Saturday, November 28, 2015


I have touched on this in the past in part, but now is the time to really get it all out there.

Once again, I must address how the “Big 3” has pervaded the minds of trainees and been placed upon some sort of holy shrine, in doing so causing way more harm than good.  It is for noble reasons that many lifters hold these movements in high regard and espouse these values, but unfortunately these reasons get lost in the telephone game that is training mythos.

"I know, it's the craziest thing, but I heard you need a lot of dip if you want to build a strong upper body."

What has happened: new trainees are told that, in no uncertain terms, they MUST perform the Big 3 in order to become bigger and stronger.  These trainees then go and try out these 3 lifts, and typically find some sort of movement dysfunction hinders them from performing them with ease.  Usually, this is the byproduct of a sedentary lifestyle that undervalued athletics (or only specialized in one sort) and overvalued sitting at a computer, wherein a beginner has zero mobility, flexibility, athleticism or body awareness, and as such simple movements become complicated, but I digress.

Upon meeting any sort of resistance in their attempt to employ any member of the Big 3, this trainee immediately flies to the internet to find a solution to their problem, and some miscreant always offers the same trite suggestion: use a variation.  Having problem doing conventional deadlifts?  Just pull sumo, you may be built for it.  Low bar squat isn’t working?  You probably have the leverages for high bar.  Bench sucks?  You probably just need a mega high arch, up on your toes, with the shortest ROM possible.

Image result for bench press huge arch
NOW we're getting stronger

Holy crap, did we forget WHY we were told to do these 3 movements in the first place?  Wasn’t it because it was these 3 SPECIFIC movements that get us bigger and stronger?  Why did we originally place so much value on the holy trinity before, but now, when our worship becomes trying and our faith is tested, we immediately abandon our one “true” God for false idols?

So I’m going to be a big man and admit my own wrongdoings.  1, the above metaphor was pretty insane, but 2, I am in fact NOT defending the Big 3 at all (as I have spent much time discussing the lack of need to perform them in training), simply the logic necessary behind training decisions.  A movement is valuable insomuch as it meets our goals, not that it meets the criteria of being “the movement”.  We must remember that our goal is to achieve our goal, not to simply use the “right” tools.

Image result for Bo Jackson
Nothing is more embarrassing than showing up to practice without your football bat

Every movement you perform in your training has a specific effect and impact on your results.  Changes in angle, bar position, movement plane, starting position, foot spacing, etc etc, all CHANGE the results of the movement.  In some cases, the changes are minor, and in others, they are drastic.  This is why one cannot simply take solace in the fact that “deadlift” appears in the name of a movement when it comes to choosing a suitable deadlift to train.  One must use the deadlift that actually MEETS their goals.

There is nothing magical about the Big 3.  It is used to evaluate who is the best powerlifter at a powerlifting meet: that’s it.  However, if you do believe that there is something magical about that Big 3, you need to use the actual movements necessary to achieve your goals.  Going front squat, trap bar deadlift and Swiss bar bench is not the same thing.  HOWEVER, if your goal is simply to get bigger and stronger, rather than having some laundry list of names and origins that your movements must possess before you consider them, it becomes necessary instead to analyze the movements themselves and determine if they will accomplish what is necessary in order for you to meet your goals.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
You have no idea how unreasonably happy I get whenever I find an excuse to post this image

There is value in a ton of movements, and what works for you may not work for someone else, and vise versa.  Instead of trying to make the square peg fit in the round hole, doing whatever it takes to make sure that your movement has “squat”, “bench” or “deadlift” in its name to ensure you are sticking with “the plan”, just use the movement that will actually meet your goal.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


As I recover from my ACL/meniscus reconstruction surgery, I find myself with an abundance of free time.  This is an ideal circumstance to take the time to write out how I was training strongman in detail, as prior to this point I would only summarize due to a lack of time.

This still won’t be all inclusive, as I would make adjustments as needed/desired, but it will serve as a very solid outline to base your training off of.  This will be based off a training cycle with no specific contest in mind, so something of an off season.


5-6 days of training a week

4 days of lifting

2 sessions of event practice
-Farmer’s or front carry

Other events included into lifting days

This will mean that 2 a days are occasionally necessary, or very long training sessions, depending on how you can structure your schedule



1: Matt Kroc’s 16 week bench program, or 5/3/1, or someone else’s bench program, or ROM progression
--(I’ll be honest, I have no idea how to program the bench, so I just use someone else’s program.)

1.b: Do sets of 3 of heavy DB rows in between your warm-ups on bench, and do sets of 20 of band pull aparts in between the work sets

2: 3 way seated DB shoulder circuit (press halfway overhead until the triceps want to take over, front raise, lateral raise)
--40-50 reps on the overhead, 10 for front raises, 10 for lateral, no rest between movements

2.b: Sets of 3 on heavy DB rows in between sets of the circuit

3: 1 set of max reps of DB rows with weight you’ve been using for 1.b/2.b (should be around 20+)
--Alternate straps 1 week, no straps the next. 


1: ROM progression suspended safety squat bar squats w/chains
-1 set of max reps touch and go (Should be around 4-7 reps)
-Strip a plate per side, 1 set of max reps deadstop (Aiming for 10 reps)
--This is a 7 week training cycle with a 1 week deload (8 weeks total).  You’ll suspend the SSB by chains in the rack and want it started high enough that, by week 7, you are squatting at powerlifting legal depth.  Keep the weight the same each week and just increase the ROM by 1 chain link.  The first set is going to take a lot of energy to break the bar off the chains, so settle in to grind, and then just tap the bar to the chains for the remainder of the set.  The next set, break the bar off the chains for every rep.  I would wear wraps for the first set and sleeves for the second.

2: Reverse hypers
-Alternate: 1 week do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, then 1 week do 3 minutes of reverse hypers. 

Superset with

2b: Glute ham raise sit-ups (hold a plate behind your head for more resistance)

3: Car deadlift simulator
-Work up to a max set of 6-8 reps.  Stick with this weight each week until you can hit 14 reps, then add a plate and start over.
--If you have the energy, after the first set, drop 2 plates per side and go for another max rep set OR go for a massive strip set, just taking off plates after each set


3: Axle cleans
-Work up to a max triple
--I was doing these for quite a while, but hung it up to focus on the car deadlift.  You could also try other implements, like the log, sandbag or keg.


1: 3 week wave rotation
-Week 1 (Skill day): Clean each rep (log, axle, keg or sandbag) work up to a top set of 10-12, then rest and do another set with the same weight for as many reps as possible
-Week 2 (Rep day): Clean once and press away (I always stuck with axle), work up to a top set of 8-12, then rest and do another set of the same weight for as many reps as possible|
-Week 3: (Heavy day) Either clean once and press away or press out of the rack, 4-6 reps with leg drive, then rest, strip some weight, and hit a set of 4-6 reps strict

1b: In between all sets, perform 20 reps of band pull aparts

2: Incline dumbbell bench
-Either keep the incline the same and hit 4-5 sets of 10, or go for the highest incline you can for a set of 10, then lower the incline a click each set and go for max reps until you’re flat benching (rest between sets, this isn’t a dropset)

Superset with

2b: Lat pulldown for sets of 10-12
-You can use chins instead if you want.  I had to switch them out because my elbows were killing me.

3: 100 reps of axle curls
-Either straight set it or do a drop set.  Just get the 100 reps as fast as possible

4: 3 sets of band pushdowns


I would train this as a 2 a day, doing one session very early in the morning and the next session a few hours later.

1: Carry medley
-There is no wrong way to do this, just make it suck.  I would use a distance of about 50’ and then carry kegs, sandbags and/or farmers.  If possible, vary the weights so that you have a chance to keep moving fast on these, and then start with the heaviest and work to the lightest.  I literally would come up with the workout while I was setting up the implements, and the goal honestly was to just suffer as much as I could.  I would normally only be able to do 2-3 runs before I was just totally gassed, so this is just something intense.

2: Yoke (3 week wave)
-Week 1: Light weight, 3-4 runs of 50’ down and 50’ back (100’ total per run)
-Week 2: Medium weight, 3-4 runs, first 2 50’ down and 50’ back, last 2 are just 50’ runs
-Week 3: Heavy-ish weight (don’t be stupid, stay fast), 2-3 runs of 50’
I honestly was enjoying my super heavy yoke runs of 30’ and 700+lbs, but considering I blew out my ACL and meniscus doing this in a contest, I probably shouldn’t recommend it for training.


1: ROM progression mat pulls
-I have written about this extensively, and nothing has changed.  Touch and go, 1 max set, 7 week waves with 1 week of deloads, use straps.

Read more here:

2: Strip some plates per side, perform a double overhand pull and hold for time.  Try to beat last week’s time until you hit 90 seconds, then go for more weight.

3: High rep squat challenge workout
-Once again, this is what I’ve written about in the past.  You can use what I’ve used, or come up with your own.  There is no method, only madness.  High reps, lots of volume, little rest.  I used a straight bar for this, but a safety squat bar wouldn’t be bad either.

Read more here:


-Why a bench day for strongman?  Because benching helps my overhead.  Whereas all of my overhead work was with leg drive, benching was about the only heavy strict pressing I was performing, and it would pay off.  Additionally, I have a powerlifting background, and can’t give up the bench.  If you don’t like it, consider making it an incline day, close grip, or whatever gets you going.

-The safety squat bar on the squat day is by design.  Squats are awesome, but the safety squat bar squat has a ton of carryover into strongman, especially if you round your upperback with it.  It builds the deadlift, uses a similar posture to a stone load, and in general builds up a ton of brute strength, ESPECIALLY when trained to break off the chains.  Additionally, you can fight for a rep with the SSB way harder/better than you can with a straight bar.

-You can’t do too many band pull aparts.  I have suggestions for how to train them in the program, but feel free to do even more.

-I honestly didn’t like how little backwork I was doing on this program, but it was working just fine.  Feel free to add in more if you can recover from it.

-For the press rotations, I would normally keep the axle as the rep day, and then rotate between the log and the axle on the heavy day.  The skill day had more wiggle room, and could be just about anything I felt needed work.

-I was using a deadlift bar on the deadlit days.  I liked it, and I think it made my recovery easier since it was easier on my lower back with the flex in it.  Deadlift bars are awesome anyway.

Feel free to ask any questions.

Monday, November 16, 2015


I made the comment in the title once in one of my many streams of consciousness, but now is the time to expand. 
The notion of the “intermediate” lifter is poison.  The very premise is vastly more destructive than it is beneficial, and it needs to be wiped out if we have any hope to progress in our training.
The intermediate is the safe space for a lifter’s ego.  It provides solace, allowing one to stake a claim of experience without having the actual success necessary to back up their words.  It is the banner of the lifting bookworm, well read but poorly trained.  We must declare war on this holy ground and allow no quarter to those seeking its sanctuary.

Ok....maybe one of the FEW times where worrying about your posture is justified

We all understand what a beginner lifter is, at least in theory.  A beginner is someone starting out, learning the basics, developing some fundamental strength and technique, and just beginning their journey.  An advanced athlete seems equally easy a concept to grasp, as these are those individuals that have achieved a high level of performance and clearly demonstrate a mastery of their craft.
But the intermediate?  There is no clear definition, so many have taken it upon themselves to come up with bizarre standards based on a handful of lifts.  Strength standard sites and lifters comparing numbers in an insane chase to be crowned the title of “mediocre”, yes!  And these stats are constantly discovered to be laughably low, a reflection of the trending low standards we as a society maintain as part of our physical decline.
However, what becomes even more destructive WITH these standards it the tendency for trainees to engage in an aggressive campaign of number chasing in order to “earn” these titles.  When told that all one needs to do is deadlift 315lbs at 200lbs bodyweight to be “intermediate”, trainees decide to dial in their form, shorter their ROM, buy a belt and the right shoes, and do whatever it takes to get this number as fast as possible.  That way, they can tell everyone “yeah, I’m an intermediate lifter”.  This is meaningless: you have gotten no bigger or stronger in your pursuit for a title.

Which I suppose is only slightly worse than trying to find a fed with no current records so that you can win a plastic trophy

Others wish to believe that an intermediate trainee is one who progresses at a rate differently than a beginner trainee.  Once again, we run into the issue where one falsely conflates number of pounds moved with amount of strength possessed/gained, but, for the sake of argument, let us suppose this argument has merit.  What now becomes contentious is this notion of “intermediate routines” wherein one believes that the routine dictates the rate of progress.  A beginner routine progresses every workout, whereas an intermediate routine is once a week…but wait, I thought it was the TRAINEE who progressed, not the routine?  Wouldn’t it be the case that, so long as the same intensity of effort is applied by the trainee, their body will make the necessary growth at the necessary rate?  Are we honestly of the belief that, through the power of mathematics and alchemy a training routine will dictate the rate of biological adaptations and transformations within the body, or is it the case that, irrespective of the routine, a trainee progresses at the rate that one’s body is able to progress?
And for the love of God, why would there even be such a thing as an intermediate program?  Wouldn’t one, by the very nature of their “intermediateness”, have enough awareness of their own body to be able to do what it takes to continue to make progress?  Don’t we tend to call the people who are STILL learning the basics “beginners”?

This is the issue with the language employed by those so eager to categorize: they want to quickly be granted a title for their efforts but in the same breath they claim that they are merely the results of sets and reps applied mechanically.  The human element has been removed, as though the outcome of training is the same regardless of the amount of blood, sweat, tears, and skull rupturing intensity is applied.
I propose we eliminate the intermediate term from our lexicon and understand trainees as simply belong to one of 2 categories: beginners, and non-beginners.  This will force more honestly and self-reflection, while at the same time offering little reward for self-promotion. We will know when we are beginners, as we are still asking questions, learning and growing.  We will know when we are not beginners as we will have the basics figured out, know how to train ourselves to keep growing, and have some results to show for our efforts.  Hitting certain stats like a high score in a video game will be inconsequential to our standing, as our ability will be reflection in our actions.
And, ultimately, if people can’t tell that you lift, you’re a beginner. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015


They say write what you know, and I know quite a bit about being injured from experience, so here we go.  For those of you just checking in, on 10 Oct I ruptured my ACL, tore my lateral meniscus and fractured where my patella and tibia meet on my left knee.  This is the first major injury I’ve had in a while where I could no longer “suffer in silence”.  Before, I dealt with muscle and soft tissue injuries that, though painful, I could hide from the outside world, but now I had something that was affecting basic movement function and forcing me to limp, which in turn forced me to have to explain my injury to a lot of folks.  Here are some of the lessons I have learned in this experience.
1: People want you to be more hurt than you are 

Especially Mike Tyson
This was probably the most shocking and upsetting part about this experience.  I’ve had many injury role models through my training career, 2 most significant ones being Dave Tate and Matt Kroczaleski, and both spoke infinitely about the power of positive thinking as it relates to injury.  Matt even talked about how, a week out from the Arnold he was on crutches due to a severely swollen IT band, and essentially “willed” it to heal in time for the meet.  I’ve taken the same approach, talking about my next contest that I was going to compete in, planning my recovery training cycles, and ultimately still staying as absorbed as possible in my lifting.
It turns out that it was absolutely for the best that I did this, because I received very little in the way of positive thinking from any of my peers.  The most common response when I tell people about my ACL is “oh wow, that sucks, you’re going to take a LONG time to recover”.  Oh hey cool, thanks for that asshole, like I didn’t have that thought running through my mind a few thousand times a day.  Glad you took the time out of your busy day to educate me on ACL reconstruction and recovery.  Other sentiments include how I’m probably done competing, how it takes a long time to recover from the surgery (which is also just plain wrong), how I’ve probably stopped working out by now, etc etc.

I must surely be wasting away, sitting on the couch eating Cheetos

I’ve actually even encountered people that were upset that I wasn’t “taking this seriously”, talking about how I should be more concerned about my injury, quit making jokes about it, and basically dictating how I should react to my own tragedy.  Essentially, people are upset that I’m not reacting to this the way THEY would, which is to say, to lay down, die, and wallow in self-pity.  Why is this you ask?  Well because…
2: You are a reminder of other people’s failures

You become something of a pariah for being injured for 2 reasons.  The first is that someone getting injured is a small reminder of our own mortality.  Much like how, in many cases, the death of a loved one is tragic not so much due to the loss of a person as it is a reminder that one day we too will die, witnessing an injury/knowing an injured person is a reminder that we’re all mortal and run the risk of getting hurt.  In turn, people will turn into personal injury lawyers and detectives, trying to find the exact reason why you got hurt so that they can assure themselves that it was all your fault and they’ll be totally fine.  It’s funny, but in many cases your injury will panic others far more than you.
However, the second reason you become somewhat reviled for being injured is due to the fact that, should you keep positive, stay active and recover quickly, all you’ve done is point out the inadequacies of others.  People LOVE to use injuries as an excuse to finally stop working out.  You hear it all the time; “I used to lift weights, but then I hurt my back/knee/elbow/shoulder/foot/cranium/pineal gland/etc etc”.  This was their get-out-of-jail-free card that finally allowed them to sit on the couch and eat Cheetos like they always wanted to in the first place.  Some folks even just develop phantom injuries that no doctor can diagnose (because they don’t exist), skipping past the pesky actual “getting injured” part, in order to fulfill this need.  Meanwhile, they see you limping between stations at the gym with a knee brace on and it instills within themselves a righteous sense of shame.

I will admit, I have been abusing this joke on my own
And allow me to stop here and clear the air: I don’t feel like I am better than anyone else because I lift weights.  That’s so stupid.  I could be using this time to do something productive for society, like volunteer at a soup kitchen or something.  It’s a very selfish thing that I do, and I do it because I like it.  However, it just so happens that the thing I like to do (and really, I more just like the getting stronger part of it, and lifting weights is what I have to do to get there) is something that other people feel OBLIGATED to do because it’s a part of being “healthy”.  This is what creates the rift: people see me doing whatever it takes to continue to pursue my passion and interpret it as simply me doing whatever it takes to be healthy, while they deprioritized health in order to use that time/energy to pursue THEIR passions.  It’s a matter of shifted perspectives that create tension, but you need to be prepared to encounter this static as an injured athlete who is going to recover.
3: Care and Feeding of an Injured Athlete   
So, having now been in the shoes of a visibly injured athlete, I’ve learned how to treat one (or at least, how I would prefer to be treated). 
-Nietzsche talks about how pity is one of man’s greatest sins, and in this situation that holds absolutely true.  The last thing you want to do to an injured athlete is pity them.  Though possibly well meaning, this just emasculates them, treating them like a cripple or a leper or some sort of weak defenseless animal.  Instead of saying “I feel so bad for you”, tell them about how they’re going to bounce back quickly.  This isn’t “making light” of the injury: it’s providing hope and re-assurance.  The athlete most likely has already gone through whatever mental anguish you’re trying to share with your pity, and offering more isn’t doing anything but making them resent you.  Be positive for them.

-As the athlete, stop whatever it was you were training for and find something else.  Preferably, something really different that you have no frame of reference for.  For me, I went full tilt into a real deal bodybuilding program.  Specifically, I followed the detailed bodybuilding program in Matt Kroc’s “Insane Training” book.  This was so outside my wheelhouse that I wasn’t able to notice a lack of strength or ability in any of the lifts, because I wasn’t DOING any of the lifts that I was familiar with.  You still have to work within the limitations of your injuries, yes (I’m not doing Crossfit or weightlifting), but finding a new training goal as quickly as possible will allow you to still train and not go crazy.

Unless you NEED to go crazy in order to train I suppose

-Even when you comeback, make things different.  The hardest thing to contend with is knowing your previous strength and watching yourself be unable to realize it in your current form.  One of the ways around this psychological angst is to instead use variations of the movements you set your PRs with so that you aren’t quite doing what you did before.  If you always deadlifted with a deadlift bar, switch to an axle when you get back into deadlifting.  Always squatted with a straight bar?  Use a safety squat bar.  Benched with a barbell?  Go swiss bar.  Etc etc.  The strength you build with these movements will still carryover back into what you did before, but you’ll be chasing and setting new PRs, rather than trying to reclaim old ones, which will be far less distressing and more rewarding.
Remember: time heals all wounds.  You’ll get better eventually, and it’s the people who keep coming back after injuries that stand out as the great ones.  Keep strong and focused, and no matter what you’re dealing with now, it’ll blow over.