Saturday, April 27, 2013


If you ever have experienced any degree of success in your life, you've most likely heard the phrase "you're so lucky".  It takes on many forms.

"You're so lucky!  You can eat whatever you want and not get fat."
"You're so lucky!  You can easily put on weight."
"You're so lucky!  You have access to a safety squat bar."
"You're so lucky!  You're getting trained by a highly regarded expert."

The madness needs to stop.  This is simply a passive aggressive means of making excuses while denying someone else's hard work and dedication.

My educational background exists in primarily in western political theory, so lets talk a little bit about Nicolo Machiavelli.  In "The Prince", Machiavelli addressed the notion of luck, or "fortune" as it applied to a new leader.  To summarize, Machiavelli said that fortune was a fickle mistress that only favored those that were able to adapt to its changing tides.  Those who remained stagnant would eventually be destroyed by their inability to adapt, while those that were flexible and capable to utilize any tactics necessary to meet with what the situation dictated would in turn flourish.  Machiavelli also extended the metaphor of fortune being a mistress to mean that, like a woman, it needed to be beat into submission.

You're on your own on this one Nick.

The point here being this: luck is a skill.  I realize the insanity of the words I am writing when I put them together in that order, but stick with me here.  Luck isn't just about random chance, it's about putting yourself in the best situation to be able to take advantage of that chance.  As an example, I want to win the lottery.  I think that would be just dandy.  However, I don't buy any tickets ever, and thus I am putting myself in a poor position to be lucky.

Seems simple right?  Well lets extrapolate it.  What's a good way to be lucky enough to have access to a safety squat bar?  Go out and buy one.  There are a ton of sites that sell them, from independent welders to high end dealers, to even sales on craigslist.  If you just stay at home at night and wish for your gym to buy one, your odds of being lucky are very slim, but if you force fortune to bend to your will by affecting the change you wish to see in your environment  you will become very lucky and have a safety squat bar.  If you can't afford one, make the small changes necessary to your budget to be able to eventually afford one (reduce money spent on drinking/coffee/fast food/other luxuries).  This strategy holds true with just about any piece of equipment.

Want to be lucky enough to have access to a highly regarded specialist?  Seek them out.  These days, many of these individuals can be accessed online, so it's even easier than ever.  Prior to that, in order to be so "lucky", you had to move to where these guys were in order to be able to be trained by them on a regular basis.  And those "lucky" individuals that were dedicated enough to take fortune into their own hands made this sacrifice in order to become the best, much like how you can seek out the aid of those greater than you and get their expert advice.

Want to be lucky enough to gain/lose weight at will?  Do the work in the kitchen.  Yes, some people were blessed genetically to be able to eat garbage all day and maintain a six pack, and some people can put on muscle by looking at a steak.  If you aren't these people, it's time to make your own luck.

"I don't understand why I can't lose weight.  I only eat one meal a day."

Know that once you spend enough time making your own luck, your ability to bend fortune to your will is going to appear so effortless that you will incur the envy of others that presuppose that you do not endure the same struggles that they do.  They will claim that you have superior genetics, that they wished they were lucky enough to have access to world class training, they would be big and strong too if they had enough time in the day to cook and eat, etc.  All this means is that you have succeeded, so congrats, you can't succeed without attracting haters.  Just know that if you catch yourself accusing others of luck, it may be time to step back, look inward, and wonder what it is you could be doing to make yourself more lucky.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Was watching this a little while ago

Definitely watch it if you get a chance.  Great video.
In it, Matt Kroczaleski says that training is "evolution, not revolution".  The idea being that you don't throw out the baby with the bathwater with your training, and instead of constantly changing everything, you use what works and throw out what doesn't.

This is a great philosophy, and one I am employing at present, but I would also expand to say that evolution cannot exist in the absence of revolution.  By this I mean that, if you are not afforded the luxury of excellent coaching and instruction from day 1, the road to getting bigger and stronger will instead be one paved with constant failure and half baked ideas.  The only way to know what works is to spend a lot of time finding out what doesn't work, and the only way to appreciate something working is to abandon it, spend time doing something that doesn't work, and then come back to it.

Your mileage may vary on potential retries

Without revolution, we're all doing 3 sets of 10 on some machine circuit.  Without revolution, we're all doing high reps for cutting, low reps for bulking.  Without revolution, we're all eating less fat to gain less fat.  The revolution doesn't just exist against conventional wisdom and dogma though, as there are many concepts that work for everyone, have tons of scientific backing and anecdotal evidence, and still just plain will not work for you.  You have to stop banging your head against the wall with this stuff and just revolt.

Like many revolutions, not everyone can be a leader.  Some must be followers.  Additionally, like many revolutions, some leaders are genuine, and some are crackpots.  If you have no knowledge or experience, you may find yourself following the latter, but having someone doing the thinking for you at least absolves you of your sins and gives you some manner of structure to utilize, which also makes it easier for you to discover principles that work and principles that don't.  You may also be fortunate and accidentally follow someone that knows what they are talking about, and be able to make some great gains along the way.

This guy seems legit

The crux of this revolution is that you have to not be afraid to fail.  Many trainees are so absolutely paralyzed by fear of doing something wrong that they simply stagnate for years and make no progress.  Tell me, is this not, in and of itself, total failure?  When nothing is working, what harm is there in going completely off the reservation and trying something that "doesn't work"?  In all honestly, failure is liberating, as it means you are no longer confined to any paradigm.  When everything is broken, you owe loyalty to no program or protocol, and can start experimenting, learning and growing.  When something is working, you owe it to yourself to stick with it until it stops, as altering a working program is just silliness.

All this having been said, once an idea has been milled from the process of revolution, it becomes necessary to utilize this in the process of evolution.  We may all start as blank slates, just stumbling around in the dark with no guidance, but eventually we discover principles, ideas and concepts.  Eventually, one is able to assemble these ideas into some semblance of a training protocol, and it is from here that we exist in the realm of evolution.  We do not change everything all at once, but instead continue trucking along with what works and making minor adjustments as we go along.  You may consider these adjustments to perhaps be "mini-revolutions" within your evolutionary process, but you must keep in mind that it's all part of a bigger plan.  This is about keeping things in perspective, as in realizing that assistance work is there to assist the primary movements, and as long as the primary movements continue improving, what you are doing IS working.

When all else fails, try anything.  When everything works, change nothing.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Warning: This one is a pretty dry read, but it clears up what I see as a fundamental misunderstanding among trainees.

Anyone that follows my writing knows that I am big on the correct usage of specific language.  Many claim that what I argue are simple semantics, when the reality is that incorrect language breeds misunderstanding, which results in stagnation and eventually decline in a trainee.  It is due to this that I feel it is necessary for me to establish the difference between cardio and conditioning as I understand them, in terms of both what they are and how they are used.


"Cardio", when used as a verb, refers to the act of intentionally elevating one's heart rate through exercise for the purpose of improving their cardiovascular system.  It functions in language in a manner similar to "strength training".  There are various methods employed to accomplish this goal, to include jogging, walking, swimming, cycling, boxing, etc.  What movement one uses to get there isn't the concern, simply that one is able to get their heart pumping.

When used as a noun, cardio takes on a far more all encompassing meaning.  Whenever someone is physically exhausted from a task, they claim to need to work on their cardio.  When someone displays great endurance at a task, their superior cardio is applauded.  It is one of the first (and many times ONLY) answers given toward fat loss, and one of those things that HAS to be a part of every program.

It is here that the confusion starts and leads to poor training decision.  What many consider "cardio" the noun here is in fact conditioning.  Conditioning, as a noun, would mean the ability the engage in a specific activity for longer periods of time, along with be able to recover between training sessions from this activity.  For the discussion on lifting, it would mean your ability to recover between sets, in terms of both the time it takes to do so and how fully you are recovered.  Extrapolate this to other sports as applicable.  Running conditioning would make you able to run longer and recover better from runs, boxing conditioning means lasting for longer rounds, etc.

How could this confusion exist?  It's due to the fact that there is a presupposed direct carryover from any type of cardiovascular training to your "endurance".  This is because of a false notion that endurance is some sort of general quality an athlete possess, when in reality, it is very much dependent on the activity being performed.  The reality is, even if your cardiovascular system is very healthy and capable, it's ability to influence your training is limited to the ability of the rest of the systems involved in your activity.  If the local muscular endurance of the muscles involved in your activity is shit, your body will quit well before your heart, but the impact is still the same to the outside observer; you "gassed out".


This is why it becomes vital to employ "conditioning", the verb.  Though conditioning may have a similar impact to the cardiovascular system as "cardio", the reason why it does has a substantial benefit.  Whereas movement selection was inconsequential when it came to cardio, it is crucial when it comes to conditioning.  When one engages in conditioning, they utilize a movement that mimics the overall goal of the trainee or utilizes similar muscle groups.

As an example, for an aspiring powerlifter, sled drags, car pushes, kettlebell swings, prowler work, tire flips, etc, would all be great choices for conditioning.  They all heavily utilize the posterior chain, and many movements mimic the explosion or hip hinge found in the squat or deadlift.  They develop the local muscular endurance of the necessary muscles and also improve the cardiovascular system, effectively contributing to one's "endurance".  One of the other benefits of these specific selections is that they are concentric only, which means that your conditioning work is going to have limited negative impact on your recovery between workouts, as the eccentric is what is primarily responsible for muscle soreness.

With this understanding of the two terms, one understands how there is definitely a possibility for overlap of the two terms.  One can engage in cardio that is also conditioning work for a sport, with a runner going on a run being an obvious example.  One can also perform conditioning work that has a cardiovascular benefit, with the prowler being a great way to elevate your heart rate.  The difference exists in the intent of the trainee.  If you are trying to improve your endurance as it applied to lifting and go for a run, you've pretty much failed.   This is why the concise usage of proper language becomes imperative to improve performance, and why it's also vital for one to get their mentality correct regarding their training and goals to be able to make the correct decisions on what to implement.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Do you have a video that gets you amped to go to the gym?  A go to music track you gotta blast before you walk in the doors?  A pre-workout concoction that is guaranteed to make you want to smash some weights?


"I thought it seemed obvious"

Is training such a miserable experience that you need to psyche yourself up to do it?  Is the reward of being stronger and better not enough motivation?  Is getting you to the gym like getting a kid to eat their veggies, requiring many gimmicks and theatrics?

I'm not here to judge, simply to wonder.  I cannot pretend to understand your experience or perspective, but instead just offer up my own.  I don't like to train.  It's not something I would willingly do.  If given the choice between training and a hot dog eating contest, the hot dogs win every time.

Pictured: My Id

Why do I train then?  Because I want to be strong.  It is the thing I live for.  My first coherent memories as a child are of wanting to be strong.  I grew up hearing stories of men with great strength overcoming adversity and fighting off monsters, watched movies where a strong man was able to fight off many attackers and accomplish great feats, and played games where I could be the strongest being possible.  If I had 3 wishes, I'd wish to be the strongest being to ever exist 3 times.  It's what I want.

I have a goal, and this goal IS the motivation.  Training is the method, and I employ it to reach my goal.  If I need motivation to train, it means I have picked the wrong goal.  You have to want this bad enough that you are willing to suffer the adversity necessary to obtain it.  If the goal isn't worthy enough, it's simply going to be a chore.

This is why concrete goals are necessary for training.  New Year's resolutions folks that just want to "get in shape" fade away, because there is nothing to chase.  If "being in shape" really was your life's purpose, you wouldn't be out of shape in the first place, so it's clearly not a high priority.

Now, is my goal of simply "being strong" a clearly defined goal?  No, but it is a driving force and motivating factor.  Instead, I have picked a concrete goal that, in obtaining, will make me strong.  For me personally, I want to deadlift 800lbs.  If I can do this, I will have reached a level of strength that I consider "inhuman".  That said, I imagine that once I accomplish this, I will still not feel that I have become "strong", and will set another absurd goal.

"Mind if I work in?"

Powerlifting is also beneficial in this capacity.  When I have a meet on the horizon, I am in very good shape.  At my most recent meet, I was walking around with a full set of abs.  Without a meet in my future, I have allowed myself to get soft.  Being honest with myself, I don't want abs bad enough to do what it takes to always have them, but when I have the opportunity to crush records, I will do what it takes, which means eating nothing but ground beef and mixed veggies and passing up the pizza and desserts whenever they are offered to me.  And every time I passed up eating something delicious, I told myself "this is what a record breaking total tastes like".  That, in and of itself, was enough to keep me going.

Is it for you?