Monday, October 27, 2014


As another birthday approaches and another awesome gift from my wife enters my garage (this year, a pair of 105lb dumbbells, last year a strongman log), it dawns on me that I’ve amassed quite an impressive home gym over the years, and in doing so learned quite a few lessons about the differences between home gyms and commercial gyms.  It is my intent here to pass those lessons onto you, the reader, so that, should you decide to go down this path (or if you’ve already done so and are looking for another perspective), you may learn from my experiences.

This picture is actually pretty old.  I've added since then.


If all you want is to just get away from the gym and still get stronger, I would argue that all you need is a pair of squat stands, a barbell, some plates, and an iron gym.  This will allow you to perform a variety of squats, overhead pressing, chins, deadlifting, and rows, while taking up a very small footprint in whatever space you are working with.  Ironmind used to have a picture in their product catalog of a guy that set up a gym in his apartment where he put away the stands and bar in a closet when he was not using it and took it out to lift, and it was pretty baller.  If you are creative with your programming, this set up can take care of you for years.  That said, here are a few key points to keep in mind.

-Never pay full prices for iron plates.  There are way too many resources available to get used plates.  Look up craigslist, check out garage sales, go to used sporting goods stores, look for gyms that are closing, do whatever it takes, but never pay full price.  The price of iron is constantly going up, don’t be a victim of this. Be aware that cheap plates won’t be calibrated, and will more likely be heavier than advertised, but all this means is that, when you get to a comp with calibrated plates, it will be easier for you.  Bumper plates are a different story, and if you can find a deal, jump on them, but otherwise, be prepared to spend money.

-A cheap bar is not necessarily a bad bar.  There is a lot to be said about high quality barbells, and they are definitely worth the investment once you get heavy into the home gym, but starting off with a cheapo beater bar for the home gym isn’t a terrible idea.  If you’re just starting out and don’t really know if the commitment to the home gym is going to work, it’s better to test the waters with some cheaper equipment, so that not a whole lot is lost.  Additionally, even if you end up purchasing something higher quality, a cheap bar is great to have when you perform rough lifts with it, like rack pulls, pin presses, zerchers from pins, etc.


What I have found that is unique about home gyms is that, many times, you tend to start off with the exotic and work your way back to the mundane.  Don’t get me wrong, expanding from the most basic set up I outlined earlier, I would say the next 2 obvious choices would be a power rack and an adjustable bench, simply because these two purchases once again open you up to a variety of exercise choices.  However, after this, we run into an interesting bit of training philosophy.

One of the key benefits of a home gym is that it’s YOUR gym.  It means it has everything you need and nothing you don’t.  As such, it becomes tough to convince yourself to buy the things that were already readily available for you (and still presently are) at your nearest commercial gym.  I’ll bet your local gym had all sorts of cable machines, dumbbells as far as the eye could see, a leg press, calf raise, etc.  Did it have a reverse hyper?  Glute ham raise?  Swiss bar?  Safety Squat Bar?  Now we’re starting to identify the deficiencies.  In turn, if you really absolutely had to use a lat pulldown machine, you could always swallow your pride and get a day pass, or even (god forbid) a $10 a month membership at your local Planet Fitness type location to use all of their machines, but if you were really aching to use a reverse hyper, your only chance is if YOU own one.

Everyone has a bench press, but how many people do you know that have one of these?

This is why, in my experience, home gyms tend to end up being a collection of the bizarre and exotic.  You start off thinking you’re going to bring the commercial gym experience home, and instead end up crafting something completely unique and specialized.  EMBRACE this.  I’ve had my home gym for over 7 years now, and just NOW put in a lat pulldown and got some heavy dumbbells, whereas the safety squat bar was one of the first things I purchased after the rack, bar and plates.  That normal  stuff is out there and easy to get access to, but if you’re going to have a gym, have YOUR gym.


“Buy nice, don’t buy twice” is a pithy saying that is cute because it rhymes, but I have found it lacking when it comes to outfitting the home gym.  I’ve honestly had far more successes buying from the sketchiest, shadiest and crappiest looking fitness equipment providers that I can.  This ultimately boils down to who a product is built for, and for what intention.

Keep in mind that when your local commercial gym buys equipment, it does so with the intention that it’s going to get used.  A LOT.  By a LOT of people.  It’s also probably going to get abused, because for one, sometimes people don’t know the correct way to use equipment, but additionally most humans are selfish creatures who don’t care about someone else’s property.  Therefore, they purchase equipment that can last a long time with minimal maintenance while being put through the wringer on a daily basis, year after year.  You won’t be doing this.  Odds are, you will be the only one using the equipment, unless you train with a small group, in which case the amount of use it will experience is still minimal compared to in a commercial gym.  Your stuff doesn’t need to be “built to last”, only built to outlast YOU.

Additionally, it’s very easy to buy into the advertisement hype on some sites, were world record holders talk about how much they love X brand equipment because it can hold up with all the abuse they heap on it, and how they used a cheaper version and it broke in a matter of days. This is where honest self reflection can save you some cash.  I realized that I was not a “big guy” in the world of lifting.  I’m barely 200lbs on a full stomach.  My body simply doesn’t stress a GHR the same way that Brian Shaw’s does.  The big guys definitely need industrial strength stuff, but you may be able to get by with the home version.

I always look for the absolute cheapest deal possible when it comes to my next purchase, and I have only been burned one time by a guy that was selling products he simply didn’t have in his inventory.  Everytime I have RECEIVED a product, it’s accomplished the goal.  It’s a total no frills operation, but since it’s MY gym, I only need to impress myself.  So far, I have gotten away with a cheap safety squat bar, swiss bar, glute ham raise, strongman log, power tower, power rack, landmine, and I’m sure a bunch of other things as well.  When you buy cheap, you have to put it all together yourself, and it comes in a million pieces, but the money you save is money you can invest in another piece of equipment.

I have bought SO much equipment from this site.  I think they saved money by never updating their homepage.


Want to know the difference between deadlift mats and rubber patio tiles?  The former costs $50 per mat more than the latter.  So many items marketed as fitness equipment are being practically given away at other locations when used for a different function.  So much of this is just marketing.  Start getting creative when it comes to outfitting your home gym.

Unless you are pressing 500lbs, you probably don’t need to spend $300 on an axle.  Go to Home Depot, get a 2” steel pipe cut to 7.5’ and use duct tape or hose clamps to make some collars on the end.  Don’t spend $80 on “rack savers”, go buy some towing straps for $5.  They can tow a 2 ton vehicle, they can hold your squat.  Don’t buy “lifting chains” and get killed on shipping and handling, go to a tractor supply store and buy as much chain as you want for pennies.  If you do it right, odds are you will spend more time at Home Depot than Sports Authority.

Additionally, try to be creative with the stuff you DO have.  Many times, a new piece of equipment isn’t necessary, you simply have to make use of all the equipment you DO have.  You’ve got a pull up bar, bands, chains, and a dip belt.  Do you really need a lat pulldown for some variety?  Try band assisted pull ups, or band assisted pull-ups while wearing weight, or thread the chains through your belt so the weight increases as you go up, or put the band through the belt and anchor it to the floor, or etc etc.  Sometimes, something like 2 $5 minibands will open up a million new options, and little toys and tricks can go a long way in providing longevity to your current situation.

Monday, October 20, 2014


I am a patient man, but I still manage to grow weary of the same trends when bombarded with them often enough.  Below is a listing of things that I have had just about enough of in my life.

-Strength gurus who are weak

-Hypertrophy gurus who are small

-Apologists for the above two that constantly point out that just because someone is small and weak doesn’t mean they don’t know how to get big and strong.  I have only ever seen other small and weak people make this claim, and usually it’s because they’re defending their own right to give out training advice when they have no idea what they’re talking about.  Knowledge is dandy, experience is king.

-High school/college kids who “don’t have time” to eat, cook, workout or read.  I genuinely find that these same people manage to sleep past 0500 everyday and have lots of free time on weekends/evenings to party, watch TV, text their friends, post stupid memes on facebook, and in general waste very precious time.  You have lots of time to get crap done if you only sleep 5-6 hours a night.

Comically enough, most of these guys are still sporting more muscular development than many of the people making these claims

-People who call themselves “powerlifters” or say that they are “powerlifting” and have never actually competed in powerlifting.

-The same people who use the false analogy that, since you would call a guy that plays pick up basketball games a “basketball player”, it’s reasonable to call a guy who trains to be stronger in the big 3 a “powerlifter”.  This is a stupid argument, because at least the guy playing pick up games is competing with other players, thus meeting the intent of playing the game.  A guy just training in the gym not actually competing, even in a friendly way, is simply training.  If a guy went to the court 3 hours a day and only shot free throws, he wouldn’t be called a basketball player, he would just be a guy who shoots free throws.  I trained boxing for years, never had a fight, and in turn never called myself a boxer.

-The members of the “IIFYM” crowd that seems completely unaware of things like micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber and other potential nutritional considerations.

-People that go weeks without eating a vegetable.

-People that think corn, beans and potatoes count as vegatables.

Pro Tip: If you enjoy eating them, they probably aren't vegetables

-People who think that just because they don’t like something is license to not do it.

-That annoying feeling my shoulder has been making for the past few weeks like it’s going to fall off.  It should know by now that pain is just going to piss me off, it won’t make me stop abusing it.  It either needs to break or get with the ****ing program.

-People that just plain don’t get it.

-Kids who can’t deadlift 400lbs advising each other on the best pre-workout supplements to take.

-Those same kids wondering why they always feel like they’re going to crap themselves while they’re lifting.

-People that feel the need to psyche themselves up in a commercial gym.  It’s a training session, not a competition, you’re just making yourself weaker, and meanwhile, everyone around you thinks you’re an asshole.  It’s not hardcore.

If you need this to hit a gym lift, something has gone wrong

-That our culture has grown so passive aggressive and socially retarded that every day there is a new thread on reddit asking about gym etiquette and how to work in with someone while they are lifting.  I see it in reality as well.  Whenever I end up in a commercial gym, if I ask to work in with someone, one of two things tends to happen.  They either panic and just flee from the equipment entirely, or they look at me confused and give me an update on how many sets they have left.  Every once in a while though, someone gets it.

-Internet lifting “culture”.  Holy shit, if I see another stupid training meme or someone writing “skwats” I may blow out another blood vessel in my eye.  In general, “irony” is employed by the unsuccessful as an attempt to mask their failures with humor.  I remember back when people talked like adults, now you’re lucky to see a discussion on training with the third response isn’t something like “Brodin skwats OVER 9000 epic bacon zombie Nazis SNAP CITY”.

-How we, as a society, have decided to prize ignorance over intelligence.  In turn, those who put effort into become successful are labeled “try hards”.

-Stronglifts 5x5.  Has anyone actually accomplished anything on this program?

-People critiquing the form of people deadlifting 900lbs.

-The same people that ask rhetorically “do the rules no longer apply just because you can lift a lot of weight?”  The answer is yes.  The path to success defines the rules to achieve it, not the other way around.  If someone else ISN’T doing what you are doing and they are succeeding, it means YOU are wrong, not them.

-Arguments on the internet.  There will never be any resolution, no side will ever agree with the other, and it always boils down to 2 people picking apart single sentences and constructing dumb ad hominem responses.  Generally, as soon as someone lets me know they disagree with me online, I let them.  I know that I know I’m right, and they know that they know they’re right.

-Skinny kids who don’t realize that just because an argument is illogical doesn’t mean it’s incorrect.

-Internet squat depth judges.

-Whiz kids on the internet that get bent out of shape because someone doesn’t know what some obscure exercise is.  Clint Darden once said on youtube that he had no idea what a Romanian deadlift was, and then went on to deadlift 821lbs.  It really doesn’t matter if some guy you’re talking to has never heard of a Spoto Press or Kroc rows or the Bent Press, and truth be told, if they achieved success and NEVER heard of these exercises, maybe it goes to show how valuable they aren’t?  Quit flexing your big brain for a second.

-People that think wishing is a successful method of obtaining results.  Quit wishing your gym had a reverse hyper and just go out and get one.

-People that say they would do ANYTHING to train at the elitefts compound/Westside Barbell/Boss Barbell, etc and then don’t actually quit their job, move across country, live in their cars and panhandle.  Let’s not redefine what “anything” means here folks.

-Those who only have academic proof of the success of their methods.

-The whole notion of “good for you” and “bad for you”.  Nothing is any one of these things, as “for you” has yet to be defined.  If the presumption is always longevity at the expense of everything else, then sure, squatting is not good for you, and may even be bad for you.  However, if any of your goals involve being bigger, stronger, better, faster, more able, etc, then you may end up having to do some things that are “bad for you”, because they are now “good for you”.

We miss you George

-How everytime I try out a slingshot/metal catapult, it totally sucks.  I’m still sticking with reverse bands.

-That my 8 foot long arms, though awesome for deadlfiting, have made it so that I have enough time to think about all of my other poor life decisions when I am locking out a bench press.

-The amount of vitriol people employ to defend their means of training.  You don’t like high bar squats?  Don’t do it.  Don’t like low bar?  Don’t do it.  You’re no one’s savior, you don’t have to convince anyone else about the one true path.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


“Everything works, nothing works forever”, an often quoted statement by Louie Simmons, who coincidentally, if you listen to the internet these days, is apparently the dumbest, evilest, most out of touch, cheating, lying, etc etc who ever made men unfathomably strong for multiple decades.  Feelings aside, this quote holds an incredible amount of truth, and tends to be overlooked by most trainees due to an inherent desire to NEED for it to be wrong.  The first half especially is so volatile of a proposition that the mere suggestion of it is enough to get some folks shouted out of conversation, thrown out of a group, run out of town on a rail, excommunicated, tarred, feathered, skinned alive, boiled in oil, and possibly even crucified.

"He DARED to claim that he increased his squatting by only training it ONCE a week!"

Everything DOES work.  The more I train, the more I learn that I can’t find a WRONG way to train.  Any method I use results in progress, to include no method, training by sheer chaos and feel.  The method becomes far less valuable than the effort and intensity that is applied to it, for the body does not understand math, percentages, frequency, or programming, it simply knows that demands placed upon it and a need to adapt.  Those that do not push themselves hard enough to force adaptation will not receive it, regardless of who wrote their program and how awesome it is, whereas those that tax their bodies will see the results they desire, even if their programming is nonsensical, dangerous, unproven and wrong.  You can map out many variables in a program, but without the human aspect, it is worthless.

So why is it that the topic of training is so heatedly debated?  Why the crusade to ensure that no one trains “wrong” and that the right way prevails?  Because we have this inherent psychological NEED to form tribes and in groups, and in turn a biological imperative to ensure that WE are part of the in group to further our own survival.  As such, we need to ensure that we create outcasts and heretics to cast out and point to with spite as examples of all that is wrong and evil in our world.  We NEED war between training groups, conflict on the training table and arguments every day so that we can protect and pacify our fragile ego and be assured that we chose correctly, while we pity and condescend those “lesser” beings.

This is why forums are ultimately a poor avenue for intelligent discussion on training, there is simply minimal potential for any dissenting viewpoints.  In their infancy, forums will be a melting pot of various perspectives, shared experiences, and evidence both scientific and anecdotal.  Within short order, this will vanish, as the “one true path” will begin to become adopted by the majority of the forum, usually influenced by whichever group is the loudest in support of their faith.  Once this is established, there is no hope for alternative perspectives, there is simply a right way and a wrong way to train.  There may be a token forum member or two on the outskirts that presents a differing perspective, but they are either shouted down, mocked, or in many cases even banned from the forum under the accusation of trolling and posting just to incite conflict.  Dear me, conflict, in a discussion?  That simply won’t do.

If you view someone else succeeding at something as a personal attack, your development has been stunted

Witnessing the cognitive dissonance unfold is entertaining for the sadist at home, but also reveals just to what insane extent we perform psychological gymnastics in the hope of justifying the decisions we’ve made on the “right” and “wrong” way to train.  How often do we witness a junior trainee questioning the progress that their peers have made on “bro splits” while they have dutifully and faithfully followed the words of Rippetoe or Mehdi and have achieved nothing?  Or what of the very advanced trainee, who breaks all the rules, trains the “wrong” way, and makes unfathomable progress?  Or what of the accomplished bodybuilder, that acquired a massive physique by foolishly using abbreviated range of motion and cheating with bad form?  The thought process of those asking the questions is never “why is it that everything I know is incorrect”, but instead “why don’t these accomplished people know that there is a better way to train?”

Just imagine how much this guy could deadlift if he KNEW that touch and go deadlifts don't work

The same tricks are always employed to explain away these challenging affronts to our beliefs.  Clearly, these people cheated with steroids, or superior genetics, or they spent years training the right way and can only NOW get away with training the wrong way, or they secretly train the right way when no one is looking, and only train the wrong way on video, or any other insane and paranoid response you can come up with.  We refuse to acknowledge the common variables that the successful all share: effort and time.  We always assume that these are a given with any training program, and that it is the manipulation of other variables that affect the outcome, but in reality we find many simply spin their wheels on “superior routines” while the successful bust their ass with whatever approach they use.

We come up with terms to dismiss those whose success is an affront to our very existence.  Remember “HIT Jedis”?  What did they do to earn this name?  Why, they had the audacity to believe in a “science” that was totally unproven, silly, unreasonable and not at all aligned with what everyone else did.  Know what else was also upsetting about these folks?  Their training worked.  They took 2 weeks off in between muscle groups, worked out with machines, trained WELL past failure EVERY time they lifted, and still made progress.  How upsetting!  And what of the new “broscience” crowd?  These imbeciles who talk about eating 6 times a day to stoke the metabolic flames, and how squatting increases natural testosterone, and who split their workouts by muscle groups, not movements like they’re supposed to.  How incredibly frustrating that, despite not knowing “real” science and training based purely on myths and folklore, they still manage to make gains that in many cases trump those who are “in the know”.

This is the kind of body that can only be built by training wrong, getting high, and being certifiably insane

Here is a list of every program I have ever run that was successful (in no particular order): Pavel’s 3-5, Westside, 5/3/1, 20 Rep Squats, Dogg Crapp.  I would include a list of unsuccessful ones, but I have none.  In point of fact, the “Westside” program that I ran was terribly put together.  I had the barest of understanding on the principles, did not even know what powerlifting gear was, and trained just like a geared lifter should while training raw.  I actually made some of the best progress in my life on that program, going from a 400lb deadlift to 540lbs, squatting 420lbs and benching 365lbs touch and go, all without even a belt while putting on 25lbs of bodyweight, all within a 9 month span.  I made this sort of progress because, in my mind, I was doing “Westside”, and since I KNEW that Westside was the best program in the world and I was on it, I KNEW that I was going to make incredible progress.  Percentages meant nothing, it was the effort and faith I had in my programming.

On the topic of faith, allowing me to present yet another radical idea: what if what made a program beginner, intermediate or advance had nothing to do with programming and everything to do with popularity?  What, ultimately, is it that a beginner REALLY lacks when it comes to training: an inability to put numbers into a spreadsheet, or the type of experience that allows them to have confidence that their plan will work?  Without faith in a program, no matter how well put together, one cannot succeed with it, and as such, beginners need the programs that have the MOST constant reinforcement available to them.  The more people following the program, the better the program is for the beginner, regardless of the actual methodology being employed.  In turn, less popular programs are deemed only suitable for intermediate to advanced athletes, for a beginner could not possibly benefit from them due to their lack of faith and confidence in their approach.

Nevermind the fact that this is what success looks like.  Faith is a funny thing, and usually evidence just gets in the way.

I bring this up because many of the criticisms for employing a more “advanced” program as a beginner seem nonsensical to me.  Beginners are cautioned to not employ 5/3/1 compared to Starting Strength, for the latter allows you to progress everytime you train, whereas the former only has monthly progression.  However, did we not prior to this establish the reality that a beginner, by definition of BEING a beginner, is one who is ABLE to progress everytime they train regardless?  So why would it not be the case that this same beginner, using 5/3/1, would instead make monumental jumps each time they hit the lift in a weekly cycle?  This trainee could start a week of Starting Strength squatting 135 for 5 and end with 145 for 5, or they could start the cycle of 5/3/1 squatting 135 for 5 and then the next week squatting 145 again for 5, for this is that same beginner who is primed for rapid progression.  However, by the sheer volume of beginners shouting down this trainee for daring to deviate from the one truth path of abbreviated linear progression, there is no way for this trainee to possibly benefit from the amount of faith needed to continue progression.

This is why “advanced techniques” are even such a thing: an advanced trainee simply doesn’t care what other people think, they do what works.  The technique or programming that they are employing in no way takes advantage of some sort of super genetic mutation or can only be mastered by those who have snatched the pebble from their master’s hand.  Instead, these techniques have always been out there, ready and available for any and all to employ, but it is only those who have enough faith in themselves to be able to progress into uncharted or in many cases exiled territory that can effectively make use of them.  When one needs to place their faith in the success of others, they are limited only to what has already been done and publicized.  When one places their faith in themselves, they are free to progress with anything.

I challenge you, the reader, to find a way to train unsuccessfully.  Do everything wrong, make nonsensical choices, put yourself in danger.  Pour every ounce of effort and energy you can into this.  I am willing to bet that you will find far more successful plans with this approach than failed ones.