Monday, June 30, 2014


As I progress further along my training and start reaching goals that at one point seemed impossible, I find myself reflecting upon past decisions made and the ones that hindered my progress more than helped it.  Of these, I think the one I regret the most is my adamant refusal to ever abandon “The Big 3” in my training, insisting that I always have them included in any program that I run.  I am not alone in this dogmatic approach to training, and it is because of this that I must now ask the question that I should have asked myself before: why?

In general, I find my questions seem more profound when posed by a psychotic clown trying to kill Batman

The squat, bench press and deadlift are absolutely movements that can develop size and strength.  There is no questioning this reality.  However, we as a lifting culture have somehow concluded that, since these movements are evaluated as measures of strength in the sport of powerlifting, there must be some magical property that they possess in terms of strength development, and as such, they must be included in any program if strength is the goal.  We fall victim to accepting convention as intention, believing that by sheer nature of the fact that these 3 movements have been selected, it must have been by nature of the fact that they are superior to any and all other movements, and thus the training of them will ensure that one becomes strong.

Additionally, we confuse the outcome of the trainees as a reflection of the benefit of the lifts themselves.  Comically enough, about 10 years ago, the idea of “looking like a powerlifter” was rarely the goal of a trainee, as the stereotype was that of a goatee sporting 300lb sphere of flesh covered in tattoos with a shaved head and about 30% bodyfat.  Regardless of the veracity of that perspective, in the modern era of powerlifting we have impressive physical specimens such as Dan Green, the Lilliebridge family, Stan Efferding, Matt Kroczaleski (even before he became a bodybuilder), Konstantin Konstantinovs, and a sheer litany of others.  This has in turn provided a convenient avenue for trainees to pursue the powerlifts as an end goal, for it is considered non-masculine to be concerned about appearance and ubermasculine to be concerned about strength, and as such they can now convince themselves that, if they become strong on the powerlifts and maintain an appearance of masculinity among their peers, they can in turn achieve their hidden and “shameful” desire of also looking good.  All the while, they can chide and deride bodybuilders for being “weak” and vain, caring only for looks while they are pursuing something “worthwhile”.

"Those silly bodybuilders.  Give me a sport where I have to wear kevlar underwear."

I contend, however, that we are confusing the end for the means here, oversimplifying the entire process to believe that those who got strong at the big 3 did so by doing the big 3, and that since the big 3 is what is used to measure strength, it is the only measure of strength possible.  In reality, strength and size can easily be developed without ever performing the squat, bench press or deadlift, a statement of heresy to many but regardless, still reality.  Furthermore, I believe that is most cases, if the goal is simply to become bigger and stronger with no aspiration of competing in powerlifting, a trainees time could be spent performing better movements than the squat, bench press and deadlift as they are defined in powerlifting.  Though fine movements in and of themselves, they are far from the alpha and omega of training.

Fundamentally, many of the issues I witness in the training of others is that they attempt to fit a square peg in a round hole when it comes to the powerlifts.  Some people are simply not constructed to perform these lifts well, whether it be due to unique leverages, height, mobility issues, prior injuries, or a variety of other reasons.  These trainees beat their heads against walls for years, if not longer, trying their hardest to be able to squat, bench press or deadlift effectively, when all the while they could have easily employed some manner of substitute that would have been just as, if not MORE effective for simply becoming bigger and stronger.  With no aspirations of powerlifting, it seems silly to invest so much time developing proficiency in these three lifts when others will suffice.

This appears to be working just fine

By what other lifts do I speak of?  Having any familiarity with my previous writing, I imagine it would be of no shock to others what I would suggest, but ultimately I believe that a non-competitive trainee would be far better off seeking less technical alternatives to these lifts.  I have written about this previously in my two entries about what lifts I would do if I did not compete in strength sports (located here and here, but those were more personal choices.  The big takeaway is that the powerlifting definition of how these lifts are to be performed are not all inclusive, but simply parameters established by competition.  For a trainee seeking to get bigger and stronger, one must instead perform these lifts in a manner that suits their goals, not instead change their goals to a manner that suits these lifts.

If one cannot squat to depth with a powerlifting style squat, one need not engage in hours of mobility training, stretching, warming up, form practice, etc.  One can simply squat to the depth that they find to be comfortable.  Or they can squat to a box, or perform a box squat proper.  Or, this trainee could use a safety squat bar, or a front squat or high bar squat, or even a power squat machine.  As long as some manner of squatting is being performed, the trainee will get the benefits of a squat, as the movement pattern itself is far more vital than the specifics of competition form.  One need not deadlift from the floor if it causes pain or anxiety, as a partial pull will develop great size and strength, as would a top down deadlift with no breaking off the floor, and a romainian deadlift, or a stiff legged deadlift.  A bench press need not be performed with a barbell as a powerlifter would in order to be effective, as one can also gain the benefits from an incline press, or using dumbbells, or a swiss bar, or even completely abandoning the bench entirely for dips or focusing purely on overhead pressing.  Without any goal of competing in powerlifting, all one does is limit themselves by handcuffing themselves to the powerlifts, refusing to ever abandon them even if a better alternative exists.

Handcuffed to the bench!  You get it?!

On the topic of the powerlifts producing a certain “look” and how we now see an era of powerlifters with impressive physiques, we once again must realize that we cannot confuse cause for effect here.  We must not deduce that powerlifting must make you have a good physique, but instead that this is the physique that produces good powerlifters.  This is one of those mistakes that is only made with some sports and not others, and I believe it’s because the absurdity only becomes apparent within certain parameters.  For example, the fitness community is also led to believe that long distance running makes one skinny, because they observe successful long distances runners, note that they are skinny, and deduce that this must be a result of their training/competition.  However, no one ever deduces that playing basketball must make you tall, even though we can once again observe a common shared characteristic among successful basketball players.  The point here is that, when observing physical characteristics of athletes, one must understand that they are witnessing a process akin to natural selection, wherein only those most adequately constructed to thrive in the environment will do so, and those who cannot will be weeded out before they can reach the higher echelons.  Go to any marathon and you will see dozens, if not hundreds of runners that would be considered “obese”, but still regularly engage in running training.  They will never be elite, but they still perform the activity that the elite perform.

Extrapolating this to powerlifting, we must also understand that the current era of powerlifting physique is also a recent phenomenon due to the increased popularity of raw powerlifting (note the absence of my use of RAW, because I am not using the acronym for “Redeemed Among the World”, which is what the RAW federation stands for and many seem to mistakenly employ when they wish to talk about powerlifting without equipment).  Prior to this increase in popularity, the word powerlifting inherently referred to equipped powerlifting, as there was no possible option to compete without equipment.  Your options instead were based purely around how much equipment you wanted to use, from single ply to multi ply.  Those who competed in equipment (especially in the heaviest weight classes) had the physique that was the most successful for an equipped lifter, one where leverages were maximized and the effect of the suit/shirt could be maximized by having as much size as possible.  The images of an overfat lifter squishing their mass down into a way too tight suit can still be seen on youtube and the internet in general, and as a strategy, it worked, meaning more weight got moved.  Additionally, the suits and shirts altered the mechanics of the lift, placing vital importance on the ability to essentially explode a lift from a deadstop or maximize the reversal strength of the equipment, in many cases fighting the actual eccentric of the lift.  This in turn placed an increased importance on the posterior chain for squats and deads with the deprioritization of the quads, along with increased significance on the lats and triceps in the bench at the expense of the pecs and shoulders.  As raw powerlifting has become more popular, we are now witnessing the physiques that are necessary to move heavy weights without assistance, meaning that extra squishiness is of no benefit, while increasing quad and pec work becomes vital since there is no suit or shirt to assist at the start of the lift.

This got a 3000lb total in multi ply

However, we must again understand then that it was not the competition lifts in and of themselves that created these physiques, but instead the need to succeed in these lifts and developing the body that was necessary in order to do so.  It’s not that being strong at the raw bench makes one have bulbous shoulders, pecs and triceps, but instead that these muscles must be significantly developed in order to be successful.  A strong deadlift does not necessarily give you a big back, but instead it is the case that a big back becomes necessary for a strong deadlift.  We must not confuse the end for the means here, and instead must understand that it is the pursuit of strength that necessitates building the physique that will support it, which means that in many cases, rather than it being the big 3 that makes us bigger and stronger, it is all of those things we do to get better at the big 3 that we can attribute to our success.

In closing, I acknowledge that some trainees grow very well using the powerlifts.  Some trainees even grow very well using only the powerlifts, altering their programs by changing volume, rep ranges, rep speeds, frequency of training, etc, while keeping the movements the same.  However, I contend that, like many things in training, it’s going to boil down to the individual, and the sheer statistical probability that the powerlifts are exactly the right thing for you are pretty slim, simply because most humans are unique in terms of leverages, limb length, mobility, prior injuries, and a variety of other factors, and as such different lifts will have different “fits” for each lifter.  You may need to squat as a powerlifter would, or maybe you need to squat like an Olympic lifter, or front squat, or use a safety squat bar, or squat above depth, or make usage of a multitude of other options to be able to maximize your potential with squatting.  If you have no need to compete in the big 3, you do not need to do them in order to be successful.

Monday, June 23, 2014


For those of you that missed Parts I, II and III, you can find it here

7:  Outside variables are not controlled

Those who follow abbreviated training tend to be beginner lifters, and by extension they are beginners in physical activity in general.  Due to this, many trainees who follow abbreviated training unfortunately do not have good life habits established, and when attempting to pair sound training principles with a poor lifestyle, the results tend to be lackluster.  The two areas wherein a trainee tends to fail in this regard are sleep and nutrition.

This kid, however, is a pro

Sleep, by all accounts, should not be nearly as difficult as many trainees make it out to be.  One of the best things one can do for themselves to ensure adequate recovery and continually improving strength is to endeavor to get around 8 hours of sleep each night.  However, many people (and by extension, trainees employing abbreviated training) have terrible sleep habits that are hinged around the concept of indulging in as much hedonism as possible in a given 24 hour period.  Getting 8 hours of sleep means giving up on certain luxuries, such as TV, video games, internet trolling, stamp collecting, watching your neighbors through their window with a high powered telescope, snipe hunting, and making meth.  Getting 8 hours of sleep means getting to bed early and missing out on all the cool stuff that happens late at night, especially if you must also get up early in the morning, but it’s another one of those situations wherein doing the things no one else is doing is what it takes in order to get the results that no one else is getting.

Additionally, by establishing normal and regular sleep patterns, it becomes easier to control outside variables that could be affecting your lifting, such that, if there is an issue with progressing, you can at least isolate that sleep is NOT that variable that is contributing toward your failure.  If you are sleeping at random intervals for irregular amounts of time, it becomes difficult to determine if a failure to progress is simply a bad day in the gym, a sign of a failure in programming, or a result of inadequate recovery between sessions.  However, with the sleep variable isolated, it becomes much easier to troubleshoot any issues that arise.

"You're sleeping well, eating right, your programming is sound.  This may sound like a silly question, but are you by chance a dog lifting weight?"

I have spoken many times on how I feel sleep is overrated as it impacts training recovery, and I do honestly believe and standby that sentence.  However, I say that as someone who has conditioned themselves over years of training to not let outside variables interfere with their performance.  I believe the power of the mind is adequate enough to overcome outside variables.  Most people that have spent enough time in some sort of sport, military organization, or any sort of extreme lifestyle can also develop these skillsets.  One who does not possess this ability or experience, however (like a beginner with zero athletic foundation) is going to need to get all their ducks in a row until they are able to learn how to control their progress this way, and those unable to do something as simple as getting enough sleep between workouts will not progress as well as a trainee that can.

On the topic of other outside variables, we must address nutrition.  I am far from an expert on nutrition, nor do I feel that it is as important as many make it out to be, but when analyzing the dietary habits of many trainees that use abbreviated training, one cannot help but notice the inadequacies that are apparent.  Frankly put, most people (and again, by extensions, trainees that follow abbreviated programs) eat like children.  The most stark and obvious example of this is a total lack of green veggies in a diet.

"Dude, it fits my macros."

Many trainees fixate entirely on macronutrients, and as such, only concern themselves with what are considered primary sources of these macros.  The craze of “If It Fits Your Macros” (or IIFYM, because we have so much attention deficit disorder as a culture that everything needs a pithy initialism), though easily with its own merits, has many trainees developing diets of nothing but meat and potatoes/rice/bread, ensuring that they get their fats, carbs and protein with each meal.  Though a step in the right direction in terms of having awareness of what one is eating, we must understand that the reason we have “macronutrient” as an identifier is because the contrast, a “micronutrient”, also exists, and is also worth consideration.  A trainee that only considers the impact of macros disregards the significant impact of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many other qualities found in food.  Speaking purely from personal experience, I know that my training and physique improved substantially when I started eating vegetables regularly.

Additionally, much like the topic of sleep, trainees tend to have poor time management skills that result in their inability to eat decent meals at regular times.  Much like sleep, it requires one to give up some of their other luxuries in order to ensure that they give themselves enough time to prepare and eat a decent meal.  As far as isolating outside variables, have adequate nutrition is once again something that one can control in order to ensure that, if success is not found in training, one can at least know that it is not their nutrition that is at fault.  Once again, the troubleshooting process becomes much easier when there are fewer variables to consider.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


I can’t count how many times I have seen someone post their program online seeking some sort of rating or evaluation.  It’s probably one of the most common recurring trends for internet fitness sites, along with “rate my diet”, form checks, and the ever popular “are these numbers good” requests.  Amazingly, despite the popularity of such ponderings, this rating seeking is generally of no value, and serves as a waste of time for all parties involved.

Training by democracy is a terrible approach to achieving greatness, for by sheer statistically reality, the majority of those viewing, rating, and advising you on your training will at best be mediocre, if not worse.  When you open yourself to advisement and rating from the masses, the signal to noise ratio becomes incredibly poor, and the difficulty of sorting the good advice from the waste is immense.  For those that lack the ability to make this distinction, the possibly exists that they will be led astray due to possibly well meaning but wholly incorrect advice received from some faceless internet denizen.  For those that have the ability to know the crap from the gold, there is no need to post their routine for critique in the first place, as they should have a firm understanding of what they need to do and what makes them bigger and stronger.

He wasn't asking his troops for approval of his plan here

This is why the notion of creating your own routine and then posting it for external evaluation becomes laughable.  One must question who is this mysterious trainee that is so well versed in lifting that they possess the capability to design a routine that will be more effective for them than the variety of pre-built ones already available yet in the same capacity lacks the critical thinking and awareness necessary to be able to determine the worth of their final product?  If one necessitates external evaluation, they are not in a position wherein they should be designing their own training.

What we have at play here is a variety of themes I have noted in the past, with the most prevalent one being the absolute and total fear of failure, along with the transference of guilt and responsibility.  A trainee refuses to ever encounter any degree of failure in their training, in doing so refusing to acknowledge the significant degree of learning that occurs through failure, due to their fear of ever spending any time not making the absolute best most optimal gains possible.  It is because of this that, rather than design a routine, try it out, and tweak it as they go, they spend days, if not months trying to troubleshoot and craft the most absolute program possible.  Here we are ignoring the maxim that a decent plan violently executed in the present is far more valuable than a perfect plan in the future.  Additionally though, by seeking the validation of external sources rather than internal, the trainee has afforded themselves some manner of “ego insurance”, such that, if they DO still manage to fail in their endeavors, the blame is entirely absolved from self and instead squarely placed upon everyone else involved.  It is not THEIR fault the program didn’t work, but instead the fault of all those other people that gave the trainee advice, tweaks, and approval.  This is a surefire way to never encounter any manner of cognitive dissonance and destruction of ego, but a manner of getting bigger and stronger it is not.

When we trust other people with our safety and progress, we put ourselves in danger

Do not misconstrue this to be an argument in opposition of self created routines and training protocols that are individualized to the needs of the user.  I honestly think this is incredibly valuable, and that any trainee that wishes to bridge the gap from recreational lifter to something of greatness will need to one day make this transition.  The cookie-cutter, one size fits all routines available in print media, oral tradition and throughout the internet are a valuable building block to learn the basics and get a solid understanding of fundamentals, but will eventually falter due to their static and unfluid nature.  However, it is because of this shortcoming that the notion of having your routine evaluated by an external agency once again becomes an exercise in futility, for a routine will rarely be able to be summarized within a 1 page laundry list of sets and reps.  An actual “program”, by nature of the word and its intent, is going to constantly be in flux in order to fit the needs of the user.  It will include some manner of periodization, progression, regulation, and adaptation as strengths and weaknesses change.  For me to have a program listed where I say that I do 5 sets of 10 reps of squats is disingenuous, for though it may be true that at this exact moment in time this is what I do, the reality is that, as soon as this does not adequately address my needs, this will change.  With me being the best judge of my own ability, limitations, and goals, there is no way any other external agent could possibly know the right advice for me to progress, nor could I possibly accurate represent exactly how I intend to train with a single momentary snapshot of the present.

It is because of my own unique experience that, additionally, I as an outside observer lack the ability to proper advice any other trainee on their routine in general, and could only in turn provide very specific and limited advice.  By at least possessing this recognition of my own limitations as an adviser, I do not contribute when asked to evaluate a routine, but others who simply assume that their own unique experience directly maps onto all other humans with no modifications will evaluate a program with a bias toward the self.  This is why, regardless of who designed the program or how effective it is, every program is considered “garbage” when it is presented for evaluation.  Someone will inevitably claim that 3x5 is too little volume, or too much volume, or has no periodization, or any of the other myriad of other critiques easily available for taking simple snipping potshots from the safety that the anonymity affords.  A program uniquely designed by Sheiko, or Simmons, or Meadows, or any of the other well established and incredibly successful trainers available for a specific individual, posted for the scrutiny of the internet, would never survive its first day of observation due to the fact that it was not similar enough to Stronglifts 5x5.  Trainees seek to justify their choices and decisions in training by rallying against anything that is in opposition to how they train, and attempting to sway all others to their method.  And since the majority of trainees in turn also rarely meet success, to seek their advice and approval is to in turn emulate their outcome.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


For those of you that missed Parts I and II, you can find it here

5:  They don’t understand the difference between stalling and struggling

Unfortunately, those that employ abbreviated training tend to be beginners, and as such, they have no frame of reference for what training is like.  They attempt to fill the void of experience with knowledge by reading everything they can on training, but in doing so, they absorb a lot of crap.  One of the biggest fallacies of training that is being spread is this idea that, while engaging in abbreviated training, if you do not hit every set of every rep in a training session, you have “stalled”.  Additionally, there is this rule that, when this happens 3 times, you have completely stalled, and now need to reset.

Let us have a discussion on the definition of progress.  If a trainee squatted 135lbs for 3x5 on Monday, and then on Wednesday squats 140 for 3x3, this person has made progress.  In fact, this person has set a lifetime PR on Wednesday, and should be immensely proud of their work.  Simply going up in weight in any capacity is progress, as the body has now been stressed with a higher weight than it had previously.  Additionally, if this same trainee squats 140 for 1 set of 4, followed by 2 sets of 3 on Friday, they have in turn also progressed.

Beginners on abbreviated programs have an unrealistic expectation of constant direct linear progress every training session, not understanding that this tempo is unmanageable within a short period of time.  Adding 5lbs every training session may be feasible during the earliest stages of training, where improvement on lifts can be more attributed to rapid adaptation and improvement on form/grooving the motor pattern of the movement compared to actually becoming physically stronger, but eventually this fades.  When this happens, it’s not a sign that one is “stalling”, or that the beginner gains have ceased, or any other such internet drivel, it simply means that now is the time to actually start working.

Life is not a video game.  You do not get stronger by constantly fighting lettuce.  Eventually, you need to take on a demon.

Prior to this point, gains came so easily to the lifter that they were conditioned to believe that the level of “intensity” they were employing was all that was necessary to make progress, and as such, when they reach a point where real effort must be utilized and discomfort experienced, they assume it must be a sign that something is amiss.  They wish to replicate the feeling they had before, when training was simply a matter of showing up and going through the motions while making gains that were leaps and bounds every training sessions, but unfortunately, now is the time where they need to grind and sweat for every single rep, session after session, in order to make progress.  Staying at the same weight for multiple training sessions isn’t unheard of, and in fact, is a pretty common experience for those that are successful with these programs.  You eek out reps each session, with the goal of eventually getting your rep total goal (whether it be 3x5, 5x5, 4x4, 5x3, or whatever combination you manage to come up with) before increasing the weight and starting all over again.

6:  They reset way too often, and when they do it, they do it poorly

This relates to what was mentioned in the above, for when beginners feel that they are stalling, the internet’s first (and usually only solution) is for this person to reset.  Nothing drives me crazier than watching how frequently beginners employ resetting in their training, as it always happens once they reach the point when they actually need to start working, which means they just spin their wheels, hitting the same numbers for months, if not years on end.

"Oops, very slight buttwink.  Better deload to bodyweight with reverse bands and work up from there"

Resetting is the definition of insanity.  A trainee is no longer succeeding in their approach, so they decide that they are going to do EXACTLY what they did up until this point in order to bypass their current sticking point.  When written like this, I hope the madness of the method becomes illuminated.  This approach is operating under the false premise that one can start building momentum to break through plateaus by lowering their weights and trying to mimic the beginner gains they once experienced.

You don't learn nuclear physics by going through K-12 over and over again

This approach tends to work with more advanced trainees due to the fact that they have far more room to play around with in this domain.  Jim Wendler proposes a “5 forward, 3 back” approach with the 5/3/1 program, wherein a trainee advances for 5 cycles before resetting back 3 and starting the process over again in order to constantly maintain momentum and progress (especially when paired with his “start light” approach).  If we take a 600lb deadlifter, this trainee can possibly reset their training weight back down to 500lbs in order to start making progress.  However, if we take a trainee that is stalling on a 95lb press, there is not much room to reset with before they start running into the exact same issues they were having before.  They just simply do not have the room in their programming to be able to afford to reset.

However, the reset itself is not without merit, it just needs to be used intelligently.  Simply performing the exact same program you were doing before and just starting the weights over is a recipe for achieving the exact same results.  This means that, in order to make a reset successful, one must reset AND do something different.  An effective approach is to change the movement to something similar but different.  For example, instead of benching, do incline bench, dips, play around with various grip widths (narrower or wider), or use pause/touch and go as applicable.  By changing the movement, you are starting the program over at a light weight, but will be building strength at a different angle/through a different motor pattern, and should be able to elicit some carryover to your other lift, along with develop the musculature at a different angle.  Aside from changing the movement, you could also add sets, reps, reduce rest times, or employ various other approaches to ensure that you are doing something at least somewhat differently than you did before.  This ensures that you are actually achieving something with your training time by developing different aspects of your strength and physique, rather than just recycling some sort of “greatest hits” playlist for your body, in no way challenging it and forcing it to adapt.