Sunday, June 29, 2008

Squats & Lower Back Pain (Part I)


Recently, I've had a number of questions posed to me online about lower back rounding and lower back strain when squatting. Here are my thoughts on lower back pain as it concerns squatters. Please feel free to comment.


*The lower back is rounding at the bottom of the squat because of inflexibility, previous injuries, and/or poor technique

Work on your hamstring and hip flexibility. Practice holding proper posture at the bottom of the squat movement. If you cannot full squat without rounding the back, DON'T SQUAT TO ROCK BOTTOM - only squat as deep as you can while still maintaining proper back positioning. Do not lose tension at the bottom of the hole - tension is uncomfortable, but it is your friend. Make sure to keep your chest out, head back, and core tight throughout the movement.
Understand that there may or may not be a quick fix to your particular situation - if flexibility is lacking, it will require more than a week or two of stretching and practice and it may, in fact, take many months, even years to develop a "mature" and deep squat and improve posterior pelvic tilt. Be patient.

*Performing a good morning out of the bottom of the hole because the core is weak, the hips and hamstrings are tight or weak or inactive, and/or focus on keeping the chest out throughout the movement is lacking

*You are doing a high-bar squat and sitting too far back when squatting

This is probably one of the most common errors I see among trainers and trainees alike. Because of the bar's greater distance from the body's center of gravity, it is essential to maintain a relatively upright upper body when squatting with a high-bar position. You will not dramatically drive the hips backwards as you would with a low-bar position AND it will be difficult to keep your shins perpendicular to the floor. Remember that outwardly rotating the hips is a key to engaging them and will also help you maintain proper posture and shins relatively perpendicular to the floor.

**A Quick Checklist**

Are my hamstrings and hips inflexible?
Are my shoulders and/or upper body inflexible?
Does my lower back round at the bottom of the squat?
Do I do a good morning out of the bottom of the squat?
Are my abs weak?
Do I hunch over when squatting?
Do I relax at the bottom of my squat at all?
Do I have a high-bar position and "sit back" when squatting?

If you answer "yes" to any of the questions above, you will have a good notion as to what may be causing your back pain when squatting - get busy improving them. The next installment will focus on rehabilitation and recovery methods that I have found to be helpful.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


"Strategy is not a question of learning a series of moves or ideas to follow like a recipe; victory has no magic formula. Ideas are merely nutrients for the soil: they lie in your brain as possibilities, so that in the heat of the moment they can inspire a direction, an appropriate and creative response. Let go of all fetishes - books, techniques, formulas, flashy weapons - and learn to become your own strategist."

- Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War, 2006

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Seth Godin is a wonderful author. He has written many books, including Purple Cow, and Small is the New Big, His blog, "Seth's Blog", is hours of entertaining, insightful, and inspirational reading for anyone who is trying to "think outside the box".

The following blog entry "Needles, Haystacks & Magnetism" is, in my opinion, particularly important for aspiring coaches, trainers, and writers trying to make it in the ever increasingly competitive fitness industry:

"Most people, apparently, believe that if they just get their needle sharp enough, it'll magnetically leap out of the haystack and land wherever it belongs. If they don't get a great job or make a great sale or land a terrific date, it might just be because they don't deserve it.

Having met some successful people, I can assure you that they didn't get that way by deserving it.

What chance is there that your totally average resume, describing a totally average academic and work career is going to get you most jobs? "Hey Bill! Check out this average guy with an average academic background and really exceptionally average work experience! Maybe he's cheap!!"

Do you hire people that way? Do you choose products that way? If you're driving a Chevy Cavalier and working for the Social Security Administration, perhaps, but those days are long gone.

People are buying only one thing from you: the way the engagement (hiring you, working with you, dating you, using your product or service, learning from you) makes them feel.

So how do you make people feel?

Could you make them feel better? More? Could you create the emotions that they're seeking?

As long as we focus on the commodity, on the sharper needle, we're lost. Why? Because most customers don't carry a magnet. Because the sharpest needle is rarely the one that gets out of the haystack. Intead, buyers are looking for the Free Prize, for that exceptional attribute that's worth talking about. I just polled the four interns sitting here with me. Between them, they speak 12 languages. No, that's not why I hired them. No, we don't need Tagalog in our daily work.... but it's a free prize. It's one of the many things that made them interesting, that made me feel good about hiring them."

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Mighty Triumvirate

To achieve anything of significance in sport, you must master "The Training Triumvirate". This "triumvirate" (or "trioka" if you prefer) is composed of three cornerstones; training, nutrition, and recovery.

All are crucial to an athlete's progress, but as the system is stressed and during periods of growth, each cornerstone may be stretched and come into sharper or softer focus. Outside stressors play the role of a centrifuge - bumping, spinning, and pulling the trioka in different directions. The triangle can become easily distorted if the sides are not girded by a center filled with inner peace, knowledge, drive, experience, and work capacity.

In the following illustration, a trainee has honed in on his/her training. Notice how the corresponding interior angle sharpens to attack, while the others become less acute. It is common to see new trainess fall into this pattern of behavior, as they have great enthusiasm for a new program or athletic endeavor.

The next picture represents an athlete who has given great attention to training and recovery, but not as much attention to diet.

The last triangle represents an individual who spends an exorbanant amount of time, money, and effort on training and diet, yet largely ignores recovery. Notice how unstable this triumvirate has become - left unchecked, it is only a matter of time before it collapses, no matter how solid the insides are. Overzealous teens who train to failure everyday and eat enough to fuel a small team of athletes and polish it all off with a protein shake, yet pull all-night video game marathons are an example of this pattern. It is common to see this pattern during athletes' peak training periods as well; purposeful overreaching that will be followed by a taper - it should be planned and monitored carefully.

Over the long haul, striking a consistent balance among the three corners of the triumvirate will yield the best results.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Training Without Sweat or Discomfort

If you could design a training regimen that is effective without sweat and discomfort, you will be a very rich person. Apparently, Rannoch Donald, RKC, of Scotland found just such a program in the pages of Men's Health Magazine. His blog post "Where Have All The Men Gone?" covers the topic.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Back in November, I posted some words of wisdom from Dr. Fred Hatfield on "routines". I don't think anything needs to be added really - it stands alone very nicely, but I frequently receive e-mails from people asking for my opinions on their training plans and referring them to Doc Squat's words of wisdom just doesn't seem to cut it. They are looking to me to be their "internet guru". That is very flattering, I must admit, but without actually watching someone train, seeing how motivated they are, seeing their physical limitations firsthand, seeing their form on their first rep of the first set and their last rep of the last set, it's tough to make assessments and adjustments that could be essential to the trainee's health and success. I don't have anything against online "coaching" per se, but there are tremendous limitations with it and I have to question the wisdom of shelling out hundreds of dollars for what is, essentially, a cookie-cutter program with some e-mail encouragement.

Setting up a "basic training program" is pretty easy. Creating a list of exercises, sets, and reps takes almost no thought at all and if you've done it once or twice, it can be variations on a theme from there, tweaking exercise selection, order, volume, intensity, training frequency, etc. as you see fit. The problem with all of this is that, without experience, there are too many variables to sort out in a thoughtful manner. Researched, tried-and-true templates (e.g., the Westside template) are magnificent tools, but they need to be "templates" (i.e., examples to learn from), not strict training protocol. Trainees with nothing but a printed out list of sets and reps will not be able to see where a perfectly acceptable training plan needs to be tweaked and will, more than likely, be disappointed with his/her lack of progress.

Anyone can map out a training plan, split, or routine, but few are capable of sustaining success beyond the short term. It is only the sagest and motivated athletes and artists of the highest level that can handle the developments, circumstances, and setbacks that inevitably arise over the course of long term training without the intervention of real, off-line, competent coaching.

So, please be understanding if you send me an arbitrary routine out of the blue and I respond with "Looks pretty good to me!" - honestly, for all I know, it could be exactly what you need.

20 Meter Shuttle Run Endurance Test

I asked a Japanese PE teacher for a copy of their 20 meter shuttle run endurance test pace CD (aka, "The Beep Test"). I used it tonight for kettlebell work - the pace of the recording slowly increases. Aside from my jet lag, horrible conditioning, and just plain old being out of shape, I enjoyed it.

I'll be doing a kettlebell competition in late July. I'll be competing in the "short cycle clean and jerk" (cleaning a pair of 70lb kettlebells to the shoulders once and jerking them as many times as possible) and the snatch (snatching a 70lb kettlebell as many times as possible with one hand switch).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Spear of Benkei

Towards the entrance of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, there is an abnormally large spear placed in a hole in the wooden walkway. The staff itself is rectangular and smooth, about 8 and a half feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds. Legend has it, that the giant warrior-monk, Benkei, used it as a walking stick and left it at Kiyomizu temple. Also, according to legend, if you can lift it, you will prosper.

Benkei was a warrior monk in the 12th century. He is most famous for posting himself at a bridge in Kyoto and defeating 999 samurai and collecting their swords. The 1000th warrior he faced was Minamoto Yoshitsune who defeated him - Benkei became one of Minamoto's most famous warriors and eventually died in battle under his service.

His staff/spear is not anchored. It is resting in a slot in the wood which demands that it be lifted straight up at half an arm's length away. It cannot be leaned at all and it's position in the slot, surrounded by wooden railing, make it impossible to hold against the body as you lift.

My first attempt lifting the Spear of Benkei was two years ago. Being with a group of 30+ students who were begging me to try to lift it, I had no choice but to try. The metal of the staff was very smooth with really no way to get a secure grip. There was a single, tiny peg sticking out of the staff at about eye level, but it was not an aid at all - if anything, trying to use it probably made it more difficult. It did not budge for me at all. There was a long line of tourists waiting to give it a shot, so I gave up after a couple uninspired attempts.

Last week, I had another go at it and as I was looking for a way to hold the spear lower and squat it up, found a very small handle towards the bottom of the spear (that prevents the spear from being removed completely from its station. If you have small hands (which I do), you can grip it with one hand and essentially one-arm deadlift it up. Honestly, anyone who does any kind of heavy lifting at all should have no problem lifting it in this fashion. I felt almost like I was cheating, but my students and the tourist-crowd were impressed. I plan to lift it again without the handle and wield it like Benkei next time.

Update: Here's a video of a guy who lifted it successfully in 2011 - impressive!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day Dad.

Just thought I'd add that Dad named me after Boris Selitsky, World and Olympic ('68) weightlifting champion. It was tough growing up in the midwest with a name like Boris, but I'd have it no other way now of course.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Wannabe MMA Guy"

Top 10 Signs You're a "Wannabe MMA Guy"

* You strip down to your boxer briefs and circle the living room pretending Bruce Buffer is calling out your ring name
* You wear weightlifting gloves and shadow box inbetween sets of 30 pound dumbell curls and 135 pound bench presses
* You can listen to (and laugh at) Chuck Norris jokes all day
* You feel wearing a "TapOut" t-shirt to any social occasion is perfectly appropriate
* You enjoy putting little children and your poor girlfriend/wife in submission holds
* You insist on the "bald with goatee" look no matter how unflattering the look is for you
* You make a point of loading up on RedBull and Rock Star before a night out with the boys
* You've memorized the lines of the Cobra Kai sensei from The Karate Kid
* You think a "BJ" is a martial art technique
* You kiai when you take a dump

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fathers' Day - Dick & Rick Hoyt

This has been blogged and posted to forums countless times, but it is moving every single time I watch it. Father's Day is June 15.

From Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly - The Strongest Dad in the World

I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.

But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.

Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in Marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day.

Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life. This love story began in Winchester , Mass. , 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.

"He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life;'' Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. ``Put him in an Institution.''

But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. ``No way,'' Dick says he was told. ``There's nothing going on in his brain.''

"Tell him a joke,'' Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain. Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? ``Go Bruins!'' And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, ``Dad, I want To do that.''

Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described ``porker'' who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. ``Then it was me who was handicapped,'' Dick says. ``I was sore For two weeks.''

That day changed Rick's life. ``Dad,'' he typed, ``when we were running, It felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!''

And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.

``No way,'' Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few Years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway, then they found a way to get into the race Officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.

Then somebody said, ``Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?''

How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he Was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.

Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii . It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?

Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? ``No way,'' he says. Dick does it purely for ``the awesome feeling'' he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.

This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992--only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.

``No question about it,'' Rick types. ``My dad is the Father of the Century.''

And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. ``If you hadn't been in such great shape,'' one doctor told him, ``you probably would've died 15 years ago.'' So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.

Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass. , always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.

That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.

``The thing I'd most like,'' Rick types, ``is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once.''

Tuesday, June 3, 2008




I thought briefly about trying to write a book entitled "You're Fat Because You Eat Too Much! (...and Don't Move Enough)". After about 2 minutes of serious contemplation, I realized it probably wouldn't sell even if someone a lot more competent than I wrote it. Titles like the one below are what sell...

New World Record

Sounds like the regular sporting media seemed to miss this even happening. From Saturday night (May 31, 2008), amazing 21 year old - Usain Bolt of Jamaica!

Monday, June 2, 2008

FATHER'S DAY is June 15

Derek Redmond & Father

Derek Redmond's run at the 1992 Olympics is one I'll never forget. I felt it was an appropriate video for Father's Day.

Gifts For Father's Day

If you're looking for gifts for your father (or a father in your life), I'd suggest the following for a range of budgets:

* Reaction Ball from Power Systems ($9.95)

* Bands from Elite Fitness Systems (starting at $12.00)

* Strong Enough? (Thoughts from 30 Years of Barbell Training) by Mark Rippetoe ($14.95)

* Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe ($29.95)

* Dan John 3-Part DVD from Dave Draper ($39.95)

* Backnobber II from Power Systems ($39.95)

* MILO subscription from Ironmind ($52.95)

* Sandbag Set from Ironmind ($65.95)

* Russian Reds Kettlebells from Dragon Door (starting at $108.45 delivered)

* 1500lb Test Barbell from Jesup Gym Equipment ($165 delivered)