Monday, March 31, 2014


Though success and failure appear to be opposites, in reality it seems that we tend to treat both of them the same: with fear.  The fear of failure seems obvious, in that we desire to always avoid failure whenever possible and to minimize our exposure to that which would promote failure, however the fear of success is far more insidious.  We fear success in others, for we interpret it as an attack against our own success, in a way feeling that the success of another is in turn a failure of ourselves.  This type of thinking is ultimately destructive, both of ourselves and of progressive thinking toward training.

The fundamental issue at hand here is that we become married to a method, feeling that we must declare overt loyalty to its practices and forsake all others.  In doing so, we have set ourselves up for massive cognitive dissonance whenever we witness others achieving success without employing our method.  We interpret this as an attack against our method, our training, and our own success, and as such employ all manner of defense mechanisms in order to either defeat the success or rationalize it as a form of failure in and of itself.

I mean, yeah, if you wanna put it bluntly

If we are in the abbreviated training camp and we witness someone succeeding with a high volume, low frequency “bodybuilding program”, we speak of how it’s only their genetics and/or drug use that permit them to succeed, and that they would have been successful with any program they pursued, which means that if they had chosen our way, they would have been even more successful.  If we are in the high frequency/high volume camp and witness one succeeding with abbreviated training, we simply chalk it up to beginner gains and say that anyone makes gains starting out, but in order to really make it big, people need to follow our training.

However, the true venom of the pack is not witnessed in the presence of success, but instead in the presence of failure.  One will never find a more spiteful, calloused, and sometimes downright evil group of people until they witness a trainee expressing to a community that they did not find success using their method.  The sheer notion that the adopted method of the group could possibly fail is so psychologically offensive that all manner of basic human decency seems to flee from the community as a barrage of hate is spewed at the trainee.  Accusations arise from basic factors such as poor sleep and nutrition to insults about the trainee’s intellect and ready comprehension to borderline eugenic based comments on the failure of the trainee’s genetics and speculation that they may have some sort of disease or mutation.  The notion that their method is not universally successful shakes the very foundation of their psyche so hard that there are no limits to what one will say in order to maintain their belief.

"Everyone loves strawberries, I don't know what your issue is.  You must be eating them wrong."

We need not fear success or failure, but instead should embrace it.  We need to understand that there are no universalisms in training (and yes, I am aware of the irony of such a statement).  Success and failure are not moral qualities, they are simply data.  The more data we have access to, the better, as it allows us to observe that which can succeed and that which can failure.  The sheer knowledge that a program or method has the capability to succeed under some manner of circumstances is delightful information, for it means we have access to one more tool for our collective training toolbox.  We have the knowledge and understanding that there is another method out there in case our current one is not working, or not working in the way that we wish for it to work.  Additionally, knowing that a program can fail is incredibly vital information, as the knowledge of the fallibility of a method means we can work to either circumvent the failure or understand the shortcomings in order to prepare our future programming.

No 2 trainees are identical, and as a result no 2 people will train in an identical matter.  You may have 2 trainees running Starting Strength, but one may sleep 7 hours a day while the other sleeps 9, or one eats 3200 calories a day while the other eats 3300, or one is 5’7 and the other is 6’5, meaning they are both moving the weights for a different distance on each movement.  The notion that both trainees will enjoy identical success and failure rates is absurd, as their results will be purely based on the individual.  As such, when we witness someone who is not us experiencing success or failure with a method we are or are not using, this is in no way a personal slight to our own belief structure.  One does not succeed or failure purely to spite us, but instead as a result of their own circumstances.  We can appreciate this success or failure for the wonderful amount of information that it is to us, utilizing it to make ourselves better at our own training.

Do we really believe they would have turned out the same if they trained the same way?

Sometimes, someone can do everything right, and it just won’t work, which speaks to the fallibility of a program, and sometimes, a trainee can do everything wrong and still make gains, which speaks to the power of a training program.  The trick is to appreciate the value of the information for what it is, and be thankful of the trainee for sharing their experience.

Monday, March 24, 2014


In the near future my schedule is going to most likely become incredibly compromised, and it’s going to necessitate that I make changes to how I train.  Unlike some, I will not see this as an invitation to stop training entirely, but what it will do is force me to prioritize the things in my training that are the most valuable and the things in my training that can stand to be removed or relocated.  Here, I intend to document my approach and philosophy to this type of training in the hope that you will be able to benefit from this and be able to utilize it during your own schedule crunches.

I will still be operating off of my current approach to training (the “Mythical Strength Method”, as previously documented).  With this frame work, here is how training/prioritization will break down.

-Light sets of the main lift that day.  No foam rolling/stretching/mobility (time poorly spent).

2: Primary/heavy lift of the day
-1 big set w/rest pause.  ROM progression style with a deload every 8 weeks, as per the original program.

3: 5 set drop set of similar movement
-IE: If I benched for the primary lift, we do a bench drop set, starting at 225 for 10, then dropping to 185, 135, 95, and the bar for 10.  Similar approach for squats.  Deads will be followed by a squat variation, since drop set deads tend to be dangerous in my personal experience.  This will necessitate strategic plate loading to ensure minimal time between sets.  Additionally, linear progression will still be the goal with these, so each week, add 5lbs or another rep to each set.

Call it a training day at that.  By my estimate, that should last roughly 20-30 minutes and still get me a great amount of volume and strength work.  This would be trained 3 days a week, with a day for squat, deadlift, and either press or bench (honestly don’t know which I am going to prioritize at this point).  You may recognize part 3 of the day as coming out of my article on “salvage workouts”, as this will most likely be a long term salvage workout approach, but I think significant gains can still be made with this approach.

With this being 3 days of training a week, I still intend to have a 4th day of lifting, and this is going to be the day wherein I fit in all the assistance work I’ve neglected throughout the week.  The day will be “full body”, but no heavy competition lifts, just lots of stuff for volume.  I think a basic template could be

1: 100 chins

2: 5x10 reverse hyper

3: 5x10 ghr

4: 100 curls/tricep extensions

Also crucial to this approach would be acquiring volume through small spurts of daily exercises.  I plan to keep a resistance band by the bed so I can hammer out some band pull aparts/dislocations before bed and when I wake up.  Grease the groove can also be valuable in this case, since I have a power tower in my garage and can knock out quick sets of dips and chins each day whenever I pass it.  Additionally, the tabata protocol will be huge for my non-lifting days in terms of getting in more volume in a 4 minute burst.  Tabata log clean and press goes a long way toward making me exhausted and getting more overhead press volume, same with safety squat bar squats and front squats.

This entry is rambling and personal, but here are the overall lessons that can be taken from it.

1: There is always a way to train.  It’s not necessarily ideal, but it exists.

2: Volume doesn’t have to happen all in one training session.  It can be accumulated gradually throughout the week in small spurts.

3: Conditioning is a great time to get in extra training volume for the things you are weak on.

4: Drop sets are probably the fastest (and most miserable) way to get in a ton of volume in a short amount of time.

I will let you know how this goes in the future.  If you try it as well, let me know.

Monday, March 17, 2014


When I first started learning how to lift, I was constantly reminded of the value of using a full range of motion (ROM) in everything I did.  Every movement, no matter what the movement was, had to be performed will a full range of motion, regardless of my goals or the goal of the program.  If I was going to bench for 3 sets of 10, all 10 reps had to touch my chest and go to a full lockout, or else it “didn’t count”.  When I squatted, by god, I better get below parallel on each rep and lockout at the top, or I could just watch my gains fly out the window.  And so help me, if I ever even thought of curling without having the dumbbell touch my front deltoid, I may as well pack up the gym back and go home, because I clearly wasn’t there to work.

You're NEVER going to get biceps doing that.  Better deload down to the bar and start over with strict form.

As I got further along in my training, I learned something incredible: full ROM is worthless.  At least insomuch in terms of getting bigger and stronger, it has no value.  About the only value I find in full ROM work is as a diagnostic tool to determine where I am weak versus where I am strong in a movement pattern.  Once that is decided, I don’t ever need it again until it’s time to reassess my weaknesses.

Think about it realistically for a second: no one is weak all over in a movement.  You will logically have parts of a movement wherein you are stronger and parts wherein you are weaker, that is simply a function of reality.  If you are “strong all over”, that just means the weight is too light to be of any use.  Knowing this, what is the possible benefit of training in the full ROM of any movement?  If you are weak off the chest in the bench and are benching in order to build a stronger bench press, why would you want to waste any energy on the lockout portion of the bench?  Wouldn’t it be better to spend the entirety of your training time hammering the weakest portion of the movement rather than dividing yourself equally between your strongest and weakest portion of the lift?

The dangers of only playing to our strengths

So much of how we train is dictated purely by convention and dogma.  We are told that a squat HAS to go below parallel and lockout, and therefore, whenever we squat, we perform this movement.  Whenever we witness someone NOT training this way, we chastise them for “not doing the movement”, with pithy witticisms such as “and not a single squat was done that day”, completely ignoring the fact that the purpose of the training was to get bigger and stronger, not to do squats.  We end up policing and ensuring our own mediocrity for the sake of enforcing convention, forgoing critical thinking and the ability to understand that a movement is only useful in its ability to make us stronger.

Rant aside, how do you break the shackles of the full ROM in your training and start getting bigger and stronger through critical thinking?  Simply by employing what has been discussed above.  Understand that within the full ROM of every movement will exist areas where you are strong and areas where you are weak, and from here, when you train this movement, you simply cut the ROM at the point where it is no longer beneficial.

If you are weak off the chest on bench, bench off your chest until the point where your triceps start taking the load, and then bring the bar back to your chest to start the rep over again.  If you are weak at lockout, stop the rep when your triceps abandon the movement and start over.  If you are weak out of the hole on squats, spend most of your time squatting in and out of the hole.  If you can’t lockout your squats, spend more time locking them out.

A great, if blurry, example

Additionally, partials can be used in part of an overall program structure.  If you use ROM progression like I do, you realize that the majority of your heavy lifting is going to be spent in the top portion of the ROM rather than the bottom.  If you bench with the bar suspended in chains, you are training your lockout every week, whereas the portion closest to your chest only gets hit toward the very end of the cycle.  To compensate for this, you can model your assistance lifts such that you spend all of your time in the bottom portion of the ROM, ensuring that you are still developing strength at this portion of the ROM.  In doing so, you are prepping your body for the impending full ROM lift it will be required to perform at the end of the cycle, ensuring no portion is neglected and that any weak areas you have can still be developed.

If you feel that certain parts of your body are being neglected with this practice, there are always solutions that do not require you to sacrifice strengthening your weak points.  If your triceps are no longer receiving stimulus because all of your benching focuses on the chest, you can always incorporate some tricep pushdowns as a finisher to get in some tricep recruitment.  If your pecs are lacking, there are chain flyes.  Finishers are valuable in any training program, and are the perfect way to flush some volume to an area at the end of a workout if you feel it has been neglected.  Don’t be careless and just randomly employ these for “the pump”, everything you do in training should have a reason.

 Reason: Someone switched my pre-workout with LSD

I realize one can read the above and wonder why one wouldn’t just train in a full ROM to hit all parts, rather than having to essentially double the effort by training a movement and then additional assistance work.  The point here is that you should use your training movements to develop strength where you are weak, not strength where you are strong.  The primary benefit of training a movement pattern that mirrors your competition lift is that it can make said lift stronger, and employing it purely for the sake hammering all body parts seems to be squandering its potential.  However, finishers like pushdowns, flyes, sled drags, etc, are far less specific in their application and far better suited for developing some general strength and size.  Rather than using them to break up specific weak points, they can far better serve you as a non-specific training tool for ensuring more volume in general.  Once again, we are back to the idea of using every tool in your toolbox and being able to adapt to any circumstance.

Those that adapt get stronger, and those that refuse will die.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


We have seen the expression “there are no secrets” when it comes to training a million times now, and it has become a cliché.  The intent is absolutely true, the “secret” is hardwork, dedication, effort and consistency, but I feel there is more to explore here.  I feel that it is worth considering the reality that the most effective methods of training are rarely spoken of, and the most spoken of methods of training are rarely effective.  What we are witnessing here is social and psychological phenomena that perpetuates mediocrity for its own self-preservation.

Additionally, the pyramids were built by people with diminishing goals

What I am arriving at is this: it seems that those who are successful at lifting rarely discuss or defend their method, and that those who are unsuccessful tend to be the loudest.  This notion was explored in part with my previous rant on not needing to defend yourself, based around the premise that those who find success tend to live successfully, while those that encounter failure tend to be the first to argue about how they are or will be successful.  However, I feel that the impact of this has far deeper reaching ramifications, in that the sheer higher percentage of those that have failed versus those that have succeeded in turn impacts the very flow and content of all training related discussions.

To clarify, when it comes to discussing training, there will be far more people that have failed than succeeded, which means, there will be a far higher volume of unsuccessful training related strategies than successful ones.  This can in turn becomes misleading to the listener, for they will continue to encounter the same themes over and over again as they pursue education on lifting, and the recurrence of concepts can be misinterpreted as the presence of success.  We mistake this process for evolution, believing that clearly the successful training strategies and concepts are the ones that survive scrutiny, whereas the unsuccessful ideas are weeded out of the population to die, leaving only the cream of the crop behind.

You know, like this

I argue that in fact the opposite is occurring, such that, by the sheer reality that there are more unsuccessful trainees than successful ones, the successful ideas will rarely come to light, whereas the unsuccessful ones will be perpetuated indefinitely.  In fact, I would say that it is not just the number of unsuccessful people that results in this propensity, but that we are also witnessing the defensive mechanisms of those who have not achieved success.  As a people, we seek validation and assurance in our actions, and the easiest way to ensure that we receive these things is to project them outwardly, essentially “wishing” ourselves successful.  The idea being that, if we say something enough times, it has to be true, and the more people we can get to believe it, the more we in turn will believe it.

One can easily witness this phenomenon in any select internet forum, office environment, or any other shared community with a common goal.  There is less of a need for methods to be successful and far more of a need for methods to SEEM successful, especially whatever the chosen method of the society is.  The Starting Strength community will be adamant about the unequivocal success of the Starting Strength program, and anyone who either dissents from the program or has the audacity to NOT succeed while following it is merely an interloper who has been sent to cause dissent, and they must be destroyed at all cost.  The same can hold true for 5/3/1, Smolov, Stronglifts, Crossfit, Westside, the Paleo Diet, Intermittent Fasting, etc, the method itself matters far less than the fact that the society has embraced it and will continue to speak about its effectiveness for the sake of their own mental self-reservation.

In the end, its far easier to burn one person at the stake than to change all of your textbooks

What lesson are we to take from this observation?  Perhaps it is the case that, if we hear about a program or diet a lot, that is an indication that it is in fact NOT successful.  Surely, if the majority of trainees are unsuccessful, and that majority of trainees are speaking of the same program, one would in turn not utilize said program due to its lack of ability to create success, no?  In turn, we are left with the idea that maybe “training secrets” DO exist, insomuch as the fact that it is the ideas that are rarely spoken of that are actually successful, for these ideas are practiced only by the few people who have actually succeeded while others have failed.  Perhaps the ultimate lesson here is that, if an idea has reached popular acclaim in training, it is most likely not successful, whereas if you come up with an idea you have never heard of before, maybe it will have merit.

My grandfather always said “look at what 95% of the population is doing, and then do the opposite”.  If you view what 95% of the population has achieved in the pursuit of physical greatness, maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea.