Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Birthday - More "Reminders To Self"

A few years ago, I wrote a long list of "things I have learned" entitled "Birthday Post". I figured another "reminder to self" piece wouldn't be a bad idea, so here we go. I tried to keep things training related but I may have strayed here and there. I hope you find some things that resonate with you.

1) Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts. - Albert Einstein

2) I think most people would be better off leaving not a rep or two in the tank, but instead leaving a set or two in the tank. Easy to say, harder to do...

3) I still believe that science will eventually discover that over-caffeination leads to major health and emotional problems. No, it's not health-enemy #1, but it's an issue for many Americans.

4) Pre-workout drinks are stupid. If you have to have one to get yourself amped before every workout, you have issues. I tried one for the first time this year and I felt like I had slammed 6 cups of coffee - and I have a pretty high tolerance for caffeine... Needless to say, I wasn't very surprised by this article (though I don't know how accurate it truly is): Popular Sports Supplements Contain Meth-like Compound

5) It's okay to say you "work out" again. Yes, there are some who eschew working out for "training". Whatever - plenty of elite athletes have "workouts" in their vocabulary. It's not worth getting bent out of shape over.

6) Cues are just cues to guide the trainee towards better technique. Cues are NOT proper technique. For example, if I tell someone to squat through their heels, it doesn't mean that driving through the heel is proper technique - it is to shift the weight off of their toes and drive with the hips and hamstrings rather than all quads.

7) People believe that swimming is a poor choice for people trying to lose weight. Although it may be true that swimming stimulates appetite, it does not follow that it not a good training mode. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way for obese people to train without destroying their joints. One limiting factor for many people trying to add swimming to their training regimens is poor technique. Get a coach.

8) The only supplements I ever recommend to anyone are a multi-vitamin/mineral tablet, simple protein powder, and (for some people) creatine.

9) Just about everything should be cycled. This includes foods, exercises, and "daily" supplements.

10) If I was a trainer on The Biggest Loser, I'd have my competitors doing some reasonable weight training, swimming, and a lot of nature walking. No, walking isn't a huge calorie burning activity, but it is relatively easy on the joints, it is meditative, and time spent walking is time spent away from bad habits. An hour a day spent walking is an hour NOT spent hunched over a screen or on a couch eating chips.

11) There's absolutely nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test is a valid measure of something worth striving towards. If the test isn't worth teaching towards (whether it's a standardized test, or an NFL combine) (and I'm not saying it is or isn't), then maybe it's time to change it.

12) Most gurus don't like to be called gurus (or cult leaders) publicly.

13) Many blogs are just long-winded ad-copy.

14) I never thought much of Jefferson squats. Tried them a few times - when you have short arms it's pretty easy to rack yourself... do that once, ONCE, and that's enough. I have since totally changed my opinion on them since reading this post by David Dellanave and giving them another try.

15) A few unilateral exercises you should keep in the training mix if you can do them competently: Turkish Get-Ups, Bulgarian Split Squats, cossack squats, and windmills.

16) You don't need another encyclopedia of exercises.

17) Age affects your assessment of risk. Well, for most people it does... People in their twenties can afford to throw away a macrocycle of training or two. They can even afford dings and twinges here and there. People in their forties are going to be more cautious about those (and rightly so).

18) Never Miss a Rep. NEVER EVER. Avoid missed reps like a disease.

19) Pain is a complicated b*tch. To say "It's all in your head" is grossly oversimplifying things. Stress can be a trigger and acknowledging that (without judgement) is hard for many people.

20) Paul Chek has always been a weird bird (at least as long as I've been familiar with his work - probably 15 years now). That said, he's a deep thinker. I used to think his thoughts on diet and colon health were "out there". Now that I'm older, I think he was spot on.

21) In the same train of thought, digestion is so important. How often do we reach for something to eat while we are still full? How often do we seek out new input, new training, or new relationships before we have really appreciated what we've already received? No Time For Digestion

22) A pulling harness is great fun. For a while (back in 2008 or 2009), APT was running a special on them for very reasonable prices. I haven't found a deal like that since, but I'll keep an eye open.

23) No one will admit that they may indeed be genetically talented and gifted. "IT'S ALL BECAUSE I WORK SO DAMN HARD!" Um, okay. The fact of the matter is, that most of us, if we're in any kind of shape at all, are pretty damn lucky.

24) Dan John recommended the following books (among others) in person and online: "Born To Run", "Boyd", and "On Killing" - I read them all and they were mind-blowing. If you haven't read them, do so.

25) If you've read those and like them, other books I'd highly recommend are: "On Combat" (by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman), "Deep Survival" (by Laurence Gonzales), and "Mastery" (by George Leonard).

26) Virtuosity and Virtual-osity are NOT the same thing at all.

27) Giving up your integrity to make money is the definition of a sell-out. Don't be one.

28) You can't build a reserve if you are constantly emptying the tank. This applies to just about everything in life...

28) I think Dan John coined the acronym "MAPS" (Middle Aged Pull-Up Syndrome) to describe the inexplicable fixation that many middle-aged men have with trying to improve their pull-up numbers... and then end up with inflamed elbows. Pull-ups and chins are great and I think everyone should do them, but a little goes a long way.

29) I think that loaded carries/pushes/pulls are probably absolutely key to long term health for any wannabe strength athlete. The torso and hip strength they develop is crucial to stability when walking out, standing, and then squatting deeply with a heavy weight. Do them. Combine them with hills for even more fun.

30) I don't begrudge anyone making a lot of money teaching others how to lift weights, but please, don't get offended when people ask you questions about working out and say "THAT'S SO RUDE! IT'S LIKE ASKING A DOCTOR FOR FREE MEDICAL ADVICE!"... No. No, it's not. Get over yourself. It wasn't that long ago that people showed each other how to lift in the gym without having any kind of "certification" FOR FREE.

31) You can buy a self-massage stick like this in Japan for ONE DOLLAR (and stuff is generally more expensive there). I've been giving them to friends for YEARS. Why the hell can't you get them in the U.S.?... A DOLLAR!

32) Box jumps - I don't get it. As a challenge, sure - I can see why they'd be fun, but as high rep exercise it makes zero sense to me... I see absolutely no reason to include them in training for obese people. None.

33) Though it's not particularly versatile, the 2" vertical bar that I bought from Fat Bastard Barbell on Adam Glass' recommendation is one of the funnest pieces of weight lifting equipment I own. I use it for one-arm deadlifts, hammer curls, and loaded carries.

34) Contrary to current popular sentiment, there is nothing wrong with kids specializing in a single sport from an early age if training is sensible, and as long as there are off-seasons. I realize those can be big 'ifs'...

35) Studies that show that stretching is useless are dumb. Period. Look, if you believe that stretching helps reduce stress and can improve circulation and breathing, that alone is going to mean improved recovery as a result of stretching...

36) Sots Presses are one of those exercises that never get easy.

37) Glance at negatives, but focus on positives.

38) Placebos work! But if you are betting or banking on them, then you are either a thief or a fool (or both).

39) Tips make you better, but tips don't make you good.

40) Just because everyone passes a drug test does not mean that there is no drug use. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

41) Falling on the ground in a crumpled mess is a really bad way to end your set and, if you're not careful, it can become a horrible habit that will leave you ill-prepared for that second wave of physical challenge that might present itself... I wrote about this in this post: Walk It Out!

42) A 2" axle is a great way to add deadlifts to your diet. The circumference of the bar limits loads enough that I find it pretty hard to overdo it.

43) "Just wait till you have kids of your own!" - never have more prophetic words been spoken. Children add a level of responsibility and busyness that's impossible to comprehend until you have them. Understand that doesn't mean that people without children aren't busy or responsible - it simply means that adding children will level that up significantly.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Peak-End Rule, The Process, and Training

   A story is about significant events and memorable moments, not about time passing. Duration neglect is normal in a story, and the ending often defines its character. The same core features appear in the rules of narratives and in the memories of colonoscopies, vacations, and films. This is how the remembering self works: it composes stories and keeps them for future reference.
   It is not only at the opera that we think of life as a story and wish it to end well. When we hear about the death of a woman who had been estranged from her daughter for many years, we want to know whether they were reconciled as death approached. We do not care only about the daughter's feelings - it is the narrative of the mother's life that we wish to improve. Caring for people often takes the form of concern for the quality of their stories, not for their feelings. Indeed, we can be deeply moved even by events that change the stories of people who are already dead. We feel pity for a man who died believing in his wife's love for him, when we hear that she had a lover for many years and stayed with her husband only for his money. We pity the husband although he had lived a happy life. We feel the humiliation of a scientist who made an important discovery that was proved false after she died, although she did not experience the humiliation. Most important, of course, we all care immensely for the narrative of our own life and very much want it to be a good story, with a decent hero.
   The psychologist Ed Diener and his students wondered whether duration neglect and the peak-end rule would govern evaluations of entire lives. They used a short description of the life of a fictitious character named Jen, a never-married woman with no children, who died instantly and painlessly in an automobile accident. In one version of Jen's story, she was extremely happy throughout her life (which lasted either 30 or 60 years), enjoying her work, taking vacations, spending time with her friends and on her hobbies. Another version added 5 extra years to Jen's life, who now died either when she was 35 or 65. The extra years were described as pleasant but less so than before. After reading a schematic biography of Jen, each participant answered two questions: "Taking her life as a whole, how desirable do you think Jen's life was?" and "How much total happiness or unhappiness would you say that Jen experienced in her life?"
  The results provided clear evidence of both duration neglect and a peak-end effect. In a between-subjects experiment (different participants saw different forms), doubling the duration of Jen's life had no effect whatsoever on the desirability of her life, or on judgements of the total happiness that Jen experienced. Clearly, her life was represented by a prototypical slice of time, not as a sequence of time slices. As a consequence, her "total happiness" was the happiness of a typical period in her lifetime, not the sum (or integral) of happiness over the duration of her life. 
...The frenetic picture taking of many tourists suggests that storing memories is often an important goal, which shapes both the plans for the vacation and the experience of it. The photographer does not view the scene as a moment to be savored but as a future memory to be designed. Pictures may be useful to the remembering self - though we rarely look at them for very long, or as often as we expected, or even at all - but picture taking is not necessarily the best way for the tourist's experiencing self to enjoy a view. 
From Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, pp. 387-389

If you are an athlete training for elite competition, then the "peak-end rule" probably applies. However, if only the PR, peak, or placing matters, and we don't enjoy the process, we are fighting a losing game.  We can train our whole life, but at some point, our competitive days end, and so do the days for picture taking... Not to say that hard numbers don't matter, but a more qualitative approach can help us find existing and meaningful value when traditional metrics cannot.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


It's interesting that 'placebo' is almost a dirty word in many medical and health circles. The reason medicines are tested relative to the placebo effect is because placebos WORK. Doctors, coaches, teachers should be looking for ways to reduce stress and improve their patients, athletes, and students' ability to heal, recover, and learn. Dismissing something as "all in your head" is nothing but ignorance.
...the placebo effect really is the brain's own healing process, and that's a long word, so it's probably easier to say the placebo effect. But the problem with the word placebo is it carries with it a lot of baggage. 
...when you look at placebo-controlled trials, the reason we have to do placebo-controlled trials to determine the "true biological effect of a drug or intervention" is we have to subtract out the placebo effect where people have an expectation that just taking a pill or having an injection or whatever the intervention is, they have an expectation that that will heal and, in fact, it does. It reduces pain, it can reduce inflammation to a certain degree, and it's hard to estimate and it differs with different conditions.But the percent of effect of the placebo effect in any given intervention has been estimated to be somewhere between 30 and 90 percent. Ninety is probably a little high and 30 may be a little low, so let's say 50 percent. A drug that has the ability to help reduce pain by 50 percent is a very powerful drug. So, you know, it's not a trick; it is your brain activating anti-pain pathways releasing those endorphin molecules, releasing those desire molecules, dopamine, to shift and reducing the stress response. 
...why not use this in a sort of a carefully titrated way and say, OK, why not put the individual who needs to heal into the most healing environment where the stress response is not activated and, to the extent that we can, it's reduced where you have positive emotional memories that flood you. Put them into a situation where they're likely to release these positive, these anti-pain molecules and these, you know, dopamine molecules of reward, and that will allow their body to heal or to receive the drugs that you are then giving them. 
So I'm not saying, you know, don't go to a desert island and don't take your cancer chemotherapy, but I'm saying don't fight against it by putting yourself in a stressful situation. Do the maximum that you can with things like meditation and yoga and prayer to help amplify these pathways in the brain that we know ultimately can help the immune system do its job to heal.
From the radio program On Being (October 24, 2013): The Science of Healing Places with Esther Sternberg

Monday, November 25, 2013

Never Give Your Clients Homework

Always remember that graphic design is a service-based business. In most cases, your client hired you because they are stressed out and need your help; giving them "homework" assignments only adds to their stress, and makes you look incompetent and unprepared to handle every aspect of their project.
Of course, there will be times when you need to ask your client to do things. In these cases, you can try to make it as easy on them as possible by gathering or prefilling as much of the required information as you can.
- From Burn Your Portfolio by Michael Janda

The goals of teachers and coaches are centered around academic and athletic learning, growth, and performance. The job is a little different from the graphic designer's to be sure, and sometimes, for coaches and teachers, assigning a little 'homework' is unavoidable. For a teacher, this might look like assigned readings, research, reports, and practice drills. For a coach, this might take the form of restorative work, viewing game performances of themselves or others, and practice drills.

Yes, 'homework' is a fact of life for students and athletes, but it can EASILY (and very quickly) be overdone. There are times when homework is NOT effective, or even appropriate. Assign homework if you must, but make it thoughtful and use the tool sparingly.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The ONE Thing

Getting Extraordinary Results 
So when you think about success, shoot for the moon. The moon is reachable if you prioritize everything and put all of your energy into accomplishing the most important thing. Getting extraordinary results is all about creating a domino effect in your life. 
  Toppling dominoes is pretty straightforward. You line them up and tip over the first one. In the real world, though, it's a bit more complicated. The challenge is that life doesn't line everything up and say, "Here's where you should start." Highly successful people know this. So every day, they line up their priorities anew, find the lead domino, and whack away at it until it falls. 
  Why does this approach work? Because extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous. What starts out linear, becomes geometric. You do the right thing and then you do the next right thing. Over time it adds up, and the geometric potential of success is unleashed. The domino effect applies to the big picture, like your work or your business, and it applies to the smallest moment in each day when you're deciding what to do next. Success builds on success, and as this happens, over and over, you move toward the highest success possible. 
  When you see someone who has a lot of knowledge, they learned it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of skills, they developed them over time. When you see someone who has done a lot, they accomplished it over time. When you see someone who has a lot of money, they earned it over time. 
  The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It's one thing at a time.
- The ONE Thing, pg. 16

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

WELL, I DID IT! (So, Why Can't You?)

If I had a nickel for every wannabe fitness guru that is a formerly obese, recovering anorexic pain sufferer, I'd be a rich man. You'd think that with all those hard miles, they'd be an empathetic bunch. Unfortunately, they are not.

"Well, I did it. So, why can't THEY?"

I can tolerate a lot, but this argument is one I can't stand. You hear it all the time to bully others who are less successful and less fortunate, though its stated purpose is to motivate.

And it IS bullying. Bullies often blame the victim and say the victim overreacts to actions that are not meant to be hurtful - that their words and actions were a natural reaction to the victim's awkward behavior ("They shouldn't act that way."), defensive in nature ("Well, they made me do it."), or even instructive and motivational ("It's for their own good! I'm just doing it so they'll change.")
"Somebody has to say it!"

"I've hit rock bottom before. They just need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get busy!" 
"Well, I wouldn't have slapped her if she hadn't provoked me."
Bullies will get pissed off when questioned and say the world is full of hyper-sensitive, politically-correct wussies who just need to learn to "deal with it". "The world is a harsh place." "The truth hurts."

Thank you so much for helping us learn those crucial lesson... Our lives are so much better now that we know...

In the S&C and fitness communities, you hear variations on the statements above ALL THE TIME.
"I have horrible genetics but look at me!" 
Translation: "Your genetics are better than mine so the only reason you're not successful must be that you are a lazy piece of sh*t!" 
"And if I can do it, anyone can." 
Translation: "I did it and anyone who chooses not to is a loser." (because all success and failure is simply a choice)
 Strength, fitness, and body composition are complex topics. Telling someone who is obese that the key to weight loss is simply to eat less is like telling a chronic-pain sufferer with no clear injury that it's "all in your head". Even it there may be some truth to the statement, it is at best a gross oversimplification.

It's November everyone - let's be thankful for what we have. To be truly grateful entails having compassion for others who may have less. Sh*t happens - sometimes good, sometimes bad; sometimes to those that are deserving and sometimes to those who are undeserving. To think otherwise is just entitlement.

Friday, November 1, 2013



Windmills are one of those exercises I should always include in the exercise rotation (but seldom do...).

Why? Core, thoracic, and hip stability and mobility are all given a thorough workout with this one.

With time and effort, the range of motion and loads you can handle will improve a lot.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One Hour Long Cycle 2013

Today, at satellite locations around the world, a handful of people will be spending a meaningful hour doing kettlebell long cycle clean and jerks ("long cycle" in kettlebell-speak = a clean before every jerk, for repetitions, never setting the bell down) to raise funds for cancer research.

It's been a long time since I've done any training to speak of with kettlebells, but I'll be spending my hour re-familiarizing myself with a 16kg Russian Red.

My 16kg looks like this (but it's not 32kgs obviously)

If you can, donate to the cause: (one hour long cycle event)

If you want to spend an hour doing kettlebell long cycle, the whole thing kicks off at 11am, Pacific time. I'll be in my garage, and I'll be done before the west coast crowd, but I'll be with them in spirit.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kirk Karwoski

Great thoughts here from one of the greatest powerlifters ever - "Captain" Kirk Karwoski

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Greg Everett

I've always enjoyed Greg Everett's (of Catalyst Athletics) writing. Today, he posted this article to his site:

Great stuff. Clear and to the point. I love Louie, but he's not an Olympic weightlifting coach...

I think I've linked some of Greg's pieces in the blog before, but the following articles are outstanding. Enjoy!

Proper Foot Position In The Squat
Plandomization: Crossfit, Periodization and Planning
Shut Up, Flexibility

Monday, October 7, 2013

Holley Mangold on The Biggest Loser

I think I'm one of the last ones to find out about this... I've talked about the television show The Biggest Loser at least a couple of times here on the blog. It's not my favorite clearly, but if there was a compelling contestant on the show, I might make an effort to see it once or twice.

Holley Mangold is an Olympic weightlifter who will be on this season's show.

U.S. Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold on 'The Biggest Loser'

The new season starts tomorrow (Tuesday), October 8 on NBC.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Some Weightlifting...

A television segment about Dmitry Koklov and Akkaev Khadjimurat and their preparations for the 2012 London Olympics. Neither ended up competing in the games, but a fun little piece in any case.

Monday, September 30, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 30): Thoughts on Depth

Like most of the Squat Rx videos, Squat Rx #4 (Bar Placement and Depth) is just too long, but this video is probably one of the most valuable to new squatters who have no idea how deep to squat, nor where in the world they should place the bar. Here is a quick summary of my thoughts on depth:

* Your squat should be done to a depth that you can do competently and confidently.
Squatting deeply is great, but if you get hurt every time you go heavy, what good is that? Jacked up lumbar and hips are NOT the goal. If you cannot squat competently or confidently to depth (and if deep squatting is what you want to do), do goblet squats, mobility work, hold onto a power rack, squat to a box, wear shoes with a heel, wear a belt, use a Manta-Ray, etc. to scaffold the learning process. If people give you a hard time about your use any of those tools to help you squat better, pardon my language but F*** them!

Do NOT get hung up on the whole parallel vs. full debate thing. 
I'm a huge fan of full squatting. I'm also a huge fan of squatting to parallel. Depending on your bar placement, body structure, and external hip rotation, there might not be a significant difference in actual "depth". An upright high-bar full squat will likely be maximizing ankle and knee flexion at the bottom of the hole, but may not be maximizing hip range of motion. A low-bar squat to slightly below parallel may actually have more hip flexion than a high bar full squat. There are very good reasons to do either one. Choose one, or choose both - it's not worth any kind of debate unless you are a competitive strength athlete, and even then it's not a bad idea to be able to do both competently.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 29): Putting On a Squat Suit

Putting on a powerlifting squat suit is a huge challenge, especially if you have thick legs and hips... When my wife bought me my first suit, I tried to put it on when she left to get some groceries. She came home to find me half-conscious face down on the floor in a puddle of sweat with the squat suit barely covering half of my ass... Not a pretty sight to be sure.

Later, I bought "suit slippers", but I figured out how to put them on with less of a problem using plastic bags. This was one of the earlier videos I put up on YouTube.

Squat suits are an interesting challenge - they do add pounds to your squat, but they do affect your groove and if you are not careful they can pull you out of your groove and leave you susceptible to injury. If you want to mimic the feeling of wearing a squat suit while squatting, try squatting in a pair of tight jeans - although the feeling will be different, the "resistance" the jeans add to the eccentric, and the potential "spring" out of the hole will be similar enough to get the idea.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 28): The Final Word on "Butt Wink"

When I made the first Squat Rx video about the lower back rounding at the bottom of the squat, as far as I could tell, there were NO videos out there on the topic and it was not a major concern to trainees and coaches. I made it on the fly with a few scratched out notes and threw in a hodge-podge of exercises that I thought might help the issue. It has some rock-solid tips (and some not so solid...), but it's TOO LONG and (because it's too long) it's not as clear as it could be.

Squat Rx #1 - Lower Back Rounding at the Bottom of the Squat

Just last week, Bret Contreras made a new video on the same subject. I like it a lot, but I could not stop laughing at Skelly's silent scream and snapping joints as Bret struggles to make him squat. As with Squat Rx #1, it is too long. Having a tight script, a tripod, and throwing in some ventriloquism would have helped.

Bret Contreras and "Skelly" - Squat Biomechanics and "Butt Wink"

Tony Gentilcore wrote a two-part blog post on the topic. Good but, again, too long.
Fixing the "Tuck Under" When Squatting - Part I
Fixing the "Tuck Under" When Squatting - Part II

A criticism of "Butt Wink" paranoia... Same thing - solid points made but too long.
The Butt Wink by 70's Big

Whew! That's a lot of video and text... DAMMIT! CAN'T ANYONE GIVE SOME SHORT ADVICE ON THE TOPIC?


How To Improve the Bottom Positioning of Your Squat RIGHT NOW

The first two minutes of Squat Rx #1 continues to hold up after all these years. And, distilled into the most basic of basics, I would submit this two-paragraph blog post from 2007 as (still) THE best single tip I can give people wanting to squat deeply better:

"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.
If that doesn't work, try some remedial motor control learning tools and cues (such as box squats, goblet squats, "spread the chest", "knees out, etc.), and mobility/stretching drills.

Friday, September 27, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 27) - Jim Wendler

Jim Wendler has been one of my favorite writers since his earlier days at EliteFTS. His training advice has always been intelligent, straight-forward, and no-nonsense.

Like all of his articles, the following are excellent. Enjoy!
Causal Friday 
The Virtual Squat Seminar

Thursday, September 26, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 26) - Squatting MVPs

Behdad Salimi

Ivan Chakarov

Wade Hooper

Tony Cardella

Mikhail Koklyaev (300kg - No Hands!)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 25) - Dr. Squat!

"... biomechanics. They think the answer lies in looking pretty. The answer lies in strength. And the only reason for the existence of the science of biomechanics is to get stronger. And they've forgotten that very important lesson." 
- Dr. Squat (Dr. Fred Hatfield)
Dr. Fred Hatfield is taking the opportunity here 11 minutes into his speech (in 1989) to mention his opinion on the (then) current state of the sport of weightlifting in the U.S. Thoughts echoed over a decade later by Louie Simmons. For what it's worth, I don't agree with every single thing presented without reservation. My guess is that Dr. Squat himself would probably change some of the content now, but it's interesting that, even almost 25 years later, there are so many gems here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 24) - Three Drills for Achey Hips and Backs

I have three exercises that I go to when I have an achey lower back and hips - the Bulgarian Split Squat, Windmills, and Cossack Squats. Sometimes I'll do all three as part of warm-up, and sometimes "the warm-up is the workout" (Dan John). Let me know how you find this trio if you decide to try them after reading this.

Bulgarian Split Squats: Although some go quite heavy, I don't think I've ever used over 135lbs with the exercise - in my opinion, there's just too much that can go wrong quite quickly. Even with just bodyweight and high reps (20+/leg), it's tough to beat for waking up the glutes and working the hip flexors through a range of motion you don't get with other exercises. I do mine a little differently and like to keep the ball of my back (elevated) foot in contact with the box/platform - this seems to keep the back leg in the game more (for me).

Windmills: I've always loved this exercise. It's like a good morning on a different plane of motion. Kicking the hips to the side, chest out, and only descending as far as you can do with good form are key. I don't go very heavy with this exercise either, but I like to use a 16-32kg kettlebell and do 5-10 reps/side.

Cossack Squats: I've been doing these (off and on) since I was 10 years old in Mr. Pak's basement, warming up for Tae Kwon Do class. Getting the groove can be difficult and should be done to a shallower depth with some kind of assistance (like a TRX or the support beams of a power rack, for example) until competence and confidence is established.

Monday, September 23, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 23) - Squatting Memes

I love memes almost as much as I love squatting. Here are a few I made.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

30 Days of Squats! (Day 22) - Good Mornings and Squats

Good mornings and their variations are a great exercise for building squat stability. I don't know Westside's current stance on their inclusion in squat and deadlift training, but they were a training staple for years.

In this video (from the Force Training Seminar that I talked about on 30 Days of Squat! - Day One), Dave Tate and Matt Smith from Westside Barbell run through a number of good morning variations. Late in the clip, Dave Tate discusses why a speed day is incorporated into the Westside template.

It's been a while since I've done good mornings regularly in my own training, but I love them and they are always worth revisiting. Generally, I use a moderate to wide stance because I find a close stance has a tendency to round (and irritate) my lower back if I do them to any depth.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 21) - Dr. Robert Wagner

I've always been a fan of Dr. Rob Wagner's squat and his writing. Great stuff all around. I don't know if he's put out anything recently, but I hadn't read the interview by "Johnny Pain" below and it was fun.

The Myths of The Squat and The Bench Press - article for the USAPL by Dr. Rob Wagner 
Low Back Strength for Squatting from Dr. Rob Wagner's blog 
Interview with Dr. Robert Wagner from "The Blog of Johnny Pain" 
A Balding Man's Advice on Powerlifting Technique (Part I) 
A Balding Man's Advice on Powerlifting Technique (Part II) 
A Balding Man's Advice on Powerlifting Technique (Part III)

Friday, September 20, 2013

30 Days Of Squat! (Day 20) - Assorted Tips with Cliff Notes

Some tips for squatting in these two articles - a few of them have been mentioned here before but many have not. Great stuff!

5 Squat Tips For Immediate Improvement by Marc Bentley from elitefts
The quick summary:
*Learn how to arch with the PAD test
*Use your hips to pick up the bar
*Head up and slightly above parallel and knowing how to keep your arch
*Drive your upper back into the bar
*Hold the bar for time before you start to squat and when you finish the last rep of a set of squats

Squat Tips and Cues From The Chicago Seminar by Juggernaut Training Systems
The quick summary:
*Lack of upper back tightness is a squat killer
*360 degrees of pressure is what you want in your torso
*Commit to the descent
*Elbows forward and in

Thursday, September 19, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 19) - "They need to let the weight become part of them"

"So if it's a squatter, they're going to take it out. I'll be in the back or behind them, whatever, saying 'Hold. Hold. Hold. Hold. Hold.' Because with the bigger weights when they take it out they basically need to let that weight sit on them. I watch the barbell and I want to see the barbell compress them... It's almost zen-like. They need to let the weight become part of them. The weight has to come into them. Otherwise all they're doing is holding the weight off of them which is a waste of energy. It has to settle in." 
- Dave Tate

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 18) - Don't Push Your Knees Out When Squatting??

Kirksman Teo, a weightlifter in Malaysia, has a website called LiftHard. On the site, he talks about his experiences in training and coaching, and he's not shy about sharing his opinions. I don't really know much about him, however I get the feeling that he is relatively new to training and an avid student.

On his site, I found the following two posts:
"Why we don't believe in knees pushed out when squatting" 
More info about China and the "ChuanFu Squats"
In the second post, he shares this video with Dan Green discussing his stance and the allowance of the knees to shift slightly inward on the drive from the hole:

There's no doubt that there has been (and still exists) a quasi-paranoia when it comes to knee position in the squat, and externally rotating the hips to an extreme to protect the knees will cause new issues. I don't really have much more to say on the matter except that there is a balance to be struck on upper body, hip, knee, and ankle positions while squatting. That balance is going to change depending on the individual, the load, and the task.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 17) - A Little Research...

The Klein study of the 60s, which demonized the squat as a knee-wrecker, is, of course, a classic - if for no reason other than it is wholeheartedly bashed by every squat lover in the world. BUT, as with any good piece of research, it eventually led people to refute it with time and experience in the gym and further (and hopefully better) research. I could not an online copy of Dr. Karl Klein's research - if anyone has a link, please share it with us.

Although I'm sure there are interesting pieces here and there, I gave up trying to follow the latest trends in S&C research long ago - there are just too many variables to account for in most training studies and usually the conclusions and suggested implications leave you saying either "Well, duh!" or wanting to bash your head against a brick wall. Brad Shoenfeld's piece was mentioned in comments yesterday, so I decided to include it here with a couple of others.

The Biomechanics of Squat Depth by Brad Shoenfeld

How are Partial and Full Squats Different? by Chris Beardsley

Effect of Knee Position on Hip and Knee Torques During The Barbell Squat by Andrew Fry, J. Chadwick Smith, and Brian Schilling

Monday, September 16, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 16) - Squat Rx Elsewhere...

It's always flattering when people use things I've written, or refer to my site or videos. I've had some good pieces here and there. Drop them some feedback, or come on back and let me know what you thought of them.

Getting Under The Bar - Help For Stiff-Shouldered Squatters - If your t-spine mobility is an issue for your squats, this might be helpful.

Deadlift Stud, Squatting Dud - For many people, their deadlift is way ahead of their squat. This article may help them balance that out a little.

Lyle McDonald - What Is The Proper Way To Squat? - Lyle gives his thoughts on the high-bar/low-bar issue, and the "butt-wink".

Kelly Baggett - No Glutes = No Results - Kelly lays out the need for strong glutes. This was before Bret Contreras burst onto the scene. If it was written today, no doubt the loaded hip lift would be given its due.

Digging Out of A Blizzard - 5 Lessons For Training and Life - After digging our house out of a blizzard, I had some insights and wrote this piece for Josh Hanagarne, strongman, author, and The World's Strongest Librarian.

Become a Certified Zombie Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification Challenge (CZSCSCC)! - A parody gonzo ad-copy piece.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 15) - Reasons Why People Shouldn't Squat

I enjoy the lists put up by Movement Restoration Project on Facebook - very clear, easy to understand, and fun to look at.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day #14) - Juggernaut Training Systems

Three very solid squat articles from Juggernaut Training Systems:
Squat 101 by Chad Wesley Smith  
Pillars of The Squat by Daniel Green 
7 Habits of Highly Effective Squatters by Chad Wesley Smith
Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Friday, September 13, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 13) - "Drive through the heels!" Cue

Many years ago, I had an online "interaction" with a trainer of some prominence who said that the cue to "drive through the heels" while squatting was stupid because the weight should be evenly distributed throughout the foot. Yes, it is true that the weight should be evenly distributed, however the reason for the cue to "drive through the heels" is to discourage the common error to shift the weight to ball of the foot, and to engage the hips and hamstrings more, NOT to literally (and potentially  dangerously) shift the weight backward on the heels.

It's interesting because Dr. Stuart McGill mentions the heel drive in this interview: Dr. Stuart McGill Interview while discussing the bird-dog pose at about 45 minutes into the interview.


The subtle differences can make a big difference.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 12) - To Sit Back or Not To Sit Back

When I posted this video in 2008, I thought it was commonsense, but I got a lot of questions. People seem to be fighting physics all the time.

Here are the main takeaways:
-> If you prefer to squat "sitting back" then, in order to keep the bar centered over the feet, more forward lean will be necessary. 
-> If you sit back, and are going to FULL SQUAT (aka "ass to grass", etc.), the hips will come forward as you descend below parallel.
-> Forward lean with a high bar position can be a lot of torque on the lower back.
-> Forward lean with the hips under you (and the spine flexed) will also be A LOT of torque on the lower back. 
-> The hips should externally rotate to create spiral tension, reduce the need for excessive ankle flexion, and put the hips and legs in the most advantageous position to drive out of the hole.
-> Generally speaking, if you are full squatting then a high bar, upright position is going to be preferable.
-> Generally speaking, if you have a lot of forward lean, and your shoulders can handle it, a low bar position to parallel is going to be preferable. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 11) - It's Never Just One Thing

"Problems are to reality what atoms are to tables. We experience tables, not atoms. Problems are abstracted from experience by analysis. We do not experience individual problems but complex systems of those that are strongly interacting. I call them messes.
Because messes are systems of problems, they lose their essential properties when they are taken apart. Therefore, if a mess is disassembled, it loses its essential properties. Furthermore, as in any system, if each part taken separately is treated as well as possible, the whole is not treated as well as possible. A system is more than the sum of it's parts; it is the product of their interactions. If taken apart, it simply disappears. ...[what is required is] mess management, not problem solving, and mess management requires creative and comprehensive planning."
(Ackoff's Best, pp.117-118)

I get a lot of correspondence from people on Facebook, YouTube, and email, asking about their squat form and (when their form has issues) how they can improve it. I've written about this before but correctly identifying and rectifying symptoms and causes can be more complicated that they seem at first glance. A squatter coming up on his toes might be a symptom of poor ankle mobility, a hip or knee problem, or even a shoulder issue. Correcting the issue might be as simple as a few mobility drills, changing stance, or giving a cue. On the other hand, the issue could be serious enough to warrant medical intervention. Symptoms very quickly create their own referred pain and further symptoms that can both obscure and feed the original problem. A problem (or a symptom) is, in Russell Ackoff's words, a systemic mess, requiring "creative and comprehensive planning" that gives thought to the interdependent whole - how the parts fit and interact.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 10) - Growth vs. Development

Growth and development are not the same thing. Neither is necessary for the other. A rubbish heap can grow but it doesn't develop. Artists can develop without growing. 
...To grow is to increase in size or number. 
...Development is an increase in capability and competence. 
(Ackoff's Best, Russell Ackoff, pp. 44-45)
The problem with most programs is that little attention is paid to the bigger picture. Yes, sometimes we need laser focus, and "SMART" (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals are, indeed, smart goals, but only if done thoughtfully.

If your goal is to add 100 pounds to your squat by Christmas, it may fit the "SMART" criteria, but is it smart? Maybe. Maybe not. If you end up shaving depth, sacrificing technique, and going into credit card debt from supplements, training equipment, gear, chiropractic adjustments, and massages just to hold yourself together, then it might not be smart.

Remember, there's growth, and then there's development.

Related Squat Rx Posts:
Lessons from DUNE (Part I)
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Change

Monday, September 9, 2013

30 Days of Squat (Day Nine) - Cooking Squat

A couple of years ago, I posted 55 Ways To Cook a Squat, which begs the question:

"What should I cook today?"

What is the answer?

Cook what feels right. Occasionally expand your cooking repertoire. Cook something that doesn't hurt. Don't be afraid to vary the ingredients, like volume, intensity, sets, reps, and density. Cook something delicious and rewarding. Make it a work of art. Cook healthy and cook well.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day Eight) - Squatting WITH Lower Back Pain?

A while back, I put up the following two posts about lower back pain and squatting. In the posts, I give some common technical causes of lower back pain when squatting, and how I've successfully dealt with pain and injury in the past.

Squats & Lower Back Pain (Part I)
Squats & Lower Back Pain (Part II)

I want to make it crystal clear that I don't advocate squatting with lower back pain. One thing every trainee should be extremely careful of is pushing into pain. Understand that training through pain is not only potentially injurious, but also creating and/or deepening an association between movement and pain - never, ever a good idea in the long path to movement mastery.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day 7) - Everybody Squats

Monkeys squat...

chimpmunks squat...

cats squat...

 and dogs squat!


Friday, September 6, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day Six) - Mobility


A number of years ago, I made this video about stretching, mobility, and general warm-ups. There are a number of things that, if I were to remake it, I would leave out now - among them, the windshield wipers. Too long and a little dated now, but the stretching portions are still solid overall and, in my opinion, even with all the mobility craziness, stretching is a subject that the fitness industry is quite clueless about - few know the subject well enough to implement it in their own training, let along instruct or program it at all for others. 

I'll revisit this subject later this month and explain my favorite stretches for relaxation and squatting more smoothly and with less pain.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

30 Days of Squat (Day Five) - Pistols

Squat Rx #25 - Pistols

I had been meaning to make a video about pistols for a very long time, but there was a period of (literally) years that I had not been doing them at all. Pistols are one of those exercises that can be a little intimidating if you weigh much more than a buck fifty, so they just kind of fell out of the rotation and never made it back in... until recently. 

Lately, the hips and lower back have been a bit of an issue and I decided to give them a shot. After a couple of sessions of grooving the movement with concentric-only pistols, they came back without too much trouble.

Pistols are one of those exercises I don't recommend for everyone, but it's a fun challenge and might be just the thing a trainee needs to inject new life into their training rotation. Although the thoughts presented here may be common sense, I hope they are helpful to some.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day Four) - Adam T. Glass

Adam T. Glass

Adam T. Glass always has great thoughts on training and life in general. Just the other day he put out the following video on pistols. Simple, and fantastic.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day Three) - EDT w. Squats and Pull-Ups

One of my favorite EDT pairings is with squats and pull-ups or chins. If you aren't too aggressive with the pull-ups, it gives the lower back a bit of a break from the hard work it's doing with squats. Kipping would just be adding a lot of extra (and unneeded) chaos into the system here and I would not recommend it if you are squatting something moderately heavy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day Two) - Martin Rooney

Martin Rooney

Probably around 2000 or so, I bought a couple booklets online entitled "The 40-Yard Dash" and "The Vertical Jump" co-authored by Martin Rooney and Joe DeFranco. They were very solid pieces with very specific and useful advice for athletes and coaches looking to improve those particular metrics.

Although I liked those two booklets a great deal, I have not followed Martin Rooney's work much since. That has been an oversight on my part apparently because I recently read this article and it is outstanding!
Squat Like a Champion - Article by Martin Rooney

Presented in the article is this progression:
Low Mobility, Low Load
1. Body Squat, hands held straight out front, heels elevated
2. Body Squat, hands held straight out front, feet turned out
3. Body Squat, hands behind head, feet turned out 
Low/Moderate Load, Average Mobility
4. Single Kettlebell Goblet Squat
5. Single Dumbell Goblet Squat
6. Dumbbell/Kettlebell Squat, held at side 
Moderate/High Load, Average Mobility
7. Double Dumbbell Front Squat
8. Double Kettlebell Front Squat
9. Barbell Front Squat
10. Barbell Zercher Squat
11. Dumbbell/Kettlebell held-at-side Squat
12. Barbell Back Box Squat 
High Load, High Mobility
13. Barbell Back Squat, heels elevated (shoe or plate)
14. Barbell Back Squat
15. Dumbell Overhead Squat
16. Barbell Overhead Squat
I really like the continuum presented here and think it's a great thing for people to refer to and try if they find maintaining good form on regular barbell back squats to be a bit challenging.

I might suggest the following modification - Most trainees are just not going to be using enough weight to justify calling their overhead squats "high load". Another category, "Low/Moderate Load, High Mobility", could be added as a parallel category to "High Load, High Mobility". In this category, squat variations like bodyweight squats w. arms overhead, overhead squats w. dowel/barbell/kettlebell(s), etc. would be included. It adds one more layer of progression to the mix and because the load is, generally, very light, would not be a large added strain to the system, and could be done concurrently with the "high load, high mobility" work.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

30 Days of Squat! (Day One) - Dave Tate

Dave Tate

I've always been a great fan of Dave Tate. In the late 90s and around 2000, I bought a lot of Westside Barbell VHS tapes - among them, the Westside Barbell Method seminar tapes. I LOVED them. The quality of the tapes wasn't the best, but the content was outstanding. Dave Tate talked the talk and walked the walk. A lot of the content of those original Westside VHS tapes is now available online for free. Well worth a watch (or two or three!) if you are needing a little food for thought or inspiration to psych you up for a heavy barbell session.

After seeing Dave Tate's instruction, I understood the power that video could have for strength training instruction. I also knew that there were still unanswered questions out there about squatting. Without Dave Tate, there would be no Squat Rx.

Watching these videos again, even after all these years... still amazing and DENSE with content. Enjoy!

30 Days of Squat! 2013

Last year, I started making September the "30 Days of Squat!" month. It was a good month and you can see an index to all of last year's 30 entries here: 30 Days of Squat Index (2012)

This year, we'll be cover some of the Squat Rx videos and topics of interest. If you have a squatting topic you'd like me to discuss, please let me know.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Seth Godin

Pick Yourself 
Authority?You want the authority to create, to be noticed, and to make a difference? You're waiting for permission to stand up and speak up and ship?
Sorry. There's no authority left.

...Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out permission, authority, and safety that come from a publisher or a talk-show host or even a blogger who says, "I pick you."
Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you - that Prince Charming has chosen another house in his search for Cinderella - then you can actually get to work.  
...Once you realize that there are problems waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunites to contribute abound. The opportunity is not to have your resume picked from the pile but to lead. 
... No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself. 
How much responsibility are you willing to take before it's given to you?
The Math of Self-Selection 
We've all seen the music industry fall apart. Even if you're not a musician, it's worth considering the implications when the connection revolution permits a musician to bypass the label and pick herself.
According to Jeff Prince at TuneCore, the math of before and after the revolution in the music business looks like this: 
Before the revolution:Virtually all musicians aren't picked by a label and are invisible nonentities.
Of those picked, 98 percent fail in the marketplace.
Of the remaining 2 percent, less than half a percent ever receive a single royalty check as a result of their recorded music. Ever.
So we have a world where the odds of being signed are close to zero and the odds of getting a check as a result of your sales, even if you are signed, is even closer to zero. 
After the revolution:A musician who sells two (two!) copies of a song on iTunes makes more money than she would have earned from a record label for selling an entire CD for seventeen dollars.
There are more musicians making more music being heard by more people and earning more money than ever before.
Now, multiply what happened to music by a million. Multiply it by consulting, coaching, and design. Multiply it by manufacturing, speaking, and nonprofits. Multiply it by whatever it is you care enough to do.
That's what after looks like.
 (The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin, pp. 48-50)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Just Wondering Aloud...(about childhood obesity)

Just wondering aloud here as I read Why Is Childhood Obesity Down Among Poor Kids?...

Do we really believe that a major reason there seems to a decline in childhood obesity is because of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign? Really? Seriously??

Could we not also correlate a decline in obesity with Hostess' bankruptcy?  Can we correlate Twinkies sales to this "trend"? Now that Twinkies are back in business, will this "trend" reverse itself?

Does it matter that childhood obesity stayed the same or increased in a majority of states? How does this constitute a "trend"?

Does this study (cited in the article) prove anything other than that kids in 2009-2010 consumed about 68 sugary-beverage calories less/day than their counterparts did in 1999-2000?

I don't like to be that guy - the armchair researcher/statistician, but that tiny voice in my head is screaming "correlation does not prove causation" and "two points don't make a trend"...

I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Thoughts?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials

     "People conceptualize conditioning in different ways," he said. "Some think it's a ladder straight up. Others see plateaus, blockages, ceilings. I see it as a geometric spiraling upward, with each spin of the cycle taking you a different distance upward. Some spins may even take you downward, just gathering momentum for the next upswing. Sometimes you will work your fanny off and see very little gain; other times you will amaze yourself and not really know why. Training is training, it all seems to blend together after a while. What is going on inside is just a big puzzle. But my little spiral theory kind of gives it a perspective don't you think?"
     "Yes, but I don't see --"
     "You've been in that momentum-gathering phase, Cass, is what I'm telling you. You've been in it for quite a while now and I think that - physically again - you're due." 
Once a Runner, pp. 166-167