Sunday, May 31, 2015


I spent years lifting weights just for the sake of lifting weights.  I originally got into lifting to supplement my fighting (wrestled in high school, tried my hand at boxing, muay thai and MMA, and was terrible at all of it) before hanging up my gloves and focusing purely on lifting.  I had no ambitions or goal to compete in any sort of competitive lifting.  By nature, I am a very non-competitive person, and find it hard to motivate myself to “win” something when there isn’t anything really substantial on the line.  I told myself that competing against myself in the weightroom would be enough, and that, as long as I got better everyday, I’d be doing the best I could.

Image result for barney and friends
Doesn't that sound swell?

All of that is bullshit.  It wasn’t until I started competing in powerlifting (and eventually transitioned to strongman) that I finally started making some substantial gains from year to year, and it is because I compete that I am in the best shape of my life and constantly making marked improvements in my training.  Nothing compares to competing in an organized sport in terms of creating motivation and drive to force one to push their limits and achieve something greater than they could on their own.  My hope is to be able to explain to you AS a non-competitive person WHY competition is so vital to success.

Full disclosure, I am a terrible athlete.  This is most likely one of the reasons I have such a non-competitive nature.  I grew up a fat kid who was very uncoordinated, and one day became a skinny teenage who was also uncoordinated, and am today a bigish adult that remains uncoordinated.   I was never very talented at sports, and about the only thing I am good at is being strong.  However, this is more an argument for why I SHOULD compete versus avoiding competition.  Without competition, it would be easy to simply do what I am good at and ignore what I am bad at, but with competition, this is not an option.  I must become better at what I am bad at, or I will fail. 

Image result for midvale school for the gifted
Some of us just have different talents than others

When you are only competing against yourself in the weightroom, you honestly have zero accountability.  No one is paying attention to you, no one cares, you’re just slogging away day in and day out, working toward some goal.  Your goals may be specific, like hitting a 500lb deadlift in 4 months, or they may be nebulous, like “get more defined”, but only you will know your own goals.  Some people try to make workarounds for this reality by publicizing their goals on some sort of public medium, posting a facebook status saying “I WILL lose 15lbs this year”, and even though they might receive 37 likes from various friends, in truth, no one cares if you succeed or not.  There is simply no pressure to perform in these situations, and failure is of minimal consequence.

In competition, it becomes readily apparent who did and did not prepare/meet their goals.  Suddenly, instead of facing the silent judgment of facebook, you are witnessing the immediate feedback of an audience.  Yes, most likely it will be a small audience of loved ones and other competitors unless you make it big, but the impact of a real human collective observing you is massively different than the computer monitor.  The pressure to perform will be exceptionally high, and though this will also benefit you by increasing your adrenaline and allowing you a final push in some instances, the primary motivator is that you will not want to look like an idiot.

 Image result for hurdle fail
Maybe next year

Additionally, this much to be said about the value of being around strong people.  So many times the statement has been made that “if you’re the strongest person in your gym, you’re at the wrong gym”.  As a home gym user, I can attest to the fact that, sometimes, this reality is unavoidable.  However, the wisdom in this statement hinges upon the reality that, without being around stronger people, you tend to lose sight about what is really possible.  If you’re the king of the gym with a 405lb deadlift while everyone else struggles with 225, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing alright and have achieved a good level of strength.  However, once you show up to a competition and see some guy 2 weight classes below you deadlift 200lbs over your max, suddenly it dawn on you that you have so much more potential.  “Why not me?”  This becomes your rallying crew for self-improvement, as you realize that the people hitting huge numbers aren’t just mystical monsters who exist only on youtube, but instead locals who work at Best Buy and have day jobs and obligations just like you.

However, the benefit of the competition does not exist purely on competition day, but instead on the days, weeks and months leading UP to the competition.  Without a defined deadline to reach a goal, it becomes difficult to structure one’s training plan.  Yes, a “workout routine” can be established, but it becomes tricky determining when it is time to start really pushing the volume and the intensity, when it is time to throttle back, when it is time to work on skill, etc.  Additionally, prioritization changes with an explicit goal, specifically what WEAKNESSES to address.  Without a competition, it is easy to ignore weaknesses, but with a competition looming, weaknesses need to be eliminated. 

Image result for big upper body small lower body
Or just go compete in Men's Physique

Powerlifting and strongman have both been a boon to me in regard to the above.  I have a decent bench and deadlift for my weight, while being a terrible squatter.  For years, I hung around at a 465lb squat, and though I wanted more, nothing motivated me to get a higher squat.  Once I started powerlifting, and especially once I noticed a guy in my weight class squatting 540lbs, I knew I had to get my squat up if I wanted to stand a chance and not embarrass myself.  Even after suffering a level II hamstring pull where I couldn’t squat to depth for 4 months, I still managed to finally hit a 502lb squat after figuring out a way to perform concentric only squats from pins in order to get used to heavy loading while sparing my hamstring the eccentric.  Without the competition looming, it would’ve been easy to just quit squatting, but this forced me to overcome my weaknesses and injuries to reach my goals, knowing that I would be in front of a waiting audience who wanted to see how far I progressed that year.  Oh, and I also edged out the other 181 and took best lifter that meet, so that was cool.

Strongman has been even more monumental toward overcoming weaknesses, for along with having to build more physical strength for other movements, I had to start finally addressing my terrible athleticism.  My first contest, I did zero training for it and figured that, since I was such a stud, I’d just muscle through everything and do great.  1 tragic yoke walk and the world’s slowest farmer’s walk later showed me that I had a long way to go in the sport, and it made me want to get better.  I hate these events so much, and if I weren’t a strongman competitor, I’d never do them, but that’s the point: competing forces me to make myself stronger.  Ever since competing in strongman, I’ve not only become a significantly better athlete, but my static strength and body comp have improved as well.  Striving to eliminate weaknesses is the path to having no weaknesses, which in turn makes you a juggernaut.

Image result for magic the gathering juggernaut
HAH!  Bet you were expecting X-men

This of course is not even addressing the value in performing poorly in a competition, which is oddly enough what so many people seem to dread.  You hear so much about people holding off on a competition until they are “ready”, which is code for “I don’t want to compete unless I will win”.  These are the people that grew up in the participation trophy era, and fail to understand the value in losing.  Losing a competition is incredibly motivating, as it creates the hunger and drive necessary to kill oneself in training.  Either just barely missing out on first or being completely blown out of the water are equally effective catalysts, as they both will burn in the mind of the competitor as they lay awake at night wondering what they could do better.  It will be what replays in your mind when you’ve hit squat 27 of a 30 rep set, or when you’re just 4 steps away on the yoke walk.  It’s what will push you to add just 5 more pounds to the bar, or grind out one more shaky, twitchy, horrible looking rep on the deadlift.  When I was cutting weight to hit the 181s and skipping out on pizza so I could eat salads, I would tell myself “this is what first place tastes like”.

You just can’t get this stuff on your own people.  Sign up for a contest that seems way out of your league, spend 2-3 months really busting your ass, and note how, in those 2-3 months, your most likely got bigger, stronger and faster than you had in the past 2 years of training on your own.  You won’t regret it. 


Saturday, May 23, 2015


I have constantly lamented on the point that increased popularity of a topic is an indication of decreased effectiveness.  This observation is hinged upon the principle that the average, by definition, is not elite and the elite are not average.  Thus, anything that is embraced by the average person is most likely NOT an effective means of becoming something greater than average, and as such, anything appealing to the average populace is most likely something that should be avoided if one wishes to become something better.  It is with this understanding that it becomes time to analyze the farmer’s walk, and specifically address how this once beneficial movement has become completely perverted and warped by the masses.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
Quick, before it's too late!

Let’s talk background.  The “farmer’s” portion of the farmer’s walk derives from (wait for it) farmers.  Yes, the industrious, salt of the earth people responsible for raising the pigs that you eventually consume as bacon and the vegetables you most likely aren’t eating.  In performing their farmerly duties, farmers were, at times, require to carry heavy objects in each hand for short, intense distances.  Bales of hay, buckets of feed, baskets of watermelons as the infamous picture of Chinese strongman competitors indicates, etc.  The point was, things needed to be moved, and it would’ve taken too much time to load them into the pickup truck just to unload them a few feet down the road, so it got picked up and moved.

Heavy weight and short distances: it bears repeating.  The farmer’s walk does NOT reference that time that the farmer was carrying a sandwich in one hand and a beer in the other and carried it for 3 miles out to the field.  As such, if you’re pacing around the gym for 4 minutes carrying 40lb dumbbells, you are NOT doing the farmer’s walk, you’re just a lunatic.  Also, you’re hogging those dumbbells when someone could use them for ANYTHING else that would be infinitely more productive.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
Even this guy gets the right of way

Somewhere along the line, the idea that the farmer’s walk was a “grip exercise” came about, and ultimately it has resulted in the perversion we witness today.  It’s the telephone game come to life in lifting.  Someone observed that the farmer’s walk had really improved their grip, and someone took this to mean that, if you want a stronger grip, you should do farmer’s walks, which in turn meant that the farmer’s walk was called a “grip exercise”.  This is akin to calling the deadlift a grip exercise: asinine, and professed only by the weak.

The farmer’s walk isn’t a grip exercise, it’s an EVERYTHING exercise.  It’s like if the deadlift and the yoke walk made a baby, only to realize that they were actually brother and sister and that their spawn was horribly deformed.  As soon as you pick up the implements, you should immediately regret the decision to do so and the rest of your time moving forward should be motivated purely by rage, self-loathing and the hope that, when you cross the finish line and put down the implements, maybe one day in the distant future you’ll be able to live painfree again.  Every second of the walk should feel like agony, and every step should feel like you’re falling.  This just plain AIN’T happening with a pair of dumbbells at a commercial gym.

This is why implements are used for the farmer’s walk in the first place: the amount of weight needed is going to exceed what can be fitted onto a conventional dumbbell handle.  Yes, there are some Kroc row handles out there that can be fitted with 300lbs, but most the kids doing “farmer’s walks” with dumbbells are capping out at the 150lb range, tops.  You’re going to be sprinting with that kind of weight, putting very little stress on your body and getting about zero of the benefits of the movement.  If all you wanted was a grip exercise, why even walk at all?  Why not simply hold the dumbbells for time?  It would be more productive toward your goal of grip, and you’d look like less of a spaz.

Image result for elgintensity
Although wearing this shirt won't help

Additionally, the implements move the weight further out from the lifter, meaning more control is required to keep them stable so that faster movement can be achieved.  This speaks even more to the full body aspect of the movement, and why dumbbells fail.  Trying to steer an errant 300lbs with your wrist is going to develop some massive hand/wrist/grip strength, while having a dumbbell plopped limply at your side while you go for a stroll is just going to bruise your hip.

My intention here is to not be an elitist, it’s simply to point out that anyone hoping to obtain the benefits of the farmer’s walk by performing these bizarre substitutions is going to be sadly disappointed.  The purported benefits to upper back and trap growth, along with the fat melting cardiovascular improvement and general “man making” quality is simply non-existent when taking a light weight for a long, leisurely stroll.  This is a strongman movement, as such, it needs to be intense and heavy, and most likely not last longer than a minute.

Image result for woman laying in bed disappointed next to man
This may be a more familiar idea to some than to others

Don’t get me wrong, long distances can be viable, but it’s going to make things suck even harder.  I know of a trainee who talks about carrying bodyweight in each hand for a mile as a challenge.  I can’t even fathom the amount of crazy is takes to accomplish this, but one can at least observe the subtle difference between this challenge and carrying some dumbbells around the gym.  The intensity is through the roof for that entire mile.

I even engage in blasphemy and perform farmer’s walks with straps, because I find that the rest of the benefits of the farmer’s walk greatly exceeds any grip strength building benefit it can give me, and would prefer to just train my grip with static holds while I use farmer’s walks to build up my entire body.  Additionally, since I am no longer limited to moving as far/as long as my grip will permit, I can push the farmer’s walk to such a degree that, after 2 trips, I am pretty much done for the rest of my life.  This movement should totally kick your ass, it’s not something that you should be able to squeeze in in between trips to the drinking fountain.

Image result for struck by lightning
Ever since I started doing farmer's with straps, I also started practicing this drill...just in case

There are so many viable DIY options to have access to some sort of farmer’s walk implement that there is no excuse to perform this movement with dumbbells.  You could build your own implement entirely with just hand tools for $50 using some railroad ties and plumbing pipe if you want top loaders, or only plumbing pipe and about $80 if you want side loaders.  You could built handles that attach to barbells that you can bring in your gym bag.  You can always just buy some professionally made ones for slightly over $100.   The possibilities are endless, and the result so much more beneficial.        

As a people, let us make a conscious decision to no longer refer to walking around holding dumbbells as the “farmer’s walk”.  Let’s call it something like “stealing dumbbells” or “carrying groceries” or something that more accurately describes the action.  Additionally, if one simply wants to improve their grip, let’s tell that person to hold onto something heavy until they can’t.  However, if someone wants to become a stronger person overall, let us tell them to do the farmer’s walk.  And then, let us laugh when they puke after their set, before we set up to do the same.