Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stoic Lifting

*To clarify, this isn't directed towards competitive O-lifters, as many already know this through experience and shared knowledge.

Maxing on Squats and Deadlifts Everyday. I really liked this article by Greg Nuckols. He gives a very clear and concise description to the often misunderstood Bulgarian Method of training: high frequency, high intensity training on a daily basis. Basically working up to a training max on a couple lifts everyday (or at minimum of 4-5 days per week). The program worked well for Greg, and I have witnessed to be very effective for one of our competitive Olympic lifters here at UND.

The details of the Bulgarian method are pretty straightforward, however the key point that I believe so many miss is as Greg stated:

"Here, the daily max is a weight that you can move without mental arousal (no death metal and ammonia) and without any aberration from perfect form."

The Bulgarian Method has been chastised by many lifters and coaches claiming the impossibility of maxing daily without the assistance of drugs. The problem is their definition of maxing is to think of testing/evaluation or competition day efforts. The type of efforts resembling borderline psychosis, training partners slapping each other on the face prior to each attempt, lots of yelling and chest beating... to the point that the whole pre-max attempt celebration and max attempt requires an automatic defibrillator to bring back to life the lifter and spotters. This can be fine at the right times (competition, evaluation at the end of a meso/macrocycle) but it will limit the frequency that one can train with high intensity, because it's not just the intensity (load and/or speed) of the work, but one's psychological state.

And this is often the crux of the issue. So few are aware enough to realize the amount of effort required for performance enhancements, while governing this effort 'to live to train another day'. Very few can find, nor understand, the optimality of arousal to elicit the desired outcomes of training. Excessive arousal will deplete energy stores and make a mess hormonally, and lethargy leaves everything to be desired. It's an amazing skill to be acquired to fully direct nervous energy yet still tempering the nerves. The goal is to minimize arousal and increase performance. Truly, the mind is the body and the body is the mind.

As I stated, high levels of emotional energy are ok at carefully selected times and with simple tasks (Yerkes-Dodson Law) - it's just difficult to sustain and very depleting. And when trying to improve a skill, hyperarousal and not sustaining a regimen will obviously make the acquisition of the skill(s) very difficult (in the case of a strength, power, or speed skill). There are no secrets, just a guiding and balancing of energy. I do believe the Bulgarian Method or more generally high frequency, high intensity training can be very effective, even without drugs (of course abiding by appropriate recovery ettiquite). It just takes an athlete or group of athletes with the right desire, action, and emotional intelligence: Stoicism

"When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, 'What can this man want?' If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he still be anxious?" -Epictetus

And within that quote there is great insight into both an athlete's approach to training and a coach's approach to coaching that athlete.



BC said...

I liked that article, too. There was a time awhile back (when I was still swimming) when I would go the gym with Bryce Tuesday, Thurdsay, and Saturday. Combined with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday weights - plus swimming - this made for quite a bit of intense (albeit stoic) sessions of lifting. During that period, I was the most resilient to pain and injury I've ever been.

I know there's a lot more to it, but maxing every day, stoically - I can stand behind that.


Anonymous said...

So my question is;

Is emotional arousal (psyching up) ever necessary for training, even if you are training low frequency?

And would it be beneficial to try to eliminate emotional arousal for athletes?

-Ryan C

Jared said...

How do you push the envelope....without pushing the envelope?

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Thanks for the comments and insight Clint!

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Not sure Ryan, I would say I suppose it depends on the personality. Developing a bit of emotional control is probably the goal. Enthusiasm is usually a very good thing, while highly emotional can be positive in the right circumstances, but can come back to have a negative effect in others.

Having control of emotional arousal would be a skill to be able to selectively control energy reserves. Performance measures are key: performance improving? Then I guess who am I to argue???

But then again, like we've discussed (and you've seen), often there is a decrement in abilities initially - followed by tremendous gains.

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...


I am not taking an absolute stance on enthusiasm and subsequent emotional energy. I am more referring to the possibility that something like the Bulgarian Method might require a different approach (without the aid of drugs).

Jared said...


That question was directed to Ryan and his comment. My initial thought to your post though, isn't it trainable? Can we train ourselves to achieve a slightly higher state of arousal, with less negative consequences? How does this relate to Abadjiev talking about HR's and max attempts? He wanted them at or over 180 bpm if i remember right? If he saw several misses, he would check HR's and if they were in the 160-170 range, "they weren't trying hard enough?" I.e. not enough arousal? I'll have to double check my notes on this, but this is what i remember. Again i think it goes back to as you progress from novice to elite, you adapt to achieving a higher level of arousal with less negative impact. Thoughts?

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Higher levels of arousal?

I am really skeptical of 180 bpm (but I think those numbers are correct or close to right). I wish I would have questioned that comment when we saw him. For me, it takes quite a bit of vigorous moving to get my HR to 180, and at that point I can barely talk.

Athletes will undoubtedly get those emotions of slight fear/anxiety, and of course repeated exposure to those stressors would lead to some sort of stress inoculation. However, in this case, the word stoic would mean an outward display of these emotions.

It would seem that going from novice to elite would require less arousal because of greater abilities/skills.

Honestly, I don't know.

But I will argue, that emotional control is a valuable skill to possess.

Unknown said...

To bring up another factor, lifting with a controlled level of arousal when maxing regularly has the ability to make for a more confident lifter who is sure of himself (or herself) and lessens the anxiety he or she may experience.

This lessened anxiety on a daily basis may allow for the ability to increase arousal when needed.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we dont have the best definition of arousal. From watching and hearing second hand (really third or fourth hand) information about training with Abadjiev (or any Bulgarian coach), there was no "psyching up" like the stereotypical MAX OUT DAY!!! There might have been, however, adrenaline flowing, a raise in heart rate etc.

When I was referring to arousal in my first comment, I was thinking of the "psych up." This is something I see as useless, maybe even a crutch. If an athlete can only perform in an adrenaline filled enviroment, it says something about their willpower. I think the psych up is either a mask for fear, or part of the culture of the sport (powerlifting).

I think emotional control is a very valuable skill; definitely a "skill," it can be trained.

And I dont see the link between arousal and pushing the envelope. Can't I train hard, get after PRs, without banging my face against the wall?

Anonymous said...

Ryan C ^

Anonymous said...

One last thing: Aaron, and I think we have breifly talked about this before, you wrote an athlete will undoubtedly feel slight fear/anxiety. I disagree. I think an athlete can become completely fearless and anxiety free at a high level of exertion/performance.

Ryan C.

Josh Leeger said...

Yes, good stuff! And this is precisely the way the "old-timers" used to train...go in, lift up to a heavy lift, and go home. Come back again tomorrow.

That's why you see them in pictures doing those lifts in slacks and work shoes.