Powerlifting

Ease Off the Throttle: Lessons from Pushing Too Hard


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What you’re about to read comes from some hard lessons I’ve had to (re)learn this year.  It’s not always easy or fun to write about the times we weren’t successful, or the times we didn’t listen to our own advice.  But it’s important.  There are good lessons to be learned here.

I pushed my training hard when I was preparing for the IPF Classic Worlds this summer.  Who wouldn’t?  I knew I was going to be in for a tough competition, and I needed to come in as strong as I possibly could in order to have a shot at winning.

So I committed myself to hard work.  Day in, day out.  Week in, week out.  Slinging weights and little time for anything else.  A high-volume, high effort grindfest.  Of course, beating myself into the ground wasn’t the intention.  It just kind of happened.  I would get ready to go train and really not feel like it at all.  But champions don’t skip workouts, so I’d drag myself to the gym and train.  Besides, once I got warmed up, I usually performed well.  That’s what matters, right?

This went well at first.  I made great progress.  Then the progress slowed a bit.  But I told myself, “Don’t let up!  You’ve got to outwork the competition.”  So resistance was met with force.  More resistance was met with more force.  By the time I hit the competition, my lifts had stalled a bit despite my workloads.  I had several aches and pains (aka overuse injuries).  But the taper for the meet did me some good, and I was able to have a good showing in South Africa.

But there wasn’t much rest to be had.  Another competition was just a couple of weeks away, so the process repeated.  This time, all my aches and pains were worse.  This time, they actually affected me at the meet a bit, and I knew it was time to heal up.

I had worked myself into quite a hole.  My elbow pain cleared up pretty quickly with a few weeks rest, but my hip continued to hurt.  Then, I got a pretty random strain in my lat for no obvious reason.  Or my knee would randomly hurt.  Oh, and my hip still hadn’t healed.  Now my adductors were always tight.  And what is going on with this stupid hip?!

It took some months to get myself to a baseline where I could train with some normalcy again.  I’m still working around a couple of things, although I’d like to think I’m doing so with a lot more sense.

So why the long cautionary tale?  It’s to remind you of some things you probably already know, but may irrationally push aside when focused on the short term.

For the love of barbells, auto-regulate your training!

You’d think that with RTS basically being an auto-regulation mod for your training that I of all people would remember this.  You must listen to your body.  You really do need to adapt training to how you respond to it as an individual.  I’ve heard some people say, “How you feel is a lie” – bull.  It’s not a lie; you just have to know how to read the signals.

Just because more training gets many people more results, it isn’t a guarantee it will get YOU more results, so pay attention to the signs along the way.  If you have an experienced coach, then they should be able to help you through this process.  If you don’t have an experienced coach, then there are methods that can help you.

Training with RPE is a good start.  Don’t forget that RPE allows you to auto-regulate your intensity.  You need to also auto-regulate your volume.  It’s not easy to do too much training, but it is possible.  And if you find yourself flirting with that line, don’t just keep charging full speed ahead.

Don’t forget to have fun

Don’t lose sight of the big picture.  At some level, this should be enjoyable.  Of course, anybody who’s been training for more than a couple of months knows that not every session is a rah-rah good time.  But there should be some underlying enjoyment, some underlying motivation to train.

Don’t misunderstand my point.  There are times when you won’t feel like training.  You ought to train anyway most of those times.  Putting in the work trumps not working.  But if it gets to the point that you have to consistently force yourself to train, it’s time for a bit of introspection.  It might be an important indicator that you’re pushing things too hard.  However, don’t make that decision in isolation and understand that not every unmotivated workout is cause for a deload, nor is it a nuisance to be ignored.  It’s just a sign for you to pay extra attention.

Having fun will help you with more than just the auto-regulatory aspects of your training, too.  People that are having fun with their training will generally find it easier to work hard than people who suffer through each session.  Volume is a hugely important part of making progress, so a low-stress way to increase your volume just might result in a performance boost.

So don’t focus your training on the negative.  I know some people say they thrive on the “haters” (oh, how I hate that term), but I can tell you that focusing on that kind of negativity and emotion can lead you to make some bad decisions.  Besides, isn’t training just more enjoyable when it’s fun than when it’s not?

Don’t neglect your health

To go along with the mental health benefits of having a little fun with your training, don’t neglect your physical health either.  Many athletes take it for granted that perfecting their sport is inherently not healthy.  But that doesn’t give you a free pass to make it worse.  Besides, if you aren’t healthy enough to train, it’s hard to succeed at your sport!

When I finally did start to get some injuries checked out, I discovered several issues – one hip had significantly more mobility than the other, weakness in my abs or biceps, etc.  As I looked at these things, I realized that they were all addressed when I did my GPP workouts.  But in my busy life and clamor to train, train, train, I had been neglecting my GPP workouts for quite some time.

Now nobody is saying that doing some extra mobility drills will put poundage on your deadlift.  So if you neglect it for a bit while you get through a busy patch of life, you may be just fine.  But if you ignore it consistently for a long time, you are running up a credit card bill that must be paid eventually.

Deal with injuries quickly and assertively

When I finally did take a break from heavy training to let things heal, it took quite a while for me to get some professionals involved with my recovery.  I had my reasons I suppose, but in hindsight, I wish I had handled it more assertively and got smart folks involved from the beginning.  By “assertive,” I don’t mean aggressive.  It’s not about trying to rush back to training.  It’s about not just sitting on your duff waiting for things to sort themselves out.  “Assertive” is about staying mentally engaged with the training process.

If you have an injury or a nagging pain, don’t just ignore it.  Also don’t just sit around and wait for it to heal.  Seek out knowledgeable folks and stay engaged with the problem.

Get a sanity check

Strength sports can be pretty solitary.  On the platform, it’s just you and the weights.  Even in training, many of us train alone.  It’s important to recognize that you may be too close to the problem to see it clearly.

Emotions affect the way we think about things.  If you’ve ever had an argument with someone who shouted at you, “I AM calm!” then you know this to be true.  If you’re feeling pressure from an upcoming contest or the expectations of others, that will affect your emotions.  If you’re tired of training and you just want to rest, that affects your emotions.  If you’re hungry, that affects your emotions (grab a Snickers).  Those will, in turn, affect your judgment.

All these things will affect the way you see a problem and its potential solutions.  It’s important to recognize that you may not be seeing the problem clearly.  Heck, you may not even see it as a problem to begin with!  This is why it’s important to have a good support network around you.  A good coach or training partners are extremely valuable.  If you can’t get a good coach or training partners, build up your network in some other way.  There are several online communities where you can find good support.  Sometimes an outside perspective helps cut through the fog that our circumstances create.  This can help keep you from making bad choices that set you back.

The latter half of 2014 wasn’t easy as far as my own training goes, but as the saying goes: You reap what you sow.  Fortunately, I’ve learned these lessons and I’ll not need to learn them again.  Things are starting to click again.  It may be a while longer before I’m back to my old self, but the focus now is on the steps and enjoying the process.  Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and have a longer, more fun, more fruitful lifting career because of it.

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Mike Tuchscherer is the founder of Reactive Training Systems as well as a competitive powerlifter.  In his own powerlifting career, Mike has racked up wins all over the world including national titles, world records, and IPF world championships.  In 2009, Mike went to Taiwan and became the first American male in history to win the gold medal for Powerlifting at the World Games.  Since, he has been pursuing raw competitions where he has continued to set records and compete among the best on the planet.  Professionally, Mike has coached 12 national champions, 2 IPF world record holders, national record holders in countries throughout the world, pro level multi ply lifters, strongmen, and literally hundreds of lifters who have set incredible personal bests following Mike’s coaching advice
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