As last week was a rest week and I therefore have nothing exciting to report, I figured today would be a good time to recap some of the points I learnt at last weekend’s workshop with Andy Bolton and Benedikt Magnusson that some of you expressed interest in. Andy led the majority of the seminar and he was the one I personally approached for advice, so I will call these Andy’s tips.
1. Less is more
One thing quickly became clear listening to Andy talk: he firmly believes in the “less is more” approach. He only trains three times per week, and only two of those workouts he considers hard. He squats and deadlifts on the same day to minimise stress on his lower back, presses on another day and then performs all of his accessory exercises for sets of 10-15 reps on the third day. He says his squat/deadlift workout lasts three hours, his pressing session is 2 hours and his accessory day is only about an hour. So he spends about six hours a week in the gym which, for a powerlifter with long rest periods, is really not that much.
He is not a fan of high volume programs such as Westside as they are too rough on the joints and lower back. I am tending to agree – I have been squatting three times a week for the past month or two and I’ve seen great progress, yet my lower back has felt more agitated than ever. I am planning on cutting back to squatting twice a week now that I have competition events to prepare for as well.
Andy said you should leave every workout feeling good and like you have more in the tank. As discussed more below, he never works above 80-85 per cent – which is quite a difference from 100 per cent considering he can deadlift over 1000lbs. if you’re constantly feeling tired and sore it’s a sign you’re working too hard.
2. Focus on confidence and speed, and lay off the max attempts
Andy cycles his programming from 50 to 80/85 per cent of his one rep max, adding five per cent every week. So week one involves sets at 50%, and week eight peaks at 85 per cent. He never recommends working above 80 per cent of your 1RM for deadlifts, or 85 per cent for squats and pressing.
I have a terrible habit of hitting at least one set of 90-95 per cent almost every week as I feel like the lower weights aren’t difficult enough (especially when doing low rep sets!) but that is exactly my problem – I’m far too slow and sluggish doing everything and I have no confidence in my ability to shift a weight.
Yesterday was my first day back in the gym and I started my new program at 60 per cent of my 1RM (I only have five training weeks until my next competition, so need to speed up the cycle slightly). It felt very weird lifting such light weights for sets of two but I can already tell that it’s going to work – everything was flying and made me feel like superwoman!
Here is a video of Benedikt pulling a new world record deadlift this past Saturday!
Andy said that you should only test your max in competition or otherwise no more than once every 12 weeks. That said, every time you approach the bar, you should imagine it’s your max. This will mean that you’ve already done it hundreds of times in your head, so your body just has to follow through. He also recommended spending a bit of time each day working on positive visualisation – not just visualising the successful lift itself, but also everything else from getting dressed to go to the gym/comp, warming up, and how you will feel after making the lift.
In this way, ideally you will never be failing lifts. Your confidence will build and you will become unstoppable. He stressed the importance of sticking to your own programming and not wasting a max testing opportunity in the gym on a day when your mates are talking smack.
3. Warm-ups are overrated
Funnily enough, both Andy and Benni said they don’t do anything to warm up other than a few light sets of whatever they are training. They don’t foam roll or perform any dynamic exercises – they just walk up to the bar and start from there. Andy does three sets of 20 reps with the bar on squat day before adding weight. Warm-up over.
Andy said he’s never really had any problems with mobility as he’s been a powerlifter for such a long time, while Benni said he usually devotes one of his rest days to mobility work. They were both adamant that no foam rolling or static stretching should be done before a training session. Andy painted the picture of going into the gym and talking about how you were going to smash your squats up, only to then spend 15 minutes rolling around on the floor having a gossip with your friends – “you might as well have a cup of tea!” This made me giggle as it’s exactly what I do – minus the tea part 😉
He said foam rolling can certainly be done after a workout, but essentially you don’t want to relax your muscles right before you need them feeling tight. I imagine this point will be contentious as it goes against what a lot of strength coaches suggest – I, for one, have been foam rolling and performing dynamic stretches before all of my workouts for the past two years at least.
4. Embrace laziness
Andy stressed the importance of being lazy. Being the big guy that he is (about 160kg) he said he tries to spend as much time as possible sitting down. This means that any time he can sit he will – whether it’s between sets, performing accessory exercises or resting at home. He asked us to name some common accessory exercises for squats and deadlifts. Someone said bent over row, and he replied with a seated cable row. Someone else suggested a straight-legged deadlift, he came back with a lying leg curl. Standing shoulder press? Obviously should be seated. His alternatives are easier, more controlled and less intensive on the lower back. A far cry from the go, go, go active rest mentality of many fitness enthusiasts today.
He said that everything you do outside the gym should be aiding your body’s recovery – from spending a lot of time resting, ensuring adequate sleep is had, and eating a tonne of food. Andy has no clue how many calories he eats and never purposely bulks or cuts before a competition. Benni said he recently tried to count calories and gave up when he got to 12,000 by mid-afternoon. These are my people.
5. Never plan deloads
Another point that became apparent throughout the day is that both of them are quite relaxed about their training and go by feel a lot of the time. Don’t get me wrong – they obviously train really hard and know when the right time to peak is, but they are also very in tune with their bodies. Both men said they never plan deload/rest weeks into their programming. If they are feeling “off” they will head to the gym anyway and see how they feel after warming up – sometimes they will go on to have a great session while other times they will call it a day and go home to rest.
I found this point very interesting. Back when I was following 5/3/1, I almost always never felt like doing what I should – on my “max” weeks, I often felt lethargic yet on my deload weeks I usually felt super energetic. These days I am much better at listening to my body and giving it a week off when it needs it, not when a piece of paper tells me to. I wrote more about my approach to flexible programming back in October last year. My more recent non-competition PRs have all been unplanned and simply happened on days I felt strong.
You don’t have to agree with everything here, but just remember that Andy is one of the strongest men in the world with a 1000lb deadlift and 1200lb squat so he knows a thing or two! Are you surprised by any of these points?