Single minded about balance

For some, exercise is about one thing – running faster, getting stronger, becoming leaner, improving mobility. Being single minded as an athlete will certainly enable you to reach your peak but along the way you may find that other areas of health require some additional time or focus.

Even as a person who starts to exercise as a way to improve health can get ‘obsessed’ with a single goal and that obsession could lead to an unhealthy outcome.

Once in a while it’s worth looking at the health measures – see diagram below and self evaluating you current status. You maybe improving your 5km run times but how is your muscular strength and flexibility. Working on these other dimensions will help you to become healthier and may lead to improve performance in your primary pursuit.

Health measures


Try to get yourself into the “good” measure in all dimensions before aiming for excellence in a single dimension. Don’t become that super strong person who can’t run for a bus or touch their toes. Think about adding some upper body strength work to your weekly schedule if you’re a distance runner. Aim for balance, avoid injury but allow yourself to excel in the areas that you are passionate.

The ratings above are pretty subjective and one person’s 2 maybe another 3 but just by spending some time evaluating will help you highlight the areas where you have some work to do. You are likely to already know, for instance, that you should work on your flexibility. I’d advice a dedicated month, work on your flexibility every day for a month and see where you are. If you feel that you have moved up a notch then reduce your flexibility work to maintenance and focus on something else.

Be healthy, have balance, enjoy yourself and excel when and where you can.

Should I swap spinach for kale in my weekly shop?

The answer to this type of question from a client is unlikely to help them much, but may lead to a useful conversation on making those handful of changes which will bring the biggest benefits.

The basics:
Daily movement – You make time in your day for movement, eg 3 x 10 minute brisk walks.

Steady state cardio – Spend some time each week performing your favourite cardio for 20-40 mins where your heart rate is at (180 – Age)beats per minute

Load bearing exerise – A couple of times per week work on your strength using body-weight, gym weights, bands etc.

Relaxation – take time out to relax and contemplate your day, mix in some mobility work at the same time should you wish.

Adequate sleep – as an adult make it a priority to get between 7-9 hrs of restful sleep?

Nourishment – Eat a balanced diet full of a rich variety of seasonal vegetables, fruit and some good quality fish and meat if yuou desire. Reduce the amount of processed food you consume. Try to be strict with yourself 5 days out of 7, that’ll give you the chance you enjoy a few of your treats be that food or drink on a couple of days/week.

Obviously for a performance athlete things would be different, if all the basics are in place then nuances of sweet potatoes versus white potatoes, kale versus spinach, ice baths after training, cycling intensity and peaking for events come into play. At that point getting many small things right can add up to a competitive advantage. For most, who are looking for the health and longevity benefits, getting the basics right and being consistent will get you to where you need to be.

Back to the original question “Should I swap my fresh spinach for kale in my weekly shop?”. I’d probably suggest buying what’s in season or alternating week to week for variety because it doesn’t really matter.




Big Day – Part 7 – cycle ended

The original programme was 12 weeks long, after week 10 I had a one week holiday with lots of walking and little sleep.  I decided to halt the programme at this point as both the bench and the squat had stalled and I had made good progress without injury.

A reminder of the goals:

A 12 week plan to get back to somewhere near my all time PB5s.
Sub 26 min 5km ParkRun. Reduce body fat to 13%.

I made good progress on the 3 main lifts but didn’t match my old PB5 due to slower progress (smaller increments) than planned and stalling at week 10.
That being said for 5 repetitions my training weights increases as follows:

Squat – up 17.5kg, stalling at 122.5 x 5 – 10kg away from PB5
Bench – up 8.5kg, stalling at 101.5 x 5 – 6kg away from PB5
Deadlift – up 17.5kg, did not stall 162.5×5 – 15kg from PB5

Ancillary lifts
Overhead Press – 61.5kg x 5
Bent over row – 72.5kg x 5
Body-weight down 1.8kg to 80.8kg
Body fat – alas my scales are broken but my skinfold near my waist has reduced from 9mm to 8mm – not quite 13% but reduced to approx 14%.

ParkRun – 5km – down 1 min 02 secs  to 25:20

I was extremely pleased to recover old strength ground, whilst reducing bodyfat.  The 5km run time was no doubt helped by the reduced weight and fitting in 3 runs per week.

What’s next?

The original goals still stand with the modification of a sub-25m 5km run.

I’ll modify the programme to squat, bench and deadlift twice per week – once for strength and once for hypertrophy. This will mean resistance training with weights 4 times per week but with a mix of strength work and volume work.  I’ll increase the ancillaries to include vertical pulls in the shape of chins and arms and direct abdominal work.  Mobility work will move from the scapular to the hips.  Running will continue with the 5km on a Saturday with friends with an additional 1 or 2 outings depending on recovery.  I’ll document the complete plan, schedule and outcome over the coming months.


Big Day – Part 6

Another Sunday update covering weeks 7 & 8 of this 12 week plan.  Having made notes that the Squats were feeling tough at 112.5kg x 5 and at 115kg x 5, today at the start of week 9 I managed 117.5kg x 5.  So getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable!  A 10km slow run at 1hr 10 mins in week 7 felt good.  The bench press in week 7, 97.5 x 5 was pushed to x7 and today I pressed 101kg x 5.

All things considered good progress. With 4 weeks to go confidence is high that I will get close to some of those old rep PBs.

Midway through week 7 I have also embarked on a side project/experiment – cutting out refined carbs and sugars.  Aiming to keep calorie level the same but sourced less from carbs.  Any drop in bodyfat levels will allow me additional room in my 82.5kg weight-class.

Deadlift of 160 x 5 to look forward to this week.  Dropping the preceding set to a single the last few weeks seems to help.

Reducing training frequency can help, I’ll drop tomorrow’s Monday run – as the weather is looking very bad and the rest may help.  I’ve hit my 12 week goal on the 5km time and would rather sacrifice a few seconds improvement on the 5km run for a few more kgs on the squat and deadlift.  At this stage of the programme, you have some momentum but things are getting tough, look to improve the quality of your nutrition and get that extra hour in bed – breaking new ground is always tough.

Journey to the Nationals 2018 – Powerlifting

Following a fantastic year of training in 2016 (training year Part 1  & Part 2)  James suffered from a skiing injury, which meant that he couldn’t compete in the BDFPA British Single lift competition in 2017.   He trained hard during 2017, even though he couldn’t squat or deadlift for the nearly half of that year – his bench, shoulders and back certainly benefited from the extra attention.  He qualified for the National Event  back in October 2017 after only been able to train his legs for 2 months.  October to the end of the year saw him slowly return to his previous strength levels but he had National Single lift records in his sights so needed to start training hard in the low repetition range whilst still allowing plenty of time for recovery, rugby training and weekend rugby matches. 

I’ll cut to the chase and share his results now, before I go on to explain and share his peaking programme.

Sat 17 February 2018, British Drug Free Powerlifting Association, UK National Single lift championships.
Bodyweight 70.4kg. Age 15. Teenager 1 age group. 75kg bodyweight class.

1st lift   125kg (he’d hit 127.5kg x2 in training so an easy opener)
2nd lift 131kg (new national record)
3rd lift 135kg (increase of his national record and a 17.5kg increase in 4 months) – Video
4th lift 140kg – failed (nice marker for next time)

135kg – new national record – photo courtesy of





1st lift   142.5kg (new personal best by 2.5kg)
2nd lift 150kg
3rd lift 160.5kg (new national record and a 20.5kg increase in 4 months) – Video

142.5kg – first lift – photo courtesy of











The red items represent repetition personal bests (rep PBs).  Warmup sets for the squat (freestanding x2 x10 and empty bar x 10) are not shown.  Rugby training occurred on a Monday and Wednesday with a match (if any) on the Saturday.  We found that the squat was going really well and on ‘good’ days additional repetitions were taken and the plan recalibrated.  The planned deadlift routine turned out to be too tough so the poundages were reduced, but he still hit a PB4 a couple of weeks before the meet.  The results show that the extra kgs added to the squat really have a great carryover to the deadlift.  The bench was a recovery exercise following a wrist injury and progressed well.

Below is a copy of the paper version used during the 7 week build-up.
Without going into lots of details you can see that James hit all of his sessions but after week 3 many changes were made to the poundages of the top sets.  Some of the early bench numbers were missed but there were 2 x PBs in weeks 6 & 7.  The squat was going very well – Sunday week 4’s 107.5 x 4 PB was turned into a 7 @ RPE9 (meaning another rep was left in the tank).  Recalibration took place as we moved along, the Tues Squat session saw James hit 3/2 reps of his planned Sunday Squat lift – I kept this rep range as prescribed.

Tuning a programme, takes some skill but mainly experience of the lifter and understanding of how the lifter is performing on the day – rather that trying to lift to failure each and every session.  I work online with other lifters utilising video and WhatsApp for communication – see my Powerlifting Training page for more details and  contact me here or via Facebook.

Big Day – Part 5

I’m writing this on a Sunday at the end of week 6, so the first session of week 7 starts in a few hours.

The ParkRun at the end of week 5 resulted in a 25:20 PB (an improvement of 43seconds) – 6 weeks of running – 2 sessions of between 5-7 km (normally) at a low HR (120-130) and the weekly ParkRun which I run as I feel – either a fast training run, slow run or PB attempt.  The ParkRun yesterday was also a sub 26min, which was the 12 week goal and means that the week 5 run was not a one-off.

Week 6 – Sunday’s Squat 111 x 5 was ok but the preparation Squat on Thursday 112.5kg felt tough.  It maybe time to reduce the volume as the intensity increases, given that I want to improve my PB5 I’ll reduce the reps on the 4 set to either 1-2 before the heaviest 5th set of the day – I’ll judge this week to week.

Tuesday’s deadlift session was at 152.5×5 – again tough and I may have to apply the same approach to reduce the workload by making the 4th set a ‘feeler’.

Thursday – being a preparation day with a x3 at the projected weight for the next Sunday for the Squat, Bench and Row is not too intensive and I follow that with an easy run appears to be an ‘easy’ day in my mind with the knowledge that bar mobility work and walking Friday is a rest.

See the changes below for week 7.

Big Day – Part 4 – Little Gems

This update finds me almost at the end of week 5, with just today’s scapular mobility and tomorrow’s ParkRun to do.

Week 4 summary

Sun – Squat 107.5×5 – felt tougher than it should have done – maybe the 10km run the day before had more impact than imaged – as things get tougher I’ll need to prioritise the strength work over the cardio (personal choice)

Mon – 4km easy 50th birthday run
Tues – Easy squat, overhead press 5 x 55kg was ok. Encouragingly my deadlift 145×5 felt ok too.
Wed – no scapular – life got in the way.
Thurs – good – 5km sub 30min (felt good)
Sat – very slow Parkrun (light day)

Week 5 Summary

Sun – 110 x 5 Squat feeling tough (now belted) but form good
Mon – Easy slow paced run
Tues – morning session rather than late afternoon Deadlift – 150 x 5 DL (RPE 8).  Rate Perceived Exertion  – meaning that I felt that I had 2 more repetitions in me.
Thurs – Squat 111×3 feeling heavy. Bench Press 96×3 feeling positive.

Micro plates/Slivers/ little gems

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that I used 111kg for squat and 96kg for the bench – let me introduce Micro plates (or slivers/little gems/partial plates).  They fit a standard olympic bar – my two pairs are 0.5kg and 0.25kg – which always me to make smaller increments that 2.5kg to the total bar weight.  Sometimes the percentage increase of adding 2.5kg to the bar is too much – alternatively you could add the 2.5kg (miss the rep count) and try to increase the following week but I’d prefer the slivers.

The auto-programming has now been replaced by a manual override – so this Sunday I’ll hit 111kg x 5 in the squat, with an expectation of going to 112.5kg the following week (remember I have a light squat day on the Tuesday and a ‘preparation’ day on the Thursday where I hit the next Sunday’s weight but just for 3 repetitions.  Same idea for the bench press 96kg followed by 97.5kg (I always have the option of using the 0.5kg and the 0.25kg and moving to 96.5kg as an intermediate step).  I prefer the week by week weight progression – regardless of how small – remember 20 weeks at 0.5kg per week is still 10kg added.

Lifetime Personal Bests


I’ll cover the deadlift in a subsequent update but for now let’s take a look at Squat and the Bench press – my current working weights are still way down from relatively recent PB5s. But given the training poundages (see below) – I’m happy as I’m surpassing those.  Until the next update – keep healthy/keep moving/keep strong.

Training Poundage used to produce programme


Big Day – Part 3

I hadn’t intended to provide an update this week but at the end of week 3 – things have been reshaped and a nice weekly cadence has emerged.

  • Sunday – Weights
  • Monday – Run with conditioning elements
  • Tuesday – Weights
  • Wednesday – Scapular focused mobility and rehab
  • Thursday – Weights followed by a run
  • Friday – Scapular focused mobility and rehab + long stretch
  • Saturday – ParkRun or other

The Friday original plan was for an additional conditioning session but soreness and general tiredness has encouraged a gentler end to the week but with the ability to focus twice weekly on an area requiring mobility work and associated muscle strengthening – I’ll continue these until at least week 6 but will review following that.   This gives me 2 days per week (Wednesday and Friday as what I would describe as Active rest – doing something but nothing that will hinder recovery on the big lifts).

Thursday’s run has developed into a slow 5km run – the Thursday weights is a set of rising 5s followed by a 3 at the following Sunday’s scheduled 5.  Finishing off with a set of 8 at the 3rd rising 5 weight – see below.  I’d say the easiest weights session of the week but with heavy legs for the concluding run.




Week 3 – the 5km ParkRun was switched to a unintentional 10km in a little over 1hr.  Sunday is the toughest squat day and as the weeks pass by the intensity of the Saturday run may have to be lessened to allow a positive Sunday session.

Week 4 is where I match my most recent training PBs as per the programme design, beyond week 5 it’ll be new territory (for recent training weights) but we are a long way from lifetime repetition PBs.

As I write this on the Sunday so I’m looking forward to the start of week 4 and the last training session before I reach 50 years old.

Big Day – Part 2

Well here we are at the end of week 2.  If you haven’t done so already I’d recommend you read “Big Day – Part 1” to understand the rationale for this programme/goal setting.

Here’s a reminder of the structure of the week.

Sunday Weights
Monday Run and conditioning
Tuesday Weights
Wednesday REST
Thursday Weights
Friday Conditioning and extra long stretch
Saturday 5km Parkrun or other run

Sunday’s weight session went well – remember I’m spending the first 4 weeks getting back to my recent training maximums so week 2 should be relatively easy – I’m still lifting without a belt and not using chalk.

Monday – 6km easy run interspersed with bodyweight conditioning moves in the park.

Tuesday – weights – an easy session for squat but chipping up the press and the deadlift – the deadlift is still at a comfortable 137.5 x 5.

Wednesday – REST day but I felt sore and tired.  I did walk around 4 miles that day walking around London at a leisurely pace with camera gear.

Thursday – Weights on a Thursday build up to 3 reps of the weight which will be the top set of 5 on Sunday  followed by a single volume set of 8.  The run after the weights session was very slow for 5km – I didn’t feel like it but was ok once I’d begun.

Friday – this is the 2nd Friday which I have not done the prescribed conditioning training.  I know that I have an area which requires attention – winging scapula – so I spent 30 minutes on scapula mobility + serratus anterior strengthening only.  This may become the regular Friday activity for the next 6 weeks or so.  To get the improvements I want here I may add it to the stretching on Wednesday too.  Mobility work in general needs to be targeted – in that rather than spend a full hour working on mobility for all of your areas which require attention – do a 10 minutes whole body approach followed by 20 minutes or so targeted at a particular area and do that 2-3 times/week for 4-6 week and then reassess.  The type of strengthening exercises here will not impact your recovery from you big lifts.

Saturday – I didn’t feel completely recovered for the weekly ParkRun but felt ok after the first 1km so decided to pick the pace up and push on. This resulted in a uncomfortable last 1km but a new PB of 26:03 (18s improvement).  Again this is a recent PB so that’s what I’m trying to improve upon.  My best 10km time is 46:21 back in 2000.

Here’s my 12 week plan – focusing this week on the Sunday workout.

The weights in red are PBs – as you can see I’ll be making inroads into getting close to my PB5 in the squat but will not get there in 12 weeks.  The bench has PBs in weeks 11 & 12.  As I previously stated the first 4 weeks get me back to recent training maxes but I’ll be using the weights prescribed from weeks 4 onwards as a guide – it is unlikely that I’ll increase at a faster rate but may slow down the rate of increase using my micro-plates (0.25kg & 0.5kg).  Having said that if things are feeling especially good on a day I may add an extra rep or two.

In summary, things are going well, I’ve dropped a conditioning session in favour or working on a focus area for mobility and isolated strength.  My food intake has gone up – I’m trying to add the additional calories as protein and healthy fats and at the moment that means adding a scoop of protein powder and a tablespoon of ground nuts and seeds to my morning porridge.

Until next time.

Big Day – Part 1

Have I had my “Big Day”?

Within powerlifting and strength circles your “Big Day” (your strongest day) maybe behind you.  On that Big Day there was likely a small amount of celebration but without the fanfare it deserved. You don’t know that’s it’s your “Big Day” until it’s passed.  Have I had my strongest day? Am I on the decline?

As I enter my 50th year these questions are more begin to enter my mind. I’m very keen on setting goals, coming up with strategies, redefining approaches and allowing for adaption and recalibration. But I rarely share all of this, I do share the approaches and the best practices but I do not share my personal goals and failures.

I haven’t competed in powerlifting since the UK National Single Chamionships back in 2014. Since then I have continued to train hard but have suffered with a long term shoulder injury which prevented my doing any kind of heavy lifting and only allowed some light cardio. I then had 9 months of a foot condition known as plantar fasciitis, which put an end to running. During 2016 I was able to train consistently and hit some new PB 5s (personal bests for 5 repetitions)- more detail on those to come but I haven’t hit a 1RM (1 repetition maximum) for 5 years.

Can I put together a long, consistent training cycle, hit some fresh low rep PBs, reduce body-fat, run a faster 5km and then try for some lifetime bests?

Back to the present day – January 2018 – my post-xmas bodyweight is 82.0kg and before xmas it was floating around 81kg. This is 3-4kg less than my pre-competition weight during 2011/12 where I would training at 84-85kg and trim down to compete at 82.5kg – this got me down to the correct weight category but at what price – some strength loss I suspect.  82kg is a good weight to aim for, in my competition days that would be around 16% body-fat, nowadays I’m around 14% but would rather drop 4kg more fat to give me plenty of room to add back more muscle to be a more solid 82kg – say at 12% body-fat.  It’s a tall order but creating room within my weight category in order to compete without a cut may help to maintain my strength.

The first 12 weeks goals:
A 12 week plan to get back to somewhere near my all time PB5s.
Sub 26 min 5km ParkRun. Reduce body fat to 13%.

I’ll share my progress versus plan every two weeks. I’ll share next time my 12 week plan but over the years I’ve learned to understand the feedback my body is giving me and do the best that I can do each day – maybe that’s a rep less than scheduled or on a great day I’ll be able to add a rep or 2.  This ‘best you can do on the day” training style has its place – I’ll delve in RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) in a later update.

Current/historic PBs (all in KG)

PB5 When PB2 When PB1 When
Deadlift 177.5 27.06.16 220 19.2.12 @ 87.7 bodyweight
Squat 132.5 24.05.16 145  31.05.16 150 Jan-06 @ 82.5
Bench Press 107.5 12.12.16 125 6.11.11 @ 82.5

When you are coming back from a lay-off, it’s best to use your latest training weights rather than lifetime PBs to calibrate a programme.

Here are the training weights used:

Exercise Weight Reps
Squat 102.5 5
Bench 92.5 5
Deadlift 145 5

Very conservative – allowing me to progress slowly over a long period of slowly increasing the top sets in each exercise as I aim to hit some lifetime PBs in weeks 11 & 12.

Structure of the week:

Sunday Weights
Monday Run and conditioning
Tuesday Weights
Wednesday REST
Thursday Weights + Run
Friday Conditioning and extra long stretch
Saturday 5km Parkrun or other run

Week 1 Detail

Day Exercise Reps 1 2
Heavy Squat 5 50 52.5
5 62.5 65
5 75 77.5
5 87.5 90
5 100 102.5
Heavy Bench 5 42.5 45
5 52.5 55
5 65 65
5 75 77.5
Sunday 5 85 87.5
Row 5 30 32.5
5 37.5 40
5 45 47.5
5 52.5 55
5 60 62.5
Prep Press 5 32.5 32.5
5 37.5 40
5 45 45
3 50 52.5
Monday Conditioning & run
Easy Squat 5 50 52.5
5 62.5 65
5 75 77.5
5 75 77.5
Tuesday Press 5 32.5 32.5
5 37.5 40
5 45 45
+ 5 50 52.5
Arms (opt) Deadlift 5 85 85
5 102.5 102.5
5 117.5 120
5 135 137.5
Wednesday REST & stretch
Thursday + Run Prep Squat with volume 5 50 52.5
5 62.5 65
5 75 77.5
5 87.5 90
3 102.5 0
8 75 77.5
Prep Bench with volume 5 42.5 45
5 52.5 55
5 65 65
5 75 77.5
3 87.5 90
8 65 65
Prep Row with volume 5 30 32.5
5 37.5 40
5 45 47.5
5 52.5 55
3 62.5 62.5
8 45 47.5
Friday Conditioning and extra long stretch
Saturday Parkrun or other

How did things turn out?

The only deviation from the plan was the conditioning on Friday was dropped and I only stretched.  The Squating for 3 days in the week created some soreness and I wanted to be in reasonable shape for the Saturday run (5km).  I had previously trialed squatting 3 days/week with good results so knew what to expect.  For around 10 years previous to that trail I had squatted only once per week – due to work commitments and perceived recovery capabilities – more on that to come in future write-ups.


What’s the point of me sharing this? Without sounding too self-indulgent – it’ll help me. When trying out new ideas it helps to be your own guinea pig, I want to validate and tweak before suggesting to a client. Secondly, the information currently available for those wishing to create and shape their own training programmes in my view is somewhat shallow. By that I mean that it’s very easy to get a cookie-cutter programme, pop in a couple of PBs and a programme will be able to be churned out. There is also some information regarding how people got on with popular programmes. I’d like to take you through a journey, describe upfront the rationale for the programme design – provide regular feedback and most importantly document changes to the original programme. I hope this will be a motivation to those coming back from an injury, trying to get back to previous best and hopefully a success story for those who have lifted for many years, are advancing in years but still want to improve – I think that the human body is capable of much more than we think.