Interview with John Hamson, Junior British Powerlifting Record Holder

John Hamson is a superb rising talent in the powerlifting community. Aged only 20, he is still a Junior yet boasts lifts than many seniors aspire to! Recently crowned the holder of 3 Junior British records in powerlifting, John still has 2 and a half years as a Junior to go to further this immense feat!

EK: John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Firstly, congratulations on your recent performance in the South Yorkshire Open. Now, I know the readers are dying to know already so why don’t you put them out of their despair and tell us what your lifts were on the day and what records you set.

JH: Hello, no worries and thanks. My lifts were 330kg on the squat which was a British record, 230kg on the bench which was a British record and 292.5kg on the deadlift which took the total record which is now 852.5kg.

EK: Very Impressive to say the least. Ok, let’s rewind a few years. Tell us when it all began. When was it that you first became interested in lifting weights?

JH: It all began at the age of 12. My brother had a weight set with a bench in the garage and I started experimenting with various lifts, when I got to 14/15 I had out grown the equipment that was in the garage so we updated the equipment and bought a rack and a Olympic bar along with plates.

EK: Did you decide early on that you wanted to power lift or did you rather stumble across it along your  route of progression in the weight room?

JH: I stumbled across it when I started training my goals were to simply get stronger and bigger, I was always an active individual; did cross country running, played football, rugby, swimming, boxing and also did my own training so you could say my GPP was high!

EK: There are a lot of readers out there who are thinking about competing at a meet for the first time. Tell us about your first meet; how did you find out about entering and indeed preparing for it?

JH: My first meet was terrible I had not long turned 16 and I was keen to impress but my openers were too high I didn’t know the commands properly, but fortunately I didn’t bomb – I totalled 510kg. I researched the different federations and decide that the GBPF was the best for myself.

EK: What advice would you give to a new lifter entering his/her first meet in light of your experience?

JH: Do your research, know what the rules/commands are before you enter and train the way your gonna compete. Don’t be sloppy with your technique in the gym as it will fall apart when you get on the platform. I have been to many comps where people fail their first lift and then come back into the warm up room saying I did that for 5reps in the gym no one cares! Check your ego at your first comp get your first lifts on the board and get in the game. Your not in the comp until you pull your first deadlift.

EK: Are there any forums out there that you use or know off that you would recommend to both new and experienced lifters, looking to further their knowledge and experience in powerlifting?

JH: I use the GBPF forum and the sugden barbell forum, both have some good info on. I also log my training on both sites so check it out!

EK: A lot of powerlifters dabble in strongman competitions and visa versa. Is this something you have considered or have indeed done?

JH: Yeah I have competed in one strongman comp this year it was the midland U105 qualifier. The reason I did this was because it was held at the same gym were I train. I will be doing the same qualifier in 2012 as its something different from the norm but I will actually train for it this time.

EK: So, powerlifting or strongman, which one do you prefer?

JH: Easy question – Powerlifting

EK: OK, let’s talk training. How do you like to split up your training?

JH: I train 3-4 times a week, I squat three to four times a week, bench three times a week & deadlift twice a week & perform assistance movements when needed. Pretty much all my squatting is to a box – I use three different heights 15.5”, 13.5” and 12”. At the minute I am dabbling with heavy band tension.

EK: Maxing out too often is a major failing in many lifters training, yet we know that to be pushing those numbers up you need to test new water at some point. Where do you feel the balance lies?

JH: Good question! There’s nothing wrong with failing a lift, as long you know why you have failed it, whether it’s your teckers or simply your not strong enough yet. When I was prepping for the South Yorkshire’s I failed three lifts in my 12 week prep I think that’s pretty good going.

EK: What is your prefered way of periodizing your training to keep those numbers going up?

JH: The majority of my training is based on linear progression. I set my myself goals of what I want to lift in a comp and I work towards that, I take each week as it comes and evaluate how the week went then base my next training week on that. I have found that this works best for my self. If there are any technique issues they can be ironed out quickly and easily. Also this allows me to mix my exercise selection up, as what I have found, is that if I create a 12week prep with numbers for every week by the time I get to the last two – three weeks and I generally pick up a injury. Resultantly I have learned to back off abit and listen to body more. I like to have freedom in my programming! 

EK: On to nutrition. Powerlifters can be a little more lenient in their diets over say, bodybuilders.  What are your ‘staples’ of nutrition as it were and give us an idea of what your diet looks like on an average training day?

JH: Average day, oats with milk and fruit smoothie, chicken & rice, then more chicken & rice, 2 pints of milk, lasagne, cereal with milk & couple of yoghurts.

Some days I will have a couple of shakes consisting of whey protein and oats.

To be honest I just try and eat as much as I can, I rarely eat fast food, sweets, chocolate etc.. I wouldn’t say my diet is great but it suits my needs.

EK: Being only 20, you are incredibly young and have an entire lifting career in front of you. Whats the big vision for John Hamson? What are you goals and ambitions?

JH: My short term goals are to win the British Juniors next year [2012] and to get selected for GBPF squads. The long term goal is to total 1000kg+.

EK: Goals that I’m sure you will achieve judging on your progress so far!

John, thank you once again for taking the time to speak with us. I feel a lot of readers out there will have benefited from hearing the words of someone who is truly climbing the ladder in the world of powerlifting. Best of luck in the future, hopefully we will see you on the world stage in the years to come!


Training to Failure – by Jamie Bolton

Failure. When you just can’t get that last rep. It’s a pretty emotive topic with different athletes. On the one extreme you have olympic lifters who stay well shy of failure, heck you can’t grind a clean. At the other, you have bodybuilders, who will go to failure and beyond it. But who is right? For sure, both extremes and indeed those somewhere in the middle have produced some huge and strong athletes.
So what’s really going on here? Failure is an often misunderstood topic. And you really have to get down into the nitty gritty of what people are training for in order to analyse their methods and thus approach to it. In reality, as you will see here, is that it’s quite simple.First lets define failure. Failure is the inability to complete another rep unaided. But within this there are three kinds of failure, which occur in succession:
– Concentric Failure : inability to complete positive phase of the rep (think pressing phase of the bench press)
– Isometric Failure : inabiltiy to hold a weight statically (think pausing mid rep on bench press)
–  Eccentric Failure : inability to complete negative phase of the rep (think lowering phase of the bench press).
Let’s polish this off with a bit more context. Rolling with the bench press example, lets say you’re in the concentric phase of the rep, and suddenly you hit a brick wall, i.e. you can’t press it upward anymore. You’ve hit concentric failure. But wait, you can still hold it in place, i.e. hold the isometric contraction, the weight is no longer moving. Then a few seconds or so later, you can’t even do that – you’ve hit isometric failure. But, you can still lower it under reasonable control, i.e. perform the eccentric phase of the rep. Chances are at this point if someone were to help you with the weight back up (help with the concentric), you could do multiple eccentric only reps until suddenly you can’t even do that – you’ve hit eccentric failure.
There is one other face to this topic. There is more than just muscular failure going on here. Behind the firing of every motor unit is the nervous system. Now, when we hit muscular failure, we are also placing stress on the nervous system. Since the nervous system controls the motor fibres, if we stress the nervous system, then we may compromise our ability to properly recruit motor fibres at our next session.
The only thing left to ask is, how much stress are we placing on it? As a rule of thumb, the more compound and heavy the movement, the more stress on the nervous system training to failure will cause. Go to failure on a 3-rep squat and expect to feel ‘drained’ for a few days; failure on 15-rep lateral raises – not so much.

Now we know what failure is, the question is, when should we train to it, or even past it?

Like much in the realm of strength training, the answer is, it depends, and it depends on what kind of athlete you are. I’ll run through some examples.

Olympic lifters train often multiple times per day. They always are lifting relatively heavy weights, explosively. Moreover, they train the whole body very frequently using compound, multi-joint movements almost exclusively. Since going to failure would compromise their ability to perform those same lifts which they will be doing very regularly, do you think they do? Nope. They steer very clear.

I’ll jump to the straight to the ‘opposite’ end of the spectrum – bodybuilders. Bodybuilders in comparison, often train with bodypart splits. Whilst making use still of compound movements, there is a good amount of isolation work for muscle groups. Finally, by way of this split, each bodypart gets plenty of time to recover between each session. Train to failure? Definitely. Some schools of thought in bodybuilding will even go ‘beyond’ failure by use of extended-set techniques like rest-pause, drop sets and so on. Bodybuilding is not about ‘performing’ in the sense that other athletes do, it is the pursuit of hypertrophy and so ‘time under tension’ is what matters, hence training to failure is almost ‘necessary’.

Powerlifters / Strongmen. These guys sit in the middle. There is a focus on strength & performance, but hypertrophy a-la bodybuilders is also a goal, though just as part of the goal of getting better at the main lifts/events. The difference is that they will steer clear of failure in the main lifts, but may dabble in it with assistance lifts for hypertrophy, it depends. Especially as a competition nears, failure will be avoided as performance is at a premium.

Teamsport athletes. By this I mean athletes who are ‘competing’ on a weekly basis, like rugby players say. These guys need to be very situation dependent. If there’s a game tomorrow, probably best to avoid failure in anything. If it’s a week away, probably best to limit it to non-compound exercises just to be safe. If it’s pre-season, and adding mass is the goal, then feel free.

I could go on and describe it for a whole host more different athletes, but I think by now you should be getting the picture. The point is that failure can be highly stressful on the body, and you need to bear in mind your training goal context. Sure, go nuts and do rest-pause then drop-set squats, but don’t expect to be performing at your best for some time! Likewise, if you know you won’t be able to train for a while, say for a holiday, then sure, crank up the fatigue mechanisms and go crazy since you’ll have a chance to recover while you’re away.

I think Christian Thibaudeau sums it up best – ‘The more you can train without compromising your ability to recover, the more you’ll progress’.

If training to failure means you can’t recover for your sport, or indeed your next training session, then you may want to re-think your approach.

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 . 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!

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