Interview with Adam Bishop – Midland’s Strongest Man 2010

Adam Bishop is an up and coming strongman and powerlifter. Amongst a strong and accomplished sporting history he recently obtained the title of MIDLANDS STRONGEST MAN U105 2010 and came in 5TH in the UK’S STRONGEST MAN U105 2010.


EK: Thanks for joining us today Adam. Can you give our readers a little background on yourself?
Adam: I’m a former professional rugby player (winger), and have been lifting weights for six years. I entered my first Open Strongman Competition in 2010 and came 10th out of 20 despite being the lightest.

EK: That’s pretty impressive. What made you want to get into Strongman?
Adam: I always watched Worlds Strongest Man (WSM) and other strongman competitions on the tv ever since I was young and wanted to have a go at it one day. I started posting on a strongman/powerlifting website called Sugden Barbell and ended up going over to a facility called the Container near Melton Mowbray. I found I was pretty good at a few events and it kinda snowballed from there to be honest.

EK: How do you get access to the specific training implements you need to train for strongman?
Adam: The facility at Melton Mowbray has equipment specially made for me and the guys I train with by Jason Talbot, owner of www.atlasstones.co.uk . He can make any weird implement we need to lift with.  I also personally own a small collection of implements which I train with.

EK: What kind of training split do you use when preparing for strongman events?
Adam: I train 4 times a week in the gym following Westside Barbell principles at the moment, which looks like this:
Monday – Max effort upperbody (log, axle, circus DB etc)
Tuesday – Max effort Lower body (Including Deadlift and squats)
Wednesday – AM Repetition upperbody PM Atlas stone lifting
Thursday – Dynamic effort Lowerbody (including speed squats and speed pulls)
Friday – REST
Saturday – Events training
Sunday – REST
It’s a pretty heavy schedule and I wouldn’t recommend it to others but my body seems to recover well so it works!

EK: That’s definitely intense, you must be having to get in some serious food to fuel all of that? How do you tailor it in the run up to an event?
Adam: Off season its calories calories calories for me as I find it very hard to put on weight otherwise. Obviously as I compete in the u105kg category I need to diet back down to around that weight. In the run up to a competition I’ll keep an eye on what I eat and just pretty much clean up my diet. I’m pretty simple when it comes to food.

EK: It’s nice to see someone who isn’t afraid to eat big! Do you put this together yourself or do you turn to a nutritionist?
Adam: I’m on my own with this really. I mean I have a relatively good understanding of nutrition from my rugby days so don’t seek any help from nutritionists.

EK: That’s good to hear. Moving on to competition day, how do you approach it?
Adam: It depends on the event really. Some events require relative calmness and concentration such as keg throwing or most overhead pressing where a lot of skill and technique is required. In other events, such as deadlifts, stone lifting and car flipping I tend to go a bit ape-sh** and get really worked up about the lift, I mean no sane human being would do that stuff would they!?

EK :  What do you do when something doesn’t quite run to plan?
Adam: I just try and stay calm. In one competition I dropped a railway sleeper on my head. Hardly ideal but you gotta just keep going in order to win.

EK: Ouch that’s got to hurt! What’s your favourite event?
Adam: Probably the Atlas stones with the Deadlift a close 2nd. I think atlas stones are the defining event in strongman, it’s always usually the last and most exciting.

EK: We’re sure everybody wants to know what they are, so could you rattle off your most impressive PBs for us
Adam: On the powerlifting movements I’ve deadlifted 320kg from the floor on a normal bar and pulled 360kg on the silver dollar Deadlift. Squatted 270kg in a belt and knee wraps. On strongman, I’ve pressed a 140kg axle overhead and lifted a 175kg atlas stone onto a platform.

EK: Impressive. What does the future hold for you?
Adam: The short term goal is to defend my Midlands Strongest Man u105 title this year and gain qualification for the UK’s Strongest Man where to be honest, I want to win. I came 5th last year in my first year in the sport, so now I want to take the title and go to the World’s! After achieving this I think I’ll try and gain some weight and look to compete more in the open weight category.

EK: Fantastic stuff. Thanks again for joining us and all the best for the upcoming contests!

Deloading 101 – by Jamie Bolton

The deload. The lazy-man’s excuse to not work hard. The hard grafters way to grow. It’s a delicate balance, but one too often abused in favour of the first option, if it’s used at all. 

I can imagine some of you sitting there thinking, what the **** is he on about and what the hell is a deload?

A deload or back-off week is a planned reduction in training volume and/or intensity. This can be from a few days up to a full week.

Why? Well, let me ask you how much muscle is built whilst training? None. Muscle is built when you recover from training. The longer and harder you push it in the gym without, the more fatigue, aches and pains you start to accumulate. In other words, you under-recover. A deload allows the body to super-compensate and allow you to hit the gym with renewed vigour and new-found strength.

Now before you all start taking it easy in the gym in the name of deloading, there’s one crucial point to remember here. Only deload when you need to

As a rule of thumb, the need and regularity of deloads will increase with training experience and age. The advanced trainee can’t push as hard for as long as the beginner. Nor can the old timer when compared to a young whipper-snapper. The more developed you are, the heavier you’re training loads are (or should be at least), and the greater the toll your training is taking on the body, so the need for recovery is greater.

At this point some coaches will give out prescriptions for deloads. One week in every four is a very common and popular one. For the developed lifter there is some merit to it for sure. For the beginner, this is far too frequent. My biggest argument with this kind of recommendation is that it’s far too standardised to be optimal for every lifter. My training isn’t your training. I might need a deload every four weeks, but your training might warrant a mini-deload every three weeks, or you might be fine with one in every eight!

You want to push every training cycle for as much as its worth. Deloading for the sake of deloading won’t get you anywhere fast.

So how can we tell when to deload? Well, the human body gives us plenty of simple cues, we just have to be clever enough to listen to them.

Cues for Deloading:
1. You’ve stopped progressing (and calorific intake is high). The point in brackets is crucial, you must be in a calorie surplus for this cue to be true.
2. Weights that you were dominating are starting to feel heavier.
3. Decreased motivation to train. And I’m not talking about the, ‘I went out last night’ type of not wanting to train (but this won’t be helping you anyway), but when you are getting to the point of almost fearing training.
4. Need for sleep increases. For this cue, it must be a given that all else is equal, i.e. you are getting as much sleep as you usually do, other general stresses are the same etc.
5. Explosiveness decreases. For me, in particular on lower body days, I tend to throw in a lot of jumps between main sets. When I start to notice a sustained decrease in vertical height over a few sessions, it’s time to back off.
6. Chronic ‘Achyness’. Not just the regular DOMS, but when you start to really ache, even days after a session and usually you would be recovered.
7. Inability to get ‘in the zone’. You do your regular activation movements, even some extra, but you seem to be struggling to get that fire going at the moment.

There are probably a few more of these the veterans among you have noticed over the years but you get the picture. Listen to those nagging cues, whatever they may be, and thank me later.

If you have to ask yourself if any of the above apply, you don’t need to deload. If you need a deload, you should have been reading the above whilst nodding your head, heck chances are you’ve been noticing these things for a while. Any one of the above may occur from time to time; deloading is only required when a few of the above are persistent cues from the body for a good week or so.

Deloaded Training

Deload training doesn’t really need to be a whole heap different to regular training. The ‘keep it simple’ approach is to just decrease intensity (read: weight lifted) by 40% and follow the program otherwise unchanged. If you’re a beginner, then you can get away with decreasing volume by 40% (read: same weight, less sets and reps).

But we can take a different approach also. I like to sometimes use deload periods to try out new exercises, or plain just ‘wing it’ in the gym. The key is to make sure the training is non-fatiguing and sub-maximal. Heck even consider taking a week out of the gym and hit up the park with just bodyweight movements. I’ll often try to ‘plan’ the need for a deload before a holiday, when I’m not sure what the training facilities will be like so I can do one of the above! The key is to keep it a bit easier and recover, you won’t get weaker by taking a week off when you really need it.

How long to deload? It depends, it might be four or five days, it might be a full week or even slightly more; again, listen to the body. When you’re starting to feel somewhat sadistic and crave a heavy squat session again, you’re ready.

Wrap up

We progress by challenging ourselves in our training, but unfortunately we are only human (well most of us are!). We don’t grow when training, we grow when recovering from training. Over time we accumulate more fatigue than can be recovered from between workouts and gradually the body tells us to back-off, but we must listen to it. After a period of reduced intensity/volume, we come back stronger, bigger and more eager to hammer away at our training again. One small step backwards for a many further steps forward.

And that’s it. Deload to recover and start progressing again. But only if your body needs it.

Myelin: Optimising Neural Pathways – by Jamie Bolton

I recently finished reading ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle. The book focuses on the substance ‘myelin’ which in short is responsible for optimising neural pathways, making both thought and motor patterns more efficient in the process.

To explain better I’ll use the authors analogy. Essentially, at first when attempting to perform an untrained action, as the nervous system ‘fires’, the process is constrained by our neural circuitry, its akin to trying to drive fast down an alleyway, it just doesn’t work very well. As we practice and repeat, the body reacts by ‘wrapping’ nerve fibres in this substance myelin, in the process transforming neural pathways from narrow alleyways into superhighways allowing rapid impulse transfer. What does this mean? Well in essence, what was hard becomes easier.

Neural Impulses everywhere

Think back to your first bench press, I bet the bar wobbled all over the place, but now it follows a nice smooth path (or at least it should!), that’s myelin at work. Or perhaps a better example everyone can relate to, how about babies trying to walk? They try and try, but don’t quite manage it, but then just like that it clicks – they’ve accumulated enough myelin to do the task efficiently.

I won’t go explaining the book any further; if you’re interested in the subject though I’d highly recommend picking the book up, its a great read. What I will do now though is show how this can be useful for us strength athletes.

Let’s continue with that bench press example. That same first time, how much weight did you lift? How about the next time you bench pressed? And the time after that? I’d hazard a guess and say you saw pretty rapid progress in weight for a good month or two, and then the rate of progress suddenly dropped right down. What happened? Well we know myelin has been acting to optimise our neural circuitry, and actually that this happens fairly quickly, allowing these ‘rapid’ gains in strength. But what then? Why do our gains slow? Well, ‘gains’ from myelin have been exhausted for now, and the body is being forced to build bigger motor units (read: muscle) to do the job, which is a slower process. But this is where the good stuff starts happening – now we are growing muscle.

Myelin facilitates neural improvements. When we exhaust these temporarily, the body is forced to make structural, i.e. muscular and skeletal improvements. In turn, more myelin can then be used to make these new structures fire optimally and so on.

What underlies all this though is the need to challenge the body, we need to force adaptations. The body doesn’t want to change, and unfortunately for us always looks for the least ‘cost’ option to it. As a beginner, strength gains are rapid, why? It is relatively ‘cheap’ for the body to improve, all it needs to do is improve its neural pathways through myelin. As these are gains are exhausted, to improve, the body will have to build bigger muscle fibres. This is far more costly for the body. It doesn’t want to have to do this. Therefore, the challenge being placed on the body when training must be great enough to demand it.

If your ‘training’ is too easy, if you get up after that ‘heaviest’ set of deadlifts and you don’t even need to catch your breath, then don’t be surprised when you don’t improve. You aren’t asking enough of your body to make it want to.

Stop changing exercises.

This leads nicely on to my next point. Now, I’m all for variety in training, it’s the spice of life after all. But stop changing exercises for the sake of changing exercises. Lets use our little friend myelin to explain why.

You’ve suddenly hit a ‘wall’ with your strength gains on the bench press, its only going up 2.5kg a week! The horror. For a start, many advanced lifters would give their right arm for gains like that still (though they wouldn’t be much good at bench pressing anymore!) but I digress. So you switch to dumbells, and man, these are tough, you’re weak as anything with them. But next week, wow you’ve jumped, and the week after. For about a month, and then suddenly the gains aren’t forthcoming anymore. Time to ‘switch it up again’ right? Wrong.

Lets look deeper at what’s going on here. On the bench press, we’ve ‘myelineated’ our neural pathways, so our progress slowed down as the body actually was being forced to grow some muscle. We switch to dumbbells, these are new for us. Guess what, back to our first analogy and we’re down a neural alleyway again. But next week its suddenly a paved road, the week after an A-road, and so on, hence the ‘gains’ come quick again, until these pathways are ‘myelineated’ and again the body was being challenged that it might have begun to build some muscle. But you want to switch (rolls eyes).

Wrap up

The human body is a highly complex machine. It will always attempt to do things in the most efficient way possible (read: metabolically cheap).

You need to stick with exercises long enough to push past the neural gains and start seeing muscular gains. Know the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’? That applies perfectly here. To progress you need to constantly challenge the body and not give it an ‘easy’ route out.

But don’t just think that once we’re beyond those initial big neural gains we only make muscular gains. Your neural circuitry is constantly being optimised by myelin. And that’s the brilliant thing, you are constantly being made a more efficient athlete, as well as a more muscular one, as long as you challenge the body. With this in mind, lets make sure we give ourselves the building blocks. Now for once I’m not talking protein (though that is crucial for muscle growth), I’m talking healthy fats for myelin development. In particular in this case, omega 3 fatty acids are crucial, so make sure to consume plenty of omega 3 rich food like salmon, or supplement instead.

Using an array of different exercises is great, but use them for the right reasons. Don’t just switch from bench presses to dumbbell presses because progress has slowed a little. Persevere. Now if your triceps strength, or lack of, is hammering you, then sure, maybe add in some board or floor presses to overload them more. But don’t switch just because you haven’t woken up looking like Ronnie Coleman all of a sudden. Muscle growth takes time.

Push hard and make that body adapt. Give it reason to grow.

Boulder Shoulders : The Missing Link to an Impressive Upper Body – by Ben Coker

You work on your pull ups, and endless back row variations, you pound your chest from all angles and you hit shoulder presses yet you upper body still lacks that mass factor and you still cant achieve that v-taper that makes others take notice. You want the solution? Get some shoulders. Big shoulders.

Big shoulders are the key finishing factor to helping you achieve that complete upper body that’s awe inspiring and set you apart from the rest! Believe it or not the impressiveness of  your chest, lats and v taper will be compromised by scrawny shoulders. Now let me guess you do shoulder work right? Wrong. 3 sets of shoulder pressing with some half hearted front raises and poorly performed side laterals or even worse one of these thrown in at the end of a chest session doesn’t cut it! If your serious about getting an impressive and complete muscular appearance you need to prioritise your shoulders.

Arnie knew the importance of Big Shoulders

The deltoids are comprised of three parts; the anterior aspect, the lateral aspect and the posterior aspect. This means that you need devote ample time to all aspects to achieve a rounded look! Too often emphasis is put on front delts either consciously and or subconsciously and by the later I mean performing side raises poorly, activating the front delts and not the lateral aspect of the deltoids as the movement is intended! Very rarely will someone have a small front delt compared to lateral or rear delt as anterior delts are hit in chest sessions that everyone does! I simply top them off with some volume at the start of my shoulder session and then pound away on the lateral and posterior parts of my delts.

If the thought of a head turning upper body isn’t enough to get you motivated to train lateral and rear delts than maybe this will. These muscles are key stabilisers in both the bench press and shoulder press and the lateral aspect is also a synergist for overhead pressing. If your too lazy to work it out I’ll spell it out for you; training these parts of you delts improves your bench pressing and shoulder pressing. Let me guess now your motivated…

If you’re a contact sport athlete you’ll also be less susceptible to injury, benefiting from the above stabilisation and the bullet proofing effect that the extra ‘padding’ of bigger delts provides to such an unstable joint as the shoulder is especially in contact scenarios.

We must not forget the trapezius in this overhaul of your coat hanger frame. Its no good being wide with a flat upper shoulder girdle. Big traps not only top off the v taper but are also key muscles in other movements and overall strength – just think deadlift and you can see a clear carry over of strong traps into a bigger deadlift. The first three of the exercises I prescribe below all involve the trapezius group instantly increasing volume of work down for that muscle group but also if you are deadlifting somewhere in your routine the volume is compounded. This should be more than enough especially as it was found that side lateral raises (one of my prescribed remedies) elicits more muscle activity in the upper traps than shrugs! (1) Feel free to include direct shrug work regardless into your shoulder session as i periodically do when i increase my intensity for a period.

Now its time to warn you. Shoulder workouts hurt – in a good way. Simply put if your doing it right it should feel like your muscles are on fire and you’re so sore you cant even hold your posture! So when you adopt the exercises i prescribe think, what i think: ‘I know this hurts but can I actually do more or am I just looking for an easy way out?’ Stop being a wimp and get grinding away till it hurts, then go to it really hurts then go until your form gets scrappy. Rest for a few seconds and then keep going till you get a sensation of a thousand knives piercing you all over your shoulders! The lateral and posterior delts don’t require much weight lifted but better respond to extreme volume and by extreme i mean extreme. Get blood into the muscle and stretch the fascia to stimulate growth. I have found this to be bar far the best method for training my delts.

The remedies…

Modified dumbbell front raises

Start seated holding the dumbbells in a neutral position (like the start of a hammer curl). As you raise the dumbbell in front of you with a straight arm and without swinging, internally rotate and arc the dumbbell up and inwards finishing, with them touching in front of you at eye level. This puts extra stress on the anterior delt and recruits the lateral aspect of the delt more as you internally rotate.

High upright row immediately into press

Use a lighter weight than normal. Perform an high upright row from the hang then immediately press the weight overhead. Imagine the bar continuously moving upwards and not resting for a pause as you change from the muscle up (muscle clean) into the press. These are extremely taxing and harder than you think giving you an entire shoulder pump that is insane!

Wide grip upright row

When performing these the traps will get targeted but always focus on lifting from the lateral delts for extra effect. I image I am holding dumbbells and performing side lateral raises.

Side lateral raises (performed properly)

Always ensure you elbow is higher than your wrist and imagine your palms facing the floor at all times and actively pointing your thumb down towards the floor. This allows you to target the lateral aspect of the delt and even the rear delt!

Face pulls

Using a cable column start with you arms out in front of you shoulder height holding the rope attachment. Keeping your elbows up at 90 degrees to your torso pull the rope to above your eyes. Keep good form and don’t get carried away with weight this isn’t a row!

Low Cable reverse flies

Bending over keeping good form reach across your body to the low cable. Whilst maintaining a constantly relatively extended elbow perform a reverse fly squeezing the rear delt and taking care not to swing and involve other muscles

Wrap up

If you want that impressive physique that turns head then get some attitude and bust your ass off for those impressive shoulders. Put these exercises into your shoulder workout amongst what ever direct pressing and shrugging you already do. Remember its a shoulder training session not a ‘going through the motions’ shoulder session that currently is getting you no results! Think volume not weight and enjoy the pain as its a sign your doing it right and on the way to changing your matchstick-head excuses for shoulders into boulders!

The Simpler Nutrition Guide – by Jamie Bolton

What I’m going to present to you today isn’t groundbreaking, it isn’t revolutionary, nor will it instantly make you drop 10lbs of fat and gain 20lbs of muscle. But it is simple, and that’s where its beauty lies. After all, its been said that complexity is the language of the simple minded. I’m going to give you a quick, easy to remember, but incredibly effective way to tidy up your diet and instinctively make better nutritional decisions. 

First, a brief history lesson. Lets think back say fifty thousand years. Our diet back then was dependant on the environments we lived in. Agriculture was a good 40,000 years from being put into use. Man was essentially the quintessential ‘hunter-gatherer’. We ate what we could hunt – meat and fish – and what we could gather – vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, eggs. If it wasn’t there, we couldn’t eat it. It was about as basic as nutrition could get, eating literally what nature provided. Was this optimal for survival? Definitely not, else agriculture and the like would never have needed to be invented. Yet many people nowadays have had great success by reverting to this kind of ‘paleo’ diet, so there is some truth for sure in keeping things basic.

Jumping forward to say two-hundred years ago and the world has changed just a little to say the least, but not necessarily for the worse. Agriculture and farming has been in action for thousands of years, and world trade has allowed food products to be moved around the world. This starts to sound a lot like modern day, but with one crucial difference – we could only eat what the land would grow, not what we could ‘engineer’ as food. In other words, we were still dependant on nature.

Lets jump to the present. The food processing industry dominates much of the way people eat. Fast food and junk food are prevalent. The use of pesticides widespread. Animals and crops are not grown the way nature fully intended. Is this all bad? No. If you were to look at standards of living today versus back then, there is no doubt things are the best they’ve ever been right now, but I digress.

Look, I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the truth – people have had success with high-protein, high fat, and high carbohydrate diets; they all work if done correctly. What doesn’t work is the synthetic ‘food’ that food processing companies push on us. Don’t major in the minors, in the big picture whether you eat 1g/lb of protein or 1.1g/lb won’t make or break your progress. Focus on eating real food as nature intended.

That’s all wonderful, but how can we use the above information to inform our dietary decisions?

In short – the further removed a food is from the way nature intended, the less of it we should eat.

What does this mean in practice? Take the donut for example; donuts are about as processed as a food can get – white flour dough fried in hydrogenated fats and tossed in refined sugar. Nowhere in nature does anything similar exist. Therefore we shouldn’t be eating many of them. Simple.

Not quite what nature intended

Lets take something a bit more questionable, like say a tomato pasta sauce. Tomato pasta sauce is tomato pasta sauce after all right? Maybe not. Look at the ingredients on the pot, and look up the ingredients online needed to make the sauce from scratch. Notice the difference? The pre-made one has far more unnecessary ingredients like e-numbers, stabilisers and sugar. Which one do you think is going to be healthier? 

What about a beef steak? Beef is wholesome, natural protein right? Yes and no. Beef is a great source of protein no doubt. But lets go a little further. Most animals are reared nowadays on diets they wouldn’t consume in nature, in the case of the cow, often corn feed instead of grass. Now this causes a host of problems for our friend the cow, leading to a less healthy animal (check out Michael Pollan’s books for more info), which isn’t quite as good for us. If you can afford it, switch to organic meats, and in the case of beef – grass-fed. Food is more than just the sum of its macro-nutrients.

So what am I saying here? Eat only freshly made, unadulterated, organic food and never touch anything that has ever heard the word ‘processed’? Not quite. Strict dietary protocols and rules like that are always unsustainable, and not much fun in the long run.

Let’s make better food choices in the simplest of ways by focusing on natural, whole foods. A great question to ask yourself when shopping is – ‘was this around two-hundred years ago’ or ‘would my great-great-great-great grandmother recognise this as food’?

Great-Great-Great Grannie would recognise this as food

How can we put this all together? Well, ‘tighten’ or ‘loosen’ according to your goals.

If you’re in a gaining phase, then you can afford to be a little ‘looser’ with your food choices.
If you’re trying to lean out a bit, then best to stay away from the processed food options and try to keep things a bit more basic & primitive.

Look, the essence of my argument is pretty simple. Our genes haven’t changed much in a few hundred-thousand years, but the environments we live in and the food we consume has changed dramatically. By keeping food choices back to the basics, there could be much to be gained.

Nutrition doesn’t need to be difficult. We don’t need to eat perfectly all the time, but if we can improve food choices step-by-step constantly, then we’ll create a healthier, better performing, better recovering athlete.

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