...gain train, bro.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Feast On This...Powerlifting Insights With Nick Israel

It's been almost a month since the last addition, with good enough reason.  I've been wanting to put together quality, collaborative articles and interviews with a number of highly qualified individuals; oftentimes, it can be challenging to get all parties on the same page and get everything compiled, considering how busy these guys lives are.  Things are now coming together on various collaborative endeavors and this coming month should bring forth some quality material.  This week, I'd like to offer an incredibly insightful and thorough interview with powerlifter Nick Israel.  I've known Nick since 2009 and have always been impressed by his strength and his humble nature.  Nick has competed all the way up at 198 down to 181 and more recently has been performing incredibly well at 165; he's now making the move to compete at 163 in USAPL, which I'm certain he will continue elite status.  Without further delay...

PJF: Nick you’ve been lifting for quite some time.  In fact, you were at my first powerlifting meet in 2009 and had already been training seriously for some time. How long have you been seriously training and what was the initial spark that got you hooked?

Nick: Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to talk to me. I started powerlifting at the end of my senior year of high school. My senior football season got derailed by an offseason ACL tear. My physical therapist was a former powerlifter who turned me on to the sport once football wasn’t there. I have been powerlifting pretty much ever since. Besides a second ACL injury that  sidelined me for a year and the 2 years I spent training for olympic lifting, I have been powerlifting ever since.  There is just something about pushing my body to its limit and beyond that just resonated with me.  I am competitive by nature and I’m never satisfied with being ok at something. I want to be the strongest person in my weight class ever, period. That is what drives me and that’s why I won’t ever stop. There is always more weight to be lifted.

PJF: You’ve progressed quite a long way in the last few years; did you have to go through a lot of experimentation and try different approaches, or did you know what worked early on and stick with it?

Nick: I have tried every training and dietary approach under the sun. I am always trying to find new way to improve my training and nutrition to optimize my performance. I have recently settled on certain training methods and dietary approaches that I feel work best for me and have being using them for the past couple years.

PJF: It seems like higher frequency training and undulation seem to be very popular approaches nowadays with regards to both powerlifting and bodybuilding.  What are your thoughts on training frequency with regards to gaining strength?
Nick: Higher frequency training has been around long before it reached its current popularity. Most training approaches are all just different ways to package similar loading paradigms. I personally utilize a high frequency undulating approach to training. My rationale is simple, if you want to be really good at something you have to do it a lot. This is a fact in any and all sports. People don’t bat an eye when football players practice 5 days a week. If you want to perfect a specific movement and be proficient at it, then it takes countless reps over a prolonged time. The old adage of practice makes perfect holds true in my opinion. There is also research to support that higher frequency training can produce superior results. There is some conflicting evidence but I am a firm believer in a higher frequency approach. In addition to this, your overall volume often dictates your level of adaptation. If you squat 4x a week it is much easier to accumulate higher total volume.

PJF: Keeping in line with the topic of frequency, would you ever consider something on the extreme end of things, such as squat every day protocols or bench every day etc?  What are your overall thoughts?

Nick: I have actually taken my bench and squat up to 6x a week a week in certain phases of training. I don’t feel that the majority of natural athletes can recover adequately to follow something along the lines of maxing every day, but if loaded appropriately there is no reason a person couldn’t eventually work up to squatting or benching every day. The main reason it becomes an issue is people try to increase the frequency of their training without taking into account overall volume. I generally advise people to take your current volume and divide it among the new amount of total training days for at least a week or 2. If you currently do 100 working reps over 2 days then spread that out over 3 and see how you react before increasing your overall volume. After you adjust to the increased frequency you can start to up the total volume. People all too often throw in an additional squat or bench day and end up getting injured because they increased their training volume too much too fast.

Safe to Say Nick Understands Effective Fat loss
PJF: You recently cut a substantial amount of body weight over a decent period of time and managed to maintain a lot of your strength and actually end up pound for pound much stronger?  What do you believe were some of your most integral methods which allowed you to accomplish this?  Many struggle with strength loss during even relatively conservative calorie deficits…any advice you can give them?

Nick: My biggest advice is to just commit to your weight loss goal. Put strength on the back burner for a bit. You are going to get weaker. It is not physiologically possible not to. The change in leverages alone will make your lifts drop. I cut around 70 pound over the course of 5 years. That’s a pretty substantial time and it was a slow gradual process. Around 35 of the 70 came in the last 1.5 years or so. I took my time and kept training but I realized my lifts were going to suffer. It is easy to get discouraged when you can’t hit your same numbers but that is how this works. My lifts all dropped when I initially lost the weight, but I have been able to work my way back up to close to the same numbers at 30 pounds lighter. That took me from being a pretty good lifer in my weight class to an elite level lifter in my weight class.

PJF: How do you tend to periodize your training?  Do you utilize “blocks” where you focus on more volume, or more intensity etc?  

Nick: I generally alternate between volume and intensity blocks following a block periodization model. I train high frequency, daily undulating within each week but the overall block has a set purpose. I tailor the overall volume and average intensity for each training session based upon the particular type block I am in.

PJF: In addition to the previous question, do you include a lot of accessory or isolation exercises?  How do you balance your main lifts with accessory work?  

Nick: I do very little accessory work. I utilize exercise variations in my training to help address specific deficits in a movement pattern but the bulk of my training is the competition lifts.  I do some upper back and shoulder work at the end of most session or on off days as active recovery more than anything. I use accessory work as a way to try to keep my joints healthy.

PJF: Many lifters make good gains regardless of their training for the first 6 months to 1 year; however, most find it difficult to continue progress in that intermediate state after and often times quit.  How would you go about setting up a training protocol for an intermediate lifter?  What kind of approach would you use and what would a sample training split look like?
Nick: All too often people get frustrated because their gains stop coming as easily. People seem to have some strange notion that they will be able to add 10 pound every few weeks to their max indefinitely and destroy every record around. Once that pipe dream ends and real training begins many give up. I think it’s the unrealistic expectations more than anything else that cause people to get so discouraged. If getting to elite levels were easy we would all be there. I generally try to reiterate this to intermediate lifters. I would generally set them up following a similar progression to what I use myself. The only major difference is that it will take them less time to progress than myself so I adjust their progression accordingly. I find beginners can progress every session or every week. I like to give Intermediate lifters a more structured block approach where they are seeing progress every month or so.

PJF: On the topic of nutrition…Do you think a serious lifter can or should simply eat sensibly and focus on protein or would you recommend a more meticulous approach, such as tracking macros and calories?  Some reserve the refined tracking for meet prep or when they need to make a certain weight, while others are OCD enough to track precisely year round?  Give me your thoughts.

Nick: This is going to be highly individual based. People need find something they can stick to long term. Some people need to know exactly how much they are eating all the time. Others are ok just eating more sensibly and making adjustments as needed. However, I can give you what works best for me.  I will generally track year round just because I have been doing it for so long it is just second nature at this point. In the offseason I am not nearly as strict with sticking to exact macros.  I continue to have specific macro goals but if I’m over or under I am not generally all that concerned. If my bodyweight or fat level starts to creep up to unacceptable levels I will tighten up the strictness for a bit then go back to a looser approach.  I need to be much more meticulous during my meet prep to make sure I am at weight during my training. For me to lose weight I often have to dip into very low calories so I need to make sure I am getting my macros appropriately.

PJF: I know that you’re involved in Physical Therapy, so give us some insight into what you do; also, do you feel as though your knowledge of PT has helped you as a powerlifter and how so?

Nick: I am in my final internship for my Doctorate of Physical Therapy. In general I have been trained in the rehabilitation of everything from ACL tears to traumatic brain injury. Orthopedics and sports rehab is my primary passion. I enjoy working with that patient population the most. I also have a BS in Exercise Physiology. These two degrees have been pivotal in my career as a powerlifter. Having a Physical therapy background allows me to address injuries in appropriate ways to minimize time away from training. It also gives me the ability to determine if certain injuries are ok pushing through of if time off is required. I can also determine if I am having a biomechanical issue regarding a lift and determine the appropriate course of action to take to decrease the likelihood of developing overuse injuries.

PJF: Lastly, what are your long term goals in the sport?  How far do you plan to take it?

Nick: My main goal like I said before is nothing less than the all-time drug tested world record for my weight class. In addition to that I plan to win an IPF world title in the near future.

PJF: If you offer coaching services or would like readers to contact you, please let them know how:

Nick: I do offer one on one training as well as programming for all levels. I can program for other sports, but my primary focus is powerlifting. I can be reached by email at nickisrael.pt@gmail.com