Monday, December 31, 2007

When It Counts

When It Counts

Training is great and most of us, if we’ve been in the iron game (or any kind of athletic endeavor) for a significant amount of time, love it. But, unless our goals are purely aesthetic, training is practice and there is no guarantee that we’ll be able to apply all that training in a test, competition, or real-life situation – in other words, when it counts.
The solution, of course, is to simulate “tests” in training and/or to seek out competitions and real-life challenges often enough that we are confident our practiced skills are giving us what we want or need.
Keep in mind though, the test must be different than training. How disparate or similar the training and test are may vary according to needs and training goals. For example, to a powerlifter, a live audience and judges may be the only difference between much of their training and the actual performance. On the other hand, for a CrossFit trainee who, on the spur of the moment, decides to hit the slopes on a weekend road trip, the training and the test may look totally different.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Learned Helplessness

Often, in the classroom and in the weightroom, I work with kids who just give up. They come to a question that is not immediately answerable, or the weight starts to get heavy and, instead of grinding through, they immediately stop and say "I can't do it."

"Success breeds success" is a saying we're all familiar with, but the flip side of this is "failure breeds failure". For those who cannot separate performance from outcome, repeated failure in the classroom or gym becomes internalized, eroding self-esteem and leading to a state of learned helplessness. This can carry over into other areas of life and become part of an individual's psychological make-up.

If you find yourself in a mental rut, here are some tips that may help you get out of it:

*Have a Dream
A dream is the passion that fuels long-term effort. Without a dream, most sustained work will be half-assed at best. If you don't have a dream, get one. Find inspiration whether it's a competition, a test, or a cause, and get after it.

*Separate Performance from Outcome
The most successful entrepreneurs and athletes separate performance from outcome. Tiger Woods does not cry when he misses a put, or shanks one into the drink. Michael Jordan does not start to second-guess his shot if he air-balls one - and they're not jumping up-and-down for every good shot either. We can't always control the outcome - even when we have our very best performances we may still fail and sub-par performances can be victorious. But, if we allow the outcome to control our future performances and practice, we may give up performing altogether. Learn to separate "the performance" from "the outcome". (Overachievement, John Eliot)

*Don't Train "To Failure"
In the gym, many successful bodybuilders "train to failure", meaning that they do repetitions until they cannot do another. As a short-term training stimulus, this is fine. As a long-term training plan, it's horrible. Even the advocates of this type of training suggest that you rotate in weeks of "less intense" training every month or so. Again, "success breeds success". If your philosophy is to "empty the tank" in every training session, you are going to be running on fumes very soon. "Leave something in the tank". Leave yourself some room for improvement in your next training session.

*Shoot with a Shotgun, Not a Laser
Olympic athletes need laser-like focus, especially when they are peaking for a competion. But, to have a laser-like focus without exceptional planning ('sights' if you will) could put you more than a few degrees off target. With a laser, a few degrees off might as well be a mile. A shotgun, on the other hand, is shorter range, but the spread makes it easier to hit the target. In gym-talk, this means diversifying your training. Vary your reps. Use dumbells instead of barbells once in a while, and vice-versa. Use a stop watch. Do circuits or complexes. Include some odd lifts. Train your weak points. It's ok to have all your eggs in one basket, but for God's sake, try to have more than one egg.

At the end of the day, or the set, remember that it is consistency that will reap you rewards long term. Stay in the game - we're rooting for you.

"Remember no man is a failure who has friends."
- Clarence, from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"

Monday, December 24, 2007

Always Watch the Horizon

"...O.K. now you'll be coming out here and you'll be doing a stable fall face down frog modified. Now out here comes the static line 'cause it goes like from this to here see, and then the pilot chute will open and it'll pull the bridle out and then the main canopy will be open see, 'cause they're all connected, and then you'll be down here and you'll be looking up here at the WDI indicator and you'll also going to check for Mae West and if that's not there then you need to check here for 4 panels and a hole. Then when you come down you're gonna find the piece and you're gonna land over here and you're going to get in this position - except you don't wanna do that - because that means you in trouble, so what you want to do is you wanna get right here and then you're gonna come round here and you're gonna fold up and you're gonna do a toggle and jettison and always watch the horizon O.K?" - from the movie Fandango

In our training and our lives, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the minutiae and forget about the big picture, the goal, why we are doing things in the first place. We should "sweat the details", but it's important to take time to refocus on the big picture. Oftentimes, our needs change, and without a vision of where we are going and how the pieces fit in the larger puzzle, we can find ourselves on a path of, at best, marginal benefit. For example, I often read on forums people freaking out because they didn't hit their programmed numbers for the day. "OMG! What should I do? Should I start the entire mesocycle over, or should I substitute pull-throughs for the glute-ham raise?" With a larger vision of where they are going, a off-day here and there should not be cause of great concern. Have a vision. Establish some benchmarks to guide your training. Get busy. Occasionally stop and reevaluate your progress and vision. And always watch the horizon, O.K.?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Winter storm front moving in today. Got some "GPP" work in with the little guy and with the sandbags. Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bench Pressing in Japan

A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to visit a small gym in rural Japan called "Takei Power Gym".

I learned of this gym from my wife. She normally has no interest whatsoever in powerlifting, but noticed an article in the paper about a young girl who was a world record holder in the bench press, living and training in the same prefecture. The girl's father was her coach and the gym owner.

I went, not knowing what to expect exactly, but hoping that I might some tips for my horrible bench.

The first thing I noticed was everyones' outside shoes in the entryway... Oops, I was already wearing the shoes I was expecting to train in. I ended up taking them off, taking them to the changing room and rinsing off the soles before beginning my workout.

The gym itself is pretty bare-bones. Three extremely sturdy benches w. safety bar attachments, one power rack, a deadlift platform and loader, a few assorted machines, dumbells, stationary bicycle, treadmill, and a TV. One thing in particular catches my eye - three pieces of large diameter PVC tubing ranging in diameter from 3 - 10 inches. I know it is for one thing - to develop the arch that Japanese benchers are so famous for.

Ai Takei, a former IPF Junior world bench press record holder, is a thin girl, 5'2" maybe 105 pounds. Her father, took third place in the IPF Worlds Bench Press Championships in 1995. He is a very thick man, probably 5'5" and weighing about 220. They are both very friendly, modest people.

During the two sessions that I spent at Takei Power Gym, I talked with Ai and her father (both also Karate instructors by the way) a lot about training, equipment, and technique. Her are some of the highlights:

*Crain bench press shirts are a lot more popular here. According to Mr. Takei, Japanese benchers just don't like extreme gear. He has always used Crain bench shirts and loves the fit. He tried competing in an Inzer EHPHD, but hated it. I tell him that, for Americans, the more painful the gear, the better - he just laughs and it's pretty clear he doesn't agree.

*Almost all meets follow IPF guidelines, so everything is single-ply poly. The Rage X, when I visited, wasn't being sold in Japan yet. He mentions the F-6 too, but I didn't ask him follow-up questions about it.

*Japanese benchers maximize bench grip width. As soon as I put my hands on the bench, both Ai and her father immediately mention that Americans tend to bench close grip and they are a bit puzzled why they do that.

*Mr. Takei does a lot of rep work in the off-season, usually in the 8-10 range. Pre-contest work generally starts 8 weeks out with the last three weeks using equipment. His athletes usually do no workouts 10-14 days before a meet so they are fully recovered.

*His benchers take a lot of time to recover in-between sets. He recommends 10 minutes.

*He recommends an elbows-out bench press style. I know, I know... I mention rotator cuff injuries and he says that he has had a few, but that the shoulder and pectorals are underutilized by elbows-in benchers and that tricep-dominant lifters are limiting themselves. He says that opening up your elbows even a little will make a big difference with your bench press.

*They use large diameter PVC to help develop their arch. When I try using a 5" diameter tube, my back immediately cracks and then starts in with mild shooting spasms... I eventually settle into it and later, without the PVC, when I set myself with the bar, Mr. Takei pushes my shoulders towards my feet, saying "Down, down!". My upper back immediately tightens, solving an upper back tightness issue I've been battling on the bench press for years!

*I mentioned Westside and Metal Militia to Mr. Takei and he apparently was not aware of their methods. I don't know if Westside and Metal Militia methods have caught on in Japan since my visit or not.

*They don't do board presses, use bands or chains, do floor presses. Everything is pretty basic.

*Most of their off-season basic training is fairly high rep work (10-6). Training sets are determined by hitting a goal set and then subsequent drop sets are determined by performance in those sets. I can't remember the %s exactly, but basically the main set was a set of 10 and then subsequent sets were reduced reps or poundages from there.

Some time after visiting Takei's gym, I bought The Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline and it was nice to see someone echoing the same karateka techniques I learned in Japan.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Positive Coaching by Jim Thompson

A lot of coaches and teachers come from a relatively successful background in their field and they never suffered from a lack of interest or motivation. Or, they weren't particularly successful and consequently have a my-students-won't-make-the-same-mistakes-I made attitude. Because of this, it can be tough to empathize with a student who is low on volition and motivation.
I would say that one of our primary roles as teachers, trainers, coaches, mentors, and parents is that of a motivator. When I start to get exasperated that a student isn't motivated to learn the difficult subject or skill I'm teaching, I just have to remember that I still have to motivate my 4 year old to take a bath and I simmer down... Now, I know that many will say "Well, I can't do anything if they don't want it themselves!", and yeah, it's true that "A mind is like a parachute - it only functions if it's open." and "You gotta want it!". But remember that adults, just like kids, have motivation levels that sometimes gush, and sometimes wane.

About 7 years ago, I was starting to get back into coaching after a long hiatus and was in the bookstore looking for books that pertained to competitive swimming and coaching in general. I found some great ones, among them was the latest edition of Ernest Maglischo's classic "Swimming Faster", appropriately titled Swimming Fastest, and another that came to be one of my favorites, Positive Coaching by Jim Thompson. Although the book's primary focus is on age-group coaching, I think this is an incredible resource for anyone who teaches, coaches, mentors, trains, or parents. Pick up a copy if you have a chance.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts on Caffeine

I'm a caffeine addict. Without much thought, I can easily put away two 20oz. bottles of Mountain Dew, a cup of coffee, and some green tea throughout the course of a busy day. I suspect that I am not alone in this consumption of "mass quantities" and I would guess many, many people consume more caffeine than that on a daily basis.

I have no facts or statistics whatsoever to base the following statement on, but I would bet a good chunk of change that Americans today, on average, consume twice as much caffeine than they did 30 or even 20 years ago. Think about it - twenty years ago had you even heard of Starbucks? Redbull? The closest thing to any of that was Jolt! cola and even though it had a cult-like following, I didn't know a single person that drank it daily. One has to wonder what kind of consequences our speed freak culture will reap from long-time excessive consumption of caffeine.

It is no secret that Americans have sleep problems. Certainly caffeine consumption isn't the root of all of them, but it's probably a factor in most of them considering the half-life of caffeine is 3-4 hours. Now, I know I'll get some flack for saying this and everyone will bring up "tolerance" and the "caffeine is the most studied drug in the world" argument, but do we honestly believe that years of overconsumption will have no negative consequences? No consequences to sleep? to mood? to cardio-vascular health?

About two months ago, I was doing some high-rep work with kettlebells - this was after a long day at work with more than my usual dose of caffeine. I was tired after I finished the training session and, honestly, I felt dangerously tired. If it's possible to feel "heart heavy" in a very literal sense, that's the way I felt. I have since stopped drinking soft drinks almost entirely - not a small feat for someone who LOVES Coca-Cola and Diet Mt. Dew. I still drink my share of tea and have an occasional cup of joe, but I'm on the road to moderation and plan to stay on it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Birthday (to me)

Yesterday was my birthday. I had a pretty uninspired training session, but tried to keep it interesting. I think I'll do a lot better with this complex when my hamstrings aren't riddled with DOMS...

Friday, December 14, 2007

"The Trade"

"If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade."

- John Wooden

This is exactly what Dr. Squat was saying when he talked about the futility of "routine whoredom". The "trade" for strength and conditioning coaches is to make their athletes and clients stronger, faster, more resilient, BETTER. There are no "tricks", unless you consider proper programming and consistent effort, recovery and attention to skills "tricks".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Today was a snow day. Enjoy the pain.


Most sports movement require isometric stabilization of the core, so why are most core exercises centered around flexion, extension, and rotation? It's not that you can't create stability through these movements - of course you can, but isometric contractions are also very effective and underutiilzed tools.
Some core exercises that require isometric contraction include: sit-ups, the plank, suitcase deadlifts, one-arm farmer's walks, and Turkish get-ups. I hope I don't have to point out how great deadlifts and squats are at building an iron core...

Isometrics can be a highly effective tool in correcting glaring sticking points or for strength training individuals too weak to perform full range of motion exercises safely or effectively. A personal trainer friend of mine uses isometrics extensively during initial phases of training with detrained and elderly clients. I, personally, used isometrics almost exclusively for a period of time while I was learning how to perform a full range of motion Pistols.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Words of Wisdom from JM Blakely

J.M. Blakely was an elite bench press competitor. In addition to his pressing power, he was famous for his ability to manipulate his weight to make or change weight classes. Here's what he had to say about gaining weight (from his article The Big Boy's Menu Plan - Powerlifting USA):

I am reminded of the time I was complaining to a friend about how hard I was trying to get my weight up to 300 pounds and how tough it was for me to eat so much, and boo-hoo-hoo. The friend looked at me, clearly fed up with my whining, and remarked "I see several people over 300 lbs at work (he was a physical therapist) and they really don't seem to be trying all that hard! They weigh 300 and they don't try!"
This put it in better perspective for me. I even had the advantage of working out with weights to help boost my weight and these guys were out eating me and my best effort without so much as a second thought. If people can do it on accident, I could certainly do it on purpose! And I did. So can you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Quick Gut Check - The "Secret Service Snatch Test"

When I was 17 or 18, I watched the weightlifting competition during the Seoul Olympics with my old man (a former Olympic-style weightlifter who trained in York back in the day). As we watched a personal profile of the great olympic lifter Anatoly Khrapaty, there was a clip of he and his coach having an improptu kettlebell pressing contest, which his coach won. My dad said, "Those are kettlebells! There were some of those lying around in York. We used to dust the cobwebs off and fool around with them once in a while." Needless to say, my interest was piqued and 15 years later I bought my first kettlebell from Pavel and eventually became a certified kettlebell instructor.

Obviously, I've gotten a lot more proficient with kettlebells in the past 2 or 3 years, but it's easy to maintain a "beginner's mind" when the surrounding world kettlebell community is so well-practiced and conditioned. Yesterday, I did the "Secret Service Snatch Test" (aka, the "SSST"): 10 minutes of snatching a 53lb kettlebell as many times as you can. I managed to get 156 reps even though I was huffing and puffing at 50. Not bad, I guess, but apparently 200 is the standard of excellence with this test. 200 repetitions in 10:00 is one of my personal training goals for 2008 and I'm looking forward to the journey.

...and just for fun, here's the master, Anatoli Khrapaty, cleaning up at the 1988 Seoul Olympics:

Moron's Gym

Years ago, I posted the rules for a fictional gym, affectionately named "Moron's Gym" to Dr. Squat's message board. It was amended and corollaries were added later, but here are the original 20 rules:

Welcome to MORON'S GYM! Here are the rules:

1) Screaming as if achieving orgasm is encouraged on every repetition of every set. This will add "intensity" to your workout and will aid your progress.

2) At the completion of a set, weights must be dropped from a height no less than 4 feet. This will bend the weights, making them more ergonomically correct, as well as add "intensity" to your workout.

3) No sweating is allowed, unless you are wearing a tanktop or no top at all. In this case, only profuse sweating is allowed. Members may not wipe benches or equipment after use.

4) Machines are preferable to free weights. Free weights will be provided, but their use is highly discouraged for fear of injury or unsightly muscle gain.

5) If free weights are to be used, their use is limited to the following: barbell curls in the only existing squat rack, shrugs in the only existing squat rack, bench presses to the jugular, trampoline-chest bench presses, EZ bar curls, dumbbell curls, hammer curls, running man curls, curly fries, cable curls, french curls, zottman curls, and preacher curls.

6) Free weights are not to be returned to racks if used. This will take away jobs from gym staff and likewise hurt the national economy.

7) Weight lifting belts may be worn, but if used, they must be used for every set of every rep. They must not be taken off inbetween sets or when at the juice bar.

8) Spotting of others while lifting is generally discouraged, as this will be a liability concern. However, proper spotting technique dictates the generous usage of the following phrases yelled at maximum volume while deadlifting a barbell off of another member’s chest: “IT’S ALL YOU!!” and “YOU GOT IT, YOU GOT IT, YOU GOT IT!!!” (Note: Deadlifts are not allowed in Moron’s Gym, UNLESS when spotting someone doing jugular bench presses.)

9) Members must watch themselves in the mirror on every repetition of every set, as well as in between sets. In fact, more time should be spent looking in the mirror than working out. Failure to follow this rule will likely lead to overtraining.

10) Moron's Gym has a strict dress code. Gym wear is limited to the following articles of clothing: tanktops, baggy shorts pulled down to mid-thigh, colorful print baggy pants, bright neon lycra, do-rag/bandanas, T-shirts advertising beer, fraternity baseball caps, apparel with “Big Dog” or “No Fear” logos, high school championship commemorative T-shirts, and sunglasses.

11) More time must be spent talking about training, supplements, and other gym members than actually training. This is to be done by shouting at each other in a boisterous, arrogant manner. Failure to follow this rule will likely lead to overtraining.

12) Silent hostility among gym members is mandatory. Exceptions can be made for lovers who grope each other in between sets, when giving unsolicited advice (See Rule #15), and when following rule #11.

13) Time not spent lifting or staring at one's self in the mirror shall be spent viewing other gym members of the opposite sex in a lecherous manner. However, if eye contact is made, you must pretend that you were not looking at said gym member.

14) No chalk is allowed in Moron's Gym. However, gloves are encouraged to be worn at all times while in the gym and washroom facilities.

15) Unsolicited advice should be given to other gym members at any time you deem appropriate. Unsolicited advice will be most helpful when given WHILE someone is lifting. Advice can be based purely on conjecture or opinion and need not be based on experience or research.

16) Sharing of equipment and weights is prohibited at Moron’s Gym. There is to be no “working in”. If another member asks to “work in”, you must reply “I just have a few sets left.”. Monopolization of gym equipment is encouraged as progress is directly proportionate to the amount of time spent near fitness equipment.

17) Deodorant is discouraged at Moron’s Gym. Natural body odor which has been allowed to ferment for several days is preferable. However, copious amounts of cologne, perfume, or body splash are also encouraged. Perfume and cologne may be reapplied in between sets or glimpses of self in the mirror.

18) The all-weather cardio theater has been provided for gym member use and members are encouraged to use the cardio equipment when the weather is sunny and pleasant.

19) All gym members must insist that they could be professional/world-class athletes if they used steroids, creatine, protein, Cell-Tech, Hydroxycut, ginseng, or vitamins. This is the only reason why every member at Moron’s Gym is not a professional/world-class athlete.

20) Rules may be changed in any manner deemed appropriate or inappropriate at anytime for any reason by Moron’s Gym management.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Squat Rx #19: Dave Draper's Top Squat

I used to hate squatting with anything but the bare bar, plates, and collars. Fancy bars and accoutrements never suited me. I hated the Manta Ray the first time I tried it. I hated the Safety Squat Bar, hated bands, hated chains - you name it. Over the years (not to mention the many Westside-style templates), my attitude towards these things have changed dramatically and now I'm always excited to try new "squat toys". The "Top Squat" was no exception - the first time I put it on my shoulders, I thought "Hmm, maybe I should have gone with something else...", but the more sets I did with it, the more I liked it.

Dave Draper's "Top Squat" is a great piece of equipment that any lifter who has banged up shoulders and/or is looking for a new max effort exercise should look into. It does put the bar in a very high-bar position and, as with any squat variant, there is a learning curve with it, but give it a shot if you have a chance.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Karl Tillman & Donnie Thompson Squat Tip

I like this video and here's why - most people don't focus on OUTWARDLY ROTATING THE HIPS as they squat. Because they don't actively engage the glutes in this manner, they aren't generating nearly as much tension as they could be. I really like Karl Tillman's tip here and I think it's an easy way to get a feel for this outward hip rotation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Words of Wisdom From Dr. Squat

"Look, 'routines' are just that! I have written much on the subject. I have probably given the subject more careful thought than most. Here is yet another thought that I should've written at some time... maybe I did... can't remember.

In order to achieve ANYTHING in life to the pinnacle of your capabilities, you must 'marry' the thing! Become a 'priest' to it. Live, eat, sleep and breathe it! You MUST NOT succumb to whoredom and meander from one routine to another in the false hope that one of them is gonna 'work'. It will not! You may get a quick fix from it, but it'll only be because you re-injected some adaptive stress into your routine.

Do this instead. THINK IT OUT!

Now, most lifters cannot do this because they are not educated in the discipline, and because they have never been taught to REALLY think things through! So, the alternative is to find yourself a bonafide guru who HAS, and hang your hat on what that person has to say! So, find one! ONE!"

- Dr. Fred Hatfield

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Great-Grandpa's Record Still Stands

On Thanksgiving Day, I had another go at the 50lb scale weight on Grandma's farm. Somehow it looked bigger than I remembered it... I tried to hold it like a kettlebell and realized, with it's sharp edges that it would NOT be held that way. Basically, to press it, you have two choices - bottoms up, or hold it like a kettlebell, but with the wrist bent way back. I went with the second option and, with my uncle counting but distracted by birds in a nearby tree, managed 20 (two reps shy of my great-grandfather's number) with a 4 second lockout on the final rep.

I was a little irritated by my failure (and failure to train for the attempt), but after hearing more tales of my great-grandfather's strength was consoled, a little... It was fun to listen to my uncles talk about the things they saw on the farm growing up - tales of guys doing pinkie lifts and presses with scale weights like this one, rafter pullups, lifting pairs of full 5 gallon buckets over fences all day, etc. It makes you wonder how strong you might be if you had grown up w. hard manual labor. I'm certainly not complaining that the hardest physical thing I did growing up was "practice", but it does makes you wonder...

As a gift, my grandmother gave me the scale-weight. It now sits in my garage, but I plan to make all "official" attempts at Grandma's farm.

I hope everyone had a Thanksgiving as good as mine.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Can't Squat ATF! (...and Other Tales of Woe)

"HELP! I can't get below parallel in my squat." and "My heels always come of the floor at the bottom of my squat." seem to be the most common issues I hear about squatting on the internet. For most people, simply sitting in the hole and working out the issue is their best bet; a bottom-up approach. Dan John does this through "goblet squats". Westside does it through box squats.

I approach it by having students stand in front of a chair or a support beam of a power rack and then getting into their bottom position and then shifting their weight onto their heels. Moving the hips and straightening the lower back will help the trainee feel how stress is transfered from the knees and ankles onto the hips and hamstrings. With practice, the trainee will be able to duplicate this position with less effort and with greater stability.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving Goal

More than a few years back, I went to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother's house on the farm. She had a 50 pound scale weight that she tied the dog to out in the yard. I picked it up, and holding it like you would a kettlebell, pressed it about 16 or so times and called it a day. My uncle was watching and after I finished he proceeded to do a couple of bottoms-up presses with it, saying that great-grandpa had pressed it 22 times back in the day. Not that impressive, but if you consider that the guy probably never lifted any kind of training weight in his life and weighed 130 sopping wet, it is.

I'm embarassed and shamed to say that I haven't visited Grandma on the farm for a long time, but I will this year.... and there will be pressing to go with the turkey.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Miyamoto Musashi's Rules

Rules for learning "the art" by Miyamoto Musashi (from The Book of Five Rings):

1. Think of what is right and true
2. Practice and cultivate the science
3. Become aquainted with the arts*
4. Know the principles of the crafts*
5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything
6. Learn to see everything accurately
7. Become aware of what is not obvious
8. Become careful even in small matters
9. Do not do anything useless

*Here, I believe, Miyamoto Musashi is using "arts" to mean practices such as the tea ceremony, calligraphy, etc. and "crafts" to mean various professions.

It is always amazing to me how forward thinkers like this are not part of general history or literature curriculums, but what the hell do I know? In any case, I think there is a lot that athletes and S&C coaches can take from words of wisdom such as these...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What It's All About

Throughout my life, I've had some great teachers and coaches. I've also had some pretty bad ones. There are a lot of things that separate the good from the bad, but the essential difference that has become clearer and clearer to me as I've gotten older is that the good ones never forget what it's all about. If you're not clear on what it's all about, here's a video you should watch.

The Make A Difference Movie

As teachers and coaches, we can become overly focused on outcomes, sometimes because school districts and overzealous parents demand it and sometimes because we want our students to be "successful". We (students too) concern ourselves with grades, test scores, placings, stopwatches, and win-loss records.
We forget that 10 years from now, most of our students will not remember what a dangling participle is. Chances are pretty good they won't remember a single geometric postulate, theorem, or property.
What they will remember, hopefully, is how to think logically, how to research and investigate, how to be open-minded but not naive, how to be critical but not cynical.
We have to teach skills - as coaches and teachers, if we can't teach them the essential skills, then we have failed miserably at our charge. But, if we have taught skills with no positive schemata whatsoever for those skills to nest in, what will become of those skills long term? Will they become a painful, distant memory, or something remembered with a smile?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Squat Rx #18: Concentric and Zercher Squats

I made the following Squat Rx #18 about concentric and zercher squats primarily because I had requests for instruction on the two exercises. To be honest, I've never done either of them consistently, although I've enjoyed doing them as supplemental lifts here and there. I didn't address the "arm pain issue" with zerchers because I don't think there is really much of a solution to it - it's an uncomfortable lift and besides padding the bar (and increasing the circumference of the bar, possibly adding new problems), there's not getting around it.

If you have thoughts, I hope you'll post them; here or at YouTube, or shoot me an email or PM. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Powerlifting and $$$

Years ago, one of the first message boards I ever stumbled across was Jason Burnell's Deepsquatter Forums. Jason Burnell has a way with words that you don't often find in the powerlifting community. I don't remember exactly when and where he wrote this, but here's his take on bringing money to the sport of powerlifting:

If powerlifters want to see the top "athletes" get paid and over the years I've heard a whole lot of APFers praise the PRO CONCEPT, then you have to face facts.

Fact 1) - the money has to come from somewhere. Right now, if Kidder dropped dead from a high blood pressure - possibly induced by that tiny ass jacket - the money for the WPO would stop and aside from the CUP there would be no constant $$$ flowing into the Pro Concept... unless you count the handfull of bench bashes etc.

Fact 2) Money for anything with weights comes from supplement companies - fitness, bodybuilding etc. and if we want to see powerliftiers getting paid then we need to jump on that "selling a dream" bandwagon ....unless someone can tell me of the other multi-million dollar industry willing to pay people money to lift weights.

Fact 3) Fat and bald is no way to go through life. Add in a few tattoos and some flames and skulls and you've got what "normal" people call an image problem.

Fact 4) Miss 70% of your lifts in front of crowds and you just look stupid - on top of fat, bald tatooed etc.

Fact 5) NOBODY buys fatburners or even weight gainer to look like anyone that is a SHWt powerlifter. I think I touched on this when I mentioned that Twinlabs isn't selling Fat****erFuel.

Fact 6) The world is full of 160 lb men who desperately want to get stronger and dream of weighing a massive 198 lbs. Those are the guys buying supplements and not a one of them wants to look like.... well anyone who is taking offense at this post.

Fact 7) Backne. Bloated. Balding. The three B's are a no-no. ACtually, Bald is still in but you actually have to have features to your face. If you look like a red eyed casaba melon chances are they're not laughing with you, they're laughing at you.

Fact 8) This is still America and sexy, blonde, white, in shape people can sell anything. Also, mentioning that something has been "used in Europe for years" helps but I digress.

Kennelly would sell. Yoked - square jaw, benches a lot.

Mendelson could sell. Same as above except bigger and looks sort of like Shrek (I mean that in a good way) but gets a dispensation for benching a whole lot.

Wade Hooper could sell. _A whole generation of short, small guys would sell their kidneys to be built like or lift like Hoop and if DwarfyFuel promises to do it, they'll buy it.

Goggins could sell. Ok... Goggins is a colored feller but yolked up brothers everywhere would buy man-in-a-can after watching Goggins pull.

Coan could sell. He couldn't sell tanning lotion but just short guys everywhere want to be 242 and lift like him.

Conyers. See Goggins but add in short.

Becca. I saw here in person once and I wanted to be as big as she is. Then she outlifted me. Now I hate her. LOL

Kara Bohegian. A drowning man would buy water if it came with Kara's DVD.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Idle Speech

I love the internet. I can easily spend hours reading articles, checking and posting to message boards, and watching videos. I believe that the internet is one of the greatest things to happen to education and coaching EVER. But, occasionally you’ll hear strength coaches say “the internet is the worst thing to happen to strength training”. I think that’s hyperbole, of course. But, in the history of mankind, there have never been more arm-chair quarterbacks and that is almost entirely thanks to the internet.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re reading a message board and you find a thread about a guy whose squat is stuck at, for example, 450 and he’s wondering what he should do to get out of his rut. You continue reading the thread and hear replies like, “You should do Bill Starr’s 5x5”, or “You should do WS4SB”, or “Conjugate periodization kicks ass!”. Impressed by their confidence and apparent experience, you search for other posts by these people, only to find out that the advice dispensed was from a 15 year old who squats 185, an 18 year old who benches 205, and a 200lb, 20 year old who deadlifts 315.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that any of those lifts are worthless. Nor am I saying that a 15 year old can’t teach me anything. I teach for a living and (although it’s cliché) I can honestly say that I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me. BUT, we have found ourselves in an information society that values “virtual experience” almost as much as the real thing.

In our mission to teach kids critical thinking skills, we sometimes forget that a foundation of genuine experiences needs to underpin them or those thinking skills are going to go out the window when challenged. Sometimes we say to kids “You’ll understand when you’re older”. What we are really saying is “You don’t have the breadth and depth of experience necessary to understand this from a different perspective.” In other words, “You don’t get IT. With experience, you might.”

Today, we are bombarded with words from television, internet, instant messages, text messages, cell phones, and iPods. Most of it is without purpose and depth. For whatever reason, it is comforting to some, even addictive. The bottom line (and the point I'm trying to make) is we don't get experience by talking or watching someone else. You owe it to yourself to ask the following questions and give honest answers:

How much time did you spend training today? How much time will you train or coach?

How much time will you spend on the internet talking about training and coaching today?

I’m doing my very best to spend my time more productively when it comes to training and study. Less talk, more action.

One final thought before you decide whether to wheel up to your computer, or hit the gym: 500 pounds doesn’t care how much virtual experience you have.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

How To Do The Asian Squat

This video really is a classic and from spending time in Japan and Korea, I can testify to the fact that many, many Asians do indeed squat while eating or waiting in public places. We could point to a lot of things like culture, diet, and body type (i.e. weight), but no one would deny that Americans are way ahead of Asians when it comes to the sheer number of knee and hip replacements performed yearly - perhaps if Americans learned How To Do The Asian Squat, those numbers might decrease a little.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Overachievement by John Eliot, Ph.D.

Here's another book I happened to find one day in a book store. Overachievement, by John Eliot, Ph.D. is a delightful break from the usual sport psychology mumbo-jumbo that feeds you mental rehearsal and relaxation scripts.

This excerpt from the introduction sums up the content of the book. If you find it interesting, you should pick up a copy. It is a very easy and informative read.

Using your head is stupid. In high-stakes performance, the real genius is someone like Yogi Berra. On his way to ten World Series rings and a place in the baseball Hall of Fame, Yogi was thinking about nothing.

The best embrace stress - and get juiced. Classic breathing and relaxation techniques tend to undermine most performances, eliminating the possibility of setting records. Stress is the high-level performer's PowerBar.

There are no limits. If you really want to find out what you're capable of, you cannot put limits on yourself, and you defininately cannot be cautious.

Setting goals is for couch potatoes. The long-standing practice of goal setting is actually a major obstacle to sustained, vigorous motivation - and to being great.

Hard work is overrated. Superstars know when to stop working at their job and start playing at it. In my research and work with clients, I have discovered that too much practice will turn you into a classic case of the "over-motivated underachiever."

All those eggs belong in one basket. Unlikely accomplishments are borned out of single-minded purposefulness. Future superstars don't get there by keeping part of heart in reserve.

Arrogant S.O.B.s run the world. A performer can never have too much self-assurance. The best in every field are likely to strike most people as irrationally confident, but that's how they got to the top.

Being a team player may get you a gold star on your annual review, but it won't get you into the corner office. By definition, striving to be exceptional puts you outside the team. If you're a maverick CEO, you're a colorful genius. But, if you're a young rogue exec, you're gone. ("Not a team player," reads your evaluation.) The best performers not only think exceptionally, they teach their colleagues to think differently, too.

Legends never say they're sorry. Having a long or frequent memory for mistakes and a short or infrequent memory for successes is a guaranteed way to develop fear of failure. High achievers dwell on what they do well and spend very little time evaluating themselves and their performances.

Risk-reward analysis is for wimps. For exceptional people, risks equal rewards. The challenge of uncertainty is the fun of high performance and where overachievement lies.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Athletic Body In Balance

A few years ago, I ran across the book, Athletic Body in Balance, in Barnes & Noble. I flipped through it pretty quickly and didn't think that much of it "Yeah, ok, some movement screening tests... That's pretty cool. Yeah, I could probably use that with some kids"... and then I ran across the following which made me immediately stand up straighter and take notice:

A child does not learn to squat from the top down. In other words, he does not suddenly make a conscious decision one day to squat. Actually, he is squatting one day and makes the conscious decision to stand. Squatting precedes standing in the developmental sequence. This is the way a child's brain learns to use the body as the child develops movement patterns. Therefore, a child is probably crawling, rocks back into a squatting position with the back completely relaxed and the hips completely flexed, and stands when he has enough hip strength. This approach makes a lot of sense and can be applied to relearning the deep squat movement if it is lost.

Is this a revelation? Well, it was to me at the time. Up until then, I had always started teaching beginners how to squat from the top down, and adding box squats where necessary. After reading that one paragraph, I began spending more time in the hole with my beginners and even some intermediate lifters and almost all of them showed immediate progress.

Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook has been out for a while now and you can see his influence as far as functional movement screens and assessments all over cyberspace in S& C articles and in bodybuilding message boards, but if you haven't read this book, do so ASAP.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sandbag Work

An interesting video from ashwix at YouTube:

Saturday, October 27, 2007


In Japanese, there is a proverb "初心忘れべからず" (shoshin wasurebekarazu) which means "One should not forget the beginner's mind." The phrase can be interpreted in many different ways, but I take it to mean:

1) Remain humble, no matter how far you have come, and...
2) Approach your craft with a curious and open mind

Since creating the Squat Rx videos, I've fielded a lot of criticisms - some of them coming from people with backgrounds in exercise physiology who quote studies claiming squats do not recruit the hamstrings... I wish people such as these would spend more time in the squat racks and less at their keyboards, but their comments have helped me take myself a little less seriously and tested my humility.

After cooling off a bit, I took time to contact Coach Mark Rippetoe, the author of Starting Strength, who was very generous with his time and knowledge. Speaking with an expert like Coach Rippetoe about coaching and lifting was a humbling experience, and I mean this in the best possible way - I realized that, even after spending the last 20 years squatting, studying, and coaching, there is so much more to learn, even with things as seemingly simple as coaching cues and drills.

The best in any field seem to know how to maintain their "beginner's mind" and my conversation with Coach Rippetoe was evidence of that. He asked me a number of questions about my experiences with swimming and kettlebells and it was clear that, here was a man, who loved his craft and never tired of asking questions and seeking answers. Coach was very happy to hear my feedback on a recent article he had done for the CrossFit Journal, and even sent me an NSCA article that he had published about strength training for fencers, asking for feedback.

I've been overwhelmed with the attention and opportunities that Squat Rx have given me and I look forward to continuing the series. The Japanese proverb, "One should not forget the beginner's mind" will be included as part of its mission statement.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Welcome to the Squat Rx Blog!

Welcome to the Squat Rx blog everyone! I hope that you will stop by to discuss strength and conditioning, powerlifting, kettlebells, and, of course, squats. I'll be updating the blog as often as possible with links, articles, interviews, videos, thoughts, and training. I look forward to hearing from you.