Shrugged Collective

Neuroscientist & Masters Athlete Steve Platek – EPISODE 138

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This week on the Barbell Shrugged podcast we welcome Dr. Steven Platek, Neuroscience Professor, Crossfitter and gym owner, contributor to Power Athlete Radio, and current member of the NPGL’s Miami Surge. Yeah, he’s a busy guy.

Those are impressive credentials, but I actually didn’t know any of it at the start of our interview. I just knew that Steven was a really sharp guy, and yes, he was strong as hell. Earlier that day at the Las Vegas NPGL Combine he absolutely destroyed the deadlift ladder, lifting close to 4,500 pounds in total in less than 60 seconds, and finishing with a lift of 585 pounds. Not bad for a Master’s level Crossfitter, right? Really, it’s amazing. It was no surprise that Miami took him when they had the chance. 

There’s a clear niche for Master’s level competitors within this new sport of Grid. No, Steven and most Master’s level athletes simply cannot get away with the super-high training volume that some of his teammates and competitors require in order to make progress. A huge priority has to be placed on recovery, any older competitor who wants to stay in the game and remain strong has to accept that. However, Steven’s vast experience translates to a very high level of skill, especially in strength movements like the deadlift. Other teams in the NPGL should take note, you should have a Master beast on your bench just in case things get really heavy. 

Loads of people struggle to make progress in the gym, especially as they age and become more experienced. They have a plan, they work as hard as they can, but at times nothing improves. It’s frustrating, but the answer might be as simple as training less and spending more time on recovery. Just like Steven, back off and consider leveraging your valuable experience instead. Train smarter and more optimally, and you’ll get a superior result. The same thing goes for the manner and mindset with which you lift the barbell. Many lifters assume that you have to be very intense to be very strong. I myself assumed that Steven’s coach had to have been screaming and pushing him from the sidelines during that aforementioned 585 pound deadlift, but actually the opposite was true. His coach’s function was actually to keep Steve more calm and focused as the barbell got heavier and heavier, maintaining an optimal balance between arousal and performance. As Steve explained, this was a classic real world example of theYerkes-Dodson law, which basically states that arousal is a great thing for performance, until there’s too much of it. 

If you are an athlete that’s interested in performing optimally, you need to know just how much arousal is necessary for you. Will a little do, or are you a 7-cup of coffee type of person? The very best athletes know just how far to push it, and just how to modulate their sympathetic nervous system response to stress. The result is more fight than flight, you could say. If you find yourself getting far too excited and anxious ahead of training or competition, take note. You are more than likely out of balance. If you can do a better job of controlling that sympathetic response – if you can settle your mind a bit – you’ll perform much better. 

If you find that you’re still a little sleepy and groggy after a few cups of coffee, well, maybe you’re Jon North! That guy really loves his stimulants. He also believes 100% in himself, and what he’s capable of lifting, and his purpose. As Steven will also tell you, the mind is unfathomably mysterious and powerful. Your very first step towards success, regardless of what you’re training and living for, is to believe in what you’re doing. Call it the placebo effect, call it magic, it doesn’t matter at all. If you can believe 100% in what you’re doing then magical things will happen. Thanks for the reminder, Steve. 

You can see hear more from Steven over at Power Athlete Radio. You can also follow him on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook

P.S. As we mentioned on the show with Steven, one of the key’s to success in the gym is knowing just how much volume you really need. But knowing how and when to vary things is just as important. You have to know the right time to switch things up if you want to get really strong. This week on TechniqueWOD, Doug show’s you three fun squat variations to take your training to the next level. 


Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?

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