You hear phrases like 'don't worry about what the competition is doing, focus on what you're doing' thrown around a lot in competitive sports. By in large it's very accurate, taking time to concern yourself with the minimal context snap shot of people's training you see on Instagram is generally a waste of time. But people still do it. So, I'm going to try and provide some use for your MCMs and your WCWs, some inspos for your fitspos. Sorry, I got nothing for fithoes.
If you're a competitive athlete, for the context of this nonsense let's assume you’re a powerlifter. Which pretty much negates the competitive athlete definition.
Photo Credit: Dave Hoff
Salt aside, doing a needs analysis of your competition lifts and comp day preparation in general is a useful tool. Even if it's just an objective post comp chat about the whole affair with your coach, once all the happy comp day elation has died down. You can sit and talk through what you thought went well, what didn't, why you think that is? It can really help future planning to avoid the same issues arising at future competitions and can go a long way in training structure.
Let's get some hypothetical situations on the go, then we'll circle back to the Instagram carrot I dangled earlier. You're a -72Kg class female lifter, in the senior age class, competing at national level, and you placed 3rd. You hit new personal best lifts at the meet, but the distance between you and the top 2 (and let's assume that means almost certain selection for internationals) is reasonable, and it's disheartening. How can you gauge progress against your betters objectively, what gives them a higher total than you?
Here is where your true insta-stalker self can go hog wild. Essentially, you're looking for as much comparable information as possible. How long have they been lifting? What was their background before lifting? How strong were they when they started? How long have they had a coach?
A lot of these could provide instant rationales as to why they might be better than you. In a sport where gains are almost comparable to compound interest, the longer you've been at it, the better you tend to be. A process that you can optimise and expedite to insane levels, with the amount of amazing information on all topics available through the wonder of the internet. If they've been lifting, and competitive for 5 years more than you, it stands to reason that they'll be better. They've literally had more training sessions, more chicken rice and prayers (brother!)
So, that's all very doom and gloom. How do you overcome a head start? By fully utilising the optimisations and information. Whether that be a coach with the knowledge or doing it off your own research.
The next level down, which can be particularly motivating, is looking at their specific lift videos and seeing how you hold up. The caveat to this is that you must be of similar body type, height, levers. If they are stronger than you, and Jesus lean, water cutting just into the 72s, and your walking around at a soft edged 71.5 that would be the first port of call.
f you are in a similar boat, then we can get back to the lifts. Let's say they out bench you by 10kgs, what do their accessory lifts look like? If there a significant difference in how much you can dumbbell bench compared to them? If so, that could be an avenue to explore. Especially if it holds true with your own needs analysis.
Could you correlate this information sans, Insta stalking? Yes. I'm just giving you a rationalisation if you do it anyway! Like most things, how you use the information is the key here.
'X Person is this much better than me, I may as well not bother, may as well give up, they're probably on drugs.'
This way of thinking is useless, I mean that literally. It has no use.
Whereas ' X person is this much better than me, why? What do they do differently? Are we comparable? Maybe I should try this, because they do something similar?'
This way of thinking, generates questions and ideas. Which are much more useful. Even if most of them are instantly shut down, exploring even a few avenues could lead to a total lightbulb moment. Let me be clear, this isn't a green light to copy exactly what your favourite lifter on the gram is doing. It's meant as a useful method for generating possible progress routes. You still must be objective in your choice of comparison, and even then, take it with a pinch of salt.
As always leave any negative feedback or dank memes in the comments below. @atsapproved on all social media, creepin on your fitspos all day.
"I felt a twinge/tweak/pop/thud/detonation at the start of my session, but I just pushed through....."
This ill-fated sentence is one of the main reasons I have a job.
If it hurts, don't do it. This applies to many things in life (dress shopping, public transport, vodka), but in particular to strength training.
Obviously you are putting your body under a lot of stress, and asking it do to horrendous things over and over again. Please see the definition of insanity which is repetition in something but expecting different results over time. Why oh why would you be able to push through an injury? Why would you train despite being in pain? Unless you are Wolverine do not do these things.
Pain is the last step of dysfunction. Say it with me -- PAIN IS THE LAST STEP OF DYSFUNCTION. Listen to what your body is telling you before it can no longer perform for you.
a) REST (I am aware that this is THE most popular choice)
b) train around it -- AKA become hench AF in one or both of the other lifts
c) sports massage
e) cool torturous things like acupuncture, cryotherapy, cupping, taping, Graston, ultrasound etc from the above folk
f) hydrotherapy -- get your ass in a pool
g) yoga/Pilates/Body Balance/meditation -- get your ass on a mat
h) do nothing and moan about it -- thereby rescinding your right to complain. It's like voting. If you don't make an effort, you can't bitch about the result.
Call these things ACTIVE RECOVERY. Sounds way cool, and you're thus more likely to do them. If you're not sure what might be best for you, do some research. Ask your chosen health care provider or therapist any questions you might have. Despite popular belief, we aren't all sadists, and we DO want you to get back to your training. We will ALL tell you to rest, so prepare yourself.
PS. always keep consent in mind, never endure a treatment or technique that is making you uncomfortable. You absolutely have the right to stop any treatment at any time, no matter what. You do you, fam.
If you're financially unable to pursue treatment, see if you can barter! Some therapists would be happy to do a direct swap for goods or services. Also, YouTube is full of good, basic and safe videos of stretching/Pilates/yoga, etc. Nae excuses.
"I had a session/treatment, but it didn't fix it."
Uh, wut?! First of all, unless you've gone to a surgeon, nobody can FIX you. Second, if all it took was one appointment to get people injury- and pain-free I'd have been able to cash out a decade ago! Accept that managing injuries and any subsequent secondary issues is a process. It will take time.
And the more YOU put into it, the faster it will happen. Do the stretches and exercises you've been given. Lay off the damaging movements. REST. Don't expect your therapist to be a miracle worker. If it took six months for the niggle to get bad enough to need work, it's not going to be undone overnight. Trusting someone else can be difficult, so (again) do your research.
"I damaged my rotator cuff muscle."
No you didn't. Depending on what you source, there's 4 main and 3 minor rotator cuff muscles. It's not one muscle. I promise.
"My glute/hamstring/lat/pelvic floor isn't firing."
You're upright, you walked in, therefore the muscles in question are firing. Muscles do not "turn off" (outwith of severe traumatic nerve damage or the like), but it is common for muscle groups to get lazy and have others be over-recruited.
Basically, be pro-active about your training. Try to recognise when it feels a bit wrong, and take measures to rehab properly. And for the love of the gods, STRETCH! Powerlifting as a rule seems to greatly reduce available range of motion, which can lead to an increased incidence of injury.
Having touched on some training ideas in previous articles, I figured it was time to have a look at some things with regards to recovery.
So, what do we mean by recovery? Recovery in the context of training, is a return to baseline performance. What do we mean by baseline performance? Any arbitrary expression of your performance that is easily measurable, for example if you can bench 100kgs for 10 reps easily, you can use that as your baseline. So, if that is your baseline and one day you're warming up in the gym and you get to 100kgs on your way up to working sets, and 5 reps feels like you're moving the earth, it's indicative of insufficient recovery.
Photo by: Tom Hosking Weddings
Expecting to test your baseline every training session is unreasonable and overly time consuming, however just having it as a guideline is important. It's also worth mentioning that using peak performances, or what you've done on your best days as a guideline isn't a good idea either.
Before we get into what exactly you can do to ensure good recovery, it's very important to point out that we are talking specifically about training recovery, and not recovery from an injury. A great many innovations have come out in recent years with recovery in mind. However most them were developed regarding injury recovery. The line between injury and training recovery has become blurred, so I'm going to attempt to give it some clarity. That doesn't mean there are no crossover benefits, and I'll address some of the common misrepresentations as we go.
In descending importance, first up is sleep. There's a lot of debate and research around the topic, but it's almost universally agreed that you need at least 6 hours per night. Optimally you're looking to get about 8, anything more than that doesn’t give you any dramatic increase in benefit, and some argue that it can start to negatively affect you. Regardless, the undisputed king of the ring in terms of training recovery is sleeping enough.
Next up in second place is nutrition. I realise this is a very broad topic, so to refine it, I'm talking about adequate calorie and macro-nutrient intake relative to your training goals. If you’re trying to build muscle, you're going to need to make sure your protein intake is high enough to support that. You're also likely going to need a large number of calories for a surplus, as well as adequate carbohydrates to fuel activity.
I'm going to amalgamate supplements into this point as well, however by themselves they would be last on this list. Even if planned and executed completely optimally, supplements make at most 5% of a difference to total recovery. So please save your money, and don't immediately turn to the latest shiny packaging if you feel like you aren't fully recovering for training, it's most likely due to sleep or nutritional issues.
Lastly, managing life stress. Stress comes from many different sources and is unavoidable for a lot of people. Life stress covers everything from family, work, money, the dog ate your Nike Romaleos… everything. But, realistically, you can only manage the stuff within your control, so don't worry about the stuff you can't. One practical take away to help with this aspect, is to try and set some time each day, normally an hour, where you just relax, sprawl out on the sofa watch T.V, read a book, play with the dog since he is still cute despite how much you loved those shoes. An easy time to build this in is right before bed.
What I'm getting at is that you need designated unwind time. You may not get an hour, but anything is better than nothing. The reasoning behind this is that training stimulus is also a stressor. The act of training is exposing yourself to a stress in a specific way so that your body reacts to it and adapts and you get bigger, better and stronger. So being able to control any extra stressor that you don't need or want can play a big part in making sure that as much of your recovery as possible is dedicated to training recovery.
Now let's address the leopard in the room, my list didn't include foam rolling, cold therapy, saunas, KCR, flossing, acupuncture, gua sha, cupping and a tonne of other similar things. That's because, none of these things have any meaningful effect on training recovery. I realise a lot of people may not have heard of some of the things I just listed, so I've hyperlinked out to some places to get your started. As always read as much as possible and ask plenty of questions about everything.
Injury recovery is something totally different, healing an injury and the processes involved with that are different to just recovering from training stress. Let's address the immediate responses most people have.
"Well it works for me". It most likely doesn't, as you're going all in on the placebo effect or just how it subjectively makes you 'feel'. For a practical example, if you attempted to squat 10 sets of 10 reps at 60% of your 1RM every day, when you give up or injured yourself would that be due to a lack of foam rolling? Or would it be because of the ridiculousness of that amount of volume? Obviously, the biggest issue is the absurd amount of training volume. You can't justify that a lack of foam rolling or any other similar modality as the reason you couldn't do 10x10 forever. Every system has limits. I don't think I've heard anyone ask things along the line of “How much do I need to foam roll to bench 180kgs?”
"I do X, Y, Z just because it makes me feel good". This is totally valid, as I've mentioned before how you feel can impact things. So, if you spend a large amount of time on a certain modality just to 'feel' better, I'd suggest looking at your training volumes as well as your sleep and food. No amount of time in the sauna is going to overcome getting 4 hours sleep per night.
"X person does it and they're jacked/good at their sport". This example is used across almost everything, from training to clothing. The real question you should answer is, is this person as good as they are because of this, or in spite of it? Does Blaine Sumner have a 505kg squat because he wears a headband and chalks his face like the ultimate warrior? Or is he just a beast who has trained intelligently for years who just happens to also wear a headband and face chalk? Yes, that isn't a recovery modality, but is routine not a large part of sport psychology? The point remains most top level athletes get there with a large amount of consistent hard work, not just this one weird trick that they do.
To summarise, the big basic stuff that has always worked, continues to work. Training recovery and injury recovery are two different things and I believe the distinction is very important for addressing what is relevant to our current training goals. Don't put too much stock in things that, at best, make minimal benefits, focus on being great at the big difference makers. As always if you have any comments please leave them below or contact me @atsapproved.