Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elbow Positioning When Squatting

elbow position squat

Elbows "Up" = NO!

Me: Your elbows need to be under the bar. Keep the chest out and drive the elbows forward as you rise out of the hole.

Internet Acquaintance: Under the bar? I thought the cue was elbows up! isn't elbows under the bar referring to a High-bar squat?

Me: I can only guess what you mean by "elbows back and up", and if you're like most people who I've seen doing this (and like the pic above), you are cranking the elbows skyward behind you, internally rotating the crap out of your shoulders, and making it a lot harder to maintain proper thoracic spine extension. If so, watch my video again, then reread Rip's chapter on the squat, paying closer attention to elbow positioning in the pictures.

I get this a lot. The problem is that these people get stuck on Coach Rippetoe's phraseology of "lift the elbows", which is NOT the same thing as internal rotation. People relatively new to the squat think that raising the elbows skyward is a good idea, because it creates a larger shelf for the bar to sit on. Unfortunately, this just encourages poor bar positioning in general and, in addition to setting yourself up to dump the bar over your head, leaves the bar fully supported by the arms and rear delt strength instead of the skeleton (where it should be). We are NOT trying to hold the bar up with the arms (See Wrist Pain When Squatting for more on bar positioning).

Thoracic extension is what we want and that is the purpose of driving the elbows forward. The shoulders do not rise like a shrug ("the ears are shoulder poison" - Jeff O'Connor). The upper back contracts like a rear double biceps pose or bent-over laterals, and the arms are simultaneously wedging the bar into place by exerting forward pressure, engaging the lats as the upper arm and elbows maintain an angle close to the upper body.

The pic below is Wade Hooper. He has a low bar positioning. Notice his elbow positioning:

Wade Hooper
Nobody does it better.

Monday, February 22, 2010


The other day, I spoke with a young teen as he entered the classroom. "Good morning!" I said. "Hi.", he replied, but with zero vigor in his voice. Seeing that he was not himself, I asked "Are you all right?" and he said "Yeah", but in a way that implied "Nah". "Is everything okay at home?", I probe getting a little worried. "Yeah. I saw Avatar last night. ...Now, real life just seems boring."

I tried to answer with something conveying sympathy, but didn't do a very good job. You see, I've spent a good chunk of my life with 'boring', as we all do, and I've kind of grown to like boring, because boring is not very boring at all.

When I was 15, Master Pak, watching the brown belts did not look pleased. "Your side kicks need work. After class, do 1000 side kicks." he said. It took a while. A LONG while. Was it fun? Not exactly. Was it boring? I didn't think so. Not surprisingly, for those of us who finished, our side kicks improved.

Practice for competitive swimmers, especially middle distance and distance swimmers, is probably more boring than most athletes could ever imagine. Hours and hours of looking at the bottom of a pool in a largely sensory-deprived environment. It can be like driving on a straight highway with no scenery, music, or companionship. I've read descriptions of outdoor morning practices, likening the thrashing bodies amid the rising mist to a scene of hell. If you feel it is boring, it will be... and you will suffer. If you can focus on breathing, on technique, on cadence, on pacing, on turns, and on streamlining, you have provided yourself an endless array of challenges. Every stroke, every length of the pool, every breath can be a novel experience.

Years after I stopped competitive swimming and the martial arts, as a graduate student, I worked my way through school driving a bus. Driving the same route all day can be a mindfulness challenge. However, if you strive to make every stop and acceleration as smooth as possible, if you try to take your rear right tire as close to the curb as possible without 'curb-checking' every right turn, if you keep your eyes moving from driver mirror to road to speedometer to road to convex mirror to road, if you smile and greet every passenger, then the time passes quickly... AND, you will become a better driver.

If training, or life, is boring, then it's time to pay closer attention to it, NOT look for some new fix. As "you cannot step twice into the same river", every moment (repetition, meeting) is a new moment and an opportunity for something novel. I think that beats "Avatar", but I don't know - I haven't seen it yet.

Like anger and other emotions, boredom most often fools us into diverting our energies entirely to an external situation. Thus it keeps us from liberating ourselves by seeing our relationship to the emotion itself. We make a great mistake about boredom when we think that it comes because of a particular person or situation or activity.
So much of the restlessness in our meditation practice and in our daily lives derives from this fundamental misunderstanding. How often do we try something new to recapture our interest, something more stimulating or more exciting? And how often does that too quickly become boring and dull, so that we range off again, looking for something "better"?
To realize that boredom does not come from the object of our attention but rather from the quality of our attention is truly a transforming insight. Fritz Perls, one of those who brought Gestalt therapy to America, said, "Boredom is lack of attention." Understanding this reality brings profound changes in our lives.
Then boredom becomes a tremendously useful feedback for us. It is telling us not that the situation or person or meditation object is somehow lacking, but rather that our attention at that time is halfhearted. Instead of wallowing in boredom or complaining about it, we can see it as a friend saying to us, "Pay more attention. Get closer. Listen more carefully."

-Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom (pg. 80)

Words Of Wisdom From Eric Hoffer

"There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day; we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life."

— Eric Hoffer

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Caffeine "Fast"

I raised the question about two years ago in "Thoughts On Caffeine" Why do we feel that years of overconsumption of caffeine will have zero consequences physically, mentally, or emotionally? As people like to point out to me, it's pretty hard to kill yourself with caffeine, but is that any kind of argument that it is harmless?

I've managed to stay away from caffeine for over a month now. No, it's not the first time I've "quit" caffeine, but I'm feeling pretty comfortable with my "fast" this time around. For the first two weeks, I had bouts of "thirst". Although I've never been a big liquor drinker, I imagine my experience to be something akin to (but probably much less severe than) the feeling of thirst that a recovering alcoholic might have.

The thirst has subsided and I've noticed several interesting things. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I am groggier because I sleep deeper even if I don't sleep as much. It takes me longer to get going but once I do, my body can sustain efforts longer. My highs are not as high and my lows are not as low. I am less tense during the day. I am feeling fatigue more, which is actually a good thing because it means I also notice "biofeedback" more acutely. I can actually feel what my body is trying to tell me about training effect and fatigue accumulation.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Disappearance of DO

Sometimes, does it ever seem like the world's set against you doing anything? Planning meetings, budget meetings, professional development meetings, traffic, dozens of "urgent" emails a day, text messages, instant messages, FaceBook applications, Twitter updates, phone calls, blogs, etc, etc, etc... The "urgent and not-important", and "not-urgent and not-important" quadrants seem to overwhelm the things that matter when we're not vigilant.

I've set some goals and need to get back to less hovering and more doing.

I have a few posts queued up over the next couple of weeks, but I plan to be online less and doing more - more writing, more teaching, more training, more planning, and more quality time at home. I'm working on a piece for Pavel and if I have some new breakthroughs, I'll post updates about it here. Let me know if there are things you'd like to see covered or discuss with me - I'll speak with you again soon. Thanks for being here.

- Boris

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How To Live To Be 100 - Dan Buettner

I've seen this video embedded in several blogs, including Garr Reynold's Presentation Zen - a great blog about design and, of course, presentation. The video is longer than a typical YouTube video might be, but worth the time.

Dan Buettner - How To Live To Be 100+

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Athletes & Fashion

So, today I find this clip on a Yahoo Sports! blog Japanese Snowboarder Busted For Bad Fashion:

What might not be readily apparent for people who can't speak Japanese is that from his comments "I am reflecting (on my actions)." and "I'm not thinking about anything except that I want to do my own skiing" is that he doesn't give a crap at all. Might not sound like much, but if you read between the lines, note tone and body language, the message is crystal clear and it's pretty unusual to see a Japanese Olympic athlete being that brazenly disrespectful.

There's no doubt that Japanese Olympic athletes face a burden of public social pressure that American counterparts wouldn't have any clue about. There's no arguing that point. BUT, it IS the Olympics. My opinion is (and it's the same as the referenced blog's) that if you are representing your country, you are a team member now, and it doesn't matter that you are participating in an individual sport. The pros might be a different story, but it's the Olympics. Just my opinion.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guaranteed Losses

The following passage is from "Trend Following" by Michael Covel. Although he is writing about buying and selling stocks, he could just as easily be talking about training. Replace "trading" with "training", and "markets", "profits", and "price action" with performance, and it becomes a nice, short training article (if anyone's interested, I'll sell such a custom article to you). Let me know what you think. Enjoy:

There are a number of behaviors that almost guarantee losses in the markets. These behaviors, the antithesis of the way trend followers operate, include:

*Lack of Discipline: It takes an accumulation of knowledge and sharp focus to trade successfully. Many would rather listen to the advice of others than take the time to learn for themselves. People are lazy when it comes to the education needed for trading. Think about Bernard Madoff. People just wanted to believe.

*Impatience: People have an insatiable need for action. It might be the adrenaline rush they're after - their "gambler's high." Trading is about patience and objective decision making, not action addiction.

*No Objectivity: We are unable to disengage emotionally from the market. We "marry" our positions.

Greed: Traders try to pick tops or bottoms in the hope they'll be able to "time" their trades to maximize profits. A desire for quick profits blinds traders to the real hard work needed to win.

Refusal To Accept Truth: Traders do not want to believe the only truth is price action. As a result, they follow other variables setting the stage for inevitable losses.

Impulsive Behavior: Traders often jump into a market based on a story in the morning paper. Markets discount news by the time it is publicized. Thinking that if you act quickly, somehow you will beat everybody else in the great day-trading race is a grand recipe for failure.

*Inability To Stay In The Present: To be a successful trader, you can't spend your time thinking about how you're going to spend your profits. Trading because you have to have money is not a wise state of mind.

*[Inability to] Avoid False Parallels: Just because the market behaved one way in 1995 does not mean a similar pattern today will give the same result.

- Trend Following (Updated Edition): Learn to Make Millions in Up or Down Markets (pp. 197-198)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Training Supplement Review #3

Training Supplement Review #3: Callous Shaver

If you do a lot of heavy pulling or a lot of kettlebell work you're bound to have a build up of excess callous on the hands. Excess callous, no matter how good your technique is and especially if you're pushing volume and intensity, is bound to rip at some point. A callous shaver, like the one pictured above, is an investment of less than $5 that can save you training time and energy that might otherwise be lost on needless injury. You can pick one up in the cosmetics section of most department, drug, and even grocery stores.
Unlike a pumice stone that works best after a long bath or shower, a callous shaver is easy to use dry. In fact, there may be a risk of shaving to deep if done immediately after bathing, so take care.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Training Supplement Review #2

Training Supplement #2: The Slow Cooker

I just got done recommending to a kid who was sick of protein shakes to spend time learning how to use a slow cooker. When I was young, cooking was not my strong suit either, and I can relate to youth who live at the mercy of a blender, restaurants, and the rare home cooking choices of others. Now, I have no idea how I lived without fairly regular injections of chili or pot roast. If you are a busy individual who wants to eat well, with little fuss, this is an indispensable kitchen tool. There are models w. timers, but generally I just get it going in the morning and let it go until dinner-time.

Josh Hillis, in his brilliant blog, had an insight that hits the mark with training addiction. Two days a week, he recommends our "workout" be preparing all the meals for the week. He notes Sunday and Wednesdays work very well for this. I agree.
- Never Let Go by Dan John, p.292

Most people are pretty particular about their chili, but I'll go ahead and share a recipe I've been using lately. You could certainly substitute ingredients as you see fit - the great thing about slow cookers is how easy it is to make something hot, healthy, and delicious, even if you are a moron in the kitchen.

*1 pound hamburger (browned and drained)
*1 can petite diced tomatoes
*1 can Bush's Baked Beans
*1 can pinto or red beans
*1 medium onion (diced)
*1 green pepper (diced)
*1/3 can of SPAM-Lite (diced and lightly sauteed)
*chili powder (to taste)
*crushed red peppers (to taste)
*dash of Captain Morgan
*garlic powder or minced garlic (to taste)
*cajun seasoning (to taste)
*basil (Tone's)
*parsley (flakes or chopped)
*2 cups boiling water

Combine and set slow-cooker to low for 7-9 hours. Serve w. grated cheese and soup crackers (and other condiments to taste)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Relaxed but Alert

"To some extent, in our culture, we associate calm with a certain relaxed dullness, like lying in a hammock on a summer afternoon after a hard day's work. On the other hand, we are often alert but tense, as when we face danger or financial problems. We go back and forth between these two states, relaxed but dull, alert but tense. We associate alertness with a crisis mode."

(Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation p. 81)

Alert, but tense. Relaxed, but dull. Sometimes it's tough to break out of the pattern and it can impact performance, recovery, and health.

Finding the happy medium between tension and relaxation is more than putting together the right mobility warm-up. It requires a mind-set and breathing pattern appropriate to the task at hand.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Squatting In The Morning

Q: Is squatting in the morning bad?

A: We all do what we have to do - training time, coaching, and space might not be something we can dictate, so if you have to train first thing in the morning, then that's what you have to do. But, the lower back is at greater risk of injury from load bearing activities immediately after waking. Most people are aware that the spine relaxes and the spinal discs absorb fluid and lengthen while sleeping. It is not uncommon to be a full inch taller in the morning.

Neo contemplated hitting the squat racks or going back to sleep.

So what? So, in "squat-speak", if you are normally a high-bar squatter, you'll be essentially doing a Manta-Ray squat first thing in the morning. If you are a low-bar squatter, your lower back is doing high-bar squats when you first wake up, whether you like it or not.

Does this mean you can't squat or train intensely in the morning? No, but if possible you should wake a little earlier to give yourself time to properly warm-up for your training.

Q: What should I do differently to warm-up if I decide to squat in the morning?

A: In my opinion, taking extra time to do some extra stretches and mobility work, and extra lower intensity warm-up sets preceding the main work sets would be a good place to start. Form is always paramount, but in the morning the body may be even less patient with small errors and inconsistencies - make sure that you are attentive.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In Denmark, a gym offers a membership program where you pay nothing as long as you show up at least once a week. But miss a week and you have to pay full price for the month. The psychology is brilliant. When you go every week, you feel great about yourself and the gym. But eventually you'll get busy and miss a week. You'll pay, but you'll blame yourself alone. Unlike the usual situation where you pay for a gym you're not going to, your instinct is not to cancel your membership; instead it's to redouble your commitment.

- Free: The Future of a Radical Price (pg. 32)

This is a very interesting idea. If I had the means to set prices, I might offer a deal something like the following (for a 12x/month class).

Attend 1-2 classes = free (or 1/2 price)
Attend 3-11 classes = full price
Attend 12 classes (perfect attendance) = free (or 1/2 price)

I realize it could come to be viewed as punitive longer-term as clientele come to feel entitled to "free", but I thought it was worth thinking about.