Saturday, May 31, 2014


NOTE: I will return to my series on why abbreviated training fails (because believe me, there are a lot of reasons) momentarily, but this is one of my pet peeves and I can’t take it any more.

In lifting, we constantly see trainees utilizing the success of others as a means to justify their own training method.  Whenever these people are called out about their training, their answers are always the same.

“Why don’t you ask Louie Simmons if conjugate periodization is effective?”
“Why don’t you ask Dan Green if raw squats bring up powerlifting squats?”
“Why don’t you ask the Bulgarians if high frequency training is possible?”

"Why don't you ask Kobayashi if eating 40 hot dogs in under a minute is good on a cut?" 

Why do people employ this name dropping?  Because their own results are so pathetic and without merit that they do not in fact support the effectiveness of their training, and as such, when called out for their own lack of progress, they must turn outward.

Having to tell people to witness the cases of other trainees to validate your own approach means you are in no place to argue about the effectiveness of your method.  An inability to be able to say “My training works, because look at my results” is an inability to know if your training actually does or does not work.  All of this name dropping is at best hero worship, because anyone claiming to know 100% of how a person trains is a liar.

"Dude, I read the book.  Dude took no steroids, drank beer instead of milk, and smoked pot.  I can do this!"

The whole idea that we can use a principle because someone other than us uses it and it works for them is just asinine.  This type of “logic” fails to take into account that variables in training do not exist in a vacuum, and are instead all part of a complex and entirely co-dependent system.  A successful lifter could use the Cube (for the sake of argument) as their training system, however what we ignore is that this lifter also has their nutrition dialed in, sleeps 8 hours a night, has a low stress job, no family obligations, performs conditioning everyday, uses steroids, spent the first 14 years of their life training in a Soviet camp for gifted athletes, and was born with a third testicle.  To simply try to take one isolated variable from this trainee and apply it to our own unique situation under the belief that it will be just as effective for us as it was for them is the height of foolishness.  At best, we can identify that a method works for someone in some capacity, but to think it will automatically work for us due to this evidence is denial.

Additionally, if your results are so lackluster that you are embarrassed to use yourself as an example, why are you even debating in the first place?  The best revenge is living well, and the best argument for the effectiveness of your method is to have it be effective.  Successful lifters don’t tear down other programs based off something they read on pubmed, they simply act as living proof that they know how to get big and strong.  Keyboard warriors have to refute all attacks on their method, because they have to justify to themselves that they have made the correct decision, and lacking the body of evidence (pun partially intended) of being big and strong themselves, they have to turn to others.  If your method is truly effective, and you know it through your own experience, you will find that there is no need to debate.  The sheer notion anyone has that your method is ineffective will appear merely comical, as someone attempting to refute the existence of the sun.  You will see them not as a challenge to your success, but merely as misled at best, and insignificant in many cases.

"Look, I know you've read a lot on sumo, but I don't think you have it all figured out yet"

This is why, whenever met with the response of “Why don’t you ask so-and-so why they do this”, I always say the same thing; I know why those people use their methods, it’s because they work.  What I want to know is, how come YOU use that method, because clearly, it’s not working.

Sunday, May 25, 2014


For those of you that missed Part I, you can find it here

3: Trainees are too fixated on form, not enough on intensity.

I have already slaughtered the sacred cow that is “good form” in previous rants, but I will re-emphasize that point here: beginning trainees are way too concerned about exercise form.  Part of this stems from reason number 1 (and in fact, I contend that all of these will most likely be sub-reasons, with #1 being the primary cause of all issues), in that trainees are learning coordination and balance while they are also learning how to lift, which is a recipe for disaster.  The lifts feel awkward not because the techniques are difficult, but because the trainee themselves is awkward.  Additionally, trainees are conditioned to believe that the lifts involved in an abbreviated program are “dangerous”, and that perfect form must be used at all times or else they will get injured.

No matter how good your form is, you aren't safe here

This again leads me into another rant I have already covered, but the inherent fear of injury and aversion trainees have to it is one of the primary reasons they never meet success in a program.  One has to understand that an injury is not the end of one’s training career, and that almost every injury is recoverable in some fashion.  When one learns to not fear injuries, and instead accept them and move on, they will find themselves able to push much harder in training, and in turn encounter far more success.  In contrast, one who fixates far too much on perfect form is simply not going to lift heavy enough to elicit a response from their body.  Strain is necessary for progress, and strain necessitates form deviation.  Lack of deviation is lack of strain, which is lack of progress.

"No way you're going to get big with THAT form dude.  Better deload to the bar and start over with perfect form."

New trainees need to spend less time on the internet, having form gurus telling them to deload to the bar and start over with perfect form every time they see “butt wink” in a squat.  In addition, trainees should stop saying the term “butt wink”, because it’s stupid, and not a real thing to be worried about.  Lower backs round, upper backs round, knees cave in, elbows flare, stuff happens.  Some guy squatting 225 with “perfect form” is never an impressive physical specimen, whereas a guy that can man handle 700lbs on their back in the ugliest, god awful form possible is going to look like a beast, and have the tenacity and attitude to match.  Should one endeavor to have safe form?  Yes, absolutely.  Should one endeavor to have good form?  No.  The two are not the same, as the latter presupposes a universality of how a movement should look without taking into consideration the individual variances of a lifter, to include height and limb length/proportion.  Be strong enough to control the weight rather than have the weight control you, but also strive to push yourself hard enough to actually elicit a response from your body.

4:  They deviate from the program for the wrong reasons, and stick with the program when it is not advantageous.

This is one of the more odd things I witness beginners doing, and ultimately I attribute it to not wanting to really push themselves hard and trying to find easier ways of doing things.  In many cases, it’s simply because a trainee lacks any sort of athletic background, and has never had the experience where they just forced themselves to get better through sheer willpower, and instead they think they can outthink a problem.

Trainees will add any sort of flavor of the month to an already established program because they read some article somewhere that promised them ripped abs and 2” on their arms in 6 weeks with just one movement.  All of a sudden, they’re throwing in spider curls, the shoulder shocker, leg extension drop sets, the entire “300 Workout”, HIIT, etc etc.  Basically, movements or protocols that have no business being in their gameplan make their way in, and eventually become to real focus of their training, while the core of the program is more that thing they have to do before they get to have fun.  When your heart is no longer invested in the stuff that is going to make the biggest changes, you aren’t going to experience them.  This isn’t to say that trainees cannot possibly modify programs due to the grim specter of overtraining or some other such nonsense, but more the fact that beginners on abbreviated training programs tend to make really dumb changes to the program for reasons they don’t fully understand which in turn undermine their own efforts.

"Yeah, I'm basically following Starting Strength with a few modifications"

Comically enough, these same trainees who hold no reverence for the program when it comes to adding movements and protocols to the program will desperately cling to the tenets of the program whenever they find themselves stalling.  One constantly witnesses cases of a beginner lifter reporting that they have stalled on a lift for months at a time and wanting to know what they should do.  They’ll talk about how they have deloaded, reset, improved form, thrown in assistance work as above, etc etc, with no avail.  However, if one suggests that they do more work sets of the movement to get a greater stimulus, one discovers that these trainees don’t want to “mess with the program”.  Starting Strength is 3x5, and by God there is NO way someone is going to do 4x5 on Starting Strength, of 3x5, 1x20, or any other possibility that involves doing more heavy work.  These trainees instead are going to just keep going to the gym, loading up the bar with the same weight they used last session, do the exact same 3x5, and then wonder why they aren’t progressing.

These trainees need to understand that the body will not adapt without adequate stressors, and as so soon as they train the body to accept a certain level of stimulus as baseline, it will feel no need to get stronger when it experiences that stimulus.  Thus, accepting stagnation is the absolute worst thing a trainee following an abbreviated program can do.  If the weight isn’t moving, do SOMETHING to progress.  Cut down the rest times, add more sets, add more reps, just find some way to have growth from session to session while still hitting the lifts that are going to make you bigger and stronger.  Many times, the solution to getting a stuck squat moving isn’t something sexy like pulling a sled or throwing in sets of exotic assistance exercises, but instead something as brutal as squatting even more.  If a trainee is stalling and the program isn’t working, refusing to change the program is refusing to get stronger.  


New training video.  650 is next.

Monday, May 19, 2014


I have long been a very vocal advocate of abbreviated training as an effective means for a beginner to develop a strong foundation of strength and size before moving on to more high volume/specialized training.  However, as I survey various forums on the internet and witness beginners constantly fail while employing the methods that I found so much success with, it leads me to question to true usefulness of these methods.  I must look inward and ask myself why is it that I and so many others were able to succeed with this approach while so many numerous others can fail.  In doing so, I have arrived at the following possible culprits, and if nothing else, have identified the differences between my experiences and the experiences of others.

1:  These are beginner LIFTING programs, not beginner EXERCISE programs.

This is fundamentally the biggest issue I witness when I see others failing on these routines, and one of the factors that I never really needed to consider when I followed them myself.  Abbreviated training was a principle that was developed and employed by people that were already active in life and had a firm foundation in basic athletics.  When I first started abbreviated training, I had been doing martial arts for about 10 years (to include Tae Kwon Do, wrestling, Boxing, Muay Thai, grappling, etc), and had also spent my childhood either swimming, playing soccer, playing football, or in general involved in some sort of sport.  I was not good at it, but my parents insisted that I always do something physically active.  Additionally, I had spent some time lifting weights without any real sort of approach for a few years as well, so I had a decent understanding of technique/form, even if I didn’t have much to show for it.

Contrast this with people who go from a completely sedentary liftestyle to wanting to employ abbreviated training, and it’s simply not a recipe for success.  The reality is, these people are going to be lacking in coordination, strength, work capacity, sense of balance, and various other factors necessary for success in any sort of lifting program.

"Ugh, I'm skinnyfat.  Do you guys think I should bulk or cut?"

They simply do not have within them the potential to progress very far from the poundages one can start with in an abbreviated program, because their base and foundation is so poor to start with.  A great analogy I’ve heard in regards to work capacity is that it’s like a bucket, and you can only pour so much training into your bucket before you overflow, at which point, you need to build up a bigger bucket to hold more training.  These people are more dealing with a thimble at this point.

The solution here would be to spend more time getting in shape to be ABLE to use an abbreviated training program, not attempt to use an abbreviated training program in order to get in shape.  These programs work, but only if you are ready for them.  That means spending some time engaging in some general fitness activities first so that your first few months aren’t wasted on figuring out life basics.  Play some sports, train bodyweight movements, do some running, jumping and sled pulling, and figure out your body, so that when you get under the bar, you at least have some semblance of an idea of what to do.  Dave Tate said someone should be able to do 100 push-ups before they ever try to bench, and I honestly think that’s some of the best advice I’ve ever read about training.  Taking the time to set up your foundation here is going to mean having the ability to progress much further when you start actually lifting.

A guy with a 500lb bench press as a teenager might have the right idea

2: Trainees are conditioned to expect failure, not success.

The reason why I started doubting the worth of abbreviated training was due to cruising forums and seeing many other trainees fail.  I had my own success with these programs, yet, in the face of this overwhelming anecdotal evidence, I began to doubt even my own success.  It is at this point I realized that if I, someone who had success with this method, was put in a position to doubt its validity, then surely someone just started out is going to have it even worse.  Hence, we run into a cycle of self perpetuating failure, wherein a trainee embarks on a path anticipating failure, meets it, and then those that observe the trainee’s failure in turn anticipate their own failure when they utilize the same methods.

You might get there really fast, but you're still going in a circle

When I compare this with my own experiences, I can see the stark contrast.  When I first started using abbreviated training, it had not come into fashion yet.  Mark Rippetoe released the first edition of Starting Strength a few months after I had learned about Pavel Tsastouline’s 3-5 approach, Stuart McRobert’s methods, and 20 rep squats/various other IronMind authors and programs, and internet forums had not quite hive mined over to this approach yet.  As such, the limited exposure I had to abbreviated training demonstrated success as the only possible outcome for my training.  I learned about men putting on 30lbs of muscle in 6 weeks on 20 Rep Squats, lifters who were “as strong as they looked” from Pavel, and various success stories about Ironmind’s “Squat Dip Chin” program.  In my mind, this was the most surefire way for me to achieve my goals, as there was an overwhelming amount of success, and zero evidence of failure.  Yes, this was absolutely selection bias, but that is not necessarily a negative thing when it comes to the mental state of a trainee, for having been conditioned to expect only success, I met it whenever I trained.

It's actually pretty shocking how accurate this is

In contrast, today’s trainee can witness an overwhelming amount of failure displayed everyday on various lifting forums, to include multiple sub-reddits,,, etc.  We must keep in mind that the failure we are observing is due mainly impart to the first issue I have addressed about abbreviated training, in that trainees are starting these programs before they are ready.  The reason why these trainees embark on such programs is because other trainees, who are also not ready to begin lifting, push these protocols on a new trainee when they ask “what program should I follow”.  The reasoning behind this has been covered in a previous entry of mine on “training secrets”, but to sum it up, this is a mental self defense/preservation technique in order to reassure oneself that they are using the correct method by perpetuating their approach to all others in their own community and striking down and potential opposition, thus maintaining status quo.  As such, those unqualified to give advice give incorrect advice to those unqualified to discern the validity of the advice, leading both parties to eventually fail and reinforce the reality that these approaches do not work.  After seeing these approaches fail so often, a trainee is not going to have faith and confidence in this approach, and will engage in a self fulfilling prophecy.  The mind is a powerful tool, and a trainee that uses a “terrible” program but has full faith and confidence invested in it and attacks it with violence and aggression will always, 100% of the time, have better results than an apprehensive trainee using a “perfect” program.  I say this without hyperbole.