Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014


The lifting world is littered with those who seek the ever elusive goal of hypertrophy.  Their quests and inquiries take many forms.

“How long should I strength train until I start a hypertrophy program?”

“What are the best movements for hypertrophy?”

“If I follow protocol X, can I expect to see some hypertrophy?”

"NO, WAIT!  I need to find out if it's 7 or 8 reps for hypertrophy!"

First, allow me to make a social commentary.  I find it comical how we have demonized the pursuit of getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger, to the point that trainees try so hard to hide behind scientific terms in order to create what appears to be a legitimate pursuit. No one worries about strength, and they simply ask “how do I train to get stronger”, but rarely is the question asked “How do I train to get bigger?”  And when the question is asked, the author is bombarded with critique, for how dare they be vain in their attempt to improve their physique.

But I digress.  The questions go on and on.  The root of all these questions is the same: the idea that somehow, getting bigger is complicated, complex, specific, and hidden from the public.

The sheer fact these questions are being asked is proof enough that the inquirer is missing the honest to goodness key to hypertrophy: effort.  There is no codex that needs to be cracked or secret unlocked or tome uncovered, one simply needs to put in some real gut wrenching, blood vessel bursting, eyeball popping effort.

Despite creating a caloric deficit, this guy is probably going to get some hypertrophy

We need only look at athletes in other sports to understand this reality.  These kids that think that the mysteries of hypertrophy remain only available to those in bodybuilding circles fail to take notice of the upper body development of the gymnast, or the lower body of the cyclist, or even simply the physiques of strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, etc.  In many cases, we actually witness instances of those who aren’t even TRYING to get more muscular still managing to do so by sheer nature of the needs and demands of their sport, and meanwhile folks at home stare longingly at their biceps wondering why they refuse to grow.  Hell, some of these people compete in weight classes, and have to actually dial down their diets because their training is so intense and effective that, if they aren’t careful, they’ll put on too much muscle and grow into the next class.  What a great problem to have.

May know a thing or two about getting bigger

One needs to place their bodies in a state where growing is the only logical choice to make.  Those who do not actually stress their muscles to any significant degree will never accomplish this, regardless of splits, rest times, rep tempo, frequency, etc.  So much time and energy is fixated on finding out where these “hypertrophy routines” are hidden and how they are structured that the big picture gets lost.  These are the same individuals who critique the “broscience” crowd at their gym for not knowing how to train and then lament the reality that these “idiots” have managed to get bigger than them.

“Strength routines” aren’t responsible for a sudden loss of muscle in the general population, it is instead the people that these routines continue to draw.  The internet is a cycle of beginners advising beginners on how to not be beginners, and in doing so everyone is on the same routine of 3 sets of 5 reps for 3 exercises with this absolute fear of overtraining by including anything else.  These same people stall for months, never push past their limits, and achieve lackluster strength and physiques.  It is from this stalling that the routine is blamed, and in turn a new path is sought.

Missing; The intensity needed to match the amount of intake

For the sadist, examining the process of this beginner in their pursuit can be enjoyable.  We witness them on forums, trying their absolute hardest to craft a question that will eventually result in someone lending some validation to their thought process that SOMEHOW, there must be a different way to do things.  They’ll state “I did strength routines for a while, but didn’t get the physique I like.  What is a good bodybuilder routine?”  They will be given a routine that looks suspiciously like their previous routine, with lots of heavy compound lifts and some higher rep work thrown in.  Where is the all isolation work routine that bodybuilders do?

They’ll try a different approach, claiming “I don’t want to actually look like a bodybuilder, I just want to start a hypertrophy routine.”  When given another identical routine, they’ll assume the issue is on their end, as they are clearly asking the wrong question.  They’ll clarify “I don’t need to get HUGE, I just want to put on a little muscle”, and once again, the same advice is present.  Still no magical all isolation machine routine.  What does it take to get this?!

People have gotten bigger for years by just busting their asses.  Soliders in boot camp, eating a caloric deficit, getting 4 hours of sleep, doing tons of cardio and only bodyweight exercises have put on muscle because they had no other choice.  Inmates, eating a government approved diet of all carbs, lifting pillowcases full of water and squatting their cellmate, have put on muscle because they had the quite literal killer instinct that drove them to push their bodies to the brink of extinction.  High school football players in the 70s with no internet access and no lord and savior in Mark Rippetoe, running 2 a days, smoking pot, and eating whatever mom cooked them put on muscle because the alternative was to lose the game and get crushed on the field. The magic was in the effort, not the program.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Here is a fun game to play at home: find any article on training that allows for comments, look at when the article was posted and then compare that time when the first dissenting comment appeared.  In most cases, this will be a difference measureable in minutes, and despite how amicable one may attempt to phrase the comment, the understanding is the same: I read through this and disagreed with it within seconds of doing so.

"*Psh*, I bet the author never even READ a Russian study on lifting."

What this indicates is a lack of even being willing to entertain the ideas of the author.  No time whatsoever was invested in actually absorbing or understanding the thoughts of the writer, or trying to earnestly reconcile the ideas presented with the ones one presently holds.  Instead, it is evident that the reader was doing their best to combat cognitive dissonance by rapidly employing every defense mechanism they had access to.  Justification, rationalization, pointing out of logical fallacies, appeals to exceptions, appeals to authority, etc etc, they all shine through as a reader points out just how wrong the author is to challenge their beliefs.

You need to be honest with yourself: if you have no intention of having your views changed, it does you no good to read something with an absolute closed mind.  If you ARE willing to learn or at least entertain different ideas, it behooves you to spend at the least a few hours milling over what you have read before you come to a definite conclusion on just how wrong it is.  Rarely is it the case that someone is 100% wrong on the subject, and in most cases you can actually gain some incredibly brilliant insight from even the most unlikely of sources.  It requires us to ignore our mind’s attempt to protect our current beliefs by screaming out objections and actually being willing to consider the views of others.

Not the best posture for learning

On this topic as well, we must understand that, when analyzing the words of those who are successful, we should examine what it is that most those authors different from us, not the same.  So many times when an author comes out with some comprehensive article on their approach to training, the reading audience is only receptive to the parts that speak to what they already hold to be true.  George Leeman is one of the shinning examples out there right now, were readers are willing to accept his philosophy on training hard, hitting big lifts, eating big, etc, but as soon as he talks about training high reps for strength and only using partial rep ranges, all the justifications in the world come out.  “Oh, he can manage that because he’s a freak/on drugs/right genetics/etc etc”, in essence throwing out the only part of George’s advice that we can actually attribute to WHY he is successful.  Everyone else on the internet is training hard, hitting big lifts, eating big, and many of them are also on drugs, and yet almost none of them are enjoying the same success that George is.  Why is it that we assume it is the things he does that are the same that are resulting in his success, rather than what is different?

On the topic of following the trend of success, why not compare the results of the author with the results of the reader. In many cases, the reader who is the first to point out how “wrong” the author is has never personally experienced any actually success in their own training.  They have lived off of a diet of all the “right” things, and yet, for some reason, aren’t getting the right results.  This is due to the fact that they require the support of volume rather than success, and in turn seek those things that are repeated ad nasuem by the population of other non-successful trainees, rather than instead being willing to listen to something that only gets mentioned in select instances by the elite.  These are the same people that come on to forums asking for someone to give them some links so that they can PROVE some guy at the gym wrong about high reps vs low reps, because now that they have encountered resistance to their viewpoints and do not possess any degree of self-confidence, they must once again be reassured about their decisions.  The successful do not require reassurance, their success is self-evident.

When you're the baddest man on the planet, you get to eat all the ice cream you want

If you catch yourself reading something, and your first response is to reply “yeah, but”, stop.  Allow the information to fully process, see if you can gain something from the exchange, and realize that most likely the author already had the thoughts you are having now, and still felt that what they were presenting was valid even despite that.  See if you can figure out why.

Monday, September 8, 2014


The analogy of training being like war is trite and exhausted at this point.  We constantly see facebook updates where, somewhere between “#BEASTMODE” and “#KILLINGITALLDAY” someone also manages to work in that they are going into battle or prepping for war with the weights.  Though the obvious opportunity for mocking is here, what we can also extrapolate from this is how many carry a mentality that ensures their failure.  In their bravado, many in fact demonstrate that they lack the tools to make progress in training, because they effectively lack the understanding in how to wage proper war.

For starters, don't eat all of your MREs before you get to the field

Many authors have already discussed the various types of warfare available and exercised historically, from Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Socrates, George Washington, Mao Zedong, etc, but for the purpose of today’s discussion, we will highlight a war of attrition versus unconventional/guerilla warfare.  The sad reality is, when most trainees “go to war”, they are engaging in a war of attrition.  They have hunkered themselves in for a long, protracted fight wherein it is a contest of sheer willpower between two factions, and whoever can endure the most misery, hardship and sacrifice without totally folding over wins.

This notion may sound romantic in our “blood and guts” training mentality, but historically, this is the type of warfare waged out of desperation, not strategy, and is the absolute last resort when all other appropriate avenues have failed.  No country ever willing engages in a war of attrition, but instead they end up in one.  Both countries, fully believing in their ability to win in a conventional, quick and violent war, instead find themselves in a prolonged, grueling and ultimately worthless campaign brought about by an inability to plan or adapt.  Battles are fought over inches of territory, while most forces die from environmental factors rather than from the enemy.

Though obvious from an outsider perspective, trainees still engage in this exact same approach when it comes to how they lift.  They believe that success is simply the byproduct of time invested, and that, as long as they follow the path everyone else is following, they will achieve success.  To these “warriors”, the war against the iron is a war of attrition, where every day we give it our all in hopes of making an inch of progress.  It is this same mentality that allows unsuccessful trainees to claim future successes, just like many unwise generals, believing that victory is guaranteed, it’s just a matter of putting in the time and effort.

Listen buddy, I read Starting Strength, so just STFU and listen to me because I'm going to be HUUUGE

These wars don’t work folks.  If you want to win, you need to employ a page from the playbook of Washington and Mao Zedong and engage in some unconventional warfare.  Against an enemy with overwhelming force and firepower, your best bet isn’t a head to head conflict, but instead hit and run tactics designed to cause chaos rather than direct damage.  You don’t win a war by killing the enemy, but instead by killing the enemy’s will to fight.

This is the same war we must be waging in the weightroom.  We aren’t going to win by using the same tactics that everyone else is using.  If that were the case, everyone else would be successful.  There is no Geneva Convention for us, there are no peace treaties, the ceasefire has ended, it’s time to fight dirty.  This means doing things RADICALLY different from everyone else, because we wish to end this war quickly and violently.  Everyone “knows” that you have to train deadlifts?  Cut them out.  “Need” to rest 48 hours between workouts?  Train everyday.  Have to train the body as a unit?  Train your right side on Monday and your left side on Tuesday.

It’s not about being different for the sake of being different, it’s about observing the data you have before you.  The boon of the internet is the fact that everyone is documenting their lives and actions, and as a results you can witness the effects of certain actions without having to take them yourself.  And the reality is that most people are failing with their approach to training.  Everyone is using the same warplan, starting off with some Stronglifts, then transitioning to the Texas Method, then to 5/3/1, then a little bit of smolov jr., rinse and repeat.  Where are the champions here?

Those that have won the war are those that fought a bloody campaign that ran counter to convention.  When asked what routine they employ, almost every successful lifter reports that they don’t have a routine, and just do what they need to succeed.  These are the unconventional guerilla warriors who brought down empires through sheer force of will and ingenuity, throwing out the playbook and winning by any means necessary.  You hold no treaty with yourself nor the lifting community at large, and if you must be a war criminal in order to end the war on your terms, I say it’s time to go nuclear.

The training world is full of people in red coats marching in straight lines and politely trading shots with their body in the hopes of victory.  You need to put on the warpaint, find a sniper spot and plant some claymores.  While everyone else fights for inches, you need to fight for victory.