Estimated read time: 2 minutes.
Anxiety around the gym and exercise in general is our content theme for the first part of 2022. For people as deep in the fitness world as we are, we have fully forgotten everything it was like being new, or having not even started yet. However we fully believe that no one should find the gym or pursuing their health and fitness journey intimidating. It’s the onus of coaches and veterans of the gym life to make the environment is as open and welcoming as possible.
With that in mind, here are 9 tips for dealing with gym/fitness anxiety.
If you’re worried about the amount of people there, especially given recent events, a lot of people aren’t keen on crowded spaces. Try to go in off peak hours to start out.
Misery loves company! That’s one reason why crossfit is so popular. Bring a friend, not only is it good to have company when trying something new, it’s also great for accountability.
Have a plan. Knowing what your session entails before you go to the gym will help you focus on the task at hand, and less on those anxious thoughts.
Get yourself some gym clothes that you feel confident and comfortable in. That’s different for everyone, some people enjoy leggings and crop tops, some people like a baggy crew neck.
Consider choosing a private facility, they’ll be less busy and you're far more likely to find a friendly welcoming community.
Remember everyone is at different points in their journey, you’re just starting out. Everyone who looks super confident and super strong also once had their first nervous steps into a gym that they didn’t know what to do with.
If you’re able to, hire a coach or PT to help you get started and teach you some fundamentals. You’ll have a confident base knowledge of things to do, and you’ll have a plan to stick to even if you’re on your own.
Remember fitness and health is a lifelong pursuit, there is no ‘completion’. You never complete playing an instrument, or learning a language. There’s always more to learn and more to do, and none of it happens fast.
Research the gym you plan to go to, and it’s equipment ahead of time. Then research some exercises you can do with it will mean you are better prepared ahead of your visit.
Hopefully some of these were of use. If you are considering starting your health and fitness journey but are feeling anxious about it, please get in touch! We’d love to have a chat and see if we can help you out.
How has your training been affected by the lockdown? A lot of our clients and members have had their regular training turned upside down by this, and left them wondering what they can get done in terms of training outcomes at the moment. Will they be able to achieve their goals, or is it all a total waste of time?
Caveat to all I am saying, if you have a great home gym, you are all good and we are jealous of you.
Let me start off by saying if you are feeling the same way. We get that. Our own training has been derailed as well and our plans of what we wanted to accomplish have been impacted by this as well.
However all hope is not lost. In the words of Gandalf the Grey, the greatest Wizard of our time.
Jokes aside there are positives to this time where our training is all thrown up in the air. What we need to do now is adapt, and overcome. So let's break it down. What do we need to adapt to, what will the new outcomes be, are we happy with them, and how will we go about achieving them.
For this I will split this down into three groups, general population (GP) who are people who are training to be fitter, healthier, stronger etc however don’t compete in a specific sport. Powerlifters, who are now unable to train with their usual training weights, and athletes involved within a sport.
First up the general population
This group of individuals, are the least likely to have their goals significantly impacted due to the lack of gym equipment. Goals like increased muscle mass, increased cardiovascular performance, general health, can all be improved with body weight exercises programmed together in a proper fashion. At the current point in time you are still able to go out for a run/cycle etc.
You may have to shift the expected time frame you will achieve your results however. It may take you a bit longer to get your 10k time down, or to get as lean as you want. Or to add that extra muscle mass. This is ok as you are not doing this for a competition or specific playing season but for your own personal benefit.
Your routine will be all messed up so try to re-establish some form of routine as best you can and maintain that. It helps to have some accountability on this whether that be a partner or friend, or a paid coach is also a good option as you will be more likely to adhere to the training they give you.
If you don’t currently have a coach but are thinking of getting one we have written an article on how to go about choosing one that fits you best. You can find that here.
Our advice for this group is just to allow for extra time for you to reach your old goals, and change your training to accommodate for the lack of availability to resistance training approaches and you will be grand.
There I said it, here is where most of you probably laugh at me and close the tab. For those that are left there is great benefit to this and let me describe how this will lead to you having a bigger total further down the line.
There are two aspects you can look at this from, one is weight class based, and one is training performance based.
First up weight class. You may be hovering above or just in your weight class. This is a great opportunity to get some body composition work done, and either get yourself comfortably in your weight class, or give yourself plenty breathing room so that you can even bulk into your next comp. Which is sadly unheard of in a lot of powerlifting as lifters are very tied to their weight classes. Imagine being able to eat to your heart's content during your peak and strength phases and fully recover between sessions. The impact to your performance on the platform would be significant, don’t you agree?
Next up training performance. We at ATS have spoken often about the importance of increasing muscle mass to get better at powerlifting so I won't dive into that right now. If you want to see our thoughts on it jump here. The best way to do this is by high volume sets, and one of the limiting factors in your performance during high rep sets is your ability to recover in between sets, and your ability to complete high rep sets. How many of you have felt that you could do more weight for sets of 10 but you have been so out of breath you couldn't add more weight? I know I have been there. This is where your general conditioning comes in. Improvements in the various energy systems within the body that produce energy for exercise and their ability to stave off fatigue will allow you to improve your ability to complete hard, high volume sets.
Long story short, improving your conditioning, means you can train harder, for longer, and recover better both during workouts and in between workouts.
One other factor to consider is to do as much as possible to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. Strength takes 2-3 weeks to start dropping, and muscle mass up to 8 weeks to start to drop. This is with no training and we can improve those by certain training methods.
So outcomes from changing up your training will be to improve your overall conditioning and maintain as much muscle mass as possible. Are we happy with these outcomes, probably not as it's exactly what powerlifters hate, but the long term benefits to your total make it worth the effort.
So how will we achieve this? Via a combination of HIIT circuits aimed at improving conditioning, and resistance training sessions utilising body weight movements and items we can find around the house to add additional resistance to exercises.
Finally Athletes involved in sport
Depending on when your season is or was means shifting the advice in different directions. However there are two large aspects that change how you will be affected by this. Your skill acquisition training (team practice), and your physical acquisition training (gym time). For all sports now training will be cancelled, so unless you can practice by yourself in your back garden your skill acquisition time has dropped to zero. You can do things like study techniques and your play books, however without the repetitions physically this isn’t totally helpful. There also isn’t much we can do about this, so it is best to not worry about it for now.
What we can do is work on our physical preparation, each and every sport has its different requirements and its different importance on various training outcomes. What you need to do is decide which are of the most importance to your sport, then how effectively you can train each one.
For example you are going to really struggle to train absolute strength, however you can work on your anaerobic and aerobic capacity, as well as your relative strength and rate of force development.
So your new training outcomes would be to build on your current work and improve in the areas that you deem important and achievable with the equipment you have. Are you happy with these? If yes crack on and do what you can.
So you can now go ahead and put together a training program to improve on your anaerobic and aerobic capacity with different running/cycling workouts. You can make improvements on your relative strength with workouts based around body weight exercises, and rate of force development can be done with sprint and jump variations.
Now I have just skimmed the surface on all of these, and each individual's circumstances, needs, and obstacles will be totally different. If you would like any additional info or to talk with us about how we can help you put together a training program to get the most of your lockdown training then don't hesitate to get in contact via our social media channels or email John. contact info is here.
As with the last article, I'm going to start broad and work in. If you are a true beginner or someone who just lifts weights but wants to give the competing a go, the first thing you MUST do is compete. Right now, go sign up for a local meet and come back to this article later… Getting over the anxiety of competition as well as having a date set in place, and gives you something to structure training around (not that you need one, but it helps). There are tonnes of good articles/videos on how to prep for your first meet, here are a couple.
1. JTS' Video Guide
2. Strong First's write up
One thing that a lot of people overlook is having a handler on the day. Ideally someone with handling experience. If that isn't an option, just bring a friend and get them to find out when you've to be places, and who to give your attempts to.
I also like setting goals, especially for first comps. So, here's what I'd recommend to pretty much anyone going into their first comp.
1. Make 9/9 lift attempts
2. Talk to 3 new people.
3. Have fun.
For your first competition, making 9/9 is perfectly achievable. I do not encourage going for new personal bests on your first outing, since the added factor of weighing in, lifting to commands, even wearing a singlet, can throw you off your game. You are here for the experience, and having as few stressors as possible should make it a positive one.
The second goal might throw a few people off, I tend to make a point of chatting in some form to some new people every comp. It's good to get to know folk in the community, and you never know what you might learn.
The main thing we get from the comp is an official competition total, and you can do a needs analysis for your future training. That being where you look at your performance, and rate what you did well and what you need to improve. The former of those is very important, far too many beginners are super critical of themselves.
Let's assume you achieved all 3 of those goals, what follows is a needs analysis to help guide your training objectives to help you improve. I normally rank the aspects of where people fail in order of importance and ease of improvement.
Mental may seem out of place, but the other two generally help overcome most mental issues with regards to competition. Let's breakdown what constitutes each of these.
Technical: Any breakdown in lifting technique, determined not be muscular in nature. A failure of obeying the commands/rules of the sports. Or poor execution of form.
Physical: Muscular weakness causing a breakdown in optimal technique. This doesn't need to cause a failed lift to be an issue.
Mental: A failure to rationalise any anxiety associated with a specific lift, or an undue increase in comp day stress from worrying about uncontrollable variables.
From these, identify what you need to work on. They can then be planning factors in your future training. For example, if you looked at your squat and determined you have a muscular quad weakness, causing a hip shift out of the hole. Then planning some quad focused hypertrophy training cycles would be ideal.
How to plan training:
Normally beginners should be working towards optimal body composition for the most part. One, because beginners don't have substantial amounts of muscle. So, gaining a whole bunch of that is a great step to getting strong. On the other side of the coin, if you're carrying somewhere above 16% bodyfat for males and 26% for females. You should be focusing on dropping that.
Training wise, both of those mean volume. So, going for ideally 3 months and no more of volume training. As a beginner worrying about proximity of competition is irrelevant, you're too weak to merit a peak and should just focus on building a base.
So, volume training with the goal of gaining muscle, or maintaining muscle whilst dieting for fat loss or body recomposition.
Some terms to define,
MAV: Minimum adaptive volume. The least amount of working sets per muscle group you can do in a week and get better.
MRV: Maximum recoverable volume. The most amount of working sets per muscle group you can do in a week and manage to recover/survive, and train again the next week.
MV: Maintenance volume. The amount of working sets per muscle group you can do in a week and not get worse.
Working Set: Any set of resistance training that's around or over 60% of your 1 rep max.
X/Fail: X being a number. This represents the number of reps you should aim to be from TECHNICAL failure.
Technical Failure: Significant breakdown/compromise in lifting form.
With those terms defined, let's dive into some training planning. First off, how many days a week WILL you train? Not how many you'd like to, or how many you think would be optimal. How many do you know you can and will show up to? That is the real question.
As a beginner, you will make strides pretty much just looking at weights. You are in such a state of untrained, pretty much anything is an effective stimulus.
So, let's just make a safe assumption and say 4 days a week. Could you do it with less? Yes, would more training work better? Yes, to an extent. That isn't our concern right now, 4 days/week is plenty for a beginner.
For ease, let's assume you're training Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday. You could train on another arrangement of days, the only thing to make sure is to minimise back to back days with zero rest in between.
With hypertrophy being our goal, the aim is to stimulate some muscle growth. Typically, you do that with sets of 8-15 reps, slightly dependant on body part trained. How many sets should you do? Let's refer to our terms from earlier. We want to start training around about our MAV. How do you know what that is?! As a beginner, you won't. A good guide is as many work sets in a week to get slightly sore. Again, as a beginner it will not be very much.
With that in mind, let's start small and aim for 8 sets per muscle group for the week. How do you decide what to do and on what day? A general rule, is to try and get 60% of your work sets done on a main lift, or close variant. 30% done on a further removed variant, and the last 10% on something another step removed.
For example, 8 sets of quads a week may look like
Monday: 5 sets of high bar squats (Main work)
Thursday: 1 sets of lunges (2 steps removed)
Friday: 2 sets of Leg press (1 step removed)
Why split it A-symmetrically? It fits better into planning, and keeping a large amount of your work, close enough to your competition lift (Squat) whilst keeping it varied enough not to cause issues with adaptive resistance later. It also lines up with your ability to recover, giving you a big dose early in the week. Followed by keeping things ticking over, then something reasonable. You don't need to be 100% fresh to do the leg extensions or lunges, but they cause enough disruption to keep things adapting.
With that said, what other muscle groups should be in our plan?
Let's go for:
Shoulders (all 3 heads)
With 8 sets each to train, we can start putting it all together. Making sure to count them if they are significantly involved in other movements. So, our week 1 might look like:
5 sets of Hi bar squats (quads)
2 sets of Dumbbell Bench (chest, shoulders, triceps)
2 sets of Dumbbell Rows (lats, shoulders, biceps)
2 sets of lateral delt raise
5 sets of Bench Press (chest, shoulders, triceps)
2 sets of Romanian Deadlifts (hamstrings)
2 sets of chin ups (lats, biceps)
2 sets of Lateral Delt raise (shoulders)
2 sets of lunges (quads)
2 sets of barbell rows (lats, biceps)
2 sets of lateral delt raise (soulders)
1 set of dips (chest, shoulders, triceps)
5 sets of deficit deadlifts/RDLs (hamstrings)
2 sets of chin ups (lats, biceps)
2 sets of Lateral delt raise
1 sets of leg extensions (quads)
You may notice there are a lot of shoulder moves in this. That's because the medial shoulder gets little stimulus from pressing and rowing. So, we added in specific isolation work for it. There is also no reps or weights recommended, we'll get into that now
If you are a beginner, building a solid base of muscle should be priority number 1. To that end, I'm going on as if you will be running as much consecutive volume as possible, namely 12 weeks, in 4-week blocks. With that in mind, and in the interest of variation, I like to use rep focuses of 12/10/8 respectively for the 3 back to back months of training.
So, month 1 the goal on every set of every exercise is 12 reps, month 2 is 10, month 3 is 8.
Awesome, how much weight do you use? We will determine that using a proximity to technical failure. Sometime this is annotated as RPE (Rate of perceived exertion) or RIR (reps in reserve). It boils down to how many reps you think you have left, before you can't do anymore. With the caveat that form isn't compromised.
Normally going from 3/Fail up to 1/Fail in the last week before deload. So, block 1 would look like
Week 1: 12 reps@ 3/Fail 10-12 Work sets
Week 2: 12 reps@ 3/Fail 12-14 Work sets
Week 3: 12 reps@ 2/Fail 14-16 Work sets
Week 4: 12 reps@ 1/Fail 18+ Work sets
Week 5 (Deload) 6 reps@ Week 1 weights. 6-8 Work sets
For subsequent blocks, you would just repeat the process. Changing up a few exercises and changing the rep goal to the next one down. You may have spotted already, that the combination of rep goal + X/Fail, will dictate the weight used. Since you must achieve both, 12 reps that aren't 3/Fail for example, won't count and you'll have to up the weight until it meets the proximity to failure. Similarly, as you go into the next block the lower rep goal will cause weights used to be heavier by default, since you can lift more weight for 10 than you can for 12.
With training covered, let's get into the other side of the coin, diet. As a beginner, it's the ideal time to work towards optimal body composition. You aren't good enough for it to affect your competition calendar or cause any serious competitive anxiety from any minor performance loss. That may sound harsh, but honestly if you can get this done now it will pay off ENORMOUSLY later.
Time for some more hurt feels. If you are over 15% bodyfat for guys, 25% for ladies, it's time to get cutting. Volume is the optimal time to get it done, the training is the most intensive on kcals, and it's far out of any competitive preparation where altering body comp could affect skill acquisition. Measure this number with calipers, do the largest number of sites you can find a calculator for, and do each site 3 times and take an average. Scales that you stand on are not accurate for measuring bf%. Obviously if you have a bod pod or DEXA scan available to you, use that.
Cutting- Aim to lose ~0.5kg of bodyweight a week. This number will vary depending on your weight. If your start weight is lower [sub 55kg for example], this number will come down. If it is higher [100kg+] it will go up.
Gaining- Similarly, but upward trending. Mainly track your kcals and protein intake, since you'll be pounding the other 2 just to make up the kcals.
To hammer the point home, it is much easier to adjust body composition early on. You're fresh to training, so stimulating adaptation will be super easy (nooby gains). It's much less likely you'll get fatter when gaining muscle if you start leaner. The entire end goal of powerlifting physiology is to have as much muscle on your bones whilst still in/slightly above your weight class as possible, so starting that way is a good idea. It sucks WAY more to have to take extended periods out of competition or realise that your main avenue for more progress is body recomposition when you're already established as a competitor. It's well worth doing early, that way any course correcting that needs to occur later will be minor at best.
Diet wise, whether you're going up or down. Track multiple variables, and factor in error margins. Keep track of visual landmarks, how many abs can you see? How vascular are you? Rather than doing a full bf test every month, just keep track of 1 or 2 sites you can easily measure yourself. Weight is the main one, track weight ideally 3 times a week. Measure it in the morning after WC use. If you are not moving in the direction you want, add/subtract another ~200kcal from the equation. Give it a week, see how the measurements come out. Similarly, to training you can't blast the same thing for months on end. 3 months is pretty much the upper limit I would recommend for either gaining or cutting. Followed by a maintenance phase at whatever new weight you are at. 3 months isn't mandatory, the ideal time is to stop juuuuust before you start going a bit stir crazy. You want to test out the limits of your willpower, not break it. It will break, everyone's does eventually. Funnily enough, the more practice and experience you have with it, the better yours will last.
Hopefully this has given you at the very least some direction of what to aim for and start looking to do with your training for powerlifting. We'll now delve into some FAQs, as always please leave all inflammatory remarks in the comments or @atsapproved on social media.
-Why so much volume?
Because, the level of homeostatic disruption (severity of training stress) is proportional to the adaption. So, the bigger the stress the bigger the gains. Obviously applied strategically, why would you not?
-Why deload so often?
On the back of the last answer, because it balances out the fact you'll be searching for your upper threshold of recoverable training. At some point you will find and exceed it, meaning that you won't be able to progressively train in the following week. So, it's convenient that the following week will be a deload anyway. Where you don't need to worry about progressive training performance.
-Something about fat shaming
Look, you're reading this because you want to get better at powerlifting. In a "sport" with almost 0 athletic application, there's really no reason not to be in shape if being competitive is your goal. Even in the super heavy classes for both genders, the goal is the same. As much muscle, as strong as possible.
Without weight class restrictions, you can get as fat as you like. But don't kid yourself, you don't 'need' to be that fat. Fat doesn't contract, it doesn't help you shift more Kgs. Do as you please, but don't be annoyed at objective assessments of sport performance.
-When do I do 5x5?
Generic programmes will work, for a fair amount of people. But the application is limited. The general idea behind dedicated volume training for powerlifting is
1. Having more muscle is a straightforward way to be stronger.
2. You can't train the competition lifts with zero variance, in the same rep ranges, all the time. (So, using more varied movements in your hypertrophy block, kills both those birds with one stone.)
3. The higher stress of the training lends itself better to body comp changing goals, which funnily enough should be done as far out of competition as possible. Similarly, to hypertrophy training, being the least specific to your competition, should be done as far out as plannable.
Notably important rules that come in handy.
-Knowing the deadline for changes to openers. If warm ups aren't going to plan, you need to know how long you have to change openers. It's not worth bombing if the lifts you had planned are just not there today.
-Knowing the minimum attempt increases for records, at that competition. As well as the first past the post system. So, at championships you can set national records, as well as increase bar weight by a minimum of .5kg. However, if you are not at a championship, the only attempts you can take less than 2.5kg on, are open records.
To reiterate, Junior lifter at an open comp wanting a junior record. Can only increase bar weight by 2.5kg. If he was at junior champs, he could increase by .5kg. If he was at an open comp, after an open record. He could increase by .5kg.
-Knowing the reasons for technical failures on each of the lifts. Refs are not obligated to walk you through what you did wrong, at local comps they likely will, but they just need to show the relevant card/light. It helps a lot if you know what those are and can address the problem straight away.
-Looking at the approved kit list and making sure who you're looking after's kit is compliant. It's also super handy to pack spares of things. Undergarments, socks/deadlift socks, chalk, talc, wrist wraps, knee sleeves. Even if you both run through what they need, there's no guarantee they'll remember to pack it. Bringing spare drinks/food never goes a miss either.
For the day of the competition there's a few things you can do before lifting begins. Arrive a little before weigh in time is due to start and speak to the organiser to find out where the weigh in will be and if there's an order (at higher level comps you weigh in in lot number order). Then make sure your lifter(s) get there on time, if not a little early.
After weigh in and kit check ensure they are eating and drinking something. Then swan off to see if the order of lifting has come up on the display screens yet. This will determine how much wiggle room you have in warm ups, if your lifter is first in the group you don't have much. Whereas if they are last, you have room.
Next thing on the list, is make sure they get their rack height for squat, and make sure it's right. Take into account clearance will change with weight on the bar. Also make sure that if they need blocks for bench, or the racks in for squat, that it's noted down. To reiterate, doing the rack height is on you/the lifter. At local comps people may help you, however any higher and it is on you to do on your time and make sure it's handed to the table. Same goes for bench heights.
Generally, I'd say give about 3 minutes per lifter in each flight. This is just rough, but each has 1 minute to start the lift, then some time to change the weight on the bar. If it appears faster than that on the day, call it 2 minutes a lifter. With that in mind, take whenever lifting is due to start, and add on time for each lifter before yours. Now you have a rough idea of total warm up time. Similarly, I like going with between 3-5minutes per warm up set. Since it's easy to fit in, and you'll likely be sharing your warm up space with other lifters so trying to rush won't work well. To that end, if you've done quick mafs, leave a couple minutes extra on just in case.
Once they've lifted, immediately grab 'em and talk through their next attempt. DO NOT wait, you only have 1 minute to do this post lift. Give your honest opinion and write down what the lifter wants next, then show them it to make doubly sure. The music will be loud, sometimes you mishear, and once an attempt is in, it can't be changed. (The only times you can change an attempt is the last deadlift, which you can change twice, and at single lift bench where the same applies to the last lift.)
With all that done, now you just repeat the process in between lifts. Keep track of them and their kit, make sure they're where they need to be ahead of time, and you'll both have the best day possible.
So, in summary, always bring pens, know where and when your lifters need to be and get them there early, it's invaluable to at least familiarise yourself with the technical rules, make sure they don't do anything overly stupid (like not eat anything because nerves). You don't need to be a sports science grad to know trying to put on peak performance with zero food or fluids isn't going to go well. I'm sure there will be other gems I've forgotten to mention, if you think of any please leave them in the comments! Otherwise have a good day, and feel free to get in touch @atsapproved.
All photos courtesy of http://www.power-photo.co.uk/
Hi guys, so I recently got asked by a client about deloads. Since they're so little work, why bother? Why not just take time off? So I figured i'd transcribe my response, since it was one of the few times something other than drivel and memes left my thumbs.
Client: Mate, quick question. I was talking to a guy at work and explaining what I was doing in my de-load week and when I told him it was less than 10 mins workout each day he asked what the point was, I wasn't sure if it was just psychological to keep me in the pattern of going to the gym or some other reason related to keeping the muscles guessing?
Will: Few reasons.
1. You are right, it helps keep you ticking over. Much like getting 'rusty' from no practice of a sport. You start to lose technical aptitude after roughly 3 days of nothing.
2. As much as its very little, it isn't nothing. 6 sets /week is just half of what we started week 1 on. It means that you wont be significantly de-trained come week 1 of the next block. Think of it like a 'cool down'.
3. It's a good idea to have, since the measure of difficulty for our hardest training is that you wouldn't be able to repeat that same week, or more the next week. It gives us wiggle room for over cooking the hardest training.
4. Its also pretty cool as a mental stress indicator. If you are antsy and keen to get going again. That usually means its working. If we hit the previous week SOO hard that even during a deload, you felt burst. I'd need to re structure, and we'd have fairly good idea of what you're maximum volume could be in a week.
5. Suppose it also helps you push in the week before. Knowing you have planned down time, can help you not hold back and really do the hardest possible work
As always, if you have questions, comments, or wanna fight'bout it. Leave them below!