Sunday, November 24, 2013


Anytime a video of a big lift is posted, the same comments always follow.

“I would be more impressed if it was raw.”
“I would be more impressive if it was to depth.”
“I would be more impressed if he wasn't fat.”

"Big deal.  I bet he couldn't do that if he wasn't the World's Strongest Man."

What is the point of the comments?  How are they not simply stating what is blatantly obvious?  A thing that is more impressive is more impressive than a thing that is not as impressive?  Will wonders never cease?!

Know what else would be more impressive?  If the lift was performed on an upside down bosu ball.  Blind folded.  While covered in bees.  With no oxygen.  While being shot.

"Walking on nails.  NO!  Hot coals.  NO!  HOT NAILS!"

What does one possibly hope to accomplish by making these statements?  They are simply an ugly manifestation of envy, with pure jealous rage pouring over in each keystroke.  When one is unable to equal the accomplishments of another, rather than rising to the challenge, they take the easier route and seek to instead dismantle the worth of one’s accomplishment.  Rather than pursue the inhuman strength and dedication required to match the effort displayed (no matter WHAT the display may be), they remain mediocre and unaccomplished while desperately attempting to bring all those around them down to their own level.

What is the key premise behind these statements?  That I would be more impressed.  It is focused purely on the benefit of the viewer, as though the act of strength was specifically choreographed and performed for the sake of this one person.  It is as though the viewer envisions themselves some sort of Roman emperor, peering down upon an arena of gladiators and voicing his displeasure.  The lifter does not realize how fortunate they are that the viewer does not have the power to demand an execution, for it is all but guaranteed that the lifters fate would otherwise be sealed.

Shortly thereafter, they would retire to an evening of being hand fed hot pockets by slaves while sipping Mountain Dew from a chalice

Why do people willingly subject themselves to activities that they derive little pleasure in, if not purely for the sake of being able to voice their displeasure?  What compels one to sit through a video of a multiply powerlifter belting out a massive squat, only to then turn around and then say how much they despise multiply lifting?  Perhaps I value my freetime too much, but these days, I don’t find myself having enough time to watch all the things I enjoy, let alone being able to set aside time specifically to view that which I can’t stand.

Despite what you may think of him, when questioned on his critics, George Lucas said that, in this world, there are creators and there are destroyers.  When given the opportunity, George said he would rather continue to build and create the world that he envisioned rather than take down the works of others.  When presented the same choice, would you not feel the same?  Why dismantle when you can instead build?

I leave this post with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, a man who exemplifies the spirit of growth and free-spiritedness.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Among new trainees there is a notion that there exists some sort of bench marks that determine when a trainee is ready to employ a technique, machine, or piece of training equipment.  The idea is that there are things that are “basic” and things that are “advanced”, and you stick with the former when you are a beginner and use the latter when you have more experience.  Attempting to deviate from this path is a recipe for disaster.

Probably something like this

Bollocks.  This notion is held by those who are not big or strong, and are well on their way to ensuring that they will never reach either of those end goals.  There is no benefit in refraining from using a useful tool when there is an opportunity to benefit from its use.  There are no bonus points to be had from being “super raw” or “hardcore” or whatever, the only thing that matters is reaching the goal, and those that do whatever it takes to get there will reach it, while those who create imaginary limitations will not.

One of the most constantly observed instances of these self-imposed limitations comes from the discussing of training gear such as belts, wraps, and straps.  Trainees overthink these instruments so much.  If a beginner uses these things, it’s a crutch, and it’s all about avoiding weaknesses and someone making your weak points even weaker, but at the same time these people will say it’s ok for a very strong person to make use of this gear because they’ve “earned it”.  The connection is never drawn that they are observing a strong person implementing the very gear they claim makes people weaker, nor is the conclusion drawn that perhaps the use of this gear will aid in becoming bigger and stronger as well.

"Straps, belt, chains and touch and go?  Better go beltless, mixed grip and chalk with a deadstop each rep"

Training without these tools in the start of one’s training career is simply a matter of convention, not intentional programming of progression.  One does not start training with just the bar and a rack because that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but because that is the easiest and simplest way to begin training.  As such, it is not the case that one must stick with the bare necessities until they reach some imaginary milestone in their training that indicates they are ready for the “next level”, but instead should implement tools that aid in progression whenever and wherever it is needed.  It would be akin to wanting to work on your car, but instead of using modern tools, you feel it’s necessary to start the project with bone tools and rocks like your ancestors did, and only start using better tools once you’ve maxed out the capabilities of your primitive toolbox.

Although I imagine this is what tech support thinks I look like whenever I call them

Those that speak out against the usage of support gear talk to some imaginary scenario of needing to be strong without relying on the equipment.  They want to be ready to be strong at a moment’s notice, and speak to how they won’t “have their belt and straps in the real world.”  I ask these people, do you do zero warm-ups when you train?  When you walk into the gym, do you load up the weight on the bar to your working set right away, or do you do mobility drills and foam rolling and yoga and voodoo before you even touch a bar?  Do you think you’ll get this same chance “in the real world”?

Strong is strong.  Someone who is strong with a belt, straps and wraps is strong without them too, but they’re also ensuring that they can continue to get strong through their training.  In the end, one needs to remember that training is training, and no one cares how you train, only what the results are.  If you are preventing yourself from achieving those results because you don’t think you’re ready for it, you’re probably right.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Gaining access to the weight room at high school was definitely not the boon I should have treated it as.  When I played my one season of football, our coaches made sure to express to us how dangerous squatting and deadlifting was, and this lesson stuck with me my remaining 3 years in school.  Looking back, it was honestly just a convenient excuse for me to avoid hard work and looking weak.  Squatting and deadlifting were hard, while benching, curling and lat pulldowns weren’t.  Thus, even though I had been granted access to way more equipment than I had in my meager home gym, I was not doing much more for my growth.  I had at least started training my lats, with pulldowns, dumbbell rows, and chin ups, however, my understanding of body mechanics was still so poor that the majority of the training stimulus went to my arms instead of my back.

I had also taken this opportunity to join the wrestling team.  Having lost 20lbs between my freshman and sophomore year, the only thing I had going for me in football (my size) was now lost, whereas the journey that got me there meant that my strength and conditioning were coming along nicely, and I felt that these would be more beneficial in a weight class based sport.  Additionally, having years of what I thought was martial arts experience (Tae Kwon Do), I thought some of my skills would transfer over to the other sport.

Apparently no one had ever shown me this video

Wrestling was an immediate lesson in sport specificity and limited carryover.  I was running miles and miles a day prior to wrestling.  At one point, I had calculated that I ran 8 miles a day, every day, on top of weight training and martial arts, yet the first time I wrestled, I gassed hard.  Wrestling was an entirely different animal, and the only way to get better at it was to wrestle more.  But that is what I set out to do, and both on and off season diligently brought up my strength and conditioning.

On the topic of getting better at wrestling, my total lack of coordination shone through, as I definitely had no natural talent at wrestling.  I was terrible at it.  However, due to my dedication to lifting and conditioning, I was at least able to be in better shape than many others, both on my team and at meets/tournaments.  It basically boiled down to a strategy of holding on for dear life until the third round, at which point the other guy was gassed while I still had energy and strength, so I could finally manhandle them into a pin.  It was great when I could get this to work, but defending long enough until the third round was the challenge.

Pictured: My coach explaining to me that, if I was a better wrestler, I wouldn't have to look like this every match

One of the other valuable lessons I learned from wrestling was in time management.  Practices ran for 3 hours, and started a half hour after school ended.  Even though I was getting a lot of exercise from wrestling, I learned early in the season that, if I didn’t continue lifting, my strength would regress.  This meant that, as soon as school ended, I would immediately change into my workout clothes and hit the school weight room to get in my lifting before 3 hours of wrestling practice.  It was exhausting, and most likely counter-productive to becoming a good wrestler, but I learned that, if I wanted something bad enough, I’d make sacrifices for it.  It also meant that I spent the majority of my time in school doing the homework for the next day so that, when I got home from practice, I could eat a decent meal and relax/get a good amount of sleep rather than sacrificing recovery.  Time management was crucial, and it was all about becoming creative with it.

Also, the words “overtraining” never once entered my mind.  How could you possibly over train?  You needed to train longer and harder than the other guy if you wanted to beat him, that was just a fact, and the guys taking breaks because they didn’t want to “overtrain” were considered weak.

Additionally, wrestling taught me how to train on minimal food and some great tricks for cutting weight which paid off later in my powerlifting/strongman competitions.  The idea never crossed my mind that I could let my performance suffer simply because of how I was eating.  I was thankful for every meal I ate in season, but also knew not to expect it.  Again, a valuable lesson in mind over matter, knowing that the body is capable of way more than we give ourselves credit for.

If I had to do it all over again I’d make some changes.  I’d be a lot smarter in the weight room, and stick with some abbreviated training of squats, deads, dips, presses, chins and rows in season (low volume, high intensity, focusing on maximal strength) while letting my wrestling training take care of my conditioning work.  In the off season, I’d hit the assistance work and volume harder while also ramping up my GPP.  I think smarter movement selection in general would have gone a long way in making me a physically dominant wrestler, even if I did not have the skills to back it up.

Basically, something like this

IN SEASON (2-3 days a week, alternate each day)

Squats 3x5
Dips 3x5
Dumbbell row 4x10-12

Front squats 3x5
Overhead (push) press 3x5
Chins 4x10-12
Deadlift 1x5

And something more like 5/3/1 or WS4SB in the off season.

Lessons Learned:

Ultimately, wrestling was a very positive experience for me.  It was crucial in making me mentally tough, teaching me the value of outworking my opposition to compensate for a lack of skills, helping me continue to develop a very strong work capacity, and allowed me to get a better understanding of bodyweight manipulation.

In my next installment, I will discuss my foray into college/MMA

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I have addressed this topic in part many times throughout my writing/ranting, but it deserves its own topic.  Like many other variables in fitness, there is this belief that rep ranges are part of some “plug and play” dynamic when it comes to program design, where reaching certain goals simply necessitates using certain reps.  Through various studies and scientific data points, we’ve “established” that power is gained in the 1-3 rep range, strength in the 3-5, hypertrophy in the 8-12, and anything more than that is just endurance.  This means that, if you want to get bigger, all you need to do is 8 reps, whereas if you want to get stronger, it’s simply a question of doing 5 reps.

This line of thinking promotes the notion that there is some sort of biological switching unit contained within muscle fibers and motor units that can tell the difference between the numbers 5 and 6.  This theory presupposes that, as soon as something happens six times instead of five, a completely new and different mechanism comes into play for the body, and it shuts down strength development and kicks hypertrophy into hyperdrive.  There is no middle ground or moderation, no spectrum of possibilities available, everything is simply binary and absolute.

The difference between the guy on the left and the guy on the right is just 1 rep per set

The reality we experience is that far more goes into play than simply rep ranges, and that, with other variables being manipulated, reps within the same range can produce a wide variety of effects.  Rest times, sets, exercise selection, training frequency, recovery protocols, order of exercises and many other variables are incredibly relevant when it comes to determining the outcome of our training, and to try to achieve an outcome by selecting rep ranges first is frankly reverse engineering the situation.

It is this whimsical style of thinking that leads to this notion of “hypertrophy programs”, developed by simply taking Starting Strength and swapping out the sets of 5 for sets of 8.  As though Mark Rippetoe had decided that he was going to build a beginner strength training program by taking a bodybuilding program and lowering the reps while leaving the rest untouched.  This line of thinking also leads people to completely perform programs where a choice is left up to the user, such as Westside Barbell for Skinny Bastards or 5/3/1.  When told that these are “strength programs”, the trainee in turn makes all the assistance work sets of 3-5, thinking that the sets of 8-20 reps that were there before must have been some sort of accident.  In their minds, a program is simply a series of movements that coexist geographically on a piece of paper, and in no way do the movements harmonious exist for the purpose of supporting the goal of the program.

"I mean, I guess he was doing sets of low AND high reps"

Truth be told, when I develop a program, the rep ranges are almost an afterthought.  After establishing the goal of the program and the frequency of training available, I move into determining which movements will be the most effective, select set number to manipulate volume, and plan rest periods around the goal of the movements within the program.  Rep ranges are decided at the end, if even at all.  I have written in a previous stream of consciousness that, in the future, when I design a program, I am considering only putting in the sets and leaving the rep range up to the user.

We need to understand that strength, size, endurance and power are always constantly being developed in our training, even if our training itself is not specifically conjugate in nature.  Additionally, in understanding ourselves, we must learn that certain movement patterns may in fact necessitate that we employ unique rep ranges in order to achieve our own desired results.  I personally have made much greater gains on my deadlift when I train in the 8-12 range versus the 1-5 range.  When I trained 20 rep squats, my 20 rep max on squats went up steadily over 6 weeks, whereas my 5rm stayed practically the same.  Am I to think that I stagnated in strength, or perhaps I should instead conclude that my strength at higher reps increased, whereas my strength at lower reps did not?

It necessitates being able to think of training with a very long view and broad perspective.  One needs to understand the interplay of all of the pieces of a training program, and realize that progress is not a random accident brought about the instant that one does 6 curls instead of 5, but instead the result of balancing the equation at all ends.  It requires soul searching and introspection as much as it requires science and research.  Binding your results to the rule of rep ranges is to deny your ability to forge your own destiny through toil and sweat.  If you do what it takes to make your lifts go up, whatever it takes, you will find that sometimes, sets of 8 will be more effective than sets of 5, and sometimes, to get in more reps, it means keeping the reps at 3 while jacking the sets up to 10 or 12.  Let others worry about ensuring that they are avoiding training for endurance while you hammer out 20 rep squats.  They can wonder “how” when you put on muscle, while you can simply wonder about “what next”.