Sunday, July 28, 2013


To go along with the "mythical" portion of my blog title, I decided to dive into a religious metaphor for the various ways people fail in their training.  I will note that I am not original in my idea of using the 7 deadly sins for lifting, as Paul Kelso accomplished this in "Powerlifting Basics: Texas Style" to great effect.  However, this will be my take on the matter.  In this part, I will discuss gluttony, pride and wrath, with the remaining sins covered in the second part.

Let’s address the big fat elephant in the room: some trainees really let themselves go in the name of “bulking”.  These are the guys that live at fast food places and buffets and manage to add 20lbs to their total with 60lbs to their bodyweight and 8” on their waistline.  They talk about how they exercise so that they can “eat whatever they want”, but clearly it’s not working.

20 minutes on the Bowflex will knock this right out

Here is the reality: you can’t outtrain a bad diet.  Many have tried and failed.  Those that have succeeded are not reading this blog, because they don’t need any help.  Now, if you have no issues getting incredibly fat in the pursuit of strength, then full speed ahead, this works.  However, most trainees are not willing to become obese to hit an elite total, and if you fall in this category, it means you have to take a more measured approach to your nutrition.  If you follow the “seefood diet”, you have no one to blame but yourself when you get fat.

In the realm of training, the glutton is the trainee who does way too much.  Rather than having a focused and hard hitting program, their training has everything thrown in.  They cannot exercise restraint, and constantly require new stimulus and excitement in order to keep training.  Like stuffing yourself at a buffet, the large amount of variety may seem enjoyable at the time, but the experience eventually becomes regrettable, as you will fail to progress toward any actual goal.  Controlling gluttony in your training means achieving goals, while giving in to gluttony means spinning your wheels with nothing to show while hopping from program to program.

The sin of pride runs rampant across the net.  Education is not inherently negative, but hubris compels trainees to consider their way to be the ONLY way.  These guys are a dime a dozen.  Having conquered the difficult task of reading a thread about Starting Strength, they decide that they are God’s gift to all things lifting, and spend their free time critiquing the depth of world record squatters and the routines of Olympia level bodybuilders.  They flock to forums in order to crush any conversation on alternative approaches and scream the party line at any and all opposition.

Seriously, f**k these people.  These are the witchburners that stifle the renaissance so that we can keep bloodletting with leeches.   The notion of others having a better idea is so damaging to their egos that they invest more time in being destructive to progress than advancing it.  Fear of being wrong compels them to fanatically engage in research that affirms their ego while ignoring all evidence to the contrary, to include their own lacking progress.

"Dude, it's called 'functional strength', ok?"

Pride will of course obviously impact your own training in this fashion as well.  My personal tale of the evils of pride include stubbornly sticking with abbreviated training well beyond its applicable value for me.  Do not get me wrong, I think abbreviate training is a great idea (as indicated by my previous article on the subject), but I also know that there is value in higher volume work, and by refusing to admit this point so that I could stick with what I “knew” was right, I stunted my own growth and stalled during periods of time where I could have made amazing progress.  When it comes to training, I have adopted the philosophy that I would rather be wrong and strong and right and weak.

Bad workouts happen.  This is fact.  Sometimes, you even have bad weeks.  When this happens, it’s very tempting to toss out everything and go off the rails.  You decide that your entire routine is garbage and throw it out, or you quit lifting all together, blaming genetics, drugs, time, solar flares, astrology, or the current presidential administration.

"You KNOW I can't make gains while there is a democrat in the White House!"

Stop it.  Anger, when controlled, can be valuable, but here it’s just destroying you.  Your ability to adapt and overcome is what makes you incredible, and to waste such a talent is a tragedy.  You have to come to terms with your own mortality, realizing that, as a human, you are imperfect, and thus you will experience ups and downs in your training.  Being able to see the big picture becomes incredibly valuable here.  Barring disastrous injury, a bad workout isn’t even a blip on your training radar.  Progress in lifting isn’t about going from workout to workout, but about the total accumulation of workouts and progressed experienced during that time.  If you have more good workouts than bad, you will have an overall net gain, it’s just that simple.  Take a deep breath, count to 10, and see this for what it is.

That said, as mentioned above, controlled anger is valuable.  Channel the fury into energy invested in getting better.  If you have a bad workout, spend some time figuring out what caused it.  So many trainees just stumble blindly from workout to workout, having no consideration for factors such as sleep, nutrition, hydration, rest periods, etc, and how these could impact performance.  When things go bad, draw up some theories and get to the bottom of what makes you tick.  In doing so, you will hopefully have fewer bad workouts, which means less time spent in the realm of wrath.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Success leaves clues.  This is not disputable, it is simply fact.  However, success also brings resentment, and with that it clouds our ability to learn the lessons from success. This much is as true in lifting as it is in everything else.

We observe this phenomenon when viewing the training of successful lifters, especially in the realm of bodybuilding, powerlifting and strongman.  A curious trend of these individuals is that they do not use “good form” when training.  Many reps are partially completed, use momentum, “cheat”, etc.  When observed by a beginner, it results in cognitive dissonance, leading to an outcry, usually in the form of youtube comments.

When your only tool is a hammer

These comments usually go in several predictable directions.  These guys can get away with this because of steroids.  If it isn’t steroids, it’s because of genetics.  If it isn’t genetics, it’s because of their training environment/team.  Or it’s because they can train 5 times a week for 3 hours a day.  The list goes on and on.

Really, when you look at successful people and they aren’t doing what you’re doing, maybe instead of critiquing them it’s time to wonder if maybe it’s me.  Rarely does it cross one’s mind that, it’s not that these guys are succeeding in spite of their training, but because of their training.

Wait...what did you say?

In a similar fashion as my “training versus competition” article, we are entering a realm of technique versus form.  Form is simply the mechanical traveling from A to B with a weight using a specific path.  It, in and of itself, does not dictate success.  Technique is the means in which we accomplish this movement.  As a result, one can have perfect form and terrible technique, due to the fact that, though they may get the weight from A to B, they do not recruit the muscles they desired to get there.  This is why kids can spend years hammering curls and only end up developing their anterior deltoid and forearm, because they don’t know how to contract their bicep to move the weight.

To get back to the main theme of this article, you will note that unsuccessful trainees tend to have or strive for “perfect form” when they train.  The weight always travels from start to lockout in a straight line with no deviation.  Successful trainees tend to only lift like this in competition, or if they are training for competition.  Why is this?

I can offer a few thoughts based on my experiences.  As I have mentioned in many random thought pieces, not locking out a weight is a surefire way to increase time under tension, which in turn leads to greater hypertrophy compared to locking out at the top or bottom of the lift.  Additionally, by altering technique, one is able to place specific emphasis on weak points/lagging muscles.  If you only do the first portion of the bench, you will be able to build strength off the chest for the bench itself.  If that is where you are weak, it is a boon, and if you have a small chest, it will blow it up way better than fully locking reps each and every time.

Much like I have said in many other posts before, the point here is goals and doing what it takes to reach them.  Everything you do in training should have a purpose.  If you are just benching for 3 sets of 10, you are accomplishing exercise for the sake of exercise.  If you train your bench for the specific purpose of building a stronger chest by altering your technique, you will achieve that goal.  Remember, if you aren’t doing what successful people are doing, maybe it’s you.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Today, we’re going to talk about specificity, not in terms of training, but in terms of thinking.  When it comes to thinking about your training, the specificity of your goal drives the specificity of your thinking.  The more clearly defined your goal is, the more clearly defined your question can be.  This does not work backwards.  You cannot have vague goals with specific questions, nor can you have specific goals with vague questions.

This is something lost on many trainees, beginners and otherwise.  Someone asks a question like “what angle should I have my hand turned when I do dumbbell presses”, and when you ask them what their goal is, they simply say “get stronger”.  If your goal is to just get stronger, all you need to worry about is if you are getting stronger in your movement, period.  Minute details will not derail a big picture goal like getting stronger, this is simply a question of dedication and willpower.

Looking at this from the other perspective, having a specific goal necessitates putting on the thinking cap and getting into the weeds.  If one says that their goal is to increase their lagging outerquad development by 1 inch in 12 months, and then ask if they should use leg press, it would open up a million follow up questions.  What sort of leg press, what protocol, what angle will you point your toes, what are your rest periods, etc.

We may need to talk

We are arriving at a bigger issue here, and that is the reality that many beginners refuse to accept the reality of just how simple it is to get bigger and stronger.  To admit this is to admit that the fault was in us for not trying versus not knowing, for ignorance is excusable, but laziness is unforgivable.  Thus, new trainees seek information to justify their lack of gains and stumble upon the works of advanced lifters who are well beyond the realm of beginner gains that need an incredible degree of complexity in their approaches to elicit gains.  The reality is, if you just do something, you’ll be fine, whereas if you stall and flip flop, you will make no progress.

Sometimes, it really is simply that input equals output.  The more you give, the more you get (as long as you make sure to eat to match your training).  You don’t need to worry about the angle of your hands or if your thumb is on top or on bottom of a barbell, or if you are pressing with the edges of your hands or your palms.  You aren’t going to trick your body into growing by changing the angle of a movement, you have to actually do what you want to accomplish.  Your body doesn’t lie to you, and if you want to bring up a muscle, actually strive to feel that muscle when you train, don’t just rely on mechanical changes to accomplish your goals.

Maybe NOW I'll finally be able to hit my triceps

Additionally, you aren’t going to trick your body into avoiding injury through some body voodoo.  Injuries just plain happen.  There is no safety in this world, and you put yourself in more danger driving to the gym than you did once you set foot inside it anyway.  The joy is that you won’t see the injuries coming, and that they will be a learning opportunity, but instead of sweating if a 33% degree on the incline bench is a receipt for injury, just start hammering the basics and growing.  You will be much further ahead than those who are sweating the small stuff and spinning their wheels.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Time for me to dive into my psyche 101 textbooks and talk on the subject of “psyching up”.

Before I go any further, admit it, you tried to do this once
To get into it, there is no one universal way to get psyched up for a lift.  This is one of those things that a lot of folks don’t seem to grasp, and it’s mainly because human nature is inherently egocentric.  We presume that the rest of the world shares our experience and in turn experiences the world from the same frame of reference that we do, reaching the same conclusions from the same premises each time.  To realize this isn’t correct, spend any amount of time reading the internet.

That about sums it up
Having said this, I only have the authority to speak to my own experiences, but will still give both sides a shot based on what I know.  Keep in mind, this is an incredibly general summary.  Volumes of books could be written on the subject.
The Extrovert
Psyching up for the extrovert is a very external ritual, and benefits from having people around.  These folks need to be yelled at, sworn at, insulted, slapped, what have you.  They respond well to the pep talk, cheering fans, etc.
The Introvert
These folks are on the opposite side of the spectrum, and need to be left alone.  Their psyche up is very internal, with an internal dialogue that puts them where they want to be, music on earbuds that only they can hear, and no human interaction to distract them.

It is imperative to understand these basic ideas because trying to use the wrong type of motivation is going to have the opposite effect.  If you get in the face of an introvert and scream, at best they’re going to wonder what your problem is and it’ll distract them, and at worst, they could just completely shut down.  If you put an extrovert into isolation before a lift, he is not going to get the level of excitement he needs to crush a lift. 
This means that you need to know who YOU are before you try to psyche yourself up.  Don’t try to use someone else’s method because you saw it on youtube or heard from a buddy, do what you need.  Additionally, don’t try to force your method on someone else right before a major lift, because you could honestly be robbing them of poundage. 
It seems what we have here is a failure to communicate
To talk on a personal level, I definitely vector more toward the introvert side of the spectrum.  I have been through military training before, and getting yelled at just got me in trouble for having smart ass answers.  That environment was simply not a performance motivator.  I’ve also traveled and been in Buddhist monasteries in Asia, filled with either serene silence or strong monotone chants, and the energy from the room was electrifying to me.  Knowing this about myself, I have my own psyching up ritual.
For me, music is pretty key.  I don’t like metal because it’s too loud to me and doesn’t have enough focus (and I realize with the 4.7 trillion sub-genres of metal out there I have most likely offended someone, but you’ll get over it).  I like music with a very strong, intense driving beat, focused like a laser.  I just recently pulled a 620lb deadlift for 2 reps listening to “Tempest” by the Deftones, and it worked out perfectly.
I don’t have much of an internal dialogue when I am psyching up.  Instead, I go to a “dark place” in my mind.  It’s a nebulous concept honestly, but instead of focusing on things that make me angry, I just focus on getting angry.  I let it build up inside of me, and much like the music, I make it concentrated and focused.  The intent is to not be some screaming berserker unleashing anger in a spray in all directions, but to have white hot anger concentrated on the lift at hand.

What is important to understand is that you have to be able to turn it on and off as needed.  Getting to this level of energy is honestly exhausting, and if you try to do it all day at a competition, you’re going to be fried before the final lift.  You want to be able to tap into this for each lift so that you can give it your all, and then spend the rest of your time recovering.  Also, you don’t want to be this psyched up all day because, honestly, you’re probably an asshole and unpleasant to be around.  I once got a phone call from work right after I had gotten ready for my second attempt deadlift in a meet, and I don’t think the guy on the other end of the phone was prepared for what I had to say to him.  I had to seek him out the next day and apologize, but at least I got the lift.
I thought I was being nice
A final point to realize is that you should NOT be doing this for training lifts.  This is purely a competition thing only.  Keep in mind, when you psyche yourself up, the intent is that you can lift more than when you are not psyched up.  You are essentially tapping into the deepest regions of your physical limits.  Well, doing that is incredibly taxing.  When I do this for a meet and hit PRs for all 3 lifts, I need to spend a month doing light training before I can resume my normal weights.  If you’re doing this in training that means you’re just setting your own recovery back and limiting your ability to grow stronger.  Think about it, if you are able to make yourself stronger without a psyche up, that just means you’ll be even stronger once you do psyche up, whereas if you have to psyche up to hit a PR in training, all this means is that you got better at reaching deeper, rather than actually made yourself stronger.

Now let’s talk about the fun stuff: smelling salts and nose tork. 
Whenever I hear someone talking about some gimmicky pre-workout powder, I throw them my bottle of nose tork and tell them that THIS is what you need to get motivated to train.  Amazingly, they always turn it down.  This stuff is no joke.
(Note: Start with smelling salts.  This is not a suggestion.  Do not skip straight to nose tork.  I will explain why in a bit.)
The best way I could describe smelling salts is that they are chemical anger and pain.  They essentially will trip your fight or flight response, and should you choose the former, you will be incredibly pissed off after the experience.  There is no way to not be mad after taking a wiff of this, it just gets to you.  For me, this is the last step in psyching up.  After I have used all my psychological tricks to get me as angry and focused as possible, I use external sources to push me beyond my own limitations. 

Nose tork is like if smelling salts used smelling salts.  The first time I used it, I literally ran away from the bottle and spent 30 minutes relearning how to breathe.  It is a religious experience.  I have used it on long road trips to stay awake, and it is way better than coffee.  I keep a bottle at my desk for a joke, and had a co-worker try it who had never used a smelling salt before, and his exact words were “my brain is on fire”.  It definitely does the job, but I would ease in with smelling salts first.