Tuesday, August 31, 2010

True But Useless

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Find The Bright Spots

In 1990, Jerry Sternin was working for Save The Children, the international organization that helps children in need. He'd been asked to open a new office in Vietnam. The government had invited Save The Children into the country to fight malnutrition. But when Sternin arrived, the welcome was rather chilly. The foreign minister let him know that not everyone in the government appreciated his presence. The minister told Sternin, "You have six months to make a difference.'

Sternin was traveling with his wife and 10-year-old son. None of them spoke Vietnamese. "We were like orphans at the airport when we arrived in Vietnam," he recalled. "We had no idea what we were going to do." Sternin had minimal staff and meager resources.

Sternin had read as much as he could about the malnutrition problem. The conventional wisdom was that malnutrition was the result of an intertwined set of problems: Sanitation was poor. Poverty was nearly universal. Clean water was not readily available. The rural people tented to be ignorant about nutrition.

In Sternin's judgement, all of this analysis was "TBU" - true but useless. "Millions of kids can't wait for those issues to be addresed," he said. If addressing malnutrition required ending poverty and purifying water and building sanitation systems, then it would never happen. Especially in six months, with almost no money to spend.

Sternin had a better idea. He traveled to rural villages and met with groups of local mothers. The mothers divided into teams and went out to weigh and measure every child in their village. They then poured over the results together.

Sternin asked them, "Did you find any very, very poor kids who are bigger and healthier than the typical child?" The women scanning the data, nodded and said, "Co, co, co." (Yes, yes, yes.)

Sternin said, "You mean it's possible today in this village for a very poor family to have a well-nourished child?"

"Co, co, co."

"Then let's go see what they're doing."

- Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (pp. 27-28)

Sternin found that children who were eating four meals a day with calories spread out (rather than the two meals typical in the area) and eating meals supplemented with shrimps, crabs, and sweet-potato greens (not considered "child food" by most families) were the hardiest. He then implemented communal meal preparation "workshops", led by neighborhood mothers, to dispense the information.

The book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, proposes a three-part framework to create behavioral change:

*"Direct The Rider" - Provide clear direction so that the rational mind ("the rider") will not suffer from "paralysis of analysis", or be immobilized by an inability to choose from a mountain of possible solutions.
For most trainees, having a very explicit plan of action makes change easier. People prefer to be told what to do (weights, sets, reps, exercises, training frequency, calories, menu items, supplements, etc).

*"Motivate The Elephant" - Recruit the emotions ("the elephant") to your cause, so that you aren't constantly fighting a battle you can't win. Photos, food logs and training records, videos, etc. can all help create and sustain emotional commitment to getting stronger and into shape  - and staying that way.

*"Shape The Path" - Alter your surroundings to make success more likely. Buying the smaller size (even though the "value meal" gives you more calories per dollar), having a home gym or a membership to a 24 hour gym nearby, and using smaller dinner plates are all examples of small, seemingly inconsequential things that may add up to big time change over the longer haul.

How often do we get bogged down by the "TBU" (true but useless) conditions that limit our training and ultimately our potential? What can YOU do to make the changes you've been wanting but haven't gotten around to yet?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Do YOU Need To Deadlift?

A blog reader asked me recently "Do you ever deadlift heavy?". It's a legitimate question. I don't discuss deadlifting much in the Squat Rx videos and it's true that I don't do plain-old deadlifts very often. Let me just say that I DO like deadlifts (who doesn't like to pick up heavy things?) but I generally choose not to do them in training. Why? Let me explain...

Gray Cook has written "Maintain the squat. Train the deadlift" and it is sage advice for some people. For others, it is NOT.

I believe that there are three kinds of people who deadlift:

Gary Heisey (right) - Was there EVER a man better suited to deadlift?

If you are "built to deadlift", you probably have a short torso, long arms, big hands, short femurs. You can follow Ed Coan's training template. You can deadlift heavy once a week or more. You will make gains. Progress, while it may slow, is steady and reliable. You laugh at powerlifting competitions as you pass your fellow competitors by a hundred pounds or more in the last pull of the meet.

If you are "not built to deadlift", you are not built to be a superlative deadlifter, however, with intelligent effort, you can be formidable - your deadlift may very well become a strength. Most people probably fall into this category.

Those who are "built to NOT deadlift" (long torso and femurs, short tibias and arms) will quickly overtrain or injure themselves if they deadlift heavy with any kind of frequency. For people like this, they would be better off training their squat and doing supplemental work in the form of good mornings, box squats, and Romanian deadlifts as tolerated.

I'm built to not deadlift. That's not an excuse - that's a reason. Doesn't mean it's an excuse to be weak-sauce - just that training should be adjusted accordingly.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's Not Creatine - It's Called "Rhabdomyolysis" Coach!

There's a reason it's called "conditioning", not "hurting" or "punishing" or whatever else you want to be tough and  label it. The following line has become cliche, but it's a good bit of wisdom:

"Any moron can smoke you."

That's not to say that anyone involved in story linked below is a moron. Over the years, there have been training sessions (of my own design) which left my athletes in worse shape and more injury prone than they were to begin with - probably many coaches will admit to a few of these early in their careers. I've certainly been guilty of pushing my athletes harder than I should have once or twice.
I thank my stars that I've learned my lessons and I thank God that I've never sent 30 athletes to the hospital and, knock on wood, never will.

High School Football Camp Story: "'Immersion Training' Gone Wrong"

P.S. - Thanks to "that" forum for the heads up on this one.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blogs Of Note (II)

For what it's worth, I LOVE reading strength and conditioning related blogs when they are original, thoughtful, relevant, and not excessively vulgar or angry. If you'd like me to take a look at your blog, leave a message here or send me an email.

I do have some standards for adding (and removing) links to the blogroll here at Squat Rx. The "standards" are:
*The blog must be regularly updated. Generally, if there haven't been posts in six months, I'm not going to link it.

*There needs to be writing, with original content, thought, creativity, and inspiration, not just ad copy, YouTube videos, or literature reviews.
* Unless I'm VERY interested in how you train, I don't link training logs here.
*I must have corresponded with you at least once online or in person. If I don't know you, if I've never spoken to you, if we've never even posted on each other's Facebook wall or exchanged words on a forum, then I'm not going to link your site.

*You need to return the favor by putting Squat Rx in your own blogroll (petty perhaps but hey, nobody's perfect).
Here are three blogs I really enjoy. Give them a read and see what you think:
RKC Jordan Vezina keeps a blog at averagetoelite.com. He's on a "30 Posts In 30 Days" run and he's had some gems lately. His latest post, There's No Time, tells you to stop waiting for the conditions to be perfect and just get moving.

As far as online correspondence goes, I've known Smitty and Jedd Johnson of the Diesel Crew for a long time. Probably 10 years ago, we were all regulars at Dr. Squat Fred Hatfield's forum. Their stuff is always great. This post on Neck Training For Football Players is a good one and falls in line with a recent post I made on Extremity Training.

If you are a regular here, then Dan John needs little introduction. If you haven't bought his Seminar DVDs from davedraper.com, then you are missing out on a wealth of material. If times are tough and you are short on cash, you are forgiven, and here's a rundown of one of the best segments from the series: The Hip Displacement Continuum - if you've ever wondered why your "squatty swing" or your high-bar-hips-back-atg-squat is hurting your back, then this will be a good post for you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Matthias Steiner

One of most moving performances in sports history - Matthias Steiner at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Overhead Squat Tips - Continued Discussion

I wrote a post about Squat Rx #22 (Tips for the overhead squat) at Dave Draper's Iron Online Forum. We've had some interesting discussion about the finer points and Dan John and Glen Pendlay (among others) have added a few words as well.

Join the discussion!
Overhead Squat Tips Thread

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A while back, I did a Squat Rx blog post entitled "Breathing" in which I quote Zen author Sekida Katsuki and link to Squat Rx #10 in which I give tips on breathing and set-up for heavy squats. I've had many people mention the video to me and breathing is one of those topics that seems to be gaining attention in the strength and conditioning online community.

Breathing is so critical to long-term health, stress management, and performance that is surprising that it's taken us so long to give it proper attention. My guess is that most coaches fail to address breathing out of ignorance, and/or the false belief that "it just comes naturally". It DOES come naturally for young children but poor posture (sitting), stress, sedentary modern living, and overeating "unlearns" us.

There is certainly a lot to be mined on the subject of the breath for S&C writers, but here are the major lessons (as I see them) in exactly 10 words:

Diaphragmatic Breathing = All-Important
Inhalation = Excitation
Exhalation = Relaxation
Cessation = Focus

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cues and Technique

Sometimes, in foreign language classrooms, you see a teacher "instructing" proper pronunciation. The dialogue reads like the following:
Teacher: Say "kon-nichi-wa".
Student: ko-NEECHEE wa.
Teacher: No, it's "kon-ni-chi-wa".
Student: ko-NEECHEE-wa.
Teacher: No. Look, it's "konnichiwa".
Student (rolling eyes): ko-NEECHEE wa!
Teacher: konnichiwa.
Student: ko-NEECHEE wa.
Teacher: konnichiwa. 
Student: ...

The teacher supplies a competent model and says "Do it like this" and that's about it for technical "instruction" (if you could call it that). A good teacher would quickly realize that "Do it LIKE THIS" wasn't working and adjust instruction accordingly with appropriate drills and cues.

I think I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating and it probably applies to everything we do in the gym, whether it's a drill, exercise, piece of equipment, or routine:
Cues are not dogma and cues are not actual technique. Cues are prompts, and prompts are context-sensitive. A given cue may work well in some situations, and not so well in others.
The best you can do is "I'm certain, but it depends.". Through experience and research, we get better at understanding the "it depends" part.
Recently, I see a lot of people reacting to what could be described as "form naziism". Anybody who knows me, I hope, knows that I can't stand over-intellectualization of something that could be described as glorified heavy furniture moving. BUT, if we are not coaching a "natural athlete", or if your trainee has "issues", loading up a barbell and telling them to "SQUAT!" (which was my introduction, by the way) is not going to go very well for very long.

Technical work is no excuse for laziness (for example, coaches who can only coach technique, or athletes avoiding gut-bustingly hard intensities). Besides, no one said technique work had to be easy - if you've been doing your squat work w. a PVC, it might be time to step it up a bit...

If you are a coach and you can not, or will not, coach proper technique and mechanics, then can you be a competent coach? Of course there is a lot more to coaching than technique and mechanics, but technique and mechanics are fundamental. They are perpetually fundamental - it doesn't stop being fundamental when you become proficient. Fundamentals need to be revisited frequently.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Squat Rx #22 (Tips For The Overhead Squat)

It's been a long time since I've done a Squat Rx video and it was due. Although I believe the tips given are clear and commonsensical, I don't think I've ever heard anyone else give them for overhead squat instruction.

The external rotation of the arm is an extension of the idea of "spiral tension" - cueing "the Fonzie" signals contraction of the infraspinatus and the rhomboids, and engage the lats, serratus, etc. that are internal rotators of the arm and external rotators of the scapula. At least that's how I see it and it applies to other kinds of squatting as well. I'm sure someone who actually knows a thing or two about kinesiology will correct me if I'm wrong (or even if I'm right).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Words of Wisdom From Jeffrey Immelt

You have to have a plan. You have to stick with it. You have to modify it at times, but every day you've got to get up and play hard. Jack [Welch] used to see me running around, even after he left, and he'd say to me, "Remember, it's a marathon. Ten years. Fifteen years. You've got to get up every day with a new idea, a new spin, and you've got to bring it in here every day." I always kind of knew that, but until you're right in the middle of it, you never get it. His advice was right. It's the sustained ability to change that really counts.

- Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric (from Excellence Inspiration for Achieving Your Personal Best)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Words of Wisdom from Benoit Mandelbrot

"Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules which are repeated without end."
- Benoit Mandelbrot

I'll be taking the next few weeks off to complete an article that's taken a year to write. There are a few posts queued up and I promise to check in from time to time, but I will be around less than normal. I promise to be back in full strength come September - until then, Good Squatting!

- Boris

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Training Points To Ponder: The Taper

The "taper" is a peaking phase of an athlete's season characterized by a marked reduction in training volume scheduled in the days and weeks prior to an important competition. As the name suggests, the "taper" is, generally, a gradual lessening of training workload, designed to boost performance.

An effective taper is, for many coaches and athletes, an elusive hit-or-miss practice, shrouded in mystery. Many coaches and athletes choose to avoid the process of tapering, instead opting to treat competition as just a training session - this, I believe is a mistake. Used effectively, a good taper can dramatically boost an athlete's performance. When mistimed or poorly executed, it can leave an athlete feeling flat and drained.

The duration of a taper can vary greatly, but is often two to three weeks; sometimes lasting as long as a month, and can be extended even longer if post-championship competitions are scheduled. Shorter tapers, sometimes referred to as "mini-tapers" (or just "rest" by normal people), are usually 3 days to a week in length.

Assuming a good base of appropriate training volume and intensity has been established then, in this writer's opinion, most sports (explosive and cyclic) can benefit from a longer period of rest than the one week or less commonly taken by many athletes.

The taper is a practice that requires sensitivity to the needs of given sport and the individual athlete(s). The following are general tips to consider for taper implementation:

* Tapers generally consist of gradual lessening of training volume
* Intensity will often continue or even increase during a taper until the final week immediately prior to a competition or test
* Volume can be added as needed if peaking too early is a concern
* Many coaches note that larger athletes (with more lean body mass) require longer tapers
* Many coaches note that female athletes do not tolerate prolonged/extended/repeated tapers as well as male athletes
* The competition warm up routine should be used in training for weeks prior to a competition. By the time of competition, it should be automatic

Things to avoid during a taper:
*trying to "work in" some more conditioning or strength work - if a solid base has not been established, the taper is not the time to try to make up lost ground
*new warm-up routines and rituals
*adding new recovery methods (such as massage, electro-stim, etc.) too close to competition
*sudden and significant dietary changes

Sunday, August 1, 2010

SKWAT! T-Shirts Update

I'd like to say thanks to everyone who's purchased a t-shirt (or two!). It's probably the first time I've actually made a dime on shirts and I certainly appreciate it. The last time we did a sale (back in November), there were some very generous people and we ended up donating over $100 to charities. Just so it's clear, I've keeping profits this time around for future shirts if there's interest.

Right now, I only have S and M sizes left. If you'd like one, shoot me an email to double-check availability and we'll arrange payment through PayPal.