Why the Highland Games
It has been no secret that I have been prepping and training for the Highland Games in Scotland. Why does a strongman want to do a Highland Games? The answer to that is pretty obvious. The origins of strongman dates back to the Norse and Scottish culture dating back more than seven centuries. Where feats of strength are the norm in day to day life and at times survival.
The Highland Games itself especially the Heavy Events are probably or most likely the origins of the modern day contemporary strongman competitions. Now individuals who have not seen or tried any of the events in the Highland Games may come to a quick conclusion that “Hey, that looks pretty easy”. I can assure you that it is not. It was an eye-opening experience and definitely each throw, attempt or failure is a learning experience on how much I need to grow as an athlete.
The Highland Games in a Nutshell
Whether spectating or participating, The Highland Games are a unifying rite of passage for any Scots. Amidst the vast ocean of tartan, bagpipes and clans, sits a cultural event steeped in skill, tradition and community.
From the months of May through to September, society and communities across Scotland and other countries partakes in these games, which include the heavy events like the caber toss, stone put, throwing weights for distance or height and the Scottish hammer throw. Dancers of immense talent of various ages and genders move gracefully under the hypnotic tunes of the bagpipes. The pipe bands and march past is a cultural fixture at all Highland Games that summon harmonious and almost hypnotic melodies throughout the games.
It turns out that the Highland Games, like many moments in Scottish history, are laced with a healthy dose of ambiguity. Multiple sources mention King Malcolm III of Scotland. During the 11th century, proposed a foot race at the majestic summit of Craig Choinnich, which overlooks Braemar. The story goes that his motive was to uncover the fastest runner of the bunch, so that he could have a swift royal messenger!
Many adhere to the thought that the Games originated as a type of war game or as a means of sifting through the ranks as a means of finding the best candidates in their field to serve the clan chieftains, both of which focus on strength, agility, and to some degree, entertainment. To stress the enduring nature of the Highland Games, rewind back to 1314 in Fife, where the Ceres Highland Games, the oldest free games out there started by Robert The Bruce, were conceived to commemorate and celebrate the victorious return to Ceres of the men who fought at Bannockburn in 1314.
At the end of the day, when it comes to the history of the Highland Games. The most important thing is the sporting element. For it is the sporting portion that has always been the star of this Scottish show.
Prepping for the Highland Games Events
My sole focus will be on the Heavy Events because I’m definitely not graceful enough to be part of the dancing bit of the Games.
There are a few events which are fixtures at most Highland Games like below.
Caber Toss – The caber is a large, tapered, wooden pole (like a telegraph pole) between 15 and 23 feet (5-7 metres) long and weighing between 5 and 11 stone (30-70kg). One of the most fearsome cabers of all is the 20ft (6m), 9.5 stone (60kg) Braemar caber, first tossed in 1951. The origins of this event is from woodsmen who were used to hauling trees.
Shot Put/Stone Put – Similar to the modern-day Olympic shot put, but normally featuring a smooth stone (or sometimes not). There are versions of the stone toss events, one that allows a run-up and more variation in technique, the other a standing put. Large smooth stones from a riverbed are used for putting.
Scottish Hammer Throw – Similar to the hammer throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions. A round metal ball (weighing 16 or 22 lb. for men or 12 or 16 lb. for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length. The throwing motion involves about two to three swings from stationary position. The hammer throw originated using a blacksmith’s hammer.
Weight for Distance – The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually, a spinning technique is employed.
Weight over Bar – Athletes toss a 56-pound (4-stone) weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand.
Drumtocthy Highland Games
The Drumtocthy Games takes place in the grounds of Drumtochty Castle in Drumtochty Glen just two miles outside the picturesque village of Auchenblae. It’s known as the friendliest games in all of Scotland. And all You have to do is just turn and approach any of the grounds staff or officials and they will direct you where to go.
I selected this games because it was within my schedule of my stay while in Scotland. But what I did not know was that the Drumtocthy Highland Games was a sheer international display at the highest of levels of competition with athletes from Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, US and Scotland. It escalated quickly turning out to be an international affair with world class Highland Games athletes whom have years of experience and numerous Highland games under their belt. It was very clear that I was a fish out of water especially after the first event which was the Hammer Throw.
But I have always adopted the philosophy of just competing and do my own thing while enjoying myself. With every throw the crowd cheered and clapped, you may not be the best thrower but one thing that I really appreciated was the crowd cheered and clapped for every single one who genuinely gave their best in every throw, every event and attempt.
I walked away from this games with some personal best of a really smooth hammer, heavy hammer and weight for distance throw in terms of technique. It also seems that I am the breaker of all equipment by damaging the equipment for weight over bar with the weight dropping on the equipment stand causing it to collapse to the bewilderment, laughter and cheers of the crowd. I was utterly embarrassed and I probably got the death stares from Bruce the Head Judge for the Heavies.
In the final event the Caber toss… It is still sad to say that I have not mastered or gotten this event yet. And I still have to work harder to get the technique down.
Ceres Highland Games
Being one of the oldest Highland Games since 1314 sanctioned by Robert the Bruce to commemorate and celebrate the victorious return to Ceres of the men who fought at Bannockburn in 1314. The only times that the Ceres Games didn’t happen was during the Act of Proconscription (1746-1782) and the years during World War I and II. The Ceres Games is one of the very few free games that you don’t have to pay an entrance fee to compete or to watch. All you have to do is show up walk up to any of the officials and they will direct you where you need to go.
The Ceres Highland Games featured different events from Drumtocthy. They don’t have a hammer because of the competition area is rather small when compared to Drumtocthy. Ceres Heavy Events featured Shot Put, Heavy Weight for Distance, Ceres Stane, Weight over Bar, Sheaf Toss, Caber for Distance and Caber for Accuracy. Some of the events that were different and rather interesting was the Ceres Stane, Sheaf Toss and Weight over Bar.
The Ceres Stane is a 100-110lbs (45-50kg) stone attached to a ring that only fitted three of my fingers and you have to throw is over a distance anyway or whatever way that you can. Each athlete is only given two throw. I chose to do a run up and throw. But I can definitely do better at this event.
The Sheaf Toss is a rather interesting because as my Scottish friends were telling me, this was a really traditional event that farm boys have to heave a 15kg to 20kg sheaf onto a cart which is about 10 feet high. And on the cart will be another farm hand to stack and arrange the sheaf. If the sheaf fell in a wrong position he would be the butt of the joke for the whole day. Of course this story is entirely anecdotal but it could probably be true. This was a pretty fun event though. You get three tries for each height and we started at 14 feet. I managed to chuck it over the bar on the third attempt to the cheers of the crowd.
The Weight over Bar is generally a crowd favourite, athletes will have to throw a 56lbs (25kg) weight over a height, three tries per height and then the bar rises again. Until you fail all three attempts on a set height. Then you are eliminated from the event. To put this event in perspective, it’s like throwing a 7-8 year old child over a double decker bus. But of course no children were harmed in this event. I managed to do personal best on this event with 13”, failed on the 14” height but I was pretty close. This event was not to my advantage because I don’t have the physical leverages but it just means that I have to train and work harder.
My Overall Thoughts on my Highland Games Adventure
Flying 18 hours, 3 flight changes, 1 week of acclimatisation and loads of driving later. I finished my first proper Highland Games adventure in Scotland. Was it worth it spending money, flying and travelling all this way to get beaten and get an education? I think equating money and time to this whole adventure is pointless. Because I’ve been wanting to do a proper Highland Games in Scotland and be part of the history! I am after all probably the only Singaporean or Asian crazy enough to compete in the Highland Games in Scotland.
I was truly humbled to be able to compete in both the most challenging games in Drumtochty with the best of the athletes from all over the world. And the most historical games Highland Games at Ceres. Brett Nicol (Dinnie Stones Judge) spoke to me that “You got a real proper education at the Drumtochty Games because of the calibre of the athletes and you did yourself proud! No shame in doing your best”.
I already knew that I know I’m not going to place well in a
field of world class athletes like Kyle Randall, Lukas Wenta and Vladimir just to
name a few. But I was pleased to learn and compete with the best! Because if
you want to be up there, you got to compete with the best. If the opportunity
is not given to you, you got to create your own chances. Take your licks, keep
your head down, show up and do your best.
The highlight for me for this trip was having my name in the book of the Dinnie Stones which I would share in my next article when I actually get down to writing it. In the meantime train hard, train safe and always be brave to chase the impossible
Highland Games in a nutshell
All around the world people participate or are spectators at Scottish Highland Games. Seen as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture it is one of Scotland’s biggest cultural exports. Features of the Games include competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, heavy athletics, as well all kinds entertainment and exhibits related to many aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.
They were also thought to have originally been events where the strongest and bravest soldiers in Scotland would be tested. These gatherings were not only about trials of strength. Musicians and dancers were encouraged to reveal their skill and talents and so be a great credit to the clan that they represented.
Now there are Highland Games held in many places throughout the world. Traditionally some events have become standard in these games such as the caber toss, stone put, Scottish hammer throw, weight throw, weight over the bar and sheaf toss. However, these gathering now have a whole variety of events, stalls, entertainments, pipes, dancing and all kinds of competitions
First Highland Games experience in Kuala Lumpur
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to compete the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur, the hosts of the event invited me along to be part of the festivities. The Highland Games is definitely a gentlemen’s event with a high value placed on ethics, sport-manlike behaviour and camaraderie with your fellow Highland Games athletes.
Like for one… After you finished your throw, you are expected to place the implement at the starting point. After tossing the Caber, you are expected to bring back the Caber for the next athlete and raise it up for him. This was pretty amazing because it just solidifies the concept of camaraderie.
I didn’t expect to do well at the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur. It was pretty much a learn as you go. I’ve only thrown the shot put. I’ve never thrown the hammer, weight over bar, weight for distance or tossed a Caber. But I was pleasantly surprised that with every throw or event, I got better and better. Of course technique wise I was pretty terrible but I did hold my own with seasoned Highland Games athletes.
Highland Games Events
Perhaps the signature event of the Highland Games is the caber toss, where competitors toss a 20-foot-long caber (a large log), which normally weighs around 150lb, as far as possible. The caber toss is also a good test of balance, as the athlete has to balance the caber in their hands and perform a run-up before they toss it. Athletes’ throws are also judged on their straightness; a perfect toss sees the small end of the caber facing away from the thrower, at a “12 o’clock” angle.
The hammer throw is also an Olympic event, although the hammer thrown in the Highland Games is quite different. It consists of a metal ball, which can weigh up to 22lbs, connected to a wooden handle. Also unlike in the Olympic Games, athletes are not allowed to spin while throwing the hammer. Instead, they stand with their back facing the field, and swing the hammer over their heads before they twist 180 degrees and launch it as far as they can. The athletes also wear special boots, with long blades fixed to the bottom, in order to make sure they stay fixed into that spot in the ground.
The stone put event is much like shotput, however, the athletes instead throw a stone, weighing around 18lb, picked from a nearby river. Competitors throw the stone from behind a board known as a trig, and have three attempts to launch it as far as possible.
Weight for Height
This event is a real test of brute strength and tests how high the athletes can throw a 56lb weight over a cross bar. The catch is that they may only throw it with one hand, from a standing position, with three attempts to throw the weight over the bar at that height. The bar continues to be raised, with the athletes having to launch the weight higher and higher, until it’s the last man standing. To put this event into perspective is the same thing as launching a 7 year old up and over a double decker bus!
Weight for Distance
There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb for men and 14 lb for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb for men, 42 lb for masters men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The furthest throw wins.
A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9.1 kg) for the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the Weight Over The Bar. This event scares me because I have no idea how to do this. Worst case scenario, I stab myself in the while tossing the sheaf. Maybe I should wear safety goggles for this event.
How do I prep for something that I’ve never done before?
The truth is… Its almost impossible. Throwing to me came pretty naturally because my background as an athlete was Track and Field. I used to throw in my younger years representing my school and country. So some events came naturally to me like the shot put or stone throw because the movements were rather similar.
Basically the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur was a warm up and I needed it make sure I knew what I getting myself into. As a result of that, I’ve fabricated my own throwing hammer, weight over bar and weight for distance. Just slowly building up my own arsenal of Highland Games equipment of course with the help and input from the guys I’ve competed with at the Highland Games in Kuala Lumpur. Now I do event training at least twice a week when my schedule allows it. I’ve even got my blades fabricated and I’ve attached them to my throwing boots already! #achievementunlocked
You just got to throw caution to the wind and just learn as you go. It’s my dream to actually compete in one of the most traditional feats of strengths that is the Highland Games. I’ve always adopted a philosophy that you either win or you learn. I’m definitely not able to be pushing for a top three finish but I’m definitely going to do my best and make every throw count. And I’m going to learn from the best in Scotland which is also my ancestral home.
I will be competing at the Drumtochty Highland Games on the 22nd June 2019. The following week at the Ceres Highland Games on the 29th June 2019. And of course I had to choose the games that is oldest and most historical games. Questionable Life Decisions right there!
In the meantime stay injury free, stay strong and have a good month of fasting for my Muslim friends!
In this month’s video… I get to spend some time with the Gym Guys from Fit O’clock Jason and Don through strongman training. You got to see the whole video and have a good laugh!
Click on video below
We did the log, axle deadlift and a classic strongman lift the Dinnie Stones. Initially both Jason and Don really struggled with the session because they were completed out of their comfort zone. And the weight was just a little much. Because these two have absolutely no idea what they were in for.
Training for hypertrophy (beautiful symmetrical musculature) and training for strength are similar but the differences are amount of weight, speed and volume that is being lifted.
But strength or being strong is something you earn and work really hard for it. It doesn’t happen overnight but with a lot of time, effort and a lot of work.
As cheesy or painful as the video looks… Jason and Don were really put through the paces and were really “used and abused” during the session. Jason led the challenges but Don put in a good fight with a strong finish with the Dinnie Stones lift (at a scalable lower weight).
Obviously someone had to lose the challenge and the punishment was terrible too. I made Jason do it as I didn’t want to hurt or break Don into half. (he was more than willing to do it).
I do give the both of them props and credit for doing something out of their comfort zone. While strongman does look scary to the normal every day Jane or Joe, everyone can do it. Because everyone starts from some where. Strength is never a weakness!
No humans, models or physique athletes were physically harmed in the making of this video.
In the meantime lift safe and stay injury free
The deadlift is the truest test of strength. It’s as simple as picking the weight up and putting it down. These are five points that I find to be most important for training your deadlifts.
Understanding The Mechanics of the Deadlift
Every individual, athletes or gym goer who does the deadlift are all different. Especially when it come to leverages and mechanics. Some athletes are natural born deadlifters with short legs, long arms and thick upper torso. Your deadlift stance can never be the same as Benni Magnusson or Eddie Hall but it can be adjusted to what will work for you. This can be resolved with tweaking or adjusting your starting position. How high or low your hips should be, your feet placement, hand placement, shoulders, chest and chin.
Here is the catch, from my own experience my deadlift style is constantly changing or evolving. It is also very dependent on the weight that is being lifted. The higher the weight on the bar, you will soon find out that what you have been using needs a slight tweak. Remember the smallest tweaks makes the most difference. I have to state that I am NO expert but I am still constantly learning from the best deadlifters in the world. Find a coach with experience, credentials and preferably not a $20 online coach with a generic template that he plagiarised from someone else
Cues, Cues, Cues
Every coach that you work with have their own specific set of Cues that make sure you practice. The ones I uses are Hips, Shoulders and Chin. These are the mental cues that I give myself
My hips or butt hover at parallel or slightly below parallel to the ground. The lower your hips the more hip and leg drive you will have.
This movement I tend to exaggerate a bit. It’s not so much a shoulder movement but it’s more of a pulling my scapulas together and then downwards to activate and lock in my upper back (lats, rhomboids, traps). If you also notice at this point. Your hips will dip a little lower.
Let’s face it, deadlifting is not the lift to make you feel or look pretty. I focus my gaze on something in front of me on the floor and tuck my chin in. This is just to make my lift more efficient and lessen the need for unnecessary movements. Once again this was the advice given to me by my Chiropractor who is an expert. The lesser lateral movement or shearing forces during the deadlift, the lesser chance of getting hurt.
Why you still suck at Deadlifting!
Let’s face it, if you go to a gym you are probably going to see some individuals attempting PRs every single training session. Firstly, you are not Larry Wheels or have the same lifestyle that he has. I’ve seen people who get hurt so often during training because listening to your coach or following the stated program is like a plague. Or maybe its opposite day everyday. When you get hurt, you tend to blame others. When you should be blaming yourself for your “ER or PR” mentality.
Your body is not designed to PR every training session. Every heavy training session that you have, put on a huge beating to your central nervous system (CNS). You need to learn how to regulate your training to give and allow enough time for your CNS to recover. Your muscles do the work and movement, your CNS is the one that controls your muscles to move all that weight. You can’t lift with your muscles alone you need both your muscles and CNS to work in sync. How do you know that your CNS is overworked. When you feel tired, lethargic or just have no mood to lift. Give yourself a day or two off from training to allow your CNS to recover.
Accessory Work and the 100 reps protocol
Doing deadlifts alone won’t improve your deadlifts. I’ve seen athletes who just do Squat, Bench and Deadlifts three to four times a week and expect different results. Doing three compound movements in a training session is demanding and strenuous. It also puts an incredible amount of stress on your CNS. You probably get better at the movement but the improvement will be rather scarce. You have to do accessory work. I dedicate one full training session a week for accessory work. Which means I train my back twice a week.
Volume days are incredibly long, tough and intense. Usually mine will look like this
Tuesday – Back Accessory Volume
– Seated Iso Metric Pull Downs (Hammer Strength)
20 reps x 5 sets
– Seated Pull Downs (Hammer Strength)
20 reps x 5 sets
– Dumbell Rows on Incline Bench (I usually superset this with the Hammer Strength movements)
10 reps x 10 sets
– Seated Rows
20 reps x 5 sets
– Shrugs pyramid (Smith Machine)
1 plate – 20 reps
2 plates – 20 reps
3 plates – 20 reps
2 plates – 20 reps
1 plate – 20 reps
(Thats 1 set… I do 2 sets)
– Face pulls
20 reps x 5 sets
Why 100 reps for all exercises? The real question is. Do you want to stand on podium or finish 4th with a difference of 5kg or 2.5kg. Nobody cares about how difficult or how sore you are. Nobody Cares, Work Harder!
Deadlift (Volume/Speed/Max Effort)
Importance of Self-Regulation
Before you think that you can go balls to the walls and lift heavy every single day. You need to understand and accept that there will be some training days that are just terrible. These days you will feel tired, lousy or just not in the right frame of mind. Its important to acknowledge days like this and stop whatever you are doing, take off your gym shoes and head back home.
This probably caused by Your CNS being over worked, not enough sleep or stress from work/school. This concept of Self-regulation is important for longevity. You want to be doing this for a long time. The longer you stay in the sport injury free, the more achievements you will achieve.
I hope you find this article to be useful for your training. In the meantime train hard and stay injury free!
2018 has been quite a year in terms of my sporting achievements and personal goals. A lot of times we tend to be harsh on ourselves. For not doing more, for not being good enough or for not finishing the year with a trophy. We get all tunnel vision and tend to be fixated on the goal but we for get to take account the process of getting there. So here is my 2018 in perspective.
Setting a new Asia Pacific Deadlift Record
This competition wasn’t on the radar for 2018, but since I wasn’t the Event Director for the Asia Pacific Deadlift Championships 2018. I just decided to join for fun because all of my friends from around the region and Europe are flying down for the competition. And of course I always enjoyed lifting with one my good friend Jiri Tkadlcik. I ended the day with a new PB of 370kg on the deadlift. Surpassing my previous deadlift PB of 365kg when I was in Czech Republic. That was a good day!
Losing a major sponsor
This was probably one of the most painful experiences of any athlete where your sponsor of 5 years decided not to renew your contract. Many thoughts went through my head like “Should I flip the table now?” or “Should someone fly out of the window?” or even “If I go full on Mountain from the Game of Thrones would I go to prison?”. Well sadly all those answers lead to spending time in prison. I would be miserable in prison with 3 meals a day.
So I kept it professional, cordial and thanked them for the opportunity for the past 5 years and moved on. After all, good things don’t last forever. Even protein powder has an expiry date. There is more to life than being a sponsored athlete. For the first ten years I managed fine and still won competitions and why does this have to be different. You just “Embrace the Suck” and keep moving forward.
Finishing 3rd on podium at the Static Monsters World Championships 2018
This was probably the highlight of my year… I bombed out badly at the qualifier in 2017 maybe from over preparing and being to rigid with my game plan. In strongman you either win or you learn! I definitely learnt my lesson.
Displeased with my shoddy and terrible performance in 2017, by some stroke of luck I received a last minute invite to compete in the World Championships because some athlete before me withdrew either from injury or schedule clashed and I was next in line. Bought my tickets and booked my hotel at the Gold Coast.
They say Greatness is when Consistency, Hard Work and Opportunity comes together. I had only 6 weeks to prepare for this competition and I kept my expectations low because I was carrying a few niggling injuries and my overheads numbers haven’t been going up as planned. I will be going up against the best pressers in the world each averaging in excess of 160kg to 200kg overheads. Here I was with a peasant like 130kg log press.
I finished the log press last in the athlete ranking but I kept my head down because my deadlifts are my best lifts. I finished 3rd on the deadlift with a 405kg, breaking my own PB off 400kg and managed to finish 3rd overall in the Men’s Open category. Did I also mention I got to meet Santa?
Having the opportunity of working with a new sponsors
They say when one door closes, another will open. I didn’t actively seek out new sponsors because I wanted a cooling off period to get over the “pain” (insert weird snorting laugh).
But I really think as an individual and athlete I have been truly blessed with guardian angels watching over me because I had the amazing opportunity to be working with Essential Magnesium SG which has amazing magnesium cream products for my recovery needs. They don’t just carry one type of magnesium cream/oil but a huge range with each having a different purpose and time of the day. But my current favourite is Night Cream as it helps me to sleep better and I wake up with minimal soreness! Click on the link if you need to get one!
I’m also thankful to the team from Couz Nutri for taking a chance on me and signing me up as part of the team as a sponsored athlete. So far they have been extremely phenomenal in taking care of my supplementation needs. The quality and variety of the products that they carry is amazing!
They have also generously stepped up as the Official Supplement Sponsor for the upcoming Asia Pacific Deadlift Championships 2019 on the 9th March 2019 at Gym Rendezvous.
Personally as an athlete, having an open mind and taking things into perspective is important. Where everything happens because it’s meant to happen. If you put the hard work in but don’t get the results you want. Maybe you should re-look at what are your weaknesses that need improving. Or maybe it’s not your time yet. We tend to be so fixated in our goals but forget to enjoy the process.
If you are ever at doubting yourself. “Why am I doing this?” or “Why am I even eating this again and again?”. Ask yourself a simple question… Would your future self be happy with you complaining? I’m guessing the answer is NO. I just tell myself… I like standing on podium! Knowing I’ve enjoyed the process and given my best!
Opportunity + Hard Work + Consistency = GREATNESS! Make sure you remember that!
In the meantime train hard and stay injury free. Definitely looking forward to an amazing 2019!
I’ve known Coach Rich since way back in 2010. I think as an athlete I’ve been very blessed to have gotten to know, work with amazing people and coaches.That time he was more into strength and conditioning as a trainer. He still does coaching and training but his training methodology and philosophy has changed. Mainly by incorporating more natural movements and tools likes mace, club bells and everything else in between.
I had an amazing session with Rich as I take him through the paces of what I do for stability and on a rehab day. In this session we traded training philosophies and different training techniques.
One of the points that we talked about was the importance of showing up and doing your best at competitions. Instead of just achieving PBs at the gym because only lifts at competitions counts. What was interesting was when Coach Rich asked me what I did for a day job… Do catch that bit during the interview.
I really enjoyed this interview / training session because it was pretty chill but we also managed to put in the work. We do hope that you enjoy the
You can also follow Coach Rich Thurman
Follow Coach RT3
Training for a Stronger Back
I’ve been getting questions how do I train for a stronger back. People have been asking me
– How do I improve my deadlifts?
– My back is not so strong, how do I get my back stronger and bigger?
– My back would round when I deadlift, how do I stop that from happening?
– What program do you use?
Ok so let’s get something straight first… I’m not a certified personal trainer or expert coach with 30 years of experience. I just like lifting all heavy things. Even until today I still seek help with my lifts, technique and training. One of the things that you should always do is, always seek knowledge. Most of it comes from books and most from experienced athletes. That being said, not all professional athletes would make good coaches. So you have to be discerning in your choices.
So what are the best training program for a stronger back? Every training program is good if you are consistent enough and stay the course of 4-6 months. Nothing is going to happen after 4 weeks, all these posts on 30 days transformation is just rubbish! Strength training doesn’t work that way… your deadlift won’t increase from 250kg to 365kg in 4 weeks.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the Louie Simmons Westside Conjugated Method, Westside Barbell is probably the strongest gym in the world where all the world champions train and congregate there. Or even Mark Rippitoe’s Starting Strength method which encourages everyone to have a novice mind-set when it comes to training. I personally lean towards the Cube Method for Strongman by Josh Thigpen is particularly amazing because after all strongman is my sport. You can find these resources on the internet of course.
So what do I use for my training? I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with local and international coaches and professional athletes. The only variable is consistency and sticking to the program. So let’s just get on with it…
I train my back twice a week. I divide into upper back and compound movements.
Monday – Upper Back Volume Work will always be done at a gym with machines
Hammer Strength Machine Pull Downs (Overhand) + Superset with DB Rows on an incline bench
1 plate x 20 reps
1.5 plates x 15 reps
2 plates x 12 reps
2.5 plates x 10 reps
3 plates x 10 reps
4 plates x 8 reps x 2 sets
Superset with DB Rows on an incline bench
30kg x 10 reps
Hammer Strength Machine Pulls (Underhand) + Superset with Barbell Raise on an Incline Bench
2.5 plates x 15 reps x 4 sets
Superset with Barbell Raises on an 40 deg incline bench
40kg x 10 reps
Cable Lat Pull Downs (Close Grip)
Moderate x 15 reps x 2 sets
Heavy x 10 reps x 2 sets
Seated Cable Cable Rows (Close Grips)
Moderate x 20 reps x 3 sets
Barbell Shrugs with Smith Machine (Pyramid) x 2 sets
1 plate x 15 reps
2 plates x 15 reps
3 plates x 12 reps
4 plates x 10 reps
3 plates x 12 reps
2 plates x 15 reps
1 plate x 15 reps
This above is one set… you take a 5 minute rest and do one more set
Thursday will always be a heavy deadlift day
It’s always done at a proper strength and conditioning facility with ONLY metal plates and a deadlift bar.
40% x 5 reps
50% x 5 reps
60% x 5 reps
70% x 3 reps
80% x 3 reps
90% x 3 reps x 3 sets
* 40% to 80% is actually my warm up… Be prepared for this to escalate really quickly
Barbell Rows or Pendlay Rows
Light to Moderate x 12 reps x 4 sets
T-bar Rows or V-Bar Renegade Rows
Light x 12 reps x 2 sets
Moderate x 10 reps x 2 sets
Heavy x 8 reps x 2 sets
Light x 20 reps x 2 sets
Facepulls + Superset with any Abs Exercises
Light x 20 reps x 5 sets
Superset Abs – Cable Pull Downs
Heavy x 20 reps x 5 sets
Give it a go and let me know how you like it… It’s probably going to hurt a lot, because after training I’m usually wasted on the floor and have questionable life decisions.
In the meantime, train hard, may your back get stronger and stay injury free!
Are you ready for Comp Prep?
Ever wondered how it feels like to be in comp prep? Preparing for a competition be it strongman, powerlifting, physique or even track and field can be tricky and at most times tough. It is a very lonely process. A few weeks ago I posted this on Instagram with the caption “Success is not glamorous, its a lot of hours in darkness alone”.
Even in an interview with Stan Efferding, he mentioned that… “If you want to stay healthy and maintain good relationships, don’t be competitive” but we also know that Mark Bell stated “I rather die doing something I love than be average!”. So which brings us to a conundrum.
Personally I’m going to share with you some of my personal perspectives during comp prep and what to expect of course this is solely from my own experience.
The term adversity is pretty much the same in any language meaning -“A difficult or uncomfortable situation”. Not too long ago in the midst of preparing for the Static Monsters World Championships 2018.
I had a meeting with my former sponsors of five years and they told me that they would not be renewing my contract because “I wasn’t the type of athlete that the average joe would be able to relate to” because of the nature of my sport. Its too hardcore or not appealing to the masses.
I was rather disappointed and upset because for the past few years my former sponsors were the ones supporting my international competitions in terms of covering my flight expenses. I wasn’t just upset but more angry… In my head, my mind went into a flurry of rage with my thoughts going “How could you even do this to me 4 weeks out to my competition (insert expletives). Is this how you treat loyalty and my efforts for the past five years!?” But of course this was just inside in my head
Being dropped from a major sponsor is definitely a huge blow mentally. I’m not going to lie… I was pretty upset, it did affect my comp prep for a week because I kept asking myself. What am I really fighting for and why was I so moody, brooding and upset. Almost like Jon Snow when he broods but without the fur coat.
But I remembered, for the first 10 years I was competing, I had NO sponsors and I still did well. I still managed to hold my own on the international stage. It dawned on me that “Nothing Lasts Forever” and while I may be simmering and raging inside. It made me want to excel even more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a whiny little bitch complaining “Why does this happen to me??? Bla bla bla”. I was truly appreciative of what they have provided me for the past 5 years but good times don’t last forever. And this my friends is the harsh reality of life.
This could also probably be one of the best things to ever happen to me. For one simple reason that I am now responsible for my own goals and it just lit a fire in me to achieve my set goals. “Success is not glamorous, its a lot of hours in darkness alone”. This phrase was probably the most apt during that point. This was probably one of the darker periods of my life and I did felt alone but nobody died from a lack of sponsorship or nobody even cares about how I feel. Overcoming adversity is life, because nothing will actually go to plan you just have to adapt, flow and basically suck it up!
All I am going to focus on is me doing well and showing up on competition day. Make sure I give my best and give everything that I got.
Balance (Work, Family, Relationships and Training)
I’m going to be really upfront and honest here… I still struggle with finding balance even after 15 years of competing. But as each year goes it seems to get really difficult, never easier. It gets difficult because being an athlete competing at the highest level of competition puts a tremendous strain on pretty much everything in your life. You become cranky on rest days, you become grumpy when you are not getting in your meals or you become a complete asshole in the gym when someone takes away your plates. Basically you just become selfish in the self directed, cold and calculated pursuit of your goals.
All you think about is training, making sure you eat your meals, getting enough hydration, recovery, sleeping and then work. Notice how family and relationships are not mentioned.
Someone ask me before “How do you manage to keep everything together and still be doing what you do?”. The answer is simple… I sacrificed my social life, keep my family engagements to a minimum, relationships will take a back seat which means no dating (then again, I don’t event date) and definitely no late nights outs.
Mark Manson an award winning author stated that “You can’t have everything all at the same time. You can only be good one thing at a time”.
– You can’t be an athlete and maintain a blossoming relationship especially if your partner is not an athlete or doesn’t understand your needs.
– You can’t be a fully functioning person and excel in all aspects of your life because being an athlete will consume your very existence.
– You can’t be an athlete and run a growing business, sure your business will still run but it will run to break even.
– You can’t be an athlete and have full time 9-5 or shift job these would just suck your soul dry.
Like I say… This is just coming from experience and in the event that these does not apply to you. Then you my friend are at outlier and I am truly envious of you and I would love to sit down and pick your brains.
So what balance actually mean? Human existence is all about balance and equilibrium to our lives, but the athlete life is rather extreme we abuse ourselves day in and day out during training. We eat the same food, we keep our relationships on hold or add strain to it, we keep every single thing to a routine and when our routine is disrupted we get frustrated. So what is this balance are we talking about.
But the reality is this… While we seek out balance, perhaps this madness, this way of living or this life we chose as an athlete is our very definition of balance. We are not average joes or the weekend warrior. These societal rules do not apply to us. We define what balance is for us and yours will be different from mine. But that being said, winning a medal or world title does not make you a better husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, cousin or human being. It is just a testament of your hard work and consistent effort. At the end of the day you want to go home and celebrate this achievement with your loved ones, family, friends and close circle of friends.
Don’t be that person who gave up everything and everyone just for vanity, world or regional title and a $20 medal. Make time for people that matter, appreciate those around you and most importantly be relentless in your goals but kind to those around you.
If you are prepping for a competition and neck deep in comp prep. Keep on moving forward and persevere. Nobody achieved greatness by quitting but remember to always find your balance and make time for the important stuff or people in your life.
In the meantime train hard and stay injury free. I look forward to seeing everyone on the platform at the Static Monsters World Championships 2018!
Why motivation doesn’t work
So we have been looking on Pinterest for motivation. Especially motivational quotes to get yourself out of bed, hopefully to feel inspired. Get out of bed, pack your bags and hopefully hit the gym or the pool. Then you tell yourself, I’m going to rest a wee bit more… Then you find yourself lying in bed scrolling down on Instagram (IG) for more motivational posts on #fitspo or #fitspiration #fitfam or whatever hashtags that they use.
The more you scroll down the more you use your data and then you start comparing yourself to these picture perfect IG models. Some weird exercise or modified “hip thrusters” for them booty gains or you start creeping on some sporting personalities. Look at their technique in the deadlift and you start telling yourself; “I’m going to lift 800lbs one day!”.
Then you continue scrolling down and double tapping and liking more posts on IG only to realise that you have just spent thirty to forty-five minutes doing nothing productive other than having a finger work out by liking someone posts. Then you go into this self-depreciating mode where you start comparing yourself to the lifts or physique of the athletes or models on IG. “I wish I had a body like that!”. Then self-doubts creeps in again, as you lie in bed and then contemplate on life mysteries, why do I have bad genetic, why am I so unmotivated.
So here is the thing… Motivation is really something positive, it helps you light that fire. It also gives you that kick in the butt that you need. But sadly motivation doesn’t last very long or have much hoped for longevity. Motivation is like starting a fire, you need fire to keep you warm especially if you cold or hungry and how you keep that fire going is constantly feeding the fire more fuel or wood. This constant act or habit of adding wood to the fire to keep the fire going. But what happens when you run out of wood, the answer is pretty obvious. You find more wood to keep feed the fire to keep the fire going. Now enough with the metaphorical stories and let me just summarise that into bite size pieces.
Yes, you need motivation, but motivation doesn’t last very long, it’s probably going to last you for a good 6 to 8 hours at most after you watch a motivational video. You need to form a habit, a consistent habit (Which I will share more later in this article) and this consistent habit needs to be maintain (adding wood to the fire). So what are the habits you ask? It gets you into routine… Wake up a certain time, eat breakfast a fixed time, what you eat for breakfast may vary but I can eat the same thing every single day and be happy.
Train at a certain fixed time, go to work at a certain time. Studies have shown that it takes approximately 21 days to form a habit. Exercising or being active is actually a privilege. Some of you may argue… “Oh wow… it’s so boring, how can I live my life being so mundane and boring!”. But here are my counter arguments
- Being healthy is not mundane
- Not having any health problems is not mundane
- Not paying excessive hospital bills is not mundane
- Able to walk on my own and NOT in a wheelchair is not mundane
- Able to work and earn a living is not mundane
Yeah you probably get the point… Keeping yourself healthy is definitely not mundane or boring. Being bed ridden with health issues is going to be worse. I’ve had friends whom at 45 years old had to undergo heart surgery because of the lifestyle choices that they made. So enough of me being the angry sod who is the bearer of bad news. Let’s get down to what really needs to happen in order to turn that motivation into action plans that work.
Start with a GOAL in mind and plan
A few years back, I had a tertiary student whom approach me and asked me “How did I get so strong?” and “How do I stay motivated to constantly train day in and day out”. My response was this “I’m not motivated to do anything that I don’t want to do. I start by committing myself to a goal which is to do this or this competition in a year”. The key operative words here are committing and goal, these are the two essentials things you need. In 2016 the goal for myself was to finish top 10 in the Arnolds Amateur Strongman Classic in South Africa and to finish the year with a 400kg (880lbs) axle deadlift. The Arnolds have the reputation of being ‘athlete breakers’ because the competitions are so heavy that it sometimes become career breakers.
So the Goal was competing in the Arnolds, but goals alone are not enough. You need a game plan and method. First thing I fixed was my nutrition by working with a nutritionist to fix my “seefood diet” and I worked with a pro strongman to fix my training. I also read up to increase my knowledge on how programming works and what would work for me. It became a trial and error and I now finally have a formula that works for me. Now I also had a countdown app on my phone to remind me 16 weeks out, 12 weeks out, 8 weeks out 4 weeks out, 21 days out and you get the idea. This constant reminder on my phone kept reminding me that whatever work that goes into competition prep is essential for a respectable finish.
And when competition day came… I was mentally and physically prepared. Because once you know when you put in the work and effort, everything will fall into place (in theory anyway). I broke my finger in the first event and that hampered the rest of the day. But being the stubborn mule that I was I still competed and attempted in all the events finished 6th place on Day 1 with a broken finger, and day 2 tore my calf on the yoke in the morning but I still managed to finish 10th place after 2 days of competition. Yes, on hindsight I should have better judgement but I didn’t fly 20 hours to be a cheerleader or a spectator and I still need to fulfil my commitment to my goal. In summary
- Commit to a goal
- Design out a plan that works
- Seek help for areas that you are weak in (mine was nutrition)
- Remind yourself constantly
- Commit to giving your best even when it’s not favourable (broken finger/torn calf didn’t kill anyone…. But did you die???)
When we speak about consistency, what exactly is consistency. Lets put that in the sporting context… “It is the ability to repeat the same purposeful behaviours day in and day out to achieve a goal that you have committed to”. That’s my definition anyway, yours may be different but consistency is key. A few years back I spoke to one of the guys that train in the gym I own. He lost a whopping 20 to 25kg in body weight from a burly and chubby 105kg to present day body weight of 75kg. I already knew the answer to his weight loss but I just asked him point blank “Fauzie, what’s your secret to losing weight?”.
His reply was simple… “Initially I just came for fun to the gym because training was different from other gyms but the more frequent I came, the healthier I feel. It was 3 days a week, then it became 5 days a week for just 1 hour to train. After 6 months I saw a different person in the mirror, I had more energy, I feel stronger and most importantly I feel healthy. I really have no secret formula”. At this point… I interjected, there was a secret formula to begin with all you did was you were consistent in your behaviours. I think this speaks more in volume than anything else.
Being able to deadlift 400kg on competition day at Static Monsters 2016 is no miracle of God or when the planetary systems aligned in my favour. But it was the consistent and purposeful behaviours that I’ve committed myself to daily. Wake up early daily, have breakfast and put in the work repeatedly hours in the gym day in day out, some days I had double training sessions. It was tough. There are days that I woke up broken, sore and I have just nothing left but this are the days that make you a better athlete. You can have all the big dreams in the world but if your behaviours are not consistent and purposeful nothing is going to happen.
The concept of consistency in a nutshell is the accumulation of your work and effort, daily be it training, active recovery, eating, sleeping and injury management on day 1, 16 weeks out up to competition day needs to be consistent. Success does not happen overnight, it is an accumulation of progress over a period of time. So lets quickly summarize that
- Commit to your set goal
- Fail to plan, Plan to fail
- Set a routine (eating, training, work, sleeping) and commit
- Always be consistent and purposeful in your behaviours
- Routines are mundane, mundane = results! Remember that!
It’s not the routine, it’s a goal… every single effort, every single rep, every single training day, every spoonful of food, every meal and every night worth of sleep. It all adds up! Be consistent
In the meantime, train hard, stay injury and always lift strong!