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Charlie Dickson: The Next Wave for Powerlifting (Podcast)

Charlie Dickson is the 2018 International Powerlifting Federations’ 83kg Junior World Champion. He’s also a Doctor of Physical Therapy with an educational and professional background that gives him unique insight into training at an elite level. Charlie joins the BarBend Podcast to talk about training frequency and intensity misconceptions, his surprising approach to warm-ups, and the active powerlifters he most admires in the sport.

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao talks to Charlie Dickson about:

  • Charlie’s current training goals (1:50)
  • With events postponed, the chance to move up or down in weight classes; is Charlie taking advantage? (3:30)
  • Which came first: Charlie’s interest in strength sports or physical therapy? (6:16)
  • Charlie’s work with Barbell Medicine (8:31)
  • When lifters ramp up intensity TOO quickly (11:00)
  • Finding an exercise program that supports consistency (13:00)
  • Recovering from injury and approaching prehab/rehab as both a powerlifter and physical therapist (including a focus on the Nordic hamstring curl) (16:38)
  • Charlie’s approach to powerlifting warmups (18:35)
  • Adapting to volume and intensity tolerance as a lifter (22:42)
  • Athletes in powerlifting Charlie admires most (24:30)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

I think there’s a lot of misconceptions that you can get out there, like if someone says they deadlift three times a week, you’ll probably get some crazy stares from people. You can adapt to those higher frequencies and intensities.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today, I’m talking to Charlie Dickson, a doctor, physical therapy, and elite power lifter. Charlie is the 2018 International Powerlifting Federation’s Junior World Champion at 83 kilograms. To put it lightly, he’s just getting warmed up.

 

In today’s episode, we chat about blending Charlie’s experience as a physical therapist with his performance in powerlifting, along with his biggest lessons on training duration, volume, and which accessory movements get lifters the most bang for their buck.

 

Also, I want to take a second to say, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice.

 

I’d also recommend subscribing to the BarBend newsletter to stay up to date on all things strength. Just go to barbend.com/newsletter to become the smartest person in your gym today. Now let’s get to it.

 

Charlie Dickson, thanks so much for joining us today. I’ve been following along with your training a little more closely than normal in preparation for this podcast so I’m going to start with, how are you feeling, how’s training going, and I know there have been a lot of event postponements and cancellations, but do you have anything specific that you are training for right now?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 First of all there, thanks for bringing me on the show. Very honored to be on the podcast. Right now, I’m coming off the Arnold, which I competed at the beginning of March and of course, life has changed dramatically for pretty much everyone at this point so, yeah. Gym closures and all those sorts of things.

 

Luckily, I have a friend who lives about 30 minutes away, who has his own home gym, he just want me to come train there. Right now, I’m just staying ready. I’ve always just enjoyed the process of training and it’s hard to tell at this point when another meet…with everything getting canceled and pushed back.

 

The goal is to train for Nationals, which is planned for October but it’s looking like that might get pushed back a little bit because they had moved IPF Worlds to the end of September. Right now, just trying to stay ready and just having fun with the process, man.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve talked to a lot of different strength athletes during the age of quarantine or social distancing, or whatever you call it. A lot of them are using it as an opportunity to address nagging injuries, work on certain deficiencies, prioritize mobility, recovery, you name it. Is there anything in particular that this period of time is giving you a little bit of extra focus on?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

It’s certainly allowed me to not have to push the intensity as much. I tend to get pretty banged up peaking from meets. Working in that 85 percent plus range of one-rep max. Being able to dial things back and really focus on building up some more capacity.

 

Doing some more variations, lateral work, those sorts of things. I’ve definitely been more lay emphasis in this downtime, so definitely taken advantage of that.

David TaoDavid Tao

I also have to ask because a few people have given me different answers on this. A lot of folks think that this is a fantastic time to make either that weight cut or bulk that they’ve been planning for years, because they don’t have any competitions coming up immediately. How has that factored into your thought process here? Are you sticking in the same weight class for the duration?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 

Yes. I actually moved up to the 93 kilo class about a year and a half ago, two years ago.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m sorry. I still had you pegged as an 83 kilogram lifter, that’s my apologies. Instagram makes you look skinny, I guess.

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 

[laughs] I actually moved up after IPF Worlds in June of 2018. I was cutting 12-13 pounds to make that weight, doing a water cut that is. At that point, I was ready to move up a weight class, and been in the 93s ever since.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

How is that body weight feeling right now?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

It’s been great, man. I’ve definitely gotten a lot stronger. I’ve noticed that my performances have been more consistent from training, going into the meet, and then my actual performance on meet day. There’s a lot more consistency there. I don’t have to worry about, modifying attempt selection, all that much.

 

Generally, I just feel like I’m able to recover a little bit better. Like I said, performance has went to the roof. Right now, with this extra downtime, I’m trying to fill out the weight class. I walk around like 207 to 208 right now. I like to get up to maybe 213 to 215, somewhere in there. Then, water cut down to 205. That’s more of a longer term plan, though.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Are you someone who follows a particular nutritional protocol, dietary framework, anything like that?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

I started tracking calories and macros, like 2011, because I have a wrestling background so used to the weight-class restricted sport. I’ve always had a pretty good habit of tracking my intake, and making sure to hit certain targets. I would, try to call it anything, a flexible dieting approach.

David TaoDavid Tao

Makes sense. One thing I have to ask, as far as the timeline of your career, and we talked a little bit more about your accomplishments in the intro to this. I don’t necessarily need to harp on all of those at the international level, but you are a student. You’re currently working on your doctorate of physical therapy, is that correct?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

That’s correct.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It sounds like you’ve been athletic for a long time, you have that wrestling background. Which came first, your interest in strength sports and powerlifting or your interest in pursuing that career path?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

I’m going to back up a little bit. I just had an interest for lifting weights, and being athletic. Grew up with two older brothers, who were very talented and very hard working, and both competed on football and wrestling. Seeing their example growing up, I naturally gravitated towards that.

 

Started lifting weights when I was around 12 years old, to get bigger and stronger for sports. I fell in love with that process, and I had a few injuries along the way. I had a meniscectomy on my right knee when I was a freshman in high school.

 

That really sparked my interest in the rehab side of things. Also, different strength and conditioning principles, because it really forced me to take a step back, and reflect on how can I do this better? It made me very curious, and wanted to learn more. That’s how I gravitated towards pursuing physical therapy as a career path.

David TaoDavid Tao

Were there any particular people in the realm of physical therapy, who might have inspired you, or who you look up to, in particular, today?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Yes. You guys have had Chad Wesley Smith on with Juggernaut Training Systems. I remember watching one of their videos, and they brought on Quinn Henoch on to his YouTube channel way back when. I remember seeing how he approached rehab, and his thought process. It very much blended strength and conditioning, into the rehab process.

 

I think that’s really the vision I had for myself. I related to it in a lot of ways. That’s someone who really sparked my interest in the beginning.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Now that you’re working to build up the education necessary for a clinical practice, is there anyone you’ve gotten to work with so far, who is really changed your perception, or influenced you in a positive way, in that industry, or in that particular niche of the fitness industry?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Barbell Medicine as a intern, for their pain and rehab division. I’ve been doing that for the past year and a half. My two mentors, Dr. Derek Miles and Dr. Michael Ray, they run the pain and rehab division. They really taught me a ton.

 

I’ve been able to set up a lot of the consults they do remotely, and seeing how they approach the rehab process, addressed it. Different narratives that people have them provided, in order to get them moving back towards their goals. That’s been really helpful. Of course, Jordan Feigenbaum and Austin Baraki, those two as well.

 

They put out a lot of free educational concepts on the website, the podcast, the “Barbell Medicine” podcast. They have been very helpful in helping me to develop as a clinician.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It’s not a unique position, because there certainly are physical therapists, and doctors of physical therapy, who are active in strength sports, weight lifters, power lifters, you name it. What has your education so far in physical therapy, or how has your education in physical therapy, influenced your approach to powerlifting and strength training, if at all?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

It’s made me a little more objective in the way I approach training, and being more cognizant of load management. When I first started in the sport, as I’m sure most people are especially if you have that all in personality, you try to go as hard as you can, as fast as you can, and make as much progress, and win a World Championship tomorrow.

 

That’s sort of the mentality, I had gone into it. I would just beat myself up, and do as much volume, and intensity as I could.

 

It worked for a little while. Then you start to run into different injuries, and you get a setback. I think I have more of an appreciation, for paying attention to some of those programming variables, and also including some more variations, aside from just a squat bench and deadlift.

 

Changing it up, especially at a time like this, where there’s no meets on the horizon. You can explore different movement options and build our capacity in different ranges of motion, and those sorts of things.

 

Does that answer the question?

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, I have followed. I think it was a great answer. I’m going to dig a little deeper here. You talked about pushing too hard looking for immediate results, and maybe ramping up the intensity too quickly for people who are new to strength sports, powerlifting being one example. Of course that could probably apply across different strength sports or a lot of different realms of training.

 

What are some other misconceptions or what are some other areas where our objectivity breaks down as athletes, assessing our own performance in our own training?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

I would say the use of RPE, a lot of people that’s an easy one to mess up. That you’ve had Eric Helms, and various other people I’m sure to talk about here on the podcast.

 

If you utilize an RPE-based approach, you have to…It’s probably best if you have a coach, who can also look at your training videos and verify. Yeah, that was an RPE of eight. Because if you do have that type of personality, where you just want to push it all the time, you can grind out like an RPE 10, and call it a 6, for your own ego or whatever it is.

 

I’ve certainly done that. I’ve been guilty of that. I think that’s one thing you have to know yourself and know your limitations. When you experience setbacks and you experience failures of “Man, I pushed way too hard. Now I’m injured, this sucks.” Then you learn from that and you build back up.

 

You almost have to go through that process a little bit before you can fully understand and appreciate how do you utilize RPE as a training tool.

David TaoDavid Tao

Is RPE worth it for most lifters? I’ve heard this for a lot of different perspectives on this. It’s ultimately a scale that tries to add a level of objectivity to a subjective measure, in the sense, and there are difficulties with it and ego factors. Is it worth it for most lifters to utilize RPE?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 I think that’s one of those questions. It depends. Early on, I would say, probably just finding an exercise program that you enjoy doing, and that you can be consistent with. Building up those habits first.

 

You start powerlifting, you get very serious about it, you’ve been doing it a while, and you have a coach, then maybe you tried to introduce that as a training tool. I’ve certainly found more value in using RPE at this point in my powerlifting career, as opposed to early on.

 

I think that’s also just having an injury history and knowing, if I push this today, or if I stick to this certain percentage, like, it’s probably not going to end well.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What are some alternative methods, especially for newer lifters or maybe less advanced lifters that you think could get a similar amount of data or training response but might be good if say someone is not the best equipped to utilize an RPE scale?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 

How so?

David TaoDavid Tao

OK, say you were programming for someone or getting someone. Say maybe you had a cousin or family member or a friend who’s just getting into powerlifting. Do you think that, hey egos going to get in the way of them utilizing the RPE scale early on in their training to assess intensity?

 

What are some things you might do or might suggest for them to keep track of that or when you wanted to ramp-up intensity or ramped-down intensity? What are some other cues, other scales, other methodologies you might use there?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Yeah. That also depends on the personality type, as you alluded to. With that, you could simply just say…especially if they’re just starting out, get them to undershoot, do something that’s super easy, and just get them moving around. It’s also different if it’s in-person versus remotely.

 

Your communication style is going to be a little bit differently working in a clinic with patients, for example, using RPE. What I would do is, if I haven’t done a Landmine-press. I would start with the bar, ask him how it felt.

 

It was kind of challenging. Then we’ll put on like a 10. They look like they could do 20 reps, and they do 5 and they’re like, “Yeah, I can’t do anymore,” or “I can do one or two more.” Then I’ll ask them to do it. Then they get the seven-reps, ask him “How many more could you do?”

 

“Maybe like two,” and I get them to do it. That way you can sort of calibrate the RPE for them. This is where failure in a controlled environment can be useful for someone early on is to get them to know where their failure point is because a lot of people don’t.

 

Especially if they have no exercise background and they start lifting weights and they feel a muscle burn. They feel like, their legs going to fall off. You have to calibrate that system a little bit.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk a little bit about accessory movements. It’s something you clearly have an interest in working back from, even going back to your own injury background, which is…There’s always a silver lining there.

 

The really good athletes and the great athletes always try and find the silver lining in the recovery and rehab process after injury. What are some of your go-to accessory or rehab movements, that you utilize yourself in your powerlifting training?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

The biggest injury I had was the groin strain. I’d a pretty bad groin strain, while the squatting around this time last year. The rehab process for one of the exercises I like to use is called the Copenhagen plank.

 

You can look that up, or google it but essentially you’re laying on your side you have one leg propped up on a bench and you bring your legs together, almost like an adductor machine. That one is good that I’ve implemented for the adductor strain.

 

The Nordic hamstring curl is also a good exercise for helping to mitigate the risk of sustained a hamstring injury. There’s a lot of good data on that. Those two come to mind, just from the amount of research that they have behind them at this point.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

What about when it comes to upper-body prehab, rehab, or accessory movements, any of your go-tos there you could talk about?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

I keep it pretty basic. I’ll do my powerlifting stuff. So with bench-press. I like to add barbell overhead press, dumbbell press, nothing too fancy. I just keep it basic and make sure I select the loads appropriately, and not go to failure on every single set. I try to manage that. I think if you manage those programming variables, it will take care of a lot of those issues.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk about warm-ups. As someone who is making a career out of physical therapy, rehab, and prehab, what is it a typical warm-up look like for you, maybe heading into a heavy squat session? Do you think power lifters in general approach warm-ups correctly, in your experience training with other people and observing other folks?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 I don’t know that there’s a correct way to warm-up. My approach, it might surprise a lot of people, but I’ll literally go into the gym, and I’ll take more warm-up sets with the barbell. Especially, having a busy schedule, I’ll go in, and I’ll just take the bar for a tempo set of 5 to 10.

 

I’ll do four to five sets like that. The first sets’ always not going to feel great. It usually takes a little bit, but I’ll just take more warm-up sets leading up to my top sets.

 

I get more practice with the movements, and also get a lot of the same benefits you would get from a more nonspecific warm-up, as far as, increasing body temperature and all those sorts of things. I keep the warm-ups really simple. You get more practice with the movement that way too.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re very much indeed, just grease-the-groove-a-lot camp, when it comes to warming up personally.

 

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Yeah, and that’s my personal approach. Like I said, I don’t know that there’s a correct way to do it. You just have to ask yourself, is the way I’m approaching this, has been resourceful for me? If the answer’s yes, then just continue on.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Let’s talk about training volume. What does a typical week of workouts look for you right now, during a phase when you’re not really necessarily peaking, and maybe your intensity isn’t as high as, say, would be 12-weeks out, from a competition.

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Right now, squatting three times a week, benching four times a week, and deadlifting twice a week. Rep ranges is kind of working in more, six to eight range, five to eight range. I’ll include some top and intensity stuff in there, just to keep that keep-greasing-the-groove, so to speak.

 

Doing some heavy sets of three to five, one or two of those, then doing some back off sets to accumulate some volume.

 

I’ve always liked that approach. I’ve done the approach where you’re very strict if you’re in a volume block, you just do sets of 6 to 12, and then you transition to a higher intensity block and you’re doing sets of 3 to 5.

 

I found that keeping some type of higher intensity work — even if it’s just one set — before you do your volume workout, I found that that makes the transition a little bit easier as you start to ramp things up for peak.

David TaoDavid Tao

You mentioned benching four times a week. That seems slightly above what a lot of listeners might see as normal. Obviously, you’re at the internationally elite level.

 

Your body has adapted to a certain level of volume, but benching four times a week…Take us through what a typical bench week looks like for you, and is that frequency of that movement reducing, or are you dialing frequency back if you up intensity on that movement? Are you keeping it pretty much four times a week bench leading up to a competition?

 

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

eah, leading up to a competition will probably take it down to three times a week but right now, there’s a lot of variations. I’ll do comp bench one day, feet up bench another day, close grip…There’s certainly some variation in there and the volume is spread out more sporadically so it’s not super high volume on one day.

 

Anywhere from two to three sets and maybe a top set on one or two of those days. Although it is higher frequency, the volume is spread out pretty evenly and I found that I can respond pretty well to that.

David TaoDavid Tao

That then makes a lot of sense. Deadlifting twice a week, how does your body respond to that and…?Deadlift is — it’s always been for me — the toughest of the power lift to recover from. If you told me I had needed a deadlift anywhere near 80 percent twice a week, I’d probably laugh at you and say, “That’s just not possible with my current load and intensity volume tolerance.”

 

What is that like for you?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 I would say I’ve adapted to it. You alluded to your volume and intensity tolerance. It all comes to building up a tolerance to certain training stresses and there’s a lot of misconceptions that can get thrown out there. If someone says they deadlift three times a week, you’ll probably get some crazy stares from people and you can adapt to those higher frequencies and intensities.

 

Of course, there’s going to be a lot of variation between people. If you build up to that over time, same thing like the benching four times a week. When I first started it, it was one or two times a week.

 

Then you start to plateau, and you start to learn some different things, you experiment a little bit. I found that my bench has responded really well to the increased frequency. I’ve tried three times a week with the deadlifts, and that just doesn’t really pan out too well, so we keep it at two times a week.

 

It’s all learning process. That’s what keeps it exciting. You experiment with something, you try to assess what things went well, what things could have been better. Then you just keep moving on from there. That’s what makes it so fun then.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] Yeah, even a sport with just three lifts, people will ask if they’re maybe not as familiar with strength sports, powerlifting, it’s just three lifts. Weightlifting, it’s just two lifts. Doesn’t it get boring? The answer is, there’s a lot of variation, especially in the training.

 

You don’t get take up powerlifting, if you’re a weightlifting just to compete. You actually have to get something, or out of, or enjoy the training along the way, or else, it’s going to get pretty boring compared to other sports. To change the direction of this conversation a little bit.

 

You’ve been in the powerlifting game for a while. You’ve competed across different weight classes, had success across different weight classes. That’s given you exposure to a lot of competitors in the sport.

 

Who are some athletes, could be on the men’s side, the women’s side, could be domestic, could be international, who you look at actively competing today, and really admire?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Taylor Atwood comes to mind. Just his consistency and his approach, to competing. I remember this was in Atlanta, Raw Nationals 2016. This is when they first started introducing the primetime sessions where they select the top 10 lifters each weight class, and they put them in an evening session. That way to get more viewership and things of that nature.

 

This is the first year they implemented it. Taylor and I were in the same primetime session. He was in a weight class below me. I remember it was supposed to start at 6:00 PM, and it kept getting pushed back, and pushed back. We actually then started lifting to 9:00 PM. I’m still new to the sport, I already took my pre-workouts. I’m ramped up, ready to go.

 

I didn’t manage my energy very well. I remember just seeing Taylor, he was super-relaxed the whole time, just hyper focused. Of course, everyone took a bit of a performance hit, but he was still able to control what he could control, and went out and executed.

 

We didn’t take our last deadlift until 1:00 AM. I don’t think he did his best meat ever, but he still went out performed it and won his National title. I think that was one of the early examples of someone I wanted to imitate, and be in the sport.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Would you also give Taylor the award for best hair?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 

Absolutely. 100 percent.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s something that I know. We’ve done a lot of work with him, and Taylor is a very fun guy. He’s got a good sense of humor about everything, but he does take his hair very seriously.

 

Taylor, if you’re listening to this, I know it’s likely that you are, mad respect for both, your powerlifting skills, and your personal grooming. What about on the women’s side? Is there anyone competing today who you look at, you really admire, for could be their consistency, their approach, just their results?

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

Samantha Calhoun, she’s someone I have always admired and respected. She’s very consistent lifter. Kristen Dunsmore is another one, she just came off of a pretty significant glute tendinopathy, I believe it was. She came back to Arnold, and came back and competed.

 

I always have respect for people, when they go through an injury, or they go through a series of setbacks, and they’re able to brush themselves off, and bring things back together, and come out and perform again. I’ve always admired that as well. Those two come to mind right off the bat.

David TaoDavid Tao

Great. Charlie, I have to say, we’re coming up toward the end of this recording today, where is the best place for people to follow along with the work you’re doing, both in your budding career as a physical therapists, but also your training, upcoming competition, so it may be those might be a little bit down the road and things like that.

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 

nstagram is probably the best place. You can find me @charlie_barbellmedicine. My email is also [email protected] Those two places will be a good place to find me.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Awesome. Charlie Dickson, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Best of luck in training and once the competition counter ramps up a little bit later this year. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say, “I’m excited to see you back on the platform.” I appreciate your time.

Charlie DicksonCharlie Dickson

 

Thanks for bringing me on.

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