Archive for the ‘Program design’ Category

Warm-Up Warriors: Overboard or on Target?

“It’s cool to pee your pants”- Billy Madison (Adam Sandler)

Obviously that’s a load of B.S., it’s not cool to pee your pants, it’s probably the exact opposite of cool, it’s anything but cool, it’s totally uncool……

and that’s how I feel about warm-ups….

Seriously, they suck, they are UN-COOL. No matter how many articles I read about how awesome the foam roller is or this stretch is or that mobility drill is they all suck as far as I’m concerned. They are boring as hell and detract from time that can be spent being awesome (smashing weight, eating meat, being a costumed crime fighter)

Darth Vader + Batman + Light Saber duel= Awesome stuff which warm-ups detract from

But here’s the deal: YOU GOTTA DO THEM…ALL THE TIME, EVERYTIME, WITH A PURPOSE (you should take that last line very seriously because it was written in all caps and bold  which implies that I’m either
A. saying it quite forcefully to convey they importance
B. I’m yelling it
….and you know what, all things being equal more is probably better….I know, THAT SUCKS….

Sometimes things that are good for us suck…a lot.

Deal with it.

Waaaay too many people either skip warm-ups or do something that is half -assed and nonsensical.  Too many guys jump on the bench put 135 on the bar and press away. That’s incredibly stupid….

Yeah, it may suck but take the time and prepare your body to lift, run, jump, deliver elbows from the top rope..To parahrase weight training Yoda Jim Wendler, “I’d rather spend 30 minutes getting ready to train and have a few good lifts than jumping right in and having a shitty day”…Truth

But lately I’ve noticed there’s been a disturbance in the force. I think too many people have taken the whole “corrective exercise”, dynamic warmup, foam rolling is the cure for what ails you thing too far…

I’ve noticed more and more people  competing for the undisputed World Champion of  Warm-ups belt and not spending any meaningful time or effort actually training…. remember, that thing you warm-up for in the first place.

There are a handful of guys and girls who come into the gym and literally everytime I see them they are doing some type of warmup/ mobility/ corrective exercise….these people are in a virtual love affair with the damn foam roller.

They’re warming up to warm-up…it’s freaking disgusting.

Mind you, these are healthy capable people who sometimes actually do lift and are capable of approaching awesomeness but for some reason I think they read one too many articles by some internet Yoda and didn’t think about things for themselves. For a healthy 20 something to have a 30- 45 minute warm-up and then train like my grandmother is a serious misplacement of priorities 99% of the time…Especially when YOU CAN ACTUALLY TRAIN! i.e. SFW (Smash F*cking Weight)

Now one of my clients is going to read this and be all like, “You make me warm-up for a long time” 

My response: “Yeppers, cause you’re 50, just sat at work for the last 8 hours had knee surgery 2 years ago and only get physical activity when you see me two times a week. So ummmm, yeah your ass is gonna have a 30 minute warm-up and I’m  good with that, you should be too”…..

My personal warm-up guide goes like this (in general, every person is different):

Age:                                                 Time:
15-25                                               10 minutes
25-35                                              15 minutes
35-40                                              20 minutes
40-50                                              25 minutes
50+                                                  30 minutes

Perfect? NO

Does it seem to work pretty well? YES!

Why? Older clients tend to need more of everything in terms of tissue work (foam roller), mobility (stretches, movement drills)  and activation (band stuff, iso holds). They’ve spent a lot of their life either:

A. Being sedentary and getting locked up, tight and weak with a host of “turned off” muscles
B. Being a weekend warrior accumulating nagging chronic injuries, getting locked up and forming really faulty movement patterns to compensate not to mention all the F-ed up things they’ve done at the gym…think BOSU balls, Yoga backbends, group exercise in general…

So just being able to get them into a state where they can achieve the correct positions to train safely takes a couple minutes of rolling, loosening things up, moving  and turning things on. A nice side effect to these long warm-ups with older clients is they start to feel better as they loosen up and they think you’re ( I’m) a genius.

Side Note: (this is totally stolen from Mike Boyle) if a (older) client want’s to spend more time on the foam roller, warming up etc. – LET THEM…seriously, will it hurt anything? They like it because it makes them feel better…

Point being: Warm-ups are a tool, they are necessary, keep you safe and allow your training to be more awesome. Believe me, I used to be one of those just use your first lift to warm-up cause that’s all you need ass-hats and that my friends was class A jackassery.

 Get prepared to train but don’t be King of the Warm-ups at some point you have to actually lift some weights, run and jump. Let’s face it, you’re coming to the gym because you want to “correct” something be it weight, strength, body comp etc. and the fact is you’re not going to correct any of those by winning the war of the warm-ups…..


Never Let Go- I read that sh*t

February 22, 2012 2 comments

A client got me a Kindle for Christmas and I must say this thing is an impressive little device.

Any who, when Dan Johns book Never Let Go became a Kindle freebie a couple of weeks ago I snatched it up. (It’s $10 now, but still worth it). Now this bad boy is long, 418 pages but it’s a really easy read and every article/ story is really good. They’re mostly reprinted, old articles, from, in fact I had already read most of them but after reading them again I’m reminded of how  easy it is to forget things we “know”.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the book:

  • Learn and do the basics: Squat, deadlift, clean, bench…you know the stuff they judge to be unacceptable at the “Judgement Free Zone”.
  • Lift HARD consistently, it takes time, repetition, practice to get “good”.
  • When you work, WORK, when you rest, REST…Make the highs high and Lows low.
  • If it’s important do it….. EVERYDAY
  • Everything works….for about 6 weeks, then things have to change
  • Training systems and fads come and go….the basics always stay

See, stuff we already knew, just need to be reminded of sometimes and it only took 400 pages for this genius to do it.

If you have a Kindle and you’re into lifting, spend the $10, you’ll get your investment back and more.

Why Everyone Learns to Squat

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Virtually (not always if they don’t stick around long enough) every client I train learns to squat. We’re talking 90% or better, obviously I think it’s important. So I was caught off guard a little this week when I got hit with this gem  by a “fitness professional” none the less (paraphrasing):

“You know, you should only have experienced athletes squat because it’s bad for the back and knees and it’s non functional. I went to a seminar and learned there’s just too much spinal compression to justify using it.”

at first I was in disbelief for these reasons:

  • I just met this person an hour before.
  • they told me every fallacy attached to the exercise in 2 sentences.
  • my client was using body weight.
  • she, “fitness professional”, clearly hadn’t been informed of my reputation and wasn’t prepared for the forthcoming Bruce Lee style flying dragon kick that was targeted for her face.

Let’s get through this one by one.

Only “experience athletes”, what the hell does that mean? Define that. What qualifies as experienced and who decides?

I don’t have a definition either, but here’s how this works.

If YOU make a claim YOU need to provide EVIDENCE to back it’s on the ACCUSER not the ACCUSED to prove the point. So yeah, I don’t have a definition but I’m not pushing jackassery either.

First Strawman….DEAD

Bad for the back: Really, how so? Have anything to back that up?

I’mmmmm guessssing….ummmmm, no. But I do, Mcgill, Reinold, Contreras.

Here’s the deal in short. Some spines can take compression, some can’t, the amount of force is individual and depends on their individual level of tolerance. There are no blanket tolerances.

observe the client who transitions to laying on the floor by using a deep squat – this overloads their back. Squatting is appropriate for getting off a toilet or chair but not for dropping to the floor. Instead a lunge that does not bend the spinal discs is a much more appropriate choice. Again, this builds capacity for them to accomplish more in their training session with you- McGill

It’s about the individual and the type of squat performed ass-hat, Yoda  didn’t teach you that this weekend at certified jackassery did he?

But hey, you got a certificate!

The whole “squats are bad for the knees” thing. I was hoping that was dead too. Simple answer:

They are not.

Your knees are meant to bend. People hurt their knees and backs, for that matter, when squatting because they don’t hinge the hips and lack hip/ ankle mobility as well as  thoracic spine mobility.

When you squat the load should be on the hips not the knees. If you’re not hinging the hips, sitting back, keeping tension through the posterior chain, chest up, bar tight etc, etc, etc, you’re not squatting….it’s that simple.

Squats don’t hurt the knees (for the vast majority of people) poor technique hurts your knees.

Stop blaming certain exercises for poor technique and bad coaching…’s not Ford motor company’s fault you got into those accidents, it’s YOUR’S….it’s not the tools it is the carpenter

place the blame where it belongs.

Non- Functional…I hate this term, “functional”, it’s become bastardized so much. It used to mean working out so you were better at real world tasks. Now it means all types of crap….

Here’s how functional squatting is….

Don't pop that squat...It's not functional!

That’s really why everyone learns to squat.

Yeah, it teaches good hip mechanics and how to distribute weight across the hip, knee, ankle and drive from the heels and keep the knees out and all that good stuff and more but mostly everyone learns it because everyone poops!
Think about how many times we sit down and get up in a day….Don’t you think it’s important to at least learn how to do it best? I do, so “fitness professional” who learned everything she knows from a weekend Yoda at a certification, I’m still teaching people to squat. I know Yoda wants you to stand up to take a crap but me and my clients ain’t doing that…..We’re gonna be all “non-functional” and clean and stuff and drop the deuce sitting down…..

Awesome article on how to be a Yoda from Bret Contreras- How to become a fitness guru in 25 easy steps.

FitnessTerms I Wish Would Die

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Every profession (and I’m using that term loosely in reference to my own) has terms, sayings, whatever, that make people in that profession cringe every time they hear them. These are mostly made up pseudo science terms that have a BS definition. Sometimes these are real scientific terms that are bastardized to mean something  other than what they actually mean, in the rest of the world.

Honorable Mention: Momentum

Momentum as used in “fitness”- think Planet Fitness, no more than a 50lbs dumbbells we don’t judge unless you unless you dead lift, grunt or try to do anything worthwhile, in which case you don’t fit our mold and we judge you to be a “Lunk”. Don’t believe me:

So yeah, they are “Judgment free” as long as you don’t do stereotypical “meat head” things…but totally judgement free for everyone else.

Any way one of the most frequent things you’ll hear from the patrons and staff from this type of establishment is some variation of the following, “You should lift the weights slowly so as not to use momentum“.

Could you define momentum? Do you even know what this means?

I can and do, because of this thing called…..Physics….: Momentum:  Mass X Velocity

So if I have an object , lets say, ohh….. I don’t know……. a barbell………that can be the mass

and I move the barbell so it has a speed of movement or velocity that kids is MOMENTUMMomentum is essentially mass in motion…

So Einstein, it’s pretty obvious that every time we move a weight we are using momentum…we don’t have a choice in the matter. We “use” momentum EVERYTIME we create any movement what-so ever….

First Runner Up: Intensity

Ever hear this before, “We work at a high intensity in boot camp” or “that was an intense workout”?…

I’m sure you have and we all know what it means…but it’s (usually) wrong…just flat out wrong.


Because exercise intensity is a measure of  your maximum ability. It’s a numerical percentage, not a feeling.

If you go for a run at and your heart rate averages 150bpm (beats per minute) and your max heart rate is 200bpm your intensity was 75%

150/ 200= .75……75% 

If your maximum bench press is 315lbs and you bench press 225lbs for 1 rep you worked at an intensity of 71%

225/315= .71……71%

If you come back and bench 225 for 3 reps on the next set your intensity is?????


It’s the same’s not more intense because it was harder. You performed the exercise at the SAME intensity, just did more work.

So called “high intensity training” programs where you do the “perfect rep” in a slow and controlled fashion often claim to be “more intense” (and they say that whole “we don’t use momentum to lift the weights jack-assery too)..but the godfather of powerlifting and one of the legitimate Yoda’s out there, Louie Simmons, dispelled this in his article Hit…or Miss

First let’s look at the concept of intensity.  Apparently H.I.T. views it as a feeling, like a pump, a term bodybuilders made popular.  Is it a scientific term?  No.- Louie Simmons

Intensity is about percentages, numbers, math….not feelings.

Runner Up: Tone

“I just want to Tone up” ……”This insert jack ass thing on a bosu ball will Tone your core”

Ohhhhhhhhh, reaaaaaaaaaally?

Tone, how it’s commonly used in this bizz is made up. You cannot lift  3 sets of 10 with 5lbs weights and “tone” up a muscle.

Tone comes from the actual (read used in science and has a universal understanding) Tonus. Which is essentially the electrophysiological state of a muscle. The continuous, involuntary, firing of neurons at a low-level to keep the muscle ready to do work. Tone, in a scientific sense is what keeps us upright and our hearts beating.

It has NOTHING to do with how the muscle appears.

Mark Rippetoe described this disconnect in Practical Programming:

The modern fitness industry’s concept of “toning” muscles is specious—it might sound cool, but it lacks any tangible and definable meaning. The term “muscle tone” or tonus describes an electrophysiological phenomenon, a measure of ionic flow across muscle cell membranes. It can be thought of as the muscle’s readiness to do anaerobic work. The more fit the muscle, the more electrophysiological activity it exhibits at rest. Lack of exercise leads to poor tone, aerobic exercise improves tone a little bit, low-intensity weight training improves tone more, and high-intensity training improves tone the fastest.

Lets use a visual comparison: Kim K. vs. Marissa Miller vs. Jessica Biel


OK, so first things first, this is not a “which is better” comparison. They all look really good in a bikini (probably because they get paid lots of cash to look that way, but I digress) we know this. Point is, what is “Tone“?

Kim obviously is a little softer than the other two, she has more body fat and  probably less muscle than Marisa, but definitely less than Jess.

Marisa is the skinniest of the group and probably has the lowest body fat and is second in muscle.

Jess obviously has the most muscle of the three and probably is in the middle in terms of body fat.

So what is “Tone“?

In physiological terms Jess, having the most muscle is probably also the strongest and has the best muscle tonuselectrophysiological activity across the muscle cell membranes. But is she the most “Toned” in fitness terms?

I’m guessing most would answer no, Marisa is.

Now, if Kim were to simply stay at her current body fat level and workout some her muscles would get harder because of increased TONUS– more activity across them. But would she look like Marisa?

Obviously not….Why?

Her body fat would be too high to uncover the harder muscles…..

So what does this little experiment tell us? TONE doesn’t mean jack….stuff is made up.

It’s not about who has the most muscle or fat or whatever…it’s about a combination of the two.

If you’re looking for fitness style “Tone” you must do some combination of gaining muscle and losing fat. It’s not a magical process that happens to your muscle just because you began to exercise.

Finally we make our way to the nights GRAND CHAMPION!

Grand Champion of Horrible fitness terminology: Muscle Confusion

Let’s just throw this out there, the term “muscle confusion” is totally “as seen on TV” made up bullshit…

where "muscle confusion" comes from

It is in NO WAY a scientific term. It was made up to sell a product, and now it’s in the lexicon. People, in this business even, use this and think they sound smart. Do some quick searches in Pubmed or  Google Scholar for “Muscle Confusion” you’ll find a whole lot of :


Ohh wait, here’s a nice…. ADVERTISEMENT! ………….Yea for truth!…

There is no SCIENCE behind it!...Just sales..

Here’s a clue muscles don’t get confused people.

They only know length and tension, they don’t have brains with intelligence and critical thinking skills to be confused. They don’t decide…only do.

When new physical tasks are difficult it’s not because you “confused” the muscle, it’s because the task was one of the following:

  • A new movement pattern, the BRAIN must learn to coordinate these new muscle actions.
  • An overload pattern: more tension, time under tension, speed of movement, energy system, etc.

Not because the muscle was somehow “confused”. You may have been, your muscles were not.

If you work in the bizz of training people, please either STOP using these terms or use them correctly…and if you hear your local, I went to a two-day certification this week so now I’m an expert trainer at the local Globo gym say these…stay away, very far away.

Groundhog Day Training. Think Bill Murray, or doing the same damn thing all the time.

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Groundhog day, the Bill Murray movie, not the actual “holiday” that centers around Punxsutawney Phil, describes most gym goers workouts…… metaphorically speaking that is.


Many people do, the same thing day after day. Basically they heard something, somewhere, and decided that X,Y,Z was the ticket and eventually, if they bang their head into the wall hard enough, a magical switch will take place and they’ll be in great shape all of a sudden.

Never mind that Albert Einstein guy:

Think about it, how many people get on the treadmill everyday and run their ass off, at the same pace, in hopes of a better body but never get anywhere? Or worse that damn elliptical prancing along like a pony?

Trust me on this one, it’s a lot.

Usually here is the scenario. They hear (on TV or in a magazine) they should add some “weight training” and that’s the magic secret. So people start doing some easy (see ridiculously light and ineffective read: useless) exercises (tricep kickbacks, sumo squats with a dumbbell, squats with a physioball ball on the wall or some other jack-assery) convinced that those are what they are looking for and they have found the Willy Wonka Golden ticket.

So they do the same exercises in the same order with the same weight for the same 3 sets of 10 ….and they keep it up until the next insert fitness meme of the moment BIG thing that convinces them otherwise and things don’t change.

This is why so many newbie personal trainers talk about “periodization“…which I covered towards the end of this post, Wired or Tired. The only problem is they follow-up the term periodization with the phrase, “Change it up”…which makes me cry, (and shows you that they have no idea what they are talking about, because just “changing things up” is not the purpose of a periodized program in the first place). But at least they realize that the body adapts to the stress on it and improvement stops.

Think about your program for a minute. When was the last time it changed? How did it change?…Exercises? Reps, Sets, Weight on the bar, Frequency? What changed? Did you work harder in any way? Improve in any way?

Not everything has to change for a new stress to be placed on the body. Look at programs like the Starting Strength, or Bill Starr 5×5. They don’t even change the damn exercises…EVER. But if you do them you get hell-a strong because they do change the weight on the bar and reps completed in a workout with that weight as you progress. These programs essentially self-periodize, as you complete a new level of performance you earn the right to progress to the next…they sure as hell just don’t randomly “change it up” because random programming leads to random results…every time.

Bill Starr, originator of the 5x5

So if you are akin to Bill Murray and can’t seem to get Andie MacDowell to fall in love with you in one day, or for the less initiated among us get in shape, you should pick out some BIG exercises. Things like Squats, Lunges, Deadlifts, Pushups, Pullups, Bench presses etc..Exercises that take lots of muscles working together to complete, and make those the foundation of your program. These are your BIG ROCKS…the most important exercises. Things like bicep curls, triceps extensions, leg extensions (which suck BIG TIME by the way) should be your little rocks, not really that important but you can do them if you want. I totally stole the Big Rocks, Little Rocks thing from Mike Boyle. Focus on the BIG rocks and progressing and things will fall into place.   

Here’s a good beginner progression:

1a) Squat: Stick with same weight until 3 sets of 5 are completed, then add 5 pounds and start again
1b) Pushups: as many as possible per set

2a) Inverted Rows: as many as possible per set
2b) Bulgarian Split Squat: add 2 reps per session until 12 per set are completed. Then change exercise to something similar like a lunge or reverse lunge or add weight and start over at sets of 6 reps.

Planned out it looks like this:

Day 1:
1a) Squat: 3×5 @ 135 (actual 2×5, 1×3)
1b) Pushups: 2x AMAP

2a) Inverted Row: 2x AMAP
2b) BSS: 2×6

Day 2:
1a) Squat: 3×5 @135 (actual 2×5, 1×4)
1b) Pushups: 2x AMAP

2a) Inverted Row: 2x AMAP
2b) BSS: 2×8

Day 3:
1a) Squat: 3×5 @135 (actual 2×5, 1×4)
1b) Pushups: 2x AMAP

2a) Inverted Row: 2x AMAP
2b) BSS: 2×10

Day 4:
1a) Squat: 3×5 @135 (actual 3×5 add 5lbs next time)
1b) Pushups: 2x AMAP

2a) Inverted Row: 2x AMAP
2b) BSS: 2×12

Phase 2:
Day 1:
1a) Squat: 3×5 @140 (actual 1×5, 2×3) LOOK I CHANGED THE WEIGHT!!
1b) Pushups: 2x AMAP

2a) Inverted Row: 2x AMAP
2b) Reverse Lunge: 2×6 LOOK I CHANGED THE EXERCISE!!

Get the picture? Stagnation is bad, change is good, but you don’t need Extreme Makeover every month, just need to get the hell out of Punxsutawney PA.

Beginners Suck…and it’s the “Trainers” Fault

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

While it’s getting to the end of New Years resolution gym rush time, there are still some more motivated guys and gals who have hung on. These people are still beginners, I’m talking like total newbies. Yeah, they bought an issue of Men’s Health or whatever and they took the centerfold, fold-out, workout out of it and they carry it around the gym and so the exercises for the sets and reps prescribed, but let’s face it, they suck. Now they don’t suck a little, like as in, not good or that’s wrong, but they suck a LOT- a- bit.

This is the type of crap experts have beginners far is that going to get you?

This isn’t to bash on these folks, they’ve overcome a lot just to get to this sucky point and quite honestly it’s not entirely their fault. First off, they showed up. That’s hard enough when you don’t have a clue what’s going on and is a hell of a lot more than what most people do. Which is to say, make up in their head some make-believe reason, verbalize reason and sigh out loud, sit on couch for next 4 hours and watch TV.

Secondly they realized they didn’t have a clue so they looked for help, granted it’s from a website, magazine, book etc, which is like me trying to learn car maintainance from a book. Yes, with enough time and practice pretty much anyone can become competent at almost anything, but I’m better off not buying the book and taking my car into the mechanic. It will cost me more but the job will be done right and I don’t have to struggle thought the learning curve …But hey, at least these people are trying… 

A BIG part of the problem is the “Trainers” at gyms…Seriously, what they hell are you/ they doing?

Ohh, it's cool, I saw a "trainer" do it......

 Stuff like the jackassery above is a BIG part of the problem. What the hell is that doing besides being overly complicated and getting nothing accomplished?

Here’s the problem some “trainers” don’t do shit…no, I’m not joking. I once had a “strength coach” (self-appointed, he was, mind you) tell me, “I don’t do it. I coach it”. WTF? For real?????        FO REAZL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  So how would that person even know what works and what doesn’t..Would you go or take advice from a mechanic who doesn’t work on his own cars? ….It’s a job that requires little to no entry-level knowledge, any one can do it….

Then there is the other third, the “trainers” who do workout but have never “trained” a day in their life. They equate the latest greatest fad of the moment with a successful training program…Bender Balls, Bosu balls, TRX, Kettlebells, Foam rollers, Shake Weights, Zumba, CrossFit, P90X etc, etc, etc…and all types of future cappy crapola. It’s not that the modalities suck, they all have a purpose and can have GRRRRRRRRRRRREAT applications. It’s that these jackholes buy into anything entirely and use it exclusively until the next BEST THING EVER comes along. ….These people have never had goals except look good naked, which is perfectly acceptable but because of this they never set goals, they never THOUGHT about what they were doing they just went, “It’s hard and I’m dying in a pool of my own sweat and vomit so it must have been a great workout. I’m going to be really sore tomorrow”.

So the goal of this workout was:

  1. To be really tired.
  2. To be dripping with sweat.
  3. To not be able to raise their arm or walk down stairs tomorrow.

and the goals of the next workout will be…………the same…

Really? That's the goal of EVERY workout?

 Again, that’s alright some of the time…but it should have a place and purpose…not just because it’s Tuesday and the website or Yoda at the certification last weekend said that’s what you’re going to do.

Then there is the other third. These people  train, not workout. They have put THOUGHT into what they are doing. They can not only explain the what and how but the why. These people actually think about what’s going on in their training, where they have been and where they are going. They tend to have definable goals, even if those goals are as opened ended as, “I want to get stronger”, “I need to be less fat”.  These trainers are usually NOT doing very sexy things in the gym, most these things are centered on their own body weight, barbells and dumbbells….They tend to do the same old, squats, benches, deadlifts, lunges, pressess….yeah they may use a TRX for a couple exercises, Kettlebells for some, maybe even a Bosu for some core training, but overall they’re program is pretty basic and focuses heavily on….THE BASICS….strength, movement, crazy shit like that…They usually tend to be both the most knowledgeable and “in the best shape”…….

Wierd, I know.

Here’s the problem: BEGINNERS DON’T (think they) LIKE THE BASICS (at first)…..

They get bombarded with all the junk in the industry from tv, magazines and websites, lets face it people, even very smart people, buy into marketing and just from watching an hour of tv you’ll realize there is a lot of fitness marketing and by golly they aint pushing those things called know the thing that has gotten the more people stronger, leaner, healthier than probably any other fitness apparatus….EVER….

Might not be sexy but damn does it work....

Not, squats, pushups, rows….But jumping, kicking, punching…Really? That’s how beginners should start? A guy who has spent the last 10 years doing nothing but sitting at a computer and sitting in front of a tv should be doing squats on a Bosu?……Can he even do a squat without the Bosu? ………………psssst, I’m guessing no…………….

Unfortunately these beginners never learn a core truism…the basics are the basics for a reason. Mastery of the basic concepts of training will hold true until the end of time.

“Methods are many, principles are few. Methods always change principles NEVER do” -Alwyn Cosgrove by way of Bruce Lee

And that my friends is the problem. Beginners come to the gym and are never given proper instruction and introduction to and in the basics. Too often they are given an overwhelming number of options (methods) but never taught how to push, pull, pack a shoulder, hinge a  hip, squat, lunge. We skip the most important part to put them on a series of high Intensity Plyometrics followed by circuit training or some other looks cool but inappropriate crap…


ohh, don’t worry, it’s cool, we did a very scientific dynamic warmup first…..I guess that makes it right.

So think about it, go into almost any gym and you have 2 thirds of the “trainers” ie knowledgeable, “expert” staff doing mind-numbingly stupid things with people and the other third doing that not very sexy, learning to master a split squat thing.

If you’re a beginner you’re screwed from the minute you walk in.

You see:

  • Trainer A: Client Standing on Bosu ball doing bicep curls
  • Trainer B: Teaching a hip hinge pattern
  • Trainer A: Client doing box jumps
  • Trainer B: Teaching how to open the hips and push the knees out during a squat
  • Trainer A: Client doing bench presses on a stability ball
  • Trainer B: Client learning how to do an elevated pushup on a smith machine

Which one would you go with? Obviously trainer A!!!!! That shit looks hard, and they must obviously be very good or they would not have been about to teach someone to do those things right away…right? Any way I saw that stuff on TV and it looked like fun….plus I did pushups in high school 10 years ago and they were waaaay easy.


There is NO DAMN reason for a dead beginner to do that stuff day 1…it doesn’t make sense on any level at all….except, shhhhhhh, you’re bad at what you do and cover up your deficiencies with cool looking but stupid/ inappropriate tricks….shhhhhhhhh.

So what does the beginner do? What all beginners do everywhere, they mimic what looks cool, what looks like fun. Let’s face it people, often incorrectly, equate complexity with effectiveness. Remember, they don’t have the education and knowledge to understand why it’s stupid. They can’t, that’s why they came in here and watched what you were having your client do in the first place…they were trying to learn……….great job teaching prof.

If you’re a beginner and you want to become good at this whole exercise thing stick with the basics, buy books like Starting Strength, Core Performance, The New Rules of Lifting, and Maximum Strength….any of those programs and some dedication will get you a hell of a lot further than the tv-infomercial, I saw a trainer at the gym do this trick one day BS that is constantly thrown your way. Learn how to move your body and lift a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell correctly.

Think  about it, the really strong guy at the gym who squats 400lbs easy….yeah, he got that way by squatting, twice a week for the last 5 years….not changing programs every month, and buying into fads and tools every other month for the last 5 years. He got really good at the basics, while the functional training guru got really good at….the fad of the minute be it standing on a stability ball while juggling, P90X, ropes whatever…….all nice tricks I suppose, but is that really where you want to be 5 years from now?

Not an overnight success.

I guarantee the guy or girl who starts training focusing on the basics will be feeling better, looking better, moving better and way more motivated to come to the gym and smash PR’s than the poor soul who is trying to learn the new training  fad of the minute every other week.

Hat tip: Tony Gentilcore

It’s a Pullup….pretty damn basic

Wired or Tired, why your nervous system is screwing you up……

January 12, 2012 1 comment

Stress…everybody has is. Doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, you have stress in your life. What is important is to manage stress as best as possible.

Not the best stress management technique...but effective in it's own way

The catch 22 is that ALL things are stressful…ie they cause a response through the nervous system.  All inputs cause a reaction in the Central Nervous System or CNS.

The nervous system is the main controlling and communicating system of the body.  Every thing we do, feel and think consciously or unconsciously is directed by the nervous system.  The communication between the nervous system and the body is through electrical and chemical signals that move rapidly and to specific areas allowing for immediate response

The Central Nervous System consists of the brain and spinal column…this is where inputs are taken in and respond to…the ANS (autonomic nervous system) is best thought of as a “go between” the outside world and our CNS.  The ANS or PNS (peripheral nervous system, either term is correct) basically takes in all the sensory input and sends it to the CNS for it to decide what that input is and how to react.

The PNS is further divided into two parts the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. Generally speaking, the sympathetic nervous system is what we learned in school as a “fight or flight” response….the, how to respond to this new stressor system….The parasympathetic nervous system however, is the rest and relaxation response…another comparison from Wikipedia:

 the parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” activities that occur when the body is at rest, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion, and defecation. Its action is described as being complementary to that of one of the other main branches of the ANS, the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stimulating activities associated with the fight-or-flight response.

So, with this in mind we have to remember that physical training is a HUGE CNS stressor and needs to be accounted for along with the stress of life in general in any successful training program. If we accumulate too much stress recovery becomes virtually impossible because the body is never allowed to enter into a period of rest and recovery. At this point the sympathetic nervous sytem is working overtime and if it continues long enough we enter into a state of sympathetic dominance. Essentially, we become overtrained. Our CAT or current adaptive reserve (the ability to recover) has been overcome and overwhelmed by the levels of chronic stress.

Our bodies are always searching for “equilibrium” between the sympathetic and parasympatheic systems.

Equilibrium– a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.
   This is shown graphically with the inverted U…
   Think of the left side of the graph being the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and the right side being the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). When shown graphically, it’s easy to see how having just enough arousal (sympathetic tone) would be beneficial to an athlete (or any one) where as too much would cause high anxiety and too little would result in a “depressed” state.
   Now you understand why equilibrium between these these systems is optimal? Hint Equilibrium is that middle part, where the top of the curve says MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE!…yeah, that part…..
   So the question becomes how do we obtain this point of maximal arousal and performance especially when we have training, work and life to contend with?
   The truth is, YOU CAN’T…..or at least not always or probably often for precisely those reasons. We have a lot of variables to contend with. You never know what’s going to happen in life, who’s going to get sick, when your car is going to break down, when your kids are going to bug the hell out of you, when your boss is going to drop a load of work on your desk at 3pm on a Friday etc, etc, etc….all of these things are stressful on some level and affect your levels of arousal like it or not.
   What you can control is sleep, nutrition, recovery and programming.
   Getting enough sleep can have a huge impact in stress levels. During sleep, especially deep, REM sleep, is when the body actually gets a chance to recover and rebuild from the mechanical stress of the previous day….this type of deep sleep is crucial to recovery.
   Nutrition….it’s easy, eat right. Get enough protein, 1 gram per pound of body weight, eat enough healthy fats (omega 3’s), get a variety of fruits and vegetables and limit carbs. It’s not rocket science…
   Recovery work like massage, self massage, meditation, contrast showers and aerobic recovery work (hr 100-130bpm).
   In terms of training, constantly “maxing out”, going to failure, never changing exercises, constantly changing exercises, doing tons of hard conditioning and never planning deload weeks or time off can all lead to the accumulation of too much stress…..the goal of training is to…….
    Not just be really tired at the end of the workout or sore the next day. Best summed up with:
Train Optimally, not Maximally- Ive seen this in too many places to credit it to someone in particular, but rest assured, I stole this saying….
A body under recovery will always seek homeostasis. So it is always better to undertrain than to overtrain. You will still supercompensate, but not to the degree. Once you overtrain, your body will plummet and fight to retain a balance. Smaller CNS demands over a longer period of time result in more acceptance and greater improvement. While the rush to get more done leads to uncertainty down the road.”-Charlie Francis
    With these things in mind it’s generally assumed that as someone trains (and improves their fitness level) they will improve their CAR (current adaptive reserves)……from personal experience we know this is true as we train more we can train longer and harder (to a point) in subsequent sessions and still recover between sessions where as in the past those same training levels would have “crushed” us.
   Think about the term “periodization” and what it means;
“programed variation in the training stimuli with the use of planned rest periods to augment recovery and restoration of an athletes potential (1)…..According to Mike Stone, “Periodization can be defined as a logical phasic method of varying training volume, intensity factors, and exercises in order to optimize the training process. the primary goals of periodization are the avoidance of overtraining and performing at peak or optimum levels at the right time“- Jason Shea

All Periodization means is a program to manage the stress of training and it’s response by the body. When you think about how many performance coaches talk about the importance of a periodized program it’s obvious this stress management thing is important.

researchers found that those who dealt with moderate lifetime adversity maintained a more stable sense of well-being than those who never faced difficult situations.
   Is this the building of CAR regarding other aspects of life? Does training count as adversity? Does exercise build this ability across multiple domains? Does this ability transfer to training and vice versa?
  I have no clue (my guess actually is yes), but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that stress and managing it is the key component to any training program and possibly life in general.
  Great discussion with Buddy Morris, Tom Myslinski, Dave Tate and Jim Wendler about stress and recovery….Definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK….