Saturday, August 24, 2013


I started lifting at the age of 14.  My whole life I had wanted to lift, but I heard that you shouldn't lift before you turn 13 because it could stunt your growth.  I learned later that all of that was bunk, and wish I had known that beforehand so I could have spent many more years making progress.  The intent of this post is to explore other facts I wish I had known back then, and what I would tell my 14 year old self now if given the opportunity to shape my future.  I realize I am not the first to write in this style, and make no claims that this will be original, and also understand that many of the things I am saying here are personal and may not apply to you.  However, if you have a new lifter in your life, maybe remembering those things you wish you knew could help set them on the right path as well.

1: Start squatting and deadlifting

Your coaches have lied to you.  Squatting and deadlifting are not unsafe exercises, squatting and deadlifting like an idiot is what is unsafe.

If you didn't see this picture coming, shame on you

You aren’t moving heavy enough poundages to worry about getting injured, and learning proper form now will make it so that you can stay safe and strong for years.  These movements are the money makers and gamechangers, and if you get good at them, you will become unstoppable in your sports and get bigger and stronger.  Right now, all you’re doing is benching and curling, and its making you look like an asshole.  It’s also why you aren’t doing so well in wrestling (along with the fact that you’re an uncoordinated goon, but let’s focus on strength here, because I can’t work miracles).  Very few people do these movements, which means you will stand out, but it will be in a good way, and the sooner you start, the stronger you’ll get in the future.

2: Eat some damn vegetables

Before you ask, no, these don't count

You’re eating like a kid, and it’s stupid and holding you back.  You’re getting too fixated on “protein and carbs” that you aren’t thinking of micronutrients and fiber.  Just because you eat a lot of meat and limit grains doesn’t mean you’re eating effectively, because all you’re thinking of is in terms of meat and bread.  Veggies will get some good stuff in you, fill you up, and help your physique.  You’ll also feel better in general after you start eating them regularly.  It doesn’t matter if you like them, just eat them.  If you need to, distract yourself by watching TV while you eat.  Fat people put away entire bags of chips without even noticing it with this approach, so it works with veggies too.

3: Do an assload of chin ups

You just lost a bunch of weight, which is great, because it means you can finally do chin ups.  Now you need to do 50 of them.

It doesn’t have to be all in one set, but get the volume in every time you workout.  Stop worrying about “overtraining”, you aren’t working that hard.  The upperback soaks up volume like a sponge, and the more of these you do, the better, bigger and stronger you will get.  This is one of the greatest movements you could do for both your physique and athleticism, and by getting good at them now, you will get amazing at them later.  Chin up skill is a terrible thing to let diminish, so stay current with them and you’ll be fine.  Stop stressing about which grip is best too, use them all.  Pull ups, chin ups, angled grips, close grip, whatever.  Use wide grip sparingly though, because your right shoulder sucks.

4: Keep up the conditioning, but limit the running/you can't outtrain your diet

You’re running 8 miles a day these days, and it’s just silly.  You think it’s getting you in better shape for wrestling, but honestly, you’re doing it because you think you can get a six pack from running a whole bunch.  Fat loss is about diet, not exercise, and if you really want to lose some fat, eat more veggies and meat and limit your gains and starches.  If you actually want to get better at wrestling, wrestle more.  If you can’t do that, look more for high intensity conditioning.  Sprints are great, same with circuit training and applying the tabata protocol to different lifts (squats, floor to overhead, etc).  You only wrestle for 3 two minute periods: an hour of running is not going to simulate a match.  Also, the more you improve your conditioning and general fitness, the harder you can lift, which in turn benefits your conditioning, it’s a great cycle.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Today I am going to discuss an idea that I call “life sucks training”.  I am not the first to come up with such an idea, but I can at least offer my own impression, interpretation and experiences with the notion.

The premise of this type of training is simple: the goal is to train one to endure hardships.  I am a firm believer in all training having a purpose, whether it be to make one bigger, stronger, faster, more agile, etc, and this type of training is no exception.  The key difference here is that, whereas the previous purposes for training are accomplished through a long period of consistent training, the benefit of “life sucks training” (LST) occurs within the training itself.  When engaging in LST, your goal is to simply purposefully put yourself in a disadvantageous position so you can learn how to overcome adversity, and in doing so develop the skillset necessary to overcome adversity in both competition and throughout life.

"You know guys, maybe Vietnam wouldn't be so bad"

Examples of this type of training would be training in extreme temperatures (below freezing or above 100 for instance), very high rep work with compound movements/massive heavy drop sets (reference Matt Kroczaleski’s 40 rep squats), sled drags combined with heavy carries, or pretty much any other way you can find to exit your comfort zone and really push yourself beyond your limits.  Additionally, using/modifying equipment can go a long way here as well.  The safety squat bar in and of itself sucks, throwing bands on it makes it really suck.

What is key here is that you have to willfully subject yourself to this type of training.  Yes, there is benefit to being thrown into the water and learning how to swim, but it takes a special kind of insanity to perform the jump yourself knowing full well you lack the tools to survive.  You are in effect teaching your body to fear your mind, letting it know full well that you are lacking in self-preservation instincts and that, if it wants to survive, it needs to step up its game.  Like mothers that lift cars off of their children, you will learn how to tap into resources that lie dormant inside of you which require a great degree of stimulus to be activated.  The cycle that develops here is that, as you continue to push your body, you come to better learn its capabilities, which in turn allow you to push it to even greater extremes due to your increased confidence in your ability.

Consider this a good goal to work toward

The additional benefit of LST is that, by making your training miserable, you make competition a breeze.  Like football players that run 2 a day practices in full pads without water breaks on hot days, by suffering in training, you excel when it comes time to perform the “easy” task of competing.  If you have been demolishing your upperback and remainder of your posterior chain with high rep safety squat bar box squats against bands and chains in -30 degree weather, there is no chance that you will fall forward performing a single with a barbell in a well heated gym for a competition.

It must be noted that, again, the intent of this training is purely to build mental and physical fortitude, not strength, size, or athleticism.  As such, it cannot be your primary means of training, nor should your primary goals be sacrificed to accomplish LST.  This is not an everyday thing, or even an every week thing, but more just another tool in the toolbox.  I will say that, if you cannot perform LST at all without causing your primary goals to suffer, your conditioning needs work, and thus it may be time to focus on that and in turn make your life suck through conditioning work.  Otherwise, do not make the mistake of other masochistic training who seek pain as some sort of affirmation of success.  Take this for what it is: a lesson in overcoming adversity to accomplish an even bigger goal.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Before I begin, I want to note that all I am offering here in my perspective, not advice.  I am not medically trained or certified, and truth be told I have embraced medical ignorance as a form of liberation to train without worry.  What I don’t know can’t hurt me, but it can definitely hurt you.  Follow what I say here at your own risk.

Ominous warning aside, let’s discuss the taboo of training while injured.  Modern medical advice is to employ the RICE principle (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to address injures.  2 big flaws here: the first being that the first time someone told me “RICE” when I said I was injured, I put on about 20lbs from eating way too much Panda Express, thinking that would solve my problems, but the more substantial one is the fact that the medical community isn’t interested in making you stronger.  Health is about maintaining your body’s status quo, while getting stronger is about performing the unnatural to force your body to conform to your will.  

Have you ever seen anything more healthy than this?

The pursuit of strength is not a healthy one, and likewise, the pursuit of health does not make you stronger.  We read time and again studies that confirm that reduced calorie diets promote longevity, and how maintaining a lighter bodyweight means having a longer lifespan (along with better joint health), but we also know that attempting to follow these protocols will not make us stronger.  We have to make our peace with the fact that, to get stronger, we’re going to need to get unhealthy, and if we aren’t willing to make that sacrifice, we will never be great.

Once we come to terms with this reality though, we are now able to still progress even while injured.  Those worried about health will employ RICE, lay on their backs for months, and come back to the gym and still be hurt because not training made them weak.  This is basic logic at work here, as you will not gain strength from avoiding training, but it seems to elude many trainees.  Many are in fact shocked to discover that, after days, weeks, or even months of not training, their previous injury still exists and it still hurts them to train.  You cannot wish yourself stronger or better, leave this for faith healers and charlatans.

By the power of the Lord Jesus, I cast out the demons of weak grip.  Dropped deadlifts be gone!

To actually become stronger while injured, it becomes necessary to assess what your capabilities are.  Injuries tend to only partially limit your ability, as those injuries which 100% limit your ability to perform are generally referred to as “paralysis” rather than “injury”.  If, for example, you badly pulled your hamstring, you may find that the pain does not manifest itself until you are about 3 inches above depth.  This means that the ROM prior to this point is still trainable, for you are not experiencing any sort of pain in this location.  This calls into place a need to train partial ROM work, which also necessitates very heavy loading, due to the fact that the decreased ROM means you can handle more weight.  This is a positive, because this will be your chance to develop strength in the injured limb along with the motor pattern of your lift.  In the case of the squat, it would mean suspending the bar with chains or pins and performing partial ROM squats, while deadlifts would mean mat, block or rack pulls.  Creativity is key here, just know that the goal is to ensure that you are still training hard and heavy with as much ROM as your injury will permit.

To compliment your heavy partial work, it is necessary to also include full ROM training while injured.  The key here though is that the loading will be minimal, as the goal is just to get blood flow and maintain function in the injured part rather than actively train it to get stronger.  Bodyweight work goes a long way here, as do reverse bands/chains.  Basically, being able to lighten the load at the injured portion of the ROM while still loading the injured part will go a long way in aiding your recovery and improving your strength.  Going with the above referenced hamstring example, reverse band squats would go a long way here, especially if you choke the bands to the point that you have almost zero loading at the injured portion while experiencing heavy loading at the top.

Creativity is also key when it comes to training injured.  Sometimes, our staple movements are no longer an option due to the nature of the injury.  The key principle to remember here is that training is better than not training when it comes to getting stronger, and sometimes sacrifices need to be made.  If the choice is between leg press or nothing, pick leg press.  If you have 1 arm in a cast, train the other arm.  Machines are a blessing here, as are specialty barbells like the safety squat bar, cambered/buffalo bar, swiss bar, etc.  One of the best things about being injured is that your gameplan has gone to shit, which means it’s impossible to make mistakes in your training.  You are free to experiment and find out what works for you, and sometimes you may discover something that will carryover into your non-injured training.  When in doubt, work it out.

Not pictured: Excuses

The point of this method isn’t to be painfree, but to still get stronger.  Realistically, you will still encounter pain, both in and out of training, while utilizing this method.  In some cases, the pain will eventually go away, and you will be stronger when you return to the gym uninjured.  In other cases, the pain will persist, but you will be used to it and still be able to get bigger and stronger.  It is up to you to decide how much you will put up with, but know that the potential to get stronger is always there.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


I constantly lament the negative qualities of the internet as it pertains to training, and this is no exception.  In and of itself, comparing yourself to others is not a sin.  Whether it’s a training partner or a youtube phenom, viewing your own progress in terms of others can be a helpful measuring stick to see if you’re on the right path or if you’ve made some sort of terrible mistake.  However, this can become negative when you simply resent other trainees rather than learn from them.  Envy can force you to justify your own failings through the success of others, making claims about how you can’t possibly succeed because you don’t have the genetics, drugs, food, free time, trainers, etc, of the more successful.  Through envy, you make yourself weaker and unable to grow.

"Big deal, I could've done that too if I was born in a rural farming town in Austria after losing the second world war while having to sneak away from my job in the armor division to illegally compete in bodybuilding before moving to the United States with no money and limited English speaking skills."

We all have disadvantages.  Again, if you did not have these, you would not be reading this, because lifting would come easy to you and require no research.  Our flaws make us human, and are an excellent opportunity to learn how to overcome diversity.  That last part is the key though.  You cannot let your limitations define you, but instead be just one more opportunity to prove yourself.  For every guy who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth, there is some guy sleeping 4 hours a day, working 12 hour days, raising 3 kids as a single dad and still crushing records.  Honestly, if you want to compare yourself, shoot for that latter guy, because his dedication and passion will put you to shame and hopefully inspire you to greatness.

So let’s start with the obvious: some people won’t work hard, if at all.  Man by nature is lazy, and wants to put in the minimal effort whenever possible.  We see this manifest itself in many ways with training and diet.  Some folks refuse to put any effort into either affair, simply not exercising and eating whatever they want, whenever they want.  Some people are only willing to put in the bare minimum, cranking out a few push-ups here and there and ordering the chicken sandwich at McDonalds instead of the Big Mac.  Then, of course, we have the optimizers (which I spoke of in an early post on optimization), who find the notion of wasted effort so morally offensive that they refuse to put in an additional ounce of effort unless it can be proven to give them the maximal result.  Though efficiency is admirable, the refusal to step outside one’s optimized comfort zone prevents one from being able to learn through experience with trial and error.

However, there exists a less obvious form of sloth, the special kind of lazy wherein one spends more effort to achieve less results due to willful ignorance.  I am speaking of those that simply refuse to do any research on either diet or training.  We live in an era wherein information is available at an unfathomable level.  No longer is it the case that the only way to learn about lifting was to seek out a mentor at a gym and hope he knows what he is talking about.  Authors publish books that can be downloaded in an instant and contain tomes of knowledge the likes of which would have taken decades to accumulate in previous eras.  Why then, with all of these resources available, are we as a species in the worst shape that we have ever been?  Because no one is taking advantage of these assets.  We’re simply too lazy to do any research, because the rapid availability of the information has in turn diminished our attention spans to that of a ferret on triple espresso.  We feel entitled to instant knowledge, and the idea of having to work to obtain it is abhorrent.  As a result, people would rather spend hours in the gym, obtaining the instant gratification of physical fatigue while accomplishing none of their actual goals than spend an equal amount of time improving their knowledge on how to become a better trainee.  They are “all thrust and no vector”, going 100% in no direction because they refuse to take the time to actually learn how to improve.

I mean, to be fair, it was a GPS satellite, and it did find the Earth

The excuse always arises of how “there is so much out there, I don’t know where to start”.  Humbug, this is the mating call of the weak.  The easiest way to go about this is to research the author and see the accomplishments of themselves and their trainees.  If it matches your goal, you’re most likely good to go.  But even if one were to not do this, the reality is that the fundamentals of lifting are the same across most spectrums.  If you read enough, you’ll start to see the overlap.  Simple things like compound movements are good, conditioning is good, train the lower body along with the upper body, etc.  Do enough research and the puzzle pieces will come together.  Complain about how hard life is and you’ll have a physique that reflects your mentality.

The sin of lust in lifting is the pursuit of the sexy and exotic over the tried and true.  Many temptations exist in the realm of training that will distract from reaching ones goals.  New training methods, exercises, pieces of equipment, protocols, gyms, gurus, supplements, etc.  We know that the basics work, and that hammering them hard and diligently will yield results, but like an adulterer that abandons their spouse for someone new and exotic, the lustful trainee forsakes their progress for the sake of satiating their carnal desires.  Like a true adulterer as well, one new lover is never enough, and these trainees bounce from program to program, never settling down and picking one path.  This sinner engages in the sins of the flesh and in doing so loses out on true enlightenment and salvation, for they lose sight of the truth that rewards are not granted immediately to a penitent follower, but instead in the future.

No cool prizes fit inside a crackjack box, you have to save up some proof of purchases to really win big

You will not similarities between the outcomes of gluttony and lust, and this is because in reality they are essentially one in the same.  Both are about not being able to control one’s impulses for instant gratification.  It’s about losing sight of the big picture, and not being able to realize that sacrifices need to be made in order to achieve greatness.  I’ve said it a million times, but if this was easy, everyone would do it.  Success in training means being able to do what it takes to succeed, no matter how unsexy it may seem at the time.  Program hoppers simply spend too much time learning how to follow a program to be able to actually make progress on it, because by the time they’re actually ready to start progressing, they switch to a new protocol and start the whole process over again.

Children of the 80’s may have been raised to believe that greed is good, but the sin is still pervasive and destructive in training.  Gains are amazing, and the pursuit of them can become addictive, but in the pursuit it becomes possible for one’s greed to become destructive.  We witness this phenomenon when it comes to resting and deloading especially.  Trainees will be on a program that has established rest periods and deloading protocols, and when followed, they will succeed.  However, greed takes over, and a trainee feels that rest periods and deloads are time that could be better spent with more training.  So they skip their rest days and deloads for months on end, pushing and pushing, as their greed for gains consumes them, until they eventually end up overtrained, injured, and weaker than they started.
We know that getting stronger is not just about the time spent in the gym.  Eating and recovering are just as essential to the process.  Our logical minds are aware of this, but our emotions and impulses are not rational.  They can feel the “getting stronger” sensation when one trains, and thus our irrational minds become consumed with greed and decide that we need to forsake our time “wasted” on resting so that we can keep rolling with the getting stronger portion of the equation.


The big picture is the overall moral of this story, and it does not change here.  We need to realize that all of the pieces of getting stronger fit together in an equation, and if we overemphasize one at the expense of the other, we will not make the gains we desire.  Skipping deloads and rests so that we can lift more weights does not benefit us in the grand scheme of things.  No matter how weak it may make you feel to take a light week, the goal here is to be strong, not feel strong.  Sometimes being strong means doing prehab instead of setting a new 1rm, or taking a day off instead of a high volume day, or spending some time with our friends and loved ones to get our minds back in a good state for training.  Sometimes, it’s about recognizing that our greed is making us weak, and that moderation can result in strength.