Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This is something that needs to be addressed, as many trainees are becoming victims of their environments.  Despite my constant begging and pleading, despite many pithy facebook posts and motivational posters, despite all efforts and all common sense, trainees love to compare themselves to other lifters.  They love to see how they rack and stack, where they stand, what their level is, etc.  I’ve already written in the past on how ridiculous this becomes when a non-competitive trainee wants to know how they compare with other non-competitive trainees (reference my “surprise boxing match” idea), but, much like how a needle exchange will give clean needles to heroin addicts so that they don’t get an infection while they die from an overdose, I am willing to placate these demands to at least dispel some nonsense and rumors.

Plus, there is NO way you could make this artwork without being high
When comparing yourself to an elite lifter’s lifts, you must understand that this elite lifter is using elite equipment.  I’m not simply speaking about their PERSONAL equipment (shoes, belts, powerlifting gear as applicable, etc), but the actual hardware on site.  Competition grade barbells, calibrated and balanced plates, racks, monolifts, etc etc.  This equipment is standard at this level, but it also costs several thousands of dollars.  It makes sense for elite athletes: we the spectators want to see them perform their best, and in turn we give them the equipment that allows them to display the most strength possible.  No one wants to watch a 1997 Honda Civic blitz down the track at NASCAR, and with everyone using the same great equipment, it still comes down to the lifter to perform rather than just blaming the equipment.
A commercial gym functions in the complete opposite way.  The owner (if he’s smart) realizes that the equipment is going to get abused far more than it gets used properly, and he’s going to simply purchase the bare minimum necessary to satisfy the majority of his customers.  If he can get a bulk rate discount, even better.  And remember the immortal words of George Carlin “I never had a 10, but one night, I had five 2s”.  Yeah, you’re working out with those 2s.

69 dudes!
What does this mean to you the lifter?  It means comparing your lifts to those performed in an organized competition is simply madness.  Ignoring the fact that these athletes tend to be the cream of the crop (through combinations of insane work ethic, incredible genetics, talented coaches, great nutrition, etc), their lifts are being performed with equipment that is designed to amplify strength, while YOUR equipment is designed to meet the bare minimums.  This means that holding your grip to a standard of “I should at LEAST be able to deadlift 315 double overhand before switching to mixed grip” is insanity, as you’re attempting to perform this feat with a bar with knurling that, at best, could be called “cosmetic”.  Yes, George Leeman can hook grip over 900lbs, but he’s doing this with a barbell with diamond knurling that will rip your skin off if you’re not conditioned for it.  Give him a crappy commercial gym barbell and he’ll notice the difference.
This is doubly if not triply true for the Olympic lifts.  Clint Darden made an amazing video comparing the Rogue barbell to an Eleiko barbell as weightlifting bar, and one of the most significant factors was the amount of spin present in the latter versus the former.  Rotation is huge when it comes to getting weights from the floor to your chest/overhead, and if your equipment isn’t up to the task, you’re adding an extra element of challenge to it.  This is why the continental clean even exists: an axle’s collars don’t rotate, making it impossible to solidly clean to the chest a heavy weight.  Weights that make it to the chest with an axle are the result of brute strength and force, not technique. 

I love a sport where this is considered "good form"
All of this is ignoring the elephant in the room that no one wants to think about: the weight itself.  Unless your plates have been weighed, calibrated and certified, you have no idea how much they actually weigh.  Cheap manufacturers give it a shot to get close to right, but 45lb plates can vary anywhere from 1-8lbs, and after years of getting dropped and chipped it’s just going to get worse.  This is why, back in the day, after you set a record at a competition they actually weighed out the plates to see how much weight you REALLY lifted.  It was common for your record to not count, OR for you to have lifted substantially more than you ever did.  This is why the phenomenon of going to a new gym and the weights feeling lighter/heavier happens.  It’s not just in your head, the plates probably DO weigh differently.  And this is of course to speak nothing of the fact that the bar you’re using may weigh differently than what is advertised as well.
The list goes on and on.  Bars that are too thick to grip well for deadlifts, too whippy for bench, no center knurling for squats, 6’ bars, etc etc.  But fear not!  There is a solution: strive to always use the same equipment every time you are at the gym and get stronger WITH that equipment.  As long as you are seeing growth with the majority of the variables being controlled, you are getting stronger.  Yes, this means seeking out a specific bar and plates, but it also means no longer having to stress over your growth.  It also means you need to quit comparing your lifts performed in your situation with those performed by others, as they’re simply not contending with the same elements.  This ALSO means not worrying about needing to use straps at a certain weight, or any other training aid for that matter, as realistically you're more likely just making things even by compensating for crappy equipment with a beneficial aid.  This is why the comparison is pointless, and why you just need to compete with yourself.

But you also need to be honest with yourself
Unless you do strongman, in which case, none of the equipment is regulated, nothing is standard, everything is broken, and you just need to get stronger. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Sometimes around June, I decided I was tired of looking so fat whenever I saw myself in the mirror and that I wanted to lose a little weight.  I had a contest coming up in August that was a pretty light show, and figured this would be a good opportunity to shed a few pounds, get faster, be more athletic, and ultimately like how I looked again.  I was at 202lbs, which was the same weight I was back in 2012 when I dropped to 187 to compete as a 181er in a powerlifting meet, and figured I’d just do the same things I did back then…

The following is a list of lessons I learned when I realized how wrong I was about the whole thing, and these are the things I needed to realize to eventually cut down to 8.4% bodyfat at 190lbs.


Too much of a good thing

So, in 2012, one of the biggest things I did to lose fat was cut junk food out of my diet.  I was actually very strategic about this, as I was eating a fair amount of junk everyday, and since I was only aiming to lose about 1-2lbs a week, I figured I would just cut out a little bit of junk at a time until I stopped losing weight, and then eliminate more until this quit working.  I cut out my 0900 peanut butter cups at first, and then my after lunch candy bar, and eventually got rid of my post dinner dessert.  Around the time I had eliminated all of my junk food, I was down 7lbs and already looking pretty lean.

In 2015, I started this same process, and cut out my 0900 candy snack…and lost zero pounds.  I moved on to my post lunch snack…and lost zero pounds.  I finally went and cut out my pre-workout poptarts and lost 2lbs…and then stalled hard. For a month, I was hanging around at 200lbs, the scale wasn’t moving at all, and I was eating nothing but meat, veggies, fruits, protein shakes, and natural peanut butter. 

 Image result for Paleo cupcakes
No, not even any of this bullshit

I had to face the facts: I was just plain eating too much FOOD.  I was eating very well, and I felt great healthwise, but I wasn’t seeing the results on the scale that I wanted.  I had to start reducing portion sizes, switching around nutrient timing, and being realistic about what I “needed” to eat.  And this brings me to my next point.


In 2012, meat and veggies were considered “free foods”.  I could eat as much of them as I wanted, because it was the stuff I needed to keep training.  Hey, I was losing weight, and if I wanted to prevent muscle loss, I had to really jack up my protein, right?

Hey, of all the pics of Kai Greene with food, this was the least horrifying

In 2015, I learned that there was such a thing as “too much”, and it turned out I was eating it at lunch and dinner.  I was gorging myself on meat, and in many cases lean cuts of it (93% lean ground beef), and consequently the scale simply wasn’t moving.  Again, I felt great, my training was going fine, but I wasn’t losing the fat I wanted to lose.

There may be some truth to the whole “you can only absorb X amount of protein per meal”, because I found that I needed to eat less meat at each sitting, and in turn added 1 more serving of meat to my day early in the morning on top of a Romaine salad.  Basically, instead of gorging myself at 2 meals, I had 3 meals of meat where, each time, I walked away feeling satiated by not full.  I still lost weight, got stronger, and didn’t lose an appreciable amount of muscle with this strategy.

Some of you might be saying “wait…MORNING salad?”, and that brings me to my next point.


Because God only knows what you're going to get involved in by the evening

When I started on the fat loss journey, I noted that my eating habits had become pretty poor.  Prior to this moment, I had done a contest where I competed up a weight class, and was eating like a man on death row.  Once the show was over, these habits became pretty hard to break.  The two biggest issues were that I wasn’t drinking enough (or really ANY) water and barely ate any veggies.

I swore to myself that, as soon as I got home from work everyday, I’d start pounding water and eating a ton of veggies at dinner.  I also noticed that, as soon as I got home from work everyday, the only vegetable I was interested in was the one I was turning myself into sitting on the couch.  I was just fried from the day, and the last thing I wanted to do was something that, in my mind, had become a chore.

I decided to flip the script on this, and just knock out the “healthy stuff” early in my day.  I bought a gallon of water on my way to work everyday and drank it like it was my job as soon as I showed up.  I got to the point that I could drink it in about an hour, and in retrospect most likely gave myself slight water intoxication due to the fact that I would walk around my office buzzed out of my skull for about an hour afterwards.  BUT, I at least had consumed a gallon of water for the day, and that was the rule before I drank anything else.  After that, I allowed myself any sort of zero calorie beverage.

 Image result for dethklok drinks bleach
The original cleanser

The same applied with my morning salad: I’d make it the night before, consisting of Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and whatever meat was leftover from dinner.  I’d show up to work and just pound the salad right away alongside my water, so that I had started the day off with a big serving of a variety of veggies.  If I was feeling really froggy, I’d have another salad with/as lunch, but I knew that, all other things said and done, I at least got my veggies and water knocked out and was ready to start my day.


I appreciate the many levels that this image works on

When I first started my fat loss approach, I’d allow myself a small cheat at lunch about 2-3 times a week.  For me, it was a slice of pizza at our cafeteria.  They were dirt cheap, and I figured that one slice of pizza couldn’t do a whole lot of harm.    …and of course, I was wrong.  The whole time I had these little minicheats, I wasn’t losing any weight.

I went super strict on my diet after I realized what my problem was, and 6 days a week ate pretty much the same thing, where the only time I consumed a direct carb source was around my workouts (which, given that I trained first thing in the morning, was a very limited window).  On Saturdays, my deadlift day, I would allow myself one cheat MEAL.  Not a cheat DAY, as some trainees engage in, but simply one meal. 

But boy was it a meal.  The only limitations here were about what I could stomach, as my tolerance for fried food and sweets was pretty much gone at this point.  I ate less “bad” and more simply “lot”, with direct carb sources, fatty meats, and anything else that was tasty and dense.

I am big enough to admit that THIS was a mistake though

I noticed a few positive things about this approach.  The big thing of course was that I was losing fat, which was the primary goal.  However, psychologically this was a really beneficial move.  I would spend the whole week fantasizing about what I was going to eat for my cheat meal, planning out the details getting psyched up for it, etc etc.  However, once the meal was said and done, I felt terrible (along with satisfied) and my cravings for junk food were gone.  I had satisfied the craving, and now I could focus more on the diet.  And sure, I dreamed and planned what my next cheat meal was going to be, but I never felt the need to indulge in any of that food through out the week.  I knew my day would come, and when it did, I ate enough to keep the cravings at bay for another week. 

A bunch of small cheats is called “eating poorly”.  A bad diet is really just a diet of a bunch of small cheats strung together.  One big cheat won’t wreck a diet, but it will keep you going, and probably help reset your metabolism.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Part III of the series.  I'm still learning after 16 years of hitting the iron, but here are a few more lessons that seem to only get learned from experience.


-“You can’t outtrain a bad diet.”  When I was 16, the only thing I wanted in the world as abs.  I had been training for a while, and had gotten a little bigger and stronger, but my midsection was still unimpressive.  I decided that I was going to dedicate the summer between my junior and senior year of high school getting a six pack.  I was quite well read on the internet, so I knew that the secret was to do fasted cardio as soon as I woke up so I’d be in the “fat burning zone”.  In fact, I was going to get abs SUPER fast, because along with fasted cardio in the morning, I was going to do cardio at night too, doubling the effort, and therefore getting the results in half the time.  I ended up running 16 miles a day on some days (8 miles in the morning, 8 miles in the evening), with other days comprised of rope skipping, heavy bag work, swimming, etc.  Consequently, I worked up quite an appetite with all of this, and ate tons of cookies, sweets, ice cream, etc.  I was starving!

Image result for man vs food pizza challenge
"Gotta carb load"

You know how that story turns out: I ended up in great cardiovascular shape with no abs.  Even as a 16 year old, with hormones flooding my system (which, by the way, is INCREDIBLY overplayed online, but that’s another rant) and a training regimen that could put some Olympians to shame, I couldn’t outtrain the crappy diet I was living off of.  As I got older, I stared to learn the value of eating quality food if I wanted to positively impact my physique.  Comically enough, the times where I had visible abs in my life where the times when abs WEREN’T my goal: it was just a side effect of pursuing my goals.  When I was heavily invested in fighting, powerlifting, or strongman and eating right to further my training, the fat around my midsection melted away and I looked like someone that was in shape.  Effort and intensity are crucial to building muscle and strength, but they don’t feed you.

Also, to add just a little more to this lesson learned, I really wish I had learned how to cook when I was younger.  I spent so many years eating crap when I could’ve just as easily (and for a much smaller expense) learned how to operate a slow cooker and a foreman grill and been set.  If you’re at home and the majority of your meals come out of a box, do yourself a favor and master the above mentioned tools (and a microwave), learn how to make 4 meals (that include at least 1 vegetable), and eat well for at least the majority of the week.  You’ll thank yourself later.

If you want to simulate being married, get one of these and you'll have a home cooked meal when you get home.  However, you still should throw away anime love pillow.

-“Strength is built when it ISN’T being demonstrated.” Allow me to indulge myself, this is a trip down memory lane.  My absolute fondest memories of training are when I was 21-22.  I got married at 21 (and yes, we’re still together, so she must be as crazy as I am), started a new job, and used my income to create the bare bones of my home gym (which today, has grown into quite a monster).  I was following “Westside”, at least as I understood it by having read every article on elitefts along with their basic training manual. I would discover years later that I had no clue what I was doing, but I was at least following the whole 2 DE/2ME day approach.

I love looking back upon this time of my life, for along with the bliss of newlywed life, I was making phenomenal progress in my training.  My deadlift went from 475 to 540 (no belt, I didn’t own one) in the span of 9 months, along with various other improvements.  I assumed that this MUST have been from the maximal effort work I was doing, wherein I would spend 1 week squatting, 1 week deadlifting, 1 week front squatting, and 1 week doing a good morning, in all cases working up to a PR on a single rep. Sure, I was doing a ton of assistance work, but you don’t get stronger without lifting heavy weights in the 1-5 rep range, and while everything else was “for hypertrophy”, my only chance to gain any strength was on these ME days.

I just wanted to point out that Louie is the only white guy that can do this WITHOUT looking like a tool

Many many many years later, I realize what it was I was doing back then.  I was accidentally getting strong by following a sound program with great intensity even if I had no idea how it actually worked.  ME work teaches you how to STRAIN, which is a fantastic quality to learn and master when one’s goal is to demonstrate their strength, but strength itself is a product of a whole lot of muscles coming together at once: muscles that were built up with the ASSISTANCE work.  I wasn’t getting stronger when I was performing max effort work; I was learning how to better recruit my available strength to its maximal extent.  The times where I was building strength were the times when I was diligently plugging away at my assistance lifts: bringing up weak points and hammering the muscles from different angles. It wasn’t sexy, there were no burst blood vessels, I wasn’t yelling about Valhalla, but it was where the magic happened.  I now understand that max effort work is a time to figure out what is and is not working with training, and assistance work is the time to fix these issues and allow myself to grow stronger, such that, when I do more max effort work, I can lift more weights and get even better.  Powerlifters don’t do powerlifting meets to get stronger, they train.

Friday, September 4, 2015


The time has come to wage war on another destructive convention in the world of lifting: the beginner program.  I understand the confusion in this declaration, given that I’ve written my own approach to a beginner program in the past, and additionally my most popular rant video is my own advising trainees to get on a beginner program, but the winds have shifted and, like Machiavelli advised, we must adapt to fortune.  Survey the training world today, witness the stagnation of the beginner trainee, and understand the problem for what it is.

Genesis: in the beginning there was darkness.  Trainees had no clue what to do or how to do it, and they demanded a path.  And lo, the light was shone upon them, and it was good.  Or so we thought.  The devil is a deceiver, and it is no coincidence that Lucifer is “the light bringer”. 

Okay, I’m going a little crazy here, let me reel things back and speak somewhat normally.

Occasionally I have a flare for the dramatic

When we first decide to make the choice to start improving ourselves, there tends to be very little guidance available.  These days, information is readily available, but this has the problem of being too much to sift through.  We have social media, peers, tradition, role models, formal education, etc.  When faced with this overwhelming amount of information, we seek, if not DEMAND, some manner of guidance that “lays it all out” for us.  Enter: the beginner program.

A beginner program is built to provide guidance to beginner trainees in the form of a rigid and structured approach to training.  Sets, reps, movements, and rest periods are all laid out, and no thinking is required.  This elicits a sigh of relief from the wary beginner trainee, for now, the thinking has been done for them, and all they have to do is follow the Ikea instructions and soon, they’ll have built themselves a body.

I mean, what could go wrong?

This is what is causing so many beginner trainees to REMAIN beginners.  Learning is NOT occurring, only memorizing and regurgitation.  These beginner programs do not provide the tools necessary for a beginner to continue to advance in their training career, but instead cripple them by placating their demand for an immediate solution to a complex problem.  There is no understand of WHY things are done, simply that they are done.

Beginners need principles, not programs.  Beginners need to understand what creates the foundation of solid training, such that they can adapt and mold their training to suit themselves as needed.  Though this may cause a minor amount of anxiety at the start of training, it greatly diminishes the anxiety encountered by an uneducated beginner as they progress in their training.  No more wondering about what to do when a stall is encountered, or pain, or technique tweaks, or a hiccup in the schedule, or the variety of incredibly insignificant things that beginners tend to invest the majority of their energy into.  Instead, one understands that, as long as they adhere to sound principles, they will continue to progress.

This is what occurred PRIOR to the availability of so much information: successful trainees shared successful principles, even if the routines varied wildly.  Watch “Pumping Iron”, witness how tons of top level bodybuilders all trained with different programs, then notice how they all stood on the same stage.  The program was for the individual, but the principle was for success of the whole.  When a beginner trainee set out to get bigger and stronger, they learned from those who had come before them, and these veterans taught them to push themselves hard, eat big and well, recover, and grow.  The concern wasn’t about optimization, it was about progress in general.

These days, someone would get upset about all the curling and go post a passive aggressive comment about it on Reddit

I realize I would be remiss to tout the values of principles without providing a few of my own to at least lend some guidance to the beginner trainee.  These principles are not all inclusive, nor are they mandatory, but they are effective as a means for getting bigger and stronger.

-Dan John laid out a stellar blueprint for the motions a human can produce that are worth training:

Loaded Carries

If your training is covering all of these movements, it’s a solid program.  If it’s covering all of these movements AND is balanced between them all (ie: Not doing 17 bench press variations and 1 deadlift), it’s most likely a great program.

-If you want a certain bodypart to get bigger/stronger, you will have to train it: most likely directly.

Go write your own clumsy masturbation joke

-Train a variety of rep ranges.  Staying in one range for too long will cause you to stagnate.

-If you are progressing, don’t change anything.  If you aren’t progressing, change SOMETHING.

-If you feel like you didn’t work hard, you most likely didn’t.

No one who is training hard enough to make progress can smile like that

-Soreness should never be a concern: don’t chase it, and don’t skip training because of it.

-Rest as long as you need to recover.  If the rest times are getting obscene, improve your conditioning.

-“Cardio” is NOT conditioning.  Actually do some conditioning.

-Strive for progress in some way every training session.  Either more weight on the bar, more reps, more sets, shorter rest times, better control over the bar, just SOMETHING.

-Results are what matters, not approach.  If it works and no one else does it, keep doing it.  If everyone else does it and it doesn’t work for you, quit doing it.

Except for this...just quit doing this

-Train as many days a week as you are able to recover from and can afford to (cost being financial, social, time, etc).  However, if the only thing holding you back from training is an unwillingness to train more versus an inability, you most likely won’t get results.

-Use a variety of tools to achieve your goals.  Don’t be married to barbells, dumbbells, machines, etc.  Use compound movements AND isolation movements.

There could always be more, but these are enough to get started.    Experimentation is key, and the learning process will always involve some tweaking.  Once you find the principles that work for you though, you’ll find your ability to continue to progress to a changing environment significantly improved versus those that only know how to follow a cookie-cutter program.

Declare war on the beginner routines and start training with some sound principles.