Sunday, December 29, 2013


This took me a long time to figure out, and it’s something I wish someone had explained to me when I first started.  The whole point of assistance work is to assist the development of a lift.  This means that, if the lift you are interested in improving has improved, your assistance work is working.  Period.  If the lift is not improving, your assistance work is not working.  Period.

Stick with me here, I'm going somewhere with this

This seems obvious, but many times I have fallen into the trap of concerning myself with the growth of the assistance work itself, rather than its benefit to the primary lift.  If I was interested in improving my competition squat for powerlifting, I may pick squats as assistance work as well.  If I was squatting 5x10 after working up to a heavy single, I would monitor and track the weight progression of my assistance work.  If I “stalled” on my assistance work squats, I would start coming up with ways to break this “plateau”, and suddenly I was now basing my programming around making my assistance work increase, rather than actually focusing on the entire purpose of the program: to make my competition squat better.

You’ll note that I put the words “stall” and “plateau” in quotes in the above.  The reason is simple: these can’t actually happen with assistance work.  Not if you are employing it correctly.  With the entire point of assistance work being to assist a primary lift, it does not matter what direction the assistance work progression is going, only its impact on the primary lift.  If your assistance work weight is steadily increasing while your primary lift stalls or regresses, your assistance work is failing to perform its mission.  If, however, your assistance work is not increasing in weight, or even regressing, while your primary lift increases, your assistance work is working, and nothing should be changed.

The primary variable playing into assistance work stupidity is not having a clearly defined and accepted goal.  In terms of the former, it requires a final destination in mind before starting on the journey.  Are we here to create a bigger squat, bigger muscles, faster run time, whatever.  If nothing is concrete, we have no way to know if our assistance work is working, because it is assisting nothing.  It simply exists.

It does you no good to make the journey convenient if you end up going nowhere

In terms of the latter, it requires there to be some actual honesty with oneself in regards to the goal.  Do we really want a bigger squat, or is that just something we tell ourselves when really it’s all about having a bulging upper body?  Did we buy into the internet’s claim that the upper body is built by the squat, or are we too afraid to admit to being a little vain?  Not being honest with oneself means we won’t notice when we try to sneak stuff into the assistance work.  We may know that, to squat more, we have to perform the squat more frequently, but we also know that whenever we front squat it gives us a really sweet looking teardrop on the quad, and hey, maybe it’ll also make the squat go up.

"It really makes my deadlift go up, I swear!"

We like to believe that assistance work is scientific and specific and predictable and logical, but sometimes there is some sorcery at play.  Referencing my concept of “accidental strength” (which I have written a post on before if you which to search for it), it can sometimes be the case that we have weaknesses that we’ve never even thought to diagnose due to never putting ourselves into a position wherein they can be tested.  Assistance work that we can kick ass on ends up with our gains on the primary lift regressing, whereas performing assistance work we are terrible at may end up giving up tremendous gains, even with paltry weight and goofy technique.

It is because of this somewhat magical nature of assistance work that I find less thought to be of greater benefit than more thought.  Many times, in my own training, I will simply pick A movement to train for assistance work and hammer it hard after my primary lift.  If my primary lift keeps increasing, I will keep performing the assistance work.  If it does not, I will dump it.  Eventually, I may gather something of a “greatest hits” list of assistance work that I regularly cycle for one lift, but what is peculiar is that I rarely break previous “records” with these assistance lifts.  Looking through my training log, whenever I squat for assistance work, I regularly start my cycle at around 275lbs for 3-5 sets of 10, and tend to end up stopping at around 335.  I have done this for years, yet my squat single has continued to steadily increase, despite being in a “rut” for the assistance work.  It simply necessitates that I do not get hung up chasing numbers and records on the lifts that do not matter, and keep myself focused on what is actually important in my training.

The bottom line is this: assistance work is only as valuable as its ability to make your primary lift stronger.  Don’t train to be better at assisting, train to dominate.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


I generally don’t spend much time researching or discussing nutrition, but I have been asked enough times for a breakdown of how I eat that I thought I’d at least capture my thoughts for the present time.  Keep in mind, I am explaining what works for me, and purely from a performance level.  My concern is not eating for health and longevity, simply getting bigger and stronger.  I will also note that what I am going to write is going to be about my ideal approach, not my current one.  This is essentially how I ate when I was prepping for a powerlifting meet.  Since I am something of an off season at present, my diet is more relaxed than what I write here.


The overarching principles of how I eat are to get the majority of my calories from meat and vegetables while avoiding going into ketosis.  Pavel Tsastouline explained the first premise with his quote of “meat for strength, vegetables for health”, and the reason for avoiding ketosis is simply that I have not known anyone that achieved a high level of strength while being in ketosis.

If the goal is fat loss, I have found success by sticking primarily with a vegetable medley of carrots, cauliflower and broccoli and eating a lot of it in order to stay satiated without taking in much in terms of calories.  For weight gain, one could introduce some manner of potato (sweet or otherwise).  I’ve also enjoyed oatmeal as a carbohydrate source.


I am the type of person that can eat the same thing everyday for months on end, so there is little variety in my diet when it’s up to me to prepare my food.  My primary protein source is ground beef, but I will also cook pot roasts, chicken tenderloins, and steaks.  I enjoy eggs, but find I have to eat a ton of them to get satiated, and don’t enjoy the effort that goes in to making so many at once.  I know I should eat fish, but I just plain don’t.  I also drink 2 protein shakes a day, one first thing in the morning and one post training/dinner.  When I am losing weight, I use skim milk, when I am gaining weight, I use whole milk.

"Will it get me jacked?  What did the chicken total?"

For vegetables, I primarily buy frozen veggies.  I like vegetable medley of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, but if that’s not available, I go with frozen broccoli.  I’ll buy bagged salads if I’m feeling lazy and want to make a taco salad on occasions, but in general I keep things very simple.

I also aim for at least a gallon of water a day.  When training volume gets really heavy while food is light, I move up to 2 gallons, which helps me feel fuller longer.   I am a diet soda fiend as well, and find it’s helpful for variety and satisfying any sweet cravings, but I also and simply a caffeine addict.


Cooking does not need to be complicated.  Food simply must be safe to eat so that you can keep training and getting stronger.  It also doesn't take a long time to cook basic meals, and preparing food ahead of time will really shave off time invested.

3 basic tools you need in the kitchen are a good frying pain (or foreman grill), a slow cooker, and a corningware style dish that you can cover.  Chicken and pot roasts can be cooked in a slow cooker while you are at work/school and requires just a few minutes of prep, ground beef can be browned in a frying pain in about 8 minutes, and veggies can be cooked in the corningware dish in the microwave in about 5 minutes.  A meal takes almost no time to prep, while still being very filling and helpful for recovery/training.  If you want to get more complex than this, you are free to do so, but I survived in a hotel room for 2 months on a business trip using a foreman grill, slow cooker and corningware dish while still setting PRs in the weightroom.

You aren't Kali Muscle, don't even try.


MEAL: Pot Roast and veggies

1 pot roast (whatever size you want.  The bigger the roast, the more leftovers you have)
1 packet of onion soup mix
Mixed veggies (as much as you want.  You can’t overeat veggies)


Put pot roast in slow cooker.  Cover with water until at least top of roast is covered.  Throw in onion soup mix.  Set slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours.  You can either throw veggies in for the last 30 minutes or cook them in a corningware dish (mix in some water, cook covered for 2.5 minutes, stir veggies, then cook again covered for 2.5 minutes).

MEAL: Ground beef and veggies

Ground beef (at least 1lb.  Percentage is up to you.  I like 93% lean)
Mixed veggies (as above)
Taco seasoning (optional)


Brown ground beef in frying pan until there is no longer pink present.  You can make into patties if you desire.  Once beef is cooked, you can mix in taco seasoning for flavor, or eat plain.  Make veggies in microwave as detailed above.   If you want more condiments, I like sour cream and taco sauce, and cheese can be helpful for adding fats.

MEAL: Slow cooker chicken

Chicken (tenderloin or breasts)
1 jar of salsa or 1 can of tomato sauce
Mixed veggies (as above)


Like the pot roast, throw the chicken in the slow cooker, cover it either with salsa or tomato sauce (whatever you’re in the mood for) and let cook for 6-8 hours on low.  You can top with cheese for the last 20 minutes if you want to add some more flavor, and either let the veggies cook in the slow cooker or in the microwave, as detailed in the pot roast instructions.

Those are 3 very simple meals with few ingredients necessary, and a limitless amount of variations possible.  The slow cooker is an amazing tool for a busy trainee, because it makes huge meals with zero effort.  You can use it to hardboil eggs, make chili, cook ribs, make mashed potatoes, pretty much anything you can dream of.  Additionally, it makes cheap cuts of meat very tender and tasty, which will be great on your wallet.

Hopefully you’ll be able to gain something from the above.  It works for me, and the minimal amount of thinking/planning involved makes it easier to invest more time in training and getting stronger.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


In lifting, a common idea that gets promoted is that there is always one thing that will revolutionize one's training.  Some new supplement, or exercise, or adding a gallon of milk to one's diet, or eating more peanut butter, or a new mobility drill, or etc etc.  The common theme we witness is the premise that, all things being equal, it is the mere presence or absence of one thing that is the determinant of our end results.

"Dynamic inertia?  All this time my inertia has been non-dynamic, like some sort of chump."

This is of course a faulty premise.  Training is not simply a collection of parts frankeinsteined together into a regimen, but instead a harmonious blending of principles into a symphony.  The whole is not simply equal to the sum of all parts, but instead becomes greater due to the means in which all the individuals pieces compliment each other toward reaching the overall goal.  Arbitrarily adding or subtracting pieces of the puzzle results in a convoluted mess with minimal positive results.  All actions must be carefully weighed and measured.

The issue here is that the notion of consideration and thought being put into one's actions clashes with the instant gratification society that we have become, where everyone is a winner and we all get points for trying.  Rarely is it the case that one needs to invest a great deal of effort into any endeavor to reap satisfaction, and the idea of doing so appears morally offensive to us.  Where is the quick fix?  Where is our rapid solution?  Why can't I just do whatever I want and get my reward?

Perhaps this what they meant when they said getting into Med School was hard

Reality, however, refuses to bend to our will.  In reality, if you have a trainwreck of a program or diet, simply changing one variable will have minimal, if any, impact  If you only eat fast food, throwing a gallon of milk into the mix will just make you fatter.  If you are only doing jumping jacks and curls, occlusion training will only make your limbs fall asleep.  Adding a drop of ocean water into a swamp will not give you ideal surfing conditions, you need to have your foundation strong before you start focusing on minor variables.

Dan John spoke of how he told people not to ask him about nutritional supplements to improve their health if they weren't flossing, and it's a profound point.  So many people want to start focusing on the 1-2% variables rater than taking actions that have the most significant impact on their results.  Nothing exists in a vacuum, everything affects everything else, and you can't expect one variable to overcome the tyranny of all your poor choices.  Every action you take should have a reason behind it, and it should all support the entirety of your overall plan.  If you cannot justify an action and it's placement in your program, it should eliminated until you can.


While I have your attention, I'd like to note that this blog has been operational for one year, with me providing a new post at least once a week.  I am very pleased with the experience so far.  I may begin holding myself to a less strict timeline for the future, but I am pleased I was able to maintain the tempo for this long.  I will thank my small yet loyal readership for continuing to increase my pageviews each day, your visits mean a lot.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Going to take a moment now to document how I am currently training and create a template for others to follow.


Lots of different schools of thought have impacted how I train.  You will see elements of Pavel Tsastouline, Stuart McRobert, Randall Strossen, Paul Kelso, Steve Pulcinella, and Dave Tate/Louie Simmons in my training, but the two biggest influences at present are Bob Peoples/Paul Anderson’s range of motion progression training and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1.  If I were too quickly summarize my training, it would be ROM progression with 5/3/1 assistance work.

The training is divided into 4 different days: overhead press, squat, bench and deadlift (look familiar)?  As a powerlifter primarily with some dabbling in strongman, I have found these 4 lifts to be very beneficial in reaching my goals, and focusing on improving them to be key to making progress.  If one’s goals were a little more nebulous, I imagine you could use different movements than these, as long as they could follow ROM progression in their implementation.

Training follows 8 week waves.  You will train heavy for 7 weeks and then deload on the 8th week before starting the cycle over.


Each training day starts with the primary lift of the day.  At the start of the cycle, you will have the lift at a height such that it is 7 points higher than the bottom of the movement.

I realize that sounds confusing, so I will give an example.

EXAMPLE:  If you were using rubber patio pavers to elevate your deadlift, then at the start of the cycle you will have 6 patio pavers under the plates.  On week 2, you will have 5, week 3 will have 4, week 4 will have 3, week 5 will have 2, week 6 will have 1, week 7 will have 0 (deadlift from the floor), and then at week 8 you will deload by only training the assistance work before starting the whole thing over.  Ensure that you keep the weight on the bar the same each week.

(Note: When it comes to ROM progressing the other lifts, the most effective strategy I have found is suspending chains from the support beams of a power rack and then counting the amount of chain links I need to create the loop of chain needed to hold the bar at certain heights.  It’s as easy as moving 7 links up the chain at the start of the cycle and moving down to the bottom range of the movement.  For overhead pressing, I have to sit on a bench, but if you have a high power rack, you could most likely still do it standing.)

When it comes to picking a weight for each lift, start with something that you can hit double digit reps in at the start of the cycle.  Shoot for 10-12.  On your very first cycle, you may end up keeping the same amount of reps or even adding as you get close to the bottom, but with more cycles you will start to lose reps from start to finish, and having that kind of buffer will allow you to be able to complete a cycle.  After you finish a cycle, add 5-15lbs to the bar and start over.  On your second cycle, you may be able to get away with a bigger jump (I have gone as high as 25lbs moving from a 495lb deadlift for 10 reps), but after that it’s definitely going to get smaller and smaller.  Once you get to the point where you are only able to do 1-3 reps at the end of a cycle, reduce the weight on the bar by 10% and start over.

Additionally, I will note that, on the primary lift, start the movement from the bottom, but every other rep after the first is touch and go.  Rest pausing can be implemented to get more practice with breaking the weight from a dead stop (and I do this with deads especially), but they are not absolutely necessary.


After hitting the primary lift of the day, you will follow up with assistance work.  The point of the assistance work is to make that primary lift get stronger.  If your assistance lifts go down while your primary lift goes up, you are doing it right.  If your assistance lifts go up while your primary lift goes down, you are doing it wrong.  Keep your priorities straight and you’ll be fine.

You should pick assistance lifts that are improving weak points.  My generally philosophy is that if you hate something or are bad at it, you probably need to do it, whereas if you have a favorite assistance lift that you love to do and look forward to, it’s probably time to scrap it.

In terms of assistance lifts structure, I have a few preferences.  On my bench day, I like to follow up the primary lift with an overhead press variation, and on press day I use a bench variation.  On both squat and deadlift days, I use squat variations, as I find my squat needs more training to improve, while my deadlift requires minimal practice.  For the upper body work, I like to do 5 straight sets of 10 reps, whereas for lower body work I tend to do 3 sets of 10 and then strip the weight down for a widowmaker set of 20.  Additionally, the upper body work is done immediately following the primary lift, while the lower body work is performed at the end of the workout, ala Dogg Crapp/John Meadows training.  I find that, by saving the squats until the end, one can really give the movement their all while still pushing the assistance work hard.  When doing the squats first, the assistance work tends to get a very half hearted effort.

When it comes to upper back work, I find the back responds well to high volume, and try to get in a ton of reps by working my sets in between sets of everything else that day, to include warm-up sets.  The key is to perform sets of sub-maximal reps to stay fresh and avoid negatively impacting your performance on your other work.  Additionally, I am a big fan of using chin ups as my first movement of the day to warm-up.  I’ll do a massive set of them with 2 rest pauses and shoot for a rep goal.  Jim Wendler said that he did about 50-100 chin ups before he even touched a barbell with 5/3/1, and I think that’s a great approach to get in more volume and get warm for the day.

For example, on bench day, in between each warm-up and working set on bench and each set of overhead pressing, you can do a set of 5 chin ups, or a row variation, or band pull aparts, or even combine the movements into a quasi-circuit.  You can see how this can quickly add up to a good amount of volume, especially as you add more reps to the back movement performed between reps.

With the general explanation over, I’ll provide a template to follow.



-(Chain Suspended) Strict Press
1xAs Many As Possible

-Bench press variation

-Curl variation

-Lateral/Rear delt work

Pull up variation performed in between each set.  Consider setting a rep goal for the day and meeting it in the workout.


-(Chain Suspended) Squat

-Hamstring/lower back work

-Ab work

-Squat variation

I like to do a few sets of glute ham raises in between my warm-up sets for squats, but otherwise you can throw in some more hamstring/lower back work as needed.


-(Chain Suspended) Bench

-Overhead press variation

-Band pushdowns
100 reps

There are a few options with back work on this day.  You want to have some sort of row variation here.  You can either train it 5 sets of 10 like the overhead press, or train it in between sets of other work like the pull up variations.  Still keep the pull ups in here as well, and consider some band pull aparts too.  You can’t go too wrong with volume.


-Mat pull/deadlift (depending on time in cycle)

-Hamstring/lower back work

-Ab work

-Row variation
1x30-50 reps (Kroc Row style)

-Squat variation

Just like squats, I like to get in a few sets of GHRs on this day as well for extra volume.


When it comes to assistance movement variations, here are some of the one’s I’ve found to be most effective.

Bench Press Variation
Barbell bench press
Swiss bar bench press

Swiss bar floor press
Swiss bar incline press
Dumbbell bench press
Barbell bench press with chains
Barbell pause bench press

Overhead press variations
Barbell strict press
Swiss bar strict press
Seated dumbbell overhead press
Fat gripz barbell strict press

Axle strict press
Seated swiss bar strict press
Dead stop barbell strict press
Close grip barbell strict press

Squat variations
Barbell squat

Safety squat bar squat
Front squat
Barbell squat with chains
Safety squat bar squat with chains

Lower back/hamstring work variations
Glute ham raise
Reverse hyper

Kettlebell swings (I prefer hitting these either for max speed or a rep goal)
Hamstring curls

Ab work variations
Weighted GHR sit ups

Ab pulldowns
Ab wheel

Row variations
Meadows row
Dumbbell row

Kroc row
T-bar row

Pull up variations
Pull up
Chin up

Neutral grip chin up
V-handle chin up
Wide grip chin/pull up
Close grip chin/pull up

Rear/lateral delt work
Band pull aparts
Lateral raises

Seated dumbbell power cleans
Face pulls

Curl variations
Dumbbell curls
Barbell curls
Axle curls
Log curls
Swiss bar curls

Grenade ball curls
Cable curls

As a general note, when it comes to most assistance work, I rarely ever lock out the rep.  I see assistance work more for muscle building and working on sticking points rather than grooving competition form, so I will find the hardest part of the rep range and spend the majority of my time training within that part of the rep.  It is very beneficial for maintain time under tension for the muscle, and will tend to build up the parts you are weak on with a lift, which will pay off on your primary lifts.

The above mentioned is 4 days of lifting per week.  When it comes to conditioning, I try to fit it in whenever I can on non-lifting days.  I am a big fan of the tabata protocol for various movements, and tend to employ the protocol for a movement similar to one I trained the day before.  IE:  If yesterday I did heavy pressing, then today I’ll do tabata log clean and press.  If it was squat day, then I do tabata front squats.  If it was deadlift day, sled drags or famer’s walks.  I find this to be helpful in getting bloodflow to the area and speeding up recovery.

The key with this type of training is to pick a weight heavy enough to tax your but not so heavy that it’s impossible to lift for the last few rounds of the protocol.  You can’t go too light, as long as you make up for the light weight by trying to get in as many reps as possible in the 20 seconds.

Aside from tabata work, I like employing circuit training for conditioning.  Set a time limit, like 15 minutes, and pick a circuit that hits the full body.  I like KB swings, dips and chins, for 10/5/5 reps respectively.  Try to beat your previous records for number of rounds completed in the allotted time.

One other option is something lower in intensity, like walking or dragging a sled (not running with the sled, just dragging it).  This can help with recovery from heavy/brutal workouts and still keep one in decent shape.

I try to avoid having days with zero training performed.  The tabata protocol makes it easy to get in a quick, intense workout, and if you pick something like burpees, you don’t even need equipment.  More work capacity and GPP never hurt anyone.


And that’s how I train, for now at least.  If you choose to employ this method, leave a comment on this post if you have any questions, or just to update me on how the training is going for you.  If enough interest in generated, I can discuss my diet as well.