Sunday, October 23, 2016


I have been accused of being “anti-intellectual” due to my refusal to care about scientific studies on exercise science.  I will say that it’s not an unfair accusation of me, but I feel that I should clarify why it is I don’t really concern myself with these findings.  My formal education is politics and philosophy, and truth be told, I always struggled with hard science, so it would be easy and quick to assert that I simply don’t understand the findings.  However, allow me this opportunity to explain why, due to my understanding of how studies function, I find exercise science information to be of minimal worth at best.

Image result for Squatting on a bosu ball
You know science had to be behind this, because common sense would say "no"
First, let us come to terms with the fact that, in the scientific community, exercise science is incredibly low on the list of priorities.  Yes, we meatheads might think it’s the most important thing in the world, but in all honesty, the rest of the world really couldn’t care less about it.  When we are being ravaged by cancer, AIDS, the ZIKA virus, the obesity epidemic, male pattern baldness, lack of erections, heart disease, poor eyesight, acne, and various other maladies, obtaining “max buffitude” just isn’t a subject that gets a whole lot of funding and grants.  This also tends to mean that the exercise science community tends to be a little smaller and more incestuous than the greater scientific community. It would be fair to say that some people are motivated by passion and some are motivated by money, and when it comes to scientific research, you’ll find plenty of both on the “sexy” studies like fighting cancer and various diseases.  When it comes to exercise science, money is in short supply, which means you’re primarily going to be dealing with those motivated by passion.  That’s awesome for the integrity of the undertaking, but it means that the talent pool is going to be reduced.  The brilliant passionate people will be there, but the brilliant greedy people will be lacking, and in this world, there are a LOT of the latter.
Understanding the limitations of funding and research personnel in the field of exercise science, let us compound that with the confusing nature of actually trying to apply a study to a human population.  Once again, in a field that is constrained by resources (both budgetary and personnel), one tends to observe that participants in studies are those that are cheap and widely available, aka, college students aiding post graduate work.  When it comes to a population of young, virile, healthy people surging with hormones, you could do no better…but when it comes to a population that is easy to control and monitor, you could do no worse.  You can imagine how this confounds the findings of a study on exercise science.  You take 40 college kids, have 10 do low reps, 10 do high reps, 10 do moderate reps, 10 do no reps, and you try to evaluate the results over a 3 week period, only to have 26 of them go on a 4 day drinking bender, 13 decide to start experimenting with acid, 11 spent all their money on video games and are living off 1 pack of ramen noodles a day, 17 sleep 14 hours a day, 14 are so jacked up on energy drink that they never sleep, etc etc, and the findings become sketchy at best.  Yes, we can observe a general trend from this study, but we have to keep in mind that the population they were pulling from aren’t necessarily representative of a normal population, and trying to apply the findings as some sort of universal gospel is silly.

Image result for Stupid college kids
I mean...on the plus side...the ice bath HAS been proven to have restorative qualities
But let’s say we can actually go full USSR on the experiment and control exactly how the subjects eat, sleep, and enjoy their leisure time; we STILL run into difficulties due to the subjectivity of exercise science.  A common approach to a study in exercise science is to get subjects to use a percentage of their 1rm for an exercise…but how often have you personally witnessed 1rms that weren’t actually 1 rep maxes?  I can walk into the gym right now, warm-up, and hit what I perceive to be my 1rm.  On a different day, I can spend a few minutes really getting amped up, crank the music, and hit a higher number than that.  On a different day, I can do the amping up, and then hit the nose tork hard and hit an even higher number.  And what if I decide to experiment with stimulants beforehand?  Or what if I’m having a really good day?  Or a really bad one?  What if I ate 3 meals vs trained fasted?  First thing in the morning versus late in the afternoon?  And keep in mind, I’ve been lifting weights in some fashion for 17 years now, and I at least KNOW this about myself.  These studies love to take “untrained” populations, which just means they’re going to have even LESS of a clue about what their actual 1rm is.  They may be exerting themselves as much as they think they can, but a real meathead knows that this guy has WAY more in them if they just dig a little deeper.  We’ve all seen it happen before.  So now, you have a study using an alleged 1rm which is really more like 80% of a 1rm, and now we’re using 80% of that 80% to try to determine if that’s the most effective loading pattern for hypertrophy.  Once again, we observe the difficulties in trusting exercise science.
And then we get into the issue of quality control.  Let’s say we’re still going full USSR on the subjects, and let’s say they actually have enough awareness to know if/when they hit a 1rm, and let’s say these subjects actually know how to strain and push and have some semblance of idea of how to train; do those CONDUCTING the study actually know any of this stuff?  We like to think it’s a given that someone certified in the field of exercise science knows how to exercise, but think about it truthfully; how long does it take an ironhead to REALLY know how to squat?  To REALLY figure out mind muscle control?  To REALLY understand how to get their bodies to move the way they want to move?  Even those of us that read all the books and saw all the studies still took a long time to get it all figured out on our OWN level, let alone being able to evaluate and asses all that when observing an outsider.  When a study has subjects perform 10 leg extensions to evaluate quad hypertrophy, what are the chances that the observer can tell who is actually flexing their quad to accomplish the leg extension versus who is using their hip flexors?  How well versed are they in evaluating if the squat stance utilized by the trainee is actually the best fit for their anatomy, and that the trainee is actually using the right technique (not form) to generate the right findings?  I am certain their formal education has made them incredibly well versed on the biological processes occurring throughout training, but quite simply, how experienced are they in generating these processes?  And do not take this as an attack dear reader; it is legitimately a question.  There are some out there that, were they to conduct a study, I trust them to be able to accomplish this, while there are others that give me no reason to believe in their ability.  Much like understanding the science, understanding the application is also a valuable skillset that not everyone possesses.

Image result for Louie Simmons
And once you have a mastery of both, you sound so crazy and incoherent you have no ability to pass on what you no
This was a long read, but my takeaway is this; studies can be a helpful tool in understanding trends and extrapolating ideas, but treating them like undisputed gospel is folly.  Just because a study comes out saying something doesn’t invalidate something else; it simply means that, under those specific circumstances of that one study, that result could be produced.  Additionally, if you hear some experienced and seasoned ironheads espouse an idea that conflicts with science, it may simply be that the study has not yet been done that proves what those folks know.  This is still a young field, we’re not even close to discovering all the things we already know, let alone the thing we don’t know.  In that regard, I tend to treat experience with more reverence than science.  People have been conducting their own “studies” for decades; it’s just that the lab was the weightroom, and the results were published on the podium.   

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Our parents constantly forced us to do things we didn’t want to do (at least, if they were at all interested in raising us to be somewhat productive members of society).  One of the biggest battles, of course, we eating vegetables.  This is a battle waged across dinner tables all over the world; parents engaged in a war of attrition and negotiations with the children, deciding exactly how much “3 bites” of broccoli really is, while the rest of the meals get cold and much TV goes unwatched.  Inevitable, we grow up from spoiled children and become spoiled adults, and many of us live out our childhood dreams of never eating another vegetable again.  Some manage to engage in this practice for the rest of their lives, while others enjoy the mac n cheese orgy for about 3 weeks before they realize what a terrible mistake they have made. Our parents were trying to force us to do something we didn’t like because they knew, ultimately, it would make us better.  When we grow up, we still need to eat our vegetables.

Image result for Veggie chips
No, these don't count

Yes, of course this is a metaphor. You know that’s how I work by now.  However, it’s literal too, because when I look at the diets of many trainees, they aren’t eating any goddamn vegetables.  I blame this on the prevalence of the whole “If It Fits Your Macros” culture, because a bunch of nerds decided they wanted to make lifting and nutrition a mathgame and figured that as long as you hit the calculated numbers, you “win.”  The notion of the benefits of micronutrients and fiber eludes them because it’s not as easily quantifiable or measurable compared to scale weight, but ask anyone living off of BigMacs how they feel once they “detox” and start eating steak and salad, and it’s night and day differences.  “If it tastes good, spit it out”, as quoted from Jack Lalanne, still holds true.  If all you’re eating is stuff you enjoy, you’re probably missing out on stuff that could benefit you.

It goes even further than nutrition though.  In training, we have our “vegetables” too.  Conditioning is one of the most unappetizing vegetables out there, as evidenced by the fact that very few people are eating it.  Lifting weights is “fun” to most people, because it’s only about 20 seconds of exertion max, but you get to feel like you accomplished something, you can move heavy weight, and it makes you look bigger.  Additionally, you get to spend way more time recovering than actually training, so you can tell people you train for 90 minutes, when it’s really more like training for 15 minutes with 75 minutes of rest.  Conditioning is the complete opposite; you strain for far longer, you’re not really moving anything heavy, and it doesn’t generate the outward physical presence that lifting weights does.  Additionally, once it’s done, you feel like you’re going to die for a LONG time after the fact.  However, what conditioning DOES do is make the weight training more effective.  It reduces rest times and improves recovery, which means you can lift more weight for more volume in a workout, which means a better training effect from lifting.  We eat our vegetables here, so that we become better elsewhere.

Image result for Puking after conditioning
Yes, I've seen people do this after conditioning AND after eating vegetables

But even in the “fun” part of lifting weights, we STILL have our vegetables. We all have those movements that we are terrible at, and in turn, we tend to avoid.  I was absolutely awful at the continental clean, so I decided I was just not going to train it. How did that work out for me?  At the same comp where I ruptured my ACL, earlier in the day I ended up zeroing my first ever event in a competition by not being able to get a 245lb axle to my chest.  That’s a weight I have strict pressed before, and could have easily managed at least a few reps on had it made it off the floor.  I failed to eat my vegetables in training, and now I wasn’t getting my dessert.  I apologize, even I am getting upset with how hamfisted my own metaphor has become here, but I’m too committed to change it at this point. However, it took that moment for me to prioritize the movement, and in my most recent training cycle, I’ve been hitting the continental 2-3 times a week, to include using it as a conditioning exercise with a 10 minute EMOM workout, effectively combining 2 “vegetables” into some sort of vegetable medley.  How many other folks decide that they are bad at benching so they’re no longer going to do it?  Bad at squats so they cut those out?  Or what about the guys who are too cool for school and decide they’re not going to do any direct arm work?

You’re an adult, and you can do whatever you want now.  You can set out on your own and eat dessert for dinner every night of your life.  You can never eat another vegetable again, and live out your childhood fantasies of what you would do if you were alone.  But guess what?  The people that are out there eating their vegetables and doing the things they don’t’ enjoy are going to be the ones that beat you.  They’re going to be the ones who toiled and suffered enough during training that, come the big game, nothing will stop them from succeeding.  They’ll be the ones standing at the podium, reflecting the efforts of their labor, while you stay in the stands, munching on French fries and calling ketchup your vegetable.

Image result for government food pyramid
How many folks are living these days

Grow up and eat your vegetables.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Patience is a virtue, and it’s definitely lacking today.  We get everything instantly, whenever we want, with no interruptions or delays.  Whenever we experience even the slightest inconvenience, we overdramatize just how much it impacts our lives. Slow internet, 3g when we should have 4g, waiting for shipping, all of this is the fuel of many facebook rants.  And, of course, this culture has bled over into training, where we observe that most trainees are unable to understand that you simply can’t have it all right now.  You can have it all, it’s just not going to happen all at once.

Image result for Man vs food ribline 
You can try, but it won't end well

What am I getting at?  We’ll talk goals first.  Tons of trainees, when they first start out, decide they want to accomplish ALL of the goals.  They want to get leaner, get bigger, get stronger, get faster, be better at sports, get a new job, regrow lost hair, win the lottery, punch a gorilla, and be the most impressive person at their highschool reunion.  Typically, these trainees last about 2 weeks before completely burning out and crashing hard, usually ending up in further below than where they started.  They wanted everything, and they wanted it all at once.  The notion of picking 1-2 specific goals and hammering them hard is alien to them; why SHOULDN’T they be able to do it all?

Even when someone finally settles down and picks a goal, they can still fall into this trap.  We witness it when it comes to movement selection.  Let’s say a trainee decides they really want to improve their overhead press.  They determine that strict pressing is a great way to build the overhead press, so they decide to do that.  But then, they here that dumbbell strict pressing also builds a strong overhead press, so they do that too.  Then, someone tells them that dips are a great press builder, so of course they throw that in.  And you gotta remember overload, so push press gets added.  Don’t forget bench; the originally assistance exercise for pressing, gotta do that too.  And soon, the trainee is performing 27 different pressing variations, their rotator cuffs explode, their deltoids turn into a fine red mist, and their hopes and dreams of pressing bodyweight have now been crushed. He flew too close to the sun, and couldn’t have it all.

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For my less well read guests, that was a reference to the book that was based on this video game

The thing to keep in mind is this; lifting is a longterm gain.  It’s not weeks, it’s not months, its years.  This is a blessing, because it means that we can pick and choose what we need to improve on as needed and accumulate the results we want over a long period of time.  You don’t need to get stronger, faster, better, and leaner all at once; you can dedicate time to each of those goals as needed and come back to them when you find one to be lagging.  Nor do you need to do all of the greatest movements all at once.  They ALL work, so use one until you are ready to use another.

This is something that athletes understand but those without the background can’t grasp.  As much as we’d love to believe that we’re always going to be our absolute best, the reality is that peak performance can only be maintained for incredibly short durations of time, and after that there tends to be regression before improvement can be accomplished.  If you have a competition, you make everything better all at once, hit your goals, and then slide back a little before you decide to start focusing on some weak areas.  This is why there is an off season and an in season, and it’s also why something like linear/bloc periodization worked for so long.  And it’s not just athletes; bodybuilders have known this as well.  The whole “bulk/cut” thing, as stupid as it is right now, originated from the idea that, when you are in competition level leaness, you’re simply not in a good position to gain strength or size.  Some fat needs to be accumulated so that one can function.  Then, when the time comes to get lean again, strength and size gaining gets put on the backburner so leaness can be focused.  The focus is on the end result; not how things look during the process.

Image result for Puking during deadlift 
Because we don't always look our best during the process

The thing to keep in mind is this; just because you’re focusing on something at present doesn’t mean you will lose all of the hardwork you spent focusing on another goal.  Unless you engage in an extremely destructive and intentional training practice, like going from 3% bodyfat to eating cases of Oreos and mainlining eggnog overnight or going from squatting twice a week to training in a wheelchair for 4 years, you will still maintain some of the results of your other periods of work.  What we’re doing is building up all of our qualities overtime.  Imagine you were taking a bucket of sand and pouring it out on the floor.  With every bucketful, the sand will runoff the top a little bit, but overtime, your tower of sand will continue to grow bigger and bigger.  Some of the previous work will slide and regress a little while you focus on other areas, but overall, you will still be improving constantly and reaching a greater end state than where you started.

Know that taking time to focus on something else is not detracting from your ability to accomplish other goals.  You have a LONG time to train.  Some folks train well into their 70s, 80s and 90s.  This gives you so much time to pursue different goals, use different movements, and accomplish different things.  And while you chase those various goals and commit to them hard, you will be establishing a strong foundation to build upon when you decide to chase other goals, and will ultimately build yourself into a much better human in total.

Image result for arnold schwarzenegger now
Maybe "The Terminator" was more close to reality than "Pumping Iron"

You can have it all…eventually.