Friday, December 28, 2012


A father comes home from work to find his son upstairs sulking in his room.  The father asks his son what's wrong.

"I got in trouble in school today dad, over something I didn't do!"

"What didn't you do?" the father asks.

"My homework"

An old joke, but one I am using to illustrate my point.  There is a culture in lifting that is built around an odd ideal.  Normally, when you think about lifting, you think about the results.  Someone getting bigger, stronger, faster, leaner, whathaveyou, it's an instance about what someone did.  But there are individuals that take an opposite approach, those who instead take pride in what they didn't do.

When these guys hit their 315lb deadlift, they make sure you know that it was done without a belt, straps, chalk, the right shoes, deodorant, and they only slept 3 hours because they work 2 jobs to support their drug habit (oh, but they're also drug free for life).  The hidden implication here is that the only reason the weight isn't higher is because they're not "cheating" by using all this other junk.  They train RAW (raw is of course always in all caps, because).

Why do these folks pride themselves so much on what they aren't doing?  Because they excel at not performing.  These people have both lackluster physiques and strength, and they need to tell people about their lifts because it isn't obvious in any way that they train.  Their training isn't producing results, so they need to reinvent what constitutes a result in order for them to be succeeding.

This is the same insane mentality behind the "perfect form" guys who never go above 225 on any lift and talk down about Johnnie Jackson's form when he lifts, or the bosu ball generation that can't ever get any sort of weight on the bar because they're too busy trying to balance on one foot.  It's simply a creative way to be lazy and justify weakness and frailty.

Not shown: Muscle, strength, power, competence, self respect

What would be the terrible ramifications of these people using some sort of assistance gear?  It might mean that they actually have to lift something heavy and exert themselves.  They may have to strain and push themselves beyond their limits.  If you're telling people that you didn't use straps and a belt on a deadlift, and that in turn means you could have lifting heavier if you used them, then you're an idiot if you aren't using straps and a belt.  These are simply tools, and if used properly, they can allow you to get bigger and stronger, even without their presence.  Do what it takes in training to meet your goals outside of it.  

Start worrying about doing something before you start worrying about what you aren't doing.  Here is a classic photo making the rounds these days

What makes this photo impressive?  Is it really the lack of belt, wraps and spotters?  I don't know, lets try an experiment.

Also no belt, wraps or spotters.  Seems lacking, no?  

It's not the "nothing" that makes this stuff impressive.  It's the big f-ing weight on his back. 

Work on making yourself a badass in any capacity before you start worrying about the stuff you aren't doing.  An 800lb deadlift is impressive.  That deadlift is impressive with an 8" wide, 20mm thick belt, wraps, and a suit.  A man with that sort of pull is impressive, regardless of what he does to do it.  

Monday, December 24, 2012


This was originally posted at, but I thought I'd bring it over here.  I am a big advocate of ROM progression, and first read about it in Pavel Tsatsouline's "Beyond Bodybuilding".

The basic premise is simple, almost absurdly so.  Take a weight that you can only lift for part of a range of motion (hereafter referred to as “ROM”), and then stick with that weight as you increase the ROM.  This is a boon for deadlifts, especially as you reach higher weights, as it means spending less time breaking heavy weights off the floor.  This is far less taxing and easy to recover from.

I use rubber patio pavers for my progression, found at any hardware store.  These would do the trick just fine

I stack 7 of them on either side of the plates.  I’ve been asked “why 7” before, and the answer is simply that’s how many I had at the time.  It puts the bar slightly above mid shin for me.  I will pull for 1 set of max reps, allowing myself 1 rest pause at the end of the set to attempt to get a few more reps and increase the total volume.  Given that I pull exclusively touch and go (which I can address in another post if desired), this also gives me extra practice breaking weight off the floor.

Each week, I take away 1 paver and attempt to pull for the same amount of reps as I did in the previous week.  It’s a very gradual transition, one you will barely notice as you do it, but it will become significant once you realize you have gone from a partial dead to a full pull with the same weight.  I tend to lose 1-2 total reps as I go from the 2-3 mat height to the floor, but it’s an acceptable loss.  I also tend not perform a 1 mat pull, going straight from the 2 mat height to the floor.  Since I’m trying to minimize stress on the body, I find little value in spending 2 training weeks pulling at a height so similar to the floor.

After a full cycle of ROM progression, I deload for a week, increase the weight, and start over again, aiming for the same amount of reps as last time.

Here you can view a full series of pulls and witness how gradual of a change the ROM is (enjoy the blooper on the final set).

In regards to personal implementation, I will say that the rack pull is a very poor parallel to the mat pull.  The form is different, as is the feel of breaking the weight off the pins.  The mats are far more natural, and its much easier to transition between pulling from mats and pulling off the floor.  I have seen people pull off of bumper plates before, and I imagine that would be a good substitute, as long as you are able to make a gradual enough change.  Big changes in ROM are not going to be as beneficial.  I have also seen people have success with aerobic steppers, so give that a try if you have those.  Basically, have the plates be your point of contact, not the bar.

For fitting this into a training schedule, I have done this a few different ways.  At present, I’m running a modified version of 5/3/1, and for my deadlift day, instead of following the 5/3/1 protocol, I simply stick with ROM progression with 5/3/1 assistance (BBB style squats).  I have also trained in this manner on a 3 day a week squat program, where I performed my ROM progression dead as my final movement on the middle training day.  Since it’s only one set, and mostly a partial movement, you can fit it into most programs with a deadlifting component.

If you want to run your own cycle, I’d suggest starting with a higher rep range, around 10 or so.  Pick something you can lower evenly for 7 weeks and see where it takes you.  I HAVE trained this way with lower reps (the 5 rep range), but find that it’s possible to overload yourself too much on the first 3 weeks of pulling and burn out your CNS.  It can be very useful for developing lockout strength, but in terms of adding straight poundages to your deadlift, higher reps seem to work better.

At my present progression, I seem to be losing a rep per cycle.  When I find myself eventually unable to progress past a certain weight, my intention is to reset back to a previously accomplished weight and attempt a rep PR from there, and then just keep progressing back up while trying to hit greater reps at previously accomplished weights.

This post was solely about deadlift training, but this style can be applied to just about anything.  Paul Anderson implemented it with his squat training by squatting some 55 gallon barrels while standing in a hole.  To increase the ROM, he would fill the hole with more dirt.

Insert obvious joke about "picking up women" with squats

Being that I am a mere mortal, I have instead resorted to suspending my bar in the rack via chains and tow straps, which allows me to increase the ROM by 1 chain link each week to gradually work to the full range of motion.  You can see the end result of a cycle in this video

This also has a carry over benefit of being able to work around a hamstring injury that gets aggravated by heavy eccentrics, as I have basically turned the movement into a concentric only squat.

For those with short attention spans, here is the summary
-Make small, gradual progressions on the ROM while keeping the weight the same
-Rack pulls are terrible
-Paul Anderson is the man

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Functional strength.

Oh yes, we're doing this.

This phrase has been huge for a long time now.  It's right up there with "lean muscle mass" and "dynamic inertia".  The informercials tell you that you want, nay, NEED functional strength, and many a fitness program has been constructed around the goal of chasing down and obtaining this jewel.

What a crock.

Wrong Kroc, stick with me here

Since I tend to understand language in a way fundamentally different than most humans (I attribute this to sustained head trauma from years of boxing), let's look at what is being implied by the phrase "functional strength".  To have such a thing as functional strength is to imply that there is a converse type of strength.  Unfunctional strength?  Non-functional strength?  Or perhaps even dysfunctional strength, that kind of strength that gets drunk and can't hold down a job but you're sticking it out together for the kids goddamnit.

But it scored 4 touchdowns in a single game!

What could this even be?  Can you think of an example of strength with no function?  How would you train to acquire such strength?  Even the most bizarrely isolated and esoteric movement you could contrive with a bosu ball, kettlebell, smith machine and bands would still have some sort of function it could provide.  Your body cannot simply get strong without being able to display the strength in some capacity, it just so happens that the capacity can be limited and highly specialized.

Does that mean the strength is without function?  Or does it simply mean that the strength is not ideal for YOUR intended function?

And this is why the language is stupid.  Strength is strength.  It has no morality attached to it, it is simply binary.  Your body gets stronger, or it does not.  It is the user that decides the function, not the strength.  If you are training to be a better basketball player, and your primary means of training is flipping tires, you did not develop functionless strength, you simply did not develop the most ideal strength for your intended function.  This is user error, not biological, for this strength that you did develop has many applicable functions, they just don't relate to your goal.

This of course relates to the value of having a concrete and defined goal, and also explains the verbal sorcery that many "functional strength" advocates utilize to sell their snake oil.  Lots of folks define functional strength as this notion of being able to do "useful" things like scale fences, climb trees, fight off attackers, etc etc.  With this school of thought, being able to deadlift or squat heavy weights isn't functional.

Typical day at the office

Seriously?  Are you Jason f-in' Bourne here?  Run a quick mental recap on how many times you have needed to scale a fence, climb a tree or fight off attackers in your life.  Now, compare this number with how many times you have ever needing to pick up something heavy.  Whether you were moving into an apartment or relocating some office furniture or picking up a box that got shipped to your door.  I will bet that if you combine the total number of times you have had to be a secret agent, it STILL wouldn't equal how often you have needed to pick up and move stuff.

But let's be stupid and pedantic for a second here, because that's how I operate.  The functional strength camp likes to make the argument that you don't need to train to squat 500lbs, because when will you ever need to do that?  My answer: in a powerlifting meet.  And if you are a powerlifter, that is a very "real world" scenario you will find yourself in, where 500lbs (or whatever weight) is on your back, threatening to crush you.  Once again, the strength is defined by the function of the user here.  If all you want to develop is the strength to make it through life, for most office drones this just means a strong core to support the terrible posture office chairs promote with minimal back pain.  If you engage in any sort of outside activities, you then train to supplement these.  Unless you are climbing trees and krav maga-ing ninjas constantly, training for that just plain ain't functional.

The other argument we see in the functional strength camp is about how pro-bodybuilders are massive but not as strong for their size compared to those elite individuals who train to be functional.  This is two-fold stupidity.  First, bodybuilders have strength that is VERY functional, as it allows them to be better bodybuilders (improving their function).  More importantly though, this argument isn't about strength, it's about mass, an entirely different entity.  Size is not strength.  Strength is strength and size is size.  A man who gets bigger is not necessarily a man getting stronger, and to point to a large man and say "look at all that functionless strength" is akin to complaining that your grapes are being too noisy and everything tastes very yellow.

If your beef (pun partially intended) is that people are putting on mass that is only good at being big and not for making one stronger, this is no issue with strength at all.  Do not fall for the tricks of charlatans and salesmen here.  Know what your function is and train for it, and all of your strength will be functional.  Train without goals, and you will develop very functional strength, it will just be useless to you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Lets do a fun experiment.

Here is a video of Matt Kroczaleski doing 30 rep chins.  Give it a watch.

Now, read the comments.

(Yes, I realize forcing someone to read youtube comments can be considered cruel and unusual punishment in some states, but stick with me, this is for science)

Look at how many of these comments talk about how Kroc's chins "don't count".  He has violated the rules of the event, and got 3 reds.  Matt was most likely having an off day, as he's usually a very strong performer.

Wanna see this again?  Here is Konstantin Konstantinovs doing 55 pull ups.

If you are having difficulty understanding the comments in the youtube video, it's most likely because they are in Russian.  That, or it is because the language skills of many youtubers have rapidly deteriorated and become indecipherable.  In either case, they are akin to the Kroc video.

The experiment here?  What were your thoughts upon seeing these videos?  Were you in the "don't count" camp?  Were you wondering how these two got so big and strong with bad form?

Or maybe you thought "so this is how an 800lb deadlifter does chins".  Or perhaps "that's what the pull ups of a 900lb deadlifter look like".

This is the difference between the mentality of training and competition, and it is vital that you understand it if you ever hope to succeed in either endeavor.  Many times, the downfall of those who do not compete is that they treat every training session like it is a competition, because this is their only competitive outlet available.  This means that EVERY movement has rules to follow, and if you don't follow these rules and regulations, your lift "doesn't count".  You see this applied to everything from push-ups to pull ups, lunges to crunches, etc to I am terrible with examples.

These rules are always arbitrary  and based around some ill-founded notion of what "good form" looks like.  The focus isn't on what the movement accomplishes, it's just about what the movement looks like.  This is a great a competition.  That is why powerlifting has rules specifically based around how the movement looks, with no concern about what muscles you are recruiting.  If you can get your hips below your knees through some sort of sorcery that completely removes your glutes and hams from the lift, you're going to get your whites.

Why the difference?  Because the competition is the validation of the training.  It is not training in and of itself.  No one shows up to a meet hoping to get a good workout in and get stronger, they are there to display strength.  So why wouldn't you do this in reverse when you train?  Why would you concern yourself with how the movement looks, when you should be concerned instead with what results it produces?  If your chins aren't deadhang but your bench and deadlift keep going up, what does it matter?  If your squats aren't competition legal in training, but your squat goes up and you never get called for depth in a meet, why should you care?  And if physique is your goal, why do you care at ALL about what your lifts look like compared to what they are doing for your body?

The form police are in full force on youtube, and these self important nitwits never have a physique or lifts that are in any way admirable.  They just KNOW that they are right, but have nothing to show for it.  These are the same people that will come up to you in the gym to tell you that you are going to blow out your knees with your squat style before they waddle their way back to the leg abductor machine for an intense pump.  Why would you care about their opinion on anything?

Training is training, and competing is competing.  When you are in the gym, you are there to make yourself better OUTSIDE of the gym.  If you make training the competition, you will not succeed in either endeavor.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


As many have noted, I am a fan of abbreviated training.  I grew up under Pavel's 3-5 and 20 rep squats, and have only recently begun training higher volume with 5/3/1.  This post should explain why I advocate this training style.

The name "abbreviated training" indicates that the training is low volume with limited movement selection. This name is something of a misnomer, for this style of training was en vogue from the late 1800s to about the 1960s-1970s. It was the method of greats like

Eugen Sandow

Bob Peoples

and Paul Anderson

Once steroid use became more prominent, trainees could train for much higher volume sessions while still eliciting great gains, so training became higher volume with more movements, and thus anything not following this approach was deemed "abbreviated training".

You'll note then that abbreviated training was utilized and effective during an era where people did not have access to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), and as such is still an effective choice for trainees who are training in a similar style. If you are making use of PEDs/chemical assistance, abbreviated training most likely is not the best choice for you.

The stuff they're using is a little more powerful than this

Why does abbreviated training work so well for a beginning, non-drug enhanced lifter? It operates under the premise that this type of lifter is primed to make rapid gains as a result of them being so new to training. The majority of "strength" gains that occur with a new lifter are simply the result of them becoming more proficient/efficient at the movement they are training. It is not unheard of for a new trainee to add 20-30lbs to their squat in 1 month, but this is not an indication that the trainee has gained the strength to move 20-30lbs more, but simply that they improved their coordination to the point that they were better able to recruit the muscles/motor units necessary to move more weight than before. This principle is critical to understanding why abbreviated training is advocated to beginners.

Whenever the topic of bulking is brought up, people love to quote stats about how much muscle someone can put on in a month, and why it's stupid to overeat. Numbers are thrown around from ranging anywhere from .25-1lbs a month being the max level a non-PED using trainee can put on. I don't know which study is the best, but in either capacity, using this same line of thought, it is unreasonable to expect a new trainee to be able to put on a great deal of muscle mass when they first begin training, especially if you get them to follow the supposed "hypertrophy routines" that are based around splitting muscle groups and high volume/low frequency. However, due to the fact that strength is gained by a new lifter more as a result of becoming a better lifter rather than a stronger lifter, it is not unreasonable to expect a new lifter to make great jumps in their lift numbers when they first start out. This is where abbreviated training is a boon, for the low volume of the training facilitates recovery for a trainee with a lacking work capacity, while the high frequency allows for many opportunities to make progress in the gym.

If you squat only once a week, you have 52 opportunities a year to progress in the squat. If you squat 3 times a week (like a lot of abbreviated training programs advocate), you now have 156 opportunities to progress within the same training period. This is 104 more opportunities to improve the mechanics of the squat for the sake of being able to lift heavier loads. Since you are in a period of rapid adaptation at this point, these multiple opportunities to excel mean much faster gains compared to a lower frequency approach.

One must understand that this is the point of these programs: to quickly reach peak levels of strength in a beginner trainee. By doing this, one has laid down a foundation of strength, coordination and (if you have been eating correctly) mass which can now be implemented toward a variety of training goals. Once this foundation is established, one can move toward bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, Olympic lifting, crossfit, etc. This is not a lifestyle, this is fleeting and ephemeral. Your goal should be to make the most of this phase and then move on to your real goal.

This is why when people say “these routines don’t make you look better” that it’s not a legit criticism. That is not their intent. Their goal is to get you to the point where you can finally start training to look better. The sad reality is that a sedentary lifestyle has become the norm, and most people enter lifting with almost no athletic background. These programs intend to make up for that by being a crash course in strength building so that one can actually start training.

You aren’t going to build an impressive physique with a 100lb bench. It’s just not going to happen. That is why putting a beginner on a high volume, high variety, low frequency program is a poor decision, as they simply will not be strong enough to lift heavy enough weights to make a meaningful impact.

So when is a good time to move on from abbreviated training? One of the best bench marks I’ve ever seen came from Stuart McRobert in “Brawn”, who advocated that a 5’9 man standing at 190lbs being able to bench 300lbs, squat 400lbs and deadlift 500lbs would be in a position to be able to start training with higher volume and more detail work (if their goal was bodybuilding). If the goal was powerlifting, this would be a great time to move on to something like Westside, Sheiko, 5/3/1, or a variety of other high volume programs.
If you find these numbers to be absurd, it is an indication that you need to be pushing yourself harder in your training. These are not the end of the road at all, but the beginning of a journey. A 1200lb total should not be daunting to a nearly 200lb man, but simply a stepping stone.

And in that same line of thought, one should not be married to abbreviated training, but instead realize what it is there for. Exploit it for all that you can, and move on. The zealots on either side of the training camp are equally annoying. Additionally, if you have completely stalled out on abbreviated training before hitting your goal numbers, and you cannot simply out eat or out sleep the stall (rare), try some higher volume training for a brief period to break past some plats. And even then, there are abbreviated higher volume programs, like 20 rep squats, which can be valuable both for mass and mental toughness building.



Like it says on the side of the site, I am a powerlifter.  I compete in the 181lb class, with an unequipped total of 1439, with a 502lb squat, 336lb bench and 601lb deadlift.  I will post videos of those lifts in a bit.  

The intent of this blog is basically for me to write down my thoughts on training as they come to me.  I am obsessed with getting stronger and being strong, and I will be the first to tell you this.  Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be strong.  I read stories about legendary strength like Samson and Heracles, I loved superheros with superhuman strength, I always pick the (physically) strongest characters to play in video games or invest all of my points into strength when given the option.  I have a problem.

This obsession also means that I can't shut my brain off when it comes to thinking about how to get stronger, and whenever my mind idles, it idles on this subject.  When I am not reading about getting stronger, or watching videos on how to get stronger, or trolling the internet about getting stronger, I am coming up with ideas about getting stronger.  My intent is to transform this stream of consciousness here and give other strengthophiles a place to also read and contribute.

To understand my philosophy and approach, give these videos a watch

And for the videos of my lifts, here you go

491lb  squat (second attempt, don't have video of the 502 on youtube)

336 bench

And 601 dead

And if you want to know if you want to follow my advice on putting on muscle, these are my photos


So now that you have seen me mostly naked and going off on rants, I feel like we really have something good here.  Like we really connect, and that I can open up and be vulnerable with you.

Stay tuned.