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Finding Inspiration to Drive Motivation and Enhance Performance

Article written by Elizabeth Holmes

Whether you’ve been an athlete for years, are just starting your venture in strength training, or want to live an overall healthier lifestyle, at some point you will likely confront an absence of motivation. Taking the time not only to recognize but also examine your initial motivation, where it came from, why you want to achieve the goals you’ve set out for yourself, and how practical your goals are will be greatly beneficial in making lasting change and seeing growth. By reexamining what your big picture is, your goals become more tangible and your motivation turns to habit, discipline, and success over time. In sport, but also in life, we tend to be most successful when following a plan that allows flexibility within specific constraints. Knowing that your motivation will likely shift over time and being prepared to adjust your goals and anticipate their completion will also help in establishing new goals and develop goal oriented habits.

New beginnings and the establishment of habits often come with mixed feelings of excitement and novelty as well as fear of change. Change is uncomfortable. No matter how much we may need it, the mind and body resist change because it creates imbalance in homeostasis making adherence such a challenge. Typically, when we are trying to problem solve we look at tools we’ve used in the past. By discovering new tools and strategies in the present to overcome obstacles, we enter a state of novelty which in its truest form is a state of mindfulness, exploration, and relaxation. Biologically, entering a state of novelty reduces stress hormones including cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine while secreting dopamine, a pleasure receptor. There is no likelihood of being simultaneously mindful and obsessive, you have either one or the other. Mindfulness is not only an excellent coping strategy to reduce obsessive thinking but also allows you to focus on the present, seek discovery, and see opportunity clearly.

Athlete or not, we all have easy and hard days; days when you’re straight killing it and days when you’re simply going through the motions. The distinct difference between a hard day and easy day is effortlessness; you feel your most happy, confident, highest self-able to meet challenges head on and mediate any dilemma that comes your way. More often than not, this is when the foundations of nutrition, sleep, hydration, personal life and social life are in harmony.

Nevertheless, there must be days when you’re just going through the motions to teach yourself that you can grind through the BS. Sometimes dragging through the mud for a little while is the only way to come to terms with how awful it feels fighting through a workout being sick, angry, or distracted. It doesn’t take long to be in that headspace and realize that sacrificing performance isn’t worth the setback of achieving monster goals.

Working out only when you feel a certain way is one of the biggest disservices you can do yourself.  Only training when you’re happy can be just as limiting as only training when you’re pissed off.  Expecting some off- training days and adapting to it in a controlled manner every once in a while, being aware that it’s only temporary is extremely powerful. If you can leave the gym without feeling completely defeated means you’ve won. This is a pinnacle point where your inner warrior is tested and you face the question of: “Can I use this pain and frustration as motivation to see what I’m truly made of?”

Motivation sparks change, which won’t necessarily be a lasting feeling. Motivation is the key in the car’s ignition and the foot on the pedal revving the engine. It is deliberate in taking the first step required to advance forward. Inspiration, on the other hand, is the driver of the car. It enforces the speed and direction. Inspiration is the level-headed driver keeping the car moving. Motivation is what gets you started and gives a reason to do something we wouldn’t normally do, inspiration is what keeps you going and has great meaning.

Considering all types of stress is important in understanding where or why we are lacking motivation. Unless you’re a high-level athlete whose day is spent training and includes the support of teammates and coaches, you’re probably dedicating 1-2 hours a day training 4-5 days of the week. In the overall scope, the time spent in the gym is just a fraction of your day, but the physical stress combined with stress at work, with family, or a significant other, piles up. Working through the emotional and physical stressors, those within your immediate control, can often combat the magnification of external stressors such as environment, work, and relationships that are out of our immediate control.

The body doesn’t distinguish one type of stress from another and the aforementioned stressors accumulate one in the same, having profound effects on the mind and body. The central nervous system serves as a protective barrier, and if over the course of weeks or months the stress is not reduced, injury or illness will be elicited as a signal to slow down and pay attention. Something must change at this point but having the aforementioned foundations of quality sleep, nutrition, and hydration will significantly reduce these incidences.

On a smaller scale, we also experience decision fatigue on a daily basis which is simply the gradual decline in quality of decision making ability throughout the day that affects executive function. Executive function is the brain’s ability to prioritize, filter distractions, and accomplish goals. Most people can make 3-4 well thought out decisions earlier in the day but the “fuck it” mindset starts to creep in toward the end of a long day. Although some people are better at pushing through, it still accounts for a mild stressor to push beyond that one more hurdle.

When someone comes to me looking to make some kind of life change, they tend to look for structure and order so they can follow a step by step routine. A routine is great in keeping you focused and on task but can become monotonous. Forming rituals to give reverence to a routine can make all the difference in managing and overcoming stress by giving a tangible purpose and sense of fulfilment in that particular act. When considering why you do something, ask yourself what it represents to you.

In reframing a certain act by associating it with intrinsic value, where it has value in itself and its usefulness and goodness just is, the purpose and outcome of that act are now based on enjoyment rather than fear. To put this in context, doing something as simple as brushing your teeth or making your bed in the morning, something you’ve been doing for most if not all of your life “because you have to” or “because it’s what’s socially acceptable” is associated with extrinsic value linked to less personally gratifying external factors. When you seek enjoyment in what you do and adjust the circumstance to you rather than adjusting you to the circumstance, you will find the depth in its significance to your life.

By translating this same significance to training, you can use specific tools to regain focus if you’re walking into the gym one day after another feeling distracted and unable to minimize the noise. Try to visualize yourself having just made a meal and you’ve just sat down at your kitchen table to eat. You’ve been looking forward to this for the past twenty minutes while preparing it and as soon as you lift the fork to your mouth, you get a whiff of something rotting in the trash a few feet from you. You have two options, continue eating and endure the nauseating smell, or take out the trash, come back to your meal and eat in peace, feeling satisfied.

This same concept can be used with training. If you’re distracted, you’re not going to leave the gym feeling like you accomplished anything unless you take out the trash. This temporary compartmentalization of thoughts from feelings will allow you to focus your attention solely on performance, particularly on more challenging days such as those when you’re learning a new technique or have a heavy lift. Going through a mental checklist and picturing yourself performing the lift with optimal form and technique before even unracking the weight is another way of creating an emotional tie with a decision.

By using self-talk, or the “voice in your head” as another tool, you’re able to put yourself in the position of the observer rather than the observed. When getting amped up for a lift, make a point of talking to yourself in second person pronouns rather than first person pronouns. For example, telling yourself “You got this” rather than “I got this” has a much greater impact in providing some vital temporary motivation through a broadened perspective. Finally, take a moment to think of someone you admire and look up to. Put yourself in their position and imagine what they tell themselves when facing a difficult challenge. While doing this, imagine their voice saying this same message to you while looking you in the eye.

Every day shouldn’t require this level of grit, so if you’re feeling like you can’t get off the hamster wheel it’s definitely time to take a look at where you are.  This may require you to take a week off from training or it could be as simple as turning down the music or reducing your caffeine intake. Sometimes the smallest changes can make the greatest impact. When you practice moderation, and connect with your needs, you will find that matters in the gym and in life come with ease.


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Beth Holmes is the Head Trainer and Assistant Wellness Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a Coach and Fitness Writer for Union Fitness. She has a B.S. in Biology from Carlow University, is a proud North Side resident, and amateur powerlifter with a bench press of 170 lbs and deadlift of 360 lbs. When she isn’t in the gym, she’s searching for hidden gems at flea markets, hiking, and drinking Americano’s. You can find her on instagram:

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Don’t Believe The Memes

Don’t believe the memes, don’t take the inspirational posts as gospel, don’t destroy your body to save face:

Take a rest day. Take a week off, or a month, or even half a year. Do something besides lifting, find a new hobby for a while, or volunteer somewhere to help the less fortunate. Do something to make the world a better place, and not just yourself.


Have fun for once! You don’t HAVE to go hard in the gym every day. Some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met are people who make lifting their entire life, and for what? A $10 trophy? A jug of protein and a shirt that doesn’t fit right? Is all that really worth neglecting your kids over, blowing out your knees, missing big life events or losing your job?

The reality is that most lifters will never make a liveable income solely off lifting, and to treat a hobby in a way that overtakes your life is just about the worst thing you can do for your livelihood. There is no pension at the end of your lifting career. Lifting should be FUN. If you aren’t having fun with it, why are you doing it? So your friend doesn’t send you a T-Nation article that says you’re a ween for not wanting to max every day? Who cares.

If you’re burnt out, spend a few weeks doing Bodybuilding work, or take up hiking for a few weeks. Experiment with new movements, or become a cardio bunny. Put on an extra 5-10lbs. Who. Freaking. Cares. It’s your money, your time, and your body. Do what you like with it.

I will tell you this: I bet that taking some time off will help you rekindle that fire under your butt that you had when you first got into all this. Lifting will be there when you’re ready to go again, and 200lbs will always be 200lbs.

~Brandon Morrison


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A Guide To Flexible Dieting

Article by Beth Holmes
In the world of health and fitness, there is a constant influx of conflicting information that can often times present dogmatic opinions of what is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, and right or wrong. Most websites and magazines provide explanations as to why their “evidence based research” is the answer to all your problems, offering to solve this complex formula for you. Marketing is meant to confuse people, particularly those without much knowledge in nutrition and those who haven’t spent much time paying attention to how food makes them feel. Even in- person interactions can be misleading and hard truths are learned upon realizing that not everyone who wants to help you is giving you sound advice.

Fad diets are popular because they work. Atkins wouldn’t be around for as long as it has if it didn’t. For most people, however, they are sustainable for a short period of time and are successful for a small minority that take extreme measures and make huge sacrifices that most wouldn’t consider.

First and foremost, food is not inherently good or bad, and anyone that gives you any type of hard or absolute answer is simply misinformed. Food is our bodies’ energy source and without it we would not be able to survive. Furthermore, sugar is not bad, fat is not bad, sodium is not bad, and processed foods are not bad. All of these foods have their time and place in the diet for performance and enjoyment, some in higher quantities than others. Different foods contain different chemical components that interact with the body on both large and small scales. For some individuals, it is necessary to avoid certain foods in the case of food allergy or food intolerance.

There are instances where strict dieting is optimal to achieve specific goals, for example, a bodybuilder who is preparing for a competition. Strict dieting can be psychologically and physically exhausting and requires sacrifices in all areas of life. This tactic will provide short-term success, but is unsustainable and can cause health issues long- term. Allowing oneself dietary freedom and balance has shown to provide long-term success and a healthy relationship with food. Having general guidelines, discipline and willpower, and understanding portion control provides a sustainable lifestyle choice rather than a “diet”.

In terms of dieting, it is important to consider that what works for your friend or family member is not necessarily what will work best for you. Everyone has a different body composition and different biochemistry, so the breakdown of foods and your aesthetic look will be different. Food intake should always be individualized based on lifestyle, metabolic levels, health history, and goals. This can take some trial and error; therefore, experimenting with different ratios of carbs, protein and fat is a great way to understand biofeedback, or the body’s reaction to certain intake. One of the primary goals (and subsequent outcome) of flexible dieting is the ability to be mindful and aware of what you are eating.

Finally, in order to reach your goals you have to want to. If you believe that you are capable of accomplishing your goals, you most certainly will. Efficacy has extremely powerful cognitive effects. In other words, you can will your body to do what your mind tells it to.

Macronutrients, or “macros”, are the calorie-containing nutrients that provide energy for the body to function which include protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  Macros are made up of calories; therefore, if you’ve ever counted calories, you have inadvertently counted macros. Macro and calorie counting became popular in the late 70’s- early 80’s with bodybuilders to further their progress and success and became more mainstream in recent years.

An important takeaway with calorie and macro counting is that not all calories or macros are created equal. Based on your training style, daily lifestyle choices, stress levels, and genetics, an ideal macro ratio can be determined.

Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle and connective tissue (skin, tendons, ligaments, and hair). Protein helps fuel muscle mass, prevent muscle breakdown, support a healthy immune system, stabilize blood sugar levels, and strengthen hair, skin, and nails. Additionally, adequate protein consumption spread throughout the day will aid in burning calories. The recommended amount of protein depends largely on activity levels, however, protein consumption should be consistent whether or not you are an active individual

Carbohydrates are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules and are the body’s main source of energy. Sugars, starches, and fiber are all considered carbohydrates but have varying levels of complexity including monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Depending on body size, activity levels, dietary fat intake, and specific goals, the recommended amount of carbohydrate is altered. Carbohydrates are a variable macronutrient. Daily carbohydrate intake for active individuals should not be less 30% of daily caloric intake if performance is a priority. Manipulating carbohydrate intake around exercise can be beneficial and on highly active days, more carbohydrate can be used as an energy source to fuel and power through intense workouts.

The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates are their rate of absorption (rate of digestion). Take, for example, a pixie stick and a sweet potato. The pixie stick is going to have a high insulin response, flooding the blood and muscle tissue with carbohydrate immediately and is digested quickly. If this pixie stick is consumed prior to exercise, the energy will be used immediately.  If the consumption is not followed by exercise, the carbohydrate will be sent to muscle, liver, or stored as fat instead of being used for energy. A sweet potato on the other hand is going to have a low insulin response, keep your blood glucose levels stable for several hours, and take several hours to digest.

Fats are the densest macronutrient composed of fatty acids, which make up triglycerides macronutrient. Dietary fat helps manufacture and balance hormones, forms the brain, cell membranes, the nervous system, and transports fat-soluble vitamins. The large majority of fat intake should come from unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated) such as olive oil, avocado, seeds and nuts. Saturated fats including animal products such as bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, butter, and cheese should be consumed sparingly and viewed as a “condiment” rather than a main course. Many saturated fats have positive correlations with chronic disease and cancer; however, not all saturated fats should be viewed as universally unhealthy. For example, stearic acid, found in cocoa butter and beef can help lower LDL levels.  A mixed intake of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats and a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is critical for optimum health and function. Carbohydrate and fat intake should be inversely proportional: when fat intake is high, carb intake should be lower and vice versa.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are just as vital to performance and regulatory functions as macronutrients but required in smaller amounts. Their inclusion in the diet are of importance as they promote growth, digestion, energy transfer, and nervous system function. There is no one size fits all approach to meeting vitamin and mineral needs and we should get the bulk of our micronutrients from a diet rich in whole foods with a combination of fruits and vegetables in different families as opposed to relying on dietary supplements.

Calorie balance is a hugely important factor when trying to gain or lose weight. A shift of calories either positively (increase in calories) or negatively (decrease in calories) directly results in weight loss or weight gain. That said, the body is a very elaborate and complicated process and many factors come into play during weight gain and weight loss. Throughout the course of one day weight shift can range from 1-5 lbs based on hydration, food intake, inflammation, etc. Additionally, calorie balance plays a crucial role in metabolism and metabolic rate.

Metabolism is the conversion of food into energy used by the body to perform activities. Exercise is a major metabolic up regulator, however, metabolism declines 2-4% after age 25 and most people lose about 5lbs of lean muscle mass per decade. Contrary to popular opinion, metabolic decline is not solely associated to age and lifestyle plays a large role. “Normal” aging that we see in today’s society is associated with a sedentary lifestyle. In taking the steps to preserve muscle mass with age, you can also preserve metabolic rate. Therefore, increased muscle mass, regular exercise, and nutrition are the essential components to aging well.

Nutrient timing is a much more specific variable and accounts for a very small percent of success, but can still play a significant role in achieving performance and aesthetic goals over time. Nutrient timing is based on spreading macronutrients throughout the day with 3-5 hour gaps between meals while favoring certain macros based on activity levels. Proteins stay relatively consistent and are spread evenly throughout the day to aid in blood sugar level stabilization and satiety. Fat and fiber consumption is kept to a minimum around training time primarily because they are difficult to digest. Fat and fibrous foods also aid in blood sugar stabilization while fiber aids in digestion. Carbohydrates are the most easily digested macronutrient, therefore, the majority of carbs (roughly 60-70%) should be consumed around training time. Consumption of carbohydrates 60-90 minutes pre- workout, intra-workout, and 3-5 hours post workout optimize the body’s ability to use blood glucose for fuel and recovery. Consuming carbohydrates post workout reduces the depletion of muscle glycogen (roughly 90% of carbohydrate storage) and aid in recovery and preparation for the next training session.

Supplementation should be the smallest component of nutritional intake. There are some products that have been researched and tested to show positive health benefits but before taking supplements, it is recommended to complete a simple blood test with a physician. Even a “standard serving size” could be dangerous, toxic, or simply unnecessary. Furthermore, the right food can replace just about any supplement with few exceptions.

Whey protein, casein, and creatine are three well-supported supplements that support muscle growth and recovery. Whey protein is fast digesting and usually consumed during or after exercise, where casein is slow digesting and usually consumed at the end of the day closer to bedtime. Creatine helps provide additional glycolytic fuel to replenish ATP. Because our energy systems run on ATP, particularly in the anaerobic state (involves fast twitch muscle fibers used in weight lifting), providing additional sources of creatine can help replenish ATP quickly.

At the end of the day, a moderate and consistent diet will trump a rigid one when longevity is the goal. Nutrition at its foundation is complex because the human body using this food for energy is extremely complex but it can be made a lot simpler if you do one thing: Listen. Your body will tell you what it needs if you pay close attention. The needs your body has don’t just go away, you have to keep listening and paying attention if you want to feel and look good, but it does become natural and easy with time.

Emphasizing nutrient dense foods in your diet and making small changes to create a sustainable lifestyle will always win. Keeping a food journal may help maintain accountability in the beginning while it provides evidence to eating behaviors, decisions, and perceptions of food. Making conscious decisions in what you eat and ensuring that they are decisions that make you feel good and are not solely emotionally based is a tool that you can always use and come back to.

It’s normal to have days of feeling unmotivated or lacking willpower but the more you listen to what your body needs and realize that one bowl of ice cream isn’t going to make you fat and one salad isn’t going to make you skinny is when you will start to see and obtain long-term success.

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Beth Holmes is the Head Trainer and Assistant Wellness Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a Coach and Fitness Writer for Union Fitness. She has a B.S. in Biology from Carlow University, is a proud North Side resident, and amateur powerlifter with a bench press of 170 lbs and deadlift of 360 lbs. When she isn’t in the gym, she’s searching for hidden gems at flea markets, hiking, and drinking Americano’s. You can find her on instagram:

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Bloody Shins Don’t Mean You’re Deadlifting Properly

Much like how having torn calluses doesn’t mean you’re hardcore, having bloody shins does NOT mean you’re deadlifting properly. If you want to break it down to very simple terms, think about friction: If the bar is so close to your leg that it is breaking the skin and drawing blood, that means you are causing friction against the bar, and slowing down its ascent.
Slowing down the ascent is not what you want when you’re pulling a max deadlift. In addition to the friction from grinding against your leg, you can also be at risk for ramping/hitching the bar up your quads after the bar passes your knee. Since hopefully most of you have quads that stick out further than your shins, this can add even more friction, and slow your bar speed down completely.
To get around this, and to ensure that your hips are locking out your deadlift and not a shrug/hitch combo, I recommend the following:
-Start with bar 1/2″ off shins.
-When bar passes knees, do these three things in sequence:
1. Lock knees.
2. Flex quads as hard as you can.
3. Squeeze glutes at lockout.
By locking knees and flexing quads, you will ensure two things:
1. Your quads will stay out of the bar path and won’t interfere with the ascent.
2. You will keep your hips and glutes engaged throughout the entire lift, thus ensuring that the strongest part of your body is doing what it needs to do: lockout.
Not to mention, it’s pretty gross to leave your blood on a bar that doesn’t belong to you. Get that bar slightly off your shins, and keep your ascent speed consistent. That is all.
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Squat Hand Placement

A real quick write-up here, reposted from my Facebook post:

I get an ungodly amount of questions regarding hand placement on a back squat. Besides my height, it’s the most frequent question I’m asked. Here is the answer:

I keep my hands close to my shoulders, I keep my thumb off the bar, and I keep the bar in my fingers instead of in my palm. I do this because if the bar is in my palm, my elbows will flare back and I will push the bar forward into my neck as I stand up. That will cause my chest to stay down while my ass rises, turning it into a good morning. By keeping my elbows relatively down and the bar in my fingers, I cannot push the bar into my neck, thus keeping my back angle the same on both the descent and ascent. My way may work for you, it may not. Either way, it works for me, that’s all I care about.

If you are having trouble with your chest caving on your ascent, try squatting to parallel for a few weeks. This will force you to slow down your descent and rely on your own strength to get out of the bottom, rather than a rebound which takes you out of tension and then put you back under the weight during the hardest part of the lift.

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Why Your Training Sucks and You Keep Getting Hurt

Part I: Beltless Training is NOT Core Training

Alright, fellow lifters of heavy things…I’m back! After a long hiatus from writing for LBEB due to the demands of life and residency, Dr. Meathead’s clinic is now open again for business, and I’ve returned with a very important message: your training program is bad, and that’s why you feel bad. Now don’t be offended; this may not be entirely your fault! In the era of Instagram coaches with little to no education and even less real-world experience, e-books with zero biomechanical background research, and cookie-cutter programs that don’t take anatomical interactions or recovery processes into account, it has become increasingly easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of BS.  I’m here to drag you, kicking and screaming, towards the light.

I know, guys. Your coach is amazing. He or she is better than all the others. “He competed in that Olympic weightlifting meet that one time and has a B.S. kinesiology.” “She did 2 bikini competitions AND powerlifts, bro.” “His gym has 1.6k followers on the ‘gram.”  It pains me that I’m not joking. These are the people offering online coaching these days. They aren’t all like this, but the percentages are less than favorable. Maybe you’re one of the few with a coach who has an impressive competitive resume. Unfortunately, even that isn’t a qualification for a true understanding of human movement. “But I never would have gotten where I am without them!” You might be right about that last part, which is why you’re weak, beat to shit, and reading this article. In the upcoming series, I will be breaking down a few common mistakes often seen in programming, how they can result in pain or injury, and most importantly, how to implement simple interventions to mitigate and ultimately solve these problems. And of course, injury prevention is only one benefit. Improved performance is the goal of all athletes, and is the major outcome of addressing the aforementioned problems.

In Part I, we are going to delve into the truth and lies about “core training” (for the record, I hate that term, but it’s commonly used and that horse has been beaten enough, so I’ll use it in this article). Before we start with the basic anatomy and biomechanics behind trunk stabilization, let’s get something out of the way: THE ABILITY TO PERFORM HEAVY COMPOUND MOVEMENTS BELTLESS WITHOUT SHOOTING YOUR SPINE OUT OF YOUR BUTT DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE A STRONG OR STABLE CORE.  That’s right. Your beltless training is NOT sufficient core training. I will go into more detail later, but I cannot be any clearer on this point. Now, as always, we will start with a quick anatomy lesson (and don’t forget to review your anatomic terms beforehand if needed:


The abdomen is of course, a hollow cavity that contains many of your vital organs. It also a three-dimensional structure that if properly utilized, can provide immense amounts of stability for the axial spine and limbs via intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). It is bordered by the abdominal wall anteriorly, the lumbar spine and associated muscles posteriorly, your diaphragm superiorly, and your pelvic floor inferiorly. Each of these borders must work in conjunction with the others for optimal performance and effective injury prevention. There are multiple layers that encase the abdominal cavity, but for our purposes we will focus on only the muscular layers, as those are the ones we can actively improve in the gym.

The first layer worth mentioning is the most anterior and superficial, composed of the rectus abdominis within the rectus sheath. These are your “six pack” abs (or in most of the readers’ cases, the abs protected by your power bellies). While the rectus may be the money maker in Hollywood and on the bodybuilding stage, from a performance standpoint, it isn’t terribly important. Its primary function is to flex the trunk, with some small action in stabilization and anti-rotation. Although it is lower on the totem pole of stability and functionality, this does not mean the rectus should not be trained, as we will discuss below. Remember, the muscles of the trunk are a unit! Extending laterally from the rectus are the external obliques with the internal obliques deep to them. These muscles provide a tremendous amount of rotational and lateral stability, acting as side-benders, rotators, and anti-rotators. This last function of the obliques, anti-rotation, is arguably the most crucial to performance. By preventing excessive rotation of the trunk under load, the entire structure of the body is more stable and can exert force in a singular vector. More on that later. The last of the commonly discussed “core” muscles is the transversus abdominis, which is the deepest muscular layer of the anterior abdominal wall and meets up with the fascia of the psoas and quadratus lumborum posteriorly. The action of the transversus is to compress the abdominal cavity, which means this is one of our big guns when it comes to creating that IAP that all us lifters love so much.

Moving on to the posterior abdominal muscles, we have the quadratus lumborum (or QL), the illiacus, and the psoas. The QL is a multifunctional muscle, as it can side-bend the spine, extend the spine, elevate the hip, and fix the 12th rib during exhalation. You can likely understand why all of these are important to stabilizing the trunk. The illacus and the psoas come together distally as the illiopsoas and act primarily as hip flexors, but also aid in trunk flexion. Now if you’re thinking that these don’t sound like direct core stabilization actions, you’re correct. However, because the psoas originates in the lumbar spine, when it is tight (and likely weak), it pulls the lumbar spine anteriorly. This results in a weakening of the overall trunk stability as the transversus must now overcome this anterior force when trying to compress inward and generate IAP. Couple this with the likely anterior pelvic tilt that nearly always results from psoas hypertonicity, and you’ll be in the fast lane towards missed lifts and low back pain before you know it.

If you thought we’d be done using fancy terms of location and talking about force vectors now that the anatomy class is over, you’re wrong. Don’t worry though, because now it’s time to actually apply all the BS I just spouted off to make myself seem credible. Wait, did I say that out loud? Anyways, now that we’ve laid down some groundwork, I can explain why trunk stabilization is among the most important things you can train as a strength athlete, and why it needs direct attention in every training program.  Let’s take your average intermediate powerlifter. He’s done a few meets and has a few years of lifting under his well-worn lever belt. He’s starting to push some bigger and bigger numbers, but he can’t seem to stay healthy.  He hurts his shoulder, then his back, then his knee. What gives? He’s doing all the mobility work he can find, his technique is pretty solid, and he hits his accessory lifts hard. He also likes to post videos of himself deadlifting without a belt and “#thisismycoretraining” in the caption. He can pull 500lb with no belt and his back doesn’t tweak during the movement, so doesn’t he have a strong and stable trunk? Let’s unpack this a little bit. His bench technique is excellent and he stays away from low-bar squatting too far out from meets, and his shoulder hurts. His back never rounds when he pulls or squats, but it still aches. His knees never cave on squats, but they feel beat up.  Some would say that it’s just the ravages of the sport, but does it need to be?  Wouldn’t it be better if the forces from his lifts could be absorbed by stronger, larger areas of his body than the fragile joints of the knee, shoulder, and spine? That’s where trunk stability comes in.  The trunk is the platform off of which we push or pull, regardless of the movement. It is where our exertion of force on the bar starts, and where the majority of the opposing force ends. If that platform is unstable and can’t absorb all of those external forces, they have to go somewhere. That rotation, flexion, or extension that the trunk musculature isn’t stopping will wind up happening in a smaller, more injury prone joint.  For better or for worse, the human body is a phenomenal compensator.

Take my long-time nemesis, the overhead press, for example.  If you need me to explain why stability from the ground up is needed for pressing a heavy implement overhead, you might be hopeless, but I’ll take you through a rep anyways. With the bar resting on the deltoids, you take a deep inhale and set your transversus abdominis to establish that IAP. Now you’ve got your internal weight belt on. It’s a good thing you’ve got strong and stretched illipsoas muscles, because you didn’t have to work as hard to get set. You start your press, and like all of us, one arm is slightly stronger than the other, so that side goes up a little bit quicker. You feel your hips start to shift and your trunk start to side-bend, but you can’t really stop it because you don’t train your obliques. Of course, because they are “mirror muscles” and you’re “not a bodybuilder.” Now you’re not going to miss this lift, so you keep powering through, even though the bar is now uneven. Your scapulae start to shift awkwardly and you feel your weaker arm lagging even further. All of the sudden, there’s a pop and you drop the bar. Congrats, you just tore your rotator cuff, and it had nothing to do with your shoulders being weak or immobile. Due to a lack of trunk stability, the body overcompensated for the slightly diagonal shift in force vector, placing the stress on a small structure not designed to support that kind of load.  The same types of issues occur in the squat and deadlift, leading to knee, back, and hip injuries. We are all slightly unbalanced, but when we don’t have the oblique strength to stop rotation or side-bending, the psoas strength and flexibility to diminish anterior tilt, or the QL strength to reduce unwanted spinal flexion, this lack of balance can result in significant long-term morbidity.  Even the poor rectus, demonized by so many modern strength coaches needs to be strong enough to handle its share of the load. Simply doing a few extra sets without a belt on doesn’t provide enough stimulus to effectively strengthen any of these muscles (never mind the fact that a weight belt is a tool for increasing numbers, NOT for preventing injury in the first place). When all of these muscles are working in concert, heavy weights are bound to be lifted.


So what are we going to do about your weak trunk? What’s step one to make your training suck less so that you can actually make it through a training cycle and perform effectively in competition?  Unlucky for you, I’m not going to give you some one-size fits all, magic mobility movement to rid you of imbalances, poor strength ratios, and limb length discrepancies. You are not a lithesome lion or any other type of well-stretched feline. But lucky for you, it’s actually simpler than all that. We just have to approach it systematically and address each action of the trunk musculature individually. Don’t forget, however, that like any other muscle group, the trunk needs recovery too, so don’t just throw core work in at the end of each session and expect to make optimal progress. Adding in a few of the following exercises two to three session per week (maximum) should be sufficient. Leave them for the end of your workout so a fatigued core doesn’t compromise your heavy work and put you at risk for injury.

Let’s start with the rectus and trunk flexion. I know, flexion = bad and extension = good, but that isn’t always the case. You can have too much of a good thing, so in an effort to help you maintain a neutral spine, I suggest you train your rectus. It gets hit by a number of common exercises, but arguably the best bang for your buck is the ab rollout. This movement is easily scalable (knees to standing, changes in tempo, adding a weighted vest), doesn’t require much teaching, and needs little equipment. You can do it with an ab roller or a barbell, but I prefer the ab roller as it allows you to change directions and move diagonally to hit the obliques. Due to the stabilization aspect of the movement, it performs a similar function to the plank as well. It is essentially both a dynamic and static core movement because of this, and trains the rectus, obliques, transversus, and even the posterior core musculature due to the load placed on the spine. It also helps with thoracic stabilization due to the movement of your upper back. A word of caution, however: be sure to scale the movement to your ability and control it at the end of the range of motion. It doesn’t take much to hyperextend your lumbar spine in that position and wind up creating more business for me. Other good rectus exercises are Stir-the-Pots (courtesy of the man himself, Dr. Stu McGill), dead bugs, hanging leg raises, and GHD situps (especially if your sport puts these in WODs). Just don’t do any crunches. Please.

The obliques are up next, and in addition to tweaking the ab rollout like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are a few other great movements to improve your ability to rotate, anti-rotate, and side-bend. One is the Pallof press, a favorite of physical therapists that also has benefits for shoulder stability. Simply take a band, wrap it around a rack, and grab it with your shoulders parallel to the direction of the band (your hand holding the band should be the one closest to the rack, with your other hand over it). Your hands should be in the center of your chest with the band stretched tight away from the rack. Now press the band out in front of you without rotating your body at all. You will feel your obliques hard to prevent rotation. Conversely, the contralateral oblique is also working to rotate your trunk, so you’re hitting both of these movements. To work on the side-bending aspect, you can move the band up or down on the rack as well.  This is another easily scale-able movement, as you can always get a heavier band. Try it in a half kneeling position if you want to take your legs out of it and provide an extra challenge. Other movements I like for the obliques are Stir-the-Pots, Turkish get-ups, windmills, rotational medicine ball slams/throws, side planks, and sunrise planks.

Speaking of planks, let’s talk about the transversus. This is both an easy and a difficult muscle to train, and does actually get some real benefit from beltless training. However, it should get some direct work as well. Planks are good way to go about this, but I’ve found that too many people graduate from planks too quickly. Adding a movement component like in a sunrise plank or gator walk can help make it more difficult, but I’d argue the plank isn’t as optimal a core exercise for strength athletes as some others. However, it’s easy to add into your training and doesn’t tax your recovery systems much, so if you like them, go for it. If you’re really interested in ramping up your trunk stability though, Stir-the-Pots are where it’s at. You’ll need a Swiss ball/stability ball for this (Oh, the horror!). Simply put your elbows on the ball as if you were in a plank position, and rotate them around like you’d stir a pot of stew. It’s a good bit harder than it sounds, and I highly recommend watching some Youtube videos beforehand. Actually, you should probably do that for all these new exercises so you don’t hurt yourself and make me feel like a jerk.

                Training the posterior core should already be a major part of your training as a strength athlete. Your illiopsoas and QL both take a beating from squats, deadlifts, and their accessory lifts, so I wouldn’t stress them too much. They will also get some love from these new movements you’re adding in. Don’t forget to keep your hip flexors loose though. For those of us that spend a lot of time behind desks, keeping on point with your mobility will help keep your illiopsoas from becoming a problem.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give the diaphragm itself some love when it comes to trunk and specifically, deep spine stabilization. If you aren’t already doing 90/90 diaphragmatic breathing exercises, you should be. You’re probably breathing wrong. That is a topic that requires its own article, and has already been discussed in depth by biomechanists more skilled and more knowledgeable than myself. Look it up as soon as you finish reading this.

Now my strong(wo)men and functional fitness athletes out there are probably saying, “Who the heck is this guy? He just spent 4 pages talking about trunk stabilization and didn’t even mention how awesome loaded carries are!” Cool your jets, Turbo. Of course loaded carries are great. They stress a level of dynamic core stability that is hard to match. However, they can also be very taxing on your recovery systems, especially if done with heavy loads. Ever try to have a good training session the day after doing heavy yoke walks? Not happening. Performing light carries, especially overhead or with a bottoms-up kettlebell, to close out your training session is a much better way to add them in. But if you’re a strong(wo)man or functional fitness athlete and carries are already part of your normal training, I wouldn’t recommend adding any more. That’s where the direct core training movements I mentioned before can be useful.


So now that you’re armed with knowledge, hopefully you can implement some of what we’ve discussed and suck a little bit less. Remember, the best athletes are the ones that stay healthy the longest, and the road to mediocrity is paved with injuries.  A strong and stable trunk is a good step towards preventing them and improving your performance. Be on the look out for Part II of this series, focusing on the shoulder, coming soon.  Stay strong and healthy, my friends. And try not to suck.


DISCLAIMER: None of this article is intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have any questions or health concerns, please contact your primary care physician. Always consult a physician before starting any diet or exercise program. These statements have been made by a private citizen and do not reflect the views or policies of the United States Navy.


Dr. Seth Larsen is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and resident physician in family medicine with an area of focus in musculoskeletal and sports medicine. He is also a former NCAA football player who now competes as a nationally-qualified lightweight (<200lb) strongman, elite-level deadlifter, and amateur highland games athlete.




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The Ultimate Guide To Forming Unbreakable Habits

Article written by Tom Foxley
Coaches are quick to talk about the physiological adaptation to a stimulus: the energy pathways, muscle recruitment, recovery time, Vo2 max etc. but they often neglect the adaptation at the heart of the matter: the psychological one.

What could be more important?

There are two sides to adaptation to a stimulus: neural adaptation and habituation. In this article, I’ll be discussing habituation. For the largest impact in your life, understanding how habits are formed and destroyed is the most important.

First, picture this story. You’ve picked up a niggle. At the moment, it’s just that – a niggle. You know that it will progress into something more severe soon though if you do nothing about it.

So you see a physio, chiro or research the issue yourself and come out with a plan of action. You know that for the next 3-4 weeks, you’re going to have to mobilize, stretch and strengthen the affected area 5 or 6 times a week.

The first week is a breeze, you’re clearly motivated. You do the work you’re supposed to do and begin to see the rewards as the niggle dissipates. You know you should be doing it for another three weeks, but forget one day. You remember just before you go to bed (when you still have time for 5 minutes of mobility).

You know what’s coming: you fall out of the routine and 5 weeks later, the issue is back with a vengeance.

This is a familiar experience in athletes worldwide, whether that’s in nutrition, mobility, training, meditation, visualization, recovery, whatever… So what do we do about it? We learn the process of habituation/adaptation so when you feel yourself sliding, you can acknowledge that you’re just at a stage of the process and you know what to do about it.

Introducing the Competence Spectrum

“He is most powerful who has control over himself” – Seneca

When you begin a new routine, it’s easy for you. The novelty of the process and excitement of the end goal make the first portion of any desired goal easy.

With excitement and relish, we smash the first few days. We tell our friends how well we’re doing. We can see the progress we’re making and the end goal seems closer already.

Then, for some reason, you wake up one morning and don’t feel like doing it. It could be personal issues, work stuff… you know, the normal shit. So you miss “just this one day” and promise you’ll be back on it tomorrow. Needless to say, a few weeks later, you’re not performing the habit that once served you.

At this point, you’re likely to find something more shiny. Hold on though, because you’re actually closer to making this a permanent habit than you think. In fact you’re at stage 3 of 4.

Before I identify the stages, let me define some terms.

Competence: Performing a behavior that serves you/that you want to perform (a beneficial behavior)

Incompetence: Not doing said behavior

Consciousness: How much you have to think about performing the behavior

Resistance: How difficult it is to perform the beneficial behavior

So, as you progress from incompetence to competence, you can see that both the resistance and the consciousness increase. As it becomes habitual though, the consciousness required and the resistance both diminish.

Along the way to competence, you will hit 4 stages:

  1. Unconscious incompetence
  2. Conscious incompetence
  3. Conscious competence
  4. Unconscious competence

Picture this… (guys, you’ll appreciate where I’m coming from. Girls, hopefully this will explain a few things)

Since you have been a young dude and were first peeing without help, you’ve been leaving the seat up. After all, who is there to complain? This is of course, unconscious incompetence. Soon, you meet the woman of your dreams and move in together. Leaving the seat up becomes an issue. It’s discussed and you promise you’ll sort it out.

Despite your best intentions, the habit is deeply ingrained and you “forget” (read: can’t be bothered). You know you’re doing wrong but can’t make yourself want to put the seat back down. We’re now at conscious incompetence. Your new girlfriend catches you. You promise to sort yourself out.

So, next time you go for a pee, you begin thinking about the idea that you’re going to put the seat down when you’re finished. Whilst you’re peeing, your aim wanders because you’re thinking about it so much. It takes every ounce of self-control to remember to put the seat down. Fortunately, you succeed this time. Welcome to conscious competence.

To take a slight deviation from the metaphor, this stage (conscious competence), is when we’re most likely to fall off the intended plan. The resistance is at its highest, and your level of consciousness is at a peak too. The key here, is to acknowledge which stage you are at and push through. Understand that you are actually closer to securing the habit than you’ve ever been before.

Repeat this enough, and eventually you’ll perform the behavior without thought – unconscious competence.

Back to our bathroom-based episode, that’s what happens here, you ingrain the pattern and it becomes habitual to put the toilet seat down after you pee! Success! You’ve reached unconscious competence, congratulations. Plus, your girlfriend will have to find another reason to finish with you now.

Does it always happen this smoothly? No.

Are there slight deviations depending on the person and the habit? Of course.

But we do know that everyone much follows this path, as long as they keep taking steps forwards.

So, next time when you find it difficult to prep your meals or do your mobility/accessory work know this: you’ve just reached a milestone along the way. You’ve just made progress. Let’s take another step.

Author Bio:
Alpha Movement Sandbag
I work with functional athletes on their mindset. Mindset (thoughts), lead to actions. Actions lead to results. Mindset is the lead domino to tip. That’s why I do what I do.
I also run The Alpha Movement Podcast which is a deep dive into the mindsets of some of our world’s best athletes and coaches. I extract the building blocks of a successful athlete (and get to speak to Games competitors and coaches).
I’ve racked up over 10,000 hours of CrossFit and 1-2-1 coaching. I’ve spent time in one of the elite arms of the British Military – oh, and I love German Shepherds, rock music, and slashing turns in deep powder on some fat skis.
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Four Nails in the Coffin of a Strength Coach

Article written by Pete Stables

As a young and upcoming strength coach, your goal is to make your client bigger, better, stronger and faster. But beware; breaking records, diagnosis of injuries and discounted sessions, could leave your income revenue down and your business belly up…

We all want results for our customers. That’s how we generate more business, right? Word of mouth is free marketing, and happy lifters should equal a happy and prosperous work life. How then, do good intentions lead to a declining client list if PR’s are being broken and the door to the gym is in constant rotation? After navigating plenty of ups and downs in the fitness industry for the past 15 years, I can tell you that there are four key factors that could negatively affect your livelihood.


  1. The ‘Bro Spot’

How many times have you had a potential business opportunity walk up to you, expressing their desire to take their 205lb bench press to 405lb in the next 6 months, (whilst simultaneously losing fat and gaining muscle)? In the eye of the neophyte, the jacked- and- tan strength coach seemingly possesses a  magic key that the ectomorphic gym muggle must attain, should they wish to unlock the gains they hoped would materialise within the first 2 weeks of signing up to their local 24 hour fitness establishment. However, unless you are willing to lay out the cold hard facts regarding how long it could really take to add 50lb’s of solid muscle to his frame and 250lb’s to his squat, the pressure is now squarely on you, the trainer, to deliver otherworldly results in an unreasonable amount of time. It’s either that, or tell the skinny-fat 155lb greenhorn that the only way he will ever have 405lbs in his hands is when he deadlifts it for the first time- In 2 or 3 years.

If you have any grounding as a Strength coach you will hopefully begin your protégé’s journey with a standard linear progression, focussing on sets of 5 with the goal of adding weight to the bar at every workout, or, percentage based training such as the Lift Big Eat Big 4 Week Beginner Program. A good trainer will either calculate percentages based on the current 1rm of said newbie or begin with sets of five that leave plenty of room for weeks of progress- not to mention keeping a record of each micro-cycle of sets and reps.

But what, if, like so many out there, the trainee fails to eat enough to support progress? And equally likely he only ventures in to train with you once per week? Any lack of motivation to return and complete the weeks remaining two or three sessions by himself will almost certainly hinder progress.

Neither of these circumstances are optimal  and let’s face it, many of us simply cannot afford to train with a professional three days out of seven, or possess the discipline to eat enough food consistently on a day-in day-out basis. On an unforgiving program that requires incremental jumps in weight at each session, failure to adhere to the correct loading and recovery protocols will leave almost anyone tapping out very quickly. Watching your client struggling with his first rep of his final set of 5 and realising he probably won’t hit another, leaves you with a choice. Allow him to fail, explaining that he will have to reset -not what he wants to hear- or gently apply a little pressure to the bar for the remaining reps and watch his face light up as he successfully completes his terminal set.

The same goes for spotting your client when retesting a 1rm.

You will both undoubtedly have a target weight for testing day that is almost certainly too lofty- and you know this. The big pull though, is that if he hits his 225lb bench he’ll be back for more sessions. If he misses, he may not.

What do you do? Let him suffer the indignity of barely moving the weight as much as an inch off his chest, or, place your hands atop the bar and utter the immortal line – “IT’S ALL YOU BRO!”

Ok, so you opted for the latter. What’s the big deal? He’s hit a new PR and walks out of the gym with his pigeon chest puffed out; as far as he’s concerned your coaching was worth every cent! The issue now is that he thinks he is stronger than he actually is. From a programming perspective, the percentages you use henceforth are technically invalid, and for him to make any progress at all on 5×5 or SS, he now requires you to be there coaxing the weight up earlier and earlier into his worksets. A snowball effect has begun. Suspicion usually sets in roughly around the time that his Bench starts overtaking his Deadlift (since this is the only lift you cannot assist, unless, of course you are braindead enough to attempt the infamous ‘chin spot’), or when he bombs on his opener at his first powerlifting meet. And what happens in a months’ time when he tries for 235lb alone in his basement? With no spotter and a false sense of his own ability, the potential for injury or worse, is very real.

Understand that you must manage your client’s expectations from day one. Have the guts to program using reasonable numbers and focus on realistic short and long term goals. If you don’t, you will be caught out sooner or later. If you con someone into thinking they will add 100lbs to their bench press by simply signing up with you, the eventual, inevitable outcome will be at best, disappointment and at worst disaster.


  1. Diagnosing injuries.


If you’ve been a trainer for longer than 6 months then you will have come across all manner of injuries. Bad backs, shoulders, knees, hips and necks are all common place. Inevitably, clients will ask for your advice on how best to treat any number of problems. Assuming you are simply a certified strength and conditioning coach and do not supplement your income moonlighting as a Doctor, you likely do not have access to an ultrasound or an MRI. In which case your response should probably be: “As your coach, I am here to help you become stronger and fitter. I am not qualified to provide you with a medical diagnosis regarding your ailment and would suggest you seek advice from a qualified professional.”

Hang on a minute though, you’ve seen an injury like this before. You also read an article by your favourite movement coach this morning over coffee that has your confirmation bias kicking in pretty hard about now. Who needs years of med school when the answer can be found so easily with a quick Google search?

Be careful. What started out as a possibly minor injury which may have simply required a week off, could land you in hot water when you prescribe an exercise that exacerbates the problem – or worse, leads to further injury.  Despite how sure you are of your wealth of knowledge when it pertains to the innumerable complexities of the human body, your qualifications reflect otherwise.

What this all boils down to is that, regardless of how many seminars and weekend certifications you may have attended, without  being able to see underneath the skin of your injured trainee, any opinion you have on how best to rehabilitate your client is conjecture at best. And when you, as an individual, have access to a ton of bars and plates, and a desire to impress with your unlimited knowledge, well… that makes you just about the most dangerous person for a paying customer to be around.

Let your client go and establish a correct diagnosis. Once this has happened they will likely be advised on which lifts to avoid and also be prescribed a list of exercises that you can take them through, safe in the knowledge that you have done everything correctly from a best practice standpoint and your reputation will remain intact. Far better that than risking hurting your client further or elongating the recovery time, because you’ve “seen this problem before”. Yes, if you can think of a more appropriate exercise than a 1980’s dogma-bound physiotherapist has prescribed, then go ahead and switch it up if you’re confident. But I’d recommend playing it safe- especially if you’re new to this racket.

This does not mean you cannot train your client. Most coaches will simply work around an injury by using exercises that don’t cause pain or directly work the aggravated area. Be warned though, that this is not the time to push for 100% either, regardless of how little pain they may be feeling with the prescribed movements. Remain cautious.

Remember, 99% of injuries heal all by themselves, so be smart and cover your end.


  1. Not Charging Enough


Given the context of the last two statements, you may think that I do not place much stock in the abilities of most Strength & Conditioning Coaches. This could not be further from the truth. By contrast, let me say that I’d be suspicious of Richard Branson in his ability to coach me in Track and Field.

Provided that you stay in your lane, you are in a unique position to change another person’s life for the better and could be a great source of inspiration to those who require it. If helping people is your passion, you love to train, and you love to provide quality information, based on what you have learned from studying hard -on top of many hours of in-person coaching- then you are of great value.

Most people hate their jobs. When they come to you, they don’t want to see that familiar lack of drive that eats away at them from nine to five, Monday to Friday. For these people, this single hour is often their release from the burden of daily life and is something they genuinely look forward to. If you give away free or discounted sessions, you may not feel as compelled to plan as hard for that workout; or you may even let your attitude reflect how your client feels when stuck in their office cubicle. Charging a little more than you are comfortable with, on the other hand, will almost certainly ensure that you go the extra mile to give the best possible service you can.

I understand, you’re afraid to ask for more. You think charging less than the other trainers will have punters flocking your way: but you’re wrong.

Derek Sivers recently alluded to the fact that those who spend more on a particular product or service, value it more. I’d be inclined to agree.

Studies have shown that people who were given a placebo pill were twice as likely to be alleviated of their symptoms when told the pill was expensive.

By charging more and also enforcing a strict 12 or 24-hour cancellation policy, you are much less likely to receive a text fifteen minutes before your 6am client is due to arrive, claiming to have woken up with a headache, food poisoning or having slept through their alarm.

Imagine, for a moment, that you went to the bakery and were offered seven of the finest doughnuts ever created- all for $1. The caveat is that you will be allotted only one doughnut per day from Monday through Sunday, and collection time is within a strict five minute window when the bakery opens promptly, at 6am. How likely is it that the average person will crawl out of bed and make the 20 minute drive, arriving on time, to collect their pre-paid Krueller each and every morning that week? No matter how damned delicious those lovingly crafted morsels might be, they only cost $1. Not a great loss if you accidentally sleep in one morning. Now, imagine instead that those seven doughnuts had cost you $20 each. Rather than hitting the snooze button on Sunday, I’d be willing to bet that the $140 you forked out ensures that that mornings breakfast tastes every bit as good as Raymond K Hessel’s did, after a chance encounter with Tyler Durden.

Operating your business in such a fashion quickly weeds out those who are serious about working with you and those who aren’t.

You provide a service of equal value to any other professional out there, and assuming that you are constantly striving to improve upon this service, do not be afraid to let your prices reflect this.

As The Joker once said: “If you’re good at something never do it for free.”


  1. Negativity


This is a really big one, if you plan on hanging on to your clients. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard trainers complaining about how little sleep they’ve had, how they struggle to train when they’re sooo busy, or how hard in general things are for them whilst coaching a paying customer. Let me tell you this; you are not being paid to unload on your client. That is not why they are there, no matter how accommodating they are of your woes. Have you ever been to your doctor or dentist and had to listen to them waffle on about their personal issues? Of course not. They are trained professionals and so are you! I understand that, as a coach you, will hear all about your trainee’s life in the minutest of detail. Often times you may feel more akin to a psychiatrist than a drill sergeant but do not be tempted to allow this process to be a two way conversation. You can, of course, offer advice, but for most folks the very act of simply being listened to is usually all they will need from you. For you to then ‘one up’ them by speaking about your hardships is massively unprofessional and likely very off-putting for your client, too.

To really stand out in this fickle business, be sure to have your sessions planned ahead of time, arrive early, record every lift in your notebook and be POSITIVE. Always be engaging and ready to smile. If a lift falters on a technicality, offer a fix, rather than simply pointing out the fault. Thank your client at the end of the session and congratulate them on anything that went particularly well that day. Always reply to emails and texts promptly.

Finally, never expect to be treated as well by your clients as you treat them. It is unlikely they will always be in a good mood, reply quickly (if at all) to your texts and emails, tip you at Christmas or even pay on time without needing three reminders. They’re human. Do not let this influence how you behave with your client. It makes me laugh when I hear certain big names in the strength-field telling coaches that if their trainee doesn’t work hard or complains too much, you should just fire them. This sounds all too similar to those born with a silver spoon in their mouth; trust funds ready and waiting for them when they hit 18 years old and with zero idea of what it actually feels like to be in the red. It’s easy when you have Mommy and Daddy backing you up to tell those who live in the real world that if you hate your job you should just quit- or better yet, just go and travel for a year to “find yourself”. Bad news friend; you probably don’t’ have that option, yet. If any one of your clients isn’t to your liking, just remember that they’re paying your bills.

That…is life. Suck it up, stay positive and be prepared to learn from any situation, good and bad, that you encounter on your path to becoming a well-respected strength coach.


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Pete Stables is a Uk based Strength Coach, Nutritional Consultant and Fitness writer. His work has been published in print for magazines such as ‘Perfect Body’ and in 2016 his ’16 Week Powerlifting/Bodybuilding Hybrid Program’ was the top ranked article (highest traffic) for He is also a competitive Powerlifter and Trail Runner and in 2014 took the BPU British Powerlifting record in the 220lb raw with wraps class. He is also the author of two best selling ebooks and can be contacted via his website

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LBEB Mental Health: Suicide

In the latest installment in my mental health series, I have decided to discuss a topic that I spend a great deal of time dwelling on; suicide. There has been a great deal of death in my life this year, some voluntary, some not, and combined with the suicide of my uncle before I was born, I felt it was a good topic to bring up. I also discuss how this culture of “suck it up/tough it out” can directly contribute to feelings of isolation, which can lead to suicide.

I also discuss the hypocrisy of this culture, which will, in turn, tell people that those who say “suck it” are not going to be safe people to open up to. Physical ailments are easy to understand, because you can SEE them. Mental issues are not so visible, and can be easily dismissed or mocked, which further leads to feelings of isolation.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and I feel that these things need to be discussed, in order to make well-rounded individuals, which will, in turn, make for a better society. Thanks for taking the time to watch this, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Two Reasons Why You NEED to Pinch Lift

Article written by Peter Baker
I know what you’re thinking. It sounds something like this: “My grip will be just fine doing regular old deadlifts on a plain bar.” And that might be true, to an extent. But if you want healthy hands, a better deadlift, a stronger grip, AND more function, you need to pinch lift. So I will tell you why you need to and show you how. Before that, we’re going to cover some basic hand motions so you have a frame of reference.

Basic Hand Motions

There are more than I am listing, but for the sake of simplicity, you’re going to want to pay attention to these three. We have:

Flexion—When you bring your fingers in to form a fist, this is flexion.

Extension—If you give someone a high five, you are putting your fingers in extension.

Opposition/Reposition—Moving your thumb to touch your index, middle, ring, or pinkie fingers is what we call opposition, and moving it away is reposition.

Having gone over that, we train flexion of the fingers the most, and extension, opposition, and reposition the least. So with that in mind, here are the reasons why you need to pinch lift.

  1. Your Thumbs

In every lift you do at the gym, your main fingers take a brunt of the loading. Grabbing barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, and the like contribute to that. And while they indeed help with building a strong supporting grip, you’re neglecting your thumbs. So why not train the thumbs? Throwing in some pinch lifting will help with this. A better way to look at it is as follows: you’re doing equal parts pushing and pulling by working your chest and back right? This helps keep you balanced, symmetrical, and overall, not looking like a silverback gorilla.  So it follows with your hands. Adding in the pinch will lead to more muscular development of your hand and forearms if you incorporate it into your routine. In short, we are training the motions of opposition and reposition by practicing certain types of pinch lifting.

  1. Your Extensors

Spend a long time lifting, you might start to see some odd things. One such thing is the idea of using tiny but strong rubber bands to train the opening of your fingers, that is, the extension motion. While I don’t hate this idea, I would like to pose a few questions regarding this practice. My former coach, Adam T. Glass is a world record holder in grip sport. He posited that the hands don’t exert force by way of extension, the way they do in flexion. So having witnessed people use the bands to train their extension, he also witnessed many injuries. The Solution? Training the extensors in a position where they are strong but safe way. You can do just that with certain forms of pinch lifting.

I should also mention that just because there might be a better way to train your extensors, using the bands isn’t wrong, by any means. It just means you need to exercise caution if that is the route you choose to take.

How to Pinch Lift

Now that you have a good idea on why to pinch lift, it’s time to learn how to do it. For these movements, I am showing you some basics. Your creativity, equipment availability, and your strength will dictate how you can modify them.

  1. The Blobblob-lift

A blob is the actual bell portion of a York dumbbell. Cut it off the handle, you have a blob. The strongest of the strong will be able to lift the bell of a 100lb dumbbell. If you’re not there yet, fear not. You can cut off the end of any other York dumbbell and use it. Still don’t have a York dumbbell? Use any hex dumbbell and do the same. If you opt for one of these variants,

If you opt for one of these variants, pay attention to a few things. In the picture, you will note that there is a nice dusty coat of chalk on the weight. This is important. Also, the leverage. You will have an easier time if you keep your elbow bent a little before you make your lift. Aside from that, when you are in position, stand up with it. Still can’t lift it? Drag it.

You may not feel like doing serious metal work to cut a dumbbell, so if that applies to you use both hands and use an untouched hex dumbbell.

  1. Pinch Grip Deadliftpinch-grip-deadlift

This is going to be the one that focuses on strengthening your extensors. If you’re a strong woman, you can start out with two 25lb plates with the smooth sides on the outside. If you’re a man, try two 35lb plates. As with the blob, you want to use a lot of chalk and keep the slight bend in the elbows for better leverage. Just like before, once you are set up, treat it like a regular deadlift and stand up with it.


Now that you have some sweet new moves in your arsenal, you’re going to want to go and do them all the time. At least, I know I did. I urge you to curb that temptation. Your hands are loaded with connective tissues and they respond to stimulation in a different way than your muscles will. All that means, at first, is that a little bit will go a long way. As time passes, you can build on your hand training volume, but the rate at which your connective tissues gain strength is slower than your muscles.

A good way to go about this would be to tack on one or two sets of three to five reps at first on your deadlift day (or wherever you have time) and build the reps, then the sets from there. After you get a good groove in your pinch, you can start training them with greater frequency. Above all, use your best judgment.


In addition to being a fan of music and heavy metal, I am an avid player of table top RPGs, and I am a personal trainer in Tampa, FL as well as a graduate of the prestigious University of South Florida. Formerly, I was a prefect for House Slytherin.