise and 45-Degree Back Raise as free weight movements as your body is anchored and you lift it through space without the aid of a lever or pulley.

    High Intensity Training (HIT) advises the use of lots of machines. HIT programs are almost entirely based on single-set to failure, circuit training that revolves around machines. This is a mistake. No balance, coordination, or stability can be developed. Just about any moron can look at a machine and figure out how to use it. This doesnít make that person an expert. Teaching the finer points of squatting, deadlifting, or the clean and jerk requires knowledge and skill. The ability to communicate effectively with your trainees is part of what makes someone a better coach. Most HIT coaches I know post their workouts on the wall and hope their athletes get it right. HIT proponents also advise that explosive weight training is unsafe. This is false, especially when more injuries occur on the playing field than in the weight room. Strength training with free weights more adequately prepares an athlete for the rigors of competition and actually decreases the risk of injury. The principles of HIT suggest that exercise should be intense, brief, and infrequent. Personally, I donít know anyone successful, in any venture, that performs the fundamental principles of their pursuit infrequently. Our bodies do, in fact, need to recover from strength training sessions. However, the mere suggestion of training infrequently connotes laziness. Flopping down on a machine is easy. Pick up a free weight, challenge yourself, and watch your results increase exponentially.

    There is absolutely no replacement for squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, overhead presses, and bench pressing. These five mandatory moves should be included in every traineeís strength and conditioning program. These staple exercises should be performed with free weights. In lieu of machine rows, give bent-over barbell rows or dumbbell rows a shot. Military presses or push presses with kettlebells are great for shoulder strength. Instead of strolling down easy street and performing prone leg curls, try Romanian deadlifts or good mornings on for size. Strength training with free weights can help one acquire nine of the ten physical skills associated with genuine fitness including accuracy, balance, coordination, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, power, speed, stamina, and of course strength. Moreover, this type of training recruits more muscle fibers, avails greater central nervous system stimulation, provides a greater transfer of strength, and creates a more functional parallel to both athletic and everyday moves.

    Todayís gyms and training facilities are full of unnecessary items. Gyms are what society perceives they should be like . . . attractive, comfortable, and welcoming. How do those qualities equate to an atmosphere of physical achievement? I fail to see the connection. Gyms should be entirely uncomfortable, unpleasant and unwelcoming. Instead of appearing like a lounge, a support network of like-minded individuals should be present. An individual will push harder and risk more in the company of trustworthy peers. Instead of mirrors there should be motivational thoughts, inspirational quotes, record boards, and photos of those that have come before us and paved the highway of physical achievement. Since when is the achievement of anything truly valuable supposed to be easy? Worthy pursuits arenít easy. When you enter into a training facility, you should be desperate to achieve your goal and willing to lay it on the line. I like to see desperation and fear in someoneís eyes because then I know they actually "have to" and "need to" achieve their goal. It doesnít matter whether your pursuit is to lose bodyfat, squat 750 pounds, get closer to God, hasten your 40 time, become a better parent, be more honorable, jump higher, read better, love stronger, devote more, last longer, or rehabilitate an injury . . . no matter what the goal . . . you should be desperate to achieve it or quite frankly, itís not worth your efforts.


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    A Powerlifter's Guide to Making Weight

    Article by Matt Gary, CSCS




    The reality of competing in powerlifting is,that at some point in time, we all have to make weight. Making weight can make or break your lifting performance. For optimal performance a lifter should be at the very top of their respective weight division. If you compete at the lower end of a weight class, you are usually at a disadvantage compared to your heavier competitors.



    As a twelve-year veteran of powerlifting, I have had to make weight in all but two of my competitions. Making weight usually means that you're on the borderline of one weight class's limits and on the lower end of the heavier class. If this is the case, it pays to drop the last few extra pounds and fit into the lighter weight class where your total will likely be more competitive. For those that are in the middle of a certain weight class (i.e., a 260-pound male who is in between the 242 and 275 weight classes), making weight really does not apply to you. These folks can simply lift at their current body weight and eventually grow into a full 275 pounds. Most of us find ourselves in the previous situation where we have trained at a slightly heavier body weight during our training cycle to hopefully take advantage of some added strength. In the last few weeks we then have to lose a few pounds to fit into our weight class. The question remains, how do we lose those last few pounds and not lose any strength?



    If there was only one way to make weight, we would all be doing it. Conversely, there are right ways to make weight and there are wrong ways to go about it. Before I explain how to make weight easily, without adversely affecting your performance, I'll share with you the wrong way.

    Matt Squat at Gym

    At 25 years old, with two years of competitive experience under my belt, I thought I knew all there was to know about making weight. I followed the practice of losing weight gradually over the course of the training cycle so I wouldn'
    t be in shock when the competition came around and I had additional weight to lose. On July 1, 1997, I was competing in my first national powerlifting championship at the USPF Seniors in Philadelphia, PA. I was planning on lifting in the 198-pound (90kg) class. I had been training at a body weight of about 205 pounds and was making good strength gains. I started losing the weight early and when I left for Philadelphia the day before the meet I was 198 pounds right on the nose. Perfect. Or so I thought. When I arrived at the meet site, I checked in and immediately found the meet scale so I could check my weight. I was scheduled to weigh in the next morning. I undressed, hopped on the scale, and much to my dismay it read 202 pounds. I thought to myself, this can't be right. I weighed 198 right before I left and didn't eat or drink anything on the drive up from Maryland. I got off the scale and got back on and sure enough, 202 was the number. I panicked. I was four pounds over with less than a day to lose it.


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