Sunday, June 18, 2017

WHEN I AWOKE


Got a great question the other day that spawned my writing of this.  

“At what point did you personally no longer consider yourself a novice lifter?” and “Did that change in mindset alter anything else for you?” 

For me, there was a very exact moment when this transition occurred for me; when I pulled my first 600lb deadlift.  It happened in my garage, on a random day, a few months out from a powerlifting meet, when I just felt like seeing what I could do.  Up until this point, I was running a lot of ROM progression training and had pulled 585 in a meet this way, but once I finally hit that 6 it all opened up for me.  At that moment, I decided I must know at least a few things about lifting, and I had an idea of what worked and what didn’t.  When I ended up pulling it in a meet, it just furthered solidified things.

So what changed?  While I still considered myself a novice, I gave equal credence to just about any crackpot theory that was out there.  Since I was “a novice”, clearly I didn’t know crap, so anyone who managed to get published must SURELY know something.  If someone wrote something for beginners, I read it and did it, and if someone was a “coach”, surely their word held some weight, right?  This meant, reading all those things that went against everything I knew just meant I was too stupid to really KNOW how to train.  These people had credentials, and I was just a dumb novice. 


Image result for starting strength zach results
I mean, maybe one day I could get results like THIS!
And then I awoke.  I hit a 600lb deadlift with a method very few people were using, and it worked.  I deadlifted off the floor once every 2 months and pulled 600lbs at 181, despite the fact that every coach, guru, and forum member said that you HAD to deadlift at least once a week.  I did it with high reps, even though everyone SWORE you had to lift with low reps to get stronger.  I did it in a meet, having used straps the entire time, even though everyone told me that straps make your grip weak.  I did it while dropping 12lbs, even though everyone said you had to “lift big eat big.”  I did it pulling touch and go, even though everyone told me you had to pull deadstop or else it “wasn’t a deadlift.”  Basically, I did every single thing I could possibly do wrong and I finally succeeding after failing while doing everything right.

And that was the thing; I got to this point out of desperation.  I was dutifully reading all the right books from all the right authors and doing all the right things, and I was stuck.  Yeah, I got great initial progress, and then stalled and stalled hard.  And I reset and deloaded and form checked and overate and overslept and upped my rest periods and did all the prescribed fixes, only to spend a year eeking out another 5lbs at most, rife along the way with injuries, stalls, pain and frustration.  I had considered quitting lifting before I had even really started, just because I wasn’t going anywhere.  And so, I figured, if what works isn’t working, what do I have to lose doing what DOESN’T work?

Image result for Squatting on a bosu ball 
It ALMOST came down to this

And this is what got me to learn what ACTUALLY works; effort, consistency and time.  It’s what I’ve been harping on for a long time, because it’s what works.  What got me through a long stall and finally on the road was shutting off a lot of the noise that was out there, putting my head down, finding my own way and just gutting it out until it worked.  I had forsaken this to believe in a new god in the past, because I didn’t have enough strength of believe in my own convictions.  When I finally lost all hope and had to turn to myself for answers, I finally awoke.  I was FORCED to awaken, as the alternative was to die.

And let’s be real; before I awoke, I was using the advice of gurus to relieve myself of several burdens.  I could relieve myself of physical burdens this way; I could find someone that told me that training too hard, too frequently was going to be overtraining.  I could find someone that told me that trying to do conditioning on top of lifting was going to make me lose all my gains.  I could find someone that would tell me that I NEEDED to get fat to get strong.  Man, how interesting that the best way to get bigger and stronger was to train infrequently with little effort and eat like a pig.  What a sacrifice I made!  How deluded was I to really believe that training as hard as I could and eating as well as I could wouldn’t actually get me as strong as I could?  But that’s the SECOND burden these gurus relieved me of; the burden of thinking for myself.  I didn’t have to question the insanity of this rhetoric, because someone FAR above me had passed it to me from on high.  It took that hitting of rock bottom to FINALLY take on all these burdens and in turn, finally start progressing.

Image result for hercules and atlas 
In this photo, Hercules advises Atlas that, for the sake of linear progression, he needs to move on to Jupiter next
....that was lame, but my alternative punchline involved Uranus

And this is why, upon my awakening, I became violent in my nature.  I called out these gurus, asking what their qualifications were to talk on matters of getting bigger and stronger when THEY had never actually achieved getting bigger and stronger?  What was their experience?  What was their justification?  And in the majority of these instances, these people came back with nothing.  Nothing of merit at least.  Oh sure; they had studies, articles, anecdotes, etc etc…but no proof.  No results.  And I tuned them out.  And I hoped my questioning of them did the same.


The start of this blog was the start of that awakening; it was when I finally had achieved enough to have something worth saying.  I’ve said on many occasions as well that this blog is essentially my current self yelling at my old self for being so stupid.  You can still see the shift occurring, with me writing things today that even conflict with some of the things I said back in 2012; the awakening continues.  However, I at least know that I know what it takes to get to where I am, and I’m proud enough of that to be willing to share.  How many people are willing to say the same? 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

BOOK REVIEW; 5/3/1 FOREVER

Hey folks; something a little different this week.  Wanted to write-up a review for 5/3/1 Forever, since there aren't a whole lot out there on the web right now.  We'll resume your regularly scheduled psychological ramblings next week.

5/3/1 Forever was released a few months ago to much excitement, and I’ve had time to read through it and formulate a few thoughts, for those that are still on the fence about if you should add it to your library.


Some background about me:

-I have read every single 5/3/1 book so far (First and Second Edition, Powerlifting, and Beyond). I have also read through every blogpost Jim has posted, and a LOT of what he has written on his t-nation forum. I am, however, NOT a member of his private forum. I share all this so that you know what my familiarity was with the entire 5/3/1 program before reading the book. I cannot speak to the experience someone brand new to 5/3/1 would have reading this book, nor can I say if it gives you everything you need to run 5/3/1, because I didn’t walk into this blind, and I could “fill in the gaps” for anything not explicitly stated. If possible, it behooves you to educate yourself as much as possible before reading.

Quick Summary of the book:

-The book is in 3 sections. The first section provides the basic philosophy behind 5/3/1, along with explaining the 7 week protocol, leaders and anchors. Those last 2 points are pretty crucial to understanding how to run Jim’s programs, and up until this point were only available on Jim’s private forum. The rest of section one details running the supplemental and assistance work, jumps, throws, and warm-ups.

-Section 3 is all about programming conditioning and recovery. This includes some basic nutritional advice, along with ideas for what to do for conditioning and how to program it without overtaxing your recovery.

-Section 2 contains 50 different 5/3/1 programs. That isn’t hyperbole. Before each program is a quick synopsis of what the program is for (strength, size, etc) and who is ideal to run it.

The Good:

-This book contains everything you could ever need to program for the rest of your life. It is 275 pages with zero pictures; that’s a lot of info, and very little of it is wasted. At 50 different programs, almost all of them with leaders and anchors, if you were to just run each program 1 time, that’s something like 450 weeks of programming.

-If you are a fan of Jim’s ramblings on training, he interjects little bits of this through-out the book. I actually found this kept it from being too dry, and compelled me to read through some of the more detailed sections. However, I know some people get rubbed raw by this, so be aware.

-You finally have all of Jim’s thoughts compiled in one location. Prior to this book’s release, you had to piece together little bits of thoughts Jim shared on his forum, his blog, t-nation, facebook and his books to be able to get an idea of where is programming was. Now, it’s all laid down in one location.

-Lots of different programming options. 2, 3, 4 day lifting programs, lots of different conditioning protocols, etc. You’re bound to find something.

-The legendary Krypteria program is contained here. No more mystery.

The bad:

-No table of contents. Jim ended up releasing one on his blog after the fact, so you can print that out.

-Nonsensical organization of programming. Section 2 is pretty much the wildwest, and reading it cover to cover doesn’t really set you up for success if you’re new to 5/3/1.

-No description of how to perform the exercises. Jim had this in the first edition, but has since scrapped it. In fairness, that’s not what this book is about, but it takes away from the ability to just throw it at a trainee and say “read this and you’re set”. There still needs to be SOME background knowledge.

-Not a lot of variety of training movements. Jim really sticks with his 4 big movements these days, and most of his programming revolves around manipulating volume and intensity for these movements. However, he leaves assistance work pretty open to the user, so you’ve got that.

Should you buy it?

-Absolutely. I have been training for 17 years and STILL found some great nuggets in this book. You’re bound to find something you like in here and a few programs you’ll either hop on right away or steal a bunch of ideas from. Honestly, section 1 alone is incredibly valuable in getting your head on straight.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

GO HOME POWERLIFTING: YOU’RE DRUNK


Before I begin, I, and the world of strength sports, owe a LOT to powerlifting.  Powerlifting has given a lot in its short time.  From powerlifting we got a ton of specialty bars and equipment, training gear that can either extend training longevity or improve performance, and Kaz, among other greats.  However, powerlifting’s influence (through no fault of its own) hasn’t all been positive, and unfortunately is has been dragging down many new trainees who decide to venture out into the land of the internet and try to learn how to train.  What was once a sport about getting as strong as possible and winning meets has become one fixated on setting internet records and achieving the highest WILKS.  The whole world has turned upside down, cats and dogs are living together, mass hysteria, and so I say; go home powerlifting: you’re drunk.

Image result for bill kazmaier eyes
Or possibly on bathsalts; jury is still out

The biggest issue that occurs with powerlifting is that trainees immediately equate powerlifting with strength training.  This is a part of the process of learning about the different subgroups in the lifting world.  Most of us, when we first got into lifting, identified any serious lifter as a bodybuilder.  For most of us, this was simply the only thing we knew regarding someone who took lifting seriously. We were exposed to Arnold, knew he was a bodybuilder, saw the muscle mags full of bodybuilders, etc.  Most of us still encounter this amongst our peers and family, in that, no matter what it is that we do, we’re bodybuilders.  Once you dive a little deeper, one tends to learn that there is at least 1 other subgroup that ISN’T bodybuilders, and these people tend to be powerlifters.

However, realize that, once again, this is just lazy research manifesting itself.  Of the select few that know there is a difference between a bodybuilder and a powerlifter, who among them ACTUALLY know what a powerlifter is compared to a strongman or weightlifter?  Most people just take the quickest distinction; bodybuilders are people who train to get big, powerlifters are people who train to get strong.  Knowing this, if you want to get big, you train like a bodybuilder, and if you want to get strong, you train like a powerlifter.  And herein is where the crisis begins.

Image result for superman crisis on infinite earths
Not the first time a lot of strength was lost over a Crisis...Christ I'm a nerd

Let me come out and say a statement that is going to piss off a lot of people: powerlifting was NEVER about getting stronger.  Not once, in the history of powerlifting’s existence, has it EVER been a sport about getting stronger.  Powerlifting is about getting the highest total possible on 3 lifts.  Getting stronger HELPS in powerlifting, but so does getting stronger help in American football, boxing, wrestling, basketball, swimming, etc.  Because powerlifting has people specifically lifting weights, we interpret it to mean it’s a sport solely about strength, but this is simply confusing the effect for the cause.  Powerlifters lift weights as part of their competition, but it is still fundamentally a sport/game with a goal of winning.  This is why, in some cases, the strongest person at the meet DID NOT WIN.

How can I say this?  It’s a strength sport, no?  Yes, but it’s a SPORT, and strategy, technique and practice will ALWAYS come into play when discussing a sport.  One of the key elements of practice is, of course, frequency and perfection.  Hence, a powerlifter will often perform their competition lifts in their training, and they will do so in a manner where they are practicing to the standards of the sport in the hopes of engraining the correct motor pattern in order to maximize their skill improvement.  This maximized skill translates into more weight moved, because one has become BETTER at moving higher weights; but we all know that BETTER does not mean STRONGER. The powerlifter is playing a game, and they’re playing it to win.  If you are trying to get stronger, don’t play their game.
Image result for Bench press arch
And don't hate the player

New trainees get confused by this.  They see the frequent practice of a powerlifter in their programming, decide they want to train like a powerlifter because they want to “train for strength”, and then are aghast at the notion of only benching, squatting and deadlifting once a week at most.  Surely such infrequent practice won’t allow one to maximize their strength, no?  No!  Once again, we confuse skill for strength here.  If one benches twice a week, they practice the bench twice a week, and twice in that week they train their pecs, shoulders and triceps (yes yes bench nerds; I know there is MORE than that, just stick with me).  If a trainee benches once a week and then does dips the other day a week, they practice bench 1 time and dips 1 time, but they STILL train their pecs, shoulders and triceps twice in that same week as well.  The frequency is the same; the amount of STRENGTH gained can be the same, it is simply the skill that diminishes at one lift in exchange for an opportunity to practice another.  BUT, consider the exchange here; less practice for an opportunity to train the body at different angles and get it stronger IN TOTAL versus in only on specific movement.  Doesn’t that sound more rewarding for a NON-powerlifter, whose goal is to get as big and strong as possible rather than win a powerlifting meet?

But a big part of this pursuit of perfection on these lifts is because someone out there decided there needed to be some sort of gatekeeping of programs.  You don’t get to do X program until you can squat Y, and if you can only squat Z, you are better off doing program W.  It’s insanity, and purely a mechanism put into place for internet warriors to assert dominance over new trainees and maintain a status quo of mediocrity by prescribing awful training and never promoting anything that allows growth.  Saying you need to lift a certain amount on a certain lift before you’re ready for a specific training program operates off some sort of insane belief that all humans will reach these lifts through the same training. 

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
This guy MIGHT hit a 3 plate squat before the second coming of Jesus

Consider this; you take 1 trainee and have them ONLY squat, bench or deadlift.  No assistance work, no conditioning, only those 3 lifts.  You take another trainee and have them run a complete program, with a variety of core lifts and assistance work and conditioning.  The first trainee will most likely have the higher total of the two in a short span, because the first trainee is solely dedicated to those 3 lifts.  However, if the first trainee gets a 1000lb total in 6 months and the second trainee takes 2 years to get there, are we really saying the first trainee was more experienced than the second, and therefore more ready for a more advanced training template?  Of course not.  Those lifts were arrived at in totally different circumstances, and simply using a set number as a checkpoint makes zero sense without considering these factors.  Trainees need to free their minds from the shackles that they have to pass some sort of standard before having permission to train.


But let’s get to talking about the other dirty trick powerlifting has pulled on us; in these most recent years, it’s become a sport about being as SMALL as possible, not as big and strong as possible.  This is a result of the influence of the internet in regards to records sharing.  In the pre-historic era, “Powerlifting USA” was the only real way to get meet results, outside of word of mouth.  This meant you’d typically find out about records set MONTHS after it had occurred, and so trying to chase records on individual lifts or totals was a silly idea.  By the time you “broke” the record, it may be the case that someone else had ALREADY broken it before you, and all your prep and energy was wasted.  It made much more sense to try to win the MEET, not an individual lift record, and this meant finding out who your competition was, figuring out how they were picking their attempts, and trying to find some way to edge them out.  Hell, before WILKS was a thing, all you had to go off of was your total, so you tried to get as big and as strong as you could so that you could win.

Image result for J M Blakely powerlifting
Looks like it worked back then too

But now?  With meet results being broadcast live, let alone records being instantly recorded, powerlifting has become an "internet sport".  You don't compete against people; you compete against numbers.  This has bred a culture of trophy hunters for individual lift records; folks with the ideal anthropomorphic structure of a certain lift who specialize their training to focus on this lift and set meaningless records.  They take 2 token lifts on the others, and then set their internet record on their big lift. Many of the records being set are being set by lifters competing against NO ONE; backyard meets or small shows where guys are by themselves, just trying to set some sort of record.  There is no competing against a person, and no need to be strategic in selection in the hopes of winning.  And the last thing these people need to ruin their shot at a record is to move into a higher weight class, even IF doing so would let them actually WIN a meet with a solid total, so they learn to maximize weight moved while minimizing bodyweight gained.  This is a solid strategy to keep setting individual lift records in weird sub-groups and classifications, but for a trainee looking to get BIGGER and stronger?  It's madness.

BIGGER IS STRONGER!  We KNOW this.  Not on an intellectual level; on a primal, INSTINCTUAL level.  This is why animals make themselves appear bigger as a means of self-defense; it's trying to tell the predator "I am stronger than you imagined; back off".  This is why, when we were young and saw bodybuilders, we KNEW they were strong, and it took the internet to somehow convince us otherwise.  No no, "strength" is a skill, they said.  Strength is a product of practice and CNS efficiency.  Bullcrap.  Remember the first World's Strongest Man?  Remember how Lou Ferrigno held his own the whole time?  Remember how Franco Columbu, despite being BARELY 200lbs, was doing awesome right up until the point he blew out his knee RUNNING with a refrigerator in his back?  Building big muscles is building STRONG muscles, even IF it does not directly translate specifically into larger 1 rep max numbers on a handful of lifts.  There is a significant value to be had in training a variety of rep ranges and angles in order to develop strength IN TOTAL, irrespective of if your gym total goes up.  We're in the business of getting bigger and stronger; not winning meets.

Image result for Powerlifting meet results
It is not uncommon to see this many metals at a meet with 12 competitors

Now, don't get me wrong; a real, actual dedicated powerlifter KNOWS all this.  Once again, I do not write this in an attempt to discredit powerlifting proper; simply the bizarre state of affairs surrounding the sport as it exists within the net.  Guys who want to win meets and be the best LIFTER they can be utilize a practice of accumulating volume and getting bigger and stronger all around, but instagram heroes and Mr. Wonderfuls of the week muddy the waters for new lifters looking in trying to learn how to get stronger by "training like a powerlifter".

What's the takeaway here?  Realize that powerlifting isn't strength training; it's a sport, with it's own priorities, rules and guidelines.  Being strong is important in powerlifting, but it's not the SPORT of being strong; it's the sport of moving the most weight.  When we confuse weight moved with strength possessed, we miss out on the other variables that are at play.