Monday, March 31, 2008

Arthur Boorman

Special thanks to RKC Donald Rannoch for sharing this video on the Dragon Door Forums.

The Recovery of Veteran Arthur Boorman

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Positive People

One of the smartest people I know is a friend I've had since 6th grade. In 6th grade, I was a new kid in a new school. A couple of weeks into the year, I got into a tussle with another kid on the playground - I think it was over at the teeter-totters... I don't remember exactly how it started, but it ended in blows. Back in those days, kids who got into fistacuffs could end up friends and that's exactly what happened. "Doug" became a lifelong friend.
Doug was, even back then, smart as can be, but the thing that made him special was his curious nature... about everything. I remember numerous occasions when he we would be having a discussion about some issue, whether it was politics or how turbo worked, and if he didn't have answers, by the time I saw him again, he did. Not only was he curious, but he acted on that curiosity, which, before the internet, meant you hoofed it to the library and looked up books and periodicals in the card catalog - information was not a click away the way it is now.
Fast forward almost 30 years and Doug is now involved with the Mars exploration missions and lives in California, so we don't meet often, but when we do he is as inquisitive as ever. He enthusiastically talks about the work he does and, just as enthusiastically, pumps me with questions about my work as a teacher and trainer. A cynical person might observe his curiousity and think it was faked, but I assure you it was not and is not. I have never known a friend as full of vitality and proactive in his relationships and work as Doug. A great role model to live up to.

Strive to find and cultivate postive relationships whether they are online or off. The internet provides an opportunity for networking and community-building heretofore unseen in history and it can be a challenging task to find a niche. Remember that success and intelligence are not the sole property of positive people. The internet is peppered with message boards and sites that do little more than slap each other on the backs and talk about how stupid the rest of the world is - avoid them. Find sites where constructive criticism is sought out and given, thoughtful questions are respected, and the atmosphere is open and sharing.

In your life, there are many people that are positive influences - people that make life enjoyable and educational, people who are professional and caring. There are also many who drain you - tire you mentally and physically from anger, anxiety, and drama. At work, in the gym, and in life, surround yourself with positive people - people you respect, people you'd like to be. Do you want to be like your friend who has a mean sense of humor, or the one who's constantly bitching about how he gets passed over always when it's promotion-time - or would you like to be like your friend who is happy with his lot and yet still passionate about improving it? It's nice to be needed, but we all need people who will fill us with positivity when the going gets tough, not wallow in the mud with us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Ah-Ha" Moments From Mel Siff

Alwyn Cosgrove's recent article on T-Nation, Cosgrove's Five Ah-Ha! Moments:The Education of a Misguided Trainer was an interesting one. I've had a few of those myself throughout the years and was surprised that his #3 "Ah-Ha moment", "cardiovascular programming is an ass-backward concept", was one I had as well about 7 or 8 years ago while reading Mel Siff's classic book on strength and conditioning "Supertraining":

"...recent research indicates that an increase in endurance is associated more with enhancing the ability of the muscles to utilise a higher percentage of the oxygen already in the blood than with increasing the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and improving the oxygen supply to the working muscle (Ekblom, 1969; Rowell, 1971; Saltin, 1974). Consequently, it is not simply the magnitude of VO2 max that determines endurance, but intramuscular factors which facilitate adaptation of the muscles to prolonged intense work.... Thus, the development of endurance is associated with functional specialisation of the skeletal muscles, particularly the enhancement of their strength and oxidative qualitites, rather than improvement of cardiorespiratory ability." (Siff, Mel. 2000. Supertraining. p. 248)

There were many a-ha moments from Mel Siff's Supertraining and his listserve - many more than I could recall in a short post, but here is another :

Algebraic Relations and Training

Two algebraic laws may be applied to the interaction of between different means, methods and techniques in strength (and all sports) training, which are important because they are not generally obeyed in training:

* The Commutative Law       A*B=B*A

* The Associative Law     A*(B*C)=(A*B)*C

...The non-commutative and non-associative nature of sports training is central to its overall prescription, organisation and management, and should be recalled whenever there is any temptation to design training programmes or periodisation schemes solely on the basis of individual exercises, techniques, volumes, intensities and phases. Every exercise is followed by after-effects, the nature, duration and magnitude of these depending on factors such as intensity, duration and pattern of loading, and these after-effects deem that exercises in different parts of a workout, on different training days and even separated by several days or weeks can interact positively or negatively.

Therefore , it is vital that the context of any training situation in space and time be considered when drawing up a training programme. Remarks such as "plyometric training is dangerous", "power cleans are useless", "periodisation doesn't work", "weight training is contraindicted for endurance athletes" and "circuit training is excellent for general preparation" may then be seen to be simplistic and misleading. Virtually any training method may be rendered impotent or harmful if it is administered in an inappropriate manner for a given individual at a given stage of his/her career. Conversely, methods which may appear to offer only modest improvements on their own, may in optimal combinations yield results which clearly show that "the whole is greather than the sum of its parts".
(pp. 204-205)

This short passage alone made purchasing the book more than worth its cover price. It served me in two ways, to make me even more critical of hyperbole surrounding "magic routines" and "Holy Grail exercises", and also to keep me open-minded about the possibities that new exercises and programs may present if utilized effectively.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dad Strength Part II: "If You Had to Choose One Exercise..."

A popular question on internet bodybuilding and strength-related forums is "If you could only do one exercise in the gym, what would you do?". Rarely do we have to make such an extreme choice, but proper exercise selection is crucial to health and athletic achievement and when we are crunched for time, we often have to limit our selection to the very best exercises.

Of course, choosing the best exercises for any individual with no consideration of goals, strengths, and weaknesses makes no sense whatsoever, and if you are a powerlifter or olympic weightlifter your needs will be different. But, I have chosen the following exercises for a broad range of needs and they form a strong corpus for everything from "Dad Strength" to opening a can of whoop-ass. So, here it is, my top 5 exercises for "Dad Strength":


Is there a better exercise for the grip, arms, shoulders, and upper back? Strict or not, kipping (ala' CrossFit) or not, pull-ups are an exercise everyone should include in their training if possible - if not possible, then working towards them should be a goal.


A fantastic exercise for the entire body. Develops strength and coordination. Major advantages of using kettlebells over a barbell is that you can do high reps with increased range of motion and no bar crashing down on your legs or the floor.


How many times in our life do we have to pick up objects and move? The farmer's walk is a staple event in World's Strongest Man competitions for a reason - it tests your everything. Weight, pace, stride length, and distance are all up to you and less is not more, it's just less.


If you are after a wasp-waist, then this exercise is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to look like you could actually do a day of manual labor and have a chance of doing so should life demand it, then the (single) shoulder-carry is your ticket. Find a suitable sandbag, rock, or willing (or unwilling) victim, clean to the shoulder and get moving.


What needs to be said about the king of all exercises? A strong case for deadlifts could be made, of course, but the "deep knee bend" in all its forms and incarnations has always had many proponents. As I get older and see so many more of my friends, relatives, and colleagues struggle to get up from the floor or out of a chair, I see the utility of this exercise far beyond merely a muscle-building tool. As Gray Cook states "Squatting precedes walking in the developmental sequence..." and that alone speaks volumes for the squat's position at or near the top of any list of fundamental exercises.

The Need to Refocus Training Efforts

".... If you travel ten miles left when you should have gone ten miles right, you've made a thirty-mile mistake: the ten miles you went in the wrong direction, the ten miles you have to go back to get to where you started from, and then the ten miles you have to go to get to where you were going."
- Dr. Phil McGraw

Frequently, I am approached by young people, on the internet and in person, desperate to gain muscle and strength. Often, there are many aspects of their training that are fundamentally unbalanced such as diet, recovery, range of motion, exercise selection, training intensity, volume, and frequency. Despite these glaring deficiencies, many are more concerned about nutritional supplements, cutting, or whatever imaginary "phase" of training they are currently busying themselves with than laying a solid foundation. They are, in effect, traveling ten miles left when they should be going right, setting themselves up for, at best, mediocre gains or, worst case scenario, injury. It's okay to take the side roads from time to time - they can give you new perspective on your training and even open up your mind to possibilities that you might not have considered had you stayed the path. But, aimless wanderings time and time again will lead nowhere fast.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Case for Pacing Your Efforts

Let me start off this post by saying that I love EDT (escalating density training) and I am very impressed with all the things that CrossFit has done/is doing for the fitness industry. That said, I see the wisdom in training with a slower tempo depending on training goals. In my own training, I am trying to realign my training methods with my goals and have decided that pace work will be a necessity if I want to compete in girevoy sport and not embarrass myself.

One of the lessons that I took home from Catherine Imes' workshop was the idea of training lifts at a steady and controlled pace. For example, instead of doing as many jerks as possible in 5:00, do 30 jerks in 5:00 (1 repetition every 10 seconds). Obviously, with this kind of training, you find yourself simply holding the weight in the overhead and rack positions for longer periods of time, but the actual repetitions themselves are still fast.


    The Overhead Position                      The "Rack" Position

(rest position for the snatch)             (rest position for the jerk)

Pacing your work in this way does a few things:

1) Forces you to find a way to "relax" inbetween repetitions
- although it is definately not easy to stand in one position with a heavy weight bearing down on you, it can be considered a VERY active rest rather than an exertion

2) Develops patience and pain tolerance
- more time in a given bout = more opportunities for you mind and body to say "Hey, why don't you just set down the weight and relax a little?". In addition, it requires patience and will to not start panicking and pick up the pace when you begin sucking wind

3) Develops supportive strength
- strong bones, tendons, and ligaments are as important to strength as muscles are and time under tension in the beginning or lockout position is, arguably, a more efficient way to do it

4) Allows you more time to concentrate on technique rather than repetitions
- despite every approach's admonition to never sacrifice quality for quantity, when the goal is to get as many repetitions as possible, form will be sacrificed, especially in people who have not developed strong technical habits to begin with

The first three qualities above are all-important when you are given 10:00 to complete as many repetitions as possible without setting the bell down and (in the kettlebell snatch) when you are only allowed one hand switch. #4 (focus on technique rather than reps) is an important quality for training. In competition, you need to "be the squirrel".

In training, it is important to evaluate rep efficiency and paced training can be a important tool in the toolbox to do this. If I were to liken it to competitive swimming, I would compare it to swimmers who, year after year, churn away without regard to stroke efficiency - although their conditioning may continue to improve, without maximizing distance per stroke and only focusing on stroke rate, their gains are nowhere near their maximum potential.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Catherine Imes Workshop in St. Louis

Saturday, March 8, 2008 I attended a kettlebell workshop held by Master of Sport, Catherine Imes, and American Kettlebell Club instructor Douglas Sides at CrossFit Des Peres.

It was great to be a student again and the practice under the watchful eyes of two very knowledgeable coaches really made some things come together for me.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Words of Wisdom: Dietrich Buchenholz

The following words of wisdom are from the elusive "Dietrich Buchenholz", aka "DB Hammer". He enjoyed some online success as an author and S&C guru until he inexplicably disappeared. He sold (and to my knowledge, still sells) a book entitled "The Best Sports Training Book Ever!" - a presumptious title if ever there was one. Despite the hyperbole and the endless criticisms and comparisons to Christian Thibaudeau and Jay Schroeder, the book has many, many nuggets of training wisdom. If you can get past the book's jargon, poor editing, and lack of clear articulation, you can see flashes of genius within it. Many of DB Hammer's articles and the book can be found at

"It is better to spend one year on instruction and three years of rapid progression than four years of slowed progress from a cookie-cutter set up".

"It is very important that you don't fall into the trap of accepting traditional numbers in terms of appropriate volume. I always cringe when I hear that Major League Baseball has decidedly set a pitch count at about 100-120 pitches. It's not to say that this value is too much for all athletes. It's just the ones who can't handle it that end up getting their arm repaired by the latest in sports surgery. If they would just adopt autoregulatory principles then the rate of arm injury would drop in that sport from 70% to nil in less than a single season! I hear the same ignorance in all sports. Bodybuilders train off of a program that some guy does because his 'idol man' gets good results from it. Sprinters follow the workout regimen of someone else - including some random study - most likely because they have little else to go off of besides feel. You need to set up your own training program based on your neurodynamic needs, not someone else's, and perform the correct amount of work based on your ability, not based on the merit of some newsstand magazine.... After all, did you really think that 5x5 reps was best for everybody? I mean, seriously, do you think that these nice, round integers are really all that accurate? I'm here to tell you that they never were and never will be. You can guess all the time, but you will, at best, only be right a fraction of the time - if at all. However, if you use autoregulatory training as your cheat sheet then you can't miss - all the answers are right there in front of you."

-Dietrich Buchenholz

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dad Strength (Part I)

I've been honored to have a couple of my articles published in Dan John's newsletter "Get Up!". For those of you who may not know Dan John, he's a very progressive and generous strength and conditioning coach, as well as an accomplished track and field, highland games, and weightlifting competitor. His articles have been published widely at Testosterone Nation and in Men's Health.

In the latest issue of Get Up!, I tackle the subject of finding training time for new and expecting fathers. The entire article can be found here, but this is the introduction. I hope you like it:

* New & Expecting Fathers: Tips for Training and Time Management *

Fatherhood is a life-changing event. There is “the moment” when the full weight of your new role strikes you. “The moment” may hit others at different times, but hearing that first weak cry when my son was born was it for me. The words “love” and “responsibility” suddenly carried immense weight. From that moment on, I would find myself in a rage when reckless drivers tailgated, swerved, or honked. I’d get angry when people swore around my son. In short, the world became a scarier place that I needed to be able to defend my baby against if the need arose and, in that context, training became an even greater necessity to me. I can’t prove it, but I believe that becoming a father automatically makes you stronger.

How does this play out in the wild kingdom? Well, take lions, for example; young rogue lions have a rough life - no sex, no pride, no offspring. They have to hang out with other rogue males. They have no pride of their own, which makes hunting harder. When they think they have what it takes, they challenge a pride leader. The king of the pride is probably older, stronger, better fed. If the king loses, he will be stripped of his lionesses, and his cubs will be killed and possibly eaten. Who would you put your money on? Who has more to lose?

The concept of “Dad Strength” is not just “philosotainment” (a term coined by Dan Adams, author of Dilbert) – it actually exists. This may or may not translate to bigger numbers in the gym, but things like being able to open a can of whoop-ass should the occasion call for it, take on a whole new level of significance when you are a father, and not just for lions...

Monday, March 3, 2008

5:00 of 70lb Kettlebell Snatches

Tonight's training - left me quite gassed.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Hypoxic" Training

Here and there, I come upon online conversations about "hypoxic" training with regards to various athletic endeavors. I find it very interesting that the idea of holding one's breath is being examined as a training tool in sports where holding your breath would be nothing but a detriment. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, indeed, there could be great benefits with the practice.

Swimmers often practice "hypoxic" sets (breathing only x2/length of the pool, breathing every sixth stroke, etc), but in my opinion (and in Ernie Maglischo's opinion, author of "Swimming Faster"), this training will not elicit the same effect as true hypoxic training (training at altitude). The only real benefit they have is to accustom swimmers to the discomfort of struggling for air. It is here that the training does have some benefit and may be of some use to non-swimmers as well.

When I was 19, during a training camp, we had breath holding contest (floating face first) at the end of swim practice. I don't remember how many we had on the team (probably around 30), but I'd guess more than half of us lasted at least four minutes. The guy who won lasted, if memory serves me correctly, 6 minutes. None of us ever, ever practiced that. Some may say it's all bull and that it did not happen, but it was a Division I team - almost every member was a recruited high school All-American, many were all-Big 10, at least half a dozen were Division I All-Americans, and one was 400 meter world record holder. Every swimmer of any competence quickly develops the ability to relax underwater and to pace his/her breathing. Watch any long practice and you are bound to find at least one loafer who is trying to escape practice by sitting at the bottom of the pool blowing air rings.

So what does all this mean to other athletes? It means that the idea of pacing your work by breaths rather than time may hold some merit. The ability to relax and maintain proper technique in the face of discomfort caused by oxygen debt might be improved with such training. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES AM I SUGGESTING SOMEONE TO HOLD THEIR BREATH DURING WEIGHTLIFTING SETS - IF YOU PASS OUT AND HURT YOURSELF IT IS YOUR FAULT. What I am suggesting that instead of three breaths between our reps, we might try to do our sets with two breaths between reps. Breath control may indeed be an area of S&C that will see more attention given in the future.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Words of Wisdom: Viktor Frankl

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

- Viktor Frankl