Well, it’s been over a month since I’ve posted, but with good reason. I just finished up finals for my last full semester of graduate school and I’m two summer classes away from having my Master’s degree. In celebration of being 99 percent done, I made my way to Ohio with one of my buddies to meet up with my old lifting partner and work security for Rock on the Range, the biggest rock and metal festival in America.
I always have a good time in Ohio (like when I went to the Arnold Classic back in March) and this time was no different. I got to get up close and personal with some of my favorite bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Volbeat, Clutch, Lamb of God, Ghost and dozens of others. After spending 40 hours over three days catching hundreds of crowd surfers and breaking up fighting meth-heads, we got in an Ohio-style lift (i.e. hard, heavy and loud on almost no sleep) and I got to thinking about some important lessons from the weekend.
I remember reading this in one of Sean Hyson‘s articles and I believe it wholeheartedly. Research consistently shows that sleep deprivation decreases performance during prolonged heavy exercise, so if you’ve been burning midnight oil, get more out of less by going heavy. Keep the volume low for your big exercises (less than 10 total working reps) and stick to sets of 1-5 reps.
Hell, after four days of little-to-no sleep (and when he wasn’t taking sniper shots of me snoozing in the car), my buddy Dan hit a big squat PR. What’s your excuse?
Rather than crushing tons of volume, I worked up to a moderately-hard sumo deadlift triple at 425, which turns out to be about 82 percent of my all-time sumo PR. I only did nine total reps over 405 and moved on.
2. SLEEP QUALITY TRUMPS SLEEP QUANTITY
Just because you spend 60 hours a week at a desk twiddling your thumbs doesn’t mean you’re working hard. And just because you spend eight hours a night in bed doesn’t mean you’re sleeping well if you’re tossing and turning all night.
Believe it or not, I haven’t been many places in my young adult life. I’ve spent most of my time between my home state of Vermont, a few places in New England, and the past two years in New York. But I can honestly say that the only two places on this earth where I feel like I get truly amazing sleep is my childhood house in Vermont and my buddy’s place in Ohio.
Maybe it’s the clean back country air or the bullfrogs croaking in the backyard pond. Maybe it’s the lack of traffic noise or the absence of street lights. Maybe it’s spending all day doing physical labor and going to bed without staring at a computer screen all night. Either way, even though I wasn’t sleeping much, I was sleeping hard. This let me get up and kick ass for four days in a row with far less than eight hours of sleep a night.
So before you freak out about getting more sleep, think about how you can improve the quality of the sleep you’re already getting.
3. EAT FOR YOUR ACTIVITY LEVEL
I got a whopping one semester of nutrition education during my two years of grad school. The main thing I took away from that was most nutrition recommendations are completely whack.
These high carb, low protein “athletic performance” diets you’ll get from textbooks are designed for endurance athletes who expend a ton of calories from long training sessions. If you’re sedentary – or even the average weight lifter – chances are you’ll get fat eating this way.
I consider myself pretty active. I train 5-6 times a week between lifting weights and doing sprints. But let’s be honest. I sit a lot. For the past two years, I’ve spent between 10-12 hours a day, six days a week at work or in class. My training sessions are short and I don’t expend a ton of calories during those sessions. I don’t need 500-plus grams of carbs per day. My activity level doesn’t warrant it.
But guess what? My activity level probably tripled this past weekend. So I ate a ton of carbs. I ate more frequently. I even ate breakfast. I can hear the intermittent fasting disciples gasping with disbelief.
If you’re not a marathon runner, don’t eat 1,000 grams of carbs a day. If you’re not a body builder on steroids, don’t eat 500 grams of protein a day. Don’t dive headfirst into Carb Backloading or the Renegade Diet or Paleo or whatever just because it worked for someone else. Do your homework first.
Most importantly, use common sense when putting food in your mouth.
4. GET STRONGER TO MAKE LIFE EASIER
Life is easier when you’re strong. Think about it. Carrying groceries, moving furniture, giving piggyback rides to supermodels. And in my case, catching crowd surfers and subduing belligerent moshers.
Cardiac rehabilitation was a huge focus in my grad program, and we learned a lot about the importance of weight training for older people who had had heart attacks, bypass surgery, etc. Most people say, “Oh no! Sick people shouldn’t lift weights!” But the stronger you are, the easier Activites of Daily Living (ADLs) become.
Someone with a heart problem has to worry about their blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen consumption during ADLs that we take for granted. Opening car doors, mowing the lawn and even taking a dump can trigger potentially life-threatening events. But the stronger someone is, the less intense these ADLs become. Suddenly, walking up the stairs doesn’t send their blood pressure and heart rate through the roof. They can go get the mail without shortness of breath or chest pain.
This goes for everyone – not just sick people. Strong people are more productive members of society, more attractive to the opposite sex and harder to kill. I can’t find the randomized double-blind study that proves all this, but Mark Rippetoe agrees so it’s probably true.
5. ARE YOU A COACH OR AN EDUCATOR?
There’s a big difference between just being a strength coach and being an educator. Anyone can write a program and teach an exercise. It takes a special person to educate, empower and inspire their athletes/clients.
I had the privilege of lifting at Denison University under the watchful eye of Mark Watts, the school’s head strength coach and a writer/adviser for EliteFTS. Aside from being an accomplished strongman competitor and all-around badass, Mark has a brilliant ability to instruct and motivate. He walked me through the basics of the log clean and press and tire flips, and he wasn’t shy about barking encouragement to someone who he’d met just minutes earlier.
Later, I commented to my friend how Mark’s coaching cues were really effective. My buddy replied that Mark was a licensed elementary school teacher, so he “has plenty of experience working with idiots like you.” Thanks dude.
But it makes perfect sense. Early childhood educators don’t just teach kids how to spell and add. They have to teach life skills and essentially set the tone for how these kids develop into adults. It’s no coincidence that someone trained to mold young minds would also make a great strength coach.
A question for my fellow strength coaches out there: are you just a coach? Or are you an educator? Be more than just an exercise instructor. Be an inspiration. Be a role model. Don’t just make your clients better athletes or lifters. Make them better people.