Sunday, December 21, 2014

ALL ROM IS FULL ROM

Time for some Sophism.  The internet and fitness world remains abuzz about the notion that full range of motion (ROM) is the best ROM, and in turn, the shorter the ROM, the weaker the training effect.  This is, of course, simplistic thinking that operates under very basic “cause/effect” pseudo-logic, very similar to how we used to believe that eating fat MADE you fat, or eating cholesterol increased your dietary cholesterol.  If ROM is good, then the most ROM is the most good, no?


It turns out, even if it IS gluten free, hemlock will still kill you

Well let’s go ahead and start bending some logic, shall we?  How can we even define full ROM, especially in contrast to partial ROM?  In many cases, we attempt to define a movement reaching full ROM once we simply run out of room to complete the movement.  If we are benching, once the bar reaches our chest and we extend it to a complete lockout, we claim that we had a “full ROM bench press”.  However, in this instance, are we not simply slaves to the equipment?  Who dictated that the barbell MUST be straight in the first place?  If I were to bench with a cambered bar and be able to bring the bar even further past my chest, did I then achieve a “fuller ROM”?


"Psh, nice quarter squats.  Get deeper."

Contrast the above with the critique many have of people performing “partial ROM” movements in their presence.  First, as an aside, I have noticed that the most vocal critics of the form of other gym goers tend to be the smallest and weakest people IN the gym, so perhaps it is in the best interest of anyone whose goal it is to achieve size and strength to stop worrying about others and instead focus on their own progress.  But I digress.  How is it that one can even diagnose what IS partial ROM in the first place?  Is not one person’s partial ROM another person’s full?  Put simply, when one performs a “partial ROM” squat, they are in turn performing a full ROM of a partial squat.  The exercise itself IS a partial, and in turn, when one fully performs the partial, they perform 100% OF that partial.

What we witness with the above is the reality that there is not one perfect movement proper and that all other movements are simply deviations from the ideal, but instead the fact that all movements are their own movements, and each one is executed independently of all others.  All ROM IS full ROM, it is simply the fullest ROM of whatever movement is being performed at that instant.  When we set up for a partial deadlift via block pulls, we are setting up for the block pull, not the deadlit, and as such, upon completion of the exercise, we performed the fullest ROM of that movement.  In turn, upon the question of “is it better to always perform full ROM”, I would in turn argue that it’s impossible NOT to.

But what of those who argue that it is not a matter of philosophy but instead physicality that inspires the NEED for full ROM?  To those I say that they have once again fallen victim to imposing will and intent upon what is simply coincidence.  We constantly witness these types bemoaning the squats on youtube, arguing how “ass to grass” squats are the superior squat.  Were this true, would it not be the case that the ass to grass squat is actually FAR inferior to a squat wherein the trainee has both feet elevated on separate platforms and squat even DEEPER than ATG?  Ass to sub-grass as it were?  The ROM is even fuller, so the training effect even better, no?  Why not strive for deeper and deeper cambers on the barbell for benching?  Why not deadlift off of increasingly higher platforms while plate diameters grow smaller and smaller?  Why not clean the barbell to the top of the skull instead of the collarbone?


This guy gets it

This is ludicrous!  Eventually, increasing the length of ROM DIMINISHES results, not improves them.  If we can agree with this reality, we must surely also agree that it will not always be the case that conventionally understood “full ROM” is the best ROM, no?  Due to simple genetic and structural variations, the most effective ROM is going to vary from trainee to trainee, and to impose a universality upon what is THE most effective ROM is akin to Kant’s categorical imperative: unrealistic and non-workable in reality (as an aside, let us recall that Kant’s work was primarily inspired to combat Hume, who questioned the very nature of existence.  Oftentimes we find that, when one’s foundation of understanding is questioned, they regress toward declaring universalities as a means to appease the fractured state of their mind, rather than attempting to understand each instance on a case by case basis).  As such, we must consider that the optimal and ideal ROM for a trainee can in many cases appear to be “partial ROM”, but instead we are to understand that what we are witnessing IS full ROM, it is simply the case that the ROM for the movement itself is defined with different parameters than someone else’s’ “full ROM”.

Full ROM is the best ROM because it is the ONLY ROM.  We do not ever change the ROM, we simply change the name and nature of the movement.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2 YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Wanted to take this moment to celebrate 2 solid years of this blog running.  With the support and encouragement of my readerbase, I've managed to provide new content every week for these past 2 years.  Some posts have caused controversy while others have opened some eyes, but in general, it's been a fun ride so far.  No signs of stopping in the future as well, and with 2 more strongman contests lined up for the future, I hope to keep you all posted on my progress.

For my loyal fanbase, if there are any topics you'd like to see me cover, feel free to contribute.  No subject is too taboo.  I won't bullshit you; if I don't know the answer, I won't make it up, but I aim to please my readers.

Until next time, stay strong!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

NOT ALL DEADLIFTS ARE CREATED EQUAL

I have spoken many times on my feelings regarding using the deadlift as a training lift.  As a quick recap, I do not find it an ideal means of developing strength, and instead see it more as an excellent strength test.  That being said, the deadlift finds itself placed within many programs, and in turn many trainees are inclined to make use of this movement in their pursuit of getting bigger and stronger.  When analyzing this, I take issue in the amount of substitutions I witness trainees engage in, as the choices made seem nonsensical and chaotic from my observation.  The two greatest offenders I see in this instance are that of the sumo deadlift and the trap bar lift.

Let us speak on matters of logic.  When one references the word “deadlift”, I do not think it is unreasonable to understand this to mean the “conventional deadlift”.  We have taken to the fashion of adding the word “conventional” in front of deadlift as a matter of redundancy due to fairly recent developments of other deadlifting techniques, similar to how one now says “back squat” when referencing what is simply “the squat”.  In turn, when we analyze the programs of yesteryear, if we view the word “deadlift”, it is fairly reasonable to imagine the author intended for this to be what was simply “the deadlift” when they wrote the program, rather than possibly “a deadlift”.


Always "a" deadlift, never "your" deadlift

In point of fact, I would be so bold as to state that the entire reason a sumo deadlift is even classified AS a deadlift stems purely from powerlifting competition rather than the simple evolution of weight training.  In true powerlifting fashion, competitors analyzed the rulebooks of their federation, noted a requirement to move a bar from floor to lockout, noted no stipulation on hand or foot placement, and (those who had the leverages best suited for it) took advantage of this by developing a different way to deadlift.  Contrary to popular internet opinion, powerlifting is not a sport where the strongest person wins, but instead a sport where the person who lifts the most weight wins.  Maximizing leverages and minimizing ROM is crucial to victory, and breeds interesting techniques in the pursuit.



Don't hate the player, hate the game


We must note, however, that the sumo deadlift in turn merely meets the letter of the deadlift, but not it’s spirit.  Yes, it is in fact a method of moving weight off the floor to lockout, but a quick glimpse will allow one to understand that it is vastly different from the conventional deadlift in terms of both execution and emphasized musculature.  Do not misconstrue this statement, dear reader, as an attack ON the sumo deadlift, as is popular on the internet.  I in no way am denigrating those who utilize the sumo deadlift, in competition or in training, for in the case of the former it is well within the rules and I applaud their competitive spirit, and in the case of the latter, as long as they are meeting their goals I applaud their efforts.  Nor am I in any way saying that the sumo deadlift is EASIER, as is once again a very common attack levied against the movement.  As a lifter who is far more oafish than elfish, the technical nature of the sumo deadlift is far more difficult to me than a conventional deadlift, and the reason I pull conventional (aside from the fact that sumo is not allowed in strongman comps) is because, for me, THAT is the easier deadlift.  I am simply stating something that I am sure conventional and sumo pullers can both agree on: they are different movements.

The sumo deadlift is renowned for being far more technical than the conventional deadlift, whereas the latter is more about brute strength.  The sumo deadlift recruits far more heavily from the quads and hips, whereas the conventional far more from the lowerback and hamstrings.  The high bar squat tends to be a better assistance exercise for the sumo deadlift, whereas the low bar squat tends to benefit the conventional deadlift more.  The list goes on and on.  The point here is to understand that, despite the fact “deadlift” is in the name, these are different movements, which accomplish different goals and require different training approaches.

The most casual observer can understand that, despite this being the same guy, he's doing different things

Understanding this, I cannot understand why a non-powerlifting trainee would be inclined the substitute conventional deadlifts with sumo deadlifts in any program.  As far as logical substitutions go, it is pretty far off, trailing behind choices such as Romanian deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts, top down deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, mat/block/rack pulls, or pretty much any other deadlift variation where the mechanics still mirror the conventional approach.  A powerlifter trainee in pursuit of a higher total has the most logical choice for their substitution, as they are simply utilizing a legal movement that will allow them a higher total, but for someone that simply desires to get bigger and stronger I ask, why this movement?

It seems we have once again missed the forest for the trees, thinking that the intent of deadlift is simply “pick weight up off of floor”, instead of thinking that it was put into the program as a way to develop the explicit musculature that a conventional deadlift develops in the way a conventional deadlift develops it.  We are focused on form versus technique, fixating on the way the bar looks when it is moving rather than the way the body moves the bar.  This logic is haphazard at best, akin to substituting a jerk for a strict press under the idea that, in both cases, the bar starts off in the racked position and ends up overhead.  As with all things in training, we must ask ourselves “WHY are we doing this”?


My guess?  Drugs.

It is from this that I am inclined to strike even harder at the trap bar lift.  First, you will note my refusal to refer to this movement as the “trap bar deadlift”, as is witnessed in common conversation, due to the fact that it is these verbal gymnastics that lead to this confusion in the first place.  The trap bar lift is its own lift entirely, and though it does involved breaking a dead weight off the floor, should not share classification with the deadlift proper.  If we were to grant any movement that involves moving a dead weight the “deadlift” moniker, it would be necessary to have such absurdities such as “the bench press deadlift from pins”, or “the overhead press deadlift”.

In truth, the trap bar lift tends to share my similarities with the squat or hack squat in terms of muscle recruitment and technique employed, and its saving grace of being “easier on the lower back” is once again explicitly why it makes a poor choice for deadlift substitute.  The deadlift is most definitely a brutal movement to the lower back, which is why any movement that removes this quality is most assuredly NOT an ideal substitution for the lift, for you are missing out on affecting some of the most critical musculature of the movement.  I would even contend that the safety squat bar squat shares more in common with the deadlift than the trap bar lift, for even though a dead weight is not necessarily being broken off the floor, the upper and lower back are still being incredibly taxed and the mechanics of the low/high bar squat do not necessarily directly transfer to the movement.  At the very least, if given the choice between the two movements and being told I had to pick one to improve my deadlift by 30lbs, 100 times out of 100 I would pick the safety squat bar.



This counts, right?


Once again, we witness that the choice of substitution hinges entirely upon the notion that, as long as a weight is being broken off the floor, we are accomplishing the goal of deadlifting in a program.  In general, if we substitute a movement in a program and the end result is we have made things EASIER for ourselves, it is a safe bet that we have also made the program less effective, and the trap bar lift entirely exemplifies this.  Again, I ask dear reader that you do not read this to be an attack on the trap bar lift ITSELF, simply a critique of its function as a deadlift substitute.  The trap bar can definitely have its place in a routine, and I personally have employed it for high rep sets where the goal was to acclimatize the trainee to misery and strain due to the fact that, as fatigue set in and form deviation was present, there was less significant risk for personal injury compared to when using a barbell to deadlift.  However, as far as actually achieving the same result that a deadlift does, it is lacking.

In sum, I reiterate my opening premise that not all deadlifts are created equal.  We are willing to recognize the difference between the deadlifts when doing so is advantageous in us utilizing the one best suited for our anatomy or history of injury, but unwilling to acknowledge this difference when it comes to understanding the impact on our progress.  Any time a substitution is made, it is the INTENT of the original movement that must be matched, not the appearance.  As long as this is accomplished, we will meet our goals, but if it is not, we are simply spinning our wheels and delaying our ability to grow bigger and stronger.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

FORMISM VS REALITY

Philosophy 101 time.  As you may recall, we discussed Plato in previous installments of this blog.  Plato was a major proponent of the notion of “the forms”, which hinged off this principle that with all things in life there existed a notion of a perfect form of a thing.  Something as mundane as a chair, for instance, had an ideal perfect form to be compared to, and every other chair was simply an interpretation of this form, not quite perfect, but existing in various scales of proximity to perfection.  Virtue was striving toward this perfection, which though not achievable, was still something worth pursuing.  In short, with all things in life, there is a perfect form, and we must strive to get as close to perfection as possible.

It seems many trainees are unwitting students of Plato, for many seem to have the idea that it is necessary for them to always employ the perfect form when they train.  However, when I speak of “form” here, I do not refer to lifting technique (as I have already gone on that tirade many times), but instead am discussing the notion of how each training movement must be a perfect movement.  The further away a movement is from its original form, the less value it seems to hold, at least according to these trainees.


...goddamnit

I had an interaction on an online forum recently that fostered these thoughts.  On this forum, many trainees believe that the powerlifts (along with the powerclean and overhead press) were the absolute best movements for becoming bigger and stronger.  Though the argument can be made that these are valuable movements, what struck me as odd was how these trainees very narrowly defined what is and is not these movements.  If one pressed with an axle instead of a barbell, they were not performing the press.  If one deadlifted with a 1” elevation of the plates, they were not performing the deadlift.  If one squatted with a safety squat bar, they were not squatting.  In all cases, the understanding was that, by not performing the movements that were the closest to the ideal of perfection, one was in turn accomplishing LESS.  These changes necessarily made the movements LESS effective, rather than equally (or dare I say) more effective.

This in turn begs the question, when exactly is a movement no longer THE movement.  When is a squat no longer a squat, or a deadlift no longer a deadlift?  Is a “perfect” deadlift, by definition, one performed with a 30mm, 7’ barbell with center knurling and 20kg iron plates that measure exactly 450mm in diameter?  What if someone uses a 28mm deadlift bar and some bumper plates, are they in turn getting less than perfect results?  How much deviation do we allow before we deem the exercise too far changed to be of any good?  Or, for a super fun thought experiment, consider the fact that, through rigorous deadlifting, one can warp the plates and start shaving off fraction of a millimeter at a time.  In this instance, are we actually becoming WORSE by training?


In some cases, yes

We need to understand that many of the movements we perform arrived out of necessity, not out of intention.  We lifted with the equipment we had available and made the most out of it, but that does not mean that simply because the movements came into existence means they are the best ones we have available.  For instance, the diameter of Olympic plates was decided for (gasp) Olympic weightlifting, specifically so that, should a trainee fall backwards with a weight, the barbell would not smash their face.  The plates were elevated enough to provide some manner of safety.  This arbitrarily determined the height of the starting pull for both the clean and the deadlift, and became something WE all conformed TO, rather than making the equipment conform to us.  The notion that we somehow accidentally created the best movement in existence for becoming stronger that applies to all individuals universally is frankly absurd.  In any manner of millions of alternate universes, the plates could have been 500mm, 400mm, or any other possible permutation, and in each instance the mechanics for the clean and deadlift would be slightly modified.

On the above, let us also understand that, when we are at the mercy of the equipment, no 2 individuals are getting the same workout.  To say that the deadlift gives all individuals the same results ignores the fact that, due to anatomical variations, individuals are going to get stressed in different ways when using this same movement.  If Peter Dinklage and Shaq deadlift, though the movement has the same name and the equipment starts at the same height, both individuals are going to be performing an entirely different exercise.  One is going to be performing an above the knee pull, and the other is going to perform something that looks like the most insane deficit deadlift in the world.  To believe that these movements MUST be perfect, and that any deviation away from their origin decreases efficiency again becomes ridiculous.


Left: The world's greatest deadlifter

In addition, we must also come to terms with the fact that, due to poor quality control in the fitness industry, the odds of two individuals even having the same actual equipment to use is astronomically small.  We say “the bench press is the greatest upper body horizontal pressing movement”, but WHOSE bench press are we talking about here?  How high off the ground should the bench be?  How wide should the pad be?  How low should the uprights be?  Deep j-hooks or shallow?  And Jesus Christ, I haven’t even discussed the barbell or weights here.  Are we going to conclude that those who train with non-calibrated equipment are actually NOT doing the movement, and getting worse results?

I argue in turn that we must avoid Plato’s appeal to “the forms” and instead embrace the approach of realism.  We cannot grant the movements so much reference that we assume it is we the humans that are flawed, but instead must come to terms with the fact that the world itself is flawed and that it is our imperative to work with what we have available.  We make the world conform to us, not the other way around.


We make our own rules

The basic movements that revolve around the barbell have great potential, but they are not your only options.  Modifications, adjustments, personalization and all other manner of adapting and overcoming are available to a trainee, for in an imperfect world we must sometimes perform imperfect actions.  Additionally, in the pursuit of making all things “equal”, we must understand that equality does not equate to being the same, but in many cases being different.  If 2 trainees are deadlifting with the same 450mm plates, and in the case of one the barbell is 7” below their knee and in the case of the other it is 9”, though these trainees have equal equipment, they are performing unequal workouts.  However, if in the case of the latter trainee we elevate his plates 2”, though both trainees have an unequal set-up, are they not in fact performing now the same workout?

Your equipment was made by man, not the gods, and are subject to the same flaws inherent in humanity.  To assume that their sheer presence and construction dictates the ideal and perfect way to train is naiveity, and to in turn refute any different or modern means to train is simply an appeal to tradition.  Reverence to only one way limits us, and it is our responsibility to make the most effective choices with what we have, not to assume that what we have is in fact the most effective option.