Saturday, March 28, 2015


Part I of the series was a slightly more structured breakdown on the differences between skill and strength.  Part II contains more an odd assortment of other factors to consider in regards to the interplay of strength and skill.  One is not superior to the other, but the differences are worth being aware of.


Other factors: fatigue prevents skill, strength creates fatigue.  By this, I mean that, when one is exhausted, it becomes difficult to employ complex skills.  When we witness boxers in the 12th round, their technique is sloppy and even the basics appear to be gone, as they have fatigued so much that they are just relying on strength and guts.  However, we must also understand that a reliance on strength in spite of technique results in greater fatigue faster.  When Mariusz Pudzianowski first entered MMA, he relied on strength to carry him through his first few fights, and as such fatigued incredibly early into every fight.  At this point, what little technique he had was non-existent, and given that his ability to exert his strength had been depleted, he became powerless against an over the hill Tim Sylvia.  One who has mastery over technique is able to fatigue less under exertion, which means an ability to use one’s strength over a longer sustained amount of time.

Image result for mariusz pudzianowski vs Tim Sylvia
Many theological scholars have used this exact image to disprove the existence of God

The discrepancy between getting better versus getting stronger also explains where the popular notion about how “successful athletes don’t necessarily make successful coaches” originates, and where it fails.  Many are inclined to point out that an athlete that encountered great success most likely did so due to some sort of genetic gifts, and since things came naturally to said trainee, their ability to coach one who is not as blessed will be lacking.  Additionally, many times we witness successful strength athletes telling trainees to quit thinking so hard and just lift weights (Steve Puclinella being famous for this), and many times people deride these words as the boisterous noise of someone who is “gifted”.  What we are in fact witnessing is the example of an athlete who is strong giving advice on how to get stronger, not better.

To expand on the above, we must once again understand that development of skill is highly specialized and precise.  It requires perfected technique, repetition, and correct motor pattern reinforcement/programming to ensure sustained improvement.  Strength, however, is a product of grinding, effort and time.  Strength is developed in a brutal and ugly fashion, with little thinking necessary, simply effort.  A “gifted” athlete most likely was blessed in the sense that they became so much stronger than their competition that they never needed to learn how to become “better”, but you can rest assured that these people absolutely know how to become stronger.  It is absolutely true that you cannot apply their advice to the topic of “how do I become a better lifter”, but when wondering “how do I become a STRONGER lifter”, their advice is true.  This is where it once again becomes important to approach each topic of conversation with a CLEAR understanding of what it is that one is actually discussing, and in turn what advice one is receiving.  Sheiko can absolutely turn anyone into a better lifter, and Pulcinella can turn anyone into a stronger lifter.

Image result for steve pulcinella
Fairly certain that this image alone is highly anabolic

Strength can also impair the development of skill, and vice versa.  When one is strong enough, they can simply muscle things into working, and in most cases a strong person defaults to this as it is “easier” than trying to employ/learn a skill.  My own experience in martial arts confirmed this for me, as I spent years trying to learn how to be a BETTER fighter, yet in most cases I would resort to muscling my opponent simply because I was better at being stronger.  I would “win” fights, but I was not becoming a good fighter.  In contrast, many people can use skill to compensate for strength, to the point that, when it comes time to develop strength they simply refine and improve skill.  Strength building is inefficient, it is about putting yourself in a disadvantageous position and hammering the body into adapting.  If I want to build a stronger chest by benching, I do myself no favors by driving as hard as I can with my legs, squeezing my scaps together, arching my back as high as possible, etc etc.  As blasphemous as it may sound, putting my legs up in the air may be the path toward a stronger chest.

The takeaway is this: we must be honest with ourselves when monitoring our progress.  The sheer fact that more weight is being lifted is not enough for us to judge if we have met our goals, as we must first determine what path we intended to employ in order to lift more weight.  If we pursue training with the goal of getting stronger and added 30lbs to a lift overnight, we failed: strength does not come quickly.  If we pursued training with the goal of getting better and approach training unintellectually, we failed: skill is precise.  Our approach and mentality dictates our outcome, and our awareness of this dictates our success.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


(Author’s note: Though I’ve written around this topic many times before I feel as though it is one of my few significant contributions to the world of training, and something I would like to take the time to expand upon.  Though by no accounts an original idea, it has been one that has radically transformed and improved my training.)

In lifting, one of the most common metrics for success is to witness an increase in the weight being used for particular movements.  It seems logical enough, for when one’s goal is to become stronger, what better way to reach assurance in one’s goal than to observe that they are lifting heavier weights, and therefore “being” stronger.  However, given that lifting becomes THE activity, rather than A activity to support another athletic endeavor (hockey, football, MMA, etc), a confounding variable can arise wherein a trainee does not become stronger, simply better.  What I speak on is the notion of being able to move more efficiently, recruit more muscles, improve one’s breathing patterns, etc etc.  The end result is still desirable, as more weight is being lifted.  However, are you getting stronger?

Image result for futurama harlem globetrotters

Dave Tate has spoken countless times on how, in just one session, he has been able to add 30-50lbs to someone’s bench press.  Dave’s eye for technique breakdown is incredible, and with modifications to foot placement, setting up the arch, bench stroke, breathing, etc, he allows a trainee to utilize much untapped potential.  This is a significant success, as one now has a substantially greater chance of winning a powerlifting meet.  However, did that trainee leave the gym any stronger than when they arrived?  No, they simply became a BETTER lifter.  The lifter possesses the same exact amount of strength, he is simply better at utilizing all of it.

This understanding becomes imperative when discussing matters of training, for many times trainees argue extensively with each other over the correct means to train, not understanding that both are arguing about improving different qualities.  It may seem that two trainees are arguing about the best way to deadlift more weight, but when broken down we realize that one is arguing about the best way to become a better deadlifter, while the other argues about the best way to become a stronger deadlifter.  Both arguments may in fact be sound, but due to the presupposed hypothetical imperative that each trainee operates under, it creates the illusion that the other person has no idea what they are talking about.

Image result for skinny person lifting weights
The fact they look like this doesn't help

It is not just in the realm of discussion where such clarifications are necessary, but when we design our own training as well.  So many times we operate under the assumption that, in order to lift more weight at a movement, we must DO the movement.  It seems to operate logically enough, with pithy witticisms such as “practice how you play” attempting to enforce dogma, but we must understand that this premise is hinged upon the notion that one needs to improve their PROFICIENCY with a movement.  It is absolutely true that practicing a movement and becoming better at it will yield near immediate results in terms of poundages on the bar, but it is also true that, once this skillset has been honed, said results will come slower and slower by employing this method.  Though mastery is still impossible to obtain, once one has become very skilled, continued improvement of skills will yield minimal results.

To take a personal example, I spent the majority of my training career performing no manner of clean whatsoever.  My goals never dictated that I perform the clean, and time/energy invested in the movement could have been better invested.  Now that I compete in strongman, the clean (as part of a press event) is necessary for my goals, and as such I have started training it regularly.  When I first started cleaning an axle, I could not manage a 190lb clean.  After 2 months of regularly performing the movement, I have managed a 250lb axle clean, meaning an improvement of over 60lbs in 8 weeks.  I did not somehow develop 60lbs worth of “axle clean muscle: during this time, it was simply that I, as a 650lb deadlifter, learned how to tap into the required muscles/coordination necessary to get better at this lift.  More than likely, I can continue to spend time getting better at this movement before I need to concern myself with getting stronger.  

Sometimes, a program designed to improve a lift will NOT contain said lift within it.  The reason here being that, instead of seeking the goal of becoming better at the movement, one instead desires to make the muscles involved in said movement stronger.  Front squats to make squats stronger, mat pulls to make deadlifts stronger, overhead pressing to make bench stronger, etc.  When we make these decisions, we do so operating under the premise that not only is our skillset developed enough that improvements to it will have minimal impact in terms of improving our numbers, but also that our skillset is developed enough that time spent away from the movement will not have a disastrous negative training effect.  When we make this decision, we do so knowing that the time and energy we are spending on the movement we want to make stronger is in fact taking away from our ability to train the movements that will actually MAKE us stronger.

Image result for Jackie Chan confused
I know, I know, just stick with me.

Additionally, we, the honest and observant athlete, must be true to ourselves when we analyze improved numbers on our lifts.  Did we become stronger, or merely better?  Is it that we have developed a brutish ability to apply more force in all situations, or is it instead that we learned how to better recruit force into this specific instance?  This is not a morality judgment, or a claim of superiority of strength over skill, but simply a realistic understanding of the applicability of each attribute.  If I added 20lbs to my overhead press because I developed my shoulders, triceps, lats, and all other pressing musculature to such an extent to result in said gains, I have most likely developed the same type of brute strength for all manner of pressing (even if not exactly a 20lb carryover).  If I added 20lbs to my overhead press because I mastered the skill of the double dip with a jerk, I most likely will not see this same increase present on a bench.  When it comes time to compete, it does not matter HOW I got these 20lbs, BUT, when it comes time to account for fatigue, injury, or other variables, I must assess how much these factors affect my strength and how much they affect my skill when planning for my victory.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


We have already discussed how the path to greatness necessitates an avoidance of hedonism and a pursuit of hardship, as per Nietzsche’s philosophy.  The zenith of humanity can only be reached through bloodshed, war, toil, torment, and pain, for through these qualities we become hardened and better, whereas a life of luxury and ease turns us soft.  However, as a species that prides itself on reason and ability to learn, it begs the question of why we must ALL endure this pain in order to achieve greatness.  Why is it not the case that ONE brave human can do the suffering for all of us, and then pass on his lesson for us to learn without having to endure the same torment that they managed?

 Image result for hafthor bjornsson
I mean, if this guy had something to say, wouldn't YOU listen?

Obvious Christianity metaphor aside (which, if you are curious about Nietzsche’s refutation of Christianity, read just about everything he wrote, but “Will to Power”, “The Antichrist”, and “Genealogy of Morals” would have some great starting points), Nietzche establishes that greatness has a very SHORT lifespan, whereas mediocrity perpetuates infinitely.  The conditions necessary to produce superiority in A human are in turn the very same conditions that promote death and destruction for the majority of humanity itself.  The outcome of a superior human is a rare instance, and it takes many many instances of failure and death before one is able to adapt and overcome.  The possibility that multiple superior humans are able to be generated within the same instance and continue to perpetuate greatness in turn becomes almost impossibly rare, which means that when a superior human comes along, his reign tends to be brief with little continuity left behind.

We of course witness this reality in training constantly, as for every one successful trainee (in ANY discipline, whether it be bodybuilding, powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, crossfit, etc) there are thousands of failures.  All are afforded the same opportunity for toil, but very few possess the necessary traits to prosper under these conditions, resulting in a lopsidedness in terms of success versus failure.  Popular phrases come about to explain the phenomena, such as “if it was easy, everyone would do it” and “everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift heavy ass weights”, but the point is still the same: many will try, but few will succeed.

 Image result for ronnie coleman
When you are this big, you can say and wear the dumbest things and no one will challenge you

When faced with a situation wherein effort results in failure, there exists 2 possible avenues of response.  One is to improve oneself in order to befit the situation (the previously aforementioned “superior humans” who grow in these environments) while the other is the improve the SITUATION in order to befit oneself.  It is this latter course of action that tends to be the more popular of the two, and explains why it is the case that mediocrity is what tends to prevail when analyzing the human species as a whole.  So how is it that one who lacks the power to overcome adversity can somehow have the power to radically change their environment to encourage hedonism and ease?  As Nietzsche points out, real power is in determining virtues and morality, and society has come to value “slave morality” over “master morality.”

What do these terms mean?  Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality explains how, in humanity’s infancy, we prized a “noble morality”, wherein qualities like a thirst for power, lack of empathy/pity, and pride were valued due to their ability to advance the species.  We sought these virtues for they were necessary to survive in our harsh conditions, and those without these values were naturally weeded out.  However, as we advanced DUE to these values, we in turn were able to create a life that allowed us to not need to endure hardships.  Once met with this life, a greater amount of people who did NOT possess the virtues of strength and power existed, to soon form the majority.  Once in the majority, those who had strength and power were the outliers and outcasts, essentially, “the different”, whereas the weak had become the norm.  In this situation, it became logical to conclude that those who are different must be in turn “sinners”, while those that form the majority are those with morality.  We began to praise humility, passiveness, and claimed that “the meek shall inherit the Earth”.  We made it moral to be a slave, and told the downtrodden who existed under the crushing fist of the strong that they could take solace in being morally superior to those who were in reality OBVIOUSLY superior.

 Image result for Small guy in bodybuilding contest
I am sure the guy in the middle has a great personality

We witness this phenomenon replicate itself within the lifting community.  In the beginning, the only guidance we had for training was effort.  Lifters trained in various ways, using completely different methods and protocols and yet many roads still seemed to lead to success insofar as the trainee was applying ferocity and tenacity to their training.  Watch “Pumping Iron” and witness the various methods employed by each successful bodybuilder, or look at how Paul Anderson revolutionized weightlifting by bringing in ROM progression and squats, or how Bob Peoples employed a deadlift form that would make the modern era of lifting go into seizures.  These pioneers possessed the noble “master morality”.  However, as time passed and lifting became more accessible, the rate of unsuccessful trainees drastically increased and massively outweighed the successful athletes.  Once this occurred, it became necessary for the weak to justify their weakness in the faces of the strong, and a “slave morality” of lifting developed.

It became “moral” to lift with “good form”.  It was honorable to avoid injury.  Moderation was prized, because if lifting was your life, you were unbalanced.  We took all the qualities necessary to be UNSUCCESSFUL and determined that these were the rules and morals that must be followed in order to be considered a good trainee.  Though the intent of this post is to compare Nietzsche’s works, I will re-iterate Plato’s analogy of the surgeon, in that a good lifter is not a lifter who does good, but is in fact one who is GOOD at lifting.  If your morality dictates you be unsuccessful, you are a bad lifter.

 Image result for Dr Nick the Simpsons
Sometimes though, you can be a bad surgeon AND a bad person

With this slave morality of lifting established, it becomes readily apparent why we are unable to learn the lessons from those who have already gone through the suffering in order to emerge the “superman”.  They come down from the mountains, spread to us their words of enlightenment, and we stone them to death for being sinners.  We decry them for not using good form, despite the fact they achieved incredible size and strength.  We accuse them of the crime of having superior genetics, while we understand that we the unempowered must train completely different manner in order to succeed.  We berate them for not following OUR methods, for being heretics against our holy scriptures, for being “unvirtuous”.  The meek have inherited the Earth.

The path to success has already been paved.  The lessons have already been brought to us.  Success is no mystery, the successful walk among us, and with them they possess a noble “master morality”.  Despite their efforts, these lessons cannot be passed on, for the vessel is unwilling to receive them.  It is up to you to analyze your virtues and question if they are the virtues possessed by one who seeks to overcome or by one who seeks to BE overcome.