Žydrūnas Savickas – Strongman

Žydrūnas Savickas is arguably the strongest man to have graced the earth.

Known as ‘Big Z’, the man mountain tips the scales at 180kg at a height of 1.91m. Savickas, forty-one years old,  is a Lithuanian strongman and former powerlifter.

Savickas interests in strength sports were piqued after watching a strongman event on TV as a teenager. This sparked a career spanning more than two decades yielding truckload of trophies.

Accomplishments

Savickas has accumulated over fifty titles including four World’s Strongest Man victories and eight Arnold Strongman Classic’s. He is the only person to have won every current strongman competition.

But a long and profitable career looked unlikely in 2001 when he suffered a major setback…

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What makes him successful?

The ability to overcome adversity

In 2001, Savickas found himself competing in the rugged Faroe Islands. During Conan’s wheel event, an endurance-based challenge, he blew out both of his patellar tendons. Most thought his career was over. Tendon injuries are notoriously fickle. They have a poor blood supply and recovery is slow.

Also, the patellar tendons are fundamental in strength-based sports. They transfer the force created by quadriceps, the large muscles of the front part of the thigh, in movements like squatting.

Savickas was undeterred.

Nine months later, not only was the big Lithuanian competing – but winning – a national powerlifting competition. He would soon claim victory in his country’s strongman contest before placing second in the World’s Strongest Man.

The message here is: injuries are part of the sport and you must be willing to overcome hurdles to succeed.

Savickas rehabilitation was painful and arduous. Rebuilding his body was only part of the challenge. Conquering the mental demons from the traumatic injury, and again having faith in his body, would have been just as hard.

Longevity

Savickas’s body awareness – when to push and when to ease off – is another contributing factor to his long and successful career. Perhaps he learnt to listen to his body after the injury in 2001.

Autoregulation is a form of body awareness that you can apply. It uses ‘perceived levels of exertion’ – how difficult a lift was – to guide training. The main issue with autoregulation is it takes time under the bar to develop the skill of knowing how much effort a lift was. People fall into two camps: the conservative who don’t push hard enough and the aggressive who get burnt out or injured.

Be patient. Know when to load up and when to ease off.

Future plans

Forty-one is old in most sports. But Big Z has shown no signs of slowing down, claiming victory in the 2016 Arnold Strongman Classic. If the burly Lithuanian can continue to manage his body there’s no reason he can’t extend his career into his fifth decade emulating the evergreen strongman Mark Felix.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal, like visualisation and imagery, are common terms in elite sport. What do they mean? Are they worthwhile? And should you include them in your day-to-day practice?

Rehearsal is imagining an event or moment. Picture yourself performing well. But don’t make your performance perfect. Make the re-creation accurate. If you’re squatting heavy, feel the bar’s pressure. Settle the butterflies in your tummy.

Mental rehearsal helps to:

  • Build confidence
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve the efficiency of motor patterns

It works because the brain can’t tell the difference between something you’re doing or something you’re imagining.

Use

It can be used to practice gym lifts or public speaking. The application of mental rehearsal is limited only by your imagination.

Benefits

Increased training time

Quality practice leads to success. The more practice the better. Mental rehearsal bypasses the hurdles that limit how much you can practice. Things like:

  • Commitments, such as family, friends and work
  • Injury
  • The need to rest and recover
  • Lack of appropriate equipment
  • Poor training conditions, like bad weather

Confidence

Nerves sharpen the senses but too much anxiety can hinder performance. Mental imagery helps build comfort through familiarity. When it’s time to do the ‘real thing’ you’ve already done it a hundred times. It’ll be like brushing your teeth.

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Example

Your goal is to squat 200kg. Your training program calls for squatting four times a week. In addition, you mentally rehearse the lift each morning and evening (fourteen sessions). Therefore you train the squat, in some form, eighteen times a week instead of only four.

What does it look like?

Create a mental image of the squat rack and the bar loaded up to 200kg. Picture the entire process taking place as vividly as possible – the set-up, unracking the bar and squatting.

Keep it realistic. When executing the movement, in your head, re-create the struggle and effort. Try starting from the warm-up and feel the session become harder.

Weaknesses

Beginning mental imagery can be a frustrating process. How do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you know if it’s having any effect?

It’s difficult to evaluate the success of mental imagery. Changes to performance and your confidence are good indicators. Be patient. Don’t give up after a few attempts. Also, the practice shouldn’t take hours out of your week. A few minutes a day will suffice.

Application

You must commit long-term to see the benefits of mental imagery. Start with a three-month block. This gives you enough time to improve your imagination skills. Also, it allows for the brain to develop more effective motor pathways for your chosen task.

What are your thoughts on mental rehearsal? Have you used it? Did you find it effective? Leave a comment below.

 

The One-Arm Push-Up

The One-Arm Push-Up (OAPU), to me, was something out of bodyweight training folklore. An impressive movement limited to the very strong.

Though, finding myself without a goal, little equipment to work with and some inspiration from Rocky, I gave it a shot.

The plan

Four weeks was the time-frame to achieve 5 OAPU’s per side. I worked for three days and had every fourth day off. I saw the movement as a skill. The more frequently trained, the better. I lowered the volume because of the high frequency.

Day 1 –

  • Diamond push-ups: 3 sets x 8 repetitions
  • Inverted rows: 3 x 8
  • Hollow body hold: 3 x 30s

Day 2 –

  • Biased push-ups: 3 x 6
  • Inverted rows: 3 x 8
  • Hollow body hold: 3 x 30s

Day 3 –

  • Elevated eccentric push-ups: 3 x 5
  • Inverted rows: 3 x 8
  • Hollow body hold: 3 x 30s

Day 4 –

  • Rest

The inverted row and hollow body hold were included for shoulder balance and core strengthening. The OAPU is an upper body dominant movement. But it still needs core stability to be done well.

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Progress

I kicked things off with a test. I couldn’t do the movement from the floor – unless free-falling onto my face counts – though I was able to complete the push-up in an elevated position, with my hand on a chair.

Using a combination of resources (see below) and intuition, I attacked the push-up, progressing as often as I could. Once I was comfortable with diamond push-ups I raised one hand onto a block to bias one side. I began doing elevated eccentric push-ups with a 3-second decent through half-range. As I improved, I worked up to 5 seconds through the full range at ground level.

As for the biased push-up, I experimented with variations. I found most benefit with having one hand on an elevated surface to reduce its contribution to the movement.

I re-tested at the half-way mark and was able to do a OAPU from an elevated surface. The height was about half of the chair I used when doing the initial testing. I progressed the row and hold. I widened my grip for the row and increased the hold to 45-seconds.

Key points

  • When working on single-arm variations, keep the working arm and elbow tucked into your side to get the lats involved. There should be no gap between your upper arm and ribcage.
  • Focus on whole body tightness. Maintain a hollow body posture throughout. It’s much easier to move a single unit then several different parts.
  • Allow the hips and feet to pivot with the movement. Your upper body should be perpendicular to the floor not parallel.

Common mistake

You don’t need to be able to do a mountain of regular push-ups (RPU) before working on the one-arm variation. If you can do twelve RPU’s, that’s enough.

Moving forward

I achieved my goal with one day to spare. I consolidated the movement over the next few weeks. I reduced the rep range to 3 x 3 OAPU’s and focussed on good form.

For now, the OAPU is on maintenance. I’m not boldly pursuing progression and I’m happy with small improvements. Narrowing the width of my feet (the narrower the stance, the harder the movement), for instance

Progressing the OAPU

The most challenging iteration is with feet together, like in a RPU. You can also elevate the feet, add weight or progress to plyometric variations.

If you would like help with doing your first OAPU, get in touch. Or, if you have any tips, strategies or questions, please leave them in the comments section below.

Resources

Awaken The Giant Within by Anthony Robbins

Awaken The Giant Within is Anthony Robbins Magnum Opus. It’s a heavy text covering many concepts to help you lead the life of your dreams. Many of the topics are what you would expect from any self-help book. But Robbins touches on some unique areas too. The importance of vocabulary, for example.

Is the book applicable for those pursuing strength? Believe it.

Lessons learnt

Find a role model

Having someone who is in the position you want to be in is invaluable. Their guidance can save you many hours. Is your goal to squat 200kg? Find someone who’s done it (and has a similar build) and your progress will be fast tracked.

Why do so few have a mentor?

You’re looking for the perfect match. It’s hard to find someone who is exactly where you want to be. You need to settle for the next closest thing.

A fear of rejection is another stumbling block. Either you don’t try at all or give up after a few failed email attempts. Be relentless in your pursuit. Err on the side of pissing them off with your eagerness and see what happens.

Question yourself

Thinking is the process of asking and answering our own questions. If you dwell on negativity, you create a harsh internal environment. Confidence and productivity suffer.

Robbins implores us to ask empowering questions:

“How can I make the most of this?”

Use your internal chatter to create a fertile mind.

Be impeccable

Don’t let things, people or situations dictate your life and how you feel. You decide how you feel. You can’t lay blame on anyone or anything else.

There will always be tricky situations. But you choose how you respond to them. Do you curl up into the fetal position and curse your bad luck? Or do you see the roadblock as an opportunity?

Curtailed by injury? Now, you have time to work on your weaknesses.

Build a code of conduct, Robbins suggests. How will you approach each minute?

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Strengths

The simplicity of the principles is a strength of Awaken The Giant Within. Robbins gives the reader a roadmap by providing strategies to act on the main concepts of the book.

Weaknesses

The amount of content is overwhelming. People who read this book fall into two categories:

  1. Those who get through the whole thing though are unable to digest all of the content.
  2. People who take their time with the reading and apply what they’ve learned along the way. But they don’t get to the book’s end.

Patience is the key with Awaken The Giant Within. Stick with it and don’t try to jam all of the lessons into your life at once

Rating

Awaken The Giant Within is the most well-rounded self-help book I’ve read. If you’re looking to shift your mindset, Robbins book is a good choice. If you’re looking to improve a specific area of your life, such as your health or finances, there are better options.

7/10 Tony Robbins fire walks.

How To Save The World

The world is getting fat.

We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Wherever there is a Western influence, obesity follows. China is an example of this.

The Western diet, typified by fast food, is only part of the story. The impact of the West extends further than Micky D’s and Pizza Hut. Westernised media is also having a severe effect on the health of the globe. Their influence is being compounded by the boom of social media.

Being aware of the power of the media is important. But what we need is more well-informed and notable voices to combat their skewed messages. Most of what we’re told about our health lacks scientific backing. It’s centred on sound bites that capture our forever-diminishing attention.

The problem we face is the sciencey stuff is bland. Reading a research article evokes yawns, not excitement.

So, how do we make the stuff that can improve people’s lives captivating and easily understood? The answer lies in the delivery.

Combining art and science was a concept revolutionised by Leonardo da Vinci. If we can bring artistry and education together into a bite-sized package, we’ll be well on our way to healthier lives.

The onus is on you and me to create content that is truthful and informative while also being compelling to read or watch.

Challenge accepted.

Selective Speech

The ability to communicate well is underrated. There is almost always a fault in the lines of communication when an issue arises.

Communication is hard to define. A lot of it comes down to decision making. Should I say something or listen? Most of us are guilty of speaking too much and listening too little.

But the value is in listening. Have you learned something from talking? It’s by listening to others that we capture new knowledge. Listening builds trust. A good listener earns the respect of the speaker, building the relationship in the process.

There is another danger in speaking too much. What we say loses meaning.

The words we speak have value. A scarcity increases the worth of our words while a surplus reduces it, just like in economics. If we held our tongues more often, people will listen. There would be fewer misunderstandings too.

Is there a danger in speaking too little? Perhaps. But that’s a problem most of us don’t have to worry about.

When in conversation. Listen. Don’t be afraid of silence, it’s less sinister than you think.

Eddie: Strongman – Documentary Review

Eddie: Strongman is a raw documentary about Eddie Hall – multiple times British Strongman champion, truck mechanic, husband and father of two.

The documentary provides insight into the life of an aspiring Strongman, his transition from an amateur athlete to a pro, the Strongman community, as well as the persona of the man himself.

Eddie is a showman.

He’s arrogant, aggressive and unashamedly rude. But we learn that Eddie has built this public persona. Growing up, he admired the Strongmen who brought in the big crowds. He too wants to be the man that fills the bleachers. So he mirrored their traits.

His showmanship is best illustrated by his performance at a deadlift competition. One of Eddie’s desires is to hold the deadlift world record. No one matches his pulling ability – according to him. So, he has an image to uphold.

At this event, he fails at 435kg. But, he’s allowed another attempt. He fires up the crowd and succeeds on his second try. He does another rep for good measure. And if that’s not enough, he carries out an interview while holding the weight locked out at his hips.

Although brash in the public eye, others attest to his loving nature in private. The big man breaks into tears when discussing the supportive nature of his wife, for instance.

The documentary also touches on the life of a Strongman. The sport is one pursued out of  a love of strength not money. Most athletes balance a demanding training regime with a work and family life. Eddie was spending only a couple of hours a week with his young family, in order to get to the gym, at one stage.

Key lessons

Bodybuilding-style training helps build strength

Eddie trains like bodybuilder, a sport he competed in as a teenager. He trains a muscle group or two per training day following a high volume regime. His sessions last up to four hours.

This shows the value of hypertrophy. More muscle equals more strength – for the most part.

This training style prevents injury too. The higher rep range helps develops connective tissue and supportive structures, that are not built to the same degree, if pursuing strength or power training alone.

Genetics play a part

Some believe genetics play only a minor role in athleticism. Others feel that genetics are pivotal in an individual’s success. This documentary leans towards the ‘genetics are important’ side of the scale.

Eddie in his younger and lighter years (the man now weighs 400 pounds) was a talented short course swimmer. He was the British champion for his age group multiple times over. This suggests his genetic make-up is geared toward speed and power.

Injuries are part of the game

The fear of injury in strength sports is a hurdle for many. The thought of ripping a pectoral muscle or popping out a shoulder is not a pleasant one.

Injuries are inevitable – as Eddie and his buddies attest to. To lift the weights required to be elite means pushing the body to its limit.

Expect injury and pain if you want to become Strongman strong.

You can’t do it alone

Eddie’s wife, Alexandra, is his rock. Her unyielding support is a key factor in Eddie’s success. She works, takes care of their children and helps with Eddie’s food preparation. That’s an achievement in itself as he eats 10,000 calories a day.

Eddie understands he is fortunate to have her and reaching his goals would be impossible otherwise.

Pursue your goals ruthlessly

Eddie’s three life goals are:

  1. To become the World’s Strongest Man (current best – 3rd)
  2. To be the world record holder for the deadlift (achieved – he pulled 500kg earlier this year)
  3. To meet Arnold Schwarzenegger (achieved at the Arnold Australia competition in 2015)

Throughout the documentary it becomes clear that a single-minded madness is necessary to achieve lofty goals. A mild approach will result in failure. Balance is a fallacy if you want to be the best. There’s not enough time in a day to dedicate to the different facets of life.

Strengths of the documentary

Eddie: Strongman is well put together. It gets its credibility from the inclusion of the ‘heavyweights‘ of the Strongman scene.

From modern day greats like The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) and Brian Shaw as well as Strongman royalty like Geoff Capes and Bill Kazmaier. The opinions and insights of these men add weight to the story (and also allow me to squeeze in a couple of puns).

Weakness of the documentary

The documentary lacks fluency. The structure is haphazard, often jumping from the past to the present. Following a chronological order would have improved flow.

Rating

Eddie: Strongman is a solid yet unspectacular documentary. I would recommend it for anyone with an interest in strength-related sports.

My rating is 7/10 rudely cut mohawks.

How Do You Respond To Crises?

While channel surfing, I stumbled upon a triathalon.

The leader and defending champion was in complete control. He had created a sizeable lead during the swim and bike legs. Suddenly, he got a flat. As he changed the tyre, his opponents ate way at his lead.

The change didn’t go smoothly. He fumbled with the broken tubing and he was passed by other riders. He cursed and carried on and lost his cool as precious seconds trickled away. His tantrum further hindered his tyre change. His head was filled with rage and frustration instead of being calm and clear.

There was a lot weighing on the race – money and championship points – for instance. But his response wasn’t helping his cause. Is this how he responded to other challenges?

A crisis shows your character. Do you panic, lose your cool, or are you stunned into submission?

Crises are unsavoury experiences, but they’re an opportunity to show your inner steel. Keep a steady head and don’t let emotions override the way you act. It’s easy to curse and scream and take out your anger on those around you. But if you can harness this energy you’ll overcome the crisis without any casualties.

Become exceptional in the face of crises.

Great Expectations – Part Four

He was scrambling around the apartment now. What he was trying to orchestrate would take all his nous. How could he leave without a trace while letting his loved ones know he was safe?

His phone began to ring. The authorities were unscrupulous with their time management and he had missed the first checkpoint. They wouldn’t be worried just yet. He had missed checkpoints in the past. Their worry would begin when he missed two in a row. Something he’d never done.

So he couldn’t be swayed, he switched his phone to silent to disengage from the guilt.

As he packed necessities into a small rucksack he thought of ways to contact his friends and family. Nothing came to mind. The establishment would be clinical with their search and would stop at nothing to find him. Their hunt would be amplified by desperation.

He would have to leave now. It wouldn’t be long before they sent people to check on his whereabouts. There was only one thing he could do.

In order to make a clean break, he couldn’t leave any hints. This isn’t some fairytale, he realised. Yes, they’d be distressed. Angry too. But he had spent the entirety of his life helping and pleasing others. Now was the time he did something for himself. Besides, he could try and make contact with them once the dust had settled. Lord knows how long that would be.

He left the apartment. He had played around with the circuitry of the keycard slot making it difficult to open the door without a battering ram.

As he limped down the steps, he was overcome with excitement. This was it. He was breaking away. He pushed away thoughts of, “What would they think?” and enjoyed the euphoria of the situation.

He opened the door and pulled a cap firmly over his head. He glanced back at the apartment block one last time, smiled and walked away.

Great Expectations – Part Three

He would have to leave soon. He had an hour at most. He hated these awkward lengths of time. Long enough to do something significant. But short enough to waste.

He talked himself into watching TV and found himself searching for comic relief.

Despite his best intentions, he couldn’t drift off into the mindless drivel that occupied his screen. His mind was busy thinking and planning. How could he ‘go missing’? Would it be so wrong to follow his heart for once? He was such a logical man. Always calculating probabilities and approaching scenarios methodically.

He found himself creating a pros and cons list in his head, even now. He shook his head vigorously, attempting to disarm his systematic brain to no avail. He could convince himself either way.

He was leading a selfless life. He was using his God-given gifts for the betterment of society. The corporate adage, ‘everyone is replaceable’ didn’t apply to him. He was, quite literally, the only person who could do what he could do.

But he wasn’t fulfilled. He would falter eventually. The life he was leading wasn’t sustainable.

His rational mind was in overdrive now. Despite all the things he was,  he wasn’t immortal. Earth would have to learn to survive without him at some stage; the question was: when?

Perhaps it was in the best interests of the globe if he stepped away now. The people would be forced to step up. To adapt. He could oversee proceedings from afar and interject if things became a little too dire.

The idea of taking a step back was gaining traction. Would they look for him? Would they beg or ridicule him?

Ten minutes to make a decision.