Weakness. Discomfort. Courage – by Ben Coker

Weaknesses. We all have them. What sets apart those of us that achieve from those of us that don’t? Its not about having less weaknesses but rather having the courage to experience discomfort in addressing your weaknesses.

How many of you take inventory of your weaknesses? How many of you go away and have the courage to tackle your weaknesses head on? How many of you get outside your comfort zone and improve? Those that do are the highest achievers amongst us.

Using myself as an example. When I was a younger lifter (aged 16) with a troublesome low back what did I do? For years I used all the exercises that were available that avoided the low back directly where ever possible and ultimately developed imbalances.  I was building a castle on sand.

At first I was ignorant to the fact, I wasn’t lucky enough to be in a gym with clued up guys and understandably I avoided hitting the low back directly to save my discs. As I got a bit older and more informed I realized that my low back was woeful. It lacked any real strength and stability and not only was it holding back my overall strength in the main lifts, it was making my disc health worse.

For too long a time I lacked the conviction to address this issue due to a mixture of being stuck in a familiar regime, and overwhelmed and even scared by the realization of what I needed to do. I held off and went around matters addressing all other areas to potentially improve lifts but never the low back.

Thankfully all that changed. Somewhere along the way I became a real head case. I was committed to training before but I became relentless after I had an operation to clear up the area. I identified my main weakness, my low back and mustered the courage to take it head on. This wasn’t reckless by any means but it was savage and uncomfortable.

I read up on the area of spinal health taking my understanding of the matter to a new level. In came the deep core work to wake all the related musculature that had just shut down completely after my injury and operation. It was boring and sucked but I did it. Then direct low back work was added on top a soon as possible. I started with bodyweight back extensions but ultimately got to deadlifts and good mornings not long after. Going was tough. The positions and strain felt so unnatural and weak but I dogged on.

People thought I was mad deadlifting and such with a previously troubled and still weak back. I wasn’t. I was sensible. It was what my back needed. It needed to be exposed to stress in order for it to adapt. My ego was in check. Initially I’d come in session after session and pull 60kg! Slowly but surely I’d add weight. Form was always perfect (and remains so to this day). Any sign of form alteration and id cease the lift. When the weights got heavier, I always stopped a couple of reps shy of failure to ensure the muscles didn’t spasm with fatigue like they had done before.

The same was true in squatting. My back strength did not allow me to hold correct posture and therein transfer force from ground to bar. Again, ego in check the weights started light. I lifted lift with perfect form and without a belt. Again madness many cried. Not really. I needed to develop my own ‘internal back belt’, not become dependant on an external source. This isn’t to say everyone should do this. It’s what I wanted to do and it worked very well for me.

Two years on and my back is now a hell of a lot stronger and my lifts are in a whole new realm to what they were back then. My back is still one of my weaknesses and I continue to ensure that I address it and any related issues in my training.

This mind set of tackling weaknesses has helped me massively. Now whenever I see a weakness I tear into it no matter how uncomfortable or daunting. I ask as many people as I can, who can do what I can’t, for feedback and advice and put it into practice. There is no shame in having a weakness, its natural. The quicker you realize this and develop the courage to address the issue, the quicker you will develop.

I write this blog in reflection of recent PBs and sit back proud of what i’ve acheived. Take a look at your own training and performance and see what is lacking. What is your weak link? Once you have found it I urge you to grab it by the scruff of the neck bring it close, taking it head on. It will be hard. You will be uncomfortable but ultimately you’ll be better for it!

Train hard. Train smart. Be strong.

Where’s Your Head at? – by Ben Coker

The mental aspect of any performance is crucial. Performance under the bar is no different. So I ask you, ‘Where’s your head at as you set up for a big lift?’

For experienced lifters the difference between nailing a big lift and failing or even getting injured is all in the head. Many lifters don’t get fired up enough for lifts. Instead they doubt and they fear.

I’ve had back surgery after suffering an injury whilst playing rugby a few years ago. Every time I load up a bar and get under it do I think about how my discs can pop, or how my muscles can spasm, like I know from previous experience they can?

Hell no!

Those thoughts are as far removed from my head as possible. Im invinceble. A beast.

Before you are even allowed to think about lifting a PB you need to be convinced that you are going to smash the lift. All thoughts of injury and failing must go out the window. Spotters are in place, your technique is grooved (or so it should be by this time!), rehab is done and sensible and adequate progression has lead you to this moment. If injury occurs it’s not due to your errors its due to bad luck, chance or whatever you want to call it. It’s the nature of the game.

Forget that all. Don’t be scared. Become aggressive. Don’t hold back.

In the weight room we strive to be ‘not normal’. We want to do what no one else does and become our alter egos. Therefore it seems only logical to develop a cognitive state that is out of this world too.

Think what you need to think. Visualize tearing shit up. Mumble to yourself self mantra. Grunt. Ask to be slapped. Do whatever it takes. Forget what others think. Just know that when you grip that bar you’re gonna own it!

Observation of the all the big lifters I know tells me that these guys are 100% convinced that the lifts are theirs! Observation of all of the guys I witness who hopelessly un rack bars, with no purpose in their approach, nor conviction in their thoughts, shows that most of the time they fail the lift.

If you think you might  not make the lift, or you aren’t feeling psyched, go home brother… because you’re right.

This isn’t a call to arms to start screaming randomly in the gym or to start throwing weights around like an idiot. It is a reminder though that you need to attack each lift with a maelstrom of mental energy.

I’m a very quite, reserved lifter from an external perspective. I usually sit in corners, and stare long into the floor. But In my mind, all sorts are going on. I’m on fire. I’m ready to go to war and the bar is going to know it.

I leave you with the example of NFL safety, Brian Dawkins. This video is inspiration in its fullest and testimony to the power of mental aptitude. Approach your lifting like he approaches gameday and PBs will crumble.

Go out there and ‘act the fool’.

Train hard. Train smart. Be strong.

Reflection – by Jamie Bolton

As I sit here, nearly through another week, I can’t help but contemplate how quickly time is flying by. I also can’t help but be somewhat surprised at how much is being achieved.Life. Whats that? “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. Plans indeed. Here at EK we are scheming away to plan and build the future of the company. Grunting.Ten months has gone now since the foundation of Elite Kinetics. It feels like only yesterday to be truthful. As I look back at what has been accomplished I can’t help but be pretty happy with how far we’ve come. When I look forward to the future I also see there’s one hell of a battle that lies ahead.

At times it’s like being Leonidas with the 300 up against the mighty legions of Persia. To step out of metaphor and back to reality – it’s a tough game starting a small business, but we’re getting there.

So, what is the future for Elite Kinetics. No delusions of grandeur here, this is happening. Despite the doubters it’s coming together. We have a time frame and plan in mind, and I’m keen to not unnecessarily give away details, but the short version is this – The Compound is coming.

The Compound. A hardcore strength training facility coming to a warehouse near you. A place for PBs to be shattered, dreams to be realised, champions to be made.

So what’s going on now?

All sorts. In the interim, Ben has been busy adding to his CV, studying for his CSCS certification with results now in the post. He’s also been ‘grunting’, scrapping away building a small client base including a select few via online coaching. He is also busy constructing a small, but effective garage facility for short term use going forward.

Me? Well, I work full time for an international energy firm whilst this gets off the ground. So what’s filling all my time? Typical 9-5 and a little training thrown in? Not quite.

My day starts at 5.30am. Straight into 25mins of Hill Sprints or a walk with a weighted vest. Every weekday. I’m on the train for the commute into the City by 6.30am, and behind my desk by 7.30am. I’m done around 6.30pm or so, and then if it’s a training day, into the gym. This gets me home usually for 9-9.30pm, enough time to relax for a little bit, catch up on anything else, and hit the hay by 10.30pm. Sleep is very important.

Now, this is pretty busy, and I know plenty with nicer schedules then this that don’t have the time for the gym (or at least that’s what they say). They do. But most don’t want to get up at 5.30 to run sprints. Or make the right food choices. Or train after a long day. I’m not trying to say I’m special, far from, I’ve distinctly average genetics when it comes to this game, but what makes the difference is I’ve a burning desire to be as good as I can be, so I get done. Do I enjoy running sprints when I’m half asleep? Hell no. But I do and don’t argue with myself. No excuses. If some bonehead at work has given me a hard time or MS Excel has been playing up all day, do I really want to always hit the gym? Not really. But I get in there and get my shit done anyway. And usually feel a whole lot better for it.

In fact, I’d wager to say that at the moment, despite time being more constrained that its ever been, I’m getting a whole lot done. EK is coming together. Work is good. My conditioning is up. My strength is up. And I’m enjoying every second of it.

Heck, only last week I smashed a deadlift PB by 20kg, pulling 190kg at 79kg bodyweight, for a very solid rep.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Screw optimal. Just get the shit done and get on with it.If you wanted to pick apart my current life, or in fact as a gross generalisation, anyone who seems to be accomplishing the stuff you wish you could, and really look at what they do, it’s not optimal, it never is. But it works, because it has to and because they make the best of the situation. No excuses.I realise I’ve probably gone off on a complete tangent with this blog today, but it was some stuff that needed to be said. The point is this. Tasks are being achieved. Goals being worked toward. No matter what it’s happening.

What’s your excuse?

Until next time. Train Hard. Train Smart. Be Strong.

The Importance of Auto Regulation: Knowing When to Call it a Day – by Ben Coker

I love volume in my training. Anyone who knows me closely and has watched me train will agree with this statement. On the whole I prefer to train insanely hard with a large workload and then take an extended succession of rest days. This system has worked very well for me and continues to do so. This isn’t to say that a more frequent training approach with less volume each session would be ineffective for me, it’s more to do with my mindset…I like to train insane.

100% agree, but not 100% of the time...

With all this said though, I can easily fall into the trap of overtraining if I fail to listen to my body. Short of having preset lower intensity days incorporated into a training cycle, having an intimate awareness of you body and its current state is crucial to all performers.

I have never actually been over trained but I frequently flirt with overreaching in my methodologies, therefore I need to have a good auto regulation and periodization scheme in place to know when enough is enough for each particular day.

There are times when I just don’t feel that surge in my body to go to that ‘dark place’ again. Today was one of those days. After my first exercise (squats) where I ramped up to and then performed 3 sets of 1 on 165kg, I moved on to my ‘accessory section’ which to me is pretty much where the session begins!.

Well today, after 5 sets on the leg press, with another couple of sets to go I detected my body feeling different. I can’t really describe it anymore that I felt different. I’m sure many lifters out there can relate to this.

Now, often lifters with a hard mindset or even an innocently ignorant mindset will push through this, battling themselves with self talk… ‘stop being a whip’, ‘I need to man up’, ‘I lifted 20kg more than this last week I need to push harder’, ‘I cant stop as that means I’m giving up’.

Walking like a foal after a heavy leg session is good, but not necessarily after every session...

These guys haven’t developed a good auto regulation system. They feel they need to do exactly what is written in their plan, even if your body is saying ‘hey just modify the plan so I can catch up’.

Today, my body wasn’t revving like I normally does. I had a cold sensation in my skin and my head felt a bit stuffy all of a sudden. It was like the very early signs of a cold. Despite still being very strong, I knew that this sign needed to be used NOT abused.

Sensibly, I decided to finish the presses two sets early and then got a quick complex in of hamstring curls, calf raise and leg raises (three times through) and got out of there. The session was half the time and volume it would normally be. Despite it being one of my low intensity days already, my body detected that low needed to be lower and I made it so.

I thought I would share this experience to bring home the importance of knowing when to call it a day and modify your programme where nexcessary based on what your body is telling you.

Programmes are good, but I prefer to think of them as templates. Your body doesn’t fall into line with what a set of percentages say on a page. Develop your own bodily ‘awareness’ as it were and know what your body is saying and learn how to act accordingly. If you can master this you will be lifting a lot longer and with a lot more consistency. It is these two points ultimately that form the foundation for any high level of performance.

Remember. Train hard. TRAIN SMART. Be strong.

Bosu Ball Squats – by Jamie Bolton

Last week I was cracking out some Power Snatches on an olympic lifting platform (yep the gym I was at actually has two of them). And well, I couldn’t help but notice I was getting a LOT of strange looks. Now my form’s not of Olympic standard on these, but it’s far from being hideous, and I’m pretty certain therefore that form wasn’t drawing the looks.

Meanwhile, about 5 yards to my left, there’s a guy standing on a bosu ball doing barbell squats (well, attempting too). He then proceeded to do single-legged one-arm DB presses. Guess what? Not one single odd look was parted his way. This was considered normal.

So at this point I had two choices, go pick up a 20kg plate and toss it at him for his idiocy, or instead come on here and rant. Luckily for him, I opted for the latter. Only just though.

Let’s dig a little deeper and have a think about this.

Snatches. Odd? Probably. Most people rarely even squat, so an explosive full body lift like this is almost certainly out of the question. Useful? Absolutely. Unbelievably so. From the weekend warrior to the full time athlete, there’s no doubt about the fact that the power versions of the Olympic lifts can be hugely beneficial. Yet they’re rarely performed by most, so what I was doing was unusual in as much that it’s a rarity but for the wrong reasons.

Bosu ball squats & the even worse abomination after of the single-legged one-arm DB press. Odd? Ridiculously so. Strange looks? Of course not. It’s functional isn’t it? (*Rolls eyes, reaches for sharp implement to stab self in head repeatedly*)

When is this movement pattern ever used in sport or life?

This ‘functional’ movement crap has gone too far. Now to the point of being ‘accepted’. How in the blue hell…?
Since when was a regular, old fashioned, building-the-legs-of-champions-since-time-immemorial squat unfunctional? Last time I checked it’s a pretty basic natural movement pattern. Ever watched a baby crack out a full squat without ever being coached? All the time. It’s that natural.

Apparently though we now need to prepare for being able to squat on a surface constantly moving – since the happens all the time. More importantly, we need to be able to stand single legged on a wobbly surface whilst doing a unilateral press. Instability overkill. But clearly this mimics the real world and so we need to copy it. (Please note continuing sarcasm.)

Look I’m all for ‘functional’ movement, but we’ve got to realise that training with barbells, dumbells, kettlebells and so on (read: not machines) is functional. Deadlift? Same as picking something off the ground. Olympic clean? Same as jumping. Dumbbell press? Pushing something or someone. You get the picture. Name an exercise with these and you can think of a ‘real world’ ‘functional’ application. Try to do the same with the bosu ball devil-creation exercises, not so much.

And before I get slated for slaughtering the bosu ball, yes they can have a use (deflated and locked up in a cupboard – joking!). For certain rehab, prehab and activation based activities, they can be useful. But they’re just a tool for those applications. Want to squat? Then get in a rack, load up and squat on (wait for it) a stable surface. Not only is it near pointless to use a bosu, it’s damn dangerous. You won’t be so functional with a broken leg.

Just no.

Take home message

Don’t be stupid in the gym doing stupid things. In fact, perhaps as a rule of thumb turn the world upside down. In other words, if you’re not getting stupid looks you’re doing something wrong.

Crack out snatches, cleans, full squats, deadlifts with a straight back, bench presses to touch chest. Crank up those ‘dodgy’ looks which are really stares of awe – ‘how is he doing that?’

If you’re not drawing any looks, it means your ‘normal’. Normal results. Normal physique. And who wants normal? Don’t be stupid like everyone else. Get everyone looking as you progress and become more awesome.

Until next time. Train hard. Train smart. Be strong.

Simple NOT Easy – by Jamie Bolton

Every day we’re faced with problems. Every one tends to have a simple answer. Often an easy one too. Rarely do the two coincide (but it’s beauty when they do).

Want to gain strength? Then your best friend is 5/3/1, your simple but not easy answer.

Want to lose fat – then eat healthier and eat less carbs. Damn simple, apparently not ‘easy’, despite that being a pretty simple prescription.

The reality is most people know exactly what they need to do in the broadest sense in order to meet their goals.

Look at it like this, take the obesity epidemic in the western world. Are you really trying to tell me that these people don’t know what they need to do to lose weight? In short, they need to eat less and move more. It isn’t more complicated than that. Heck for 90% of people out there, their goals could be met with similarly simple, one sentence prescriptions.

People are all too willing, and wanting, to listen to the ‘easy’ answer – the ‘grapefruit’ diets, the ‘double your bench in a day’ type crap that gets plugged constantly. You know what too – it sells a tonne. Why? Because it sounds EASY – an excuse to not work hard. It’s easier to look for the quick fix, the fad, that promises 100% results and 0% effort. People seem oblivious to the bullshit being pushed on them, which fails every time (but people still buy the crap). The irony is they don’t seem to learn, and when the same rubbish is repackaged and pushed on them 6 months later, they fall for it again.

Enough said...

To me, time wasted looking for the easy answer is ‘harder’ in the sense that it’s flawed and inevitably doesn’t work. Why waste time mentally masturbating over some new fad? If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. The basics in diet, training, even in life do not change that much. The simplest route is nearly always the most effective. The ‘easiest’ route most of the time isn’t even a route. Well it is, but it’s one that halfway there has a load of u-turn marks as people fail and end up back where they started.

Maybe it’s just mindset. For me, improving my conditioning is as simple as doing more hill sprints. Leaning out as simple as cutting back some carbs and calories. Stronger as simple as busting my balls in training. Easy? Perhaps not, but it gets easier.

So simple, yet so hard for people to adopt and do!!!

There are time proven, and proven again results. Most people know what they need to do. But people somehow think the ‘eat chocolate on monday, only soup on tuesday….’ rubbish or whatever is being shouted about now somehow has something the old stuff doesn’t.  Ask any respected coach (read: one that has been around longer than the latest fad), heck ask a bunch, and you’ll see more similarities in their approaches than differences. Why? Because there is no magic pill !

‘Complexity’ or ‘looking for the easy way’ detracts from getting on the quickest, most effective path to results. Look for the ‘simplest’ path, start walking down it and get to results-ville. There is no easy option. Just simple hard work. To quote the legend once again: “The route to our goals is simple, not easy.” – Dan John.

Until next time. Train Hard. Train Smart. Be Strong.

The Way of The Rhino – by Ben Coker

Whilst watching South Africa play in the Rugby World Cup over the weekend, I was once again in awe of the strength of the Bok pack in the contact areas. These boys love the ‘bosch’. Indeed It appears they are indoctrinated into that way of playing.

With this in mind, I was reminded of an epic story a good friend of mine told me a few years back about the time he, as an aspiring school boy, met ex Springbok prop and World Cup winner, Barlie Swart.

In today’s post I though I’d share the story with you (as told by my friend) and reveal Swart’s philosophy on winning and the South African approach to rugby…

It was a scorching summer afternoon in Durban, South Africa at The Natal Sharks academy. Aged 16, height 6 foot, weight 95kg. It was my first day at the camp and I had been called in for an introduction meeting with Barlie Swart (6 foot 5, 155kg ex springbok prop and world cup winner in 1995). He came out of his office to introduce himself to me in the foyer. I had never seen a bigger individual in the flesh. Almost had to see the pysio after the hand shake. 

We sat down and after a few minutes It was clear to me that Barlie was an extremely passionate gentleman. Hungry for success, in everything he did, a very proud man. We spoke for well over an hour about every aspect of rugby, my past, my strengths, weakness and dreams. 

The moment that will stick with me forever was having him look at me in the eye just before leaving his office, almost in tears through the sheer emotion and feelings he had for the subject, he said: ‘ Listen bru, life… like rugby is a battle. Rhino on the savannah fight for supremacy. The bigger, the stronger always emerges on top. Now if you are bigger and stronger than your opposite, you too will come out on top.’ He then looked me up and down and said ‘eh, how many plates can you bench? I said tentatively ‘maybe 100kg for 1. He replied, ‘ China, come to me when you can do 200 for 5…..who’s is going to turn and run?.

Who will turn and run?

Train hard. Train smart. BE STRONG.

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