Deadlift Better Part 1

Deadlift Better (Part 1)

Almost every day I receive messages or comments on how to improve your deadlift.  The answer is incredibly simple… deadlift better. What I mean when I say that is… deadlift better! It’s as simple as that, in order to get stronger in the deadlift you must maximize everything about the movement; including positioning, trunk and hip strength, and flawless execution.

The deadlift is an incredibly stubborn movement that often cripples those who aren’t prepared, and destroys the hopes of a massive total. For example, my first powerlifting meet circa 2008 I deadlifted 600 at 198. Now fast forward to May 2016 I lifted 727 at 220. That’s a huge increase, but it took nearly 8 years to get there. What’s even more frustrating I first attempted 700 in 2011 and could not break the 700 barrier for almost 5 years from that point, so you can see that strength takes time.  With that being said, don’t expect to pull a PR after reading this article but instead evaluate your own training and technique and see what needs to change.

Here are some of the key components to my recent success in the deadlift. These have helped me break the 800+ deadlift barrier.

  1. Proper Set Up.

In my opinion, the success of your deadlift begins before the weights ever leave the ground.  A familiar phrase or terminology that you’ve heard or seen thrown around the internet is “Pull the slack out of the bar.” Now this may seem simple enough, but, in reality this one of the most difficult aspects of the deadlift and can lead to lifters having trouble breaking the weight off the floor. This is due to the lifter applying a vertical force on the bar (through hip extension, not elbow flexion or lumbar extension) but when the lifter drops their hips into the pull they more often than not release the vertical tension they just created, and as a result their hips often shoot upward first resulting in a poor movement pattern. They utilize more relative effort and place greater stress on the back (specifically lumbar extensors).  I admit that this was one of my biggest obstacles when learning sumo and re-learning my conventional deadlift.  


For me, I utilized sumo stiff leg deadlifts (the idea works the same for both sumo or conventional) with relatively light weight (35-45%). I would practice bracing my trunk and try lifting the weight using only my hip extensors. As I felt comfortable with my form, I would slowly add weight each session. I would keep the reps between 2-3 and usually between 6 to 8 sets, keeping rest to a minimum and always resetting after each rep. This helped me to utilize my hips extensors to a much greater degree and create a false eccentric phase during the drop to the bar that allowed me to utilize the stretch shortening cycle and aided in my initial pull off the floor. Below is an example of how I look like from when I first set up on the bar (top image) and how I look when I begin the initial pull from the floor (bottom image) after loading my hips and dropping into the pull. As you can see, the distance from the floor and the apex of the bar increases as I apply the vertical force on the bar. This helps optimize your starting position, decrease the distance the bar travels (a small degree) and allows you to develop more tension or force before the initial pull.



  1. Beltless Training.

One of the greatest things I have ever done for my training was to get rid of the belt. Not only for deadlifts, but is also just as beneficial for squats. Beltless training allowed me to focus on creating a much tighter or rigid trunk and more efficient setup.  Plus, I can now see abs, which is kinda cool (yes I know that’s more diet but I can still see them so chill out). When increasing the rigidity of the trunk through abdominal bracing, the force created from your legs can be transferred to the bar more efficiently, thus allowing you the potential to lift more weight and you are less likely to have increased trunk flexion during the lift, which often leads to a more difficult lock out because this can limit glute activation.  


For the past year I have only utilized a belt during meet preps, which runs 8-10 weeks at a time with 1-2 reload/deloads in each. This past year I have competed twice, and so 12-14 weeks out of 52 weeks I will use a belt. For so many people, they use the belt as a crutch and often never want to push themselves without it. However, in all reality, as long as your program or your coach has any common sense and start at a safe weight, you can easily acclimate yourself to beltless training with little to zero difficulty.


So, like I said at the beginning of this rant, it’s very simple to deadlift better. I didn’t say it would be easy and it would happen overnight, but I can guarantee if you put the time into developing your starting position and focus on keeping a rigid trunk it will start to get easier and you will slowly chip away at the deadlift monster the hides under your bed at night.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Making The Best Of Your Attempt Selection

How do you define a successful meet? For some, it is winning the meet, for others it’s about setting a PR(s), and further for some it is about doing the meet without injury. Despite how you define success, I would argue that come meet day, success is achieved through attempt selection. Attempt selection is a relatively simple component of the sport, however it is the key to “your” success. This is something that you can only train through experience and proper guidance.

First off, no matter what you had planned to hit at the meet, your first attempt should be thought of separately and is just as important as your other lifts. This lift or attempt will set the pace for the remainder of the attempts as well as the rest of the meet. So it is very important to set yourself up success rather than turning the meet into a mind game. I would not think about attempt selection until a few weeks before the meet, for me I don’t worry about attempt selection until 3 weeks out; which coincides with the heaviest or highest intensity week of training. There are several general rules that you should follow when making this call:

1) Your opener should reflect a weight that you can hit almost guaranteed, barring any major incidents. Normally this could be a 3 or 4 repetition max or what you considered your last warm up. For me, my first attempt is my last warm up, or my first wrapped set.

2) One should adjust the weight based on weight cut and rehydration (if applicable). For new powerlifters weight cut is not advisable. If you recover well I would go forward with your original plan. It is important to remember your first attempt can always be changed before the meet starts, but not after the flights are posted in most federations.

3) Being comfortable with the meet set up, i.e., relatively quick or long warm up periods, length of the flight, or judging and commands. For new lifters, this is a very important variable that needs to be addressed in your attempt selection. For experienced lifters, they should be more comfortable yet still aware of the specific challenges.

If the first attempt was a failure, I would adjust based on how you failed. If it was due to breaking rules/commands but an easy enough lift, I would continue to your planned second attempt. Remember you can only increase your attempt once the flight has started, you can NOT lower the weight. If the lift was harder than you expected and you missed on technique or strength, your only option would be to retake the lift. But no matter your decision, you must always remember that your goal is to get in a successful lift and stay in the meet. However, after a successful first attempt, your second attempt should be around your heaviest lift you achieved during the training cycle. For me personally, I always like to air on the side of caution and select a weight around 10-15lbs or 5-7.5kg under my heaviest training day during the training cycle. For instance, my last meet I worked up to 720 pounds and my second attempt was 705 pounds. For me, this is generally a meet PR. This is a more conservative attempt which allows for you to apply more effort on your third attempt.

For your final or third attempt, I recommend following the same rules as before when going from first to second attempt. The only exception to this rule is if you missed both your first and second attempt, in that situation you need to set aside your pride and repeat the lift and hope you can stay in the meet. If your goal is to win the meet then you must start planning a strategy to beat out your competition, for instance understanding their strengths and weakness and use it to your advantage. If you know you can make up a few pounds in the other lifts I would plan to be more conservative and if not then I would get as many pounds as you can. Alternatively, if you are just there to have fun, it is a guessing game. I normally go for something just over my all-time PR (meet or training); but in terms of your squat you must also remember that you have to bench and deadlift afterwards and so you must try to adapt based on the circumstances.

As mentioned earlier, it all comes down to what you want: to win, set PRs or just get the experience. But just remember its ALL ABOUT HAVING FUN!

Three Common Meet Prep Mistakes

     The goal of any competitive powerlifter is to be at their strongest on the day of the meet. Although this seems like a relatively simple plan, there are a number of mistakes that can dramatically impact performance on meet day; unfortunately these issues extend across both experienced and novice lifters. The general success of any meet can be attributed to the successfulness of the “peaking” cycle. A peaking cycle is a preparatory block of training designed to enhance athletic performance; in the case of powerlifting, athletic performance can be defined as muscular strength. For simplicity sake, this phase of preparation will include the highest level of intensity and the lowest level of volume and usually include some form of active recovery and rest. This article will outline 3 common mistakes that could hurt your chance for that PR!

  1. Select the correct training intensity at the start of the meet prep.

So how does one go about picking the correct training intensity? Well, in short, it depends. Depends on the length of your training cycle, the intensity of your previous training block, and how quickly your body can recover in time for the meet. The length of a peaking cycle can generally vary between 4 and 8 weeks, and can include varying intensity throughout the cycle. Why is the starting intensity so valuable in designing a peaking cycle? For one, based on the length of the cycle and the initial intensity will dictate the week to week progression. For example, if you have designed a 4 week peaking cycle which includes a “deload” or recovery week,  with a goal to stay below 100% of your max and increase no more than 10% from week to week. Here are a few examples of what these could look like:

Example 1. With 10% increments.

WK 1   70%

WK 2   80%

WK 3   90%

WK 4   50%


Example 2. With 7% increments

WK 1   85%

WK 2   92%

WK 3   99%

WK 4   50%


Example 3. With 5% increments

WK 1   85%

WK 2   90%

WK 3   95%

WK 4   50%


As you can see there are a number of options that you can choose from and each has pros and cons. As mentioned earlier, the choice is not as simple as just picking one. Remember along with the length of the cycle you must also recall the intensity of the previous training cycle and evaluate on how well your body will recover from the training. The difficulty and intensity of the prior training cycle can provide a large amount of information about how well the future peaking cycle will go. When switching into a new block or phase of training, intensity and volume should be altered in order to prevent overtraining and/or risk injury. In my own training, I have found that I am generally more successful come meet day when I choose higher intensity initialially, with small increases, especially for a short training cycle. In addition to analyzing the prior training block, one needs to have foresight to predict how they will recover from the higher intensity training in preparation for the meet. The initial training intensity and weekly progression can have a significant impact on the final intensity. This brings us to our second point, selecting the final intensities of the training cycle.

  1. Selecting the appropriate final intensity of the meet prep.

This is where most good lifters fall victim to their ego and punish their totals which ultimately lead to missed attempts and failures at the meet; like before, the final intensity is not as simple as selecting a number between 90 and 100%. First off, what number should you base the intensity off of? In short, there is some ambiguity as to whether you should select the intensity off of a training max or a true max; if we refer back to the previous examples we see that the final intensity ended with:


WK1 @90%

WK1 @99%

WK1 @95%


Now if we apply that an individual who squatted 700 pounds at their last meet, it will look like this…


WK1 @ 630lbs

WK1 @ 695lbs

WK1 @ 665lbs


But say we based the intensity off of their training max ~90-95% of max (665lbs or 95% for this example)


WK1 @ 600lbs

WK1 @ 660lbs

WK1 @ 630lbs


Although the differences seem relatively small as percentages, we can see that these ending points can vary almost 100 pounds. Unfortunately a majority of lifters, myself included, will fall victim to the iron bug and want to go for a new max towards the end of the meet cycle, which in reality is great if you get it but at what cost. Often this new “max” is at a much higher effort than you wished and you exerted more effort than what was programmed, which could lead to you peaking to early or pushing your body to hard and not giving it enough time to recover. I personally prefer to be more conservative with my training intensities later in the meet prep. For example, for my squat during my last 4 weeks of training, the heaviest (intensity wise) weight that I used was 635 pounds. Two weeks out from the meet I tripled 635 pounds, which was 2 pounds over my opening attempt. Ultimately I ended with 677 pounds for my third attempt and believe I left a few pounds on the platform. In this example, I selected a lower final intensity which yielded great outcomes come meet day.


  1. Specificity of the Movements


Often times, individuals will tend to structure their program with specialty movements; these are generally designed to enhance a weakness, for example pulling from blocks is generally used to help improve your lockout or from a certain position. This is a common practice and generally accepted in most training regimens. However, as the date of the meet approaches and the training intensity and effort rise in parallel, technique becomes increasingly more important. Unfortunately specialty movements have the potential alter your mechanics in a negative manner. For example, if you squat against bands for the majority of your training block, your body will become used to the bands pulling you down and creating a false loading pattern. Thus when you squat at the meet your body will be unable to recall the correct loading pattern since the bands are not loading the bar. Although, variable resistance and specialty bars are great alternatives to traditional movements and have their place within a specific macrocycle, it is important that you understand you do not use the specialty bars and training styles in competition. One way to enhance technique would be trying to reduce the variability of the movement; whether it is bar path or angular kinematics, a reduction in variability would great improve the efficiency of the particular exercise.


Minimizing the differences between the main lift and secondary or specialty is one way to keep the correct the loading/motor pattern while still improving athletic performance. For example:



Competition Lift     Good Alternative      Bad Alternative

Squat                      Pause Squats              Banded Squat

Bench                     Board Press                  Floor Press

Deadlift                   Block Pull                  Paused Deadlift




Here are few examples of movements that will be more effective in maintaining a proper motor pattern when preparing for a meet.

In general there are a number of factors that can influence your training cycle and we have only scratched the surface of what we can do to better prepare for a meet. The takeaway from this article should be that preparing for a meet may not be as simple as it seems. If you are a novice with limited peaking experience or veteran powerlifter that often suffers from a lack luster meet performance, take a step back and evaluate your training cycle and determine if your training suffered due to one of these common mistakes.

Molly's 5 Keys To Strength

1. Food

2. Rest & Recovery

3. Positive Atmosphere & Support System

4. Proper Technique & Programming

5. Sheer WILL


1. Food

     Now I love eating pizza, ice cream, burgers, burritos, and basically anything fried or with sugar more than most people, but over time I have learned that if your nutrition and water intake isn't on point you will NOT perform well. If I'm being honest, I get most of my calories from eating straight up garbage foods, but there are days I do clean it up. Since we are talking about strength and not aesthetics, CARBS are your friend! I've had people message me asking why they aren't getting any stronger after they've cut most carbs out of their diet and are eating clean foods. If you aren't into eating junk like me and you're more of a chicken, rice and veggies person, that's completely fine. You just have to understand when training for strength, in order to get enough calories you just have to eat bigger portions and more frequently. The only thing more important than eating enough (and obviously drinking lots of water) is getting enough protein. Whether you're a meat eater or a vegetarian or vegan, you MUST get your protein in one way or another. Protein shakes are great when you're in a hurry or too lazy to cook, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to eat REAL food and not get suckered into all the supplement hype. EAT, and eat A LOT, or trying to get stronger is going to feel like shit (trust me).

2. Rest & Recovery

      Everyone has their own day-to-day routines and issues in life outside of lifting weights. Obviously this shit doesn't pay our bills (except for some who are THAT good) and work always comes first. Rest/proper sleep and keeping up with your recovery is extremely important if you want to see progress in your training. If you ever find yourself having time to take a nap, TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE. If you ever feel like your body is off, something hurts or the weights are feeling extra heavy, don't be afraid to take a day off or take it easy. It's really important to listen to your body as well as maintain it so that you don't get injured. I personally love to roll out my entire body on a PVC pipe (foam rollers don't do shit for me) as well as a lacrosse ball to really dig into my shoulders, pecs, arms, glutes, hips etc. and I stretch as often as I can. There are many different ways to keep up with your recovery depending upon your own individual needs. Some people see a chiropractor regularly, or get deep tissue or graston, get cryotherapy, cupping therapy, dry needling, and the list goes on. If you have an injury, I would suggest trying everything in your power to get it fixed and keep it from getting any worse. If you don't have an injury, keep up with treating your muscles, joints and tendons well and just know that NO ONE is safe from injuries but there are many ways to prevent them.

3. Positive atmosphere & support system

    I understand that some people enjoy training on their own because I do too sometimes, but there is nothing like the feeling of having a solid group of like-minded people to train with. When I first started, being part of a powerlifting team was one of the best feelings in the world. Everyone was very supportive of everyone, no matter the age, sex, height, weight or experience. That's what I loved so much about the sport, it was constant cheering, helping each other spot or load the bar and everyone had each other's backs. As competitive as the sport may be, it's just as supportive, even if they are your competition. Surround yourself with people with positive attitudes who work their asses off and have similar goals as you, it will make all the difference.

4. Proper technique & programming

    There isn't one human body that is made exactly like another, everyone has different mechanics and leverages. It's EXTREMELY important to learn YOUR own body's mechanics  to figure out which form works and feels best for YOU. I don't pull sumo because my body is better built for conventional. Just because some popular strong dude (or woman) on instagram can pull sumo and looks really cool, doesn't necessarily mean that will be the case for you. If you haven't seen progress in one of your lifts, it could never hurt to tweak your form or try something new in your programming. Now when it comea to programming, it's really important to find a solid program that works for your body and level of experience and STICK TO IT! (5/3/1, Sheiko, Cube, Westside, Smolov to just name a few).


    It's simple, how bad do you want it? How hard are you willing to push yourself to get to where you want to be? Through all the bullshit and tough times in your life, lack of sleep, lack of food or water, stress, kids, dogs, relationships, laziness, illness, injuries, too many hours at work and not enough time to get into the gym...  will you still drag yourself in at the last minute just to get SOMETHING done? I know I will. I TRULY fell in love with this sport and I TRULY want to be a champion and one of the world's strongest women. If you take PED's or not, nothing beats hard work. Nothing beats being all heart and having a passion for something so much that you will do whatever it takes to be the best, or at least be the strongest and best version of yourself.

Molly Mullikin has the #8 all time highest total in her weight class with 1,179.5 pounds.

James Pligge (Harms Way); Powerlifting Road Warrior

My name is James Pligge and I am the vocalist for the band Harms Way. I have been involved in weight lifting for around 15 years. Throughout that time I have learned many important things about my body as well as made many mistakes in regards to lifting weights. Early on I concentrated strictly on body building and in the last 6 years I have strictly concentrated on power lifting. I have competed 3 times in the organizations NASA and UPA. My best lifts in a meet to date are Bench 325, Deadlift 601, and Squat 470 lbs. In the gym my best lifts are pretty close and they are Bench 345, Deadlift 600, and Squat  505 lbs.

    One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to lifting weights for me is constantly being on the road. The inconsistency of a schedule and the poor dietary choices on the road make it very difficult to maintain and even more difficult to make any progress. However, it can be possible with good planning and strong discipline. One of the things that I try to do on the road is plan when my next lift is going to be. This is important because on tour some drives are 10 hours long and some are 4. I always try and organize my workout schedule based upon drive time so I am able to be ready to lift when the day comes. My goal each week is to lift one heavy lower body day and one heavy upper body day. Any other days I can get into the gym are a bonus, but I find being able to lift heavy allows me to maintain my strength and make a little progress as well. I basically follow a Conjugate Method style of lifting when I am at home, so on tour I use the same scheduling. For those who are not familiar with that, you have one heavy leg day either squat or deadlift and one heavy bench press day. Those days are then followed by two speed or repetition days for the squat, deadlift, and bench press which are used for lighter weights. As far as accessory lifts go, depending on how I feel each day I pick 3 or 4 of my weak points and concentrate on hitting those each week.

    Another obstacle that makes lifting on the road a challenge is finding a gym. There are thousands of gyms, however some are not powerlifting or bodybuilding friendly. One of the options you have is to buy a national membership at a place like Golds Gym or 24 Fitness, which allows you to go to any location throughout the USA. However, that can be expensive and not worth it depending on who you are and your availability to lift. Another option you have is to look up local gyms using Powerlifting Watch. They have a list of all the underground and powerlifting friendly gyms for that area. That is usually my best bet because the guest passes are cheap and I am not committed to any one gym throughout the country. Another option is find a YMCA. YMCA is a great place to work out because they really don’t give a shit what you do in there. It is always cheap and a lot of times even free. They have good enough equipment to get a workout in and you can basically do whatever you’d like without being scolded for slamming weights or using chalk.

    The last obstacle I will address on tour is diet. Now anyone who has toured knows that diet can be a nightmare on tour. This goes from eating very unhealthy to not eating enough.  You are constantly bombarded with snacks, fast food, and sodas that will not really help your body, lifting or not.  Now fortunately I have great genetics and my diet does not affect how I look at this point in my life. However, I still try to eat the best I can when I am on tour. One of the best places to eat in my opinion is Chipotle. Chipotle has lean meats, vegetables and brown rice which makes it a complete meal that is filling and nutritious.  If you make sure you get a burrito bowl instead of a burrito, it makes it even more of a nutritious meal.  Now my band sometimes gets sick of going there, but I can eat it every day and not get sick of it haha. Obviously another good way is to bring boxes of protein bars, protein powder, and pre-made protein drinks. All of those things will help you in staying away from all the horrible snacks that are around you constantly at gas stations.  Another good idea on tour is to try and keep track of your macronutrients. This allows you to stretch your diet to a lot of different choices, but still keeps you in the correct protein, fat, and carbohydrate range. This way you have more flexibility on your diet, but are still able to watch your caloric intake to maintain or lose weight.  Now if you are trying to gain weight or mass my recommendation is to eat as many quality calories as possible on tour because calories are your friend and sometimes you are only taking in one or two meals per day.

    Overall working out on tour is not easy. There is many times where you feel like just taking a day off or just waiting until you get home. If you are serious about lifting and gaining strength, you have to find a way to make it work on tour. Flexibility is important and you have to be willing to work out at a Planet Fitness if that is the only option available. Make sure you have a gym bag all packed up with your chalk, supplements, belt and any wraps you may use. That way at any time you’re ready to go. Lifting isn’t easy to begin with and on tour it is even harder, however if you make it part of tour just like it’s part of your life then you will have no problem continuing to make progress as a weight lifter.

Finding Powerlifting Success

3 Keys to Powerlifting.
I’ve recently had a ton of people ask me about my programming. Things such as who makes it for me, how often I train, what methods are the best for increasing strength in certain areas, and even how to create a program of your own. I’ve given it some thought. I’ve been writing my own exercise programs for almost a decade, but I’ve been creating powerlifting specific programs for a year. I’ve had people tell me they make their own program and some find things that work for them, and others still need guidance. So keep in mind, this is not scientifically based. These are my opinions on the matter. These are my three keys to being a successful powerlifter.
One at a time. I’m a big believer in the thought of improving your lifts one at a time. There has been a plethora of individuals that have told me they want to get better at squat, bench, and deadlift. Like we all don’t want to be well rounded. I, however, don’t see a way to improve all three lifts “significantly” in 8-12 weeks, which is what I deem to be the proper length of a typical training cycle. You can obviously get stronger, but to get a bigger bench press, you have to bench. And squatting twice a week isn’t going to help with that. You’d have to dedicate that training period to bench. Decide what is the problem area. Do you need more stamina, are you just weak in general, or is your technique just horrendous? Once you find the problem, fix it.
Heavy lifting equivalates to heavy lifting. I see a ton of guys running around using rubber bands to train and it pisses me off. It’s not “old skool”, it’s a waste of your time. You will never get to a meet and have the judges say u can lift 135 as long as it feels like 800 at the top (supposedly). Another issue I see many people having is living by the thought of using light weights and high volume to make them stronger. Moving 225 40 times won't help you move 500 for 1. It just doesn't work like that. Your body won't be used to the heavy weight if you never test it out. If you want to lift 700lbs, you have to be able to at least move 635 for a set of three. You need to give your body the chance to feel the heavy weight, so it knows what is expected of it.
Consistency is key. When people ask for advice on training, I find that they generally want to know, how to write a program, how long it should be, and what exercises they should be doing. My first two points pretty much explain two of those answers, but as far as what exercises you should be doing; it doesn’t matter a heck of a whole lot. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to be an “Elite” powerlifter, you can’t do bicep curls and calf raises everyday and hope it increases your big three. If you’re going to the gym and busting your ass everyday while doing exercises specifically geared toward your goal, you’re going to get stronger. It’s inevitable.
Let’s review. My thoughts are programs should be geared toward upcoming meets and should last anywhere from 8 – 12 weeks. When I train and I don’t have something coming up, I just wing it. You should too. You're only going to increase one of the big three lifts significantly at a time. So, don’t waste your time trying to go up 300lbs in 9 weeks. It doesn’t work that way. You have to lift heavy if you plan to lift heavy. Don’t go getting hurt in your next meet because you trained with 60% of your max for a whole cycle. That’s foolish. Last, but not least, be consistent. Whatever you decide your goal is or however long you’re going to work toward that goal, just keep it up. You’re going to get there eventually. I believe in you. #Underdogsoftheyear

The Bench Arch

So you want to learn how to get a solid cheater arch? Before the internet trolls start up about how it's bad for your back and this that and the other, just shut up. While in an arch your spine is in a stable position. Your vertebra approximate during extension so the risk of soft tissue or disc related injuries is very low. The only people who should avoid excessive arching are those with osteoporosis or similar bone diseases because then the arch would probably injure your spine. Additionally, the load is not directed down through your spinal column, thus decreasing the likelihood of any type of serious back injury. People with preexisting disc issues can arch safely because extension does not place excess stress on the discs. Now without further adieu, I'm here to teach you how to get that wonderful cheater bench.

The Bench Press is historically one of the most popular exercises to ever be created; with a bench basically in every gym under the sun, this prolific exercise is the so called "center of the gym universe". Achieving a bigger bench is the main focus of almost every male when they start in the weight room. For some people one way to help this process to adopt a technique that decreases your range of motion, or ROM. Beyond being born with "benchin" sweet T-Rex arms like myself, there are 2 main ways to go about this. The first is adopting a wider hand grip to the maximum allowable width or what you feel comfortable with. In most powerlifting federations this would be where your index finger is covering the rings on the bar. This can be very stressful on the shoulder girdle, specifically the pec muscles, delts and shoulder joint itself, especially if you try to go to heavy too quickly. My suggestion is to move your grip out an inch, or one finger width, at a time and see how it feels.

The second and more internet controversial way is to increase your arch. This is a legal way to bench in all powerlifting federations; so suck it, Internet! I will say though, one of the major issues I see with the many people is that they aren't arching correctly. The idea of arching is to form a stable position to press from while reducing your ROM. The major points of contact you want on the bench are your upper trap and the bottom third of your glutes. Far too many people just try to arch their lower back and neglect to form a stable shelf to press from. The cue I often give people is to get up on the top of their trap and try to bring your butt and traps as close together as possible. In addition to this cue, I have the athlete get some anterior forward rotation at the hips. In not so delicate terms, I remind myself to do this by telling myself to get my sack on the bench (I guess vag works if you don't have a sac). Now that you get the general idea, I am going to give you a couple tips that have helped me develop a solid arch.

The first aspect is flexibility/mobility. Some people will have a hard time getting a large and stable arch because they are too tight in several areas. Typically, the main problem area is the hips, primarily the hip flexors. The majority of people spend a lot of time sitting and this tends to cause the hip flexors to become chronically shortened. If you try to arch and the front of your hip feel like they are going to snap, it's time to start doing some hip flexor stretches. Namely, the lunge stretch and the couch stretch. I'll have some pictures and videos on my Instagram (@nickisrael.dpt) for those interested in seeing them. The second problem area a lot of people is their upper back, or thoracic spine. If you have decreased thoracic extension, you will have problems setting up on your traps to arch and form a stable pressing position. You naturally don't have a lot of motion in your thoracic spine (due to the anatomical design of the vertebrae) but you want to maximize what we do have. If you have trouble extending through your upper back (around the scapula) and getting on your traps, it's time to bust out that handy foam roll or peanut (double lacrosse ball). My recommendation is to do some thoracic extension mobilizations over the foam roller or peanut.

The second aspect of an effective arch is stability. If your mobility doesn't appear to be an issue then it's likely a stability issue.

You need to keep every muscle tight in an arch to make sure you have a stable position to press from. You need to maintain strong scapular retraction (shoulder blades together) during the bench press. This will keep your upper back tight and give you a strong safer pressing position. Also make sure to engage your Lats by trying the bend the bar laterally. Your Lats add overall spinal stability during the pressing motion. In addition you need keep tension in your lower body to maintain overall stability. I like to tell people to think about trying to push themselves up the bench toward their spotter, but not up to the ceiling, because this might cause your butt to lift off the bench which will result in red lights. Pushing up the bench is a good cue for maintaining lower body tightness and keeping yourself on your traps.

Adding in these simple and effective mobility exercises and stability cues will get you on your way to having that beautiful arch de triumph that will make you the envy of all your gym buddies. Keep an eye out for more tips on Instagram and YouTube.



Getting under the bar with 1,035 pounds

True Life: I’m addicted to my briefs…

The point of this article is not to argue or push powerlifting ideology on anyone. But instead, I want to share why lifting in gear, suits or whatever you wish to call it, was so appealing to me. I currently train as a “Raw” lifter but still get the itch to throw on a pair of briefs from time to time. As I know it all too well, it is impossible to break down the powerlifting dogma that is associated with geared/equipped lifters. Whether this came from petty jealousy or severe lack of admiration for this sport, we as “society of powerlifters” are doomed based on these principles.  

I started out in powerlifting as a “Raw” lifter (I wore a belt and wrist wraps). I always thought of myself a strong person, but when I saw people weighing 50lbs less than me and squatting over 200lbs more than me, I was in dumbfounded. But what makes me different than the countless number of gym goers than troll and plague our sport, is that instead of condemning these people, I asked how it was done? It was at this point I realized that they were lifting with equipment. Well like any rational person, I understood the differences between them and myself, but more importantly I focused on the similarities we had, to lift the most amount of weight possible!

It was never a question about who is stronger, it is always about lifting the most weight. Early in my powerlifting career I was privileged enough to surround myself with great ambassadors of the strength sports, they ranged from strongmen, all forms of powerlifters, weightlifters and highland game athletes. This allowed me to understand the strengths and weakness of each sport and to empathize with the difficulties they had to overcome. As I said earlier I was a “Raw” lifter, but when I began to train with equipped lifters, I decided to step into the dark side of powerlifting. I threw on an old singly ply centurion suit and knee wraps, a combo that is laughable by today’s standards, but it felt like a suit of armor. That day, I worked up to roughly 800lbs’ my first time in a suit and I was lifting 200lbs over anything I had ever attempted. After that I was hooked.

The next part of this article describes one of my proudest achievements in my powerlifting career, SPF Nationals, June or July of 2010. They day I broke the 1000lb squat barrier! I later went on to squat on my third attempt 1035@219, I believe is still the top 3 squat in the Open 220 Multiply Class. Very few people in this world will ever have the privilege or for lack of a better term, the balls to step under a 1000lb bar. For those of you that have never witnessed this or experienced it first hand, I will recount my experience…

There’s a rush of emotion and feelings as you approach the platform. The crowd on their feet cheering on this inhuman feat of strength. The smell of broken ammonia capsules and chalk fill your nose… you breath it in with a twisted smile. The ammonia stabs your nostrils and your eyes open; locked on and focused on the squat rack that is supporting your prize in the air as if it is taunting you. You try to remain focused and calm as you walk to the platform, but the sounds and screams of competitors and spectators are amplified 10 fold. Many people would release this surge of energy and use it to stampede to the bar, attempting to knock it from its pillar. But you approach the bar slowly, you feel the pain from the months of training, each step reminded you that you cannot fail!

Finally you face your foe; this inevitable meeting seems to last for hours, although in reality it is only a few moments. You tighten your belt as a gladiator would tighten the last piece of armor before they stepped into the arena. You attack the bar with your hands, drive your traps into the center knurling; A literal cloud of chalk stirs in the air from the initial blow to the bar. And you know… it is time…

As you begin to lift the bar from its shackles, the room goes silent, your vision is blurred and you feel the weight bear down on your back, air is driven from your body, and the stress of the weight begins to attack the foundation upon which you stand; a modern day Atlas holding up the weight of the world. Your decent is slow, every moment you are fighting to keep the bar at bay; as you approach the final decent, the pressure from the weight has already began its attack, capillaries burst throughout your body, the squeeze from the knee wraps begins to rip your skin apart and begin to question your strength. However, as you began to flirt with the sandman to take away the pain, you hear, “UPPPPP!!!” At this moment, all the pain, all the pressure seems to disappear and the animalistic fight to survive overcomes you. The weight, that moments ago was defeating you, is now at your mercy. The bar rises upward to the sky, fighting you with everything it has. As you reach the end of this arduous journey, you can only admire all those who have reached this pinnacle before you and all you can see is a view that is quite literally breath taking…

Powerlifting Rookie to American Record Holder

Hi….I’m Payal


I like to deadlift…and I’m kind of good at it.  I managed to pull an all-time open American record and break a USAPL American record last year.  Yes, I’m built to deadlift.  And yes, I worked really hard to achieve what I have.  But, I know I wouldn’t be writing to you now or doing any of this were it not for a series of very fortunate events.

Fortunate event #1: My road to powerlifting started with a bang…I mean a literal “got hit by a car while on my bike, and broke my pelvis (I know everyone blames the biker, but I swear it wasn’t my fault!)” kind of bang. At the time, I thought it was one of the worst things that could happen to me.  Two weeks out from my first triathlon, I went from swimming, biking, and running all over town to being stuck in a bed.  Let’s just say I didn’t handle being so sedentary very well. Not to mention, it was the first time I ever broke a bone, so after 24 years of thinking I was “invincible,” I learned that I, in fact, was not (double downer).  However years later, I realized that that accident was one of those pivotal moments that, I think, ultimately changed my life for the best.  It would be too complicated to explain the nuances of how.  But suffice it to say, had that accident not happened, I most likely would have gone to UNC for a MPH in something nutrition-related, rather than going to UF where I got my PhD in Exercise Physiology (I couldn’t be the “Dr” in Dr. Deadlift)…and met the person who got me into powerlifting (I wouldn’t be Dr. Deadlift, period!).

Fortunate event #2: I was stuck in a class my first semester of grad school with Jared Skinner.  Of course, Jared being Jared, he had to let everyone know how he could squat 1000lbs (what this had to do with research methods…who knows).  Though I slept through class most days (yes, I was awful), I was awake for that comment, sized him up real quick from across the room, and called bullshit.  If you can’t tell already, I like giving Jared a hard time.  True to form, the jabs started the moment I met him.  Not long after his little “boast,” we were seated next to each other at an awards banquet, where I decided to start the conversation with: “Hey we have a class together…I don’t think you can squat 1000lbs.”  And so was the start of our great, abusive friendship, which eventually led to him convincing me to join his powerlifting group and coaching me (the physical abuse!).

Fortunate event #3: Around when I joined the group, there was another girl who had also started training with Jared.  She had decided to do a powerlifting comp 3 months later.  Why is this fortunate?  Jared had been trying to get me to lift with his group for months.  In all honesty, I was intimidated by the thought of little ol’ (weak!) me lifting with these strong-ass men who knew what they were doing.  I know better now.  We all have to start somewhere.  And if you don’t start, you don’t stand a chance of ever reaching the level of those already at that level you think you can’t reach (haha, hope that makes sense).  But so, I hemmed and hawed over joining the group for a looooong while.  If I had started lifting any later than I did, or the other girl wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have done that meet…THE meet that got me hooked to powerlifting.  Originally, Jared and I had talked about me joining him in the context of learning to deadlift properly, with no intention of competing.  But being uber competitive, if she was doing a meet, I had to also (though, granted, I did it deadlift only).  There, I hit a huge 40lb PR with 265, which was 10lbs off from the state record at the time. Whaaaat?!?! I was kinda good at something?!?!  Well shoot, I needed to keep training so I could do another meet where I could break that record!  So, I kept with it.  I really don’t know how long I would’ve continued lifting had it not been for the other female lifter, her wish to compete, and the timing of our meet.  It wasn’t until after a few more months that I finally squatted and benched too. Under Jared’s guidance, I trained, did more meets, and trained some more.  Somewhere in there, I found that I not only liked competing but loved training as a powerlifter (as opposed to in other sports I’ve done [which ironically up until then were all endurance sports, yuck] where I was driven by competition, but didn’t actually love the sport itself).  It’s always been important to me to stay active in some way, so that I can maintain my physical independence as I get old.  Barr any tragedy (knock on wood), I had the mode with which I’d do it.  

Fortunate event #4: Sometime in the middle of my last year of grad school, Jared called to tell me he met some guy and we were going to train at his home gym that day.  For the 2+ years I had been powerlifting at that time, we trained first at the school gym and then at Powerhouse.  They’re great gyms for getting in shape…but not so great for powerlifters.  No chalk, smooth AF bars, hex plates…I didn’t know any better then to know how bad we had it…but we had it bad.  But this guy Jared met (or I think actually just heard about through other lifters he met at Powerhouse) was planning to open a powerlifting gym in the near future and had already amassed a good deal of powerlifting equipment in his home gym and welcomed us to use it.  Haha, I still remember talking to Jared about this and thinking something was off.  Who in their right mind invites complete strangers to their home to use their precious equipment????  And what was the catch??? There had to be a catch!  Well, the gym to be was American Barbell Club.  The guy was John (who, I was right, isn’t normal, cause a normal guy couldn’t make ABC what it is).  And the catch was “don’t fuck up.”  Even though I had to move before John officially opened ABC, ABC (the gym) is “bae”, and ABC (the entity) is my family.

Haha, I know this is a super cheesy post but fuck it.  I think I earned one cheesy post (and might as well have it be the first one!).  Pretty sure that if any one of these things didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be here and able to say that I’m doing the sport I love, with the people I love, representing the gym I love.  I hope I do you all proud!  

Jeremy Hoornstra World Record Recap

So I competed in the APA Raw Nationals in Defuniak Springs, FL and despite breaking my all-time record of 661 with 663, I was less than pleased with my performance to be honest.  I know that things happen and especially in strength sports when almost everything has to be aligned to get what you know you’re capable of, but it was not what I was wanting, not what I was expecting, and definitely less than I will get next time.

The training leading into the meet was going very well.  I decided that after hitting about four meets all pretty much back to back that a break from it all was needed for a few reasons.  First, my body was exhausted, I was shot, and it was starting to show.  Second, I had spent so much time in “meet prep” that I hadn’t gotten chance to really evaluate my training and look at my strengths and weaknesses to work on them all and bring them together.  I hadn’t had down time to really focus on strength, stick points, etc. so a new cycle was due.

I started off with the higher reps and broke each part of the bench down to specific parts (off the chest, few inches above that, just over mid-range, and lockout) as well as the muscle groups incorporated with each with extra focus deltoids, triceps, and chest obviously but also some accessory groups such as rear delts and lats.  I focused on speed generation off the chest and started watching film of the lifts I was doing and working on whatever we felt was the weakest.  I have always been a strong lockout bencher but over the last couple of years, the speed off my chest has become so much more powerful that the lockout wasn’t able to keep up.  So, I kicked my ass to get everything up to par as you are only as strong as the weakest part of the bench.  700 lbs. off the chest with no lockout doesn’t mean a damn thing.

As the meet approached, it transitioned into more specific weaknesses as I had gained significant strength through this cycle of about five to six months and started getting heavier and heavier with reps diminishing.  I was consistently hitting over 650 lbs. and over 615lbs for doubles and triples.  I worked up to a 675 on a horribly narrow LA Fitness bench and then just after that an even faster 685 and felt that I was as strong as I had ever been. Everything was falling into place, I was about 2 weeks out, and I was sitting at about 249lbs so a weight drop wasn’t even in the back of my mind.

I took the last week off and felt great, rested and ready to go kick ass and got ready for the six hour drive to the show.  Throughout the training I had been consistently getting stronger despite distractions with normal life, kids, etc. as well as my family and I are moving in about a month 3 hours away so there was getting a place there, getting ours rented out, storage, job, as well as starting a new business.  So, stressors were there but I was good to go.

I made weight fairly easy, a few hot showers and I was on the money at 241.2 lbs.  Time to bloat up as I think it was in Shanghai Knights where Jacki Chan said “wet towel not tear” followed by Owen Wilson saying something along the lines of “you said wet towel not tear, not piss towel bend bars”.  Very saturated muscles are much less likely to be injured, minor or major so I hydrate to the point at which I look like a bloated lazy ass.  Better safe than sorry.  So, the saltiest and easiest food for me to eat and has been a tradition (until now) is Chinese food.  However, with the food poisoning that soon followed, I immediately regretted that decision.  I tossed and turned, my wife had to get me medicine about five different times, was up all night up until I found out the meet had started and was going quickly.

I made it to the show and was feeling ok by then, no real breakfast but ok, definitely better than the previous eight hours.  Warmups felt…ok at best.  My last warmup backstage was 585 which flew up and then I always get a fourth or at least plan for one so I make my opener my last “warmup” as I make sure that if all goes wrong, I still get on the board.  623 flew up, went to 663 just to break my previous record which went up decent.  Went to 677.9 which would break my 275 class all-time record and on the unrack, it felt the lightest yet, great descent, great touch, and on the press, I pushed off groove for some reason, towards my feet almost and it made it halfway until my delts gave out and fell right back down.  I missed it from bad form, which of all times to do it was on my third.  The plan was to get that and then go over 700 for this meet and then drop to 220 for the next one.  So, that will be postponed one more time as I will not be happy until the 242 record is sitting over 700 lbs., then I will get the 220 record over at least 650.  I have a few goals after that (which will be post meniscus repair) including the 242 total record but short term-wise, 700 will fall.  I know what has to be done and I know my mistakes from this meet.  No matter how long you’ve been lifting or how much you know, you can always learn more and I learned a lot from this meet.  

So, I’m not happy with it…but will take it…for now.  I know that may seem crazy but I know what I’m capable of and I know what I have set my goals at and I will reach them…not satisfied until I do.  To throw out one more quote and test your movie knowledge…”It will be mine…Oh yes…it will be mine…”


Staying Hungry; The Chase For World Records

Never in my life when I started powerlifting did I think I would be chasing a World Record in ANY weight class, let alone gain so much muscle and strength that I would be forced to go up a weight class. When I couldn’t cut to 148 anymore, I began shaking in my boots looking at the competition in the 165 class.  Currently the records are 485 lb raw (knee sleeves) squat, 330 lb bench and 537 deadlift and 1317 lb total. The only thing I’m close to right now is the deadlift, and trying to get five or ten pounds every meet or even in training has been like pulling teeth. The “newbie gains” are a real thing, and they definitely slowed the fuck down ages ago.

            There’s always going to be some sort of obstacle in your way when you’re trying to achieve something, no matter what it is. In powerlifting, its either a plateau, an injury, another lifter in your weight class, or even yourself.  Lately for me it’s been the pain in my shoulder, which makes benching impossible and my grip on the deadlift suffer. The leaps you make in progress as a novice lifter are huge, but as time passes you find your patience in this sport gets tested. What tests it even more is being injured and trying to work around it to maintain even the smallest amount of strength. The moment most people stop seeing easy gains, they start questioning their commitment to their training and end up being just another “tourist” in the sport. They came. They tried. They left.

            I am obsessed with powerlifting. I live, breathe, think and talk about this shit constantly. I look at training of up-and-coming lifters, past lifters, and top ranked in the world to see if what they do would suit me. All I try to be is better than yesterday. This is what keeps me driven to be the best version of myself, the best in the world. This is what keeps me from being just another “tourist.” You don’t stop when you get sick, or busy, or hurt or even lazy. You get off your ass, you get in the gym and give it 100% every single time you train no matter what weight is on that bar. You do all the things you hate doing or that no one else likes to do, just to make yourself stronger.  You figure out what you did wrong and you fix it. If you want to be the best you have to realize that this isn’t a hobby, it’s a sport. That’s means you’re an athlete and being an athlete requires a lot of sacrifice.

            Finding a proper program and the proper technique that works with YOUR body and YOUR leverages is extremely important. No amount of steroids, no fancy diet, no $200 squat shoe is going to make you the strongest possible you. You have to earn it.  Nothing beats hard fucking work and that’s all I’ve done to try to get the all time world record deadlift. Being only 19lbs away from having it is like having your favorite food right in front of your face, but you have real life T-rex arms. You can smell it, but you have no idea how long it’s going to take it reach it. I pulled 500lbs in September 2015 and so far I’ve only achieved 18 lbs. As much as it sucks, it just makes me hungrier for it. It makes me want to work harder than ever before, than anyone else, because I want to be like Becca Swanson, like Liz Freel, like Laura Phelps, like Susan Salazar, like Kristy Hawkins. It literally only boils down to “how bad do you want it?” And I want it pretty fucking bad. I have to stay hungry.

Optimizing Bodybuilding For Powerlifting

It’s true.  You will never be judged on your appearance during a powerlifting meet; at least by the judges.  It’s also true that being big, muscular, and/or lean isn’t a direct reflection of an individual’s strength.  However, there are a couple of related concepts that I want to discuss that DO carry over into powerlifting.  

    As both a trainer and a competitor, I talk to a lot of people about problems they’re experiencing in the pursuit of their goals.  One common topic that comes up regularly in these conversations is hitting plateaus in their training programs.  Another is jumping from one training method/plan to the next (thinking that this is the solution when they aren’t getting the results that they want) without taking the time to assess what they actually need.  Enter bodybuilding, as a training model: The main goal of bodybuilding is to gain size, both overall and specifically targeting weaker body parts and/or lagging muscle groups.  I take this same bodybuilding-style approach to powerlifting, in the sense that if I see that there is a weakness in a movement, I isolate that point of weakness in order to further develop it.  Take the bench press, for example.  If I miss a lockout on the bench during a meet, focusing on tricep strength during that movement would become my number one priority to address the issue.  I would still work the compound motion, but would add emphasis on the lockout to isolate the problem area.  I would add board presses and floor presses to my program and would use bands/chains in my existing lifts.

    I think that the same bodybuilding mentality is even applicable when determining your competition weight class.  The goal is to have as much muscle mass packed onto the lightest frame your body can allow, unless you compete in the SHW division.  I’m 6’2”, and when I started powerlifting, I weighed in at 258 pounds.  I understood that in order to be competitive, I would need to compete in the 275 weight class rather than the 242 – even though it would have been much easier for me to drop the weight.  Yes, a longer lever athlete has mechanical advantage, but in this sport you just can’t beat force production.  So I decided to put in the work to add the 20 pounds to my frame.  However, if I was 5’10” at 258 pounds, for example, I would have decided to cut the weight and would have stayed as lean as I could in order to compete at the 242 weight class.  The bottom line is that fat will never help you lift more weight and fat will never turn into muscle.

    At the end of the day, if your goal is to get stronger then you have to train for strength.  But ultimately, getting bigger will greatly assist you in getting stronger if you utilize your training correctly.  Hypertrophy is one of the most underutilized progressions in periodization for strength athletes and it shouldn’t be.  It’s also a good way to break up your training schedule when you’re not in meet-prep programming, helping to ensure that your CNS doesn’t get burnt.  I have seen a lot of lifters with under-1000 pound totals lifting kind of casually during training, maybe taking 5 to 10 minutes in between their sets.  That’s okay if you just want to be social, but it would be a better use of time to train more intensely with shorter (30 second) breaks.  Focusing on this type of training can and will teach you to be a better lifter.  Hypertrophy training teaches you discipline, work ethic, the value of your (and others’) time, and to shut the fuck up and focus on why you are at the gym in the first place.