Sunday, October 27, 2013


This is the first in what I hope to be a multipart series detailing my training history up until this current point and the lessons I have learned from it.  I intend to revisit it regularly, but will make non-related updates as well, such that I won't bore any of my regular readers with constant sentimental self reflection.


As I approach my 28th birthday, I grow ever closer to an important milestone in my life.  The age of 28 itself isn’t significant, but by reaching that age, it means that I will have spent more of my life being fit than being unfit.

To be blunt, I was a fat kid growing up.  Exercise for the sake of exercise was a foreign concept, and I ate poorly.  Now, compared to current societal standards, I was more “chubby” or “husky” compared to what actual fat kids look like these days, but for the early 90s, I was a fat kid.

More this

Less this

I was infatuated with strength, as I am today, but taking no action on achieving that.  I told myself that it was because lifting weights would stunt my growth, but looking back on it now, that must have simply been an excuse to continue enjoying my lifestyle of excess.

Oddly enough, I was involved in many sports growing up, which was again very common for children at the time yet something that seems to be lacking today.  I played t-ball, baseball, soccer (indoor and outdoor), basketball, ice hockey, swam, and did Tae Kwon Do for 8 years.  Despite the activity level, I remained a fat kid.  There were a few factors at play here.  For one, children get way too many snacks during their games and practices, and the choices that are made for snacks are terrible.  The activity level kids are putting out can’t match the input of sugary energy.  Additionally, I was dogging it at the sports I was playing due to a lack of interest, which meant output was minimal as well.

Football seemed like the answer to me.  It was a sport where I could put my size to good use, because though I was a fat kid, I was also a big kid.  I was a year younger than the majority of my peers due to some rule in the California school system, yet was typically the tallest person in my class (which, now that I am 5’9 as an adult, seemed like such a cruel genetic prank to play on me).  I thought this would be a blessing for football, but because of the rules of pop-warner football, there are weight classes based around age rather than grade level, and I was too heavy for my age (11) to play.  Oddly enough, there was an older/lighter division, for skinnier older kids to play, but no younger/fatter division for me to fit in.  As an adult, I feel like the latter would be far more enjoyable to watch, even if it required a somewhat sick sense of humor, but I digress.

Imagine a whole team of Cartmans...just imagine

My second opportunity for football would come as a high school freshman, where at age 13 I was able to start playing.  This opportunity was afforded to me primarily because my high school was small enough to have a “no cuts” offer, and anyone who tried out got a spot on the team.  I played center and nose tackle, and was terrible at it.  I also lost no weight during the season, but for once, I was in what I would call “good shape”.  I could practice for 3 hours in the hot sun in full pads and not need to throw up, and even though I lost zero pounds, I had a decent fitness foundation.

The turning point came the summer between my freshmen and sophomore year.  I had given up on pursuing football any further, due to the fact that I just had no skill at the game and no chances of going any higher than junior varsity.  That summer, I had finally had enough, and decided I was going to stop being the fat kid.  I was the age that everyone said was ok to start lifting weights, and figured it was time to put my money where my mouth was.  I drastically reduced my calories to about 1/3 of what I had been eating before (which in retrospect may have been a bit much) and started doing some manner of physical training every day.  Over the span of the summer, I dropped 25lbs, from 176 to 150, and began my life anew.  Long introduction aside, I want to use this space to document how I trained through out this time and the lessons I learned.



Despite the fact that my excuse for not training was being too young to lift, when I first started my journey into fitness, I relied primarily on bodyweight exercises.  My dad was in the Air Force for 4 years, and had 2 stories that really stuck out in my mind.  The first was about a friend of his that got a six pack in 2 months by doing 200 sit ups a night, and the second was of another friend that owed an impressive physique to doing 200 push ups a night.  The lessons I took from this is that the number 200 was significant, and training at night was the key.  By combining the sit ups with the push ups, I was sure to make significant strides in physique and strength.

I don’t remember my starting numbers, but I do know that they were definitely nowhere close.  I diligently trained each night with no days off, working towards either higher numbers or harder variations of the movements.  Despite the fact that this was in no way what I needed to do in order to accomplish my goals, I do credit this training with helping me to establish a decent foundation to train with.  If I were smarter, I would have worked chins and some leg work into the mix as well, but as a 14 year old boy, pecs and abs were high on the priority list, and legs and back did not exist in my mind.

Nailed it

It should be noted that I was also running in some capacity everyday, which of course I considered my “leg training”, but was also improving my cardio and general health.  I was still training martial arts 2-3 times a week as well.  The idea of focusing on one thing had never entered my mind, and being that I wasn’t strong enough to do any real damage to myself and had the ability to recover like a teenager, I wasn’t coming close to “overtraining”.

A real turning point in my training came when, after spending the majority of the summer training push ups and sit ups, I had saved up enough money to buy a standard weight bench that came with adjustable dumbbell handles and a preacher curl/leg extension/leg curl station.  I had to cover it with a tarp to keep it from rusting, but that meant I got to train outside in beautiful San Diego weather.  I was now ready to meet my lifelong dream of lifting weights.

While I still trained my push ups and sit ups every night, I was now benching and curling everyday as well.  Again, the priorities of a 14 year old had taken over, and that leg extension/curl saw no use.  My routine was simple: no warm up, perform 1 set of the heaviest weight I could bench that day for 10 reps, 1 max weight set of curls for 10 reps, and 1 max weight set of preacher curls for 10 reps.  Train this way everyday.  Apparently I was part Bulgarian.  My dad kept telling me that I needed to take days off in between training to heal, whereas I kept telling him that, every time I did that, I got weaker, whereas training everyday made me stronger.

I speculate a few things were happening here.  My dad wasn’t wrong about needing to rest, his advice simply didn’t coincide with my style of training.  Given that I was only training 1 set, and that I was training without warm-up, I was in turn training at submaximal loads compared to what I could actually train.  Pair this with the rapid adaptation of a beginner lifter along with learning the mechanics of a new movement, and I had developed a way to basically rapidly accelerate my way through my strength gains.  I wasn’t training with enough volume to necessitate resting, and had a decent work capacity due to the summer of push ups and sit ups which allowed me to continue training in this style without fatiguing.

With this style of training, I was able to work up to a bodyweight bench of 150lbs on a standard bar/bench early into the school year.

Lessons Learned:

-Fear of overtraining is way overstated
 -Rapid adaptation permits for frequent training
-A base of bodyweight exercises is an amazing foundation for training
-You can get strong training the “wrong” way when you are green enough

Next, I will discuss training at the high school weight room and my experiences in wrestling in high school

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013


We all have days where our schedules have fallen apart.  Something we planned to spend 5 minutes on ends up taking 2 hours, the alarm clock never goes off, we hit a hitchhiker on the road and ended up having to bury their body with 5 of our friends and then spend the afternoon rehearsing our story so that, when the cops question us, the details all line up, what have you.

"Man, today was squat day"

In these times, some may feel compelled to just skip training, putting it off for another day, and considering this an unscheduled “rest day”.  However, there are other ways to cope with lost time, in the form of improving the efficiency of your training.  One must keep in mind that this is ultimately a salvage operation, and not an attempt at the most optimal way to train, but with some tweaks, one can still manage a very effective training session.

Many of the strategies I have developed for this situation are extracted from programs like 20 Rep Squats and Dogg Crapp, where the idea is to cram as much intensity and volume one can in a very short amount of time.  These programs and the strategies they employ are very taxing on the body, and tend to require a rotation out of training in order to maintain one’s ability to recover, but used sporadically to damage control inadequate training time, they can be a boon.
Introductions aside, I will now discuss some of my favorite strategies.

The name of the game when it comes to a salvage workout is getting the most bang for your buck.  This means cutting out the stuff that isn’t immediately valuable to your ability to get stronger.  Prehab/rehab work is going to have to be saved for another time, now is the time to just get stronger.  Additionally, the work you do keep is going to be pretty limited.  After the heavy/prime movement for the day, you’re pretty much going to hit single sets of your assistance/supplement work.  However, just because you are doing one set doesn’t mean it can’t be one badass set, and that is where the following strategies come into play.

This is one of the classic tools of volume manipulation.  Joseph Hise made use of it with 20 rep squats, and Dante has built big men using these principles.  The idea is simple to execute.  Rather than taking 2-5 minutes between sets and waiting to recover completely from your efforts, take 12-15 deep breaths and then start your next “set”.  You will not be able to do as many reps as you had previously, but should still be able to eek out a few more.  Using 2-4 rest pauses with one weight is a great way to still get in some heavy volume with your assistance work in a much shorter amount of time, while completely blitzing the muscles involved.  If you are not used to short rest times, you will feel like you got hit by a train the next morning.  You’re going to want to use a weight that you can get at least 8 reps on in the first “set” here in order to be able to get any sort of meaningful reps in on later work.

This is going to work in a similar fashion as the rest pause, but you should manage to get some more reps into your lifts at the expense of less weight.  Again, set up for a weight you can hit about 8 reps for.  Once you hit your set, take some weight off the bar, and then start your next set.  Continue until you can’t.  Matt Kroczaleski hit an immortal set of these in his 40 rep squat video.

Using a similar protocol as this, you can achieve similar results (mainly of being on the floor and wanting to puke).  The set moves quickly, while still giving you a ton of muscle and strength producing volume.

Supersets and circuits are another great way to get in all of your work in a fraction of the time, but require either a home gym set up or a very forgiving commercial environment.  Instead of training 1 movement for multiple sets with rest in between each set, you will move from movement to movement in your training.  This can either be done with opposing movements (like bench and chins) or movements that recruit similar muscle groups (squats to glute ham raises to reverse hypers).  If you choose the latter option, note that doing the smaller/isolation work first will limit your ability to use heavier weights for the compound movements, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Dante and John Meadows both have great success with this approach, and some may consider it a form of “pre-exhaust), while using the heavy work first means that the isolation work is more of a “finishing” movement, meant to really pump the bodypart to the extreme.  You can combine this approach with the above mentioned methods to get an insane amount of volume and intensity in a very short period of time.

Though this isn’t something done in a single set, it can still be accomplished rather quickly.  With this approach, instead of training a weighted compound movement, I’ll pick something bodyweight like chin ups, dips, or glute ham raises.  From there, I’ll set a rep total to reach (like 100 reps) with a goal to accomplish it as quickly as possible.  This will get you a great deal of volume while still keeping an eye on the clock, and the lack of weight will also be easier on the joints, allowing you to take some time to recover from your more brutal sessions.

Alternatively, you can portion out your training for a certain movement by time, and work to see how many reps you can accomplish in this period.  If you can only spare 5 minutes of training, then see how many reps you can possibly accomplish in this time.  If you are uncreative and looking for an insane conditioning program, apply the tabata protocol to a compound movement.  This will not only improve your heart rate and get in some volume, but will also teach you how comfortable the gym floor can feel.

Hopefully, with these strategies, you can make the most out of a bad situation.  Whenever I am short on time, I make sure to at least get in 1 assistance/supplemental exercise on top of my primary work by using one of these methods.  You may even be able to regularly utilize them in your training, but remember that they are brutal and intense, and regular use may require some heavy eating and sleeping to facilitate.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


The following is essentially stream of consciousness.  Just wanted to capture some thoughts going through my head in the wake of my first strongman contest.

I in no way am claiming any sort of mastery of strongman, given my extensive 1 competition a week ago, nor am I a powerlifting guru, but now that I have experienced both sports in some capacity, I felt it was time to reflect on how my powerlifting training benefitted my strongman experience, and other thoughts on the two sports.  (If you missed my write-up on my strongman competition experience, it was the post prior to this one, along with a video.  Give it a review to see where I am coming from.)


The thing that sticks out in my head the most is the atlas stones.  Grabbing the stone during the event was literally the first time I had ever handled a stone, and after about 3 repetitions I got a feel for the movement and was able to really move with the stone.  I ended up tying for first place in the event with someone with far more strongman experience than I, and I know that, had I had the technique figured out to start with, I could have gotten at least 2 more reps in the time frame.

I read a lot of advice for how to train for the stones if you don’t have access, and the two biggest movements I saw mentioned were front squats and zercher squats.  The argument was that these 2 movements replicated the movement patter of the stones, as the weight was in front of you, and with zerchers, cradled in your arm, like the stones.  However, from my experience, another great movement to train for the stones is safety squat bar squats.

Though you aren’t holding the weight in front of you, the stress on your upper back when loading the stone is incredibly similar to what you feel when coming up from the bottom of a safety squat bar squat.  The weight is trying to throw you forward and crush your shoulders into your thighs the entire time you squat, and you have to actively fight and resist the movement, but the same way that the stone is trying to pull you forward while you are doing your back to arch up and out of the bottom of the load.  I know that, as I was loading the stone and learned how to perform the load in one movement rather than 2 (lapping and loading the stone versus simply picking it up off the floor and loading it), that the movement pattern I was executing felt exactly like the thousands of safety squat bar squats I had performed in the past.


This ultimately takes me to my next point, which is that, as far as squatting for strongman goes, I can’t see much need for a straight bar, whereas I think the safety squat bar is invaluable.  Truth be told, I don’t just hold this opinion for strongman, but in general.  If a gun were held to my head and I was told I could only pick one squat to do for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t even hesitate to pick the safety squat bar squat.

"I suppose a reverse hyper would be out of the question?"

In terms of strongman though, I will list some of the chief benefits of the movement as I understand the sport.

1:  The SSB is a deadlift builder.  Louie Simmons was quoted as saying that it should be called the deadlift squat bar, and I couldn’t agree more.  Because of the stress on the upper back one endures while using the weight, you not only train to drive with your legs to move a heavy load, but to stabilize your upperback as well.  Having a bulletproof upperback on deads means that the weight never rounds your shoulders forward against your own volition, and that you will be able to recruit your lats and drive with your legs while exerting all of your force against the bar.  Additionally, your hip drive will be far more powerful, simply because having the bar in the correct position via your static upper back strength means that you will be able to drive your hips into the bar much earlier into the deadlift, rather than having to keep pulling the weight with your upper back all the way to lockout.

Given the fact that almost every strongman competition will have some sort of deadlift event, I would say that this tool is invaluable for a strongman competitor in this regard.

What a great sport

2:  As I mentioned above, the Atlas stones benefit greatly from use of the safety squat bar.  Additionally, because of its upperback building potential, I would imagine even more events would benefit from it’s training.  Farmer’s walks require a strong upperback, as does the yoke walk, dragging, etc.  Even if an event does not mimic the mechanics of the squat itself, the muscles the movement recruits and the strength it develops has some great carryover.

3:  There are limited squat events in strongman.  Not to say that there are not any (and truth be told, they are one of my favorite events to watch, such as this one, but simply that, compared to the deadlift, there is a far greater chance of there not being a squat event in a competition than there being one.  Jim Wendler spoke of how the safety squat bar squat mechanic isn’t like the straight bar squat, in that it is less technical, and you can simply brute strength your way out of the hole with limited technique.  I have experienced this first hand when I abstained from straight bar squatting for almost a full year and exclusively used the safety squat bar.  It is very easy to let your upper back fall forward only to “catch” it with the SSB, whereas a straight bar will roll off your back and try to take your head off.

All of the above having been said, I feel this only further solidifies the need to SSB squat as a strongman.  The time invested in straight bar squatting has limited return on competition success.  Few events require prowess on straight bar squatting as a technique, whereas many events necessitate strong legs, which either movement pattern can develop, and a strong upperback, which the SSB shines at.  I feel that the brute leg strength that is developed from the SSB, though not as technically sound as with a straight bar, will also carry over to squat based events, should the need arise.  The only confounding variable I can foresee here is if one trains the squat to improve their Olympic lifts, and in turn trains their Olympic lifts to become a better strongman.  Given my limited exposure to all Olympic lifting and powerlifting background, I cannot wager much comment on this issue, and would instead actually invite others to chime in with their on experiences.  This in turn leads me to my next area of focus.


Here, I make no recommendations, but more share my experiences.  I have spent a lot of time refining my deadlift technique for the sake of taking advantage of my proportions.  My technique focuses on keeping the bar very close, keep my feet close together, rolling the bar towards my body, and many other mechanical considerations based around minimizing movement away from the body and keeping the bar close.  When I attempted to clean, these mechanics were greatly disadvantageous, and prevented me from being able to shoulder a weight.  I needed to start with the bar much further in front of me, get my weight forward, and explode upward rather than backward.

This became an area of concern come competition day, as my body would naturally default to the deadlift (what it had more experience with) whenever I attempted to clean, due to the relatively similar starting natures of either lift.  It in turn begs the question of how to address this.  My concern is that, were I to invest a great deal of time improving my clean technique, it would in turn override my body’s instincts for deadlifting.  Somehow, Koklyaev manages to not only have impressive Olympic lifts, but a 900+lb deadlift as well, which means to me that he is either able to discern the difference when he lifts or he simply uses his Olympic lifting technique to pull a massive deadlift.

I have never loved and envied one person so much at one time

I am wondering if perhaps the solution would be something as simple as wearing weightlifting shoes when I clean and chucks when I deadlift, so that the signal for the movement pattern difference is present before the lift even starts.  Curious to hear any input on this.

This is already a lot to digest, so I will let it marinade for now and come back to it next week.