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.  


  1. Any advice on how to get over fear of intensity? I feel like I've spent so much time auto-regulating and trying to get every rep to feel fresh and fast, that I've scarified the mental toughness that comes with pushing through and grinding.

    1. I would say jumping in feet first is your best bet. Do some life sucks training, with high rep squats being an excellent choice to learn how to grind and push. If you have a training partner, getting them to remove the j-hooks after you unrack the bar is a good technique.

      Additionally, for heavy work, suspending the bar in chains has done wonders for my ability to grind. I know I can push as hard as possible, and I can just dump the bar when I am done.

      You could even consider intentionally putting yourself in a state of fatigue before training to learn how to still push through. Something like a sleep deficit, poor nutrition, or even just doing some intense conditioning beforehand.

      These aren't necessarily healthy ideas, but they can do a good job with mentality.