All posts by Ryan saplan

Your First Powerlifting Meet, a Play by play of my experience

The last fitness related competition I competed in  was the 2010  San francisco Marathon.  I wasn’t a specular runner (5hrs 23 mins), but after running  bay to breakers, and half dozen half marathons, I thought it was time to tackle the full.

sf marathon 2010 - 1


I’m an X-Runner turned powerlifter and I’m sharing my experience at my first ever powerlifting meet. The following is a blog post of my first hand experience of doing a powerlifting meet.   (a USPA Lifting meet)


sf marathon 2010

Here are my lifts from my powerlifting meet at Old Skool Gym in Vacaville, California.
Old Skool Gym Vacaville California


USPA Powerlifting Trailer

It was not only my first Powerlifting meet, but it was my wife’s as well.

I give play by play account of my experience leading up to the event.  I wanted to give a “day in a life of..” type of blog post as it is much easier to write.

2/7/2014 Friday  (Day Before Pacific Open)

After I got my son ready and dropped him off at school, my friday started with watching Tommy Boy.  As I hung out with my 1.5 year old daughter, I tried my best to stay relaxed about tomorrow.

Last minute I decide to make a Deadlift Nerd T-shirt using an iron design printed from a computer.  Here’s a video of how I did that. I used avery iron transfers I bought on amazon.

Later that day I went to go pick up my son at school.  I waited in the car and got a comment on an instagram photo from one of my buddies, Tony (workout2eat).  Here’s his comment, highlighted in yellow below.

old skool gym instagram ryan pacific coast powerlifting meetMy

My jaw dropped.

I went to USPA’s website and checked when the weight classes lifted and it turned out that the 90kg / 198lbs weight class lifted on Sunday not Saturday.  All lifters  82.5kg / 181lbs and under lifted on Saturday.  This meant my wife was going to lift Saturday and I was going to lift Sunday.

What a huge cluster #$%* !!

I had clients and a TRX class to teach on Sunday.  This meant I had to cancel all my appointments and figure out another day of baby sitting for our kids.

I had to cancel my clients and figure out the babysitting situation.

Either case, we decided to go to early weigh in that evening so that we didn’t have to stress about it in the morning.  Naomi didn’t have a belt yet so we need to stop by sports authority to get one.

Got there and found out  I couldn’t weigh in!

There is a 24 hour rule.  Yeah I know a bunch of rookie mistakes.

So I go back to the car where my wife is waiting (because of our kids and it was raining) and have her go to do her weigh-in and equipment check.

She had to come back to the car to get her shoes and singlet. A velcro belt is not allowed.  Also, a leather belt with padding on the back must be cut off it were to be used.  I have a Schiek Nylon Coutour weightlifting belt (which I love – my review of it here), and thought it was not legal because it was more than 4 inches wide in some places.  It turns out a velcro nylon belt is not allowed. I should’ve read the rule book more closely.

She forgot to bring her singlet, so they asked her to come back early tomorrow morning to have it checked.

It worked out that my belt fit her, so she just decided to use that instead of going out and buying a new one.

I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t weigh in, because I hadn’t eaten all day.  At that point, the only thing I did to cut some weight was I ate 3 grapefruits and had some dandelion root.  I only had to cut about 2-3lbs, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t over.

It just sucked because my day of dieting had to last past dinner.  We went for sushi and all I had was salad.

Photo Feb 07, 6 27 58 PM

When I got home , I weighed in at 196.5 and 198.4lbs.  I have 2 scales that I used to average to ensure accuracy.  (I know, I’m a bit anal retentive about things like this). Not too bad after dinner, but I wasn’t sure if I would cut enough fluid before the next morning.

So I decided to try some epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) as a laxative to ensure I made weight.  It didn’t work as expected.  My stomach bubbled, but no bowel movement.  Strange.  I took 3 leveled teaspoons.

I figured by the next day, I should be 197 as long as I drink anymore water.  I wasn’t dehydrated, but I was sure to control my fluid intake to make sure I made weight.

2/8/2014 Saturday – Naomi’s Day (lifting started at 9am)

5:45am  Get up, get kids ready and weigh myself.  I lose almost 2lbs over night and weigh in on both scales under 198lbs.  Forgot what it was, but I was not worried about making weight anymore.

Because it was raining so badly that day, we didn’t want to drive to my sister-in-laws house the day before.  I hate driving in the rain. I figured I could manage the kids while Naomi lifted. (bad idea)

6:30am  We get there early to weigh in so that Naomi could check in her equipement.

7:30am I stayed in the car with the kids while I played Flappy Bird.

Photo Feb 08, 7 10 35 AM

8:30am I waited in line with Ender and Elle to weigh in at 9am.

Photo Feb 08, 9 01 30 AM

I weigh in at 88kg or about 194lbs.

For the most part, having the kids with me wasn’t too bad initially, but as the day wore one, it got more and more difficult.

9:30am We watched mommy do her first squat attempt. She gets 2 reds and 1 white light.  No lift :(

It turns out that having the family cheering in the background was too distracting.

10:00am  Laxative decides to kick in (from last night).  Not fun while you’re holding an almost 2 year old and managing a 6 year old in a gym that is too small and overcrowded crowded.

My daughter was squirming a ton, which probably meant diaper change time.  By that time my bicep was pretty tired trying to hold her.

I missed Naomi’s second attempt because I had to go to the car to change Elle’s diaper.

11am  I tried my best to manage the kids.  But they were hungry and fidgety.  Naomi sent us home.

11:30am-1:30pm I stayed at home feeding the kids lunch and trying to find someone to watch the kids for a few hours, and luckily my best friend thomas was willing to help out.

1:50pm  Drive back to Old Skool gym to support my wife do her last few lifts.  I miss her bench press, but she was able to bench 99lbs with 3 white lights!  A huge PR.  She hates bench press.

I was able to see my wife’s first 2 deadlift attempts.  She did an amazing job.  Here’s the video of the lifts I was able to record at Old Skool Gym Pacific Coast Open Powerlifting meet.

4:45pm Had to leave again to get the kids because my buddy had to go.  Drive back to fairfield to get the kids then drive back to Vacaville to pick up Naomi.

5:25pm Pick up Naomi.

Here’s our discussion right after my Naomi’s first meet.

2/9/14 Sunday – Ryan’s Day

Thanks to my Aunt and cousin, we were able to make arrangements for our kids.  Needless to say, this day went much smoother.  Like 1000% smoother.

We were still a bit rushed because we overslept a little and had to drop Ender off at my cousin’s.

8:15am Arrive at Vacaville at Old Skool Gym.  45 minutes to warm up should be enough time.  I check in with the judges to get my measurements for my squat and bench.

Measurements for Setting Squat and Bench

For setting up squat, it’s pretty simple.  They set it up for you and you unrack the bar to see if it’s at your desired height.  If it’s too high or too low they adjust it and they tell you the numbers (measurements) to give the broadcaster.

For the bench press at the powerlifting meet, they ask if someone is going to help you unrack the bar for you.  I was so glad to know that  you could unrack the barbell yourself.  I know that I could lift more weight if I had help, but I didn’t have practice setting up like that.

I also asked if it was okay to lift my butt off the bench to unrack the weight.  They said that was okay too. (if your hips come off during the actual lift you will get red lights)

USPA had safety bars to ensure that if anything were to happen, you’re less likely to get hurt.

Here’s a picture of the rack on the lifting stage.

When you see the lifting stage for the first time, you can get kind of nervous.  It’s a feeling of “oh sh*T this is real” type of feeling at the bottom of your stomach.  Keep in mind, we’ve never attended a live powerlifting meet.

8:30am I’m freaking out because I have less than 30 minutes to warm up.  When I compete here in June, I’ll be sure to do all my mobility stuff before getting here.

Here is what I do before I squat.

I felt a little rushed in to my warm up, but I think it worked out for the better because I typically take too long and get mildly fatigued before hitting my working sets.


1st Attempt: My opening squat was 385lbs / 175kg

I picked this as my opener because it it’s something I hit in training for a double.  In one of my training videos I hit here, the same day I hit 405lbs.

My goal for this meet was to hit 405.  I’ve only squatted 405 once, and when I did the form was not perfect. (Here’s a video of that training session 2.5 weeks prior) In fact, I almost lost my balance.  The bar travels backwards on the way up and that feeling is scary.

For me, a major component of powerlifting is fear.  Fear of getting hurt and fear of missing.  The numbers are psychologically demanding, simply put, they are f—- scary.

As you can in the video, I nail my opener.

2nd Attempt: 407lbs / 185kg

What’s 2 pounds above my gym PR?  A cool thing I had working for me was that most plates in gyms are inaccurate +/- 2 pounds.  I learned it from a video by Omar Isuf.  (couldn’t find the video, comment the link below if you know so I can update ths post)

This means that squatting 405 could’ve easily been well over 407lb.  I wasn’t able to film it, but I nailed it.  I could feel the 20lbs+ difference on my back, but my legs couldn’t tell.

3rd Attempt: 429lbs / 195kg

I almost lost my balance, but recovered.  I felt myself push into a posterior pelvic tilt (at least that’s what it felt like)to grind the weight up.  I think it’s interesting when this happens.  It feels much lighter when this happens.  The bar path goes slightly backwards as it goes up.  I’m so glad I have spotters.

I was so relieved to be done with squats.  After that attempt, my right knee felt some mild pain.  I went back and did a slow motion review of the lift and noticed that my left knee buckled in slightly as I lost my balance.  This probably forced some asymmetrical loading of my right knee which probably caused the problem.  When I go back to training I’m going to have to weed out that problem.  I’m not sure what it is, but I’m gonna fix it.


1st Attempt: 281lbs/ 127.5kg

There are so many things I could’ve done to make this lift better.  One thing that is apparent is that my left arm trembled.  A weakness on my left side was due to not being tight enough in the traps, rhomboids and lats (I think).  I tightened my lats last minute to finish my lock out.

If I had consciously started contraction of my lats from the outset the lockout, it would’ve been much faster.

2nd Attempt: 297lbs / 135kg

I commanded the weight to rise. You here me say “get up there!” Sort of like powerlifter turned youtube star  CT Fletcher in his famous bicep video. Dudes got some crazy arms.

Three white lights and the lifts is good!  Looking back at these attempts I could’ve worked a lot harder to incorporate a much more aggressive leg drive.  There’s always a risk of my hips leaving the the bench and getting red lighted, but there was still a lot left in the tank.  I can tell because if you look at my legs and hips, their involvement from he outset of the lift was very minimal, I could have had more.

bench press 135kg

3rd Attempt: 308lbs / 140kg

It looks like I had it!  I wasn’t fast enough off the chest and I know that if I had lifted my head as I lowered the weight I would’ve locked it out.  I practiced in training, but very intermittently.

My previous gym PR for bench press was 305lbs.  Although I missed the lift, I’m quite happy with my performance.  I’m happy because I’m really a lot stronger than I realized.

In my own workout career, I have yet to bench 3 plates on each side, or 315lbs without mark bell’s slingshot.

In between attempts

The powerlifting meet was ran in flights.  Flight A, B and C.  On my day, there were about 15 lifters per flight usually grouped by weight class (but not necessarily).

Each flight would finish all 3 of their attempts on whatever lift they were on then the next flight would go and do their 3 attempts and so on and so forth.

I was in flight A, and my order was based on what weight I picked in comparison to other people in the competition.  Ideally, they don’t want to remove weight off the bar so each person would go based on their attempt.

So if we happened to be in the same flight lifting together and I was attempting 100kg and you’re attempting 102.5kg, I would go before you because I have less weight.

It makes sense  so that they transitioning between lifters is faster and they don’t have to remove plates to often.

Your first meet tip #1: take your time warming up and do you’re last warm up set 5-10 minutes before you do your first attempt.  This may be hard to time, but it will make sure you’re fully primed.


1st Attempt: 518lbs / 235kg

My favorite lift, the deadlift.  My obsession back in October 2012 was to deadlift 500lbs.  At the the time I couldn’t get 300lbs.  I had some butterflies of missing the lift.  Thinking of Omar Isuf 500 pound deadlift challenge when I got 3 reps and missing the 4th.

One of the great advantages of you filming your self and sharing it on youtube is that you can always reference back.  I remember that I did pull 525lbs in the gym without a hitch.  In fact it felt “light.”  I did a ‘slow’ non-aggressive deadlift.

Re-watching that video on my phone quickly subsided those butterflies.

2nd Attempt: 534.5lbs / 242.5kg

I remember pulling this thinking I might fail.  Luckily I’m physically stronger than that.  It’s really a mental game when it comes to powerlifting sometimes.  I was truly at the outer edge of my strength, in this case about 2% above my gym pr.  It sounds kind of ridiculous looking back.  “Will 2% more weight really stop me?”

I had a mental hesitation and you can see it on my 2nd attempt during the lift.  Right in the beginning before I hit mid-shin I tipped forward slightly.  This is a weakness and a sign of form break down. When there is a sign of form break down there is a higher chance that the lift will be missed.  You can see in this slow motion video of me pitching forward and rounding during a 475lbs deadlift.

My wife, Naomi filmed it and when I reviewed the video I was estimating how much pitch and round I would make on a heavier attempt.

I play it safe and go up only 5kg.  I so badly wanted to go up 10kg but I don’t think I could mentally tolerate it.

3rd Attempt: 545.6lbs / 247.5kg

I rip this sh*t off the ground!  I was thinking about Chris Ramos’s 639lbs dead lift at supertraining gym in sac. There’s zero hesitation. If there is one thing that deadlift nerd instagram is good for, it’s for motivation before a 90% + lift or powerlifting meet attempt.

I just heard this recently from a video on Omar Isuf’s youtube channel. Where Omar Isuf interviews Jeremy Hamilton. Great video about building strength.

 Attack the bar like you’re ripping a head off a lion – Jeremy Hamilton

Why you should compete, My experience and Closing remarks


As I said in the beginning of this post, the last time I competed was in 2010 when I ran the San Francisco Marathon.  Four years later and I’m doing the polar opposite of my previous competition.  From running a treacherous 26.2   miles to lifting a heavy barbell 9 times.

I remember now why I signed up for these things.  They give you purpose and focus.  It makes fitness more than fun, it makes it meaningful.

So many people spend so much time trying to diet, lose weight and get in shape.  Seldom do I hear people focused on getting better.  Getting better at what they’re doing.  That’s what makes competition so valuable, sports make you focus on getting better and not dieting or getting bigger muscles.

Competition pushes to be at your best.  This easily translates to real world activities .  That’s why you should compete – to be your best.


Dysfunction, Pain and Powerlifting

If there is anything I’ve learned from my years as a coach, certifications and my favorite physical therapist, Kelly Starret, it’s that the body can just about “buffer” anything.  Poor movement, poor eating, poor sleep and poor choices.

As a human beings we are designed to move in our environment, survive and procreate.

Pain is an interesting topic.  To be more specific, joint pain is really one of those things that’s telling us something is wrong. Something is not working like it should. Yes, of course, this is oversimplified but bare with me.

In biomechanics, human movement science and athletics, we know that there are optimal ways in which the body should move.  When the body doesn’t move optimally it will inevitably become damaged with enough repetition and/or enough loading.

Pain is like a canary in the coal mine. It’s an indicator that something is wrong.  If going left hurts, it’s probably a good idea that you go right or just stop going left.

However, what I’ve found to be apparent when it comes to joint pain and human performance is that it takes a long time before you realize something is wrong.  It’s almost like cancer or HIV, poor movement will turn into a full blown “disease” when enough time has passed.

To solve the problem of pain is to understand why you’re messed up.  It takes someone with lots of experience to help solve this.  You have to remember though that the person you seek to help you will ever solve this.  They will only help guide you.  To solve your problems with pain and weight lifting, you have to educate your self.

Short blog post.  Felt like writing about this, if you want me to write more about this topic, comment below, or check out my youtube channel.

Thanks for reading

Deadlift Tips Reviewing my seminar notes with Dan Green at Boss Barbell

dan green 800 pounds photo

My question: How do you deal with the bar whipping against you? How do you suggest I practice dealing with this. When I pull near  or around 500 pounds on the deadlift the bar will whip against me pulling me out of position.

This is the question I asked Dan green.  It was a really important question to me.

Much of this question came from an error I made in my deadlift when I was reviewing some video of myself. I made an analysis video of my hips shooting up too quickly during the a PR deadlift of 515lbs.

Dan Green said to test the bar by pulling the hips back a little before pulling.

When he said that, it reminded me of a video of him deadlifting 815lbs at supertraining gym in sac.

It turns out that first pull had a functional purpose.  After Dan Green shared this deadlifting tip with me I never watched a heavy deadlift the same again.

I saw doing this “test pull” of the deadlift.  In a recent video posted on Eric Lilliebridge’s youtube channel you can see him test the flex of the bar a lot before the deadlift.

And as I write this blog post, I’m watching it, and what I’m noticing is he not only tests it, he also times in such a way so he can explode with just the right timing.  The video below is of Ernie and Eric Deadlifting.

In practice it’s really hard to do.  My first powerlifting meet is less than 3 weeks away and I can’t get this down in such a short period of time.  I did try practicing it. However, to pull the slack out of the bar without lifting it not only feels completely different, it’s more exhausting than you would think.  I would have to spend a lot of time rebuilding my deadlift to get this down.

This video show me trying to test the flex in the bar and as you can see my timing is really bad and I just feel too uncomfortable. One thing you might appreciate is the quality is fairly good and I have some good slow motion video at 120fps using my iphone 5S.

Most of what I learned at Boss Barbell with Dan green has more to do with the Sumo Deadlift.  I haven’t pulled sumo very much, but there are some distinct advantages for some of my leverages.

What makes the Sumo Stance Deadlift is that it’s complete opposite to what you would do in a Conventional Deadlift.

With pulling sumo,he said you want to lock out as soon as possible after breaking the ground.  Then use your hips to finish the lock out.

Locking out too quickly on a conventional deadlift will result in the hips shooting up too fast, and you don’t want that.  I have more stuff I want to share on the deadlift, but I’m out of time.  Thanks for reading.


Bench Press Tips to get more weight off the bar from Boss Barbell Seminar


cannon canoe

“You can’t fire a canon from a canoe”

The stable base for increasing your bench is your traps, rhomboids and lats.  The glutes and leg drive help to bridge that stable base into the bench.

I learned a way on how to bench from your stomach.  Well not really from your stomach, below your chest. It’s hard to describe but I’ll try.

You allow the bar to “sink” into a spot somewhere in your lower chest/upper stomach region and basically push press it up with the help of your hips to get the bar to point where you can press vertically.

This bench technique seemed exotic to me, but I’ve seen it before. It’s just fascinating on how a bench press can really be like a push press. Having lots of leg drive makes a lot of sense here.

Coach Mike did the beginning part of the seminar. He demonstrated his set up and showed us how to bench. The press from his chest was very quick, abrupt and explosive.  It’s eye opening when you’re able to see a proficient powerlifter perform a competition style bench.

Very fast tricep extension.

Of course there was only a plate on each side, it was helpful to see the execution.

Dan was sort of arguing against having strong triceps for raw lifters. He hears so many people talk about tricep strength in the bench press.

I’ll say in a few words what he said: your chest has more potential for strength and growth than your triceps do.

This is somewhat counter to what Louie Simmons said when he briefly talked about the bench press in the barbell shrugged podcast.

It’s somewhat hard to recall everything from the seminar because I missed part of it waiting for the bathroom (there was a lot of people and there was a line).  Much of what I recall from Boss Barbell is a combination of my notes and his interview on Mark Bell’s Powercast.

In my own bench session, I found that a slightly wider grip help allowed me to do more weight.  I was able to PR on a pause bench for 275lbs.  Not too bad for my second session training with the movement.  My 1 actually 1RM is 305lbs, touch and go.

Leading up to my PR I kept thinking about creating that stable base between my shoulder blades and traps.  After about 3 or 4 warm up sets my lats were pretty much on fire.  Almost too a point where I thought they might cramp and cause my lower to get too tight.  I can see where having a belt on the bench press can help.

I found foot position to be a little tricky.  I haven’t quite found the right position for them when I bench press.

Tight glutes

Tight abs

Big arch

Tight shoulder blades and traps

Lift off..

I was trying to nail the routine down in my head.    If you can’t already tell, I’m very methodical with stuff like this.

I keep thinking about what Ed Coan said on Mark’s Podcast about  making the warm up sets looks like the PR sets.  Everything remains the same.

That shit is harder than it sounds.

Because of this I started training all the lifts 5 days a week.  3 of the days are heavier days and 2 of the day are very light.  Mainly just to get a lifting routine down.

Sink and Press

When the bar makes contact with your chest you let the weight sink in a bit and then explode after a pause.  When the bar sinks in, the head comes up off the bench slightly, but immediately back down during the pressing movement.

I’m not exactly sure what the rules are but during my workout sessions with pause bench I felt like that I could let the bar make contact with my chest and then continue sinking into my chest which can help get a little stretch reflex when the lift command is shouted by the judge.

I was able to 225lbs pause bench for 5 reps.  Felt much easier.

Wide Grip Bench

“You’re elbows won’t all of sudden forget to lock out.”

That’s what Dan Green said.  It made hella sense to me. Its more difficult to lockout when you have wide grip on the bench press.  This will allow for better training.  It seemed to make more sense than just doing floor presses.

His philosophy with wide grip bench for training was to stick with high reps.  Well above 5.  I believe he said 8 to 12 reps for wide grip bench press.  Pause at the chest and increase the pause with each rep to build confidence.  You’re not suppose to go heavy on wide grip bench.

Wide grip bench has a smaller window of error, that’s the main reason why you don’t want to lift too heavy.

In my notes I wrote “Form practice” which was mainly a note to myself.  Then I wrote “forceful start with consistent groove.” I’m not sure if that was me writing it down as a note or if he said that.

Either way it makes sense and sounds good.

A few months ago I bench pressed 5 days a week and remember how strong I got.  I was able to bench press 3 sets of 5 reps with 275lbs.  When I had my bench press session the morning before the seminar at work, I was starting to think that was just a false memory.  I’m starting to think the weights at home are different than the ones at work.

But thinking back, think it was really my grip width.  I grip wider at home than at the gym because of knurling on the bar.  And for this blog post, I rewatch that 275 for 5 reps video and saw that I was wider.  That could be what it is.  Wider is better. For me anyhow.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll post about my notes on the deadlift next.  Sign up for updates or just check back in a few days.

Dan Green on How to Squat more weight – What I learned Boss Barbell

Dan Green on Squatting – my interpenetration

This part 2 of my blog post on what I learned at Boss Barbell, my previous post was about Dan green’s take on program design for powerlifters.

“Wedge yourself against the bar…”

This was reinforced during his talk as he mention in Mark Bell’s podcast of how he sets up for a heavy low bar squat.  He said it’s similar to the way Sam Bird sets up.  I found this video of Eric Lilliebridige and Sam squatting together. You can see the way he sets up as it is similar to the way I’ve seen Dan Green set up for his squats.

Sam Byrd setting up for the squat video starts at 2:31 mark. Watch this one rep and how he sets up for a 700lbs squat.

In hindsight it’s pretty obvious, but the one thing I was lacking when it came to making progress in my squats was my set up.    I was simply not spending enough time setting up and preparing myself properly to squat heavy weights.

“if you move you can move your arms [after setting up] you’re not tight as possible.”

This is was a a kind of a “ah-ha” moment where the light bulb went off.  Dan Green said that if he were to move his arms after setting up his arms would cramp big time.

I connected this to what he said on his interview with Mark Bell where he said [paraphrase]

“it won’t be comfortable, but it will be secure.”

In my own training, these were the biggest takeaways for me.

Front Squats

I got a few minutes to have Dan Green coach me in front of 250 people.  I did 2 sets of 5 reps as he observed my movement.  The biggest mistake that I was making in front squatting was losing my upper back tightness.

The main cue I’ve heard and have been taught when it comes to front squatting was the phrase “keep your elbows up.”  As simple as that sounded,  that didn’t work for me to get me to perform the movement well.

As he was coaching me, he mentioned that I was letting my hips go to far back as I tried to get out of the hole.  He suggested that I stay tight in the upper back and lead with my chest when I go back up.

The way I interpenetrated in my own training was to re-tighten thoracic extension after getting to the bottom .

Another thing he mentioned that helped me a lot was a mention about the shoulder blades on shoulder retraction.  In that, there really shouldn’t be any, if you have shoulder retraction you won’t have the “shelf” to hold the barbell.

To some this may be obvious, to me it wasn’t.

I think in the mind of many people, thoracic extension goes hand in hand with scapula retraction, but not in the case of the front rack for the front squat.

A really great way to train for the front squat was to do partial reps.  This provides the correct feedback for how you should perform the movement.

In my mind and in my view, it will keep the bar path in the correct  line.

Of course these are basically the same thing, but sometimes people need a certain “cue” that will get them to stay in the right position.

My next post will be about Bench Press.

View my original notes I took on my ipad.

Dan Green on Program Design for building strength

Sorry Sparkle, but I had to get at least one photo of him teaching. (I wasn’t allowed to take any video or photos during the seminar)


4/15/2014 4:49pm Update: I did a follow up blog post to this article after my first powerlifting meet. Where I review the highlights video.
By the time I registered for the seminar, it was already full.  I was pretty bummed out, but decided to go see if I could be stand by just in case anyone didn’t show up.  I was pretty excited to get into this full seminar.  If you’re interested in how I got in you can click play on the video below.  Feel free to skip it, continue reading down if you want to some great powerlifting program tips from Dan.

I took good notes and made a video recap right after seminar while the information was fresh.

One of the the main points of Dan Green’s program design was the SAID principle. He mentioned it often during his talk. This stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. In a nutshell, you get better at whatever you train. I know this may seem obvious (as he said) but it’s important you train the skill of the lift. In the case of powerlifting, the squat, bench and deadlift.

To be more specific, you must practice rigorously the exact manner in which you will squat, bench and deadlift in competition.

Another concept that was mentioned is the “strength phase.” This is where you’re just building raw strength. This will of course include all main competition lifts, but there is a lot more variety and a focus on building raw strength and muscle mass. Essentially similar to the Westside Barbell method.

In the strength phase there is a bias towards variety and volume. And less that of skill. This is not to say that skill isn’t important but that in the context in which Dan Green explains it, skill refers to the competition lifts.

He mentioned linear progression a lot and really doing as much volume as you can recover from. More is better, but only if you can keep making progress.

As you get closer to competition, there is a shift away from variety/volume and a focus on skill. Putting lots of focus in the exact technique that will be executed during the powerlifting meet.

The foundation that he laid out in the seminar are as follows:

Monday: Back squats, low and high bar
Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: Front Squats
Thursday: Military press, dumbbell press – a bodybuilder style day for arms
Friday: Deadlifts, block pulls and deficits with very few pulls off the floor
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Bench Press, pause bench, touch and go, speed bench, wide and close grip

Tip for choosing the best bench press grip in competition:
Stronger chest it makes sense to go wider
Stronger triceps it makes sense to go closer
Stronger shoulders it makes sense to pick somewhere in between

Know your technical max and train that. Emphasize volume with very good technique. Using the squat as an example: when does your squat starts to look like a good morning, train right before that point.

The approach of each day has a specific volume and weight % targets that are minimum. Numbers are somewhat preplanned, but if he’s feeling good he’ll do more. If he’s not feeling 100% then he’ll just do the minimum and call it a day.

The program outline above is just a base for how he goes about starting a program. As far as what to do afterwards is based on your individual needs. He mentioned that he doesn’t have strong lower back and upper back muscles as compared to the rest of his body, so at one point in his training he would do bent over rows and other variants to build his back after the main lift of the day. He got to a point where he was doing bent over rows 5-6 days a week.

The last thing about volume was an example he gave with the bench press.
[paraphrase] “If I’m doing sets and reps on bench press with 400lbs and start to get tired and have to go 300lbs, then get tired and have to do 200lbs, at what point does doing reps with 200lbs going to improve my 500lbs + bench? At that point I’m basically just f***ing around.”

So he calls it a day for the lift if he can’t sustain the same quality.

This is my basic report back of the first section of the Dan Green’s powerlifitng seminar. Here’s a video reviewing some of the idea in better detail.

More to come, check my next blog post on Dan Green’s Boss Barbell Seminar.

My original notes can be found here:

Video recap of my notes:

Video blog of how I got into a the seminar when it was full:

Dan Green’s Barbell Boss Club Seminar Notes

These are my raw notes I took on my iPad when I was at the seminar.  I’m extrapolating more detailed blog posts from this notes I took on January 4th 2013 at Barbell Boss Club with Dan Green.

Barbell Boss club seminar Jan 4th dan green

Train for specific things at specific times
Strength phase – build work capacity
Look like you lift by lifting a lot
Lifting is a skill, build it
Said principle , get the skill aspect down
New stuff will make your body strong
Then train tech skill of the lift
Practice main skill of the lift
High Volume

As you get closer to comp, you reduce variety
Take time to take strength to build stength

Mon – back squat , low bar and will do high bar, stiff leg Deadlift
Tue –
Wednesday – front squats, hang clean afterwards for traps
Thur – military press, db press, behind the head, lateral raise
Friday – deadlifting day, block pulls, deficit, stiff
Sun – bench press (high volume), touch and go speed bench, close grip, wide grip bench, width = chest close= tricep middle grip = shoulders

Know your techincally max to train.

Volume minimum or plan for
The day but if you feel better do more. If not do the minimum. Can you do more.

Deadlift – stiff leg to strengthen low back in a specific way.

Find out how you life where you are weak
End the workouts with lagging body part , he rowed 5-6 times a week.

With squats work your technical max, and do as many sets as possible until fatigue.

At what point does this 200# bench help my 500# bench go up? Maintain a certain quality.
400# going down to 300# to 200#


Going over squatting
Wedge yourself between the bar
Knee track toes no matter the width
Once elbows roll up they will make the bar roll up causing loss in upper back tightness
If you can move your arms after setting your not as tight as possible
Set up practice with back tightness

Front of collar bone to set up for front squats
-do a 3 part video series on the seminar
Pause at the bottom to create a stretching opportunity
Partials front squats dan green seminar
Right feed back

Losing tightness at bottom in the upper back
Tightening an driving with chest Before leg drive to prevent hips from driving back

Accelerate out of the hole

Bench press

Maintaining tightness
Bridge on the bench traps
All the tension in the upper back
Can’t fire a cannon from a canoe
*share notes , 4 day post on Instagram
Maybe it’s not all triceps
Top 10 things I got from Dan green seminar

Sinking bench lower bar to stomach

Had still comes off

Slower when not doing the sinking bench
Leg drive from stomach to put into a position to press better after using legs.
Inch and a half to build up force and distance
Turning a bench into a push press
Chest has most potential
Concentric work allows for much more volume
Eccentric work wears you more.

Wide grip
Helps build lock out, small groove to work in to press
Pause bench high reps for confidence
Extend pauses during the set to build confidence
A form of practice
Practice forceful start with consistent groove

Frequency of how I use to bench improved my technique
Stay tight at the bottom
Drive weight into position for chest to lock out weight



If you can’t move up and down with out the weight, it won’t happen with the weight.
Technically sound in the heavier weight
Narrow arms will make it harder to pull shoulders back.
Bar is touching shins
Improve leg drive from beginning

Learn on a stiffer bar

Lock knees out sooner on deadlift
Closer feet more stable more acceleration but longer range of motion
Clean/snatch vs deadlift max force is applied at bottom for deadlift while for the former is just to the point above hhard knees for the hips to hit max acceleration.

Controlling hips will be crucial to not over work your lower back.

Bar whip. Practice pull the slack. Then leg drive after knowing where the whip is. That way you know when the weight will break the ground when the bar begins to Bend.

Quality weight 2-3 pounds a year.meats whatever when he’s not dieting.
Going over squatting
Wedge yourself between the bar
Knee track toes no matter the width
Once elbows roll up they will make the bar roll up causing loss in upper back tightness
If you can move your arms after setting your not as tight as possible
Set up practice with back tightness

Front of collar bone to set up for front squats
-do a 3 part video series on the seminar
Pause at the bottom to create a stretching opportunity
Partials front squats dan green seminar
Right feed back

Losing tightness at bottom in the upper back
Tightening an driving with chest Before leg drive to prevent hips from driving back

Accelerate out of the hole

Bench press

Maintaining tightness
Bridge on the bench traps
All the tension in the upper back
Can’t fire a cannon from a canoe
*share notes , 4 day post on Instagram
Maybe it’s not all triceps
Top 10 things I got from Dan green seminar

Sinking bench lower bar to stomach

Had still comes off

Slower when not doing the sinking bench
Leg drive from stomach to put into a position to press better after using legs.
Inch and a half to build up force and distance
Turning a bench into a push press
Chest has most potential
Concentric work allows for much more volume
Eccentric work wears you more.

Wide grip
Helps build lock out, small groove to work in to press
Pause bench high reps for confidence
Extend pauses during the set to build confidence
A form of practice
Practice forceful start with consistent groove

Frequency of how I use to bench improved my technique
Stay tight at the bottom
Drive weight into position for chest to lock out weight



If you can’t move up and down with out the weight, it won’t happen with the weight.
Technically sound in the heavier weight
Narrow arms will make it harder to pull shoulders back.
Bar is touching shins
Improve leg drive from beginning

Learn on a stiffer bar

Lock knees out sooner on deadlift
Closer feet more stable more acceleration but longer range of motion
Clean/snatch vs deadlift max force is applied at bottom for deadlift while for the former is just to the point above hhard knees for the hips to hit max acceleration.

Controlling hips will be crucial to not over work your lower back.

Bar whip. Practice pull the slack. Then leg drive after knowing where the whip is. That way you know when the weight will break the ground when the bar begins to Bend.

Quality weight 2-3 pounds a year.meats whatever when he’s not dieting.

Forcing Bar Path Article

Forcing Bar Path Article
What you’re in for:
-the importance of gravity
-why you should care about your bar path
-why you shouldn’t care about your bar path
-how biomechanics tie into ideal bar path movement
-how biomechanics shouldn’t be a consideration for bar movement (kind of)
-realizing how some things matter and how some things don’t.


Gravity and the Barbell


We know that the friend and foe of strength is gravity.  It’s our foe when trying to beat it to set new PR’s and increase our total.  It’s our friend in making us bigger, faster and stronger. It’s a love/hate relationship because it’s difficult and painful to work against, but without there would be no gains.


Why you need gravity.


Spaceflight osteopenia – In short, loss of bone density and atrophy of muscle is what happens when you lack gravity.  This is what happens to astronauts in space; they can lose anywhere from 1-2% in bone density a month.  This is adaptation at its finest. The body is adapting to the environment. There is no need for the body to have big muscle and strong bones in near zero gravity.


With the gravity on earth, the human body reacts and adapts accordingly.  This is why heavy barbell lifting will induce bigger and stronger bones and muscles; the body has to or it is in risk of not surviving the harsh environment.


Okay Ryan, what the heck does space have to do with lifting weights?


Hang in there with me for a moment and let’s translate this into something that is somewhat similar to what can happen on earth: being sick and bed ridden.


Zero Gravity on Earth


An environment similar to space would be your bed or your living room couch. Prolonged lack of movement and being sedentary will lead to similar effects of being in zero gravity (near zero).


What about being sick and bed ridden with a bad flu or other illness?



Have you or know someone that got really sick and then returned to training feeling like you’ve damn near lost everything? Some will say it’s just being sick that does it, and I’m sure it is, but I’m of the opinion that severe restriction of physical movement has more of a detrimental effect.


This is why if you’re sick or injured and you really care about your performance, you should always try and do something to maintain your fitness without making it worse.


When bar path doesn’t matter (or matters less)


The best clues in building strength is observing biomechanics and bar path.  Moving a heavy barbell at all costs will guarantee gains in strength.  No matter how lackluster your technique is or how the bar moves, moving heavy weight will make you better at moving heavier weight.


Suboptimal technique like doing squats until they look like good mornings will make you stronger. They will make you stronger because the poor technique will result in making the lift more difficult. And as we know, difficult barbell movements are very effective at building strength.


What about when you deadlift a heavy weight and the bar gets a little too far in front of you?  Grinding that up will inevitably make your deadlift stronger.


At any time the bar doesn’t move in the optimal path against gravity (typically vertical) you are training your muscles and movements to have more error room.


This is why the bar path doesn’t matter (as much) when you’re accumulating volume in your training to build new strength. Errors in bar path are part of the game and will build you up.


Biomechanics and bar path


Form and technique will always matter.  It’s always going to be major part of any good strength training philosophy. To be more accurate with what “good form” means, and for the sake of this article, I will define biomechanics as the way your body moves with least risk underneath the barbell.


In short, it matters and it matters a lot.  And if you happen to coach other people, it’s the only thing that matters when you get someone to squat a barbell for the first time.


I realize that when I talk about biomechanics (especially squat mechanics) it can get really messy with all the do’s and don’ts. But I want to simplify things so that you can see things as I see them for normal everyday people trying to get stronger.


Knees in and butt wink


If someone can’t squat to parallel, and you force them to squat their thigh below their hip crease without assistance, there’s a good chance that they will express poor biomechanics to get there.  Such as, knees going in or having an excessive of a ‘butt wink’.


Now I know that last sentence can spur a lot of debate, but I want you to keep in a mind that there is a sliding scale here.  Someone that’s been squatting heavy barbells for years will have a different interpretation than someone that’s been squatting for 3 months.  There is a lot of individual variation with each persons’ leverages; past injuries as well as training age. Some people will be able to handle more ‘butt wink’ and more knees in than others.


Someone that have a history of a serious back or knee injury will want to avoid these “faults.”


Notice that I put faults in quotations.  Each person is a little different and each person can handle more risk than others.  It’s really up to the coach and the individual to determine how favorable or unfavorable the risk benefit ratio is.


But to touch on it, having the spine flex and extend under heavy load puts more sheer force discs of the spine.  Knees going in under heavy load is a generally a less stable position than being in neutral, and as a beginner, you want to have zero of these faults.


Squatting Full range of motion


This is a difficult topic to tackle in just a few sentences but I will do my best to express things as they apply to the broader audience.


Full range ATG squat should not be your priority when doing squats.


Over the course of your strength training life, you will be doing countless reps and sets. As amazing the human body is, it can only buffer so much suboptimal movement before the stuff that holds our joints together begin to respond negatively.


In short, how you squat to or below parallel matters.


This article isn’t designed to go into nitty and gritty of biomechanics, but is primarily meant to provide you with some practical applications  (as well as my opinion) to make the best decision for you and the people you work with.

Why Strength is dangerous


Strength gains are damn near guaranteed for the novice. If you are benching, squatting, and deadlifting with a flawed philosophy, there’s a high risk that you will hurt something as you begin to squat, bench, deadlift, clean/jerk and snatch increases.  A few scrapes and bruises is normal and part of the game of life and lifting, but repeating mistakes is will eventually lead a path you wish you had not taken.


One of the greatest challenges I face as a coach is trying to share my thousands of hours spent observing people with “issues” and abbreviating the sum of their human movement error faults into a sentence or two to help those that are willing to listen. There’s a good chance you’re one of those people.


I try my best to get people to think about how their strength training programming scales for them.   In other words, I try to encourage people to think for themselves.  And for the purpose of this article, I’ve come up with a good way to help you and those you coach.




Is the way you’re lifting causing you joint pain? If yes, which of the following should you do?


a.) ibuprofen [photo]


b.) suck it up and ignore it


c.) take the day off


d.) stop doing that exercise


These are some common options to the joint pain problem.


With so many different situations (history, experience, goals, etc.,) the answer will depend on a lot of things. But I want to share insight into my thought process.


Is the pain or problem progressing? Is it exhibiting instability, weakness, or more pain?


For the average lifter… wait, what the hell does this mean anyway?  As far as I can tell, the average lifter doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing and I’m going to assume you’re well above average since you’ve gotten this far down in the article.


The truth for the average lifter is that they should probably stop and do something else until they can get some good coaching. But for you…the one that gives a fuck about how much they squat, bench, and deadlift, it’s probably best you consider sucking it if it’s not getting worse.


I’m not suggesting you’re bitching about your boo boo, but let’s say you are.  There’s a good chance your body will figure it out, as you get stronger and the pain might go away.


This is why I say consider it.  I don’t know your athletic background, your age, experience, or if you have a knee injury or some recent surgery. A good coach’s opinion will differ greatly for the 24-year-old who’s been lifting for a year vs the 30-year-old who’s been powerlifting since 19 years old.  Context is everything with how you interpret fitness advice (or hear people’s lifting PR numbers).


It’s really important that you think outside the box and learn to be creative.  If you’re anything like me, you really care about your numbers. It’s not motivating to hear, “stop doing squats and do leg press.”


or maybe it is….


But I digress.


Here’s the solution:


“What is the next best thing I can do to keep me moving in the direction of my goals?”


I will provide 2 examples of people / clients.  One of myself (powerlifter/fitness enthusiast) and one of a client of mine.


Mary and Deadlifting


Mary is in her mid-30s and in absolutely fantastic shape. She grew up an athlete and is about 23% body fat.  Her goal is to improve her lower half (glutes).  She also has a history of back pain with some bulging discs around L-4 and L-5.  Every time I have her deadlift (sumo or conventional) the next day she experiences symptoms she’s experienced in the past when her back bothered her.  I can tell she has a slight phobia of deadlifts because she has a slight hesitation when picking up what she perceives to be a heavy barbell.  Also during barbell squats below parallel she experience knee pain on one side.


Heavy weights will always be an important way to improve her lower body development, but she’s not one to push in to higher risk movement territory (like in my next example).  So instead of doing progressive overload in standard deadlifts and free weight barbell squats, we figured out the next best thing for Mary’s glute development.


So… “What is the next best thing I can do to keep me moving in the direction of my goals?”


No it’s not glute bridges. It’s a decent choice but not the next best thing (of course this really is up for debate).


Over the course of training her, for the past months, her best exercise choices to get the best for her goals are as follows:


1.) Barbell Squats: Squatting to just above parallel


2.) Box Squats at varying heights


3.) Box squats very wide to simulate effects of a sumo deadlift


4.) Glute bridges (they’re last on the list)


Ryan Novice Powerlifter (yours truly)


I’ve got lots of examples but a common recurring problem I’ll discuss is the knee pain I’ve been having.  To be more specific, knee pain that starts above the patella radiates up the quadriceps tendon. I have the symptoms of quadriceps tendinitis.  It’s not diagnosed and I’m not going to pretend to be an expert about what it exactly is, but if my weight lifting is negatively impacting my ability to do normal everyday tasks, there’s a problem. Time to stop squatting.


Of course I’m just kidding. But seriously, is there a way to work around this and still keep making progress in the direction of my strength training goals?  If there is one thing I don’t want, it’s regression.  If there is a will, there is a way, and it’s as follows:


Make progress by any means necessary.  You have to have a ‘whatever it takes’ approach, but don’t misunderstand me, you can still make a well-educated decision of what you choose to do to make progress.


And because my experience is different than yours, I’m going to deconstruct this in a manner that can immediately be applicable to anyone in a similar situation.


If it hurts, don’t do it.  What’s the closest thing I can do to improve my squat without aggravating my problem? I can do body weight squats pain free.  So the next question is, how much weight can I squat without pain. Maybe I can squat to full depth with lighter weights and squat higher with heavier weights.  Using a box at varying heights as a guide is choice, maybe I can just do traditional box squats.  Maybe I should try pushing my knees out more and/or turning my feet out as well.  Wider stance, closer stance and/or maybe feet straight.


So that’s my thinking process as best as I can describe in writing. You really are a unique snowflake when it comes to your problem in the regard of how you manage it for yourself.  Your relationship with your knee pain or whatever injury is really unique to you. Although the actual injury, pain, or problem may exactly not be unique, the way you interpret it is. My point of personifying your pain is that you have a pretty good sense about it for what makes it worse and what makes it better.  The more you train and the more you think about making progress around or on your problem, the better you will get at being smarter about getting stronger injury free.


So what did I ultimately do? To make a long story short as I got stronger, my knee would get more and more “funny.” I would manage to hit some volume and rep PR’s but I knew something wasn’t right.  A few days after the workout I would get some instability and random achiness. I backed off and reduced my volume. I started squatting less frequent. In a nutshell with my problem, the poison is in the dose. Volume and weight have a dramatic effect and from what I can tell it’s really about squatting frequent enough to make progress but not so much that I don’t aggravate my specific problem.


When to care about your bar path


When you talk about bar path, you are really talking about squeezing every ounce of leverage out of your technique. With bar path you are trying your best to make sure physics is working against you in the least unfavorable manner (too much forward movement of the squat or deadlift).


Under most circumstances (if at any time the bar moves away from a vertical line), you instinctively know that you’re leaving weight/reps on the platform.  Bar path is a good guide for weakness management.  It’s not always easy to interpret exactly what’s wrong (or what can be improved upon), but when a squat or deadlift looks terrible (or just looks a tad bit off), you know that there is a weakness somewhere.


And for those of you without a coaching background, if you just focus on improving your technique you will get better.  Whatever use to look wrong will look less wrong.


Conclusion: Risk management: Biomechanics trumps everything


The poison is in the dose.  Every time you pick up a heavy barbell there are risks involved.  The more risks you accept, you will typically get a bigger return.  The problem with this “big risk vs big return” analogy is that we can sometimes oversimplify what this means.  More is in fact better for some things and worst for others. Aggressive week to week increases in weight are great for peaking strength and typically worse for joints and overall body recovery.  Conservative progression, quite often, has a better effect on solidifying technique and building longer term strength.  How you get there has a good chance of determining how long you’ll stay there and how long you’ll be able to keep lifting what you want.  I’m in awe when I see a 700lbs squat. I’m in even more awe when I see someone squat 500lbs for reps week to week for months.  At one point this seemed unattainable to me, but over the past year of following some strong guys on Youtube and making consistent progress in my lifting, these guys have been training with the barbell seriously for years.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are exceptions, but I’ve come to conclusion that I’m not the guy that picks up 400lbs the first time they decide to deadlift.


How you get there matters and what I mean by this is sound biomechanics. Are you squatting, benching and deadlifting in a way that you can extrapolate into months and years of training?  Don’t oversimplify my statement into: “lift with perfect form all the time.”  Understand that working on technique and movement shortcomings will always be central piece to any solid strength training philosophy.  You will eventually have to test your technique with more weight (isn’t that the point?). 


That’s the dance between testing strength and building strength. High volumes of good movement ensures that when your time comes to test your strength, you will fall to the level of the training that you’ve worked so hard and long for.  Thanks for reading.

About the author:  Ryan Saplan has been a personal trainer since 2001, coaching everyday regular people get in shape.  Specializing in corrective exercise and post rehab. He’s also a new-found, novice powerlifter. You can learn more about him at